Let me test your Bible knowledge. This question ranks like a high cash-value question on Jeopardy. Did the law of Moses require the nation of Israel to be perfectly obedient to God? If you answered in the negative, you correctly answered this question.
Notice what I did not ask. I did not ask if the law of Moses required Israel to be perfectly obedient to it. That last word makes all the difference. While God requires perfect obedience for eternal life, the law of Moses administered a temporary gracious measure that allowed a sinful people to walk righteously before him.
We know the law of Moses did not require perfect obedience, because, among other things, it provided a sacrificial system in which many of the sacrifices related to the people’s sin. Furthermore, whenever Jesus explicated the law of Moses, he revealed the greater level of obedience to which the law of Moses pointed (for some examples, see Matthew 5).
To put this more vividly, through the law of Moses God bowed down on his knee to say to sinful Israel: “I love you and have chosen you. I want this relationship to be beautiful and holy, worthy of your utmost to guard and protect. But I know you are a sinful people; therefore, I have accommodated to your sinfulness a law that will allow you to walk before me. If you keep this law and these statutes, you can walk before me and I will bless you.”
For this reason, at the conclusion of his covenant renewal sermon, Moses said, “…this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off (Deuteronomy 30:11).
Moses was pushing against a false teaching common even in our own day. The near contemporary “Epic of Gilgamesh” included the main character going on a sea voyage to obtain immorality. In the end he fails. In countless similar albeit more subtle ways, we try to do the same. God graciously provides what we need, but we always want to make things more dependent on our own efforts rather than trust in God. We want to do something to earn what God gives us for free. Such thinking spurns God’s grace. Moses is saying, you do not need to go on a perilous sea voyage to receive my gracious blessing (Deut. 30:13).
Though the administration of God’s grace through the law of Moses has passed, that administration was replaced by a greater grace, which I will explore with you at a future time.