Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Nature of The Law

First, let me say, what must it have been like to see God descend on Sinai, to feel the ground shake, to see a mountain that is not a volcano suddenly covered in fire and smoke, to hear an ear-piercing trumpet blast even though there were no trumpets to be found, and think, "Oh crap, this is who I've been constantly complaining about."?  The hen came home to roost.

But enough about that.  I want to focus on the nature of the Law.  Our modern ears hear "rules" when we hear the word law.  We can't seem to help it, and rules are very unpopular in our personal rights, individual freedom culture.  Therefore, we miss the whole point of God's 'commands.'  Frankly, I wish we could scrap all Bible translations that use the world "law" (which would be all of them...) and begin with translations that use the world "instruction," because that is, in fact, what torah means.  What God is doing in Exodus chapter 20 and 21 is providing this fledgling nation with instruction.  The issue is not keeping God happy by crossing all the T's and dotting all the I's.  It's about being transformed and shaped into a specific type of nation and a specific type of people.  What God is doing here at Sinai is letting the Hebrews know, from the very beginning, what type of people he expects them to be.  God's instruction is about formation, not just following forms.

So, who does he want them to be?  First, he wants them to be a faithful people, and faith here is not defined as an intellectual nod toward certain statements.  It is the faith that exists in a good marriage.  It is the faith embodied in a commitment toward another.  It is the choosing to be steadfast toward one while rejecting other options.  That is the faithfulness the Hebrews should exhibit.  Flowing out of that faithfulness, God wants this new nation to be a nation built on respect, on the honoring of life, on the honoring of one's neighbors.  God wants this new nation to be altruistic, which is the exact opposite of everything it had experienced in Egypt.  God wants his people to trust in him economically.  This may sound strange, but you can't discuss the freeing of all slaves every seven years and not think about the economic impact of that (and remember, Pharaoh's biggest beef with the Hebrews leaving was the fact that they were his biggest labor force).  And speaking of those who serve you, God expects the Hebrews to be a people who care for those in the economic, political, and social levels beneath them.  Finally, God wants his people to be a people of fairness and justice.  All the discussion about what to do if a bull gorges someone is really about justice and fairness and doing right toward another human being.  I sometimes think that message gets lost because in a few thousand years our culture has shifted so much we have a hard time connecting with the language of torah.  We miss the forest for the trees, so to speak, but ultimately all of God's commands come down to character development.  What type of people does God want the Hebrews to be?  What is he trying to transform them into?  We get caught up in rules and regulations, and stop there.  In so doing we miss the point behind it all.

Shepherd is three months old now.  When he gets older I'm going to tell him how to treat women.  Will "rules" be involved?  Will I ever tell him, "Don't do..."  Absolutely, but my goal is not that he learns rules.  My hope is that he is shaped into the type of man who treats women with respect and honor.  On a much grander scale, that is what God is doing with this people in the wilderness.  That is what he is trying to do with me now.  It's not about commands and laws; it's about instruction.

Stopping point: Exodus 21

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