The Gospel According to Moses
DAILY DEVOTIONAL READINGS BY KIM HARRINGTON
WeekXVII: God's Perfect Law
Day 113: Rules of the Covenant
So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Weíve established already that the Law was not given as a means of obtaining salvation or righteousness before God. Even such a good and holy Law cannot do that, for man is by nature a sinner, and cannot keep the whole Law. The Law of Moses points out manís sinfulness, and his inability to do righteously.
The Israelites were saved on the basis of a covenant made with their forefather Abraham long before their time. Our text says God remembered His covenant with Abraham and decided to act on behalf of Israel. Their salvation from Egypt, and from sin in a more spiritual sense, was based not on their performance of any works or laws, but on a covenant. The Israelites themselves confirmed this covenant with Yahweh at Mt. Sinai. The Law came afterward; it is the rules of the covenant, not the basis of their salvation.
They had done no works to deserve Godís attentionóin fact, they were quite unbelieving and often rebellious towards Moses and the Lord. But God heard them call on His name, remembered His covenant with Abraham, and decided to deliver them. He led them out of Egypt with many miracles, the most significant of which was the death of the first-born; for here Israel was saved, not by obeying the Ten Commandments, but by applying the blood of the Passover lamb to their homes by faith. He led them through the Red Sea, destroyed their enemies, provided for them in the wilderness, appeared to them in a cloud of glory, and even spoke to them from the mount.
Only after all this does He introduce the Law. He says, in effect, "Iíve done all this for you, now hereís your end of the deal... these are the things that please Me... these are the things that will keep our relationship sound and harmonious." The laws hadnít established the relationship in the first placeófaith in the blood, and the covenant with Abraham had brought them into relationship with God. The Law was given so they might understand what kind of God He was, what things pleased Him and did not, and how they ought to behave as Godís covenant people.
Itís exactly the same as the New Testament, isnít it? We, like they, are saved by faith in the blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and we have entered into a covenant with God sealed by Christís sacrifice. It is, in fact, the most recent development of the same Abrahamic covenant that the Israelites entered intoóand we enter on the same basis that they did, and Abraham did, for that matter: by faith. We keep Godís commandments, not to earn our salvationówe already have thatóbut to please Him who has called us. If we are really in relationship with Him, we will want to please Him, as a husband and wife in love want to please each other in their covenant.
Itís so beautiful and simple, itís a wonder that so many misunderstand it and complicate it. My guess is that they only do so because theyíre not in as deep a relationship with their covenant partner as they ought to be. Letís get as close to God as we can.
Day 114: Jesus Speaks Out on the Law
Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Just what is the responsibility of the New Testament believer to the Law of Moses? People have argued about that quite a bit, but itís really not as difficult as itís sometimes made out to be. Weíre not saved by the works of the Law, as weíve established alreadyóbut we do maintain our relationship with the God of the Law by observing it, for it contains His value system and world view. We want to think like He does, and do what pleases Him; therefore we cannot very well ignore the Lawóafter all, itís not the Law of Moses, but the Law of God.
The New Testament qualifies certain aspects of the Law, clarifies the purpose of others, fulfills the prophetic elements of it, but does not abolish it or make it obsolete. To suggest anything else is to go completely against Jesusí own remarks about the relationship between the Old and New Covenants, contained in our text for today.
The New Testament Christian should read, study and understand the Law in order to understand his God. As you do, youíll find a God who is concerned about, not just the spiritual aspects of our life, but even about the finer details, including skin infections, and ladiesí monthly cycles. Youíll find a God who loves His people dearly, and who wants them to love each otheró"therefore whatever you want others to do for you, do so for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets," (Matt 7:12). Youíll learn that Heís not only concerned about humans, either, but that He cares for the animals and the very land itselfóGod is into ecology, for after all He made the whole earth and all thatís in it.
We read the Law, because the God of the Law hasnít changed. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The things He cared about four thousand years ago are still important to Him today. If He said the Sabbath is important, then it is for us, too. That doesnít mean we must specify, as the Pharisees did, just how far someone can walk on the Sabbath, but it does mean that we should observe a day of restóif God deemed it fit to rest a day, are we greater than He, that we should work all week?
We obey in the spirit of the Law, and thus our "righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees," (Matt 5:20), for they cared only about outward observances, while we care about the heart, and the original intent of the commandment. We understand the love behind the Law, not just the letter of it.
Christian, if you ignore the Old Testament, the Law and the Prophets, youíre missing a lot about God. The New Testament doesnít replace the Old, it just brings it into deeper revelation. Itís the only Bible that the early church knew. You ought to pay closer attention to it, and you might walk in the same power they did.
Day 115: New Testament Qualifications of the Law
You have heard that the ancients were told...but I say to you...
Weíve taken a lot of pains to make our point this week that the Christian is not to ignore the Law, or to separate himself and his own responsibilities from itóas in, "thatís Old Testament, I donít have to obey that!" Yet itís also obvious that there are differences between the Old and New Testaments, and that the Christian isnít responsible for every provision of the Law. Jesus Himself, and later the apostles, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, qualified various aspects of the it for the New Testament believers. The following are the qualified aspects of the Law, the things not binding on us as Christians, according to the Scriptures.
1. Circumcision, diet restrictions, haircuts, and the other distinctives that made Israel a unique people, separate from the world around them. Many of the ordinances of the Law were designed to stress Israelís separateness from the other nations around her, so she would not intermarry, and get involved in the idolatry of the Canaanites. This physical holiness is replaced in the New Testament by a deeper, more spiritual holiness. We, too, are separate or sanctified from the world around us, but itís not a matter of circumcision or diet; itís a matter of a new heart that is the emphasis.
2. The Hebrew calendar and civil laws are not binding on New Testament saints. The feasts, holy days, and numerous civil laws, (eg. if an ox does such-and-such...) were the law of the nation of Israel and had more to do with their national and civil life than universal spiritual truth. These provisions knit a giant family of slaves together into a mighty nation with a common culture, which was very much needed at the time. The church is a spiritual nation divided amongst many earthly nations and cultures, and although a good government should base its laws on those of Israel, as our founding fathers in America did, it is not a necessary part of the Christianís individual walk with God.
3. The tabernacle rituals and the sacrifices of the Law have already been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. This is a major theme of the book of Hebrews. We worship in a heavenly tabernacle, of which the earthly was just a representation. Jesus Christ has been offered once to bear the sins of the whole race, and any further offerings are superfluous and even unbelieving. It is finished. We, the church, are now the temple of the Holy Spirit, and we need no tabernacle. The way into the holy of holies has been cleared by Christ, and there is no point in a physical temple or tabernacle. All these were prophetic of the person and ministry of Jesus Christ, and have been fulfilled by Him.
We Christians do not ignore the Law, we seek to fulfill it. But much of that fulfillment is in the spiritual realm, and the New Testament gives us the key to understanding the Law better than even the High Priest himself did. Now, having laid the groundwork, we are ready to explore these fascinating books called the Law of Moses.
Day 116: Slavery & the Bible
If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment.
Itís been said, and correctly, that the Bible doesnít expressly forbid the institution of slavery, and of course in our own nation that has been taken advantage of in days past. Southern aristocrats who kept whole farms of black slaves in bondage defended the practice with scriptures out of context, and twisted interpretations of others. Iíve heard of everything from black people bearing the mark of Cain to being bound by the curse of Canaanóand in more recent times, Martin Luther King being the black horse of the Apocalypse who takes peace from the earth! Incidently, all of those are ridiculous examples of bad interpretation: the mark of Cain was a mark of protection not a curse; the curse of Canaan has nothing to do with African peoples, but was fulfilled when Israel took the promised land from the Canaanites; and the Martin Luther King interpretation is so absurd as to not deserve an response.
I think someone should set the record straight as to just what the Bible really says about slavery, and thatís what weíre going to do here. The Bible concept of slavery was far different than the American version. There were no plantations, and there were no so-called gentlemen who owned dozens or hundreds of slaves, keeping them in sheds and shacks like so much livestock. The slave of biblical times was usually treated like a family member, got the Sabbath off like everyone else, and worshipped the same God with the family.
The slave of the Old Testament was not a slave because of racial prejudices, and was not held to be of lower intelligence or under some curse of God. He usually sold himself into slavery, or was sold by his father, to pay off debts. In the New Testament many of the slaves were bought as tutors for the children; they were highly educated and well-readónot field hands. The concept of any race being inferior than another, or deserving to be held in bondage because of the color of their skin is totally foreign to the Bible.
Furthermore, slaves in Israel were set free after six years of service. If the family got the funds to pay back the debt before the prescribed time he or she could be redeemed, or bought back. There were strict laws governing the treatment of slaves, and abuse was rare. Furthermore, a runaway slave was not returned to his master, but given sanctuary. This, more than anything else, suggests the Lordís true attitude towards slavery; He saw it as a common practice in those days that should be regulated, but was against it in principle. You might say it was like divorceóallowed because of the hardness of peopleís hearts and cultural mind-set, but not according to the original plan of God.
The New Testament makes the point even stronger, and declares slaves and free men equal in Christ Jesus. Slavery in the Bible? Not actually forbidden, but not a license to oppress people, either.
Day 117: Slaves for a Lifetime
But if the slave plainly says, "I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out as a free man," then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently.
A Hebrew slave was allowed to go free after six years of service according to the Law, but there were also provisions for a lifetime of servitude, should the slave himself choose that route. It sounds strange to us freedom-obsessed Americans that anyone would actually choose to be a slave, but many did, out of love for their master, and for the benefits of slavery. The Apostle Paul often refers to himself as a bond-slave of Jesus Christ, no doubt with this very law in mind. Slavery is really not such a bad deal with Jesus as your Master, especially if you realize that the alternative is self (and Satan). I think it was Spurgeon who said that the man who is his own master has a fool
A slave has a worry-free existence, for he is the dependant of someone else. Itís the masterís responsibility to provide food and clothing and shelter. Like a child, the slave merely takes what is given to him and enjoys itóas far as heís concerned thereís a bountiful supply. Dad may be worrying about how to pay next monthís bills, but the child is carefree. This is how Jesus was able to say, "Take no thought for these things, for your heavenly father knows what you have need of." Natural people worry about what they shall eat, drink, and put on for clothing, but the bond-servants of the Lord have no worries. Their Heavenly Father is rich beyond comparison and is happy to give them everything they need. Worrying is unnecessaryóitís Godís job. Youíll be provided for whether you worry or not, for youíre a slave.
All of the slaveís life was likewise taken care of. A kindly master would even go out and buy a wife for his faithful slave, as suggested in the verses weíve just read. Iím sure glad God chose my wife for me; Iím afraid to think of what kind of girl I might have ended up with otherwise, considering the tastes I had in the flesh before I knew the Lord! For the Apostle Paul, on the other hand, He provided no wifeóHe had other plans for that precious servant; itís the Masterís choice, and weíre happy with it.
When youíre a slave, the Master makes all the decisions for you, especially regarding the work He has you doing. You donít have to sit up nights worrying about whether or not to take a certain step, or what might be the consequences if the economy should crash or some other tragedy befall. All you have to do is listen to the Masterís instructions and obey. The results are His worryóthe slave just obeys. I donít mind if all the things I do seem to bear fruit or turn out right according to my way of looking at themóIím merely following orders, the responsibility lies with my Master, Jesus.
But the real reason for deciding to become a slave for lifeóor for eternityóis love for the Master. I love Jesus because He first loved meóI serve Him because He came to serve me. Itís the most beautiful relationship possible, and I wouldnít go back out on my own for any so-called freedom. A slave of Jesus is the only life for me.
Day 118: Cities of Refuge
He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death. But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint you a place to which he may flee.
The Law of Moses differentiated between various kinds of murder and manslaughter just as our modern laws do. In fact our modern laws concerning this are based on the biblical laws. There are varying degrees of murder, depending on whether or not it was premeditated or accidental. The difference in the Law of Moses is the provision of cities of refuge. These were especially appointed cities where a man who had accidentally killed another could flee to for protection. The relatives of his victim couldnít kill him there, and he was free to carry on his life, after the judges had determined that it was in fact an accidental death.
A few things stand out or come to mind as you look at this provision in the Law. The first thing I noticed was that part of verse 13 which says, "God let him fall into his hand." This would suggest that it wasnít an accident after all, but in some way, at least indirectly, the will of God. There are no accidents in the Bible, especially where Godís people are concerned. It may be that the godless and unbelieving are somewhat at the mercy of the devil, other people, and happenstance; but it is certain that the children of God are not. "For whom He did foreknow, He did also predestinate." God is very much in control of the lives of His children. Somehow that does not rule out volition or free-will on our part; He just knows what weíre going to decide before we decide it, and works with that knowledge, or as Peter put it, weíre "predestined according to the foreknowledge of God." In any case the death that seems accidental to us is actually predestined to some degree by God. Perhaps He was dealing with that person, or his relatives, perhaps the man deserved to die and finally his time came, or perhaps the Lord is seeking to do something in the life of the accidental murderer. Itís far beyond us to figure it all out, and to even try is frustrating and confusing, but itís actually comforting, if you think about it, to know that there are no accidents in the lives of Godís people.
The city of refuge was not a free ticket, either. The man who fled there had to stay there. His life was totally disrupted. You donít get off scot-free after killing another person, even if it was an accident. The argument itself is sin, and the anger that bore such awful fruit is doubly sinful. If a man was truly a good man, he had a chance in the city of refuge to settle down and earn an honest living, for there were other citizens in the city, too. If he wasnít, he could fall in with other hotheads, accidental murderers like himself, and further corrupt his life. Furthermore, the accidental killer had to make restitution. TheLaw of God has a certain deep kind of justice in the that our modern laws donít haveóthe difference is faith in the God who is over all, and whose justice is sure. Even today, you and I may safely place our lives, complete accidents and happenstance, in His hands and rest secure.
Day 119: Godís Exact Justice
But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
Many have mistaken todayís text to be a biblical license to go out and take vengeance on anyone who harms them. Nothing could be further from the true biblical teaching.
In the first place, an eye for an eye was never exacted by individualsóthis was a civil law, and the evidence was weighed and the sentence handed down by the judges of Israel, and executed by officially appointed persons, not by individuals acting on their own. This is the Law of Moses here, folks, not a Clint Eastwood movie!
Secondly, this law is meant to be limit on vengeance, not a license. In other words, if someone pokes out your eye, you donít lose your temper and blow him away, you poke his eye outóor rather, the courts do. It is a law of exact justice: a tooth for a tooth, not a broken jaw, a broken nose, and a concussion for a tooth; an eye for an eye, not a life for an eye. It was exercised the same on all people, noble or peasant; you poke out someoneís eye, you can expect to get yours poked out, too, but you can expect no more vengeance than thatóan exact justice.
Some have sought to compare the Law of Moses with the code of Hammurabai and other ancient legal systems, but the differences are more obvious than the similarities. The Babylonian and Egyptian codes were very prejudicial depending on the class of people; the Law of God is fair and even-handed, regardless of social statusóeven slaves had rights. Others have condemned the Law as being cruel and harsh, like Islamic law. Absurd! Islamic law seeks to thwart criminals by imposing extreme punishments (eg. you steal a loaf of bread, we cut your hand off), while the Law of Moses assures you of punishments proportionate to the crime, a hand for a hand (and two loaves of bread for a loaf of bread, by the way).
As Paul said in the New Testament, "the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy, and righteous, and good," (Rom.7:12). The more you get into it, the more you realize how true that statement is. Itís too bad so many Christians today totally ignore the Law of Moses. Paul and the rest of the apostles, by contrast, had actually committed most of it to memory. Letís face it, they not only knew the Law better than we do, they knew God better than we do, for Heís the God who wrote the Law. Itís about time we got back into itónot for salvationís sakeóweíre saved by faithóbut to learn more about God, His wisdom, His justice, His mercy and fairness; and to really appreciate Him as we ought to.
All Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Version unless marked otherwise.
Copyright © 2005 Kim Harrington, Masterbuilder Ministries. All rights reserved.