Today’s readings: Exodus 17:8-23:13 (Moses gets the law); Matthew 22:34 – 24:28 (Jesus makes some grim predictions); Psalm 27-29; Proverbs 6:27 – 7:23.
I am not a trained theology, nor have I formally studied ancient mythology or cultures. Today, however, we have entered into an area for which I have some expertise–the law. When looking at a legal code, I wonder about process, hierarchy, and jurisdiction.
At first, Moses was administering the law all by himself. However, his father-in-law, Jethro, came to visit and said that was no good. Moses needed to train people to be judges and only bring the important stuff to Moses. More here. Also, generally speaking, when there was a dispute over possessions, the Israelites were to bring it to the judges to decide. There were some violations of the law with which YHWH would deal more dramatically. “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.” (I wonder if Glenn Beck read that bit.)
We discussed this in youth group today, about whether some sins are worse that others. Exodus suggests different punishments, ranging from death to paying for lost time–that one struck me as pretty modern. There are also very clear principles. Women are undeniably property, but are to be treated with more respect other property. Slaves are treated worse that non-slaves, although they have ways to leave their bondage. And, aliens are treated as well as Israelites. That comes up a couple of places. The scripture from Proverbs states explicitly that adultery is a bigger deal than stealing, especially if the thief is hungry. Finally, Jesus basically unloads on the Pharisees about their focus on trivial, literalistic interpretations of the law with a litany of curses that begin, “Woe to you, teacher of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” One example that jumps out at me is:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
(I mean, seriously, has Glenn Beck ever read this book?) Notably absent from the hierarchy is the very natural assumption that the Ten Commandments are superior to other laws. While the Fundamentalist Hebrews are attempting to quiz Jesus he does correctly respond that completely loving God is the greatest commandment, and that loving your neighbor like yourself is basically the same thing. But his point there seems to be that the other can be derived from those two, not that the others are less important.
This one isn’t really in the Scriptures. I do notice, however, that these laws from Exodus seem to be given to the Israelites, not the world. Of course, since they are laws from God you would think they would be good for everyone, right? Well, not if they are laws particularly crafted for certain people–say people who owned slaves and sold their daughters and did stuff like that.