EXODUS 21-24 Israel’s law could be divided into the moral law (10 Comm.), the civil law (Ex. 21-24), and the ceremonial law (Ex. 25-40). The civil law can be regarded as an enlargement of the moral principles of the 10 Commandments applied to civil law.
ARE THESE LAWS TO BE APPLIED TODAY?
How much of the Old Testament should we observe today? How are we to say
that some of these laws are to be observed and others not?
The Traditional View
The traditional answer distinguishes between the 3 categories of law- moral, civil and ceremonial, and distinguishes a different judgment in each case. It says that the moral law is binding upon people at all times, because it is an expression of the moral character of God in whose image we are made. The very survival of society depends on adherence to these laws.
The civil law is not to be applied today because it was given to Israel only, as a nation ruled directly by God. This was called a theocracy, but no other nation has ever been a true theocracy.
The ceremonial law does not apply today because it was intended to point to the future saving work of Jesus Christ and has been fulfilled by Him.
Dispensationalism basically says that we are under none of the laws since
“under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:15). Instead, when we become Christians we are given the Holy Spirit or the life of Christ to live in us. Thus we will want to behave like Jesus. Second, all but one of the Ten Commandments is repeated in some form in the New Testament and should be obeyed as a lasting expression of God’s will for us. The one commandment that is not repeated is “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy”, we have been given the Lord’s Day instead.
These two systems are incompatible. Yet they both agree on the validity of the
moral law , though for different reasons. They also agree that the ceremonial law has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ and must therefore be understood in terms of His work.
THE “BOOK OF THE COVENANT”- EXODUS 21-23
What principles can we derive from the civil laws in the Book of the Covenant?
Laws concerning Hebrew Slaves Exodus 21:1-11
Although it may bother some that the Bible seems to accept slavery as a fact of life and does not denounce it as a terrible evil, in time Chrisitianity did away with slavery. Gradually Chrisitanity altered the way free men and women came to regard the slave, seeing him or her as a human being equal in rights and opportunities to themselves. The basis for the radical moral shift begins in Exodus.
No permanent, involuntary servitude
A person could become a slave through debt, war, or birth. But this was not continued indefinitely. The very first law concerning a Hebrew servant is that “he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free” (Exodus 21:2). The master was also to provide him with a share of the flock, threshing floor, and winepress, so that he might be able to start a new life and avoid falling into slavery again (Deut. 15:12-15).
Respect shown to the family
If a slave had a wife when he entered the service of his master, he had the right to take her with him when he was set free. However if the wife was given by the master, the wife remained the owner’s until her time of freedom came (far different from the early United States).
Right of the slave to choose slavery
Obviously slavery in Israel was not always undesirable. The slave’s right to choose was preserved in part by his right to determine his own destiny.
Sale of a daughter as a servant
The fourth provision protects her right to food, clothing, and sexual attention
(vv.10-11), and her right to a husband and a home. She could not be trifled with. If purchased to be the master’s son’s wife, she would have the same rights as if she were the master’s daughter. These rights recognize that even slaves were people made in God’s image and were therefore to be treated with repect.
Laws Relating to Personal Injury- Exodus 21:12-36
Unintentional Homicide- Exodus 21:12-14
The Old Testament is rigorous when it deals with murder (intentional homicide)
because “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man” (Gen. 9:6). Life is not to be treated lightly. Since people are made in the image of God, it is a terrible offense to take away that life. Murder must be punished severely.
A distinction is made between murder (intentional) and manslaughter (without malice or premeditation, by accident). For manslaughter there is no specific legal penalty. Because even an accidental killer could be in danger of retaliation from a relative of the person killed, provision is to be made of a place of asylum to which he or she could flee. This was accomplished by the setting apart of cities of refuge, three by Moses on the east side of the Jordan (Deut. 4:42) and later three more on the west side of the Jordan by Joshua (Joshua 20).
Unlike other ancient law, individuals are acknowledged and protected even if
they are slaves. However a slave owner is not punished for temporarily injuring or accidentally killing his slave (v. 21).
Injuries caused by animals- Exodus 21:28-36
The common theme here is negligence. If an animals kills someone, then it is to
be put to death because it is dangerous. However, if the animal was known to be dangerous and the owner did not take proper care to contain the animal, he is responsible, even to death. There is a provision for the guilty one to redeem his life by payment of a redemption price.
Laws Relating to Personal Property- Exodus 22:1-15
Restitution is developed strongly here. Distinction is made between crimes
occurring with and without malicious intent. If it is an accident, no compensation is required; it is an imperfect world.
Laws concerning Sexual and Civic Morality- Exodus 22:16-31
Two ideas tie these laws together. First, in the Bible sexual relations are a picture
of a believer’s relationship to God, who is pictured as the rightful husband and bridegroom of His people. Second, our behavior to others is to mirror the treatment we have received at God’s hands. The Israelites were not to mistreat foreigners, since they themselves were foreigners in Egypt. Likewise, we who are Gentile Christians were once “separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12).
The most important verse is the last which says, “You are to be my holy people” (v.31).
Laws of Justice and Mercy- Exodus 23:1-9
Most of these laws concern justice in the courts. Thus, “Do not spread false
reports” passes immediately into “Do not help a wicked man by being a malicious witness”. Bribes were common I the ancient east, even in Israel, bu they are to be rejected since they pervert justice.
Sabbath Laws and Festivals- Exodus 23:10-19
These laws are contained in the civil law since they concern justice for the land
(even animals) as well as justice to God.
Sabbath laws- Exodus 23:10-13
Even the land was to take a rest. It was to be given a Sabbath’s year rest that it
might recover its vitality. The Israelites did not always do this. They worked the land mercilessly. Later the 70 year long Babylonian captivity was explained as having been necessary in part to make up for the people’s failure to observe these rest years (2 Chronicles 36:21). Observance of the sabbatical years reached a climax every 50 years in the year of Jubilee which had its own special privileges and laws (Lev. 25:8-55).
The weekly Sabbath is imposed for similar reasons. It was so ‘your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed” (Exodus 23:12).
The laws concerning a sabbatical year’s rest for the land looked ahead to when the people would be settled in Canaan tilling the soil. Therefore the next section (vv.14-19) describes the three annual festivals at which Jewish males would be required to appear before God at His tabernacle or temple (v. 17).
Festivals- Exodus 23:14-19a
Feast of Unleavened Bread
This first festival, which marked the Exodus, was observed in early spring,
beginning with the Passover and lasting for seven days. It had already been introduced.
The Feast of Harvest
This feast was called the feast of Pentecost in the New Testament. Pentecost
means “the fiftieth day”. It was also called the “Feast of Weeks,” in the Old Testament because it occurred seven weeks after the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Lev. 23:15-21).
The Feast of Ingathering
This was also called the Feast of Tabernacles. Jews today celebrate it as
“Succoth”. It was called the Feast of Tabernacles because the people were later told to make small outdoor booths in which they were to live during the days of the feast. It was to remind the people of God’s goodness during their years of wandering in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land.
Keeping “kosher”- Exodus 23:19b
“Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk” (v.19) seems strange. The
explanation seems to be that boiling sacrificial goats in their mothers’ milk was a common ritual practice of the Canaanites. It is the basis for the Jews’ practice of keeping kosher (clean, ritually fit, or proper) and for kosher cooking, which requires a strict separation of meat (the goat) and dairy products (mother’s milk).
the conquest yet to come (Ex. 23:20-33), and 2) a report of how the covenant between God and the people was confirmed (Ex. 24).
A Look Ahead to the Period of the Conquest- Exodus 23:20-33
The promise of God’s presence in driving out the enemies in Canaan relates to God’s promise to fulfill the covenant made with Abraham. God said He would give Abraham’s descendants the land “from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates” and would drive out those who were there before them (Gen. 15:18-19). Here God adds that He will not do it in a single year, because the land would become wild and overrun. He would do it gradually as the people increased in numbers and so became able to occupy it (Ex. 23:29-30). He also warns them not to make a covenant with the land’s former occupants or even allow them to remain in the land, because they will cause the people to turn away from God (Ex. 23:32-33).
The angel mentioned here may be a special guardian angel for Israel (Dan 12:1). More likely it is the preincarnate Christ because only a divine being would be able to forgive sins. Also, this angel is said to have “my [God’s] Name in him” (Exodus 23:1).
The Confirmation of the Covenant- Exodus 24:1-18
The Book of the Covenant was ratified by the offering of sacrifices and the
sprinkling of blood. On this occasion Moses read the words of the Book of the Covenant, and the people responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey” (Ex. 24:7).
One feature of these activities is surprising. Later, Moses asks to see God, and God replies, “No one may see me and live” (Ex. 33:20). But here “Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu [the sons of Aaron], and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel” (Ex. 24:9). This cannot be contradictory, since the Bible does not contradict itself. Therefore, it cannot mean that Moses, the priests, and elders actually saw God face to face. On the other hand, it must mean that they received a personal revelation that was above and beyond anything any of them had received previously and that it involved seeing the glory of God that was beyond description. The Transfiguration was such an event for Peter, James, and John (Matt. 17:1-13).
This great experience of seeing the glory of God must have been wonderful. But the New Testament reminds believers that we have it even better. The author of Hebrews writes, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence in the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.” (Heb. 10:19-22). That is, we may approach God boldly and without fear.
However, we must do so in “the obedience of faith.” When the law was read to the people of Israel, they responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey” (Ex. 24:7). Have you come to God through faith in Jesus Christ? Are you willing to obey everything God has commanded you?