Lisa Scheffler, author
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One hot summer day during a cookout with family and friends, the conversation took an interesting turn — to the Jewish law. My uncle, who was enjoying a bite of pork sausage, joked that he was grateful he didn’t live in Old Testament times, because pork was just too delicious to pass up. We were all nodding in agreement, when he suddenly turned serious.
“So what was it all for?” he mused. “All those laws and regulations? All the stuff they had to do? If Jesus was always the only way to salvation, why did God give all those laws in the first place?”
It’s a good question and one you may have asked yourself. And guess what, it’s one that Paul knew his opponents would want to ask him.
19 Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. 20 A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one.
Why was the law given according to verse 19?
To sum up where we are after yesterday’s reading, Paul has insisted that the covenant of Abraham, one participated in by faith, was God’s original design for people. The law of Moses, participated in by works of the law, was not the primary way God wants us to relate to him. God reconciles people to himself by grace through faith. 
So what are we to think about the law? It’s part of the Mosaic covenant, another agreement that God made with his people. At Sinai, Israel enters into a covenant with God that seems different from the covenant with Abraham because it is a covenant marked by conditions for both parties. For the Israelites, obedience leads to blessing and fullness of life; disobedience to curse and death.
For an ancient people who’d been given access to the Creator of the universe, the law taught them who God was and what he expected from those who worshipped him. The restrictions and requirements that may seem strange to us, weren’t necessarily strange to people in that time. The law was immensely practical for those living in the ancient near east. It also set this people apart as those who were in relationship with the true God and could reflect his image into the world. But, as Paul has so painstakingly showed us here, following the law did not make anyone right with God. So what point is Paul making?
Commentator Scot McKnight finds “three cords wound together” in the verses we looked at today. First, Paul gives the purpose of the law in verse 19. The law was given in order to reveal certain kinds of behavior as sinful. “The law, then, was a judging instrument for the people of God; through its written code they learned that certain behavior was contrary to God’s will.”
Sometimes in parenting, we have to label something as wrong after the fact. My husband tells a story about how as boys, he and his cousins dug a tunnel into the side of a large dirt pile at his grandfather’s farm. When Grandy saw how far they had dug, he went instantly pale. Their make-shift tunnel could have collapsed at any time, suffocating the boys. A new rule was announced that day, “No digging tunnels in the dirt pile!” Except it wasn’t a new rule, it was common sense to those above the age of ten, but once it was codified into a rule, it was one that could be broken. God’s people were perfectly capable of sinning before the law was codified, because we all are. The law revealed their sin.
After establishing the purpose of the law, Paul announces something that offended his opponents. The law was given to govern God’s people for only a certain amount of time, until the Seed (Jesus) came. As we will see in just a few more verses, the law acted as a guardian over the people until Jesus came and sent the Holy Spirit to guide them. So cord number two is the law’s time limit.
Finally, with cord number three, Paul speaks about the circumstances of the giving of the law when he says that the law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. According to McKnight, “The underlying assumption here is that an arrangement between a person and God that has mediators is inferior to an arrangement that has no mediators, because the latter arrangement is directly from God.”
 McKnight, 169.
 Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Biblical Theology of the Hebrew Bible, ed. D. A. Carson, vol. 15, New Studies in Biblical Theology (England; Downers Grove, IL: Apollos; Inter Varsity Press, 2003), 101.
 McKnight, 179.
 McKnight, 180.
The law served its purpose, but when interpreted in light of the gospel, it can still show us who God is and what he expects from his people. Sure, we’re going to have to consider how to adapt the principles to our modern context, but the law still has much to teach us. It just can’t save us. It never could.
Today, we have the benefit of the completed Bible — we can look to Jesus and to those who, through their writings, can help us understand what he’s done for us and how we are to live in light of Jesus’ sacrifice. And we have the Holy Spirit to convict us when we stray, and guide us to be more like Jesus.
We have so much to be grateful for, whether or not you enjoy eating pork!