Have you ever read through the Old Testament law before? If this is your first time to read through Exodus, it is probably the first time you have ever read the Law that God gave the Hebrew people after their trip out of Egypt. At times, you will read the commands God gives His people, and wonder why He would speak to such things. Some of the issues addressed in the law are meant for an ancient people at a specific place in history, and it can be difficult to understand. Other laws are straight forward and address issues that men and women still face.
So why did God give His law? At first glance, we might say that God gave the law to teach people how to live. It is easy to assume that God gave these chapters to show people that if they live a moral life that follows the principles taught in the Law, then they could go to heaven. For centuries, people have been trying to go to heaven and have a relationship with God by keeping the rules. But the Bible makes it very clear that keeping the law is impossible. We all sin, and we all fail to keep God’s commands in some way. Well, if the law was not given to show us how to live so we can get to heaven, why did God give Moses these chapters? Here are some biblical reasons God gave the law.
First, the law reminded God’s people that they were to be different. Many of the laws directed the Hebrews to live in a way that showed that their God was different from the gods of the other nations around them. By keeping the moral laws that God gave, the other nations would realize that the Hebrews were a different, holy people.
Second, God gave the law to protect His people. The law kept them from killing each other, and doing other hideous things. Fear of punishment was a deterrent. Other laws helped God’s people avoid situations and problems that could arise. When society sought to follow the Laws of God, the people would prosper.
Third, the Law taught people about the glory and holiness of God. Some of the Law deals with how to worship. God will also use the Law to show Moses how to build a perfect dwelling place for His glory, called the Tabernacle. In Exodus 22:20, God warns about the danger or worshiping other gods. As you read the Law of God, you will realize that the worship of God must recognize his beauty and worth, which will lead to worship of Him alone.
The Law of God also displays how seriously God takes the sin of His people. Many of the Laws require the ultimate penalty, capital punishment. God calls for the death to individuals who practice witchcraft, commit murder, and practice deviant sexual acts. The Law will also call for the execution of rebellious teenagers, and those who practice idolatry (use this one the next time your kids talk back). All of this demonstrates that sin is serious business, and God will judge those who choose to disobey Him.
These are a few of the reasons God gave His law. But there are two reasons that rise above the rest. In next week’s devotion, I will share those.
One final note about the capital punishment in the Law of God. As noted, there were several offenses in which the punishment was execution. Without a lengthy discussion, let me share that we do need to be careful here in how we handle these passages. The Law was given to the Hebrew people as they sought to live under a system where God was their king. The government is responsible for determining crime and punishment, and while it may be a good idea to take the lead from the Bible, it is up to them to determine these things. As Christians, we shouldn’t push for a return to the Old Testament Law as the model for the cultural response to sin issues in the people. Yet, the principle is this. That when God called for capital punishment in the Hebrews, it is a clear indication that he takes that issue very seriously, because these types of sins tend to work as cancers in a community of faith. In the New Testament, the response to adultery, rebellion to parents, and other sins on this level called for church discipline to be carried out by the local church and its elders. The consequences may be different, but the people of God are still to consider these issues seriously and respond in ways that honor the holiness of God and protect the community of faith.