The Word for Today: Exodus 21:33- 23:19
mark this: Exodus 22:27
“…for I am compassionate.”
The Old Covenant gets a bad rap these days. I suppose that people in general have never cared much for God’s Word, but the Law we find here in the second half of Exodus (along with Leviticus) gets particular contempt from an unbelieving world. Every sort of unpleasant epithet has been hurled its way: hateful, misogynistic, tedious, irrelevant, harmful, intolerant, confusing; on and on the venom flows, from the “educated” PhD, to the loudmouth at work.
But even within the Christian community, I often encounter attitudes towards the Law that are not much better. We know that we are “not under law, but under grace (1).” But the ignorance and negligence of this portion of Holy Scripture (not to mention downright contempt toward it) is quite disturbing. Many believers I know feel a bit embarrassed by some of the commands or prohibitions. Others have gone so far to try to divorce the New and Old Testaments from each other, a heresy that goes back a long time, to the days of the early church.
Some might even point to today’s reading as an example of something tedious, out-dated, if not disconcerting (2). After all, what in the world does anything concerning oxen, or cloaks, or bride-prices or wandering donkeys have to do with any of us?
Fair enough question. But if we look a bit deeper, we see a remarkably contemporary list.
Does our modern society have real issues with revenge? How bout distorted justice? What about dishonest financial practices? Negligence? Oppression? Theft? Bribes? Partiality? Might I recommend Exodus 21-23 as a helpful reference? It beats the heck out of the situational ethics garbage we teach in the Ivy Leagues to all our future CEO’s and politicians.
Furthermore, while particular regulations emerge from the Law, I see just as much, if not more, grace. God declares, “I am compassionate,” then He backs it up with rules that demonstrate that truth. Look at the language used–it is full of words such as restoration, share, full restitution, and evidence. (If only these words guided today’s legal system!) God really does care about truth and justice, and wants to make sure that His revealed legal system did so also. Even the much maligned “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” is not some barbaric measure, but rather God graciously limiting the amount of retaliation for an offense.
In this same Law we see God’s merciful heart as special concern for those who could be exploited at the time: unmarried women, foreigners, widows and orphans, and the poor. The God of the Old Testament, unlike any other ancient deity, was actually concerned with those that other cultures would see as property or worse. There is even provision for acting in a loving way towards one’s enemy (3), a concept that we see a little later on with a certain fellow from Galilee.
As we delve into the whole Law, with all its verses concerning the sacrificial system, the Tabernacle equipment and dimensions, instructions on all the feasts, the vestments of the priests, and so on, it is imperative that we do not turn off our brains thinking that God has nothing to say to us. Go deeper. Look for the bigger picture. Diligently look for Jesus Christ and His grace- because it’s there. Remember “All Scripture is both God-breathed and useful (4).” Therefore these passages are also God-breathed and useful. I am so grateful that even as God spilled out the painfully detailed minutiae found in the Law, He was also revealing what a loving and compassionate God He was; because while prohibitions on shellfish may change, He does not.
(1) Romans 6:14
(2) see Exodus 22:19
(3) Exodus 23:4
(4) 2 Timothy 3:16