The Law Before Sinai

Many have the notion that the Law was not known until Sinai. However, what if there were examples of the Law being found before Moses received the Torah on Mount Sinai? In this article we review several eye-opening occurrences showing not only that the law was known but also observed prior to Moses.

Seventh-day Sabbath
Let’s begin with the Sabbath. Many believe this command was first given to Moses on Mount Sinai, but as we see in Scripture, it was established long before Moses.
The earliest evidence for the Sabbath goes all the way back to creation in Genesis 2. “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day Elohim ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And Elohim blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which Elohim created and made” (Gen. 2:1-3).

Yahweh, our Father in heaven, created the heavens and earth in six
days and then rested on the seventh, blessing and sanctifying this day. The word “blessed” here comes from the Hebrew barak and means to “kneel or bless.” “Sanctified” comes from the Hebrew kaw-dash, meaning, “to be set apart or consecrated.”

We find that our Father in heaven blessed and set apart or consecrated the seventh day as a day of rest. Today we call this day the Sabbath, coming from a primitive root meaning “to cease from labor or exertion.”

It’s important to realize that Yahweh established the seventh day as a day of rest more than 2,000 years before Moses. According to biblical chronology, from Genesis 1 to the time of Moses was around 2,400 years. Contrary to popular belief, many of Yahweh’s laws were known before Sinai, some by more than 2,000 years. This shows that many of Yahweh’s commandments were established from the beginning and were given not only to the Israelites, but to all of mankind.

Isaiah 66:23 says that all flesh in the Kingdom will worship Yahweh from one Sabbath to another. This will happen when our Savior returns to establish His Father’s Kingdom here on earth. In the case of the Sabbath, that edict was established at the beginning of creation, given to Moses and Israelites, kept by the Messiah and the apostles in the New Testament, and will be kept by all of mankind in the coming Kingdom.

Another instance of the Sabbath before Sinai is found in Exodus 16:25-30. “And Moses said, Eat that today; for today is a sabbath unto Yahweh: today ye shall not find it in the field. Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none. And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none. And Yahweh said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws? See, for that Yahweh hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. So the people rested on the seventh day.”

Where in Exodus do we find Moses receiving the commandments from Sinai? We find it in Exodus 20, occurring after the time of this passage. This is important because it shows the Sabbath was known prior to Sinai. But if the Law were known before Sinai, what would be the purpose of Moses receiving it at that time?
First, after 400 years of slavery, Israel had probably forgotten many of the commandments.

Second, this was a way to write down or codify the law, making it more transmissible for the future.

But again, in the case of the Sabbath, we find ample evidence showing this day was known more than 2,000 years before Moses.

Law of the Passover
In Exodus 12:11-12, we find another command that was known prior to Sinai. “And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is Yahweh’s passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the mighty one’s of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am Yahweh.”

Here is the first description of Yahweh’s Passover. Keep in mind that the Law was given to Moses in Exodus 20. This shows that the Passover was known before the commandments were given at Sinai.

Recall that in the Old Testament the Passover entailed the passing over of the death angel and the release of Israel from slavery. In the New Testament this day remembers the death of Yahshua the Messiah, our Savior, and the remission of sins through His blood. The Passover is one of the most solemn days in Yahweh’s calendar and it was known before Sinai.

It’s important for believers to understand that the laws of our Father in heaven were known long before they were codified at Sinai and not just given to Moses and the Israelites.

Before moving on, we read that Yahweh would execute judgment against all the mighty ones of Egypt. This was done through the ten plagues of Egypt; each of the plagues was an attack on a different Egyptian mighty one. Below is a chart showing the connection between the plagues and how they correspond to various Egyptian deities.

For example, the 5th plague, which killed the cattle of Egypt, was likely an attack on the Egyptian deity Apis, which was depicted as a bull. This is probably where the Israelites got the idea of the golden calf they built at Sinai.

Feast of Unleavened Bread
Another time of worship mentioned is the Feast of Unleavened Bread in Exodus 12:15-16. “Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel. And in the first day there shall be an holy convocation, and in the seventh day there shall be an holy convocation to you; no manner of work shall be done in them, save that which every man must eat, that only may be done of you.”

As we know, the Passover is on the 14th day of Abib and the Feast of Unleavened Bread begins on the 15th of Abib. Also, this Feast is seven days long and forbids the eating of leavening. In Hebrew, “leavening” comes from two words, seor and chamets, one referring to the starter dough and the other referring to leavened bread or to a leavened food product.

Like the Passover this Feast was also decreed even before Moses received the commandments at Sinai. In fact, we find it first mentioned in Exodus 5:1, where Moses told Pharaoh to let his people go so they could keep a Feast in the wilderness. Again, the fact that we find evidence of this Feast prior to Moses’ receiving the law at Sinai verifies that commandments were in effect before that time.

Murderer Cain
Another commandment that was known long before Moses is in Genesis 4:8-10. “And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. And Yahweh said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper? And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.”

Here we find the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. As we know from the story, Yahweh looked more favorably upon Abel’s offering, and because of this Cain became jealous of his brother. This jealousy eventually led to Cain killing his brother.

This is important because it shows that the Sixth Commandment not to murder was understood even at this time. This occurred around 2,000 years before Moses, and even here we see that murder was understood as a sin. Cain knew what he did was wrong; this is why he tried to conceal the murder from Yahweh. But he was unable to hide his crime against his brother Abel. Yahweh declared that Abel’s blood cried out from the ground. This notion of the blood crying out is a Hebraic metaphor; blood does not literally cry out, but was simply Yahweh’s way of saying that He knew what Cain had done.

Two lessons are worth noting here. First, nothing good comes from jealousy. James 3:14-16 says, “But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” As believers, we should do our very best not to allow strife or jealousy within our hearts. Those who do so risk being found unworthy of Yahweh’s Kingdom.

And second, we see that it is impossible to deceive our Father in heaven. We might be able to deceive our family or friends, but we will never deceive the One we worship. He knows every action we make and every word we speak. In Galatians 6:7-8 Paul says: “Be not deceived; Elohim is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”

A command specifically against murder is also found in Genesis 9:5-6. “And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of Elohim made he man.”

We find here a law against murder, 2,000 years before Moses. This shows beyond a shadow of doubt that Yahweh’s commandments were NOT first given at Sinai, but were known long before that. Again, the difference we find before and after Sinai is the codification of the Torah or law. Before Sinai, Yahweh’s laws were either given directly from Yahweh or passed down orally. It’s also worth mentioning that Adam and Eve may have received this knowledge through the tree of good and evil. Whatever the case, the Law or Torah was known long before Sinai, but was not codified or written down for Moses to impart to the people.

This is the only difference between what we find here and what we see in Exodus 20. But in both cases, Yahweh condemns those to death who would commit murder. Some believe the death penalty is incompatible with Scripture; this account shows otherwise. Remember, Malachi 3:6 says that Yahweh does not change and neither does His Word.

Notice why Yahweh is opposed to murder: “…for in the image of Elohim made he man.” This makes man special and connected with His Creator and for this reason, murder is not only an attack on the person, but also on Yahweh, in whose image we are made.

Prohibiting Consuming Blood
In Genesis 9:4 we find another com-mand in effect before Sinai. “But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.” Here we see an important truth: the life of an animal is found in its blood. The same is obviously true for human beings.
As we know from medical science, blood provides many critical life functions. These include:
• transporting oxygen and nutrients throughout the body;
• protecting against disease; and
• removing carbon dioxide and other waste from metabolism.

This is why Yahweh says that life is in the blood. For those who question the existence of Yahweh, how is it possible that people 2,000 years ago understood the importance of blood? This, along with so many other facts, proves the existence of a Creator and the inspiration of the Bible.

The Benson Commentary provides two reasons for this command: “The principal meaning…of the passage, is to prohibit the eating of blood in any way, the eating of which seems to have been forbidden especially for two reasons: 1st, To be a token to mankind in all ages, that they would have had no right to take the life of any animal for food, if [Elohim] had not given them that right, and who, therefore, to remind them of it, and impress it on their minds in all generations, denied them the use of blood, and required it to be spilled upon the ground: 2nd: In honour of the blood of atonement, Leviticus 17:11-12. The life of the sacrifice was accepted for the life of the sinner, and blood made atonement for the soul, and therefore must not be looked upon as a common thing, but must be poured out before [Yahweh], 2 Samuel 23:16. And it ought to be observed, that this prohibition of eating blood, given to Noah and all his posterity, and repeated to the Israelites, in a most solemn manner, under the Mosaic dispensation, has never been revoked, but, on the contrary, has been confirmed under the New Testament, Acts 15; and thereby made of perpetual obligation.”

The second reason given is the most important, as blood was used for the atonement of sin. For this reason Yahweh commands that we refrain from eating blood. Not only do we find this prohibition repeated in the law given at Sinai, but also in the New Testament in Acts 15:20. This was in reference to those things the gentiles were immediately to abstain from when coming into the truth. Now for them, consuming blood was likely connected to pagan worship.

But again, the point here is that this law was known prior to Sinai. Not only do we see this law given to Moses, but also in the New Testament.

Clean and Unclean Animals
Let’s transition to another command we find before Sinai and that is the law of clean and unclean animals. “And Yahweh said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation. Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female” (Gen. 7:1-2).

Many believe that Noah brought a pair of each kind of animal on the ark, but this is not entirely true. Noah was commanded to bring two of every unclean animal and seven of every clean animal. So, we see that long before Moses, Yahweh’s instruction regarding the clean and unclean was already known.

What we find in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 was simply a codification of what was already known. Some might say that the clean and unclean was not a reference to animals for food but to the sacrificial system. Even if that were the case, we still see that the understanding of clean and unclean was already known. With proofs like these, how can anyone say that Yahweh’s law was first given at Sinai?

There were probably commandments that were new or specific to the time of Moses, but many fundamental laws were already known and in force before then.

Tithing Commanded
We’ve already seen pre-Sinai laws pertaining to the Sabbath, Passover, Unleavened Bread, murder, the eating of blood, and the command relating to clean and unclean animals. In Genesis 14:18-20, we find yet another command given before Sinai and that is tithing.

“And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high El. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high El, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high El, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.”
In this account Moses is return-ing from battle and he comes to Melchizedek, king of Salem. Beyond believing that this was a man or being similar to Yahshua the Messiah, I don’t believe we can know who exactly Melchizedek was. According to Hebrews 7, he was “like unto to the Son of Elohim” or Yahshua the Messiah. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines the word “like” as “to cause a model to pass off into an image or shape like it to express itself in it.” Strong’s defines it as “to assimilate closely.”

We see that Abraham tithed to Melchizedek, king of Salem, a name meaning “peace,” and priest of the Most High. According to most scholars, Salem is another name for Jerusalem.

The word tithe is from the Hebrew maaser and refers to a tenth. It’s the same word used in reference to the Levitical tithe. Many who oppose tithing might say this was only for the Levitical priesthood, but we find this command about 300 years before the Levites existed.

This solidifies the command of tithing. Again, the evidence clearly shows that it was found and practiced before Moses and the Levitical priesthood. Those who withhold the tithe or even part of it are guilty of robbing Yahweh.

Malachi 3:8-11 states, “Will a man rob Elohim? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse: for you have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring you all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith Yahweh of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith Yahweh of hosts.”
Another case of tithing before Sinai is seen in Genesis 28:20-22. “And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If Elohim will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall Yahweh be my Elohim: And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be Elohim’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.”

Here is Jacob vowing to give Yahweh a tithe of all that he would receive. This was a turning point in Jacob’s life. In this same passage is the dream that Jacob had of angels ascending and descending from heaven. This dream lit a fire under Jacob and motivated him to fully commit his life to Almighty Yahweh. From this experience we see that tithing is not only a command holy to Yahweh, but is a sign of our commitment and devotion to Him. For many there is nothing harder than giving 10% of their income to Yahweh, including many well-intended Torah observant believers.

Abraham’s Example
If these illustrations are not enough, in Genesis 26:4-5 we find a passage specifically saying that Abraham obeyed Yahweh’s commandments. “And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”

Here is undeniable verification that the commandments were known and obeyed by Abraham long before Moses, a span of many generations.

Let’s take a few moments and delve into how the Hebrew defines three key words. The word “commandments” comes from the Hebrew mitsvah and according to Strong’s refers to “a command, whether human or divine.” We know that the commandments were of divine origin and not the commandments of men.

The word “statutes” comes from the Hebrew chuqqah and refers to “an appointed, custom, manner, ordinance, site, statute.” The primitive root of this word can also refer to an appointment of time. It is possible this word is describing days of worship that were known during the time of Abraham.

The word “laws” comes from the Hebrew Torah. Here we find verification that Abraham obeyed the Torah some 300 years before the law was given to Moses at Sinai. Can there be any doubt that Yahweh’s commandments were known before Sinai?

Have No Other Mighty Ones
In our final case, in Genesis 35:1-4 we find that idolatry was known before Sinai. “And Elohim said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto El, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother. Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange mighty ones that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments: And let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto El, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went. And they gave unto Jacob all the strange mighty ones which were in their hand, and all their earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem.”

Jacob is telling those of his house-hold to put away their strange mighty ones. This is a reference to the false deities that some of the people were still holding on to.
Here is the most important com-mandment in Yahweh’s Word: the first of the Ten Commandments. Exodus 20:3 declares, “Thou shalt have no other mighty ones before me.”

Jacob removed and purged the false mighty ones in his household; he understood this decree, even though the Ten Commandments had not yet been written in stone. This shows, as with many commandments, that the First Commandment was known long before Sinai.

The belief that Yahweh’s laws were first given at Sinai is simply not true. As we’ve seen from the Word, many of the commandments were known before Moses, and in some cases by more than 2,000 years.

This is important because it shows Yahweh’s commandments existed from the beginning. Also, that Yahweh was the author of these commands and not Moses, who was simply the conduit between Yahweh and Israel. Lastly, it proves that the commandments were not only for Israel, but for those before and after, including those in the Messiah.

Scripture shows Yahweh’s com-mandments in effect at creation, during the time of the Israelites, during the New Testament, and even in the coming Kingdom. They are just as relevant today as they were for the Israelites of Old. As believers in the Messiah let us honor the One we worship by obeying His eternal and ever-abiding commandments.

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