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Thursday, May 19, 2016

This Is Interesting ...

Well, it’s interesting to me anyway.

The giving of the Ten Commandments to Israel at Mount Sinai occurred on the third new moon after the people of Israel had left Egypt. God addressed them directly in a thick cloud from the peak of a fiery, quaking mountain amid thunder, flashes of lightning and the sound of a trumpet.

The people were understandably petrified.

The Need for a Mediator

Undoubtedly they took in very little of what God said, assuming they understood anything at all. One such experience was enough: they quickly decided they needed a mediator to deal with God, and that Moses would do just fine for the purpose.

God understood this would be the result, of course. He never expected that Israel would be up to receiving the law directly. In fact, it appears the spectacular display was primarily intended to confirm the authority of Moses and to discourage sin in the Israelite camp.

Revelation in Stages

That incident is found in Exodus 20. From this point on, as recorded in most of the rest of Exodus and throughout Leviticus, God reveals his law to Moses to pass on to Israel. The historical narrative in progress since Genesis 1 is interrupted to disclose the will of God for his earthly people. He does so in stages. Some of the law is revealed and written down by Moses prior to spending forty days atop Sinai with God. Some of it is written by God on tablets of stone. (Most believe this was an abbreviated version of the law, presumably the ten commandments, since the entire contents of Exodus 24-31 transcribed onto two tablets of stone would have been far too small to read or, alternatively, way too big and heavy for Moses to carry.) When Moses returns to the top of the mountain after breaking the first two tablets of stone in anger, God reveals even more to him.

The Second Passover

After the mountain experience, God continues to reveal his law to Moses, and the tabernacle is completed “in the first day of the first month of the second year”, after which God takes up residence among his people. Almost immediately the Lord speaks to Moses and reminds him it’s time to keep the Passover.

Israel is still in the wilderness of Sinai at this point. Their total stay there has been calculated by those with more time on their hands and far more expertise than I possess at 11 months, 5 days. This second Passover is ten months in, right near the end of the Sinai experience.

At this point, the law has been given. It is essentially complete. And guess what? It’s not complete enough.

Relationship through Law

This is the thing about law. It’s not the mode in which God wishes to relate to man.

Oh sure, it’s most definitely the mode in which man wishes to relate to God. We’re always looking to limit the number of hoops through which we must jump, after which we will happily conclude that we have met the standard, satisfied the terms and completed our obligations. It’s the instinctive mode in which all people throughout history have attempted to approach their gods: “Give us some rules, and we’ll comply”. Uh, not so much.

The law was never given so that Israel could demonstrate its righteousness to God: “For by works of the law,” Paul insists, “no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin”.

Oh dear.

613 and Counting …

Living under law is awfully complicated. As long as the law was (and it has been said to be 613 commandments long), there seemed to be no end of perfectly logical reasons to expand it further. Even before Israel left Sinai, the celebration of the second Passover occasioned one such expansion:
“There were certain men who were unclean through touching a dead body, so that they could not keep the Passover on that day, and they came before Moses and Aaron on that day. And those men said to him, ‘We are unclean through touching a dead body. Why are we kept from bringing the Lord’s offering at its appointed time among the people of Israel?’ And Moses said to them, ‘Wait, that I may hear what the Lord will command concerning you.’ ”
Look at that. The better part of a year getting the whole thing nailed down, not even on the road yet, and already in need of more law.

The Righteousness of God Manifested

This is not because God was inadequate to the task or that the law he gave was somehow flawed; rather, the nature and purpose of law (to reveal sin) seems to make it proliferate in a sinful environment. When asked by Moses, God gave further instructions about how a Passover could be celebrated by someone who wanted to honor God but was ceremonially unclean for a perfectly good reason at the time of celebration. The actual details of God’s answer need not concern us here; I have no doubt that, had he been asked, God could easily have generated thousands of further commands. He could have filled the earth with tablets of stone or parchments blackened with line after endless line of crabbed Hebrew characters.

But what would be the point? The law, as it stands, is more than sufficient to prove the hopelessly inadequate character of man — even religious man — and leave him gasping for some other more adequate mode of relating to God, a means which would not be revealed fully until “apart from law” the righteousness of God would be manifested in the person of Jesus Christ and offered to all free of charge.

Thank God.

“Through the law comes knowledge of sin”. That’s it. That’s all. Looking for more hoops to jump through is a recipe for spiritual disaster.

If we don’t get this, we have missed one of the most significant truths in the entire Old Testament.

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