In grade school two kids were play wrestling on the field during recess when the smaller of the two accidentally kicked the other kid in the knee, causing him to tear up. Immediately the small of the two looked worried and realized that things were about to get serious – he ran. The bigger kid chased him down, tackled him to the ground and began wailing on his face until he was dragged off him by three or four other kids.
To me, this illustrates human nature all too well. We never want revenge, or even payback. That’s not enough. Eye for an eye has never been a human reality. We want more. You kick me, I punch your lights out. You knock out my eye, I kill you!
Jesus said, “You have heard it said, ‘eye for an eye’… but I tell you…”
I used to think that “Law” was bad. The Old Testament was “Law” and the New Testament, “Grace”. People used to be saved by “the Law”, but now they are saved by “Grace”. That was before I realized that salvation has always been by Grace (with a big fat PERIOD on the end of that sentence). The law served several purposes as far as I can tell, but salvation was not one of them:
Restrained: First on a practical note, the law restrains. The passage Jesus was referring to, Exodus 21:23 (today’s reading), the law tells the Israelites that they cannot go further then what was done to them. If you get kicked during recess, you cannot punch the culprits lights out. You can only kick back. But wait! Did you know that the “eye for and eye” passage goes even softer then that? The passage qualifies itself so that you cannot even take an eye for an eye; it explains:
If a man hits a servant in the eye and destroys it, he must let the servant go free.” – Exodus 21:26
So the eye for an eye law was put in place to prevent or restrain people from going further then what was done to them. It is important to remember the God, as Israel’s King, gave the law to establish societal standards. For what society could survive without laws?
Enabled: The law, in a sense, was an enabler. It enabled the people to embrace God as their King. This is an important point. The “Ten Commandments”, if read without their prelude, will not be properly understood. The prelude reads like this:
And God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery…” – Exodus 20:1-2
In this verse God establishes his covenant relationship with Israel. First and second century rabbis understood this passage as God asking the people to be their King, and when they respond with, “what have you done for us that you should be our king,” God explains, “I defeated the Egyptians and Amalakites for you, I brought out the water for you, I fed you” then he asks again, “may I be your King” and the people exclaim, “Yes, yes!” Then God continues, “Good, then this is how those who are in my Kingdom live: You shall have no other gods before you…”
So the law was not about getting into God’s Kingdom, God makes it clear in the prelude that they are already his people: “I am the Lord your God”. The Ten Commandments were not about getting in, they were about how one lived once one was in.
Reminded: Finally, the law was a constant reminder of the grace and mercy of God. Gods Kingdom is an ideal which no human can maintain, yet as the Israelites submitted to God by faith, Gods grace and mercy would sustain them in the land. In other words, when the Israelites stumbled over God’s law, they had God’s mercy to lean on.
Dinner with God
Finally, blogging after each daily reading forces me to read closely. As a result I come across passages I’ve hardly noticed, and I found this one cool in the extreme!
Moses and Aaron, Nabad and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.” – Exodus 24:9-11
Imagine that! Dinner with God.