In our text for this morning, the giving of the covenant concludes with an epilogue. As the Lord gives the Law, the Lord has again and again stressed obedience. But this passage is also about what God will do for his covenant people. In this epilogue to the covenant, we see what God will do for Israel if they keep covenant. That stipulation is important.
Worship is vital in Yahweh’s covenant with Israel. There is nothing more important than God. There is no being higher than God. There is no one more deserving of worship than the one true God. For these reasons, God surrounds all of Israel’s life in covenant community with the priority of worship. In Ex 23, we see how central worship is in God’s covenant with Israel. Israel is not a secular nation. She is a sacred nation, a kingdom of priests, and God demands not only her obedience, but her worship. This text from the old covenant teaches us how essential worship is for man.
Today, we see that the Lord wants his people to magnify his justice. He wants his people to uphold and protect justice. He wants his justice, as much as is humanly possible, to reflected in the resolution of disputes among his people.
This morning, we see several times where Yahweh demands that his people be like himself, the God of the covenant. This is our focus on as we look at the Scriptures this morning, to notice the link between Israel’s Law and God’s will that his people be like him. For the purposes of structure, I’ve divided our text into three different ideas.
The passage before us this morning is in the middle of what Ex 21:1 calls the rules of God’s covenant with Israel. After God spoke the Decalogue to Israel from Sinai, Israel pleaded with Moses that he be their mediator so that they no longer had to listen to God. Following laws about altars, Ex 21:1 introduces the long section we are now in.This morning, we consider more of these rules. In particular, we will look at God’s laws concerning restitution
It is fitting that the Lord begins his rules in the Law with slavery and then murder. He wants Israel not to be like Egypt, a nation that brutally enslaves and murders, but like himself, a God who protects human dignity and life. That’s the main point of chapter 21. God’s people must preserve dignity and life as God does.
Given how lowly people viewed slaves, it’s remarkable how God’s Law begins speaking to this issue. By introducing his Law with remarks about slaves, God reminds his people that he is a God who hears the cry of those oppressed by slavery. He rescued them from slavery. He begins with laws about slavery to bring glory to himself before Israel in reminding them of his great act of redemption. And he begins with slavery so that Israel’s own treatment of slaves will be Yahweh-like rather than Egypt like. Similarly, with the laws about murder, we recall Egypt’s blood-thirsty murder of the Hebrews.The point of ch 21 is this: God’s people must preserve dignity and life as God does.
As we went through the commandments, we found again and again our need of forgiveness. God’s standards are high and holy. When we measure ourselves against God’s standard, we find that we have missed the mark. We are sinners. The Israelites knew this as well, so they drew away and stood far off. If you have ever felt unworthy to draw near to God, this passage is for you. We sinners must draw near to God. But how?
The final commandment is unique. We can find that other ancient cultures echoed many of the precepts of the moral code God reveals here for Israel in the Ten Commandments. But the commandment not to covet is unique. It cannot be found anywhere else. Here the tenth command turns inward.
One of the great intellectual plagues of modernity and postmodernity is the idea that truth does not exist. Truth is relative, they say. In one respect, this is the natural conclusion of those who adopt hard materialism. And with God absent, there is no one being who sees everything as it really is. These are more than philosophical problems. These are spiritual problems. This morning we turn to the 9th commandment, You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.