Matthew 22 contains the great debate between Jesus and the Jewish authorities. The Pharisees, hoping to catch Jesus in a political faux pas quiz the Lord about paying taxes. If he says pay them, the people will turn from him. If he opposes paying them, the government will act against him. The Sadducees quiz Jesus on the resurrection and receive a scriptural refutation. The pharisees come back and ask Jesus about the greatest commandment – a controversy they suppose has no winner.
Jesus’ reply, however, not only finds no disagreement with his inquisitors, but has as its basis the text of Deuteronomy chapter five. His quote is from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. But his conclusion, that these two are the greatest commands are seen in Moses’ review of the decalogue. Deuteronomy 5:6-15 is the first part, duty to God. It is followed by duty to mankind, seen in verses 16-21.
Obviously, this is not the whole law. But it serves as the foundation of every law in the Mosaic dispensation.
And that brings us to this idea of “dispensation.”
Blessing from God is always connected with “covenant.” A covenant is an agreement between a greater (in this case God) and a lesser (Israel). It is always initiated by the greater, and the terms are laid out by the greater (and never negotiated as a contract would be – a reason for not calling a covenant a “contract”). God made a covenant with Adam and Eve. He made another with Noah and, of course, the first great one was with Abraham. The covenant sets forth the promises of the greater, and obligations of the lesser. The covenant made with Israel at Sinai was not made with Israel’s forebears (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). It was not made with Christians. It was made with Israel. While the laws and conditions of that particular covenant may not be a part of God’s covenant with us, they certainly tell us about God, what He wants, how He thinks. One should not think that this summary brief of the law in Deuteronomy 5 is just a list of laws no longer applicable. They in fact form the basis for every law in every covenant of the Lord thereafter.