|Series Theme: Meditations in Lessons from the Law of Moses|
Meditation No. 14
Meditation Title: The Nature of the Law
Ex 21:1 These are the laws you are to set before them:
So now we get ready to step more fully into the Law of Moses. The Ten Commandments clearly stand on their own and were the only laws to be inscribed on the tablets of stone and were initially kept in the ark of the covenant. 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. Remove them and all those three characteristics are also removed. The Ten Commandments apply to any society in the world.
But now we find, as we come to chapter 21, the start of a set of new laws that applied specifically to Israel. For instance in the very next verse, we will see in the next meditation, “ If you buy a Hebrew servant….” These were clearly for Israel and only Israel . There have been those who have tried to apply them to other societies in history but the truth is that they were spoken expressly to Israel and were applied to their circumstances. This was a new nation but most importantly it was a nation under God, founded by God to be a light to the Gentiles. Now we may certainly observe the nature of these laws and learn from them but they are, first and foremost laws for Israel. We need to reiterate, the Ten Commandments are general laws which can be applied to any society, but these, we will see applied to Israel – and at that point of time in history. We say that because, for instance, it was still a time when slaves existed. Circumstances would change and therefore certain laws would simply no longer applicable to them.
Now having said that, we can consider how these laws reflect God's design for all peoples. What are the characteristics that we find in them, what are the principles that operate? Surely one of the key things to understand when we consider any law or any rule that God brings to His people, is how this fits His design for the human race. Few of us seem to understand these things and every now and then, those who are hostile to God say things which only accentuate this truth. We need to bear in mind certain truths about God.
The first is that God designed and planned this world before He created it, so that it would work in certain ways. We might call these the laws of nature. Science seeks to observe how the world works (or perhaps we should say, how God has made it to work) and different branches of science focus on different aspect of the world. A biologist tends to observe how ‘life' works whether in plants, animals or humans. A psychologist tends to observe human behaviour. We need to remember in all of this that we are now observing a ‘Fallen World' a world with sin affecting it, but that wasn't how it was at the beginning, for when the Lord completed Creation, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Gen 1:31) and if God says something is VERY good then it is perfect and without fault. Does this mean that the world is haphazard now? No, for we are still made in God's image, even if we have tainted that image. We still have the ability to do good, to plan, rationalize, invent and make things that are good. That we have the ability to use what we make for bad or wrong purposes, should be beyond dispute when you observe the history of the world. We should also note that God is still at work in His world!
The second truth, that flows from the first, is that God knows best, but of course in a Fallen World, sinful mankind disputes this. We think we know how to bring peace, order and stability but the truth is that so often our strivings – observed in the changing fortunes of politics – fall short and when we do things without God we simply dig a bigger and bigger hole into which we fall, as we are observing in modern godless societies. We need to reiterate this truth: God knows best. When we look at the incredible way the world works the clear indications are that a benign God is behind it all. His provision for us is staggering but sadly many of us are ignorant of it or take it for granted.
A third truth, that again flows from the previous one, is that 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 laws: to restrain evil, and to deal with it when it is expressed. Thus we reiterate, laws will work to bring peace, order and stability to the life of any society. Thus these laws that we will now start examining seek to work to bring these characteristics into the life of Israel as a community.
As we work our way through these laws in the days ahead, bear these things in mind: God designed us and knows best how we ‘work'. God also knows we have fallen and therefore to promote peace, order and stability, He gives laws that restrain wrong behaviour AND deal with it when it occurs. In this sense God is The Realist. He knows how it should work, He knows how it does work, and He plans accordingly, and we ignore Him at our peril.