Saturday, June 11, 2005

Matt's Messages - God Cares

"God Cares"
June 12, 2005
Exodus 20:22-23:19

Quick Quiz for you: In Exodus chapter 20, where are the people of Israel? [At Mount Sinai.] In fact, they are at Mount Sinai for the whole second half of the book: chapters 19 through 40. God has descended upon the mountain in thick smoke, darkness, lightning, thunder, and holy fire.

Another question: where is Moses in chapter 20, verse 22? [He’s up in the mountain with the presence God.] And what’s he doing there? [He’s getting the law.]

That’s what the next few chapters are all about–the Law. Israel has already gotten the 10 Commandments. But this next section (often called "The Book of the Covenant") is full of more law, more illustration of the 10 Commandments, more specifics of what Israel should be and do–Law.

This morning, I want us to plow through the whole thing, the whole "Book of the Covenant." I want to read chapter 20, verse 22 through chapter 23, verse 19. That’s a lot of verses!

I have been tempted to just skip this section because, being under the New Covenant, these verses are not directly (and I stress the word "directly") applicable to New Covenant Christians like you and me. These commands were for the Old Covenant people of Israel. We are not to just directly apply them to our lives. So, I’ve been tempted to just skip these chapters. They can be kind of boring.

But I’m resisting that temptation today. Here’s why: They are in Holy Scripture! And all Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. All Scripture is God-breathed. All Scripture. Even though some parts of Scripture are more useful than other parts of Scripture, we cannot just pick and choose that which we want to listen to. All Scripture is useful. Including the laws of the Book of the Covenant.

And today, the particular lens that I want to look at this section through to draw out some usefulness from it, is the lens of God’s concerns, God’s focus, God’s cares.

When you see a law, you can extrapolate what the Lawgiver’s cares are. What he cares about. If the law is "Stay off of the grass," then you know what the Lawgiver cares about–his lawn.

The laws of Exodus 20 through 23 are no different. They highlight for us what God cares about.

And while some of the details change when the covenants change, God does not change. And neither do His basic cares.

So, as I read through these chapters and point out a few things to notice as we go along, I want us to look for what God cares about. And then I’ll try to summarize these cares in three points of application at the end. Yes, tons more could be said! There are whole books written on these chapters! [I recommend Very Poythress' The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses as a good read to get you thinking about all of the issues.] But for our purposes, we will read the whole thing and then draw out three points of application.

Let’s pray and then begin reading.


Remember the context. The Fear of God. The people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke and they trembled in fear. And the fear of God led them towards holiness at that time. Holy worship. And that’s what the first laws are about–holy worship. The NIV heading for chapter 20, verses 22 through 26 is "Idols and Altars." Verse 22.

‘Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Tell the Israelites this: 'You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold. [The first commandment again.] ‘'Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. [These altars would be used until the Temple in Jerusalem would be the center of holy worship.] If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it. And do not go up to my altar on steps, lest your nakedness be exposed on it.'"
We don’t know why a tool would defile an altar of dressed stones or in what way their nakedness would be exposed. Perhaps both were the ways that the pagan Canaanites did their worship. Chapter 21.

"‘These are the laws you are to set before them: [Laws about Hebrew Servants.] ‘If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. [A "Sabbath Year"] If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. [He leaves as he came.] If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free. ‘But if the servant declares, 'I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,' then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life. [It’s his choice. V.7] ‘If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as menservants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money."
Now, we think these laws are really strange. But if you look at them closely, they are very protective of this woman. Yes, there is slavery here. But it’s not the kind that was practiced in the pre-Civil War South. This woman (and her father) have rights that are protected. The owner cannot just do what he wants. He may not mistreat her.

Then God moves to Laws about Personal Injury. V.12

"‘Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. However, if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen [it’s an accident, they are not enemies], he is to flee to a place I will designate [later, cities of refuge]. But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death. [Notice the consequences for bad behavior. V.15] ‘Anyone who attacks his father or his mother must be put to death. ‘Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death. ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death. ‘If men quarrel and one hits the other with a stone or with his fist and he does not die but is confined to bed, the one who struck the blow will not be held responsible if the other gets up and walks around outside with his staff [if he’s going to heal-up]; however, he must pay the injured man for the loss of his time and see that he is completely healed. ‘If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property. ‘If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury [to the woman or the child!], the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise."
This is called Lex Talionis or the "Law of Retribution." And it’s not vigilante justice. This is a rule for the judge’s sentencing. These were limits placed upon damages. And here’s the Law of Retribution at work–verse 26.

"‘If a man hits a manservant or maidservant in the eye and destroys it, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the eye. And if he knocks out the tooth of a manservant or maidservant, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the tooth."

Here are laws about culpable negligence. V.28 "‘If a bull gores a man or a woman to death, the bull must be stoned to death, and its meat must not be eaten. But the owner of the bull will not be held responsible. If, however, the bull has had the habit of goring and the owner has been warned but has not kept it penned up and it kills a man or woman, the bull must be stoned and the owner also must be put to death. However, if payment is demanded of him, he may redeem his life by paying whatever is demanded. This law also applies if the bull gores a son or daughter. [How about slaves?] If the bull gores a male or female slave, the owner must pay thirty shekels of silver to the master of the slave, and the bull must be stoned. ‘If a man uncovers a pit or digs one and fails to cover it and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit must pay for the loss; he must pay its owner, and the dead animal will be his. ‘If a man's bull injures the bull of another and it dies, they are to sell the live one and divide both the money and the dead animal equally. However, if it was known that the bull had the habit of goring, yet the owner did not keep it penned up, the owner must pay, animal for animal, and the dead animal will be his."

Laws about Property Right. The protection of property. Chapter 22, verse 1. "‘If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep. [Payback 5 to 1 and 4 to 1.] ‘If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; but if it happens after sunrise, he is guilty of bloodshed. ‘A thief must certainly make restitution, but if he has nothing, he must be sold to pay for his theft. [That’s a key word there: restitution. Look for that word and the words "pay back."] ‘If the stolen animal is found alive in his possession–whether ox or donkey or sheep–he must pay back double. ‘If a man grazes his livestock in a field or vineyard and lets them stray and they graze in another man's field, he must make restitution from the best of his own field or vineyard. ‘If a fire breaks out and spreads into thornbushes so that it burns shocks of grain or standing grain or the whole field, the one who started the fire must make restitution. ‘If a man gives his neighbor silver or goods for safekeeping and they are stolen from the neighbor's house, the thief, if he is caught, must pay back double [times 2]. But if the thief is not found, the owner of the house must appear before the judges to determine whether he has laid his hands on the other man's property. In all cases of illegal possession of an ox, a donkey, a sheep, a garment, or any other lost property about which somebody says, 'This is mine,' both parties are to bring their cases before the judges. The one whom the judges declare guilty must pay back double to his neighbor. ‘If a man gives a donkey, an ox, a sheep or any other animal to his neighbor for safekeeping and it dies or is injured or is taken away while no one is looking, the issue between them will be settled by the taking of an oath before the LORD that the neighbor did not lay hands on the other person's property. The owner is to accept this, and no restitution is required. [There’s our word again.] But if the animal was stolen from the neighbor, he must make restitution to the owner. If it was torn to pieces by a wild animal, he shall bring in the remains as evidence and he will not be required to pay for the torn animal."

"‘If a man borrows an animal from his neighbor and it is injured or dies while the owner is not present, he must make restitution. But if the owner is with the animal, the borrower will not have to pay. If the animal was hired, the money paid for the hire covers the loss.

Law of Social Responsibility. Verse 16

"‘If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. [This sex was consensual but it was not right. There are consequences. V.17] If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins. ‘Do not allow a sorceress to live. ‘Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal must be put to death. ‘Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the LORD must be destroyed."

"‘Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. ‘Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. [Catch this!] My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless. ‘If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest. [It’s stealing from the poor!] If you take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate."

"‘Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people. ‘Do not hold back offerings from your granaries or your vats. ‘You must give me the firstborn of your sons. Do the same with your cattle and your sheep. Let them stay with their mothers for seven days, but give them to me on the eighth day. ‘You are to be my holy people. So do not eat the meat of an animal torn by wild beasts; throw it to the dogs. [Don’t act like the Canaanites!]

Chapter 23. Laws of Justice and Mercy. Verse 1.

"‘Do not spread false reports [Ninth Commandment here]. Do not help a wicked man by being a malicious witness. ‘Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit. ‘If you come across your enemy's ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you [who hates you!] fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it. ‘Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. ‘Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous. ‘Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt [until just months ago!].

Sabbath Laws. V.10

"‘For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove. ‘Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed. ‘Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips."

Laws of Worship. Three Annual Feasts.
"‘Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me. ‘Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread; for seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you [chapter 12]. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in that month you came out of Egypt. ‘No one is to appear before me empty-handed. ‘Celebrate the Feast of Harvest [or Tabernacles or the Feats of Booths] with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field. ‘Celebrate the Feast of Ingathering [or Pentecost] at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field. ‘Three times a year all the men are to appear before the Sovereign LORD. [And worship me as holy like you should. Not like the pagans. V.18] ‘Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast. ‘The fat of my festival offerings must not be kept until morning. ‘Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God. ‘Do not cook a young goat in its mother's milk.’"

Let’s stop there for today.

Having read the laws now, what do we see?

What does God care about?

Well, let me ask you a question. Are these laws mainly spiritual or secular?

Are they mainly spiritual or non-spiritual? Not related to spirituality and to God.

Yes, it’s a trick question. You can’t even say that they are more to do with God than with people or with people than with God. Much less, say that these laws are mainly civil or secular and not have to do with spirituality and worship.


There is no false dichotomy between the spiritual on the one hand and the secular on the other. God rules over all. God has something to say about all of life.

You and I like to fence God over there in the realm we call "spiritual." And God has to do with going to church on Sundays and maybe a quiet time every day.

But God will not stay on His side of the fence!

He has something to say about everything. Laws. Property rights. Social responsibilities. Justice. Restitution. Everything.

God cares about all of life.

That’s one of the reasons that He gave Israel this law.

Did you notice that this law is from God? We often call it, "the Mosaic Law code" because Moses was the mediator that brought it down to the people. But it was God Who gave this Law as gift.

Yes, a gift! This law was not burdensome. It was a blessing. These people had no formal law before this. But YHWH saved them and is now telling them how they are to live. These laws are not a break in the action of the Book of Exodus. For the people of Israel, this was a highpoint in the book of Exodus–what the book has been marching towards! It is a gift to know how God wants us to live!

That’s why David sings songs about the Law of God. Psalm 119 is a great big love song about the Law of God! "Ode to Law!"

Because God cares about all of life, He has something to say about all of life. And when we hear it, it’s a gift to us.

No, we don’t always like that gift. This Law was damning to Israel because of hard hearts. But it was a gift, nonetheless.

Notice again [I’ve said this before, but it’s important], that the Law comes after the Rescue. The Law comes after the Rescue. This is not "legalism" that says "Obey this Law and you will be Saved." This is a Law that says, "I’ve saved you. Now obey my Law. It’s good for you. It’s what I want."

First rescue, then Law. First salvation, then holy living.

But then holy living! This is not an option law. God cares about all of life. And He should be obeyed.

In my reading this week about these many laws, I saw a lot of comparisons between this law and the other ancient Near Eastern laws like Hammarabi and so on. And there are similarities. But there are also differences.

One key difference is that God has given this law. This is not ultimately Moses’ law. It is God’s law. And more than that, to transgress this law is not simply to offend another person. It is to offend God Himself. Because God cares about all of life.

And because of that, there are consequences for our behavior. God has built it into our world. And He certainly built consequences into Old Testament Law.

Because God cares about all of life, there are consequences for our actions.

With obedience comes blessing. With disobedience comes danger. We’ll more of that in chapter 23.

Because God cares about all of life, there are consequences for our actions.

Do you believe that? Most of America lives as if that was not true. It’s one of the major problems our society has with parenting and education and crime.

Because God cares about all of life, there are consequences for our actions.

And we need to live as if that is true [because it is].


Slaves! Women. Owners. Borrowers. Accidental Killers. Innocent Bystanders. Widows. Orphans. Aliens. Neighbors. The Poor. The Accused. Even your enemies!

God cares about people.

Most of these laws are protective. They are protecting some right or blessing or need of some person who could be taken advantage of.

Justice here is not merely the scales of finances being balanced. Justice is personal. It is relational. It is compassionate.

Chapter 22, verses 22.

"Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows[!] and your children fatherless[!].

V.26. "If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate."

I care about people. And so should you.

Chapter 23, verse 9.

"Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt."

I care about people. I cared about you! You should care about them, too.

God’s justice is personal and relational and compassionate.

And it is just, too!

A major key word here is "restitution." [For more on the biblical principles of restitution see the excellent appendix (C) in The Peacemaker by Ken Sande.]

That means paying back in a just way.

Restitution is God’s way of promoting shalom, and deterring people from sin, and restoring harmony and balance.

I don’t know much about the American justice system, but it seems to me like this is an area that needs a lot more emphasis in our courts–restitution. Chuck Colson has talked many times about the need for restorative justice that includes restitution.

It’s actually a relational idea. It restores harmony and balance to the relationships. Instead of the crime being seen as primarily against the state, the crime is seen as primarily against the individual that is offended and hurt. And the appropriate penalization for that involves righting what was wrong. (But not more than appropriate. Just a eye for eye and tooth for tooth. Nothing more for revenge.)

Because God is compassionate.

Because God cares about people.

And so should we. Even our enemies!

In many ways, this passage is all about love. It’s all about loving our neighbors as we would want to be loved.

This is the law of love.

Just like James said in James chapter 2.

He says, "If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right...Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom..." (James 2:8,12)

Speak and act as those who live out the law of love.

Because God does. God cares about people.


Intertwined with all of those commands about oxen and sheep and awls through the ears, and bulls goring, and taking oaths, and donkeys [intertwined with all of that] are commands about idols and altars and Sabbaths and feasts and how not worship [sorcery, pagan practices, worship with sexual overtones, etc].

It’s intertwined because there is not false dichotomy between the secular and the spiritual. But God does care about worship! He wants it to be holy and true.

Chapter 22, verse 31. "You are to be my holy people..."

Chapter 23, verse 13. "Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips. Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me..."

God cares about worship.

Now, you might think that because we don’t have so many laws that govern worship in the New Testament, that God has stopped caring about worship so much.

But you’d think wrong!

Almost everything is ratcheted up in the New Covenant. How much more should we worship rightly on this side of the Cross?!

Jesus said to the woman at the well, "...a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks [Seeks! The Father cares about worship so much that He is seeking worshipers to do it right!]. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."

God cares very much about worship.

He does so because He is so dedicated to His own glory.

That’s why He prescribed three yearly worship feasts in chapter 23. And why He prescribes 24/7 worship for us today.

That’s why (chapter 23, verse 18) He doesn’t want yeast (a symbol, often, of sin) in with the blood of the sacrifices. That’s why He wants the firstfruits of the soil (chapter 23, verse 19), and the not the leftovers.

Because God is dedicated to His glory.

Because God cares about worship.

And so should we.

Our lives should be love of others and love of God.

He has shown thee, O man,
what is good and what the Lord requires of thee (Law!)
But to do justly and to love mercy (to care about people)
and to walk humbly with thy God (to care about worship). (Micah 6:8)

That’s what God cares about. All of life lived under the fear of God.
Compassionately, justly loving others.
And rightly, truly, with our spirit’s worship God as He is.

That’s what God cares about.

And so should we.