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Archive for the ‘Law’ Category

Isaiah Future- William_Strutt_Peace_1896Isaiah is the tale of two cities. Both of them are Jerusalem.

There is the old Jerusalem with its temple – the House of God. It represents the pinnacle of human and religious strength. If anywhere could be safe from the coming judgement, it would be Jerusalem. Yet the LORD repeatedly asserts that Jerusalem is first in line for divine judgement.

A few examples:

In Isaiah 5 there might be a 6-fold “woe” pronounced on the people in general, but it culminates in the temple with the LORD’s own prophet (Isaiah 6:5).

When the LORD commissions Isaiah to preach to Jerusalem, his preaching will completely cut down the tree until only the Holy Seed is left. (Isaiah 6:13)

When Isaiah pronounces oracles against the nations (Isaiah 13-21) they culminate with Jerusalem (Isaiah 22; 29-31).

In Isaiah 51, it is Jerusalem that will drink the cup of the LORD’s wrath first (cf Jeremiah 25).

Yet on the other side of this judgement comes a salvation that is also “to the Jew first.”

Isaiah is cleansed by fire from the altar (Isaiah 6:7)

The holy Seed will come as a shoot from the stump of Jesse to be universal Ruler (Isaiah 11).

After cosmic judgement, our hope will be manifest “On this mountain” (Isaiah 25:6) but “On that day” (Isaiah 25:9).

After drinking the cup, the LORD takes it out of Zion’s hand and comforts them (Isaiah 40:1ff; 51:22)

So we see that judgement and salvation as preached by Isaiah is not like this:

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It’s not that good behaviour could ever avert the judgement of God that rests on Jerusalem. Instead it’s like this:

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Or, to be more precise, it’s like this:

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Judgement begins with the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). Israel is the house(hold) of God. The temple is the house of God. And, in fact, the world is the house of God. But it’s all scheduled for demolition – from the top down.

Yet what about this holy Seed? What about this Offspring of Jesse? Surely He will sum up Israel – isn’t that what a King does? Represent people?

What about this Servant King who is the covenant (Isaiah 42:1-6)? What about this Anointed One who takes up the lost cause of His people? (Isaiah 61).  He will bring salvation to Zion, light to the nations, peace to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 11). First He must suffer in a very temple-kind-of-way (Isaiah 53:1-10) and then be glorified (Isaiah 53:11-12). In this way He will sprinkle clean many nations (Isaiah 52:15). They will stream to the true House of God (Isaiah 2:1-4) and so salvation can reach the ends of the earth (Isaiah 65-66).

salvation-judgement31In this way the preaching of Isaiah is classically law-gospel. There is the righteous judgement of God which cannot be evaded by any of our own righteousness (Isaiah 64:6). And there is one hope for us – the Divine, Davidic Christ of God. He alone bears our punishment and rises to give life. We who receive His word are brought into His eternal covenant and blessed with all His divine blessings (Isaiah 55:3).

Luther did not invent such a paradigm. It pulses through the Scriptures. Because all the bible preaches salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

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Luther BibleAs early as 1520, Luther identified a proper distinction of law and gospel as central to his evangelical understanding of the Scriptures:

“the entire Scripture of God is divided into two parts: commandments and promises.”

The commandments are law and to be obeyed. The promises are gospel and to be trusted. Confusing these categories is the fast-track towards losing the gospel.

For Luther and the reformers, the theological use of the law is to convict us of sin and guilt and to drive us to Christ. His blood alone can answer the demands and damnation of the law.

And so, for Luther (and for many even in the reformed tradition), evangelical preaching involves this journey of law and then gospel – the demands that kill and the promise of Christ that brings life.

At which point, non-Lutherans are liable to say, “That’s sweet. And artificial. Are we really meant to force Scripture into this mould?” It can seem a little alien.

Now I’m not a Lutheran, certainly not in the denominational sense. But let me suggest that something like “law-gospel” is not a Procrustean bed for the Scriptures, but the natural contour God’s Word.

As I argue here – it’s not just Genesis 1 that can be divided into forming and then filling. The whole of the bible runs from form to its filled-full reality. The law is a key example of this. The Good Life outlined by Moses is filled full by Jesus (Matthew 5:17).

And the journey from form to filled-full reality is a journey from death to life. First comes darkness, then light. First the seed, then the plant. First the curses of exile, then the blessings of restoration. First Adam, then Christ. First the cross, then the resurrection. First the old covenant, then the new covenant. First the old earth, then the earth renewed.

In all this, the ultimate reality is known and intended in advance, but there is a journey to undergo. And law-gospel is but one expression of that journey – through death to life. Luther was by no means the first to spot this pattern. I want to argue that this is the basic preaching of the prophets. Today we’ll think about Jeremiah. Tomorrow, Isaiah.

In Jeremiah 1, the prophet is called by the Appearing Word of the LORD who puts His words in Jeremiah’s mouth. At this point in history, the Word of the LORD will not appear to Israel en masse (Hebrews 1:1). Christ speaks through His prophets to the people. Only in the last days does the Word of the LORD come in the flesh as His own prophet (Hebrews 1:2).

But here in Jeremiah 1, what is the shape of the proclamation which Christ commissions Jeremiah to fulfil?

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”  (Jeremiah 1:9-10)

Notice the pattern? Uprooting, tearing down, destroying, overthrowing. But then: building and planting.

As Jeremiah speaks to his own people he will proclaim total destruction. Exile will come.  Inescapably.

Essentially, those in Jerusalem respond: “Yeah, sure. We’re with you on the total destruction thing. Total destruction for the nations. But we have the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!” (Jeremiah 7:4)

But no, says Jeremiah. The temple is the first place to feel the flames. Judgement begins with the house of God (cf 1 Peter 4:17). God’s people are not exempted from judgement. In fact they are judged more harshly. Doom is coming. And it is unavoidable. Your special status, special places, special rituals, special behaviours, special leaders are all worthless. The end is nigh. Your only hope  is God’s Leader, His Shepherd:

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
and do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
The Lord Our Righteousness.  (Jeremiah 23:5-6)

It’s law then gospel. It’s Israel and all its worthless efforts then Christ and all His mighty salvation.

The whole pattern of prophetic preaching is like this. The prophets preach righteousness to the people. But they also make it clear that the people’s righteousness cannot save. Exile is coming and the only hope is God’s Messiah on the other side of judgement.

Law-gospel isn’t a 16th century invention. It’s at least 2000 years older than that.

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Galatians 3-4 Sermon

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…This was how the Galatian believer saw the history of God’s people from Adam onwards.

Now for them, Christ’s coming and dying was very important: We must realize that these Galatians were not denying the centrality of Christ or His cross. But, they thought, surely the law comes first – the law is foundational.

The default way in which God relates to His people has surely been law.  From the garden of Eden, surely – He commands and we are to obey.  And when Moses went up Mount Sinai surely he was given the law of laws – He was given the very commands of God, written by His finger on stone.  Surely these words, being God’s words, express His eternal will for the people of God.  Bottom line – there is a law, law is to be obeyed.

Now, in this timeline, the cross is important, and Jesus’ dying is central because we need His sacrificial death for all our failures at law-keeping.  So there is an understanding of Gospel here.

The Gospel comes and helps us out when we fail to live up to the law.  But, basically, what God wants is legal obedience.  That is the bottom line for being a Christian.

Now this view of history was a big problem for the Galatian church.  Because they thought like this, when preachers came and told them that they needed to obey the OT Law of circumcision to be a proper Christian, they fell for it.  Why? Because, they have gospel and law running along together, side-by-side, in their minds and hearts.  They have faith in Jesus AND legal obedience in their thinking about what makes someone a Christian.

If you have this understanding in your head about Law and Gospel then you will fall for false teaching time and again.  You will seek your Christian identity in duties and observances and not in Christ.

So we need to over-turn this telling of history.  And thankfully Paul does that for us in chapter 3, beginning at v6.

First thing he does is he under-cuts Moses.  Paul goes back in Israel’s history and leap-frogs over Moses and says ‘think about Abraham. Think about when there was no Mosaic law to be obeyed, not even the covenant of circumcision, think about the life of the people of God before there were any commandments at all.  What made Abraham a fully-fledged believer?’  Answer (v6):

“He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham.

In verse 8 Paul describes this faith as faith in the Gospel.  We are children of Abraham when we trust the Gospel, because that’s what Abraham trusted.

So the history of the people of God does not begin with law at all it begins with Gospel

Now the Gospel promises spoken to Abraham were about the Seed (v16) and that Seed, that promised offspring, was Christ.  That’s why I’ve got the Gospel stretching right back to the time of Adam because the Seed who was promised to Abraham was first promised to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15.  Right from the garden of Eden, Jesus was promised as the Seed of the woman.  He would crush Satan’s head but at great cost to Himself.  Right from the beginning, Christ’s incarnation and death and resurrection, His victory over Satan was preached.  And people trusted this gospel – people like Abraham – and they were saved.

So this Gospel is how God relates to people.  Gospel is God’s bottom line.

But if that’s true – where does the Law fit in? It begins 430 years after Abraham (v17) and it lasts until (v19) the Seed had come.

The Law begins at the mountain of Sinai and ends at the mountain of Golgotha.  That is the Law’s place….

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I was walking through our local shopping centre on Thursday morning and I bumped into some friends.  We were chatting away and then the whole place went quiet.  For a second we were puzzled but then we remembered – it’s 11 o’clock.

So quickly we shut up and started remembering.  But for the next two minutes, the shopping centre was divided into two camps.  On one side there were lots of people bustling along, chatting away, oblivious to the time and its significance.  They were breaking the “silence” rule.

On the other side there were those who had remembered to remember.  And you know how they spent the next two minutes?  Glaring at passers-by, tapping their watches, pointing to their poppies and rolling their eyes to one another.  If they weren’t so resolved to be silent I reckon the tutting would have been deafening.

And so I wonder… out of those two minutes, how much time was spent remembering the sacrifice of others and how much time was spent feeling superior?

Maybe I’m wrong, maybe it’s possible to simultaneously glare angrily at the rule-breakers and to remember our war-dead.  But I’m guessing there wasn’t a lot of remembering done, even by the rule keepers.  And actually their zeal for the rules worked against the spirit of remembrance.

But, time and again, that’s what rules do.  They make you feel safe and they make you feel superior.

They make you feel safe because you’ve drawn a line and put yourself on the right side of it.  You’ve done your bit, you’ve played your part, you’ve ticked your box, and now no-one can touch you.  You’re with the in-crowd.  You’re not babbling away in the shopping centre, you’re with the moral majority.  Rules are so often kept as a way of distancing yourself.  When something is asked of you, or the world impinges on your personal sphere in some way, very often our reaction is, “No fair, I kept the rules!”  We feel like if only we play by the book we ought to be free from the claims of others.  Rules make us feel safe.

And rules make us feel superior.  Because now we can look down our nose at those on the wrong side of the line.  We can feel better than others.  There was a lot of superiority going on in that shopping centre on Thursday.  Lots of people kept the tradition of remembrance.  Few people followed the spirit of actually remembering.

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Good with food

Apparently 50% of anorexics go on to become bulimics. That’s only counting those who admit to bulimia.  And it doesn’t include all the other eating disorders “not otherwise specified” (which are the majority of eating disorders).  My guess is that disordered eating remains a problem for the recovered ‘anorexic’ in the great majority of cases.

Emma discusses why this might be so in “Starving and Stuffing: The Same Thing?”  It’s not that the disordered eater wants to be “bad” with food or weight.  They want to be “good”.  So telling them they’re being bad with food and now need to be good with food will certainly change their eating patterns.  The starver might well start stuffing.  But you’ve only changed the behaviour.

It turns out I can’t really address my issues with food and weight by focusing on food and weight. Something (or rather someOne) else needs to capture my heart.

Read the whole thing…

This links in with stuff I’ve been talking to Matt about.  When rules are the paradigm in which healthy / holy living is conducted then being surrounded by laws can go hand in hand with inner lawlessness.  When the law is driving the behaviour rather than something (someOne) bigger then “being good” turns into its opposite very quickly.


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Previously, Peter Leithart asked:

What assumptions about sex are behind the common opinion that the Song [of Songs] is only an erotic poem, only a celebration of human sexuality and marriage, full stop?

Jim Rogers of Texas A&M writes:

I think a part of the answer is this: Commentators (and many Christians more generally) come to the other parts of Scripture dealing with sex with materialist/anthrocentric assumptions, so why wouldn’t they do so also for the Song?

For example, we read Gn 2.24 as pertaining primarily to the type and not, first, to the antitype. But Paul doesn’t:

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall be come one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.”

The first application is to the antitype – Christ and the church. The second application is the type, i.e., human marriage. (So, too, cf., 1 Co 6.15-20, although it’s a bit more blended there. Still, the focus is on the implication for our union with Christ.)

Even in the OT, there is far more extended discussion of idolatry as spiritual adultery than there is discussion of human adultery. But, still, we read the sex laws in the Law of Moses almost exclusively anthrocentrically rather than Christocentrically (or Yahwehcentrically, as the case may be).

This despite the fact that Christians know that the law reveals Christ first (Lk 24.27, 44). This means that the law on polygamy, the law on taking interest, the laws and theft and murder and etc., first reveal Christ – and I mean that it reveals to us the person of Christ directly (and his relationship with his people), not just stuff about the ethics for his people.

And don’t we see this in Moses as well? E.g., Exodus turns at the Golden Calf incident. But isn’t the bitter waters test in Nm 5 a development of the rite that Moses implemented in Ex 32.20-21ff?

Indeed, when we have entire schools of thought devoted to reading Moses with an eye to how the Law applies (or should apply) today to human relationships (whether approving Moses or disapproving Moses), why would you expect those same Christians to read the Song as anything more than a guide to human sexual relationships? All they’re doing is being consistent.

Read the post here.

That is wonderfully, brilliantly and 100% correct.

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Read Exodus 25-27

The goal of the LORD Jesus’ redemption was serving God on the mountain (Ex 3:12).  But when the people get to the mountain, they don’t go up (Ex 19:13b).  Instead priests go up a certain distance (Ex 19:22) and Moses alone goes all the way to the top.  But he goes on the people’s behalf (Deut 5:27).  In this he is like the Prophet-to-come (Deut 18:15ff).

But now that the people have arrived at the mountain, what are they to do?  Camp out at the mountain?  Well, no, there’s a promised land to inherit.  So instead, the mountain camps out with them.

The tabernacle is given to the Israelites as a kind of portable Sinai.  It has the Glory cloud at its heart (pinnacle).  It is stratified with places for the people, for the priests and for the high priest.  And salvation is pictured as the progression (ascension) from estrangement to the most holy place through sacrifice.

The mountain and heaven are very closely identified in Scripture (Gen 2:10; Deut 4:36; Psalm 15:1; 24:3; Isaiah 14:13; 2 Pet 1:18) and so on the mountain Moses receives the heavenly blueprint for the tabernacle.  It is expressly a copy of the heavenly perspective (Ex 25:9,40; 26:30; 27:8) – and so it stands at the heart of the old covenant, a picture of heavenly things, not the reality itself.  The shadowy nature of it was very clearly taught in the OT itself.

This is the layout:

Let’s think about the furniture first:  The NIV headings are quite helpful.  You’ll see from 25:10 that the first thing Moses was to build was the ark of the covenant (orange box on left).  Then (25:23) the table of the bread of the presence (orange box on right) and then (25:31) the seven-fold lampstand (to the south of the table).

Before anything else was – there was the Three.  Then, 26:1 – according to the pattern on the mountain, Moses is to make the tabernacle.

If time permits we may look at the materials in another post, but after these are described we read in 26:31 that a curtain is to be made which cordons off one section of the tabernacle from another.  And this curtain is inlaid with cherubim.

The last place we saw cherubim was at the end of Genesis 3, blocking humanity off from re-entering the presence of God.  Here this curtain cordons off the ark of the covenant.  And so 26:33; this divides the tabernacle into the Most Holy Place and the Holy Place.

Now, what do these things mean?  Well perhaps we should start with the Table of the Bread of the Presence.

Jesus is known as God’s Presence among the people (see Ex 33:14; Deut 4:37; Isaiah 63:9) and He is the Bread of life (John 6).  He is represented by the Table.

The seven-fold lampstand is equated with the Holy Spirit in Zechariah and Revelation. (See for e.g. Zech 4:1-6; Rev 1:4).

So we have, Christ, we have the Spirit – what about the ark – placed in the Most Holy Place?

Well Hebrews 9 (v24) tells us that the Most Holy Place represents the throne-room of heaven so we can safely assume that the ark of the covenant represents the Father – or at least His throne.

The curtain of the temple is the division that has occurred between God and humanity through the fall.

Since the problem is our estrangement from God, no wonder that the very next thing on the tabernacle-building agenda is the altar (ch27:1).  Only through sacrifice is the way back to the Father opened up. (See Mark 15:38).

One final piece of furniture to note – chapter 30:1 – the altar of incense (the yellow box).  This was placed before the curtain into the Most Holy Place and between the Table and the Lampstand.  In the bible this represents the praying saints (Psalm 141:2; Revelation 5:8).  More on this in a future post.

So what do we have modelled here?  Here is the way back up the holy hill for sinners.  Naturally it’s a route that takes you through fiery, piercing judgement (Gen 3:24).  And it’s a route that only the consecrated and anointed Priest can make – but He does so on the people’s behalf, carrying them on His heart into the Presence of God Most High.

This multimedia presentation of the gospel was at the very centre of the law.  It  was very centre of Israelite life.  The heart of the law is a gospel presentation proclaiming the way to heaven.  When the law was seen as a way of us ascending into the Most Holy Place then we are dashed to pieces on it.  It brings only wrath and curse.  But when the OT Israelites saw the shadows as shadows cast by the great Light, they were led to the End of the law – Christ – and found mercy, righteousness and peace in Him.

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After some very feeble posts by myself (sorry I’ve had no time recently!), Jacky brings things back to the boil.  This is really great stuff – enjoy!

Read Exodus 23:10-32

The Israelite Calendar

We approach the three significant appointed times of the year according to the Israelite ecclesiastical calender:

(i)  Feast of Unleavened Bread: also known as the ‘Passover‘ (Pesach) in the first month (15th to 21st day), the month Nisan/Abib (v.15); the Paschal Lamb killed on the 14th, and the Paschal feast from 15th to 21st

(ii)  Feast of Harvest: 6th day of Siwan/Sivan, the third month of the ecclesiastical calender (this is also known as Shavuot/the Pentecost/Firstfruits of Wheat Harvest)

(iii)  Feast of Ingathering:  known as Sukkot, or Feast of Tabernacles (firstfruits of wine and oil) occuring from 15th to 21st of the month Tishri, the seventh ecclesiastical month

These are the three memorable days where all the males appear before God.  Unsurprisingly, these three festivals mark important dates in Scripture: the year opens with the reminder of Jesus’ death on the cross; followed by the Pentecost in the middle of the year, reminding us of the firstfruits of the Holy Spirit given to all men (Acts 2) which also occured on the Shavuot.  This being in the sixth month, on the sixth day, is the mark of man equipped and blessed by the Holy Spirit to spread the gospel, and also to be sanctified (as day six represents that of the creation of man and woman, just as the Spirit is given to all men and women.  For six days shall man labour; and so for six days shall we labour with the Holy Spirit for God’s Holy Work of salvation.  This is closely followed by the seventh month, symbolising a time of reaping of rewards, the firstfruits of wine and oil, and unlike the Feast of Weeks, this is similar to the Passover, a seven-day celebration.

Interestingly, following the Feast of Ingathering there is approximately 5 months before the next Passover… and this contributes to the seasonal cycle of Scripture – through death, comes life, and returns to death again, comes life again.  This is no Buddhist samsaric realm – rather, this is an observation of our life on earth, a shadow of the great event of Christ being thrown into the pit, rising as a new creation and ascending as our present Intercessor before the Heavenly Father.  Just as we are made from dust, we are given the firstfruits of new life by the Spirit; then we return to dust.  But we will rise again, breaking away from all seasons in new creation, and will eternally live in the Feast of Tabernacles where there is eternal wine and oil of gladness, where there is the eternal Tabernacling of the Lamb with us in New Jerusalem.

Perhaps there is something more I’d like to note:  Three times the male appears.  Why?

The first festival relates to CHRIST, in memory of the death of the firstborn.

The second festival relates to the SPIRIT, in memory of the giving of the Spirit to all who stand in the Son.

The third festival… relates to the FATHER – whom we will no longer conceive as invisible, but visible when we are given new bodies:

Job 19:25-27  For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.  (26)  And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God,  (27)  whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!

And thus, the three periods of the year bear witness to the Triunity of the God in becoming, the cyclical nature of His outpouring love for us taking us from Christ, in the Spirit, to the Father from the victorious opening of the year to the even more glorious close of the greater hope in seeing the Father in our new creation bodies, in the new heaven and earth.

Conquest of Canaan in the Name of the Angel

From the great establishment of the yearly reminder of the Triune glory, we move on to vv.20-21 which speak of the divine archangel which Philo considered to be God the Father’s chief messenger, and no doubt, Jesus is the Father’s chief and foremost messenger.  The Angel of the LORD, who has the name of GOD himself, has the power of pardoning one’s transgressions.  The Father tells Moses to relay to the Israelites that this Angel must not be disobeyed (v.22).

Vv.23-24 then relate to the essence of Christian proclamation – v.24: “you shall not bow down to their gods nor serve them, nor do as they do, but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their pillars in pieces”.  Indeed, Christ, the Angel, is the one who brings the victory – God the Father is the one who blots them out (v.23), but WE are the ones who invoke the Angel’s Name to destroy the idols according to the victory won by the Redeemer.  Such is the stuff of the Christian faith, when we are brought into the warm embrace of the Triune love!  Glen has written another great post on faith here.

And that fight of faith, by the victory of the cross and by the power of the Spirit (explained by the festivals), shall result in the symbolic treasures of Canaan.  The land will be enlarged, the people will no longer be barren… but v.33 ends on an important caution: “They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.”  Yet, the irony is the prophetic nature behind this statement – STRAIGHT after Moses speaks to the Father, Israel is already serving their self-made calf.  Will the Israelites ever inherit such blessings, with their terrible track-record of being dissatisfied with the symbolic quail, manna and living water?  It is so laughable that we, like the Israelites, would however always promise God – “All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do” (chapter 24v.3).

Clearly, the answer is found in the victorious Angel.  The answer is found in the annual reminder of the three-fold festivities.  The answer is found in the perfect fulfillment of the law.  What is the meaning of the law?  It is to bear witness to the Christ Who can do these things.  What is the meaning of the law?  It is to bear witness to the Seed, the God-man, who is the Redeemer of the ancient Christians.  What is the meaning of the law?  To display how utterly fallen we are, and our utter incapability of fulfilling it by ourselves, except in the eternal Mediator alone.  Through Him, we will see the Father, and inherit the blessings of New Jerusalem in true Canaan (v.23-32).

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Read Exodus 22:1-23:9

Some random thoughts:

Crimes receive their just recompense (Heb 2:2)

Restitution is a wonderful idea – the word is taken from the root of “shalom”!

Restoring shalom is costly

Some crimes are worse than others

This is contra the popular belief that everything’s the same in God’s eyes.

It’s true that no sin is so slight it doesn’t demand the blood of God and no sin is so great it’s not covered by the blood of God – but within that range there’s quite a lot of difference.

There’s restitution or there’s death.  There’s no prison.

Sins are dealt with in community.  If someone’s not fit to be dealt with in community they’re not fit to live.  There’s no limbo state of prison.  (Implications for the ‘naughty step’ in disciplining children?)

Protection of the weak is woven very deeply into the fabric of Israelite life. Virgins (v16), Aliens (v21, 23:9), Widows (v22), Orphans (v22), the Needy (v25), the Poor (23:6).

This is not sentimental favouritism – 23:3 – justice and mercy are held together.

Love for enemies is actually legislated!  (23:4-5)

This grace is grounded in the very identity of the people – this is not the law of a dominant super-power.  This is the law of a weak, rescued people. (23:9)

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Please do add your own…

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Read Exodus 20

God’s Sent One has brought the people to the mountain to serve the Unseen LORD (Ex 3:12; 19:5-6).  But the people lose their nerve at the trumpet call (19:13, cf 19:19).  They remain distant.  Only Moses goes into the fiery cloud (20:18-22).  But he does so on the people’s behalf.

Moses’ mediation was a shadow testifying to the future ministry of the Sent One, when He would become the Prophet like Moses (Deut 18:15ff).

On the mountain, Moses will receive words (e.g. Ten Commandments – lit. “Ten Words”) and a pattern/copy/construction (i.e. the tabernacle, Ex 25:9,40).

The two should be understood together.  Both are given to Moses as heavenly blueprints for a people-in-waiting.  The Law (which inextricably involves the tabernacle and sacrificial system) lays out a wholistic discipleship programme for the priestly nation.  It shows the world what forward-looking faith in the LORD Jesus looks like. (Deut 4:6ff)

Let’s think about the Ten Words.

Verses 1 and 2:

And God spoke all these words:  2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

Here we see that God’s commandments flow out of God’s salvation. They do not lead to God’s salvation.  The law is given to a people who have already been made His people by the redemption of the Divine Angel.  The LORD does not say, “If you want to be my people, this is how you should act.”  He says, “You are already my people, and here is an authoritative description of what it looks like to be the LORD’s people, waiting for the Messiah in the promised land.”

This is a foundational point: the Law is never presented as a way of salvation.  Instead it is a gift to the saved people of the LORD.

Let’s read what these commandments are, from v3:

3 “You shall have no other gods before me (lit. My Presence).

The Ten Commandments are the words of the Unseen LORD (cf Deut 5:26) – the Father.  It’s natural therefore that His first command is to have no other gods before His Presence.  It has been the Presence (the LORD Jesus) who has saved the people out of Egypt (Deut 4:37; Jude 5).  So of course the Father’s first command is to have no other gods but Jesus.

It’s often said, and rightly so, that transgressing the first commandment is the heart of all other transgressions.  This is true – the first and foundational sin is rejecting the Son (John 3:36; 16:9).

Let’s keep reading:

4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,  6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Here we see that the law is a reflection of the character of the LORD.

The LORD gives us reasons within Himself for why He gives us the commands He does.  He doesn’t give us arbitrary hoops to jump through to prove we are obedient in some abstract sense.  In giving us the Law, the LORD is expressing His holiness, His righteous character.

If you read through Leviticus you’ll come across scores of commands but nestled in among them is the repeated phrase ‘I am the LORD.’  He tells us ‘I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.’ (Lev 11:44-45). So the Law reflects the LORD’s character.

Let’s read on from v7:

7 “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.  8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work,  10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.  11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Here we see that the Law witnesses to underlying gospel truth.

Not only are there reasons in the LORD’s character for why the commands are as they are, there are underlying theological and historical gospel truths that are being witnessed to and upheld by the Law.

Let’s read on from verse 12 (the fifth commandment):

12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

Here we see, the Law is expressly given in the context of the promised land.

As you read Exodus and Leviticus and especially Deuteronomy you cannot escape the truth given again and again that the Law is to be carried out in the land.  Deuteronomy – an extended teaching of the law by Moses – uses the word ‘land’ over 200 times.

So, just as verse 2 gave us a specific audience for the Law – the Israelites – so v12 (and countless verses like it) give us a specific place for the Law – the promised land.

We haven’t got time here to talk about how the shadow of these mountain-top words/tabernacle are filled out in the incarnate work of Christ.  Obviously Paul is able to apply the fifth commandment to the Ephesians (6:2-3).  But he does so in the same sense as calling the Corinthians to ‘keep the feast’ (1 Cor 5:8), or as Hebrews tells us to go to the altar (Heb 13:10).

Taking these five bolded points together, we get a picture of Law that looks something like this:

The Law is given to a people who are already saved by the LORD Jesus and brought to the Father to hear words that are an expression of His character and Gospel.  Supremely they are a call for the saved people of God to put His Son first in all things.

Let’s read the last five commandments from v13:

13 “You shall not murder.  14 “You shall not commit adultery.  15 “You shall not steal.  16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.  17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Let’s ask a basic hermeneutical question here – one for all the linguists out there: In what mood are the commandments given here?

It’s not imperative.  There is an imperative mood in Hebrew.  The Father could have said ‘You must not murder.’  But instead He says ‘You will not murder.’

Of course that carries with it a powerful imperative force doesn’t it?  If the LORD God says you will not do something, then by golly you’d better not do it.  But it carries with it other nuances as well.  Can we not see in these words aspects of promise?  ‘You won’t murder, you won’t commit adultery, you won’t steal?’

Imagine the phrase ‘There will be peace in this house.’  Now that phrase can mean different things in different contexts.  If a mother says this to two rowdy boys it is most definitely a command isn’t it?  ‘There will be peace in this house.’  But if a prince says it to his kingdom, it’s a promise isn’t it: ‘There will be peace in this house.’  And what about if there was a person whose name was Peace, who embodied Peace itself – what would those words mean then: ‘There will be Peace in this house’?  I think there are shades of all those meanings when we look at the Law

So the Law carries not only a sense of command but also of promise.

The Law not only commands the Israelites, it also points beyond itself to a Kingdom and to a King where perfect righteousness exists.  Christ is the LORD whose character soaks through every jot and tittle of the law.  So when He is born of a woman, born under Law, He summarizes the Law as ‘Love God and love neighbour’.  As He does so, He’s not just summarizing the Law, He is summarizing Himself.  He is the One who supremely loves God with all His heart, soul, mind and strength.  And He is the One who supremely loves His neighbour as Himself.

This is so vital: Christ is the Answer to the commanding Father.  Not me. Certainly not in the first instance anyway.

So when I look at the Law I don’t see an arbitrary list of commands to simply cut and paste from Sinai into my life.  Instead I see the most rich and complex gospel presentation.  Here are mountain-top words and structures given as shadows to Moses for the Israelites and filled full in the LORD Jesus (Matt 5:17).

As I read this description of righteousness I’m forced to say: ‘That Law does not describe me.  Not even my best efforts bring me close to being the Person described in that Law.  But, I know a Person who it does describe.  It describes the LORD Jesus.’

I acknowledge that the Law is good.  But I am not.  I do not and cannot answer the Father’s words here with faith, worship and obedience.  But I know a Man who does.

When we’re in Him by faith, He puts His law in us by the Spirit and it bubbles out for all the nations to see.

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