If you're participating in the Radical Experiment with us this year, and you're keeping up with the Bible readings, this week you're entering one of the more difficult portions of the Bible. In the second half of Exodus, just after the Israelites escape Egypt, God begins to give them the Law.
These laws are hard for us to read because they seem so irrelevant to our lives. After all, Jesus in Mark 7:19 told us that we are no longer bound by the dietary restrictions (and all God's people who love bacon say..."Amen!"). Paul went much further in his letters, particularly Galatians, in saying that the Law of Moses had its place for a time, but that time is past. We now relate to God through a New Covenant based on grace, which includes a personal relationship with Him without a mediator, without blood sacrifice, and without fear...Hallelujah.
So why read this stuff? Quite simply, because the point of the Bible is NOT to get relevant instructions for our daily lives. The point of the Bible is to teach us who God is, what He has done for us, and how we can live in a way that honors Him. In order to truly study Scripture, we have to set aside the self-centeredness that demands a "little encouragement for me today." We have to come to His Word with a focus on knowing Him better.
As we read these laws, we see certain things about His character which are still true today, even if the laws themselves no longer apply:
1. He brings order out of chaos. The Israelites had never had a nation. They had no centralized government, no police force, no social services or infrastructure. They were just a wandering band of ex-slaves making their way through the desert. Yet God, in a few short chapters, gave them a system of government that would make them the most blessed nation on Earth...if they had the faith to obey.
2. He takes care of the helpless. Throughout the Law, we see God tilting the scales in favor of the poor, the widow, the orphan, the alien, the slave, the unloved wife.
3. He wants His people to be different from the world. Scholars believe many of the odder-sounding laws were specifically designed to counter religious and cultural practices of the pagans who lived in the Promised Land. God was getting His people ready to conquer that land, and didn't want them to be seduced by their false gods.
4. He is always thinking ahead to redemption. In so many facets of the Law, we see hints of the coming of the Messiah--especially in the sacrifices.
One of the most important things to remember when reading the Old Testament is that the New Testament helps us see the full truth of the Old. If you were in church with us yesterday (2-5-12), hopefully you saw how Paul's commentary in 2 Corinthians helped us better understand Exodus 33-34. In a similar way, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) gives us a new layer of understanding regarding the Law. Some of my early spiritual mentors phrased it this way: "Let Scripture interpret Scripture." Of course, if this is your first time reading the Bible, you may not know yet what the New Testament says about the Old...but that will come, in time. Keep on reading, and draw closer to Him than ever before.