The Great Peradventure

February 18, 2016 at 2:47 pm | Posted in Biblical Greats, Exodus | 8 Comments
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Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD’S side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him.

Exodus 32:26

“The gate of the camp” was just as significant as the location where Moses had chosen to smash the tablets. It was the official dividing line between God’s “chosen people” and just “people.” These were people who had forfeited their claim to God’s special protection and in fact had “exposed themselves” (both literally and figuratively) to God’s judgment and wrath.

Do you remember hearing or reading about the legendary incident from the Alamo when Colonel Buck Travis is said to have drawn a line in the sand to see who wanted to stay and who wanted to leave? Moses did something similar here – and the Levites made a wise choice in front of everyone. Imagine Aaron’s shame as he walked from the people over to Moses.

And he said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour.

Exodus 32:27

Moses used classic prophetic-command speech: “Thus saith the LORD God of Israel…” = “This is God’s idea, not just mine. Get your swords, go in and out, make inquiries about who wants to stick with the idolatry and who wants to repent. Kill the ones who won’t confess and repent.” This was an observance of the legal death penalty. It didn’t matter who – their neighbors, their friends, their own family members. It sounds barbaric to us, doesn’t it? I hope you don’t want to throw out your Bible and become a liberal at this point, although, sadly, many have. You’ll have to reject the truth to do it – and you’ll also have to blame God for protecting your soul about 3000 years before you were even born. Remember, these were enemy combatants in a war – the war for truth – and those that chose to take the side of idolatry by refusing to repent are the ones who were willing to send everyone to hell for the sake of a pathetic bull-god orgy – even after waking up with their hangovers. I’m glad we don’t have to kill the apostates and the pagans today as New Testament Christians, but it would be good for us to remember that the stakes are just as high, in a sense.

And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.

Exodus 32:28

3000 executed criminals sounds like huge number, but that is just a fraction of the number that had been partying, because some of the guilty ones apparently repented and were spared.

For Moses had said, Consecrate yourselves today to the LORD, even every man upon his son, and upon his brother; that he may bestow upon you a blessing this day.

Exodus 32:29

This gives more insight into how the fathers and male leaders were given an opportunity to repent and survive the Levite purge.

And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said unto the people, Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the LORD; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin.

Exodus 32:30

You can see the heaviness that was on Moses the next day, but he knew the job was not finished. He still refused to sugarcoat their sin, because he knew there are consequences to even forgiven sin. In Exodus 32:30 the Holy Spirit has recorded the words of Moses – not as a prophetic revelation – but as a heavy sighing fumbling for the right word to describe what he knows he is going to have to attempt: atonement. “Peradventure.” What a terrifically descriptive word for the man who had been in the presence of this holy God – who knew His hatred for sin – but who also knew His mercy in response to confession and prayer. “I shall make;” “at one ment.” “Maybe I can somehow bring us back into loving fellowship with our God Who we’ve offended so greatly.” I hope you can hear that word “atonement” echoing all the way through the Old Testament into the New Testament and on into your life. I myself remember the estrangement from God – the horror of knowing He was completely beyond my sinful reach – when Jesus – the Rescuer – the Atoner – the AtoneMENT – brought me to Him!

In his bold but reverent intercession on behalf of the stiffnecked and idolatrous people of Israel (Exodus 39-12:4), Moses asked God to turn aside His holy and justifiable wrath, and to show mercy. Many centuries later Jesus Christ went even further and fully satisfied God’s justice and propitiated the wrath that we deserved on the Cross of Calvary. And He is still interceding for His people at the right hand of God’s throne even today (Romans 8:33-34). The majesty of such a loving and glorious Savior makes this world’s cares, concerns, amusements, and trials seem pretty small and insignificant, doesn’t it? I pray that we will live for Him all the days of our lives.

A Justice Sandwich

February 11, 2015 at 2:40 pm | Posted in Exodus | 6 Comments
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Exodus Chapter 21 starts off by addressing the rules governing servitude or slavery. The laws involving servants for Israel were supposed to be far different from the way the pagan nations practiced slavery. Remember, the Israelites had just come out of real slavery in Egypt, so, what is being dealt with primarily here is much closer to what we would call “employment,” than what we think of when we think of “slavery” as practiced by those who kidnap people and treat them like animals.

Most “servants” in Israel (except for foreign prisoners of war) were contract employees – the way the owner of a professional football team is said to “own” the players he signs to a contract. This type of employment contract was limited, under the Covenant Code, to six years, although the servant could decide to stay with his owner after that. The decision to place oneself into legally enforceable servitude for longer than the initial limited time period was to be taken seriously, and even discouraged to an extent, so there was a formal public ceremony to impress upon all involved the nature of what was being undertaken.

And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.

Exodus 21:5-6

The laws in this section of the Covenant are what are called casuistic and paradigmatic. They are casuistic, meaning that they are case-law examples. They were not intended to be applied by the judges narrowly or only to the specific situations described. They were designed for extrapolating into unforeseen or unusual circumstances. For example:

And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished.

Exodus 21:20

What if the boss didn’t hit the employee, but chained him to a tree until he starved to death? Could he escape punishment by claiming the law didn’t apply to him? After all, there was no smiting involved. No. The law concerning the rod was a casuistic example of a broader principle. A wise judge could easily see this.

These laws were paradigmatic in this sense: What if a woman rather than a man hit her servant? The principle of the law would still apply. The genders were interchangeable unless otherwise specified. What if the boss hit the servant with an ax instead of a rod? It’s the same idea, and the same punishment would adhere. The paradigm was still in place

In studying the laws of the Covenant Code it is also helpful to understand that they are often chiastic in structure. Otherwise, they might seem random to the casual reader. A chiasm is a literary or an oratorical device that is used mnemonically. Since these laws were given verbally and were largely transmitted verbally, chiasms helped group laws together in interesting and therefore memorable ways. For example:

He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death. And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee. But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die.

Exodus 21:12-14

The structure is A-B-A. A general principle is stated: (A) The one who kills shall be killed. An exception is described: (B) If the killing is not premeditated, the killer may find a safe haven pending inquiry. Then, the general principle is restated with greater clarity: (C) One who kills with malice aforethought is to receive the death penalty.

The technique of chiasmus may be thought of like a sandwich. Two pieces of bread are the outer brackets, and the most bland parts. But each subsequent ingredient has a match on each side as you move closer to the center: mustard on each slice of bread, two pieces of lettuce, two slices of tomato, pickles on the top and bottom of the meat, which is in the center, and which is the most interesting (and least obvious) and defining thing about the sandwich. So, many of the chiasms are more complex than A-B-A, and may look more like:


“He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death” is very general – basically a restatement of the 6th Commandment. “And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee” seems like a nonsequitur – like it applies to negligent homicide or to manslaughter. “But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die” returns to the theme – with an additional detail.

It is also worth noting at this point that the subject of this particular chiasm is the well-known lex talionis – from the Latin for “law” (lex) and talia, meaning “in like kind.” The “law of retaliation” – an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth – was the law of perfect justice. The punishment was supposed to fit the crime. This was in contrast to many laws of the ancient world, which focused on monetary or material fines and allowed rich people to count the cost and hurt people when it was more convenient. On the flip side, though, the qualifiers to the lex talionis in God’s law were also in stark contrast to the too-strict laws of the ancient world that often allowed vengeance to take the place of justice.

If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Exodus 21:22-25

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