Tag Archives: Law

Slaves and Sons

How could God treat His people so differently in Old Testament times as compared to the New?  The Old Testament is full of long lists of rules and regs, along with severe penalties to be exacted upon those who break them.  The New Testament is all about grace and tells those in Christ they are free of the law.  What gives?

This is no big mystery.  The first part of the Old Testament was written for people who, for more than 10 generations, had lived as slaves.  After God sent Moses and arranged for their freedom, they obviously needed a bit of clearly defined structure.  The New Testament is about Jesus inviting us to become sons and daughters in God’s family.  For those who accept, He gives His Spirit as an internal guide, making rules irrelevant.

Ask yourself this question: Did you treat your two year old in the same way when he or she became 32?  I would imagine you began with rules, such as, “We never cross the street by ourselves.”  Later on, that rule changed to, “Always look both ways before you cross the street.”  And then, “‘Bye; Have a nice time!”

Here’s a great explanation of how God’s approach changed and why, taken from the New Testament:

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.  (Galatians 4:1-7  NIV)

The New Way

When Scottish aristocracy can no longer afford the expense of maintaining a castle and the palatial grounds, sometimes they donate the property to the State.  They continue to live in a portion of the castle while the rest of it is opened for public tours.  When you tour such a place, you are carefully watched by guards and restricted by theater style barricades as you file by rooms filled with suits of armor, swords and ornate furnishings.  It’s quite amazing, well worth the trip, but don’t step out of line.  They are ready for you…

Imagine, if you got to know the son of the Laird, the heir.  What if he invited you for a visit at the castle and said, “Come on, let me show you around.”  Now you wouldn’t need to stay in line, wouldn’t need to stay behind the barricades.  You could simply follow the son through the place, going where he went and doing what he did.  You could even go hang out with the family in their special quarters.  Doing so, you would break some of the rules established to keep the general public from trampling the place, but you would still be well within the confines of what the family desired.

A similar transformation occurs when one gets to know the Son of God and follows Him through His place.  Where once we were beholden to “the Law,” all the rules and regs in the Bible, now we have been released from that and simply follow the Son.  As Paul said,

“… we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.”  (Romans 7:6b)

Notice, in following Christ, it’s not “anything goes;” we still “serve.”  However our obedience is no longer accomplished by banging into barricades and watching out for the armed guards.  Instead, it is marked by the fluidity and gracefulness of paying attention to His Spirit and going where He leads.

Keep it Simple

What’s the most important rule in the Constitution?  What is the most important amendment?  What’s the most important law in the I.R.S. code?  How about the laws in your state: what one is the most important?  Or your city?  Those questions are almost impossibly tough to answer because there are so many laws and the issue of which is most important may seem like it depends upon who is asking and answering.  Supreme Court justices would probably have a hard time answering quickly or definitively.

And yet, when someone asked Jesus what is the greatest commandment in the whole Old Testament, He was ready with a specific answer, an answer that is profound in its simplicity.  It’s an answer that still “works.”

Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Jesus pulled out two separate laws, one from Leviticus and one from Deuteronomy.  The first one is pretty prominent and was commonly memorized.  But the other one, about loving your neighbor, is included in a list of miscellaneous commands.  But by singling out these two commands, Jesus captured the essence of what God wants for us – a deep love for God, a genuine love for the other guy.  One law focuses our attention in a vertical direction.  The other is applied horizontally.  Like the shape of the cross…

Maybe you have been puzzled by all the “thou shalts” and “begats” of the Bible.  Maybe you have wondered if this ancient book can possibly apply in this age of smartphones, 3D printers and drones.  Maybe you have tried to live by the 10 commandments or the Sermon on the Mount and have given up in discouragement.  If that’s you, then try this: live by just those 2 commands, applying them to your life, your thoughts and attitudes, according to your own level of understanding.

You will be surprised. Pleasantly.

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Lovingly Tough

Even if Bowe Bergdahl is found guilty of desertion, it is unlikely he would be executed.  But that has been the customary punishment for those who desert the military during war.  Why such a tough punishment?  Two reasons: In such dangerous and unpredictable conditions, without enforcing strict discipline, the disobedience of a few could threaten the survival of everyone else.  Secondly, the stakes of failure are very high.  In wartime, rules are strictly imposed and punishments for violating the rules are exceedingly tough.

Some people look at the strict rules and harsh penalties of the Old Testament and conclude that the Old Testament God is not the same as the God Who teaches forgiveness and love in the New Testament.  Why, for example, does God require the death penalty for someone who curses his parents?  Surely adultery is a serious offense and worthy of punishment – but death by stoning?  How could these be the commands of the God of love, joy, peace, patience, etc.?

The answer lies in the dangerous conditions faced by the people to whom He gave those laws, and the extremely high stakes involved.  What were the conditions?

Imagine a few hundred thousand people who had known only slavery for 400 years (as far back as the Mayflower!), people who had no need to govern themselves and had a resentment toward those who did.  Take this people, release them suddenly from slavery, put them out into a desert wilderness without adequate food and water, and try to lead them toward a new homeland, passing through the territory of hostile tribes.  Can you see the need for some pretty strict rules?  Now, consider that this whole enterprise was God’s first step toward rescuing the whole world from destruction! (See Sourdough Theology)  The stakes could not have been higher.  Without severe penalties imposed, the laws would have been ignored.  Rebellion would have been widespread.

But when you read through those tough laws, you can clearly see God’s deep desire to keep His people safe, well nourished, healthy and secure.  To see this, zoom through the whole book of Leviticus at about the speed of a crop duster, just looking for broad sweeping themes.  You will see laws pertaining to their health and safety and laws designed to keep order and laws to prevent disputes from getting out of hand.  Many of the laws show this ignorant people how to relate to a God they did not know, how to worship Him and how to take care of the sins that would otherwise keep them separated.  Are the laws tough?  Yes they are.  Are the punishments severe?  Yes, that too.  But the goal of them all is for God to get them safely settled in the Promised Land, and to bless them.  He said:

“If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands,I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees of the field their fruit.Your threshing will continue until grape harvest and the grape harvest will continue until planting, and you will eat all the food you want and live in safety in your land.“ ‘I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid. I will remove savage beasts from the land, and the sword will not pass through your country.You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you.Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you.“ ‘I will look on you with favor and make you fruitful and increase your numbers, and I will keep my covenant with you.You will still be eating last year’s harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new.I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you.I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people. (Leviticus 26:3-12)

By the Book

Maybe it seems that because the Bible was written so long ago, and since we understand so much more today, that we should rewrite it, to bring it in line with modern customs and attitudes.  But not according to Jesus – and He knew what He was talking about when He said:

“I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”. (Matthew 5:18)

Jesus wasn’t being vague.  Even the tiniest mark was important and would not be changed until the end of the age.  You’ve heard how a comma can save lives: “Let’s eat, Grandma” is a lot different than “Let’s eat Grandma!” 

By Jesus’ clear meaning, it is dangerous for us to assume we can overhaul the Bible’s teachings.  When we changed the rules for sex, the consequences in divorce and children born to a single mother have been much greater than anyone would have predicted.  Now the definition of marriage has been rewritten.  Buckle up; get ready for a bumpy ride…

But, you may wonder, if Jesus meant what He said, why did He proclaim all foods okay to eat, why did He break the rules for the Sabbath and develop a reputation as a drunkard and glutton?

The answer has to do with what righteousness is.  The religious leaders defined righteousness as a list of rules (over 600!) that one must not break.  Jesus had a very different understanding of what righteousness is. 

We’ll chew on that next time.

Breaking the Rules

Why was Jesus such a threat to  religious people?  A lot of it was because He seemed to be breaking the rules of their religion.  God said,  “Don’t do any work on the Sabbath.” Religious people were very strict in deciding what actions constituted work, so they could be sure they didn’t break that rule. 

They still are, today!  In Jerusalem,  Orthodox Jewish leaders have decreed that pushing elevator buttons is work.  Consequently, the hotel elevators are programmed to stop at every floor on the Sabbath.  But Jesus didn’t seem to care about or obey their rules about the Sabbath.  There were no elevators, but Jesus sure pushed a lot of buttons, especially on the Sabbath – healing people, walking too far, and picking grain to eat. 

When religious people are threatened by people who don’t obey their rules.  If they can’t make them conform, they throw them out and badmouth them so others won’t be corrupted.  That’s what they did to Jesus (and much worse). 

You can see why they got the idea  Jesus didn’t respect the Scriptures.  But they were wrong – wrong about the rules and wrong about Jesus’ attitude toward the Scriptures (in those days called “The Law and the Prophets). 

That’s why there was much scratching of heads when Jesus said:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18)

How could this teaching fit with Jesus’ apparent disregard for the rules of the religious?   Chew on that and try to figure it out.  Next time we’ll try to unpack what it means to “fulfill” the Law.