Epistles of Thomas

January 31, 2009

Exodus 22-24

Filed under: Old Testament — Thomas @ 17:11
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What is most interesting about these laws is that many of them applied to situations that the people did not and could not currently find themselves in. For example, “If anyone grazes their livestock in a field or vineyard and lets them stray and they graze in another person’s field, restitution must be made from the best of the livestock owner’s field or vineyard” (22:5). The Israelites have just left Egypt and are wandering through the desert and therefore do not have fields or vineyards. These laws are presented as the proper way to govern a nation that does possess these things. We can either view this as a later reality inserted into the formation of Jewish law or a foretaste and promise from God that they will have a land and will therefore need these laws.

“If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help your enemy with it” (23:4-5). The laws are not only concerned with general prohibition of evil but also proscribe that people should love their enemies. Jesus’ command to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” had a strong foundation in the law (Mt 5:44; Lk 6:27). This command of love for enemies does not extend to those God intends to wipe out. The enemies of the Israelites are to be God’s enemies and vice versa. “If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you. My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out” (23:22-23). This is contingent on the obedience of the Israelites or else they too will become God’s enemies. God commands them specifically in relation to the gods of the nations: “Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. You must demolish them and break their sacred stones to pieces” (23:24).

The people agreed to everything that the Lord had said and agreed to obey his laws. “Then [Moses] took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, ‘We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.’ Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.’” (24:7-8). Think of the power in the statement Jesus made at the Last Supper to his disciples: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28 // Mk 14:24; Lk 22:20). Moses then ascended the mountain and remained there with God for forty days and nights.


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