Thursday 16th February 2023

EXODUS 17, 18, 19, and 20

In a desert, water is even more important than food, and cannot be stored as easily either.  Learning nothing from the ‘manna’ experience, they grumbled again against Moses, and by extension, against the Lord.  The solution was quick, simple, and miraculous: hit a rock with your staff and out will come enough water for everyone!  He did, and it did!

The presence of such a vast number of people was an intrinsic threat to the surrounding nations, and very soon the local Amalekite tribes assembled an army and attacked Israel.  Unlike the situation with the Egyptian army the previous month, Israel did actually have to fight this one, but Moses knew that human activity alone was not enough; he stood, arms raised in prayer and Israel began to win.  But when he tired of prayer, literally, they started to lose.  Clearly this physical action on Moses’ part was a lesson from the Lord: call on him and rely on him, and he will strengthen you in the battle.  This is true whether God chooses to use human agency, as he did against the Amalekites, or direct action, as he did against the Egyptian army at the sea.  What matters is our faith in the Lord.

Fathers-in-law are generally seen as a good thing in scripture, and probably in society at large.  They offer – to those who will accept it – wisdom and experience without too much interference.  And Jethro was no exception; he cared deeply for Moses and wanted to be helpful and supportive in any way he could.  His advice to Moses about the organisation and administration of this vast nation was typically wise and perhaps learned from long experience (he was a priest himself).  Moses humbly took that advice and saw that it was successful; and then he decided that he didn’t want Jethro outstaying his welcome, so he graciously sent him home again.  That was wise too!

Question: “Do Christians need to obey the Laws of Moses – and, if so, which ones?”  Park that one for a while, and let’s look at how the Law was given.  God couldn’t have said it plainer: “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession”.  God was establishing a covenant with the nation in the way that a king would come to an agreement with landowners in his kingdom to bless, support and protect them, in return for unfailing loyalty from them.  So this covenant, between the Lord and Israel, is unequal and conditional.  If Israel continues to keep to the terms of the covenant, then they will continue to be God’s special people, a holy priesthood.  Moses conveyed these terms to the people, and they responded by saying that they agreed with them and would do everything required of them.

The Ten Commandments, a.k.a. the “Decalogue” (or ‘Ten Words’) are the heart of this covenant.  The first one is a declaration of single-minded faithfulness: no other gods than the Lord – rather like a marriage vow! 

The second commandment is, interestingly and significantly, not found in most traditional Roman Catholic catechisms, and refers to the forbidding of God’s people making images in order to venerate or worship them.  This is not quite the same as having other gods, but it does include worshiping the true God in unauthorised ways that do not please him.  It eventually leads away from the Lord to give undue attention to created things instead (Romans 1:21-23).

Blasphemy is so prevalent today in much of western society that, if you use the name of Jesus in a good way, you are looked upon as rather strange!   

Keeping a day of rest (‘Sabbath’) is viewed by God as such a good thing for all creation, that he wants us to put on hold another good thing: work.  Interesting that this seven day rhythm is exactly the same as the days of original creation – and seems to take the timescales of Genesis Ch. 1 literally too!  The only other cycle of seven in creation (that I can think of) is the set of notes in the musical scale; maybe these two concepts fused together in the Beginning, as described in Job 38:4-7.

Honour your parents if you want a long life (and you get the opposite, apparently, in Exodus 21:15,17 if you do the opposite!).

Murder, adultery, theft, and perjury crimes still all feature heavily in the basis of the English legal system – and it is soundly based upon these original commandments; to us, they seem so obviously sinful, yet many godless societies appear not to be troubled by them.

Commandment Number Ten is the only one that is completely hidden from view: covetousness is an attitude of the heart and is often not visible in outward behaviour.  Jesus later challenged the Rich Young Ruler on this precise commandment, to overcome his covetous longings for money.  The Roman Catholic Catechism divides this commandment into two (so as to keep a total of ten) by differentiating between coveting someone else’s wife and their other possessions.

Immediately following the Decalogue is a whole series of civil laws dealing with the just treatment of slaves – significant to God, who had just freed 2.5 million of them and wanted that attitude of freedom to pervade Jewish culture from that point onwards.  It is interesting that marriage (21:9) changed a slave’s entire status and made her/him socially equal to their spouse.

The famous verse on ‘eye for eye, tooth for tooth…’ etc was probably included to prevent escalations and feuds, rather than to demand precisely equal treatment; it would be better to understand it as ‘No more than an eye for an eye’ – limiting retaliation to the damage already caused.  It is interesting, even when dealing with correct ownership of a bull, that motive is seen as critical to the way a person was treated under the law.

So, do Christians need to obey the Laws of Moses?  Think about it, and discuss it.  Maybe we will return to that one a little later!   

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