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Archive for the ‘Law’ Category

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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