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.