OTE 8: THE LAW

EXODUS 19:9-20:3

AUGUST 23, 2015

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

(Play Audio)

 

            Under New Management. Im sure you have seen those signs in stores and restaurants from time to time.  If you liked the store or restaurant, the sign might make you nervous.  You wonder what changes the new management might make, but if you didnt like the restaurant or the store, and you drove by and saw the sign, you might give that establishment another try. 

            The Nebraska football team is under new management. Mike Riley and his team are installing a new offense and defense for the Cornhuskers. In thirteen days well begin to see if the new management team is any better than the old management team.

            The Israelites, heading to the promised land, are coming under new management. God had given them their freedom from the Egyptians, but not so they could be completely independent of all authority. As they camp at Mount Sinai God reveals his way of doing things to his people.

            We turn our attention this morning to the eighth Old Testament Essential in our overview of the Hebrew Scriptures, the essentials we need to know if we are going to have a working understanding of the Old Testament. Last Sunday we looked at the seventh Old Testament essential the wilderness wandering and today we turn our attention to an event that took place during the wilderness wandering the giving of the law to Gods people.

            What a day that must have been. Listen to the description of it.  Exodus 19:9. God put on a spectacular sound and light show at Mount Sinai for the children of Israel.

 

            When Moses had told the words of the the people to the Lord, the Lord said to Moses: Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and prepare for the third day, because on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. You shall set limits for the people all around, saying, Be careful not to go up to the mountain or to touch the edge of it. Any who touch the mountain shall be put to death. No hand shall touch them, but they shall be stoned or shot with arrow; whether animal or human being, they shall not live. When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they may go up on the mountain. So Moses went down from the mountain to the people. He consecrated the people, and they washed their clothes. and he said to the people,Prepare for the third day; do not go near a woman.

 

            Given some of the ancient customs and practices, some parts of the Bible are downright embarrassing today. Dont go near a woman.  Dont sully yourself. Oh boy!

 

            On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightening, as well as a thick cloud on the mountain, and blast of a trumpet so loud that all the people who were in the camp trembled.

 

            Maybe its the angel Gabriels trumpet.  The text does not say.  Whoever sounds the trumpet doesnt matter. We do, however, still use trumpets today to announce the arrival of royalty.

 

            Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God. They took their stand at the base of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord had descended upon it in fire; the smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, while the whole mountain shook violently. As the blast of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses would speak and God would answer him in thunder. When the Lord descended upon Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain, the Lord summoned Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.

 

            What we have here is a theophany, that is a manifestation of God perceptible to the human senses. Note the items related related to this manifestation thunder .. lightening thick cloud trumpet blast .. Mount Sinai wrapped in smoke fire .. the quaking of the mountain.  My guess is God certainly had the Israelites undivided attention. This was some God.

            Have you seen that new Chevrolet commercial about texting?  A handful of people are called into a room with a screen and they are told No matter what happens, dont take your eyes of the screen. Then puppies run across the floor and a a couple of wrestlers come tumbling through a wall, distracting the folk who were told not to take their eyes off the screen.  I doubt if anyone took their eyes off what was happening on Mount Sinai. I think the Israelites would have ignored the puppies and the wrestlers tumbling through the wall.

            Then come the commandments. Exodus 20:1.

 

            Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord you God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

 

            And on it goes. The rules and regulations, the laws, of the new regime.

            The giving of the law comes in two forms.  We know the first form, the Ten Commandments. These are the overarching, guiding, ethical principles. Then, after the giving of the Ten Commandments, comes what we what we might call case law, which is the application of the general ethical principles, the Ten Commandments to particular situations, to particular cases. Look at the headings in your bible after the giving of the Ten Commandments.  The twentieth chapter of Exodus begins with the heading The Ten Commandments, and in our pew bible after the giving of the Ten Commandments, the guiding principles, not unlike our Bill of Rights, comes the Ten Commandments applied to specific situations. So in the headings that follow we have The Law concerning the Altar and The Law concerning Slaves, and The Law Concerning Violence and Laws concerning Property and Laws of Restitution and Social and Religious Laws.

            Now there is a significant difference between the two. The Ten Commandments, dont change over time, but case law, might. You see the case laws are connected to the sociological and historical condition of the people of God at the time, and what Christ often broke, and what got him into trouble with the scribes and Pharisees, was case law, the application of the Ten Commandments to specific cases.

            Look with me at a typical case law of the time. Remember this was given to non urban, pastoral people. Look with me at The Goring Ox Law (Exodus 21:28).  Do you have that in front of you? Listen to it.

 

            When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. If the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not restrained it, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death.

 

            Note how God shaped the case law to speak to the needs of ancient Israelites sociological condition. It doesnt say much to us.  How many of you own an ox?  How about a pit bull?  Maybe that would apply today. Anyway, the general ethical principle is the commandment thou shall not murder, and is applied to the question of who is responsible for damages and death perpetuated by a persons animals. If the ox gores someone once, the animal must be destroyed. If it is not destroyed and the animal gores another person, then the owner is subject to the death penalty.

            So thats the giving of the law the eighth Old Testament essential.

            Lets do a little reflecting, and then we are done for today. How many of us here have been to law school? I intended to go to law school.  Thats where Trudy thought I was headed when we started dating, but I ended up in seminary instead.  Well, did you know that according to the bible, at least the Old Testament, our homes are to be mini-law schools?  Look with me at Deuteronomy 6. Remember that the Book of Deuteronomy contains Moses last sermon, his last message to the Israelites, as they prepare to go into the Promised Land without him, and one of the things he does before sending them to the Promised Land is he goes over the law, the covenant, into which they had entered with God at Mount Sinai, and listen to what he says about the law.  Beginning in verse one.

 

            Now this is the commandment - the statutes and ordinances - that the Lord your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross and occupy, so that you and your children and your childrens children, may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and commandment that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long.  Then skipping to verse 6. Keep these words I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to you children and talk about them when you are at home and whey you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.

 

            Law school. Each and every home.

            A few years ago a Gallup Poll revealed that while eighty-five percent of Americans believe that the Ten Commandments are still binding today, only fifteen percent could name five of them. While people are up in arms about removing the Ten Commandments from government buildings, why arent they as upset about removing them from their homes.  Im more concerned about that. While the Gallup survey polled people from every religious and non-religious persuasion, Newsweek magazine reported that of people who go to church only forty-nine percent of all Protestants and forty-four percent of all Roman Catholics could name even four of the Ten Commandments.

            It reminds me of a Sunday school teacher who was teaching on the Ten Commandments and she asked her kids the question, "Can anybody here list the Ten Commandments in any order?" One little boy raised his hand and said, "I can." She said, "Go ahead." He said, "Okay. 3, 6, 1, 8, 4, 5, 9, 2, 10, 7.

            9/11 - All of us know that date. Because of that date, another cabinet level department was created to serve the President of the United States - The Department of Homeland Security. Note the keyword in that department home Homeland Security.  The greatest way to protect the homeland is to protect the homes in that land. The greatest way to protect our homes is for our homes to become mini-law schools, teaching and modeling the commandments and directives of God.

            Of course, Im not the first one to suggest this. James Madison, who is called, "The Father of the American Constitution", said this, "We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of our politics upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God."

            Mini-law school.  Each and every home so that we might prosper in the land.  Amen.