Friday, July 23, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Exodus 23 and 24

Exodus 23:4--"If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again." It's from precepts such as this that the Lord derived the teaching "thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Most, if not all, of the principles of New Testament Christianity are found in the old law; not as clearly stated or as fully explained as by Jesus, but they are there, mainly because the same God authored both Old Testament and New. This verse is also a good illustration of the "Golden Rule": "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them." Then Christ said "for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Mt. 7:12). In other words, you can find the same principle in the Old Testament teaching. Exodus 23:4 is a solid example of that.

Exodus 23:10-11--"Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its produce, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the beasts of the field may eat. In like manner you shall do with your vineyard and your olive grove." The Lord has always required that those less fortunate than we should be taken care of. The Law of Moses had a "welfare system," but it was intended to be voluntary, not forced by government diktat. This is a commandment of Jehovah, but there was no Jewish IRS to enforce it. There is no virtue in being forced to provide for others; God wants to see what is in our hearts. Other passages in the Law exist which deal with taking care of the poor and needy and we will look at them in turn. But the key here is to understand that providing for the poor is a necessary part of pure religion, but doing so voluntarily is the only acceptable course. Unfortunately, there is no clear indication in the Old Testament that the Jews honored this command, but we have no clear evidence that anyone starved in the streets, either.

Exodus 24:3--"So Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the judgments. And all the people answered with one voice and said, "All the words which the LORD has said we will do." Easy to say, hard to do. At least it was for this people. More than once (in this chapter) they tell Moses that they will do all that Jehovah commanded them. But there has rarely been a more fickle, capricious people in history than these Israelites who came out of Egypt. They rarely obeyed God, and as a result only 2 of them out of 603,500 (men 20 years of age and older) entered the land of Canaan, an entrance that God had promised them for 500 years. Saying and not doing is called "hypocrisy," and such a term describes these people perfectly. It wasn't just a quality of this generation, however; Jesus dealt with it in abundance, too. In speaking of the Pharisees, He said, "for they say, and do not do" (Mt. 23:3). Words mean nothing without the actions that back them up.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Exodus 21 and 22

Exodus 21:6—“Then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever.” The Hebrew word for “forever” is olem, which means an indefinite, indeterminate, but lengthy period of time—in this case, for the rest of the slave’s life. The word can mean “forever” in the literal sense, but it rarely does. Thus, when God promised Abraham’s descendants the land of Canaan “forever” (Gen. 13:15), it was only as long as such served God’s purposes. The Jews finished serving that purpose with the birth and work of Jesus, thus ending this land promise.

Exodus 21:17—“And he who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.” This is a bit striking to our modern sensibilities, but we must always remember that the Law of Moses was given to a primitive, semi-barbaric people 3,500 years ago (just read in the book of Genesis some of deeds of Jacob’s children if you think my term “semi-barbaric” is a little ruthless). One thing a people like this needed desperately was to learn to respect authority; there are laws that must be obeyed in order for a civilized society to exist. If one does not respect father and mother, he probably will not respect any other authority, including God. It was an important moral for these people to learn. One of the great mistakes of modern man is to judge others, and especially earlier societies, by our standards. That is totally unfair to them and improper. God knew what He was doing, and if we will put ourselves back into that time period, we will understand it, too.

Exodus 21:21—“For he is his property.” He is talking about a man’s slave here. A slave was as much the property of his owner as his horse or cow. Yet, there was a difference. The Law of Moses does provide some “rights,” or perhaps a better word is “protections,” for the slave, including freedom after six years (with the exception of verse 6 above). So the harsher aspects of slavery which we read about among other peoples of that day is mitigated extensively by God’s law. Yet, there was no concept of “natural rights” in the ancient world, at least not until the Romans suggested it (especially Cicero), though they did not fully practice it by any means. And again, this modern concept that “all men are created equal” is just that—a modern concept, not a Biblical one. We are indeed equal in the eyes of God, but Jehovah cares little or nothing about political equality. The salvation of the soul is His major interest, and that can happen in an aristocratic, as well as a democratic, society. Indeed, it’s probably more likely to happen in the former, for democratic societies have totally lost the concept of “lord,” and thus have little comprehension of who, and what, Jesus is.

Exodus 22:9—“For any kind of trespass, whether it concerns an ox, a donkey, a sheep, or clothing, or for any kind of lost thing which another claims to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges; and whomever the judges condemn shall pay double to his neighbor.” There was a judicial system, of sorts, in ancient Israel. It wasn’t as elaborate as ours, but then, there has rarely been one in history that has been. Yet, the idea of doing “justice” is all through the Law of Moses. This chapter (Exodus 22) is replete with laws of justice and right. It didn’t always work in practice once the children of Israel entered and dwelt in the Promised Land, but then our judicial system doesn’t work perfectly, either. The Law of Moses, however, was far advanced for its time in legal matters. Again, some of the regulations do not sit well with our modern conceptions of democratic idealism, but we live in a different age. And all of those which we consider “harsher” laws (such as Exodus 21:17 above), have been done away by the law of Christ. It’s another reason why Judaism is no longer God’s chosen religion and has passed away. If Judaism still had a part to play in God’s plan, then the Law of Moses would still be in effect. And that means all of those laws which we find archaic, unpalatable, and thus unacceptable.