Before we move on to the end of the years of "Law", I want to "zoom in" on some aspects. Those of you who are scholars and thinkers might like to correct or add to my thoughts, and I would love your input!! Here are some things that stand out to me.
After relationships are broken, and paradise is lost, God continues to walk amongst humanity and relate to individuals. He chooses a man, Abraham, who is willing to trust and relate to him. Abraham's family is crazy and dysfunctional - but God gives them the opportunity to walk with and
relate to Himself, and promises to make them into a nation that will bless all peoples. Of course, the Jewish nation is not even born yet, so the Jewish religious laws don't actually exist at this point. They come later, after Abraham's descendents have grown into a nation/tribe known as the "Hebrews".
We follow the chequered fortunes of these so-called "chosen people". God continues his pattern of speaking and relating to individuals. He speaks to a fellow named Moses (another hot-head, with a less-than perfect record), who listens. God empowers Moses to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt, where they have become a nation of slaves. Initially, God leads the people visibly and audibly. Moses is a kind of "spokesperson" of sorts, however once the people choose to follow God, He seems to want to reveal himself in ways that all can see and experience. The problem with this system... is that the people just can't handle it! After getting a glimpse of the awesomeness of God at Mount Sinai, they beg Moses to do the talking for them! Moses becomes an intermediary between God and the people, and God's instructions to Moses become written down and codified as the Jewish religious law.
The law is pretty elaborate. There are rules for just about everything!! There is an emphasis on social justice that was probably unheard of in those times, but even so - penalties are harsh! Yet embedded within this strict system, are "rules" that breathe grace, and require nothing less than total trust and reliance on God. For example, every 7th year, the people are supposed to rest the land and not farm it - relying on God to supply their food for a whole year! Every 50th year, all debts are to be cancelled and all slaves set free. I'd like to know if they ever really did this!!
Over the years, the law is interpreted and used by the as a dividing line, between righteous and unrighteous, "us" and "them". It separates the family of Abraham - now known as the Israelites, from the peoples around them. But remember - God's promise to Abraham was that his family would be a blessing to ALL people. In spite of the law's injunctions on behaviour, intermarriage, purity... God insists on choosing individuals who do not fit the picture of "rightness" depicted by the law.
God promises that from Abraham's lineage there will be a great king. In due time, King David comes to rule the people of Israel. Far from being a "pure Israelite" in terms of the law, David is the descendent of foreigners, and even prostitutes - who have trusted in God. David himself is described as "A man after God's own heart", however he breaks God's laws in numerous ways. He breaks the ceremonial laws of the priests; and God is apparently pleased with this! He becomes an adulterer and a murderer - and has a good and loyal general killed in battle in order to obtain his wife. God is NOT pleased with this, and there are difficult consequences. However God's love for David, and David's close relationship with God do not end.
Interestingly, although David wants to build a permanent place of worship for the God he loves, God refuses him, on the grounds that "he is a man of blood." It is left to David's son, Solomon, known for his wisdom and justice, to fulfil his father's dream.
From time to time, when the nation of Israel had forgotten their God and his promises to Abraham, prophets arose, who spoke to the people on God's behalf. Among these writings are repeated calls for the people to return to keeping God's laws. However these do not read like calls from an angry legalistic God. They are often more like the anguished cries of a lover to a wayward beloved. God's message might often be summed up as "I hate your religious observances - I want your heart!". Words like "justice" and "mercy" are often the catch-cries of these messengers. This is a God who is all about relationship!!