When reading through the laws and commandments in the Old Testament, there are many references to ordinances and statutes that are to be kept “forever” or “lasting” ordinances. This leads to an important question – what did God mean when He referred to lasting ordinances and statutes? Did He literally mean they should be kept forever?
There are a few key points to understand when examining this topic:
- The context of the “forever” laws and commandments
- The meaning of “forever” in biblical language
- How the coming of Christ affected the Old Testament laws
The Context of the “Forever” Laws and Commandments
First, it’s important to understand the context of the Old Testament laws that use this “forever” language. In most cases, these commands were specifically given in the context of God’s covenant with the nation of Israel. For example:
- The Sabbath law was given as a sign between God and the Israelites (Exodus 31:16-17)
- The Day of Atonement rituals were designated as lasting statutes for the Israelites (Leviticus 16:29, 34)
- The showbread in the tabernacle was an “everlasting covenant” for the sons of Aaron (Leviticus 24:8)
- Lighting the lamps in the tabernacle was a “statute forever” for the Israelites (Exodus 27:21)
- The Levitical priesthood and its duties were “statutes forever” for the Levites (Exodus 29:9; Numbers 18:23)
So in their original context, these laws applied specifically to Israel under the Mosaic Covenant. They were not necessarily intended to be kept forever by all people everywhere.
The Meaning of “Forever” in Biblical Language
Secondly, it’s key to understand that “forever” in biblical language does not always literally mean “for all eternity.” The Hebrew word translated as “forever” or “everlasting” is olam. This word has a complex range of meaning, including:
- A long duration into the future, as long as conditions allow
- A time hidden in the distant future
- A duration to the end of a person’s life
- A duration to the end of a generation
So “forever” could potentially refer to a long period of time with a specific duration, not necessarily forever in the absolute sense. Some examples:
- Slavery under the law was allowed forever (Exodus 21:6) but does not exist today
- Animal sacrifices were required forever (Leviticus 7:36) but ended with Christ’s sacrifice
- Solomon’s temple was said to last forever (1 Kings 8:13) but was destroyed in 586 BC
So when biblical laws use this “forever” terminology, it does not always mean absolute eternity. Often it refers to a long duration with potential limits and conditions.
How Christ Fulfilled the Old Testament Laws
The most important perspective on this topic comes from the arrival of Jesus Christ and His work to establish the new covenant. When Christ came, He fulfilled and completed the old covenant that God had made with Israel:
For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4)
Jesus did not abolish the Law, but fulfilled its purpose and requirements:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17)
Under the new covenant we are no longer under obligation to keep every detail of the Mosaic Law. Its purpose was to point to Christ, and He has now come:
But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. (Galatians 3:25-26)
The ceremonial and civil laws of Israel were temporary, but the moral principles behind them reflect God’s unchanging righteous standards (Matthew 5:17-19, 22:36-40). As believers, we are now empowered by the Spirit to fulfill God’s laws from the heart (Romans 8:1-4).
So for Christians today, the arrival of Christ and the new covenant affects how we relate to Old Testament laws like:
- Circumcision – No longer required physically (Galatians 5:2-6)
- Dietary laws – No longer bound to keep kosher (Mark 7:19, Acts 10:15)
- Sacrifices – Christ is the ultimate sacrifice (Hebrews 10:1-18)
- Sabbath – Fulfilled in Christ (Colossians 2:16-17, Hebrews 4:1-10)
- Priesthood – Believers are now priests under Christ (1 Peter 2:9)
The laws that were intended to set Israel apart and point them to Christ have now been fulfilled in Him. We relate to them differently as new covenant believers.
Clarifying Specific “Forever” Laws
Looking at some specific Old Testament laws that use “forever” language can help clarify how they apply under the new covenant:
Animal sacrifices were commanded forever throughout Leviticus and Numbers as part of tabernacle/temple worship. But Hebrews 10:1 makes clear that the sacrifices were only a shadow of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice:
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.
The endless sacrifices showed our constant need for forgiveness. But Christ’s sacrifice was once for all (Hebrews 7:27). So while they were commanded forever under the old covenant, animal sacrifices are no longer necessary after Christ.
The kosher dietary restrictions were given as “everlasting statutes” (Leviticus 3:17). But the New Testament makes clear that no foods are unclean for believers in Christ (Mark 7:19, Romans 14:14). Peter even received a vision in Acts 10:15 telling him to eat unclean animals.
So while the dietary laws had a purpose for Israel, they were temporary commands, not an unchanging moral law.
Keeping the Sabbath is called a “lasting covenant” (Exodus 31:16) and “permanent” sign between God and Israel (Exodus 31:17). But the New Testament asserts that the Sabbath was a shadow of the rest we find in Christ (Colossians 2:16-17). We are no longer under obligation to keep the Sabbath in legalistic way (Romans 14:5).
As Hebrews 4:1-10 explains, the true rest found in Christ has now arrived. The weekly Sabbath foreshadowed this eternal spiritual rest.
Giving a tithe (10%) was instituted as a “statute forever” for Israel (Leviticus 27:30-33). The New Testament does not explicitly do away with tithing. But it does emphasize principles of generous, cheerful giving (2 Corinthians 8-9) and warns against legalism (Matthew 23:23). Tithing is never commanded to the New Testament church.
So while tithing served a purpose for Israel, believers are called to more Spirit-led generosity, not legalistic giving.
Finally, the Aaronic priesthood and Levitical service were commanded as “lasting ordinances” (Exodus 29:9, 40:15). But the entire book of Hebrews explains how Christ’s priesthood has superseded the old covenant priests and sacrifices.
All believers are now priests who can boldly approach God’s throne through Christ (1 Peter 2:9, Hebrews 4:16). So the Levitical priesthood was set aside after serving its temporary purpose.
Summary of Principles
In summary, here are some key principles we can apply when considering Old Testament laws about “lasting” ordinances:
- They were given in context of Israel under the old covenant
- “Forever” refers to a long duration, not necessarily eternity
- Christ fulfilled the temporary laws that pointed to Him
- Moral principles behind laws reflect God’s unchanging standards
- Specific laws must be carefully considered in New Testament context
So when interpreted properly in their context, the forever laws given to Israel are perfectly consistent with the arrival of the new covenant in Christ. He fulfilled what the old laws pointed to.
This overview just scratches the surface of this deep topic. But hopefully it provides a framework for understanding the lasting laws in light of Christ’s completed work. The Lord knew that new covenant believers would need to rightly understand how we relate to the Old Testament laws. That’s why He inspired the apostles to write so extensively about these distinctions.
As we study the Bible, may we humbly rely on the Spirit to rightly divide Old and New Testament truths. This will equip us to walk in the freedom of Christ without losing the unchanging moral principles at the heart of God’s law.