Law of Moses
When the children of Israel refused to live a higher law, they were given the law of Moses. This law, in a general view, consisted of a collection of commandments, statutes, performances, rituals, sacrifices, and ceremonies. The law of Moses was “added” and then fulfilled. It was added when the dispensation intended to be delivered through Moses was rejected by Israel (see T&C 82:12–13), much like what happened with the early saints in Joseph Smith’s time. The dispensation the Lord wanted to hand them (the saints of Joseph’s time) was not received either (see T&C 141:10), so something less was added. The saints of this day get to partake in what they were willing to receive, but they were not willing to receive what they might have been given (see T&C 86:4).1
The ordinances are eternal. They do not and cannot change. When changed, the covenant is broken. God cannot and does not change His word. When men change it, they break the covenant and have no promise (see Isaiah 7:1). The addition of outward observances in the law of Moses was fulfilled in Christ’s coming and sacrifice. Then, having been fulfilled, they were no longer necessary to observe (see 3 Nephi 5:22–23). When they were being observed, however, they did not change. From Moses to John, they were unchanged.2
King Benjamin explains something which ought to give everyone pause: Yet the Lord God saw that his people were a stiffnecked people, and he appointed unto them a law, even the law of Moses (Mosiah 1:16). The people who God claimed as His were a stiffnecked people. He didn’t abandon them because of their spiritual stubbornness, nor did He reject them because they were suffering from their own pride and self-will. They were still “His.” But because they were unable or unwilling to really come to Him and be redeemed from the Fall, He gave them something to trouble them — the law of Moses. This set of rules, sacrifices, ordinances, and observances included worship within a temple or House of God. There, in rich symbolism, they were reminded about the real thing — His presence. They were taught about His real nature. They were shown symbols that foreshadowed His coming into the world to be the bread of life, the light of the world, the sacrifice for sin, and the one through whose blood it was possible to enter back into the Holy of Holies. They had symbolic clothing, sacred language, Divine ritual, and sacred space given them. All this because they were a stiffnecked people who were unwilling to enter into His actual presence. These benighted and proud people then looked at all others and regarded them as less than “the chosen people” because the law of Moses given to them entrusted them with sacred space, sacred ritual, and sacred observances. These stiffnecked people made the law of Moses an end in itself. It was their special set of rites, their sacred space, their hidden rituals, participated in by only the “worthy” and “chosen few” that reassured them they were God’s chosen people. And they were chosen. But they were chosen to be an example of foolishness, an example of pride, and ultimately, an example of those who reject God and kill His Son. They were chosen to show how to miss the mark while standing atop sacred ground dedicated to the God they claimed to worship. They were chosen to be foolish so that others in later times might be wise. They were chosen precisely because of their stiff necks — to show how God does not delight in the mere observances of outward rituals but expects our hearts to be made righteous. They illustrate how God rebuked the ancient chosen people for their failure to follow Him in the heart, rather than just in their empty ordinances (see 1 Samuel 7:9).3
The focus of the law of Moses was ritual purity, but Christ replaced that earlier ritual-based purity with internal purity.4 Christ fulfilled all the law — not merely the law of Moses, which indeed pointed to Him (see Galatians 1:11), but also every part of the Gospel from Adam to Christ’s earthly ministry (see Jacob 3:1; 5:2). All have testified of Him, and He has completed His ministry in strict conformity with all that was foreshadowed, all that was prophesied, all that was anticipated of Him. Just how completely He did this is not possible to understand with the current state of the scriptures. But He did fulfill all righteousness, complete every assignment, accomplish every task, and live in conformity with every prophecy concerning Him.5
Aaronic priesthood is a fairly durable kind of priesthood. It was what was involved in all kinds of rites and performances under the law of Moses (which were pretty easy to run afoul of and wind up in a state of uncleanliness or ceremonial condemnation, causing one to need renewal — even the High Priest would become unclean and have to renew), and all had to go through the Day of Atonement ceremonies; they had to purge from top to bottom; everyone was expected to purge with some regularity. Even a woman’s regular monthly cycle resulted in ceremonial uncleanliness, requiring renewal. Childbirth was considered something that required a sacrifice and a ceremonial cleansing. Every time one turned around under the law of Moses, they had become unclean and had to fetch another animal, run up to the temple, offer sacrifice, and undo the ceremonial uncleanliness. The purpose of the Aaronic priesthood ministry was to bring one under condemnation regularly. Aaronic priesthood is pretty durable, precisely because of its functionality.6
When the Lord’s people wanted religion but were unwilling to accept the fullness, He accommodated their desire and gave to them the law of Moses to keep them busy (see Mosiah 1:16). It is the nature of stiffnecked people that they prefer religious ceremonies and endless repetition of rituals to coming into the Lord’s presence. King Benjamin was reminded by the angel that the purpose of the law of Moses was not to redeem anyone — it was merely a way to keep the people busy. In addition to the law of Moses, the Lord gave signs and wonders and many types and shadows to acquaint the people with the fact of His coming (Mosiah 1:16). These were not ends. They were all means. Why give the law of Moses? Why give signs and wonders? The people confused the symbols with the real thing. Because of the symbols, they thought they were chosen, elect, and holy. They thought they were a kingdom of priests, a royal priesthood. Instead, what they should have thought was that they were poor because the Lord was not dwelling among them; they considered themselves rich because they had types and shadows. They preferred the symbol to the reality. The true religion was only symbolized by the rites. By worshiping the symbols and not recognizing the truths which were their foundation, they became mere idolaters. It is one of the constant risks faced by God’s people because the devil is always looking to convert the holy church of God into something perverted and evil (see Mormon 4:5). They could rejoice in their laws, rites, ordinances, and rituals. They could consider themselves better than the nations around them because they had God’s program for salvation. All the program did was harden their hearts, because they became proud rather than humble. These religious and proud people did not understand that all their endless rites availeth nothing because it was the Lord alone who could redeem them (see Mosiah 1:16). They took their eyes off the Lord and put them on the religion. They did not understand the religion was nothing if it failed to point them to the Lord. How oft might the Lord have gathered them, indeed! It is astonishing that men would prefer religion to God; that they would prefer pride (which alienates them from God) to humility (which could bring them into His presence). Signs, wonders, types, and shadows are nothing if they fail to get mankind to look at the underlying reasons for them. They are not the real thing. They merely point to the real thing; for that, it is left between each individual and the Lord. Some few will see it as it really is. They will not be limited by the failures of the generation they live in. They can be saved in any generation because they see beyond the Lord in His types, shadows, signs, and wonders (see Alma 9:3).7
The law of Moses was fulfilled and will not return.8 Christ introduced the concept that the law of Moses is now “fulfilled.” Importantly, He says, In me are all fulfilled (3 Nephi 5:31). When He walked on the Road to Emmaus on the day of His resurrection, beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 14:3). The rites and temple of the Dispensation of Moses testified to the details of His life. It ought to be noted that the things under the law, in [Christ were indeed] all fulfilled. His life was foreshadowed by the rites of Moses. His healing, His ministry, His history, and His sacrifice all were foreshadowed by the law of Moses. Since the Law pointed to Him, and He came to live His mortal life in conformity with that Law, it was now completed. The signpost was no longer necessary. The event had happened. When He says, “Old things are done away,” it is not because they are terminated. It is because they were fulfilled. He completed the circle. He lived and died under the Law, fulfilling every jot and tittle of its requirements. Now it was time to push the meaning of the earlier Law deeper into the souls of His audience. All things have become new. It was a new beginning, a new Dispensation, a new message. The message was delivered by the Author of the law of Moses, not through an intermediary. The message came from the Author, in person.9
1 “Clearing Off Some Pending Questions,” July 14, 2012, blog post.
2 “Themes From Email,” May 29, 2014, blog post.
3 “Stiff Necks, Ancient and Modern,” Feb. 27, 2014, blog post.
4 “3 Nephi 12:8,” Oct. 6, 2010, blog post.
5 “3 Nephi 12:17–18,” Oct. 9, 2010, blog post.
6 “Cursed: Denied Priesthood,” Jan. 07, 2018, Sandy, UT, 10–11, transcript.
7 “Mosiah 3:14–15,” June 5, 2012, blog post.
8 “2 Nephi 31:21,” Aug. 30, 2010, blog post.
9 “3 Nephi 12:46–47,” Oct. 17, 2010, blog post.