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“1. The principles and regulations emanating from a government and applicable to a people, whether in the form of legislation or of custom and policies recognized and enforced by judicial decision. 2. Any written or positive rule, or collection of rules, prescribed under the authority of the state or nation.” (The American College Dictionary, edited by C. L. Barnhart, 1966) “A divine commandment or a revelation of the will of God . . . the whole body of God’s commandments or revelations: the will of God . . . : a rule of right living or good conduct esp[ecially] when conceived as having the sanction of God’s will, of conscience or the moral nature, or of natural justice.”​—Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, 1981.

The word “law,” in the Hebrew Scriptures, is translated primarily from the Hebrew word toh·rahʹ, related to the verb ya·rahʹ, meaning “direct, teach, instruct.” In some cases it is translated from the Aramaic term dath. (Da 6:5, 8, 15) Other words translated in the King James Version as “law” are mish·patʹ (judicial decision, judgment), and mits·wahʹ (commandment). In the Greek Scriptures the word noʹmos, from the verb neʹmo (deal out, distribute), is translated “law.”

Jehovah God is designated as the Source of law, the Supreme Lawgiver (Isa 33:22), the Sovereign, delegating authority (Ps 73:28; Jer 50:25; Lu 2:29; Ac 4:24; Re 6:10), without whose permission or allowance no authority can be exercised. (Ro 13:1; Da 4:35; Ac 17:24-31) His throne is established on righteousness and judgment. (Ps 97:1, 2) The stated will of God becomes law to his creatures.​—See LEGAL CASE.

Law to Angels. Angels, higher than man, are subject to the law and commandments of God. (Heb 1:7, 14; Ps 104:4) Jehovah even commanded and restricted his adversary Satan. (Job 1:12; 2:6) Michael the archangel recognized and respected Jehovah’s position as Supreme Judge when he said, in dispute with the Devil: “May Jehovah rebuke you.” (Jude 9; compare Zec 3:2.) The glorified Jesus Christ has all the angels placed under his authority by Jehovah God. (Heb 1:6; 1Pe 3:22; Mt 13:41; 25:31; Php 2:9-11) Thus, by Jesus’ command, an angelic messenger was sent to John. (Re 1:1) Yet, at 1 Corinthians 6:3 the apostle Paul speaks of the spiritual brothers of Christ as designated to judge angels, evidently because they are to share in some way in executing judgment upon wicked spirits.

Law of Divine Creation. One of the definitions of law given in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary is “the observed regularity of nature.” As Creator of all things in heaven and earth (Ac 4:24; Re 4:11), Jehovah has established laws governing all created things. Job 38:10 speaks of a “regulation” on the sea; Job 38:12, of ‘commanding the morning’; and Job 38:31-33 calls attention to star constellations and to “the statutes of the heavens.” The same chapter points to God as governing the light, snow, hail, clouds, rain, dew, and lightning. Continuing to chapters 39 through 41, God’s care for the animal kingdom is shown, and the birth, life cycles, and habits of animals are attributed to regulations laid down by God, not to any evolutionary “adaptation.” In fact, in the very creating of life-forms, God incorporated the law that each was to bring forth “according to its kind,” making evolution impossible. (Ge 1:11, 12, 21, 24, 25) Man also brought forth sons “in his likeness, in his image.” (Ge 5:3) At Psalm 139:13-16 the embryonic growth of a child in the womb is spoken of, its parts being written down “in [Jehovah’s] book” before any of them actually existed. Job 26:7 describes Jehovah as “hanging the earth upon nothing.” Scientists today attribute the earth’s position in space primarily to the interaction of the law of gravity and the law of centrifugal force.

Law to Adam. In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were commanded by God concerning their duties (1) to fill the earth, (2) to subdue it, and (3) to have in subjection all other living creatures of earth, sea, and air. (Ge 1:28) They were given laws as to their diet, granting them the seed-bearing vegetation and fruit as food. (Ge 1:29; 2:16) However, Adam was given a command that prohibited eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad (Ge 2:17); this command was transmitted to Eve. (Ge 3:2, 3) Adam is referred to as a transgressor and a trespasser because he violated a stated law.​—Ro 5:14, 17; 4:15.

Laws to Noah; Patriarchal Law. Noah was given commandments relative to the building of the ark and the saving of his family. (Ge 6:22) After the Flood he was given laws that allowed the adding of flesh to man’s diet; declared the sacredness of life and therefore of blood, in which is the life; prohibited the eating of blood; condemned murder; and instituted capital punishment for this crime.​—Ge 9:3-6.

The patriarch was a family head and ruler. Jehovah is designated as the great Family Head, or Patriarch, “the Father, to whom every family in heaven and on earth owes its name.” (Eph 3:14, 15) Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are outstanding examples of patriarchs. These were especially dealt with by Jehovah. Abraham was given the command to circumcise all the males of his household as a sign of God’s covenant with him. (Ge 17:11, 12) He observed Jehovah’s “commands,” “statutes,” and “laws.” He knew Jehovah’s way to do righteousness and judgment and he laid these commands on his household.​—Ge 26:4, 5; 18:19.

The laws that governed the patriarchs were also generally understood and partially reflected in the laws of the nations at that time, all of which nations sprang from the three sons of Noah, the patriarch. For example, the Pharaoh of Egypt knew that it was wrong to take another man’s wife (Ge 12:14-20), as did the kings of the Philistines in the cases of Sarah and Rebekah.​—Ge 20:2-6; 26:7-11.

In the days of Moses, the Israelites were in slavery to Egypt. They had voluntarily gone into Egypt during Jacob’s lifetime but were enslaved after Jacob’s son, the prime minister Joseph, had died. So, in effect, they were sold into slavery for nothing. Jehovah, in harmony with the patriarchal law of redemption and of the priority of the firstborn son, told Pharaoh, by the mouth of Moses and Aaron: “Israel is my son, my firstborn. And I say to you: Send my son away that he may serve me. But should you refuse to send him away, here I am killing your son, your firstborn.” (Ex 4:22, 23) No redemption price was necessary for this release, nor was any given to Egypt. And when the Israelites left their slave masters, the Egyptians, “Jehovah gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians, so that these granted them what was asked; and they stripped the Egyptians.” (Ex 3:21; 12:36) They had entered the land with the approval of the Pharaoh, not as captives of war to be enslaved, but as free people. The enslavement had been unjust, so evidently Jehovah was seeing to it that they were now given wages for their labor.

The family was held responsible for violations of law by individual members. The patriarchal head was the responsible representative; he was blamed for wrongs of his family and was required to punish individual wrongdoers in the family.​—Ge 31:30-32.

Marriage and birthright. Parents governed the arrangement of marriage for their sons and daughters. (Ge 24:1-4) The paying of a bride-price was common. (Ge 34:11, 12) Among the worshipers of Jehovah, intermarriage with idolaters was disobedience and was against the interests of the family.​—Ge 26:34, 35; 27:46; 28:1, 6-9.

The birthright was reserved for the firstborn, belonging to him by inheritance. This included receiving a double portion of the estate. However, it could be transferred by the family head, the father. (Ge 48:22; 1Ch 5:1) The oldest son normally became the patriarchal head when the father died. Sons, after marriage, could establish households separate from the father’s headship and could themselves become family heads.

Morals. Fornication was disgraceful and punishable, especially in cases of engaged persons or married persons (adultery). (Ge 38:24-26; 34:7) Brother-in-law marriage was practiced when a man died without a son. His brother then had the responsibility to take the widow as his wife, and the firstborn of their union would inherit the dead man’s estate and carry on his name.​—De 25:5, 6; Ge 38:6-26.

Property. Generally there seems to have been no holding of individual property, aside from a few personal belongings; all herds, household goods, and equipment were held in common by the family.​—Ge 31:14-16.

On the basis of related historical evidence, some scholars believe that, in transferring land, the buyer was shown the land from a vantage point, the exact boundaries being designated. When the buyer said, “I see,” he indicated legal acceptance. When Jehovah gave Abraham the promise of receiving the land of Canaan, Abraham was first told to look in all four directions. Abraham did not say, “I see,” perhaps because God said that he would give the Promised Land to Abraham’s seed, later on. (Ge 13:14, 15) Moses, as the legal representative of Israel, was told to “see” the land, which, if the view just discussed is correct, would indicate legal transfer of the land to Israel, for them to take it under Joshua’s leadership. (De 3:27, 28; 34:4; consider also Satan’s offer to Jesus at Mt 4:8.) Another action appearing to have similar legal flavor was: walking across the land or entering it for the purpose of taking possession. (Ge 13:17; 28:13) In certain ancient documents, the number of trees on a piece of land was listed at each real-estate sale.​—Compare Ge 23:17, 18.

Custody. Legal responsibility came when an individual promised to keep or ‘guard’ a person, animal, or thing. (Ge 30:31) Reuben, as the firstborn of Jacob, was responsible in the case of Joseph’s disappearance. (Ge 37:21, 22, 29, 30) The custodian was to give sufficient care to what was in his charge. He had to restore animals stolen, but not those that died of themselves or that were lost through events beyond his control, such as a raid by armed sheep rustlers. If an animal was killed by a wild beast, evidence of the torn animal had to be produced to clear the custodian of responsibility.​—Ge 37:12-30, 32, 33; Ex 22:10-13.

Slavery. Slaves might be purchased or might be such through birth to slave parents. (Ge 17:12, 27) Slaves could enjoy a very honored position in the patriarchal household, as was the case with Abraham’s servant Eliezer.​—Ge 15:2; 24:1-4.

Law of God to Israel​—The Law of Moses. Jehovah gave Israel the Law through Moses as mediator, in the Wilderness of Sinai, 1513 B.C.E. At the inauguration of the Law at Mount Horeb there was an awe-inspiring demonstration of Jehovah’s power. (Ex 19:16-19; 20:18-21; Heb 12:18-21, 25, 26) The covenant was validated by the blood of bulls and goats. The people presented communion offerings, and they heard the book of the covenant read to them, after which they agreed to be obedient to all that Jehovah had spoken. Many of the earlier patriarchal laws were incorporated in the Law given through Moses.​—Ex 24:3-8; Heb 9:15-21; see COVENANT.

The first five books of the Bible (Genesis through Deuteronomy) are often referred to as the Law. Sometimes this term is used with reference to the entire inspired Hebrew Scriptures. Generally, however, the Jews considered the entire Hebrew Scriptures to be composed of three sections, “the law of Moses,” “the Prophets,” and “Psalms.” (Lu 24:44) Commands that came through the prophets were binding upon Israel.

Jehovah was identified in the Law as absolute Sovereign and also as King in a special way. Since Jehovah was both God and King of Israel, disobedience to the Law was both a religious offense and lèse-majesté, an offense against the Head of State, which in this case was against the King Jehovah. David, Solomon, and their successors on the throne of Judah were said to sit on “Jehovah’s throne.” (1Ch 29:23) Human kings and rulers in Israel were bound by the Law, and when they became despotic they were law violators accountable to God. (1Sa 15:22, 23) Kingship and priesthood were separate, this separation constituting a balance of power and a safeguard against tyranny. It kept the Israelites ever mindful that Jehovah was their God and real King. Each individual’s relationship to God and to his fellowman was defined by the Law, and each individual could approach God through the priestly arrangement.

The Law gave the Israelites the opportunity to become “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Ex 19:5, 6) The Law’s demands of exclusive devotion to Jehovah, its absolute prohibition of any form of interfaith, and its regulations concerning religious cleanness and diet constituted a “wall” to keep the nation outstandingly separate from other nations. (Eph 2:14) A Jew could hardly enter a Gentile tent or house or eat with Gentiles without becoming religiously unclean. In fact, when Jesus was on earth, even entering a Gentile house or building was thought to make a Jew unclean. (Joh 18:28; Ac 10:28) The sanctity of life and the dignity and honor of the family, of marriage, of person, were protected. Additional effects, which could be considered incidental to the religious separation that the Law covenant accomplished, were the health benefits and the protection from diseases common to the nations around the Israelites. The laws of moral cleanness, physical sanitation, and diet undoubtedly had a salutary effect when they were obeyed.

But the real purpose of the Law was, as stated by the apostle Paul, “to make transgressions manifest, until the seed should arrive.” It was a “tutor leading to Christ.” It pointed to Christ as the objective aimed at (“Christ is the end of the Law”). It revealed that all humans, including the Jews, are under sin and that life cannot be obtained by “works of law.” (Ga 3:19-24; Ro 3:20; 10:4) It was “spiritual,” from God, and “holy.” (Ro 7:12, 14) At Ephesians 2:15 it is called “the Law of commandments consisting in decrees.” It was a standard of perfection, marking the one who could keep it as perfect, worthy of life. (Le 18:5; Ga 3:12) Since imperfect humans could not keep the Law, it showed that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Ro 3:23) Only Jesus Christ kept it blamelessly.​—Joh 8:46; Heb 7:26.

The Law also served as “a shadow of the good things to come,” and things connected with it were “typical representations,” causing Jesus and the apostles to call upon it often to explain heavenly things and matters concerning Christian doctrine and conduct. Therefore, it provides an essential and necessary field of study for the Christian.​—Heb 10:1; 9:23.

Jesus said that the whole Law hung upon the two commandments, to love God and to love one’s neighbor. (Mt 22:35-40) It is interesting that in the book of Deuteronomy (where the Law was modified somewhat to govern Israel’s new circumstances upon settling in the Promised Land) the Hebrew words for “love,” “loved,” and so forth, appear more than 20 times.

The Ten Words (Ex 34:28), or the Ten Commandments, were the basic part of the Law but were combined with about 600 other laws, all of which were of equal force and binding power upon the Israelites. (Jas 2:10) The first four of the Ten Commandments defined man’s relationship to God; the fifth, to God and to parents; and the last five, to one’s fellowman. These last five were named in apparent order of severity of harm done to one’s fellowman: murder, adultery, stealing, bearing false witness, and covetousness or selfish desire. The tenth commandment makes the Law unique in comparison with the laws of all other nations in that it prohibits selfish desire, a command in reality enforceable only by God. It actually got at the cause of violation of all the other commandments.​—Ex 20:2-17; De 5:6-21; compare Eph 5:5; Col 3:5; Jas 1:14, 15; 1Jo 2:15-17.

The Law contained many principles and guiding statutes. The judges were given latitude to investigate and consider motives and attitude of violators, along with the circumstances surrounding the violation. A deliberate, disrespectful, or unrepentant violator received the full penalty. (Nu 15:30, 31) In other cases a lighter judgment might be determined. For example, whereas a murderer was to be put to death without fail, an accidental manslayer could receive mercy. (Nu 35:15, 16) The owner of a bull that habitually gored people and that killed a man might die; or the judges might impose a ransom. (Ex 21:29-32) The difference between a deliberate thief and a wrongdoer who voluntarily confessed evidently accounts for the difference between the penalty stated at Exodus 22:7 and that of Leviticus 6:1-7.

Law of Conscience. The Bible shows this results from persons having ‘the law written in their hearts.’ Those not under a direct law from God, such as the Law given through Moses, are shown to be “a law to themselves,” for their consciences cause them to be “accused or even excused” in their own thoughts. (Ro 2:14, 15) Many just laws in pagan societies reflect this conscience, originally placed in their forefather Adam and passed down through Noah.​—See CONSCIENCE.

At 1 Corinthians 8:7 the apostle Paul says that lack of accurate Christian knowledge could result in a weak conscience. Conscience can be a good guide or a poor one, depending upon the knowledge and training of the individual. (1Ti 1:5; Heb 5:14) One’s conscience can be defiled and, therefore, can mislead. (Tit 1:15) Some, by constantly going contrary to conscience, cause it to become like insensitive scar tissue, and consequently no safe guide to follow.​—1Ti 4:1, 2.

“Law of the Christ.” Paul wrote: “Go on carrying the burdens of one another, and thus fulfill the law of the Christ.” (Ga 6:2) While the Law covenant was terminated at Pentecost, 33 C.E. (“since the priesthood is being changed, there comes to be of necessity a change also of the law”; Heb 7:12), Christians come “under law toward Christ.” (1Co 9:21) This law is called “the perfect law that belongs to freedom,” “the law of a free people,” “the law of faith.” (Jas 1:25; 2:12; Ro 3:27) Such a new law had been foretold by God through the prophet Jeremiah when he spoke of a new covenant and the writing of his law on the hearts of his people.​—Jer 31:31-34; Heb 8:6-13.

Like Moses, the mediator of the Law covenant, Jesus Christ is Mediator of the new covenant. Moses wrote the Law in code form, but Jesus did not personally put a law down in writing. He talked and put his law into the minds and hearts of his disciples. Neither did his disciples set down laws in the form of a code for Christians, classifying the laws into categories and subheadings. Nonetheless, the Christian Greek Scriptures are full of laws, commands, and decrees that the Christian is bound to observe.​—Re 14:12; 1Jo 5:2, 3; 4:21; 3:22-24; 2Jo 4-6; Joh 13:34, 35; 14:15; 15:14.

Jesus gave instruction to his disciples to preach the ‘good news of the kingdom.’ His command is found at Matthew 10:1-42; Luke 9:1-6; 10:1-12. At Matthew 28:18-20 a new command was given to Jesus’ disciples to go, not to the Jews only, but to all nations, to make disciples and baptize them with a new baptism, “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.” Thus, with divine authorization Jesus taught and issued commands while on earth (Ac 1:1, 2) as well as after his ascension. (Ac 9:5, 6; Re 1:1-3) The entire book of Revelation consists of prophecies, commands, admonition, and instruction to the Christian congregation.

The “law of the Christ” covers the whole course and scope of the Christian’s life and work. By the help of God’s spirit the Christian can follow the commands in order to be judged favorably by that law, for it is “the law of that spirit which gives life in union with Christ Jesus.”​—Ro 8:2, 4.

“Law of God.” The apostle Paul speaks of the Christian’s fight as influenced by two factors, “the law of God,” or “the law of that spirit which gives life” on one side and “sin’s law,” or “the law of sin and of death,” on the other. Paul describes the conflict, saying that fallen flesh infected with sin is enslaved to “sin’s law.” “The minding of the flesh means death,” but “God, by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” With the help of God’s spirit the Christian can win the fight​—by exercising faith in Christ, putting to death the practices of the body, and living according to the spirit’s direction—​and can gain life.​—Ro 7:21–8:13.

Law of Sin and Death. The apostle Paul argues that, because of the sin of mankind’s father Adam, “death ruled as king” from Adam to the time of Moses (when the Law was given) and that the Law made transgressions manifest, making men chargeable with sin. (Ro 5:12-14; Ga 3:19) This rule, or law of sin, working in imperfect flesh exercises power over it, making it incline toward violation of God’s law. (Ro 7:23; Ge 8:21) Sin causes death. (Ro 6:23; 1Co 15:56) The law of Moses could not overcome the rule of kings sin and death, but freedom and victory come by means of the undeserved kindness of God through Jesus Christ.​—Ro 5:20, 21; 6:14; 7:8, 9, 24, 25.

“Law of Faith.” The “law of faith” is contrasted with “that of works.” Man cannot attain to righteousness by his own works or those of the Law of Moses, as though earning righteousness as pay for works, but righteousness comes by faith in Jesus Christ. (Ro 3:27, 28; 4:4, 5; 9:30-32) James says, however, that such faith will be accompanied by works that result from one’s faith and are in harmony with it.​—Jas 2:17-26.

Law of Husband. A married woman is under obligation to “the law of her husband.” (Ro 7:2; 1Co 7:39) The principle of husbandly headship holds true throughout the entire organization of God and has been in operation among those worshiping God as well as among many other peoples. God occupies the position of a husband to his “woman,” “the Jerusalem above.” (Ga 4:26, 31; Re 12:1, 4-6, 13-17) The Jewish national organization was in the relationship of a wife to Jehovah as husband.​—Isa 54:5, 6; Jer 31:32.

In patriarchal law the husband was the undisputed head of the family, the wife being in submission, though she could make recommendations subject to the husband’s approval. (Ge 21:8-14) Sarah called Abraham “lord.” (Ge 18:12; 1Pe 3:5, 6) A head covering was worn by the woman as a sign of her subjection to her husbandly head.​—Ge 24:65; 1Co 11:5.

Under the Law given to Israel the wife was in subjection. Her husband could allow or annul vows she made. (Nu 30:6-16) She did not inherit, but went along with the land inheritance, and in the event that the inheritance was repurchased by a kinsman, she was included. (Ru 4:5, 9-11) She could not divorce her husband, but the husband had the right to divorce his wife.​—De 24:1-4.

In the Christian arrangement, the woman is required to recognize the man’s position and not usurp it. The apostle Paul speaks of the married woman as being under the law of her husband as long as he is alive, but he points out that she is freed by his death, so that she is not an adulteress if she then remarries.​—Ro 7:2, 3; 1Co 7:39.

“Kingly Law.” The “kingly law” rightly has the prominence and importance among other laws governing human relationships that a king would have among men. (Jas 2:8) The tenor of the Law covenant was love; and “you must love your neighbor as yourself” (the kingly law) was the second of the commandments on which all the Law and the Prophets hung. (Mt 22:37-40) Christians, though not under the Law covenant, are subject to the law of the King Jehovah and his Son, the King Jesus Christ, in connection with the new covenant.

[Box on pages 214-220]



Jehovah God is the Supreme Sovereign (Ex 19:5; 1Sa 12:12; Isa 33:22)

King to sit on “Jehovah’s throne,” representing Him (1Ch 29:23; De 17:14, 15)

Other officers (chieftains of tribes; chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens) were selected on the basis of their fear of God, as well as their trustworthiness and incorruptibility (Ex 18:21, 25; Nu 1:44)

Respect was due to all who exercised God-given authority: officers, priests, judges, parents (Ex 20:12; 22:28; De 17:8-13)


(These were summed up in the greatest commandment in the Law​—to love Jehovah with one’s whole heart, mind, soul, and strength; De 6:5; 10:12; Mr 12:30)

Worship was to go only to Jehovah (Ex 20:3; 22:20; De 5:7)

Love should be a powerful motivating factor in one’s relationship with God (De 6:5, 6; 10:12; 30:16)

All were to fear God so as not to disobey him (Ex 20:20; De 5:29)

God’s name was not to be taken up in a worthless way (Ex 20:7; De 5:11)

They could approach him only in the way he approved (Nu 3:10; Le 10:1-3; 16:1)

All were obligated to keep the Sabbath (Ex 20:8-11; 31:12-17)

Congregating for worship (De 31:10-13)

All males were required to assemble three times a year: Passover and Festival of Unfermented Cakes, Festival of Weeks, and Festival of Booths (De 16:16; Le 23:1-43)

Man who deliberately neglected to keep Passover was “cut off” (Nu 9:13)

Supporting priesthood

Levites received a tithe, or tenth, of all the produce of the land from the other tribes (Nu 18:21-24)

Levites had to give to the priesthood a tithe made up of the very best of what they received (Nu 18:25-29)

Offering of sacrifices (Heb 8:3-5; 10:5-10)

Various offerings outlined in the Law: regular burnt offerings (Le chap 1; Nu chap 28), communion offerings (Le chap 3; 19:5), sin offerings (Le chap 4; Nu 15:22-29), guilt offerings (Le 5:1–6:7), grain offerings (Le chap 2), drink offerings (Nu 15:5, 10), wave offerings (Le 23:10, 11, 15-17)

Practices of false religion forbidden

Idolatry (Ex 20:4-6; De 5:8-10)

Making cuts in one’s flesh for the dead or tattooing one’s body (Le 19:28)

Planting a tree as a sacred pole (De 16:21)

Bringing things detestable, devoted to destruction, into one’s house (De 7:26)

Speaking of revolt against Jehovah (De 13:5)

Advocating false worship (De 13:6-10; 17:2-7)

Going over to false worship (De 13:12-16)

Devoting offspring to false gods (Le 18:21, 29)

Spiritism, sorcery (Ex 22:18; Le 20:27; De 18:9-14)


(In fulfilling their duties, the priests were assisted by the Levites; Nu 3:5-10)

Teach the Law of God (De 33:8, 10; Mal 2:7)

Serve as judges, applying divine law (De 17:8, 9; 19:16, 17)

Offer sacrifices on behalf of the people (Le chaps 1-7)

Use Urim and Thummim to inquire of God (Ex 28:30; Nu 27:18-21)


Membership in congregation of Israel not limited to those born into the nation

Persons of other nations could become circumcised worshipers

Such alien residents were bound to keep all the terms of the Law covenant (Le 24:22)

Restrictions limiting membership in congregation of Israel

No man castrated by crushing testicles or having male member cut off (De 23:1)

No illegitimate son or his descendants to “tenth generation” (De 23:2)

No Ammonite or Moabite (evidently males) to time indefinite, because they would not extend hospitality but opposed Israel at the time of the Exodus from Egypt (De 23:3-6)

Sons born to Egyptians “as the third generation” could be admitted (De 23:7, 8)


(Laws governing legal cases highlighted Jehovah’s justice and mercy. Judges were given latitude to show mercy, depending on the circumstances. These laws also kept the nation uncontaminated and protected the welfare of each individual Israelite)


Priests, kings, and other men appointed as judges (Ex 18:25, 26; De 16:18; 17:8, 9; 1Ki 3:6, 9-12; 2Ch 19:5)

Standing before judges was regarded as standing before Jehovah (De 1:17; 19:16, 17)

Hearing cases

Ordinary cases were submitted to judges (Ex 18:21, 22; De 25:1, 2; 2Ch 19:8-10)

If lower court could not make decision, case would go to higher courts (Ex 18:25, 26; 1Ki 3:16, 28)

Exceptional or hard cases that were taken to priests:

Cases of jealousy or unchastity of wife (Nu 5:12-15)

When witness charged another with revolt (De 19:16, 17)

When a violent deed or one causing bloodshed was committed, or when decision was hard or it was disputed (De 17:8, 9; 21:5)

When man was found slain in field and murderer could not be identified (De 21:1-9)


At least two witnesses required to establish truth (De 17:6; 19:15; compare Joh 8:17; 1Ti 5:19)

Hands of witnesses were to be the first to come upon guilty person in putting him to death. This was deterrent to false, hasty, or careless testimony (De 17:7)

Testifying falsely

Perjury was strictly forbidden (Ex 20:16; 23:1; De 5:20)

If false accusation against another person, false witness would receive punishment schemed for accused (De 19:16-19)

Bribery, partiality in judgment

Bribery prohibited (Ex 23:8; De 27:25)

Perverting justice forbidden (Ex 23:1, 2, 6, 7; Le 19:15, 35; De 16:19)

Holding a person in custody was done only when case was difficult and had to be decided by Jehovah (Le 24:11-16, 23; Nu 15:32-36)


Strokes​—limited to 40, to avoid disgraceful beating (De 25:1-3; compare 2Co 11:24)

Death by stoning​—then body might be put on a stake as one accursed (De 13:10; 21:22, 23)

Retaliation​—retribution, a like punishment (Le 24:19, 20)

Damages: If a person’s animal damaged the property of another person (Ex 22:5; 21:35, 36); if a person kindled fire that damaged another’s property (Ex 22:6); if a person killed another’s domestic animal (Le 24:18, 21; Ex 21:33, 34); if a person unintentionally appropriated to his own use something “holy,” such as tithes or sacrifices (Le 5:15, 16); if a person deceived an associate about something in his charge or a deposit in hand or a robbery or something found, swearing falsely concerning these things (Le 6:2-7; Nu 5:6-8)

Cities of refuge

Accidental manslayer could flee to nearest one (Nu 35:12-15; De 19:4, 5; Jos 20:2-4)

Then trial was held in jurisdiction where incident occurred

One found to be an unintentional manslayer had to live in city of refuge until the death of the high priest (Nu 35:22-25; Jos 20:5, 6)

A deliberate murderer was put to death (Nu 35:30, 31)


(The Law safeguarded Israel by preserving the sacred status of marriage and family life)

Marriage, first performed by Jehovah (Ge 2:18, 21-24)

Husband was owner of his wife but was answerable to God for how he dealt with her (De 22:22; Mal 2:13-16)

Polygamy was permitted but was regulated so as to safeguard wife and her offspring (De 21:15-17; Ex 21:10)

Marriage was compulsory after seduction (unless father of girl forbade it) (Ex 22:16, 17; De 22:28, 29)

Levirate marriage was the arrangement in which a man married his brother’s widow if his deceased brother died sonless; the man failing to do so was reproached (De 25:5-10)

Marriage alliances with aliens were forbidden (Ex 34:12-16; De 7:1-4), but marriage with captive women was permitted (De 21:10-14)

Women who were heirs of land were to marry only within tribe (Nu 36:6-9)


Only husband was allowed to divorce (for something indecent on wife’s part); he was required to give wife written certificate of divorce (De 24:1-4)

No divorce allowed if husband had married wife after seducing her (De 22:28, 29)

Man could not remarry woman he divorced after she had married again and her second husband divorced her or died (De 24:1-4)

Adultery carried death penalty for both guilty parties (Ex 20:14; De 22:22)


An Israelite man could not marry any of the following: His mother, stepmother, or a secondary wife of his father (Le 18:7, 8; 20:11; De 22:30; 27:20); his sister or half sister (Le 18:9, 11; 20:17; De 27:22); his granddaughter (Le 18:10); his aunt (either his mother’s sister or his father’s sister) (Le 18:12, 13; 20:19); his aunt by marriage (either his father’s brother’s wife or his mother’s brother’s wife) (Le 18:14; 20:20); his daughter-in-law (Le 18:15; 20:12); his daughter, stepdaughter, stepdaughter’s daughter, stepson’s daughter, mother-in-law (Le 18:17; 20:14; De 27:23); brother’s wife (Le 18:16; 20:21), except in levirate marriage (De 25:5, 6); his wife’s sister during his wife’s lifetime (Le 18:18)

An Israelite woman could not marry any of the following: Her son or her stepson (Le 18:7, 8; 20:11; De 22:30; 27:20); her brother or half brother (Le 18:9, 11; 20:17; De 27:22); her grandfather (Le 18:10); her nephew (either her brother’s son or her sister’s son) (Le 18:12, 13; 20:19); her nephew (either her husband’s brother’s son or her husband’s sister’s son) (Le 18:14; 20:20); her father-in-law (Le 18:15; 20:12); her father, stepfather, mother’s stepfather, father’s stepfather, son-in-law (Le 18:7, 17; 20:14; De 27:23); her husband’s brother (Le 18:16; 20:21), except in levirate marriage (De 25:5, 6); her sister’s husband during her sister’s lifetime (Le 18:18)

Penalty for incest: death (Le 18:29; 20:11, 12, 14, 17, 20, 21)

Intercourse during menstruation

If a man and a woman deliberately cohabited during menstruation, they were cut off in death (Le 18:19; 20:18)

Husband who unwittingly had intercourse with wife during such uncleanness (perhaps at unexpected beginning of menstruation) was unclean seven days (Le 15:19-24)

Parent-child relationships

Parents (especially fathers) were commanded to teach children God’s Law (De 6:6-9, 20-25; 11:18-21; Isa 38:19)

Children to honor parents (Ex 20:12; 21:15, 17; Le 19:3; De 5:16; 21:18-21; 27:16)

Wearing dress of opposite sex (to deceive for immoral purposes) was prohibited (De 22:5)

Sodomy carried death penalty for both persons involved (Le 18:22; 20:13)

Bestiality resulted in death for person and beast (Ex 22:19; Le 18:23, 29; 20:15, 16; De 27:21)

Indecent assault (woman in husband’s fight grabbed hold of other man’s privates) punished by amputation of her hand, instead of penalty of like for like, out of Jehovah’s regard for her reproductive powers and her husband’s right to have children by her (De 25:11, 12)


(The Law encouraged both honesty in business dealings and respect for the home and property of others)

Ownership of land

Land was allotted to families (Nu 33:54; 36:2)

Land not sold permanently but reverted to owner at Jubilee; its sale value was based on the number of crops until Jubilee (Le 25:15, 16, 23-28)

If there was a sale, nearest kinsman had right to buy (Jer 32:7-12)

The state did not have right to seize one’s land inheritance for public purposes simply by paying compensation (1Ki 21:2-4)

Share of Levites consisted of cities and their pasture grounds

Of the 48 cities allotted, 13 were priestly cities (Nu 35:2-5; Jos 21:3-42)

Field of pasture ground of a Levite city could not be sold; it belonged to city, not to individuals (Le 25:34)

If man sanctified (set aside the use or production of) part of a field to Jehovah (sanctuary use, priesthood), the standard for estimating its value was that the area of ground seeded by a homer of barley would be worth 50 shekels of silver; the value diminished proportionately according to number of years left until next Jubilee (Le 27:16-18)

If sanctifier wanted to buy it back, he had to add 20 percent to the estimated value (Le 27:19)

If he did not buy it back but sold it to another man, at the Jubilee it became the possession of the priest as holy to Jehovah (Le 27:20, 21)

If a man sanctified to Jehovah part of field he had purchased from another, at Jubilee it returned to original holder (Le 27:22-24)

If a man “devoted” anything of his own property (“devoted” things were permanently and solely for sanctuary use or for destruction; Jos 6:17; 7:1, 15; Eze 44:29), it could not be sold or bought back; it remained Jehovah’s (Le 27:21, 28, 29)

Redemption of property

All land returned to original possessor at time of Jubilee (with previously noted exceptions) (Le 25:8-10, 15, 16, 24-28)

Levites could redeem their houses in Levite cities at any time (Le 25:32, 33)

Jubilee year: began on Day of Atonement, in 50th year; counting started from year Israelites entered land (Le 25:2, 8-19)


Firstborn son inherited double share of property (De 21:15-17)

When there was no son, inheritance went to daughters. (Nu 27:6-8) If man had neither sons nor daughters, it went to his brothers, to his father’s brothers, or to his nearest blood relative (Nu 27:9-11)

Scales, weights, and measures

Jehovah demanded honesty and accuracy (Le 19:35, 36; De 25:13-15)

Cheating was detestable to him (Pr 11:1)


At end of every seven years, Hebrew brothers were released from debts (De 15:1, 2)

Could press foreigner for payment of debt (De 15:3)

Security for a loan

If a person took a person’s outer garment as security for a loan, he must not keep it overnight (The poor often slept in the garment for lack of other bedclothes) (Ex 22:26, 27; De 24:12, 13)

A person could not enter another man’s house to get a pledge or something as a security for a loan. He had to remain outside the house and let the person bring it out to him (This maintained the inviolability of the man’s domain) (De 24:10, 11)

One could not take a hand mill or its upper grindstone for security (The person then could not grind grain to feed himself and his family) (De 24:6)


(These laws regulated Israel’s God-ordained warfare in the Promised Land. Wars of selfish aggression or conquest beyond God-given limits were strictly forbidden)


To be only wars of Jehovah (Nu 21:14; 2Ch 20:15)

Soldiers were sanctified before going into battle (1Sa 21:1-6; compare Le 15:16, 18)

Age of soldiers

Twenty years old and upward (Nu 1:2, 3; 26:1-4)

According to Jewish Antiquities, III, 288 (xii, 4), by Josephus, they served until 50 years of age

Exemptions from military service:

Levites, as ministers of Jehovah (Nu 1:47-49; 2:33)

Man who had not inaugurated newly built house or had not used newly planted vineyard (De 20:5, 6; compare Ec 2:24; 3:12, 13)

Man who had become engaged and had not yet taken his wife. The newly married man continued exempt for one year (Man had the right to have heir and to see this heir) (De 20:7; 24:5)

Man who was fearful (He would tend to break down morale of fellow soldiers) (De 20:8; Jg 7:3)

Cleanliness was required in camp (since soldiers were sanctified for warfare) (De 23:9-14)

No women were allowed as camp followers for sex relations; relations with women were abstained from during campaign. This ensured religious and physical cleanliness (Le 15:16; 1Sa 21:5; 2Sa 11:6-11)

No raping of women among enemy was allowed, for this would be fornication; and no marriage with such women was permitted until campaign was over. This provided for religious cleanliness and it also was an inducement for enemy surrender, for they would be assured that their women would not be molested (De 21:10-13)

Military procedures against enemy cities

If city that was attacked belonged to one of seven nations of land of Canaan (mentioned at De 7:1), all inhabitants were to be devoted to destruction. (De 20:15-17; Jos 11:11-14; De 2:32-34; 3:1-7) If left in the land, these would be a danger to continued relationship of Israel with Jehovah God. He had let them live in land until their iniquity came to completion (Ge 15:13-21)

For cities not belonging to the seven nations, terms of peace would first be proclaimed. (De 20:10, 15) If city surrendered, inhabitants were put to forced labor. If they did not surrender, all males and all women not virgins were killed. Others were spared as captives. (De 20:11-14; compare Nu 31:7, 17, 18.) Killing all men removed danger of later revolt by city and also marriage of these men to Israelite women. These measures also helped to avoid phallic worship and diseases among Israelites

Trees producing food could not be cut down and used for siegeworks (De 20:19, 20)

Chariots were burned; horses were hamstrung to incapacitate them for battle, and later they were killed (Jos 11:6)


(These served to keep the Israelites separate from pagan nations, to promote cleanliness and health, and to remind them of their holiness to God; Le 19:2)

Use of blood

Eating of blood was strictly forbidden. (Ge 9:4; Le 7:26; 17:12; De 12:23-25) Penalty for violation: death (Le 7:27; 17:10)

Life (soul) is in the blood (Le 17:11, 14)

Blood of slaughtered animal had to be poured out on ground like water and covered with dust (Le 17:13; De 12:16)

No animal dying of itself or found dead could be eaten (because it was unclean and had not been properly bled) (De 14:21)

Only legal uses: put upon altar for atonement; used for prescribed cleansing purposes (Le 17:11, 12; De 12:27; Nu 19:1-9)

Use of fat

No fat could be eaten; fat belonged to Jehovah (Le 3:16, 17; 7:23, 24)

Eating fat of offering brought death penalty (Le 7:25)

Slaughtered animals

In wilderness, any domestic animals that were to be slaughtered were to be brought to tabernacle. They would be eaten as communion sacrifices (Le 17:3-6)

Penalty for violation: death (Le 17:4, 8, 9)

Wild clean animals caught in hunting could be killed on the spot; blood had to be poured out (Le 17:13, 14)

After entering Promised Land, clean animals could be slaughtered for food in the place of a person’s residence if he was far from the sanctuary, but blood had to be poured on ground (De 12:20-25)

Animals, fish, insects permitted for food:

Every creature that splits hoof, forming a cleft therein, and chews cud (Le 11:2, 3; De 14:6)

Everything in the waters that has fins and scales (Le 11:9-12; De 14:9, 10)

Insects and winged swarming creatures that go upon all fours and have leaper legs: migratory locust, edible locust, cricket, and grasshopper (all according to their kinds) (Le 11:21, 22)

Animals, fish, birds, swarming creatures prohibited for food:

Animals: camel, rock badger, hare, pig (Le 11:4-8; De 14:7, 8)

Fish and other swarming creatures in the water that have no fins or scales (Le 11:10)

Birds and flying creatures: eagle, osprey, black vulture, red kite, black kite, glede, raven, ostrich, owl, gull, falcon, little owl, long-eared owl, swan, pelican, vulture, cormorant, stork, heron, hoopoe, bat, any winged swarming creature that goes on all fours (that is, having locomotion in the manner of animals that walk on four legs). The factors determining which flying creatures were designated ceremonially “unclean” are not expressly stated in the Bible. While most of the “unclean” birds were birds of prey or scavengers, not all of them were (De 14:12-19; Le 11:13-20; see BIRDS and articles on individual birds)

Swarming creatures on the earth: mole rat, jerboa, lizard, gecko fanfoot, large lizard, newt, sand lizard, chameleon, any creature that goes upon the belly, on all fours (style of locomotion), or on any great number of feet (Le 11:29, 30, 42)

Animal that died of itself or was already dead or torn by wild beast (Le 17:15, 16; De 14:21; Ex 22:31)

Animals presented as vow or voluntary offerings, communion sacrifice could be eaten on day offered and on second but not on third day; penalty for violation, death. Thanksgiving sacrifice to be eaten on that day; none to be saved over until morning (second day). Passover must not be left over; what was not eaten was to be burned (Le 7:16-18; 19:5-8; 22:29, 30; Ex 12:10)

Things causing uncleanness:

Emission of semen

Person had to bathe and was unclean until evening (Le 15:16; De 23:10, 11)

Garment touched by semen was washed and was unclean until evening (Le 15:17)

Husband and wife, after having intercourse, had to bathe and were unclean until evening (Le 15:18)


Woman was unclean 7 days after bearing a male, plus 33 days (first 7 days, unclean to all, as in menstruation; 33 days unclean only in relation to touching holy things such as sacrificial meals or coming into the holy place) (Le 12:2-4)

If child was female, woman unclean 14 days, plus 66 (Le 12:5)

Woman’s menstruation (Le 12:2)

Woman unclean seven days in regular menstruation; during entire period of abnormal or extended discharge of blood, plus seven days (Le 15:19, 25, 28)

During her uncleanness anything on which she sat or lay down was unclean (Le 15:20)

Person who touched her or her bed or what she sat on had to wash garments and bathe and was unclean until evening (Le 15:21-23)

If her menstrual impurity came to be upon a man, he was unclean seven days, and any bed upon which he would lie was unclean (Le 15:24)

Anytime she had running discharge she was unclean (Le 15:25)

Safeguards against disease

Leprosy and other plagues

Priest determined whether it was leprosy or not (Le 13:2)

Person was quarantined seven days and then examined; if plague had stopped, quarantined seven more days (Le 13:4, 5, 21, 26); if plague did not spread then, he was pronounced clean (Le 13:6); if plague spread, it was leprosy (Le 13:7, 8)

If leprous, person had to have garments torn, let his head become ungroomed, cover over mustache (or upper lip), call out “Unclean, unclean!” Dwelt isolated outside camp until plague cured (Le 13:45, 46; Nu 5:2-4)

Genital discharge (evidently due to diseased condition) (Le 15:2, 3)

Bed or articles that such a person would sit or lie on were unclean (Le 15:4)

Anyone who touched the affected person, his bed, or whatever he was sitting on was unclean, or if affected person spat on another, he was rendered unclean (Le 15:5-11)

If touched by one having running discharge, earthenware vessels were smashed, wooden one was rinsed with water (Le 15:12)

After discharge stopped, person was unclean seven days (Le 15:13)

Cleanness of military camp was safeguarded by requiring that excrement be deposited outside the camp and be covered over (De 23:12, 13)

Regulations concerning bodies of dead persons

Touching corpse, bone, or burial place of human made one unclean seven days (even when on open field). (Nu 19:11, 16) Death for refusing to purify self (Nu 19:12, 13) (See cleansing procedure at Nu 19:17-19)

All who were in or came into tent containing dead person were unclean as was any opened vessel there on which no lid was tied down (Nu 19:14, 15)

Regulations concerning bodies of dead animals

The body of a clean animal that died of itself made the one who carried it, touched it, or ate it unclean; the dead body of any unclean animal made the one who touched it unclean. Cleansing was required (Le 11:8, 11, 24-31, 36, 39, 40; 17:15, 16)

Bodies of unclean animals would make items such as vessels, jar stands, ovens, garments, skins, and sackcloth unclean by contact (Le 11:32-35)

Spoil taken from city

Everything that could be processed with fire had to be so processed (metals), then purified by water for cleansing; other things had to be washed (Nu 31:20, 22, 23)


(The Law specified that “you must love your fellow as yourself”; Le 19:18. Jesus indicated that this was the second greatest commandment in the Law; Mt 22:37-40)

Toward fellow Israelites

Love was to be shown; murder was forbidden (Ex 20:13; Ro 13:9, 10)

Must not take vengeance or hold a grudge against one’s fellowman (Le 19:18)

Care for the poor (Ex 23:6; Le 25:35, 39-43)

Care for widows and orphans (Ex 22:22-24; De 24:17-21; 27:19)

Respect for property

Stealing was forbidden; compensation was required (Ex 20:15; 22:1-4, 7)

Wrongful desire for property and possessions belonging to one’s fellowman was forbidden (Ex 20:17)

Consideration for the handicapped

Could not ridicule or call down evil upon deaf person; he could not defend himself against statements he could not hear (Le 19:14)

One who put an obstacle in the way of blind person or misled him was cursed (Le 19:14; De 27:18)

Toward alien residents: they were not to be mistreated (Ex 22:21; 23:9; Le 19:33, 34; De 10:17-19; 24:14, 15, 17; 27:19)

Toward slaves

Hebrew slave was released in seventh year of his (or her) servitude or at Jubilee year, whichever came first. During slavery, to be treated as hired laborer, with consideration (Ex 21:2; De 15:12; Le 25:10)

If man came in with wife, she went out or was freed with him (Ex 21:3)

If master gave him a wife (evidently a foreigner) while he was in slavery, only he went free; if this wife had borne him children, she and children remained property of master (Ex 21:4)

On freeing Hebrew slave, master had to give him gift according to his ability to give (De 15:13-15)

Slave could be flogged by master. (Ex 21:20, 21) If maimed, was given freedom. (Ex 21:26, 27) If slave died under his master’s beating, master could be punished by death; judges would decide the penalty (Ex 21:20; Le 24:17)

Toward animals

If one came upon a domestic animal in distress, he was obligated to help it, even if it belonged to an enemy of his (Ex 23:4, 5; De 22:4)

Beasts of burden were not to be overworked or mistreated (De 22:10; compare Pr 12:10)

Bull not to be muzzled when threshing, so that it could feed on the grain it was threshing (De 25:4; compare 1Co 9:7-10)

A person was not to take both a mother bird and her eggs, thereby wiping out family (De 22:6, 7)

A person was not to slaughter a bull or a sheep and its young on the same day (Le 22:28)


It made transgressions manifest; it showed that the Israelites needed to be forgiven of their transgressions and that a greater sacrifice was required that could really atone for their sins (Ga 3:19)

As a tutor, it safeguarded and disciplined the Israelites, preparing them for the Messiah as their instructor (Ga 3:24)

Various aspects of the Law were shadows that represented greater things to come; these shadows helped righthearted Israelites to identify the Messiah, since they could see how he fulfilled these prophetic patterns (Heb 10:1; Col 2:17)