The Covenant of Moses was far greater than mere Covenant Law.
The Covenant of Moses was founded on the Covenant of Abraham. It presumes a level of intimacy and commitment with God that is simply not easily formulated in human language. Paul’s off-hand comment about being under grace versus under law was aimed more at the Talmud, which his fellow Jews called “the Law” (Romans 6). More to the point, Paul’s comment was aimed at the Jewish attitude about Covenant Law, such as it was in his day. There was a sense in which the Talmud was the law of the land simply because the official leadership said so; their position was specifically required by the Covenant. But no one was blind to how corrupt that leadership had become. Even Jesus made much of how “the Law” transgressed what Moses had actually said.
And consistent with Hebrew language and usage, this flexible definition of terms is intentional. In Hebrew, context is everything. Words did not convey data; words were markers indicating territory you should explore. It was not meant to confine you, but to set you free. It was meant to encourage a very personal relationship with God.
So the Pentateuch as a whole portrays a moral orientation, the discipline of the mind to accept a wholly different type of logic that bore a personal sense of accountability to God. Law could point you in that direction, but it couldn’t take you there. As Moses himself noted in Deuteronomy 30:11-14, the ultimate objective of the Covenant Law was not hidden in Heaven, too high for fallen men to understand, nor did it require heroic effort to achieve its demands. Rather, the whole point was that you would turn inward to your heart and examine yourself by the examples in the Law to see if your commitment to God was firm.
So the business of “grace versus law” was not a matter of what the words of the Law said, but to whom you were committed in faith. This was quite the opposite of what the Pharisees taught. They made an idol, not of the words of Covenant Law, but of their interpretation of what those words required. Their interpretation was based on Hellenized logic, not Hebrew moral logic.
So when Jesus came on the scene calling Israel back to the ways of Moses based on what an ancient Hebrew reading of the Covenant Law should have produced, He raised the hackles of a bunch of corrupt leaders with a vested material and hedonistic interest in keeping the new status quo they had created. They had labeled their corrupt interest as “the Law” and even called it “Moses” — having cooked up a whole secret mythology of how Moses turned around and taught this legalistic nonsense as oral tradition to be kept from the common folk. That legalistic nonsense is what Paul meant by “the law” when addressing the common Jewish mindset of his day.
On the other hand, Jesus said He was the fulfillment of Covenant Law (Matthew 5:17-20). His teaching in that context seems to indicate that Covenant Law applies for as long as men are fallen. And typical of someone thinking and speaking in Hebrew, His words are ambiguous enough for people to misunderstand what He’s actually saying, if they miss the point of the whole message. It was the Sermon the Mount, and Jesus pointedly said that His listeners must have a better understanding of Covenant Law than was typical of the Scribes and Pharisees. The Covenant Law reflected the best understanding of the Covenant up to that point when it was published, but that the Covenant was far more than the Law itself. He goes on in that same passage to discuss how the words alone are not enough; your commitment to God’s moral character was the whole point.
In this, it was the teaching of Jesus that gave discernible shape to the moral orientation in His Person. He was that divine moral character in human form. He remains the final revelation of God Himself, in the sense that nothing better could be offered to us. And He most certainly endorsed what Moses taught, even if He then added even more strenuous moral requirements.
The ultimate need of all fallen men is peace with God. The purpose of divine revelation is to trigger a recognition in the heart. You should have already a strong desire to be consistent with reality. You should want to conform with the moral truth already present in all of Creation. We note that Creation is not fallen, but mankind is, so it is we who need to be brought back. And we all need it, because the mere fact we possess a human form is proof we are fallen. This is not how we were designed and made in the Garden. We are born with the Forbidden Fruit in our mouths; that’s what mortality means.
We have a long road to get back to eating the fruit of the Tree of Life, which means at some point that we must die to this fallen life. The Flaming Sword that kills the fleshly nature is the revelation of God, reaching it’s pinnacle in the Person of Jesus Christ.
And revelation rests on a covenant relationship with God.