A maker of laws; a legislator. The Bible centers attention on Jehovah as the fundamental Lawgiver of the universe.
Jehovah as the Lawgiver. Jehovah is actually the one true Lawgiver in the universe. Attributable to him are the physical laws governing inanimate creation (Job 38:4-38; Ps 104:5-19), and animal life. (Job 39:1-30) Man also, as a creation of Jehovah, is subject to Jehovah’s physical laws, and since he is a moral, rational creature, capable of reasoning and of spirituality, he is equally subject to God’s moral laws. (Ro 12:1; 1Co 2:14-16) Furthermore, Jehovah’s law governs spirit creatures, angels.—Ps 103:20; 2Pe 2:4, 11.
Jehovah’s physical laws are unbreakable. (Jer 33:20, 21) Throughout the known visible universe his laws are so stable and reliable that, in areas where scientists have knowledge of these laws, they can calculate the movements of the moon, planets, and other celestial bodies with split-second accuracy. One who goes contrary to the physical laws experiences immediate application of their sanctions. Likewise, the moral laws of God are irrevocable and cannot be circumvented or violated with impunity. They are as sure of enforcement as are His natural laws, though the punishment may not be as immediately enforced. “God is not one to be mocked. For whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap.”—Ga 6:7; 1Ti 5:24.
Before Jehovah gave his law to Israel, how could humans determine God’s will for them?
Whereas from Adam’s rebellion to the Flood badness increased among the majority of his descendants, some faithful men “kept walking with the true God.” (Ge 5:22-24; 6:9; Heb 11:4-7) The only specific commands recorded as given to such men by God are the instructions to Noah in connection with the ark. These Noah obeyed implicitly. (Ge 6:13-22) Nevertheless, there were principles and precedents to guide faithful humans in their “walking with the true God.”
They knew of God’s bounteous generosity in providing for man in Eden; they saw the evidence of divine unselfishness and loving interest. They knew that the principle of headship was in effect from the start, God’s headship over man and the man’s headship over woman. They knew of God’s assignment of work to man as well as His concern for proper care of the things given to man for his use and enjoyment. They knew that sexual unions were to be between man and woman and that those so uniting were to do so within a marital relationship, that they would ‘leave father and mother’ to form a lasting union instead of a temporary one (as in fornication). From God’s command regarding the use of the trees of the garden of Eden and the tree of the knowledge of good and bad in particular, they could appreciate the principle of ownership rights and due respect for such. They were aware of the bad results coming from the first lie. They knew of God’s approval of Abel’s course of worship, God’s disapproval of Cain’s envy and hatred of his brother, and God’s punishment of Cain’s murder of Abel.—Ge 1:26–4:16.
Thus, even without further specific statements, decrees, or statutes from God, they could draw on these principles and precedents to guide them in different, but related, situations that might develop. Centuries later, Jesus and his apostles viewed pre-Flood matters in this way. (Mt 19:3-9; Joh 8:43-47; 1Ti 2:11-14; 1Jo 3:11, 12) Law means a rule of action. By God’s words and acts they had the means for knowing something of his way, his standards, and this should be the rule of action, or law, for them to follow. By doing so, they could ‘keep on walking with the true God.’ Those failing to do so were sinning, ‘missing the mark,’ even though there was no law code to condemn them.
Following the Flood, God stated to Noah the law, binding on all mankind, that allowed the eating of flesh but prohibited eating of blood, and He stated the principle of capital punishment for murder. (Ge 9:1-6) In the early post-Flood period, men such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph showed genuine concern for God’s way, his rule of action. (Ge 18:17-19; 39:7-9; Ex 3:6) Though God gave certain specific commands to faithful men (Ge 26:5), such as the law of circumcision, there is no record of his giving them a detailed law code to observe. (Compare De 5:1-3.) Nonetheless, they had not only the principles and precepts of the pre-Flood period to guide them but also additional principles and precepts to be drawn from his expressions and dealings with mankind in the post-Flood period.
Thus, although God had not given a detailed law code, as he later did with the Israelites, men were not without some means for determining right and wrong conduct. Idolatry, for example, had not yet been specifically condemned by a stated law. Nonetheless, as the apostle Paul shows, such practice was inexcusable inasmuch as God’s “invisible qualities are clearly seen from the world’s creation onward, because they are perceived by the things made, even his eternal power and Godship.” The venerating and rendering of “sacred service to the creation rather than the One who created” was against all reason. Those following such an empty-headed course would thereafter deviate into other unrighteous practices, such as homosexuality, changing “the natural use of themselves into one contrary to nature.” Again, even though no specific law had been given, such practice was obviously contrary to the way of God the Creator, as the very structure of the male and female manifested. Man, having been originally made in God’s image, had intelligence sufficient to see these things. Hence, he was responsible before God if he went contrary to God’s way; he was sinning, ‘missing the mark,’ even without a specifically stated law to charge him with guilt.—Ro 1:18-27; compare Ro 5:13.
The Law covenant. Even prior to the Exodus from Egypt, Jehovah had served as the Statute-Giver to his people Israel. (Ex 12:1, 14-20; 13:10) But an outstanding example of his role as Lawgiver to a nation was his institution of the Law covenant. Here, for the first time, was a body of laws in code form governing every facet of life. This covenant making Israel an exclusive people, a nation belonging peculiarly to Him, distinguished Israel from all other nations.—Ex 31:16, 17; De 4:8; Ps 78:5; 147:19, 20.
In a prophetic message forecasting salvation by Jehovah, the prophet Isaiah stated: “Jehovah is our Judge, Jehovah is our Statute-giver [“lawgiver,” AS, Dy, Le, Yg], Jehovah is our King; he himself will save us.” (Isa 33:22) Jehovah therefore constituted the judicial, legislative, and executive power in Israel; the three branches of government were combined in him. Isaiah’s prophecy thus gave assurance of complete defense and direction for the nation, for it highlighted the fact that Jehovah was in a full sense the Sovereign Ruler.
In describing Jehovah as Israel’s Statute-Giver, or Lawgiver, Isaiah used a form of the Hebrew term cha·qaqʹ, which literally means “hew out” or “inscribe.” In discussing this word, the Hebrew lexicon by W. Gesenius explains: “Since the inscribing of decrees and statutes on public tablets and monuments was the part of the lawgiver, this implied also the power of decreeing.” (A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, translated by E. Robinson, 1836, p. 366) Bible translators have rendered the word “lawgiver,” “ruler,” and “commander.” (Ge 49:10; De 33:21; Jg 5:14; Ps 60:7; 108:8; compare AT, KJ, NW, RS, Yg.) Hence, the rendering “Statute-giver” is in accord with one sense of the Hebrew word, and it provides a suitable contrast and completeness at Isaiah 33:22, where the word is included in the same sentence with “Judge” and “King.”
God had not given such a detailed law to any other nation or people. Nevertheless, God had originally created man in righteousness and had endowed him with the faculty of conscience. Despite fallen man’s inherent imperfection and tendency toward sin, there also remained evidence of his having been made in his Creator’s image and likeness as well as evidence of the faculty of conscience. Thus, even among the non-Israelite nations certain rules of action and judicial decrees were developed that reflected to some degree the righteous principles of God.
The apostle Paul describes this in saying: “For instance, all those who sinned without law [that is, God’s law given to his people] will also perish without law; but all those who sinned under law will be judged by law. For the hearers of law are not the ones righteous before God, but the doers of law will be declared righteous. For whenever people of the nations that do not have law do by nature the things of the law, these people, although not having law, are a law to themselves. They are the very ones who demonstrate the matter of the law to be written in their hearts, while their conscience is bearing witness with them and, between their own thoughts, they are being accused or even excused.” (Ro 2:12-15) Thus, those nations, though not brought into legal relationship with God, were not sinless but ‘missed the mark’ of Jehovah’s perfect standards.—Compare Ro 3:9.
By giving the Law covenant to Israel, God made clear that all persons, not merely the idolatrous pagans but also the Israelites, were guilty of sin. It served to make the Israelites acutely aware of the many ways in which they failed to measure up to perfect standards. This was “so that every mouth may be stopped and all the world may become liable to God for punishment . . . for by law is the accurate knowledge of sin.” (Ro 3:19, 20) Even though an Israelite may have been free from idolatry, may have been abstaining from blood, may not have been guilty of murder, he was still declared guilty of sin by the Law covenant. This was so because the Law covenant now specifically identified a host of actions and even attitudes as sinful. Hence, Paul, viewing himself as if alive in the loins of his forefathers prior to the giving of the Law, says: “Really I would not have come to know sin if it had not been for the Law; and, for example, I would not have known covetousness if the Law had not said: ‘You must not covet.’ . . . In fact, I was once alive apart from law; but when the commandment arrived, sin came to life again, but I died.”—Ro 7:7-9.
Other Lawgivers. When God’s Son came to earth, he acknowledged Jehovah as his Lawgiver and God. As a Jew, Jesus himself was born under the Law covenant and was obligated to obey it perfectly. (Ga 4:4, 5) He, in turn, set forth laws for his followers, both when he spoke to them and through holy spirit operating on his followers who wrote the Christian Scriptures. Collectively, these laws are called “the law of the Christ.” (Ga 6:2; Joh 15:10-15; 1Co 9:21) This law governs “the Israel of God,” his spiritual “nation.” (Ga 6:16; 1Pe 2:9) Christ, however, did not originate these laws but got them from the great Lawgiver, Jehovah.—Joh 14:10.
Moses. Although the Bible repeatedly mentions “the law of Moses” (Jos 8:31, 32; 1Ki 2:3; 2Ch 23:18; 30:16), it also acknowledges Jehovah as the actual Lawgiver and Moses as only His instrument and representative in giving the Law to Israel. (2Ch 34:14) Even angels had a share in representing God in this matter, for the Law “was transmitted through angels by the hand of a mediator.” Nevertheless, Moses, being Jehovah’s appointed mediator of the covenant between God and Israel, is spoken of as if he were the lawgiver.—Ga 3:19; Heb 2:2.
Human rulers as lawgivers. God has not established worldly human governments nor given them their authority, but he has allowed them to exist and has removed them and permitted new ones to come up as it suited his purpose. (De 32:8; Da 4:35; 5:26-31; Ac 17:26; Ro 13:1) Some of these rulers become lawgivers to their nation, state, or community. But their laws and statutes are proper only if made within the framework of and in harmony with the law of the Great Lawgiver, Jehovah God. The famous British jurist Sir William Blackstone said, with reference to God’s law governing natural things: “It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times: no human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid derive all their force, and all their authority, mediately or immediately, from this original.” Also, “Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation [found only in the Holy Scriptures], depend all human laws, that is to say, no human laws should be suffered to contradict these.”—Chadman’s Cyclopedia of Law, 1912, Vol. I, pp. 89, 91; compare Mt 22:21; Ac 5:29.
In the Christian congregation. Jesus’ half brother James wrote to some Christians who were becoming proud, boastful, and critical of their Christian brothers, saying: “Quit speaking against one another, brothers. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother speaks against law and judges law. Now if you judge law, you are, not a doer of law, but a judge. One there is that is lawgiver [Gr., no·mo·theʹtes] and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But you, who are you to be judging your neighbor?” James goes on to speak of those who bragged about what they would do in the future, as though they were independent of circumstances, instead of saying, “If Jehovah wills.” (Jas 4:11-16) James had spoken of “the kingly law,” “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” (Jas 2:8) These Christians, by failing to exhibit love for their neighbor, speaking against him instead, were, in effect, setting themselves up as judges of divine law, as lawgivers or lawmakers.
The apostle Paul had given similar counsel in his letter to the Romans concerning some who were judging others on the basis of such things as what they ate and drank: “Who are you to judge the house servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for Jehovah can make him stand.”—Ro 14:4.
In the light of the foregoing, how can Paul’s instructions with regard to a serious case of fornication in the congregation at Corinth be viewed? He said: “I for one, although absent in body but present in spirit, have certainly judged already, as if I were present, the man who has worked in such a way as this . . . Do you not judge those inside, while God judges those outside? ‘Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.’” He then spoke of judging matters of this life and of those that they “put in as judges” for themselves.—1Co 5:1-3, 12, 13; 6:3, 4; compare Joh 7:24.
With authority vested in him as an apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul had responsibility for the cleanness and welfare of the congregations (2Co 1:1; 11:28); so he wrote to those who by appointment of the governing body had authority in the congregation. (Ac 14:23; 16:4, 5; 1Ti 3:1-13; 5:22) They were responsible for keeping the congregation in good standing, as pure in God’s sight. These men, in sitting in judgment in the case mentioned, which was an open and flagrant violation of God’s law, would not be making themselves judges of the law of God, nor would they be making laws according to their will. They would not be going beyond the boundaries of God-given law. They would be acting according to the law given by the great Statute-Giver, denouncing fornication as unclean. Practicers of such uncleanness could not enter God’s Kingdom, according to God’s law. (1Co 6:9, 10) They were not fit to remain in association with the congregation of Christ. Yet even then the men responsible for the cleanness of the congregation, by expelling unclean ones, were not executing the penalty that God the Lawgiver himself would execute on those unrepentantly continuing to follow such a course, namely, death.—Ro 1:24-27, 32.
Paul also calls to the attention of Christians that “the holy ones will judge the world” and that “we shall judge angels.” Here he is speaking, not of the present time, but of the future, when those who reign in the Kingdom with Christ will serve as heavenly judges, administering the law of God and executing judgment on wicked ones.—1Co 6:1-3; Re 20:6; compare 1Co 4:8.
Moses’ blessing of Gad. In Moses’ blessing of the tribes of Israel just before his death, “as to Gad he said: ‘Blessed is the one widening the borders of Gad. . . . And he [Gad] will pick out the first part for himself, for there the allotment of a statute-giver is reserved.’” (De 33:20, 21) This use of the term “statute-giver” may have the following meaning: Most of the tribes had their inheritance assigned to them by lot, under the direction of Joshua and Eleazar the high priest. But, shortly after the defeat of the Midianites, the tribe of Gad, along with Reuben, had requested land E of the Jordan River. Since these tribes had much livestock, the land was well suited for them. Moses heard their request favorably and granted them this part of the land. (Nu 32:1-5, 20-22, 28) Hence, their portion was an “allotment of a statute-giver,” Moses, the lawgiver to Israel.