Exodus 21 – Law and Grace
The literary setup of the book of Exodus is pretty straightforward. It begins with the experience of the Jewish people in Egypt. The book describes the miraculous deliverance from slavery. We move from there to the Sinai revelation. So far so good. Chapter 25 continues with the Tabernacle – the ultimate purpose of the exodus and the Sinai experience; where God comes to dwell amongst His people (- see Ezekiel 37:28). From that point on (ch. 25), the narrative proceeds in a logical fashion – the instructions for the Tabernacle, the sin of the Golden calf, Moses’ intercession and the building of the Tabernacle.
Chapters 21 thru 23 pose a literary question. Why are these chapters; chapters that discuss the technical details of judicial law, placed between Sinai and the Tabernacle, two highlights of Israel’s history? We can understand that “Law” follows the revelation at Sinai in a natural way, but why these laws? Why the focus on monetary disputes between one man and the next; laws that in most societies are only studied by judges and lawyers?
The opening phrase in chapter 21 only highlights the question: “These are the judgments that you (Moses) should place before them (Israel).” The implication is that all of Israel must know about these laws, the men the women and the children. Why would children need to study these laws? Why would a child living in 21st century U.S.A. need to know the laws concerning one ox goring another? And why are these laws placed in such a central setting?
The answer is that knowledge of these laws form the foundation of our relationship with God.
The study of God’s Law lights up our path (Psalm 119:105). When we study the Law we learn to look at the world the way God wants us to look at the world. The laws pertaining to justice heighten our sensitivity to justice, which is the basis of a relationship with God. The most elemental concept in our relationship with God is the concept that as creations of God, we owe everything to God (1Chronicles 29:14). This concept is only meaningful to the degree that we appreciate the ideal of justice. As long as we fail to appreciate that what belongs to someone ought to go to that someone – then the fact that God is our Master is an empty concept. It is only to the degree that we appreciate that each must get what is rightfully theirs that we can appreciate our relationship with God.
God’s Law is the grace that God provided so that we can learn to love Him. Through God’s Law we learn to appreciate what He has done and what He continuously does for us. Though the study of God’s sense of justice, we learn where it is that we stand in relationship with Him.
The study of God’s justice and the practice of the same is the basis for knowing God (Jeremiah 22:16, Micah 6:8). There is no Tabernacle without justice and there is no closeness to God without justice (Isaiah 58:2). The justice of the Law is the continuation of Sinai and the foundation of the Tabernacle.
Let us take hold of the grace that God has extended to us by providing us with this light. That light will yet illuminate the world.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal