"God's Love in the Old Testament" - Chapter 22



Chapter 22: "The Reasonableness of the Law"




Chapter 22– The Reasonableness of the Law of Moses


Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I

have made a covenant with you and with Israel ." (Ex 34:27)

"I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you." (Isa 48:17)



Contents of Chapter 22

22.1 The Complaints that are made

22.2 How the Law of Moses came into Being

22.3 The Purposes behind the Law

22.4 Looking at the Ten Commandments

22.5 Looking at the Social Laws of Exodus

22.6 Looking at the Laws of Leviticus

22.7 Leviticus Chapter 19 – Misc. Laws

22.8 Some Conclusions



Our approach in this chapter is to first of all observe the complaint that is often made about the Law, to see how the Law came into being, and then to consider briefly why it existed or what its purposes were.


In order to challenge some of the negatives that are so often spoken about the Law, we will briefly examine the Ten Commandments and see what alternatives there would be to these ten rules and see that the alternatives are not good.


To then catch a wider view of the Law we will briefly observe the social laws of the Covenant as seen in chapters 21-23 of Exodus and then have a scan over the laws of Leviticus to see even further the scope of these social guidelines given by God to Israel .


In this process, I hope we will see that actually, virtually all of these laws are quite plain, obvious and acceptable and do not warrant the criticisms that are so often made. They are laws for establishing a society that is peaceful, orderly and stable.

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22.1 The Complaints that are made


One thing that I have observed over the years, is that given the opportunity the world takes delight in ridiculing the Law of Moses by picking out obscure commands and mocking them as either ridiculous or irrelevant to modern society.


For example, in the TV series “The West Wing” the writers (headed up by a Jew) had Josiah Bartlett, the President, appear very knowledgeable about the Bible as a Catholic, and from time to time had him deride some of the laws found in the early books of the Bible.


To make this appear more reasonable, he did this in each case to counteract some very poorly behaved Christians who tended to live with one eye on the Old Testament. The individuals deserved chastising but the examples given so often revealed a lack of understanding of the Law.


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22.2 How the Law of Moses came into Being


We refer here to the Law as ‘the Law of Moses' to emphasise that it was law given by God to Moses for the people of Israel . That specifically anchors it in a particular part of Israel 's history – the beginning of it. Before Israel finally went into the Promised Land Moses, in the book we call Deuteronomy, reminded Israel how this law had come:


Deut 4:11-13 “You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. Then the LORD spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets.”


One thing about Deuteronomy is that sometimes it does appear repetitious, because Moses knew that his people needed to hear it again and again if they were to take it in, so a little later we find him saying it again:


Deut 5:2-6 “The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. It was not with our fathers that the LORD made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today. The LORD spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain. (At that time I stood between the LORD and you to declare to you the word of the LORD, because you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain.) And he said: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt , out of the land of slavery.”


Now note several things that come out of this:

  • First, the Law was conveyed at a specific time-space point of history at a specific geographical location that all Israel knew about. It wasn't something subsequently made up.
  • Second, and most importantly, the Law was given as a foundation of a binding agreement or ‘covenant' between God and Israel .
  • Third, the first part of the covenant involved the Ten Commandments, the first FOUR of which are about relationship with God.
  • To see these things further we need to go back to the original action in the book of Exodus:

Ex 19:4 You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt , and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself.

Ex 20:2 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt , out of the land of slavery.

  • Twice there is reference by God to what He has done for Israel .
  • The God to whom they are about to join themselves is identified as the all-powerful God who delivered them out of Pharaoh's hand and through the desert.


Ex 19:3-6 Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, "This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: `You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites."

  • The basic feature of the covenant is stated
  • Israel are to obey all God says (the Law)
  • God will then treat them as a treasured possession, i.e. look after them

Ex 20:7 And God spoke all these words:

  • Then follow the Ten Commandments
  • But these aren't all the covenant:


Ex 21:1 These are the laws you are to set before them:

  • Then follow two and a half chapters of laws (more appear in Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy).


Ex 24:3,4,7 When Moses went and told the people all the LORD's words and laws, they responded with one voice, "Everything the LORD has said we will do." Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said….. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, "We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey."

  • Thus Moses wrote down what God had just said to him, and this became referred to as the Book of the Covenant.
  • I think we need have no fear of Moses having forgotten what he had just heard because it was a life changing encounter that was so vivid he would clearly remember every part – just as we may remember a vivid film.

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22.3 The Purposes behind the Law


Reading through the laws given to Moses by the Lord we may suggest the following are the primary reasons for the Law:


1. To distinguish Israel from all other nations

  • That has already become clear from the verses we have seen so far.
  • In the absence of knowledge a few of the laws appear to be specifically designed to make Israel act differently from other nations, although it may be that these laws do have other practical reasons behind them.
  • Some of the laws appear to be prohibitions that stop Israel doing things that were cultic practices of surrounding pagan nations.
  • Some of those laws specifically law down health and hygiene rules for society (as we'll see later in the chapter) thus seeking to keep Israel as healthy as possible.
  • There is within this a clear and observable concern within God for Israel 's wellbeing at a very practical level.


2. To establish a moral and social code for the community to live by.

  • When we look at specific laws we will see that they lay down guidelines for life.
  • In respect of the Ten Commandments we see that God gave these commands because the first four match reality and anything less degenerates into pagan superstition and fear, and the latter six bring peace , order and stability to society.
  • When we see the other laws that flow on in Chapter 21 onwards, we see that the laws there:
    • prohibit certain behaviour to safeguard people,
    • demands certain behaviour to safeguard people,
    • lays down requirements when people fail to observe the first two and do wrong and are thus means of correction.
  • God knows that we are sinners and knows that things will go wrong in society and so gives laws that both restrain the wrong and lay down guidelines how to deal with things when they do go wrong .
  • In one sense these are the two primary functions of all laws: to restrain evil, and to deal with it when it is expressed.
  • Seen in the overall context of the theme of this book, these laws thus become clear expressions of God's love and goodness in His desire for Israel 's good.


3. To restore sinners to God

  • The so-called ceremonial or sacrificial law (especially seen in Leviticus) is all about restoring people to God after they have sinned.
  • Part of this, no doubt, is to emphasise the seriousness of sin, but the stronger point is that it is God's desire to ensure that each member of the covenant community knows there is a way back when they have fallen, i.e. reconciliation is more in God's mind than punishment!
  • Again seen in the overall context of this book, I suggest this is a clear expression of God's love and concern for His people – even when they sin and drift away from Him. His desire is always to restore.


4. To establish a Priesthood and place for Worship

  • In Exodus 25-27 and 35 to 38 we find details of the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting where Israel were to come to meet with God
  • In Exodus 28-30 & 39 we see regulations for the priests, and also in Lev 21,22, and Num 18.
  • There are, therefore, very clear guidelines for who will be priests, how they will dress and what they will do. The secondary purpose of all this must surely be to make Israel careful about the way they respond to the Lord and think about Him.
  • The system of worship not only provided for restoring sinners, as we saw above, but also included making a number of days special when the whole nation would focus on the Lord and celebrate the wonder of who He was and what He had done

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22.4 Looking at the Ten Commandments.


Perhaps because there is so much ignorance today as to what the Ten Commandments actually say, we would do well to restate them and, briefly, as a means of showing how reasonable they are, note what the alternatives would lead to:



The Command (summarised)

The Alternative (suggested)


Have no other God

Many gods – like Romans & Greeks – unreal, there is only One – why be superstitious?


Have no idols

Worship wood or stone - that is meaningless ritual – why be superstitious?


Honour God's name

Abuse God's name – why? Either He doesn't exist or He is a Holy God who deserves respect and honour.


Have a day's remembrance.

Work every day – exhaustion!


Honour parents .

Dishonour & abuse parents = family breakdown and fragmentation of society.


Don't murder .

Murder is OK – it is patently obvious it is not!


Don't commit adultery

Stealing another's partner is OK – breeds hurt, pain, anger etc. etc


Don't steal

Stealing is fine – life becomes completely insecure.


Don't perjure your neighbour

It's OK to lie about others' activities – injustice prevails.


Don't desire what others have .

Work to take others' goods – discontentment and insecurity.

No, simply by considering the alternatives, we can see that each of these ten commands is still applicable today for any wise society. Reverse the first four and you have pagan superstition. Reverse the latter six and you have upheaval of society.


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22.5 Looking at the Social Laws of Exodus


A quick examination of chapters 21-23 of Exodus gives an idea of the nature of these laws. For a more detailed examination of them, please go to Appendix1.



Law of Servants

•  The situation would be that a family was poor and in need and so might ‘sell' a family member into servitude.

•  They would become the ‘ownership' of the master who bought them and the family would receive the payment for them and they would receive their keep and become almost part of the family who bought them, and would work for them.

•  The point that is at issue here is that when such a thing happened, the Lord demands that their period of service be limited to six years only and then they be released without payment.

•  Now we need to realise that this is very different from the concept of slavery for later in the Law in Leviticus we find the following instructions:

Lev 25:39-43 If one of your countrymen becomes poor among you and sells himself to you, do not make him work as a slave. He is to be treated as a hired worker or a temporary resident among you; he is to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. Then he and his children are to be released, and he will go back to his own clan and to the property of his forefathers. Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt , they must not be sold as slaves. Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God.”

•  i.e. The servant is to be treated as a ‘hired worker or a temporary resident', NOT a slave!

•  The subject of slaves is worth a separate study – it is not what most people think:

•  The fact of history is that slaves did exist. For example, Hagar had been Abraham's slave.

•  In the Law, slaves could be bought by the Hebrews but only from other nations (Lev 25:44,45) and many laws protected the welfare of those slaves (e.g. Ex 21:20, 28-32, 23;12, Lev 19:20).

•  The Lord was just as concerned for them as for servants and for masters.

•  The Law however regulated the practice, already in the world , of owning slaves, and ensured in Israel , at least, slaves were well cared for.

•  A distinguishing mark for this special nation displaying God's love!



Laws for female servants

•  Space forbids us covering each of these in detail – they are covered in detail in Appendix 1.

•  These laws protected and looked after vulnerable women working as servants.

•  Ditto – A distinguishing mark for this special nation displaying God's love!



Laws about manslaughter or Murder

•  provided for escape of one who accidentally killed another



Laws of Personal Injuries

•  laws or the protection of individuals and compensation etc.


21:28 -36

Laws for Injuries caused by Animals

•  very similar to our modern laws on ‘Strict Liability'



Laws of Theft

•  Being an agricultural economy, theft of animals was clearly the worst sort of theft

•  a strong penalty made for a strong deterrent.

•  protecting your home at night echoes modern legal dilemmas



Laws of Negligence

•  the forerunner of our modern laws on negligence and duties of care



Laws of Social Responsibility

•  protects young women being taken advantage of,

•  also aliens, widows & orphans and the poor generally,

•  also strong injunctions against occultic activities that would lead the nation away from God,

•  also requirements to distinguish human behaviour from animal, and maintain the design of God for humanity,

•  strong injunctions to maintain the national relationship with God.



Laws of Justice

•  requirement to maintain truth & integrity in the legal system,

•  also to maintain harmony in society, even with those you don't get on with.



Sabbath Laws

•  Laws to ensure rest for the community and strengthening of their relationship with the Lord.


23:14 -19

Annual Festivals

•  to establish 3 annual celebrations and strengthen their relationship with the Lord.



When we examine all of these laws in detail (see Appendix 1) we find they are quite reasonable for this special nation with a special relationship with the Lord. There is nothing strange or freaky about them. These were the basic laws of the covenant, the requirements of the Lord to ensure Israel , unique among the nations, lived according to God's design for mankind, even though it is now after the Fall and has to take that into account.


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22.6 Looking at the Laws of Leviticus


Now the laws we have outlined above were not the only laws of what became, overall, to be referred to as the Law of Moses:


Lev 1:1,2 The LORD called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting. He said, "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: `When any of you brings an offering to the LORD, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock.

  •   Again and again in these early chapters in Leviticus we find reference to the Lord speaking to Moses (see also 4:2, 5;14, 6:1.6:9, 6:19 , 6:24 , 7:22 , 7:28 ), nine times in all. Making offerings was part of the expression of their relationship with the Lord.
  •   We see here that these additional laws were conveyed to Moses at his regular encounters with God at the Tabernacle or Tent of Meeting.


We would do well to note some of these laws to help us understand God's care for Israel :


Lev 1-7

Laws of Sacrifice or Offering

•  These were primarily guidance on how the individual Israelite, or a leader, could express their worship in an acceptable manner that did not veer towards the occult practices of their neighbours.

•  They also gave means for an individual, or a leader representing the people, to carry out a sacrificial ritual as a means of reinstating their relationship with the Lord after they had sinned.

Lev 8-10

Directions about the priests


Lev 11

Laws about clean and unclean food

There may be three reasons for distinguishing between food that may be eaten and that which was forbidden:

1. Possibly to constantly remind Israel that they are a special unique people

2. Possibly because some foods were used by pagan nations for worship,

3. Probably for hygiene reasons - that the forbidden creatures were the most likely to carry infection and this was one way that the Lord was protecting His people.

Lev 12

Laws of Childbirth

•  Procedures to be followed after childbirth. Because these are often misunderstood we need to consider these in more detail. Consider:

•  The word ‘unclean' as we use it in these verses needs to be understood. Sex is God's idea and so the sexual act and childbirth are God's design and are not to be seen in a negative light.

•  “A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period.” (v.2)

•  NB. “Ceremonially unclean” The word ‘unclean', I would suggest, refers less to any moral or sanitary state but simply means ‘not in a fit state' to go through the various rites of the Tabernacle worship.

•  Modern helps were not available and a woman's period would often be quite debilitating

•  The Lord in fact excused the woman having her period, or recovering from childbirth, from having to attend the ceremonial rites. It was in fact, a relief for her.

•  “Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding. She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over.” (v.4)

•  Again ‘purification' simply means ‘is completely finished with and her body is starting to return to normal'.

•  The ‘not touch anything sacred' simply is an embargo on her going anywhere near the Tabernacle and the required rites.

•  She is excused all this while she gets over her childbirth.

•  If anything these rules highlight the special feeling of the time of childbirth and say, “You don't have to worry during this time about all the ceremonial things; you just concentrate on recovering.”


Lev 13-15

Laws of health & Infections

•  health laws that seek to restrain infections - guidance for a clinical procedure

Lev 19

Misc. Laws


We have jumped to chapter 19 because a) we haven't the space to cover all the laws and b) this chapter provides an interesting gathering of laws, some of which are the ones that have been derided as I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter. For that reason we will consider them separately in outline here and in detail in Appendix 2.


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22.7 Leviticus Chapter 19 - Misc. Laws



About honour: Respect his mother and father, and honour God through the Sabbath


Avoid idols


How to have fellowship with God through an Offering


Leave last of harvest for the poor


Don't lie, steal or deceive


Honour God's name


Be honest with neighbours and as an employer


Care for the disabled


Be just and honest


Don't slander. care for your neighbour


Don't hold bad attitudes about your family, Speak out about wrong


Don't seek revenge


Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.

•  These may be a reminder that God is Creator and He has made things differently

•  They may have scientific reasons of which we are not yet aware


Seeks to provide for the protection of a slave girl while calling to account the man who takes advantage of her.


Respecting the land for the first 5 years after entry


Don't eat meat with blood in it – respects life

Avoid occult activities


Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard. Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves.

•  The reference to hair referred to the pagan practice of shaping the hair as part of mourning practices, and the disfiguring of the body and tattooing were similarly performed in such pagan rights. Anything that was associated with the pagan practices of the former inhabitants of the land were to be shunned.


Don't sell your daughter into prostitution


Respect God through Sabbath observance and use of the Tabernacle


Avoid mediums and occult behaviour


Respect the elderly


Look after foreigners living with you


Use honest weights and measures


Looking back over this list of miscellaneous laws we note the following:

•  Some are about maintaining a good relationship with God (v.3,5-8, 12, 23-26, 30) and so

•  some are about avoiding false idol worship (v.4), and

•  some are about avoiding occult activity(v.26-28, 31).

•  A large number are simply about now to maintain peace and harmony in the community of God's people.
•  One verse only (v.19) provides us with a command, the meaning of which is not clear, but yet may have scientific basis yet unknown to us.


It is worth reminding ourselves that these are laws for a nation in relationship with God and therefore there is a spiritual dimension to a number of them, yet the vast majority are simply about how to live with peace and harmony in society.

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22.8 Some Conclusions


So let's make some final points here: 


22.1 The Complaints that are made

•  snide comments about the Law usually come from ignorance of it.

22.2 How the Law of Moses came into Being

•  it came out of relationship with the Law at and following Sinai

22.3 The Purposes behind the Law

•  to distinguish Israel , to establish a moral and social code for the community, to restore sinners to God and to create an environment for worship.

22.4 Looking at the Ten Commandments

•  considering the alternatives suggests the Ten Commandments are good.

22.5 Looking at the Social Laws of Exodus

•  the laws here are good and sensible

22.6 Looking at the Laws of Leviticus

•  ditto

22.7 Leviticus Chapter 19 – Misc. Laws

•  ditto


It has to be acknowledged that a casual glance at the laws of Moses raises questions, but a little thought reveals that there are the design of a loving, good and wise God who seeks for the wellbeing of His people.



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