Value of the Law
“It pleased Jehovah, for his righteousness’ sake, to magnify the law, and make it
honorable” Isaiah 42:21 (RVIC).
At the time the prophet Isaiah wrote the above words, Israel had become a corrupt nation. He described the people as deaf and blind to the words of God. As a result, God allowed them to be plundered by their enemies. For most Israelites, the Law had become an old relic to be cast aside. In this context, verse 21 stands out in a remarkable way. Despite Israel’s disregard for the Law, Jehovah magnified it and made it honorable. The prophet says He did it for the sake of His own righteousness. This can be understood in a variety of ways.
Israel’s low regard for the Law did not mean the Law was deficient in any way. For centuries it had guided and blessed them as a nation. Israel’s adherence to the Law had made them great and provided guiding moral principles. Turning away from the Law did not diminish its value. Coming from the mind of Jehovah meant that the values it taught would always be true and righteous, a manifestation of God’s own character.
The Contrast of Jesus
There is a significant contrast between Israel’s rebellious conduct, described in Isaiah 42, and the prophetic sentiments of our Lord, just a few chapters later. In Isaiah 50 we have a foregleam of Jesus’ own sentiments.
“The Lord Jehovah hath given me the tongue of them that are taught, that I may know how to sustain with words him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as they that are taught. … Jehovah hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away backward. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; I turned not aside my face from shame … Jehovah will help me; therefore have I not been confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame” (Isaiah 50:4-7 RVIC).
In these inspiring words, Jesus is seen as a dedicated student who shared his learning as a great teacher. He was eager to learn the principles of God and was always open to instruction. When confronted by the leaders of Israel, who had turned their backs to God, Jesus did not follow their example. Instead, he turned his back to their smiting and abuse. He endured humiliating treatment for his righteous stand and was not “confounded” by their shameful treatment and attempts to stumble him.
Jesus’ Call to Followers
Setting his face as a flint describes Jesus’ resolute stand for righteousness and unwavering devotion to the Father. His faith during adversity is further described by the prophet and includes a call for those who fear God. “He is near that justifieth me; who will contend with me? Let us stand together: who is mine adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord GOD will help me; who is he that shall condemn me? Lo, they all shall wax old as a garment; the moth shall eat them up” (Isaiah 50:8, 9).
The words “He is near that justifieth me” reflect our Lord’s assurance that his ministry was recognized and endorsed by God. Those who opposed his righteous ministry would age as a moth-eaten garment, but he would endure. The truth of his glorification is a comfort to all who appreciate the life and legacy that he left.
Coupled with the assurance of his victory, there is the call, “let us stand together.” This rings true in the hearts of those who love righteousness and appreciate the importance of being identified with our Lord. Standing with him means to embrace the same principles, standards, and commitments.
He Magnified the Law
Although the Isaiah prophecy says that Jehovah magnified the Law, it is no less true when applied to Jesus. John writes, “He whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand” (John 3:34, 35). Jesus was the perfect human reflection of God. His words were given to him by the Father. As Jehovah magnified the Law to Israel, Jesus brought an even deeper dimension to his followers.
When describing the Aaronic priesthood, the Apostle Paul said, “For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law” (Hebrews 7:12). His point is that we are not under bondage to the Law so its many rituals and sacrifices are no longer appropriate. But the moral aspects of the Law will always be right and good. Therefore, there are great lessons to be learned by studying the Law’s moral basis.
In an attempt to stumble Jesus, one of the Pharisees asked, “which is the great commandment of the Law?” (Matthew 22:36). “Jesus said unto him, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets’” (Matthew 22:37-40).
Jesus did not mean that everything written in the Law and Prophets is reducible to the principle of love. The Law and the Prophets contain the promises of God, the history of Israel, and many important features that teach God’s plan. Jesus meant that everything respecting our duties to God and man are summarized by love, that every aspect of the Law and every prophecy was driven by the love of God.
Love for God
Without the foundational principles of love, the other commandments become meaningless. There is a practicality to this concept. The reason we should have no other gods before Jehovah (the 1st Commandment) must be because we love Him for who He is. We love Him for His character and the blessed work He undertakes. Our love forbids us, not only from making graven images (the 2nd Commandment), but from placing anything or anyone above Him. Our love means we will never dishonor His name even in our words (the 3rd Commandment).
Those who love God supremely will understand that remembering Him only on the Sabbath is just not enough. He will be part of everyday life. Loving God, then, is the foundation of the first four commandments. It is the underlying theme of life that gives them a depth of meaning not seen on the surface.
Love for Man
In Romans 13:8-10 the Apostle Paul picks up on the great principle that lies beneath the last six commandments. “Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
Jesus once again magnified the Law when giving the Sermon on the Mount. When addressing the 6th Commandment, “thou shalt not kill” (more properly, murder) he enlarged the principle to include being angry without a cause, and the importance of reconciliation.
Focusing on the 7th Commandment, Jesus made it clear that the act of adultery extended beyond the physical action. Even an adulterous thought was sinful. He suggested that it would be better to be blinded than to face the debilitating effect of lust in the heart. He once again summarized this portion of the Law by admonishing that not only was it right to love one’s neighbor, but love should also be extended to their enemies (Matthew 5:21-48).
Jesus Made it Honorable
Jesus recognized the value and deeper principles conveyed in God’s Law. He honored it by living his life in accord with each one. He loved God supremely and was sensitive to the needs of the poor and downtrodden. He gave the ultimate gift by sacrificing his own life for the blessing of others. As a result, his life was honorable. The word honor is seldom heard in this world. It suggests a life driven by high moral standards. The Hebrew word translated “honorable” in Isaiah 42:21 means to “be great, or (figuratively) magnificent.” Jesus made the Law magnificent, something beautiful and to be appreciated on the deepest level.
Our hearts should bow in humble gratitude for the gift of godly principles we have been blessed with. It forms a basis for life on the highest level. Trying to live according to these guidelines is like a roadmap to finding joy and peace. These are the magnified principles that will lead mankind to eternal life.