Remember the good ole’ days when parents laid down the law and their children obeyed? Did they ever exist? Our culture today seems allergic to authority – parents don’t like being authorities and children don’t like being under authority. Israel in these chapters is still a young boy. He experienced a new birth at the sea, has thrown some tantrums about wanting food and water, and now God lays down the law as a kind of tutor and guardian to supervise and prepare him until he becomes an adult. God has given him the Ten Commandments, but Israel was afraid of his Father God and stood far off from Him. So God gave him what we call the Covenant Code. We saw the opening of that code last Sunday with some laws about worship including how to build altars so that Israel could be unafraid to show love and honor to Father God. God then gave Israel rules about how the people would treat one another, several of which we will hear today. This new section begins with “Now these are the rules” and it continues through 23:12 with a total of forty-two case illustrations of the law – seven for each of the six days of the work week. We are only going to read through chapter 22:17 today. These laws will seem rather foreign to us because they were real life applications for many of the Ten Commandments for people who lived in a different day and age – living in a very different culture from ours. Yet the principles that they illustrate are just as valid today for those who love the God who has saved us from slavery to sin and death. Nevertheless, you will be relieved to know that we are not going to unpack each of those principles today. Instead I want to help you to see part of a much bigger picture – to understand the main point of this passage and why we have it.
Loving his Father God who saved him from slavery in Egypt, Israel was expected to (but would fail to) love one another rather than mistreat each other, especially the least among them.
Israel was expected to love one another because they had been saved from being mistreated by the Egyptians. They were expected to love especially the least among them because they had been mistreated when they were slaves in Egypt. You already know that socially speaking slaves were at the bottom of society – they were the least of them with a social standing similar to children. So these rules call for people who had been slaves mistreated at the hands of the Egyptians to not mistreat but instead to love the least among them. These rules also served to protect the poor. The rich would survive if someone stole from them but the poor could be ruined by theft. But all of these rules concern loving one another in the context of their culture and society where retribution could get out of hand, especially loving the least among them. Even 21:15 and 17, “Whoever strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death,” and “whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death” concern the vulnerable among them; that is, think of elder abuse when you read these verses. So Israel was expected to love one another because they had been saved by their Father God from being mistreated by the Egyptians.
However, these rules were written for a people who would not love one another. Moses himself had saved a Hebrew man who was being attacked by an Egyptian and then the next day he saw a Hebrew man attacking another Hebrew man. These illustrations applying the law to real life assume that those same kinds of struggles will continue to happen. Yes they had experienced a kind of new birth at the sea, but their hearts had not changed. Thus recently Moses had spent an entire day judging cases people brought against one another and his father-in-law told him that he needed to publish the law to warn the people and appoint trustworthy judges to take care of the less complicated cases. Israel needed these rules because they didn’t have the law written on their hearts – they needed these example cases because they didn’t have the Spirit in their hearts. Not only did they need forgiveness of sins through the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross as the passage before this one pointed to, but they also needed the Spirit that Jesus would pour out for us on Pentecost. (But not so His church:)
Loving our Father God who saved us from slavery to sin and death, the Spirit-filled church loves one another rather than mistreats each other, especially the least among us.
Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Thus it is because we were saved from slavery to sin and death and have the Holy Spirit in our hearts that we can love one another. We can love one another because He first loved us. We can love one another because we have been born again with renewed hearts. Application of the Gospel is pretty straightforward – read the apostle Paul and he will tell you to love one another, read the apostle John and he will tell you to love one another, read the Gospels and you will hear Jesus saying to love one another. Unlike Israel, we are actually able to love one another from the heart because we have God’s Spirit in our hearts. Unlike Israel, we do not need another law code spelling out what that love looks like in our culture today because we have the Spirit inside us, the law written on our hearts, so that we know what to do. Of course we hear the Spirit speaking in the word of God and so the Spirit is speaking through the written law that we have before us telling us how to love one another.
The Spirit-filled church does not mistreat each other, but loves one another, especially the least among us. The way that we treat children including the unborn, the way we treat the poor, the way we treat those with physical disabilities, those with mental disabilities, the elderly, is of the utmost importance. We have seen how Jesus treated the least among us. He see Him say, “let the little children come to me,” we see especially in the Gospel of Luke his great concern for the poor, we see Him rebuke the Pharisees for making loopholes so that they didn’t have to take care of their elderly parents, we see Him healing people with physical and mental challenges. Jesus loved the least among us. One way that you can do so is through giving to the Summit Life Outreach Center and the Niagara Gospel Rescue Mission or by volunteering your time with them. Another way that you can do so is by encouraging the little children that you see in our midst and honoring them. Another way that you can do so is by visiting the elderly in the nursing homes or in their own homes. And no doubt because you have the Spirit within you, unlike ancient Israel, you know many more ways that you might do so. The Spirit-filled church does not act in these ways because we think that good people get into heaven because only Jesus would qualify if that were the case, but because Jesus died for us and has given us His Spirit this is who we are – we are people who love one another. So be who you are in Christ. Amen.