Exodus is more than just a story of how the people were set free from Egyptian captivity. It is also a community handbook containing the divine laws that defined what it meant to be the covenant people of God. Join the Pastors as they explore how we can understand these laws today and how they fit inside our own Christian understanding of discipleship.
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00:00:12:57 – 00:00:44:38
Hey, everybody. Welcome back. As we start a week and a little bit of a change of pace today as we move into this section. We’ve been having a broader conversation about the next several chapters, which are very dense legal code, law holiness code, it’s sometimes called, and they don’t really have a discernible pattern. They don’t really have a lot of application in in our own life, unlike the Ten Commandments.
00:00:44:38 – 00:01:06:46
Some of these have to do with the Tabernacle, some of which has to do with communal life. Some of them have to do with obscure things like the vestments of the priests or the arrangement of holy accessories. So as we move into this section, we will move quickly through it. We’ll do a lot of summary, we’ll do some highlighting of particular things.
00:01:07:04 – 00:01:28:37
We’re trying to give you the flavor of it. But we we will not, as we’ve typically done, go verse by verse, because I think that that would be counterproductive. So as we prepare to do that, we saw a little bit of law last week. But I think, Michael, there are some generalities we can make about Old Testament law and about Exodus law.
00:01:28:37 – 00:01:52:58
And the first is the sense I think the first word to say is the sense that the law is divine. In other words, we can look in the laws for explanation of whether this is good for the community, maybe don’t eat this kind of food or don’t do that kind of thing because it could be dangerous or harmful and there are positive benefits for the law.
00:01:53:13 – 00:02:30:16
But the law, first and foremost in the Old Testament is a reflection of the idea that all explanation aside, God simply wants it done that way because it’s the right way to do it. So there’s not a lot of there’s not a lot of explanation in the law. There’s not a lot of pushback. The law is written in such a way that it’s just simply stated in its express purpose of communicating to people what God demands of them or what God prescribes for them in a variety of situations.
00:02:30:16 – 00:02:51:07
And I think that’s an important place to start because some of these laws we might push back on. We come from a different time and so we might say that law seems harsh or didn’t they understand this? And we could have all of those conversations. But the law isn’t the law because it’s a good idea or because it’s practical or because it’s helpful.
00:02:51:36 – 00:03:00:46
In the Old Testament, the law is the law because God has declared it so. And that does give it, I think, a different nuance than our conversations sometimes have.
00:03:00:50 – 00:03:29:00
Right. And also because the law defines who the people are and maybe even more importantly, who they’re not, you know, we look at a law that may be very specific. We’re about to jump into a little bit of one here this afternoon. But when you get into the micro specifics of it, if this happens, then this. But if this happens, then this it’s clear in those distinctions who’s inside the circle and who’s outside the circle.
00:03:29:00 – 00:03:54:01
And as the circle gets narrower, if this kind of action happens and this results in this kind of consequence, the Old Testament timeframe, the culture of the ancient forest that these people in this community take consequence for granted, it’s not a question of if you do a thing, will something happen? It’s well, how severe will the punishment be?
00:03:54:01 – 00:04:19:37
And, you know, that’s why, as a modern reader, when you are going through a set of laws like this, it does push a little bit against our own presupposition. The idea that, you know, the consequence should be equal to the crime or that the consequence should lead someone to, you know, changing their life, this is very, very much a relation of if this happens, that this is the consequence.
00:04:19:37 – 00:04:35:09
And it’s not about proportional response, it’s about this is what God says. And so this is what you will do. And the reason why you do it that way is, number one, God said it. And number two, you’re God’s people. And so God’s people will do what God tells them to do.
00:04:35:49 – 00:05:09:09
Yeah, which is, I think, a ground to the second point that I would make about the law, it is compensatory. In other words, there’s a sense of balance beam to the law. Most common, the expression that summarizes that is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. There is an idea of equality now, the thing that has to be the asterisk that has to be put on equality is that they live in a hierarchal system, hierarchical system that is not entirely fair.
00:05:09:30 – 00:05:32:40
So in for instance, the passage I don’t know how much we’ll look at it, but the next time we have this conversation, we’ll look at some of these laws about violence. There is a different punishment. If one hurts a man, a woman or a slave, those punishments are not the same because those people are not valued the same.
00:05:32:58 – 00:05:59:29
That is a very that is a very foreign concept, at least philosophically, to those of us, Michael, who live in a place under something like the Constitution and the idea that all men are created equal, all people are equal, we don’t always live up to that, but that is always in the background of our history and I think what we see in these laws can strike us as unfair.
00:06:00:16 – 00:06:28:55
But in the context that they are written, they desire to be completely fair. It but there is a value associated with the damage done to certain people. And if that person is not considered as valuable as others, it’s difficult as that might be to understand, then it’s a lesser penalty. And that’s so that I say that the law is compensatory.
00:06:28:55 – 00:06:47:42
It is the idea of equal punishment for the crime. But the crime itself may have different punishments based on who it was done to. And, you know, that may not we may not be entirely comfortable with that, but that’s what we get when we enter into these laws.
00:06:48:36 – 00:07:19:48
Yeah, there’s in every moment of life when you make something concrete, when you boil it down to black and white, you’re going to be making uncomfortable choices and realistically, whether we’re talking about violence and how it applies to different people, whether we’re talking about property, which, by the way, makes assumptions about whether or not you’re capable of owning property or whether you’re talking about what happens if a thief takes something or you’re talking about religious laws.
00:07:20:20 – 00:07:45:05
There’s a sense in which there is a frank, simple acceptance that this is the way that the universe works, that God has ordered things in a particular way, and that the right response is to simply live in the way of God’s revelation. Here’s the law that we’ve been given. And so our job is to apply it. There’s not a whole lot of interpretation.
00:07:45:05 – 00:08:16:06
It’s this is what we’ve been given and this is what we’re called to do. I think I don’t want to move too quickly and far afield, but I do want to say I think that there are a whole stripe of Christians who find the law appealing and maybe not in this exact instantiation, but there is a kind of temptation even today for Christians trying to, you know, maybe bring this down to the ground a little bit, who like the idea of the black and whiteness, though this is what you should do.
00:08:16:15 – 00:08:55:21
Or if this happens, then this or, you know, if you’ve lived this kind of life and you might expect this kind of outcome, that that way of thinking remains popular even in the midst of the Christian circles and Christians. I mean, Jesus was very clear that we are to follow the law, that if you listen to our latest Westminster Catechism podcast or if you listen to the the short series we did through the Ten Commandments a couple days ago in the Exodus study here, Christians continue to hold the Ten Commandments as a a ruler, a measuring stick of our life and what we’re who were called to be as people.
00:08:55:21 – 00:09:22:35
But let’s let’s not rush past the reality that Jesus Christ comes to fulfill the law, that there’s grace, There’s there’s a kind of push back in the New Testament in the language of Kingdom of God, that I think maybe we we sometimes do miss when we come to a text like this, because there are new notes, there are new chapters being written in Jesus’s life and teaching.
00:09:22:51 – 00:09:26:43
And I think sometimes Christians let these things blend in an interesting way.
00:09:27:21 – 00:09:56:40
I, I think historically, the interpretation of law is one of the most prevalent conversations in Judaism. I mean, even with the 660 laws, there are debates after debate after debate about what they mean, what they don’t. I think the I think the appeal of of law, Michael, and I think we see it as we’ll go through this section.
00:09:56:54 – 00:10:25:28
If this happens, then this. But if this happened. So there’s almost this flowchart and the end the comfort in that is that it gives one the impression that we have a word from God for every circumstance, for every wrinkle, for every nuance that we could encounter in our life. If our ox gets out, then this happens. But if our ox steps on a fence and breaks it, then this happens and if it runs over a person.
00:10:25:40 – 00:10:55:22
So the idea is that it provides a kind of divine guidance for every foreseeable situation. Realistically, that’s that’s probably not possible. And so while there is an appeal to the law, there’s also an openness, an open endedness to it, and there’s a harshness to it. I mean, even in the next passage, we can look at, you know, whoever curses mother or father shall be put to death.
00:10:55:37 – 00:11:24:12
I don’t know any Christian who would advocate that that’s an acceptable punishment for a person who, you know, mistreats their father or mother. We we now look at the law through the lens of Christ’s grace, and we don’t take these things literally. We we no longer seek to follow them, though. We try to understand the purpose that they had in their community, that they were used.
00:11:24:32 – 00:11:48:39
And the idea behind and each of them that points us in the direction of maybe understanding what God hoped for the people. But the law, particularly in an Old Testament context, is not generally flexible and not generally it’s pretty harsh.
00:11:48:59 – 00:12:27:57
Well, and the interesting thing is there’s a very interesting tension. There’s what seems like opposites, because on one hand, we’re saying, I think it’s true that the law is very inflexible by design. There’s another aspect of that, though, where the law is one of the most debate and argued about parts of the religious leadership in Israel. And so while it’s very specific, when it is when there are situations that don’t fit the specificity of the law itself, there is a lot of room for disagreement and debate and argument.
00:12:28:19 – 00:12:53:58
And the purpose of that is to make it the outcome more specific to to not, you know, to basically boil it down, to figure out, well, in this particular instance, the law would want us to do that. So those two things might seem opposing that you would have a wide range of debate and argument and perspective and that a thing would be relatively black and white and very finely honed.
00:12:54:09 – 00:12:59:11
But I think interestingly, those things relate and work together. They’re held in tension.
00:12:59:51 – 00:13:21:19
And I think for me, what’s interesting, looking back into the laws of the Old Testament is the idea that they probably didn’t get there on their own. In other words, I have some book in the Office of Goofy Laws in the in the United States, and there are laws like you can’t walk through some town with an ice cream cone in your pocket.
00:13:21:19 – 00:13:57:23
Well, somebody didn’t just make that up. Somebody put an ice cream cone in their pocket. And so I think in the same way we see here a snapshot of the community, most of the things that there is a law against likely happened. Right? There probably was a fight of two men and a pregnant woman was harmed. And then they they prayed through and thought through and sought discernment on what is the appropriate punishment for something that happens by accident but does damage versus a thing that you do on purpose intending to do damage?
00:13:57:23 – 00:14:30:39
And how do those affect the community differently? What’s the appropriate accountability in those in those situations? And I think one of the most helpful ways that that I have found to read the Old Testament law is is less for what it tells me about what I need to do in my present circumstances and more. How does it help me understand this snapshot of the faith community that I’m looking at in in in this lens?
00:14:30:39 – 00:15:03:21
What what does it tell me about God’s people and God’s relationship with the people? More so then how does it translate to me? I don’t own an ox. I don’t have a fence. I mean, yes, we could talk general principles. Yes. But I think it’s it’s much more helpful for me to see these as a reflection of the community in which they functioned, then to try and rip them out of their context and make them a ruler in a very different time and place.
00:15:03:59 – 00:15:28:55
Yeah, it there’s something unbelievably potent in this. The the simplicity of the text. I’m looking here at verse 24 of chapter 21, If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for a tooth, hand for hand, for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, strike. First strike. I mean, you mention that in passing.
00:15:29:02 – 00:16:06:48
And I think that there is something deeply ingrained in the human spirit that demands that. I mean, in fact, in the political world, there’s a phrase that is called proportional response, you know, which is essentially another way of saying responding to a circumstance in a way that’s equal to what was done. You know, I think that there is this this counter balance, this this weight of trying to discern when the community gets off the rail, what is the equal and opposite way that’s appropriate to bring it back on the rail.
00:16:06:48 – 00:16:29:43
And that is deeply ingrained inside the idea of this community that in the midst of the hierarchical society that they live in, in the midst of the challenges of living in the wilderness and still being people on the road, you know, they have to have some kind of order. They have to have some kind of center and expectation for their behavior.
00:16:29:43 – 00:16:54:37
And here it is made explicit and for Christians reading a text like this, I think especially if you’re coming to the Bible devotional, you’re if you’re looking for a 1 to 1 transference, you’re not going to find it here. If you look for this to be some kind of allegorical or metaphorical or a kind of simile for your own life of there may be some fruit there.
00:16:54:37 – 00:17:21:10
But I think at the end of the day, we have to remember that this is the people of God receiving from God what it looks like to be within the markers of the identity, to be the people in covenant with God. This is the kind of relationship that is expected. And when the people error and the text is very clear that they make errors all the time, here’s the way that they’re supposed to correct for it.
00:17:21:10 – 00:17:43:13
Right. So in some ways, it’s maybe a very difficult or painful grace. God anticipates the people not living up to the highest spirit of the law, and so God gives them recourse when inevitably they will fail. They’re part of it. What should we do now is been thought of an answer.
00:17:43:42 – 00:18:12:03
And also, I think the last point I would make, Michael, is that the law throughout the Old Testament is given communal li it yes, it deals with individuals, but it is always the responsibility of the community to enforce and discern the law. So this was all written, all understood within the context of the relationships within the people of Israel.
00:18:12:03 – 00:18:44:24
And it doesn’t just include them and includes their servants. It includes the foreigner, the alien among you, it includes the priests, it includes the hierarchy of the people. So there there is this there is this sense in which the law is deeply centered in the living out of the faith by God’s people. Yes. What’s right is right. And it’s right for the Israelites and the Canaanites and the whoever writes.
00:18:44:42 – 00:19:17:45
But but as it’s written, the idea is this is how Israel will live as covenant people. This is how Israel will display its faith by keeping the law that its been given. And by living obediently to that law. And we’ll have lots of conversations as we move through this section about the nuances of that. Will contrast that at times with what a New Testament understanding of that looks like.
00:19:18:41 – 00:19:48:30
But when we have discussions about law, we are very close to the heart of how Israel understands itself. They are a people of the commandments. They are a people of what they call the Torah. And this is deadly serious. Yeah, for the people of Israel. And, you know, we can miss that sometimes because it’s so natural to try and read this.
00:19:48:53 – 00:20:09:12
Yeah. And somehow figure out how to translate it and turn it to our time and place. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But what, what you risk losing is that is to understand how deeply seeded this is at the heart of who Israel and who the Old Testament understands Israel to be.
00:20:09:12 – 00:20:25:06
Yeah that’s I said I think friends that’s what we have for you today as we continue to summarize and begin this section here where we look at the law and its place for the people of Israel, hope there’s been something of interest to you and we look forward to seeing you as we continue on tomorrow.
00:20:25:10 – 00:20:33:45