In his commentary on the book of Hebrews, John Owen makes an important observation about the Old Covenant Law and why God gave something that was so burdensome to Israel–something that veiled Christ–if it was meant to point to Christ. Owen noted:
Because these institutions were to be so glorious, that they might be shadows of heavenly things, and the people unto whom they were given, were carnal, and given to rest themselves in present outward appearances, God was pleased to intermix with them, many services that were hard to be born, and many laws with penalties severe and dreadful. This provision was laid in by divine wisdom, that they might not rest in what he designed only to prepare their minds, for the introduction of that which was far more glorious. And well is it for us, if we have a due apprehension of the glory of the heavenly ministration of Christ, now it is introduced. It is too evident that with many, yea, with most that are called Christians, it is far otherwise. For they are still seeking after the outward glory of a carnal worship, as though they had no view of the spiritual glory of the heavenly ministration of the gospel, in the hand of Jesus Christ our high priest. Nor will it be otherwise with any of us, unless we are enabled by faith to look within the veil, and see the beauty of the appearance of Christ at the right hand of God. The apostle tells us, that the ministration of the law was glorious; yet had it no glory in comparison of that which doth excel. But if we are not able to discern this more excellent glory, and satisfy ourselves therein, it is a great sign that we ourselves are carnal, and therefore are delighted with those things that are so.1
Geerhardus Vos proposes several other reasons in addition to the fact that the Mosaic legislation was meant to be temporary; it was never meant to be the end in itself. It was merely a means to and end. When not viewed with the eyes of faith in the coming Redeemer to whom it pointed, the Law actually became a perfect obstacle with which God judicial hardened the ignorant for their unbelief. Writing on 2 Cor. 3: 13-24 and the transitory, veiled nature of the glory on Moses’ face, Vos explained:
Paul means to say, that in receiving the glory, and losing it, and hiding its loss, he served the symbolic function of illustrating, in the first place, the glory of the Old Covenant, in the second place its transitoriness, and in the third place the ignorance of Israel in regard to what was taking place. The chief point of ignorance of the people related to the eclipse and abrogation their institutions would suffer. But the symbolism permits of being generalized, so as to include all the limitations of self-knowledge and self-understanding under which the Old Covenant labored. As a matter of fact Paul immediately afterwards extends it to Israel’s entire reading of the law, that is, to Israel’s self-interpretation and Scripture-interpretation on a large scale. Ignorance as to the end would easily produce ignorance or imperfect understanding with reference to the whole order of things under which the people were living. Everything temporal and provisional, especially if it does not know itself as such, is apt to wear a veil. It often lacks the faculty of discriminating between what is higher and lower in its composition. Things that are ends and things that are mere means to an end are not always clearly separated. Every preparatory stage in the history of redemption can fully understand itself only in the light of that which fulfills it. The veil of the Old Covenant is lifted only in Christ. The Christian standpoint alone furnishes the necessary perspective for apprehending its place and function in the organism of the whole. So it came about that the Mosaic Covenant moved through the ages a mystery to itself and to its servants. According to Paul this tragical process reached its climax when Israel came face to face with Him who alone could interpret Israel to itself. It is not for us to unravel the web of self-misinterpretation and unbelief wrought by the Jews on the ancient loom previously to the appearance of Christ. Paul implies that both causes contributed to the sad result. There was an element of original guilt as well as of subsequent hardening involved. Their minds were blinded. The veil was on the reading of Moses, but the veil was also on their hearts. And the Apostle’s word still holds true: the veil remains until the present day. It can be taken away only when Israel shall turn to the Lord. Then, and not until then, that ghost of the Old Covenant which now accompanies Israel on its wandering through the ages, will vanish from its side. As a double gift of grace it will then receive the treasures of Moses and those of Paul from the hand of Christ.2
On the one hand God was showing Israel that it was never about “the Law” as Law; rather it was about the Christ to whom the Law pointed. On the other hand, it became a source of further blindness for those who would not see their sin and need for the Christ to whom the Law pointed.
1. John Owen An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Edinburgh: J. Ritchie, 1814) p. 54
2. Geerhardus Vos “The More Excellent Ministry” in Grace and Glory (Grand Rapids, MI: The Reformed Press, 1922) p. 117