So, we are back to the Mosaic Law today. Having finished the landmark legislation of Moses (The Ten Commandments) we now move on to a variety of other commands. We need to add some more theological observations to our tool box as we head into this new section. Because the Law of Moses is both so important and also so expansive, theologians have spent a great deal of energy reflecting on this body of law and categorizing the various parts of it. When we look at the entire body of legislation we see three different areas of focus. This might seem a little too academic at first, but unless you have this theological map to guide you, the Mosaic Law will become an imposing wilderness of confusing commandments. We could fall into the error of either dismissing them altogether or using the Law in the wrong way. Historically, these two tendencies of “legalism” or “antinomianism” (lawlessness) have long plagued the church.
Reflect: The Mosaic Law can challenge our self-made notions of how we approach God and what serving God looks like. While none of the laws in this section are directly applied to Christians, understood properly can help us to think through what it means to live a faithful Christian life. Can you see any places where the principles revealed here can guide you to greater faithfulness?
Connect: Paul says that the Mosaic Law, in its entirety, was meant to be a training tool for God’s people as they grew in maturity and were prepared to receive Christ.
Galatians 3:23-24 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.
Special note: Slavery in the Bible. It can be troubling for people to read regulations about slavery in the Bible, because we imagine historically recent modes of “chattel slavery” when we read Exodus 21. However, it is important to note the specific limitations in place on the practice of slavery within Israel. “When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh he shall go free” (Ex. 21:1) Furthermore, there were essentially rights and protections for people who were in the classification of “slave” (Ex. 21:2-11,20,26). Slavery was a common practice in the ancient world. The Mosaic Law does not create it, but it brings regulations and protections to an existing practice. Finally, we see that the entire practice is governed under the precept that Israel knew what it meant to live in slavery in Egypt and that God had delivered them from this (Ex. 20:1). This is clearly a very different system that what was practiced in American plantation systems. But why would God have allowed even this highly regulated practice of slavery to exist within the nation of Israel? We don’t know for sure, but we do know that it provided a means of survival for people who were living in poverty and in danger of starvation. That is, you could sell yourself in a time of absolute desperation but, there was a limit on how long you could be held. Like modern day bankruptcy, there was a process that could allow for the restoration of absolutely desperate people.
About seven weeks after the Exodus, Israel arrives in the wilderness of Sinai and came to “the mountain.” Presumably, this is where God had appeared to Moses at the beginning of the book. At this point, we can see that God’s promise to deliver his people from their bondage to Pharaoh has been fulfilled. When God first revealed himself to Moses through the burning bush, he said that Moses would lead the people out of Egypt and they “would serve God on this mountain” (Exodus 3:12). But what does it mean to serve God? We are about to find out. Chapter 19 shows great preparation for a sacred meeting on the mountain top. All of the people were told to wash themselves and prepare themselves for a meeting with God. Only Moses will be allowed to go up to the top of the mountain (with Aaron for some portion of it) because the holiness of God is a deadly threat to mortals.
What God reveals on the mountain is referred to the “Law of Moses” or the “Mosaic Law” and forms the foundation for life for the people of Israel. Now, the Mosaic Law is laid out in many parts of the first books of the Bible. Much of the second half of Exodus, all of Leviticus, and parts of Numbers unfold this law. Then, at the end of his life, Moses summarizes these commandments in the book of Deuteronomy (the title means “second (giving of the) law.”) Because this 90-day study focuses on the history books in the Bible, we will not spend a great deal of time on the law. That is a study for another day. For our purposes, we will spend just a few days looking at some of the commandments in the law of Moses which are found in Exodus. At this point, we will be a little more selective in our reading so that we can stay on pace to finish our tour of the story of Scripture before Easter.
Here are the initial observations that we want to make:
Reflect: Your obedience cannot earn your salvation but, the Ten Commandments can show us quite a bit about the Christian life. Historically, they have been understood to function in 3 ways (“Three uses of the Moral Law”.) First, they show us wisdom about how the world works and demonstrate a basis for flourishing human life for all people. Second, they reveal our sinful hearts and drive us to deeper repentance. Third, they show Christians how to live a life of thankful obedience in the power of the Spirit. Simply look at the Ten Commandments again. How do they reveal your sin? How do they call you to a life of greater faithfulness?
Connect: Paul tells us that the law is good, but that it reveals our sin and is no longer meant to be the guiding system for the Christian life. Admittedly, the New Testament treatment of the Mosaic Law is a field of study which is complex and often confusing. Let’s simply look at one NT reference in which Paul highlights the way that the Ten Commandments reveal our sin and highlight our need for a savior.
Romans 8:7,24-25 If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet”… Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
This blog is part of the ministry of City Reformed Presbyterian Church. Unless otherwise noted, the entries are written by Matt Koerber. This is part of a project that our church is doing as we read through the narrative sections of Scripture between early January and Easter 2020. New entries will be scheduled to drop automatically at 5:00 am on the scheduled day.