Wednesday, 29 January 2014

(30) January 30: Exodus 22-23 & Matthew 20:17-34

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­­
As you read note the different sections to these laws.

To ponder:
In 22v1-15 restitution is greater than the loss, acting as a deterrent too. Protections are also made against taking advantage of the law. People cannot use the protection afforded if a thief is killed at night as an excuse for simple murder. Judges are also introduced to weigh cases. Missing property can’t just be blamed on a thief. Guilt must be established (22v8, 11). Paul urges believers to judge disputes within the church (1 Cor 6v1-6).
            22v16-17 presumes sex was to be within marriage. Indeed, sex outside marriage is effectively a commitment to marry, as the two become one flesh (Gen 2v23-24). Nevertheless, the girl is protected. Dad can intervene. How trivialised pre-marital sex has become today.
            Sorcery is somewhat trivialised today too. But here it is treated severely (22v18) no doubt because it dabbles with the demonic and leads people from reliance on God.
            God’s concern for the outcast and needy is a dominant theme. As Christians, Israel’s history is ours too. So we should share this concern for immigrants, especially those treated badly – or trafficked (22v21, 23v9). And consider the strength of condemnation (22v22-24) if Israel do not care for those who have no-one to care for them. Should we add the elderly and unborn today? The poor are also to be cared for, being lent money without interest, never brought to the point of having nothing (22v25-27), and given every seventh year to benefit from the land (23v11). The point is that God “hears the cry” of the needy, and feels compassion for them (22v23, 27).
            God’s care even for animals is apparent: The firstborn who are his, are to be with their mothers for seven days (22v30). Animals are to benefit from the Sabbath year and day (23v11-12). 23v19 may even teach goats are not to be offered whilst still taking their mother’s milk. It is often forgotten that Christians in the past led campaigns against cruelty to animals.
            God’s concern for justice is also evident (23v1-7). Testimony must be trustworthy, impartial and unbribable. The poor are neither to be shown favouritism nor denied justice (23v1-7). And looking to Christ’s own teaching, enemies should not be discriminated against in care (23v4-5).
            22v28-31 reaffirm devotion and generosity to God. v31 probably stresses that as God’s special people Israel are to eat only the best. Three key festivals are affirmed, when the men are to assemble before God: First, Unleavened Bread, when the Passover would be celebrated. Its stipulations are reiterated (23v18). Second, Harvest (later, the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost), when the first of the crops would be presented to God (23v16, 19). Third, Ingathering (later, the Feast of Booths), when the last of the harvest would be presented. By these means God’s redemption and provision are to be remembered with thanks.
            Having outlined the covenant’s requirements, God’s promise of an angel to guard and speak to Israel places her in continuity with the Patriarchs (Gen 48v16, 15v12-18). His promise to them will be fulfilled if Israel remain faithful, listening to him and not turning to the gods or practices of the nations around them. However, everything will be according to his wise timing (23v20-32).

Praying it home:
Praise God for his concern for justice and the needy displayed in his law. Pray that we would reflect those same concerns in practical ways.

Thinking further:
Paul points out three uses to God’s law: First, it supervised Israel by restraining sin (Gal 3v23-25). In doing so, if carefully applied, its principles may be helpful in restraining sin in wider society too. Second, it was to lead Israel to Christ by showing how sinful and in need of being justified they were (Gal 3v24). As we read it, we should therefore be convicted of our sin and become all the more thankful for God’s grace in Christ. Third, it remains a guide to Christian life in the Spirit (Rom 8v1-8, 13v8-10). As mentioned yesterday, we therefore seek to apply it to our context after Christ. Strikingly, Jesus taught the law accommodated the hard hearts of Israelites (Matt 19v8). So a greater righteousness is required of the Christian displayed no longer in forced outer obedience to rigid regulations, but a Spirit-given inner obedience to the principles reflected in them (Matt 5v17-30). Paul can therefore say that as a Christian he is not “under the law,” because he is not required to obey its outer requirements as a system. The era of the Mosaic covenant has passed. Nevertheless Paul is “not free from God’s law” but “under Christ’s law” (1 Cor 9v20-21). This probably means that God’s underlying requirements that reflect his character and the order of creation remain, and are summed up in Christ’s command to love.

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