3. The purpose and significance of God’s work in the Age of Law
Relevant Words of God:
In the beginning, after the creation of mankind, it was the Israelites who served as the basis of God’s work. The whole of Israel was the base of Jehovah’s work on earth. The work of Jehovah was to lead and shepherd man directly by setting forth the laws, so that man could live a normal life and worship Jehovah in a normal manner on earth. God in the Age of Law could be neither seen nor touched by man. Because all He did was to guide the earliest people corrupted by Satan, teaching and shepherding them, His words contained nothing but laws, statutes, and the norms of human behavior, and did not provide them with the truths of life. The Israelites under His leadership had not been profoundly corrupted by Satan. His work of law was only the very first stage in the work of salvation, the very beginning of the work of salvation, and had practically nothing to do with changes in the life disposition of man.
—The Word, Vol. 1. The Appearance and Work of God. The Difference Between the Ministry of God Incarnate and the Duty of Man
“Jehovah” is the name that I took during My work in Israel, and it means the God of the Israelites (God’s chosen people) who can take pity on man, curse man, and guide the life of man; the God who possesses great power and is full of wisdom. … That is to say, only Jehovah is the God of the chosen people of Israel, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of Moses, and the God of all the people of Israel. And so, in the current age, all the Israelites, apart from the Jewish people, worship Jehovah. They make sacrifices to Him on the altar and serve Him in the temple wearing priests’ robes. What they hope for is the reappearance of Jehovah. … The name Jehovah is a particular name for the people of Israel who lived under the law. In each age and each stage of work, My name is not baseless, but holds representative significance: Each name represents one age. “Jehovah” represents the Age of Law and is the honorific by which the people of Israel called the God whom they worshiped.
—The Word, Vol. 1. The Appearance and Work of God. The Savior Has Already Returned Upon a ‘White Cloud’
During the Age of Law, the work of guiding mankind was done under the name of Jehovah, and the first stage of work was initiated on earth. At this stage, the work consisted of building the temple and the altar, and using the law to guide the people of Israel and to work in their midst. By guiding the people of Israel, He launched a base for His work on earth. From this base, He expanded His work beyond Israel, which is to say that, starting from Israel, He extended His work outward, so that later generations gradually came to know that Jehovah was God, and that it was Jehovah who created the heavens and earth and all things, and that it was Jehovah who made all creatures. He spread His work through the people of Israel outward beyond them. The land of Israel was the first holy place of Jehovah’s work on earth, and it was in the land of Israel that God first went to work on earth. That was the work of the Age of Law.
—The Word, Vol. 1. The Appearance and Work of God. The Vision of God’s Work (3)
Earliest mankind knew nothing, and so God had to begin teaching man from the most superficial and basic principles for survival and regulations necessary for living, imbuing these things in the heart of man bit by bit, and giving man a gradual understanding of God, a gradual appreciation and understanding of God’s leadership, and a basic concept of the relationship between man and God, through these regulations, and through these rules, which were of words. After achieving this effect, only then was God able to, little by little, do the work that He would do later, and thus these regulations and the work done by God during the Age of Law are the bedrock of His work of saving mankind, and the first stage of work in God’s management plan.
—The Word, Vol. 2. On Knowing God. God’s Work, God’s Disposition, and God Himself II
The Work in the Age of Law
(A Selected Chapter of God’s Word)
The work that Jehovah did upon the Israelites established among humanity God’s earthly place of origin, which was also the sacred place where He was present. He confined His work to the people of Israel. At first, He did not work outside of Israel, but instead, He chose people He found suitable in order to restrict the scope of His work. Israel is the place where God created Adam and Eve, and out of the dust of that place Jehovah made man; this place became the base of His work on earth. The Israelites, who were the descendants of Noah and also the descendants of Adam, were the human foundation of Jehovah’s work on earth.
At this time, the significance, purpose, and steps of Jehovah’s work in Israel were to initiate His work on the whole earth, which, taking Israel as its center, gradually spread into the Gentile nations. This is the principle according to which He works throughout the universe—to establish a model and then broaden it until all people in the universe shall have received His gospel. The first Israelites were the descendants of Noah. These people were endowed only with the breath of Jehovah, and understood enough to take care of the basic necessities of life, but they did not know what kind of God Jehovah was, or His will for man, much less how they should revere the Lord of all creation. As for whether there were rules and laws to be obeyed,[a] or whether there was a duty that created beings should perform for the Creator, Adam’s descendants knew nothing of these things. All they knew was that the husband should sweat and labor to provide for his family, and that the wife should submit to her husband and perpetuate the race of humans that Jehovah had created. In other words, such people, who had only Jehovah’s breath and His life, knew nothing of how to follow God’s laws or how to satisfy the Lord of all creation. They understood far too little. So even though there was nothing crooked or deceitful in their hearts and jealousy and contention seldom arose among them, nevertheless they had no knowledge or understanding of Jehovah, the Lord of all creation. These ancestors of man knew only to eat the things of Jehovah, and to enjoy the things of Jehovah, but they did not know to revere Jehovah; they did not know that Jehovah was the One they should worship on bended knees. So how could they be called His creatures? If this were so, would not the words, “Jehovah is the Lord of all creation” and “He created man in order that man might manifest Him, glorify Him, and represent Him” have been spoken in vain? How could people who had no reverence for Jehovah become a testimony to His glory? How could they become manifestations of His glory? Would not Jehovah’s words “I created man in My image” then become a weapon in the hands of Satan, the evil one? Would these words not then become a mark of humiliation to Jehovah’s creation of man? In order to complete that stage of work, Jehovah, after creating mankind, did not instruct or guide them from Adam to Noah. Rather, it was not until after the flood destroyed the world that He formally began to guide the Israelites, who were the descendants of Noah and also of Adam. His work and utterances in Israel gave guidance to all the people of Israel as they lived their lives throughout the land of Israel, thereby showing humanity that Jehovah was not only able to blow breath into man, so that he might have life from Him and rise up from the dust into a created human being, but that He could also incinerate mankind, and curse mankind, and use His rod to govern mankind. So, too, did they see that Jehovah could guide man’s life on earth, and speak and work among humanity according to the hours of the day and of the night. The work He did was only so that His creatures might know that man came from dust picked up by Him, and moreover that man had been made by Him. Not only this, but He first did His work in Israel so that other peoples and nations (who in fact were not separate from Israel, but rather had branched off from the Israelites, yet were still descended from Adam and Eve) might receive the gospel of Jehovah from Israel, so that all created beings in the universe might be able to revere Jehovah and hold Him to be great. Had Jehovah not begun His work in Israel, but instead, having created mankind, let them live carefree lives on the earth, then in that case, owing to man’s physical nature (nature means that man can never know the things he cannot see, which is to say that he would not know that it was Jehovah who created mankind, and even less why He did so), he would never know that it was Jehovah who created mankind or that He is the Lord of all creation. If Jehovah had created man and placed him on the earth, and simply dusted off His hands and left, rather than remaining among mankind to give them guidance for a period of time, then all humanity would have returned to nothingness; even heaven and earth and all the myriad things of His making, and all of humanity, would have returned to nothingness and moreover would have been trampled upon by Satan. In this way Jehovah’s wish that “On the earth, that is, in the midst of His creation, He should have a place to stand, a holy place” would have been shattered. And so, after creating mankind, that He was able to remain in their midst to guide them in their lives, and speak to them from within their midst—all of this was in order to realize His desire, and to achieve His plan. The work He did in Israel was meant only to execute the plan He had made before His creation of all things, and therefore His working first among the Israelites and His creation of all things were not at odds with each other, but were done both for the sake of His management, His work, and His glory, and were done in order to deepen the meaning of His creation of mankind. He guided the life of mankind on earth for two thousand years after Noah, during which He taught humanity to understand how to revere Jehovah, the Lord of all creation, how to conduct their lives, and how to go on living, and most of all, how to act as a witness for Jehovah, render Him obedience, and give Him reverence, even praising Him with music as did David and his priests.
Prior to the two thousand years during which Jehovah did His work, man knew nothing, and almost all humanity had fallen into depravity, until, before the destruction of the world by the flood, they had reached a depth of promiscuity and corruption in which their hearts were entirely devoid of Jehovah, and further wanting of His way. They never understood the work Jehovah was going to do; they lacked reason, had even less knowledge, and, like machines that breathed, were consummately ignorant of man, God, the world, life, and so on. On earth, they engaged in many seductions, like the serpent, and said many things that were offensive to Jehovah, but because they were ignorant, Jehovah did not chastise or discipline them. Only after the flood, when Noah was 601 years old, did Jehovah formally appear to Noah and guide him and his family, leading the birds and beasts that had survived the flood along with Noah and his descendants, until the end of the Age of Law, lasting a total of 2,500 years. He was at work in Israel, that is, formally at work, for a total of 2,000 years, and at work simultaneously in Israel and outside of it for 500 years, together making 2,500 years. During this period, He instructed the Israelites that to serve Jehovah, they should build a temple, put on priestly robes, and walk barefoot into the temple at dawn, lest their shoes sully the temple and the fire be sent down on them from the pinnacle of the temple and burn them to death. They carried out their duties and submitted to Jehovah’s plans. They prayed to Jehovah in the temple, and after receiving Jehovah’s revelation, that is, after Jehovah had spoken, they led the multitudes and taught them that they should show reverence to Jehovah—their God. And Jehovah told them that they should build a temple and an altar, and at the time set by Jehovah, that is, on Passover, they should prepare newborn calves and lambs to place on the altar as sacrifices to serve Jehovah, so as to restrain them and put reverence for Jehovah in their hearts. Whether they obeyed this law became the measure of their loyalty to Jehovah. Jehovah also ordained the Sabbath day for them, the seventh day of His creation. The day after the Sabbath, He made the first day, a day for them to praise Jehovah, to offer Him sacrifices, and to make music for Him. On this day, Jehovah called together all the priests to divide the sacrifices on the altar for the people to eat, so that they could enjoy the sacrifices on Jehovah’s altar. And Jehovah said that they were blessed, that they shared a portion with Him, and that they were His chosen people (which was Jehovah’s covenant with the Israelites). This is why, up to this day, the people of Israel still say that Jehovah is only their God, and not the God of the Gentiles.
During the Age of Law, Jehovah laid down many commandments for Moses to pass on to the Israelites who followed him out of Egypt. These commandments were given by Jehovah to the Israelites and bore no relation to the Egyptians; they were meant to restrain the Israelites, and He used the commandments to make demands of them. Whether they observed the Sabbath, whether they respected their parents, whether they worshiped idols, and so forth—these were the principles by which they were judged sinful or righteous. Among them, there were some who were struck by Jehovah’s fire, some who were stoned to death, and some who received Jehovah’s blessing, and this was determined according to whether or not they obeyed these commandments. Those who did not observe the Sabbath were stoned to death. Those priests who did not observe the Sabbath were struck by Jehovah’s fire. Those who did not show respect to their parents were also stoned to death. This was all commended by Jehovah. Jehovah established His commandments and laws so that, as He led them in their lives, the people would listen to and obey His word and not rebel against Him. He used these laws to keep the newborn human race under control, the better to lay the foundation for His future work. And so, based on the work that Jehovah did, the first age was called the Age of Law. Though Jehovah made many utterances and did much work, He only guided the people positively, teaching these ignorant people how to be human, how to live, how to understand Jehovah’s way. For the most part, the work He did was to cause the people to observe His way and follow His laws. The work was done on people who were shallowly corrupted; it did not extend as far as transforming their disposition or progress in life. He was only concerned with using laws to restrict and control the people. For the Israelites at that time, Jehovah was merely a God in the temple, a God in the heavens. He was a pillar of cloud, a pillar of fire. All Jehovah required them to do was obey what people today know as His laws and commandments—one could even say rules—because what Jehovah did was not meant to transform them, but to give them more things that man ought to have and to instruct them from His own mouth because, after being created, man had nothing that he ought to possess. And so, Jehovah gave to the people the things they ought to possess for their lives on earth, making the people that He had led surpass their ancestors, Adam and Eve, because what Jehovah gave them surpassed what He had given Adam and Eve in the beginning. Regardless, the work Jehovah did in Israel was only to guide humanity and make humanity recognize their Creator. He did not conquer them or transform them, but merely guided them. This is the sum of Jehovah’s work in the Age of Law. It is the background, the true story, the essence of His work in the whole land of Israel, and the beginning of His six thousand years of work—to keep mankind under the control of Jehovah’s hand. Out of this was born more work in His six-thousand-year management plan.
—The Word, Vol. 1. The Appearance and Work of God.
a. The original text does not contain the phrase “to be obeyed.”