Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wrapping Up the Ten Commandments and a few Freebie Goodies

It's easy, among the history stories, laws and detailed descriptions of furniture and such to miss how remarkable the Pentateuch really is. Written by Moses (except for the last chapter of Deuteronomy), it made Israel, a bunch of former slaves, a nation. Moses gave Israel its history, from creation up to their standing on the threshold of entering its soon-to-be national territory. Moses gave Israel its legal framework (these Ten Commandments), a legal code based thereon, its culture and its religious system.

Many Christians regard the Law of Moses as something scary and draconian. It is strict, but Christians would do well to spend some time learning about and understanding it. It reflects the character of the Creator and His care for His human creatures as much as does any New Testament Gospel or Epistle. Instant Nation, just add Scripture!

Two interesting aspects of the Law were mentioned in the Reflections on the Eight and Ninth Commandments. While humans are tempted to favor either wealthy people – to get favors from them – or, out of sympathy, poor people, God forbade favoring either in matters of the law and justice. In forbidding perjury, God set the penalty for perjury at whatever penalty would be exacted for the crime in the false accusation. The more serious the crime, the more serious the penalty for perjury.

God built provision for the poor into the Law: “Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:9-10); “When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 23:22). What makes this interesting is that this was not a hand-out. The grain and fruit were available to the poor, but they had to work to get it. Picking fruit, picking up fallen ears of grain, reaping from the corners of fields and threshing the reaped and gleaned grain were all hard work. It was also work that might be seen by field owners. Who needs a resume' when a prospective employer has seen you work?

Besides forbidding perjury, God built further protections for persons accused of a crime into the Law: “On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness.” (Deuteronomy 17:6) A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.” (Deuteronomy 19:15). There are two important things here, one of which is easy to miss. The obvious element is that no criminal case could be decided based on a single witness. But underlying this is the fact that the one accusing had the obligation to prove the accusation – in modern parlance, the accused was to be considered innocent until proven guilty.

Consider those exacting dietary and hygiene laws that tend to cross modern non-Jewish eyes. While you're at it, throw in the laws forbidding what we call incest. We know now that following these laws would cause Israelites to avoid unhealthy things and practices – food sources susceptible to parasites, sources and means of spreading of disease, inbreeding that preserves and spreads genetic defects. 3400 years ago, they couldn't know all that. So, was Moses a busybody with incredible luck in his control-freakiness? A crypto-biologist who knew things that wouldn't be discovered for 34 centuries but let his knowledge die with him? Or did the Creator build into His Law wisdom than wouldn't be discovered for several millennia?

I hope these Reflections this couple of weeks will whet readers' appetites to learn a bit more about this expression of God's character and love. Paul said this of the Israelites' experience during the Exodus: “Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. … Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” And when Paul wrote this, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work,”  he was referring especially to what we call the “Old Testament”!

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