The Covenant in the Ark

In the last post, we looked at a couple of covenants given prior to the book of Exodus and “the ark of the covenant” it mentions.  In this post, we want to look at the covenant itself.

The children of Israel have finally been redeemed from their slavery in Egypt.  On their way to the Promised Land, God leads them by way of Mount Sinai, where He has some things to tell them.  On the mountain, He says to Moses,
“Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel:  ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.  Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.  And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel,” Exodus 19:3-6, emphasis added.

Having said that, God gives Moses further instruction, what we know as the Ten Commandments, although there is a great deal more than just 19 verses in Exodus 20.  These instructions are what we know as the Mosaic Covenant, although God calls it, “My covenant,” so we don’t forget where it came from.  Moses didn’t dream it up on his own.

There are some things we need to remember about this covenant, especially the first part of it:  the Ten Commandments or “the Law”.

1. It’s an expression of the moral law in a specific historic and cultural context.

What do I mean – “moral law”?  First, the moral law itself is the expression of the nature, character and purpose of God.  It’s what He expects of His creatures because that’s what He is:  holy, righteous and just.  The moral law means, for example, that it’s wrong to murder, lie or steal, regardless of who we are or where we live.  It’s what Paul refers to in Romans 2:14, for when Gentiles, who do not have the law [of Moses], by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves.  This does NOT mean that Gentiles decide for themselves right or wrong, but simply that they, and we, have such a concept as “right and wrong,” regardless of whether that concept agrees with the Word of God.  The truth is, though, we don’t live up to that standard any more than Israel lived up to Moses.

Second, the “specific historic and cultural context” has to do with nation of Israel just after they had been rescued from Egyptian slavery.  Some of the law’s requirements seems strange to us.  Some of our laws would seem strange to them, although there really is no comparison between what came from God and what sometimes comes from fallible and sinful legislators.

2. It was given only to the children of Israel.  Some groups insist that we are obligated to keep these laws as well, but God told Israel, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage,” Exodus 20:1.  Later, as we read above, He called her His “special treasure”.
Concerning the unique nature of Israel’s covenant relationship with God and their responsibility because of it, Moses said,
“Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statures, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’
“For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the Lord our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him?  And what great nation is there that has such statues and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day”
 Deuteronomy 4:6-8?
This is the “specific historical…context” of the Mosaic Covenant.

3. While the law expected a great deal from the Israelites, it had nothing to help them to fulfill those expectations.  At the end of his life, Moses himself put it like this:

“You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land- the great trials which your eyes have seen, the signs, and those great wonders.  Yet [-pay attention to this!-] the LORD had not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day,” Deuteronomy 29:2-4.

In spite of all they witnessed, in spite of the fact that their clothes and their shoes had lasted for the forty years of their wilderness trek, v. 5, it was all in one ear and out the other.

Concerning any ability to “keep the law,” someone has put it like this –
“Work” and “run”,
The Law commands,
But gives me neither feet nor hands.
But sweeter sounds the Gospel brings-
It bids me fly and gives me wings.

The Law gives no feet to walk in its ways or hands to do what it says.  It was an external code to Israel and it still is to those who try to live by it today.  It does nothing for our fallen internal character and nature, except show us that they are fallen.  It can do nothing to change them or to save us from them.

4. Because of this inability, and in spite of what many think, the Law is NOT a means or way of salvation.  It is true that the LORD told Israel, “You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them:  I am the LORD, Leviticus 18:5, emphasis added.  Yet, there is not a single verse in the Old Testament that gives any indication that God expected that they would obey.  In fact, just after God had given the Law to Moses and the people had said, “we will hear and do it,” God made this comment to Moses, “Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!  Deuteronomy 4:27b, 29.

Sometimes it’s argued, how can God expect us to do something we can’t?  Others put it this way: since God requires it, we can do it- as if He were responsible to us and not we to Him.  He can expect us to obey simply because He is God.  He is our Creator; every breath we take comes from His hand, cf. Daniel 5:23.  In the book of Leviticus, time after time God enjoins obedience to some precept simply by saying, “I am the Lord.”  No other reason.  He is the Lord!  We’re to obey simply because He tells us to!
We don’t believe that in our culture anymore.   Even in church, we don’t really receive or worship Him as God.    We picture Him as on the outside looking in.   We preach that He wants to bless us, but we have to be “willing;” we have to take that first step toward Him before He can take a step toward us.   Ultimately, we have made Him in our own image.
This very noon, on the news –  our area is experiencing freezing drizzle, with ice on the roads and forming on tree branches.  Thousands of people, some not all that far away, are without power.  The news focused on a church just a couple of miles away.  Included in the coverage showing the darkened interior was a picture of Jesus, blond and blue-eyed!

*sigh*

Away with such nonsense, indeed, such blasphemy.

“There is a God in heaven, Daniel 2:28, whether we like it or not, a God who
does according to His will in the army of heaven
And among the inhabitants of the earth.

No one can restrain His hand
Or say to Him, “What have You done?” Daniel 4:35.

5. If the Law can’t save anybody, then why did God give it to Israel?

Paul himself asked the question, What purpose then does the law serve? Galatians 3:19.  He answered in that same verse, It was added because of transgressions.

I think God gave the law in order that we might see that we need to be saved from sin and from ourselves.  We need to know what sin is.  There is an objective standard by which every act, thought and word is to be measured.  It’s not up to us to decide.  Paul put it like this:  I would not have known sin except through the law, Romans 7:7.  A verse or so later he confessed, I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died, v. 9.  What does this mean?  Until the Lord met him on the Damascus road, Paul was quite content with his life; in fact, I believe he was rather proud of it.  After all, as he wrote in Philippians 3:4-6,

If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so:  circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless, emphasis added.

But then the Lord Jesus met him!

Hear his testimony after the Lord converted Him:  But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.  Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, Philippians 3:7, 8.

When he left for Damascus on that fateful morning, he had no idea that he would be an altogether different man before he got there.  No wonder the believers in Judea were amazed and said, Is not this he who destroyed those who called on this name..., Acts 1:21?   He had intended to kill them, Acts 22:4, and here he was, wanting to join them!
_______________

This, then, is the covenant kept in the Ark of the Covenant.  Lord willing, we’ll return to the Ark itself later in these studies.

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25 to 45.

The title represents what might be a sentence in a capital case, 25 to 45 years in prison.  In contrast to this, the thing that impresses me as I read through the Mosaic Law is that there is no provision for prisons or jail.  There are no sentences like the one in the title.  There are a couple of references to people being put in “ward” until it was decided what was to be done with them, and there are references to prison later in Israel’s history, but in her founding documents there are no references to prisons, no multi-layered judiciary, no defense lawyers, no plea bargains, no years and years of “appeals.”

What did they have?

Well, let’s see….

In our last post, we saw what was to happen if two men got into a fight and one of them was injured.  The other man was responsible for his healing and restoration.

In Exodus 22:1-4, we have an example of theft.  How was a “perp” handled in such cases?

If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox and four sheep for a sheep.  If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed.  If the sun has risen on him, there shall be guilt for his bloodshed.  He shall make full restitution; if he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.  If the theft is certainly found alive in his hand, whether it is an ox or donkey or sheep, he shall restore double.

If this were today, it would say something about his rights to an attorney.  He might be arraigned before a judge and bail would be set, upon payment of which he would be set free until the trial.  Nothing about the victim of his thefts; anything recovered would be held as evidence and wind up in some storage area in the police department.  It might be decades before the case is finally settled.

How different is the Mosaic view.  If the stolen items were gone, then the thief was required to return much more than the value of what he stole.  If the items were still with him, then he was required to return double to his victim.  He was required to make full restitution.  If he was unable to do this, then the one thing he still had was to be sold:  himself.  That certainly wouldn’t go over in our society, but the emphasis is not on the perpetrator of a crime, but on his victim.

There is one similarity with today.  If the thief was killed during the robbery, which was assumed to take place at night because it was unlikely that anyone would steal an animal during the day, his death was not a crime.  If, however, he was not caught, got away and was then killed, this was a crime in itself.  A victim of a crime cannot chase a thief down the street and kill him.

The emphasis was on the victim and the return of stolen goods to him, even more than was stolen.  I suppose this was to pay him, if I can put it like that, for the inconvenience of his property being stolen from him.  It also might serve as a warning to someone tempted to steal that, in the hackneyed phrase of today, “crime does not pay.”

Following this example, vs. 5 deals with a situation in which someone’s animal grazes in someone else’s field or vineyard.  V. 6 deals with destruction of another’s field by fire.  Vs. 7-14 deal with the loss or theft of personal property in several different situations.  V. 12 gives us an idea of the solemn responsibility one had toward the safety of someone else’s property entrusted to him.  None of these situations involves jail time.  All of them involve an effort to compensate the victim for what loss he might have suffered.

I don’t know that such practices could be implemented in our so much different time and culture.  At the same time, I do believe that more concern ought to be paid to the victims of crime, in some way making those who commit the crimes responsible not so much to “the state,” but to their victims.

Whose Rights?

I would like have had the title read, “Whose rights?” but I don’t know if that’s possible with this platform or how to do it.  The reason for the title is that our culture is very concerned about “criminal rights.”  Police have to bend over backwards to ensure that anyone arrested in suspicion of a crime is “read his rights,” and probably anyone hauled in for questioning knows to ask for a lawyer right away.  More than one person on trial has walked away because of some little technicality, some oversight, some “i” not dotted properly or some “t” not crossed completely.

(After I put this away last night, with just a few lines beyond this point, one of the news stations had a segment about serial rape and the problems law enforcement was having with what to do with those guilty of numerous sexual crimes.  The segment showed one individual with a dozen or more such offenses.  In the course of the discussion about what to do with such a person, the officer commenting on it said, “At some point, you run into the constitutional rights of the offenders.”

“The constitutional rights of the offenders.”

I couldn’t believe it.

The Old Testament solution would have been that he wouldn’t have lived to commit the second offense, let alone 11 more – and law enforcement puzzled about what to do with him.

There is no “constitutional right” to be a rapist or any other criminal.

And, yes, I know that’s not what’s really meant, though that does seem to be how some people view it.)

In all this, very little seems to be said about the “rights” of victims.  Nothing was said about the victims of the above predator.  What about their “rights”?

While the Old Testament is concerned about fairness and true justice, it’s also concerned about victims.

We see an example of this in Exodus 21:12-27, especially vs. 18, 19, If men contend with each other, and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist, and he does not die, but is confined to his bed, if he rises again and walks about outside with his staff, then he who struck him shall be acquitted.  He shall only pay for the loss of his time, and shall provide for him to be thoroughly healed  (emphasis added).

Earlier in this description, it’s said that if the injured party died, or even, it seems to say, becomes bedridden, then the other man was to be executed.  If he did not die, and became somewhat able to get up and around, then the other man was responsible to see that he was restored to health and for any wages he had lost.  Not insurance, not the government, not some hospital ER having to write it off – the offender was responsible for the healing and restoration of his victim.

The offender had no “rights,” only responsibility to his victim.  He had no “debt to society,” as we like to put it, but only to his victim.  We wonder how things would be different if we had a similar view of crime and punishment.

We’ve already seen that the Mosaic Law was given to a specific people in a specific context.  As such, it doesn’t mention situations with which we are familiar, like auto accidents or cybercrime.  And it does mention situations with which we are not familiar, like harsh treatment of servants, or about which we have developed different views, like the place of a father in his family, the raising of children or the roles of men and women.

And the New Testament give further instruction.  Because of this, some have said that we don’t have to pay any attention to the Old Testament at all.  I disagree.  While we don’t live under its precepts, and we do live under the New Testament, even the Apostle Paul said that there were some things we could learn from the Old Testament.  In 1 Corinthians 10:11, he wrote, Now all these things [from the earlier part of the chapter] happened to them [Old Testament folks] as examples, and they were written for our admonition.

“Examples,” “admonition.”

In other words, “pay attention.”

There are things there for us to learn.