Law,  Old Testament

The Law as a Reflection of Creation Principles

photo of God's creation

In a previous post I discussed the purpose of the Law. One of the purposes of the Law was to reflect God’s creation to a watching world. In other words, Israel was given laws that, when obeyed, showed the world what the creation ideal looked like. The connection of creation to the Law is worth examining in greater detail. The easiest way to see this connection is to examine some of the Ten Commandments (the heart of Israel’s Law code) and note their connections to creation principles.

First Commandment: No Other Gods (Exod 20:3; cf. Deut 5:7)

Although some of the following commandments have explicit ties to the creation narrative, the link between the first commandment and creation is implicit in its theology. The demand for exclusive worship is inherently tied to the belief that God is the Creator. Since God is the only Creator, He demands exclusive and unrivaled worship. In contrast to the pagan religions around Israel, God is the sole Creator and thus He is the only one deserving of worship (Isa 44:6, 24).

It should also be noted that the first commandment is the foundational law for the entire corpus of biblical law. Only when the Israelite recognizes God’s authority as Creator to determine the law will the law be properly viewed. In other words, God alone has the right to demand worship and obedience if He is in fact the Creator God who has made everything. The Creator has the right to design creation.

Second Commandment: No Images (Exod 20:4–6; cf. Deut 5:8–10)

The connection to creation language is evident in this commandment. We note that the comparison between Creator and creation is emphasized in this commandment. This is evidenced by the fact that the prohibition targets any realm of creation, including: (1) that which is in heaven above, (2) or on the earth beneath, (3) or in the water under the earth. The heavens, earth, and water are central to the creation narrative in Genesis 1, forming strong links to the creation narrative.

It is also important to note that God had given mankind dominion over the heavens, earth, and sea as his vice-regents (Gen 1:26–28). If man creates an object of worship out of creation, he is subverting God’s created order and submitting himself to that very creation, which is against God’s design. Thus, God forbids Israel from departing from the created order and treating any part of creation as more important than humans or with the honor that is due the Creator alone.

Fourth Commandment: Keep Sabbath (Exod 20:8–11; cf. Deut 5:12–15)

The fourth commandment is of tremendous importance to the idea of a connection between the Law and creation since it spells out this connection in detail. Exodus 20:11 connects the Sabbath day observance and God’s creation pattern.

That the fourth commandment connects to the creation narrative is noted by near unanimous consent (cf. Gen 2:2-3). However, some who note this connection argue that a connection to creation proves that this commandment is still binding for Christians.  Thus, this commandment becomes an important test case for how the Christian relates to Old Testament commands. We will explore the continuing relevance of the Old Testament Law in a later article. But for now, it is important to note that the Sabbath law is also inherently tied to the Mosaic covenant (cf. Exod 31:12-18).

Sixth Commandment: No Murder (Exod 20:13; cf. Deut 5:17)

Like the other commandments, the prohibition against murder is ultimately grounded in the design of God’s created order. Evidence for this comes from looking at God’s covenant with Noah in Genesis 9 where God highlights the importance of human life.

Genesis 9:5 highlights the value of human life, stating that the penalty to taking a life is to be killed. The reason life for life is required is because God himself made man in God’s image. This language links back to Genesis 1:26–27 where man is created by God and made in His image. Thus, the entire premise behind “Thou shalt not murder” is that man is made in God’s image.

Seventh Commandment: No Adultery (Exod 20:14; cf. Deut 5:18)

This commandment links back to creation theology where God created man and woman to be joined in a unique covenant relationship (Gen 1:26–28; Gen 2:24). Like the other commandments which make up the central part of Israel’s Law, the seventh commandment is a reflection of the way that God has created the world. God’s created order includes the institution of marriage, which becomes the bedrock for society. Israel’s marriages and families were a reflection of God’s created order.

Eighth Commandment: No Stealing (Exod 20:15; cf. Deut 5:19)

This commandment goes back to the creation theology of work (Gen 2:15). Humanity is given a specific role in being an image-bearer of God. Part of that role involves the care and cultivation of the created world.  This involves work and effort. However, there is a right and wrong way of working. Work involves inherently some positive benefit, either in the form of compensation or else in the accomplishment of the task itself. The eighth commandment forbids the usurping the natural cycle of honest work and reward by taking what is not rightfully earned.

Tenth Commandment: No Coveting (Exod 20:17; cf. Deut 5:21)

This commandment also provides further evidence for a connection to the creation narrative. Exodus 20:17 repeats the command not to covet/desire (חמד), but in Deuteronomy 5:21 instead of repeating the same word, the text adds an additional word for desire (אוה). In and of itself this would not necessarily be significant since the semantic range of both words overlap.  However, there is one other place in Scripture that the Hebrew terms for desire חמד and אוה show up (this time in its noun form; תַּאֲוָה)—Genesis 3:6.

Understanding these words used in Genesis 3:6 seems significant as the tenth commandment now brings to mind why Israel is not allowed to entertain desires for forbidden objects. In contrast to Eve’s desire for what God forbade (Gen 3:6), Israel is to stand against what led to the corruption of God’s good creation—a desire that runs contrary to the created order.  Coveting is wrong at its core because the one who covets believes that the Creator God has not given enough to satisfy His creatures.       

CommandmentCreation Connection
First Commandment: No Other Gods (Exod 20:3; cf. Deut 5:7)God as Creator, the only one worthy of worship (Gen 1–2)
Second Commandment: No Images (Exod 20:4–6; cf. Deut 5:8–10)As Creator, God is distinct from creation. God cannot be made equal with creation.
Fourth Commandment: Keep Sabbath (Exod 20:8–11; cf. Deut 5:12–15)God created the world in six days, and rested the seventh (Gen 2:2–3). This pattern is then implemented in Israel’s fourth commandment.
Sixth Commandment: No Murder (Exod 20:13; cf. Deut 5:17)God created man in God’s image (Gen 1:26), therefore murder is wrong (cf. Genesis 9).
Seventh Commandment: No Adultery (Exod 20:14; cf. Deut 5:18)God instituted marriage (Gen 2:24), therefore, the marriage design must be sacred.
Eighth Commandment: No Stealing (Exod 20:15; cf. Deut 5:19)Because God designed work as something good (cf. Gen 2:15), this law forbade usurping the natural process of hard work.
Tenth Commandment: No Coveting (Exod 20:17; cf. Deut 5:21)Gen 3:6 utilizes the same wording to describe Eve’s desire for something that God had forbidden.

These examples demonstrate that the Law and the creation narrative are linked, both thematically and through description. There are other examples of this as well, but I think these examples will suffice to prove that part of the function of the Law was to act like a window through which one could view the ideal of God’s created design.

Photo by Cathy Mü on Unsplash

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He is a husband, father, and sports enthusiast.

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