What is the purpose of The Law?
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“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” – Matthew 5:38-42
Many, many times I find myself discussing the Old Testament with certain people who will bring up the fact that the New Testament isn’t a new covenant, but rather a “completion” or a “clarification” of the old. I have pointed out this very verse to them to show that Christ doesn’t appear to be adding anything to the verse from Exodus 21:24. Quite plainly it seems to be a complete countermanding of what was pointed out in The Law. Still there seems to be a stubborn refusal to see the obvious. I had to finally ask myself whether it was I who was not seeing the obvious. After all I am the one taking the contrary position with respect to the understanding of this passage in Matthew. Perhaps I am the one led astray.
Looking at the passage in Exodus seemed like a reasonable place to start. Context is everything and in this case, it was necessary to understand the reasoning behind this particular law. Why did God find it necessary to give such a command to begin with? Exodus chapter twenty-one begins with God giving Moses a command to explain the laws to the Israelites. The laws deal with the minutiae of everyday life for a Jew in exile circa 1450 BC. Even a cursory read will allow that life for them is far removed from life for us today. Of course there is still much wisdom which could be gleaned and applied to our circumstances in the twenty-first century, but for the most part, these were instructions written for those people within their present circumstances. But why? What was the point? A little history lesson might help to answer that question.
Dating to approximately 1772 BC, the Code of Hammurabi set down for the Babylonians laws for which they would be held to as a people. As the Babylonian society matured and the population grew, it was obvious that law of some sort was needed. One cannot transgress a law if no such law exists. Thus, the Hammurabic Code was written upon a Stele (a type of stone obelisk.) in the Akkdaian language using cuneiform script. The image upon the top of this Stele is of King Hammurabi being given the Law by their God. (More on that later.)
What was revolutionary about the Hammurabic Code was it is one of the earliest examples of the presumption of innocence, something not even evident in the much older Sumerian Code of Ur Nammu (circa 2050 BC). Of course what it did share with the older known codes including the Laws of Eshnunna (circa 1930 BC), the Codex of Lipit-Ishtar of Isin (circa 1870 BC) and the later Hittite, Assyrian and Mosaic Laws was the evident need for codified rule to be implemented in order to have order over the growing populous. In this, the most well known of all these laws is also the youngest; the Mosaic Law.
Moses received the Law upon Mount Sinai approximately 1450 BC marking its entry into the list of ancient codes. On its face, it would appear as nothing terribly removed from any of the previous codes or laws given to other peoples about the whole of the earth. One can only speculate that the delay in the Hebrews receiving such a code was due in part to their approximately four hundred years living under Egyptian rules and regulations.
Here I must digress for just a moment regarding the Egyptian “experience” for the Hebrews. It is taught by orthodoxy that the Jews were in captivity by the Egyptians for four hundred, thirty years. This is incorrect. What actually occurred was an enslavement which lasted approximately one hundred years. The problem has come about due to the mention of the four hundred, thirty years figure and then a presumption that all of those years were spent in bondage. As a reading of the Exodus account will show, a good deal of time passed in Egypt after Joseph had brought his family over. Subsequent to Joseph’s death (an indeterminate period of time), the ruling Pharohic house was overthrown by an invading clan. The Pharaoh which had welcomed Joseph was from a Semetic lineage, thus Joseph’s family and the Pharaoh were distantly related. With the invasion and displacement of the dynasty which welcomed Joseph and his people, the Hebrews were enslaved. Regardless the enslavement, this new dynasty still operated under rules and these rules were imposed upon their Hebrew captives.
I find that I must digress just a bit further here to explain a bit of the seeming historical incongruity offered by archaeologists with respect to the Hebrew captivity and the eventual exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt. The prevailing theory is that this portion of the Genesis and Exodus accounts are pure fabrication due to the dearth of evidence of Hebrew remnants in the Southern Sinai Peninsula. A paper I read on the subject specifically pointed out the dearth of pottery shards in the soil to indicate the Hebrews spent any length on time in the area. One archaeologist was quoted as saying that it was the evidence of such pottery, emblazoned with the native writing (in this case Hebrew script) which was used as an indicator of the presence of certain people. I don’t wish to seem “snarky” or disrespectful, but I have to marvel at the fact any of these people are employed as archaeologists at all.
After living in the land of Egypt for over four hundred years, the only “script” familiar to Moses and his people would have been a rudimentary form of Egyptian. As a point of historical fact, the Exodus was thought to have occurred in approximately 1446 BC. The earliest Hebrew writing dates to approximately 1000 BC. Owing to the fact that Moses was schooled in the Egyptian language (both written and spoken), one would naturally assume any artifacts uncovered in the Southern Sinai Peninsula would be Egyptian since no Hebrew writing yet existed. One would think, but one is not a modern archaeologist with an agenda… (End of snarkiness…for now.)
Human beings sooner or later become aware of the fact that Law must be imposed to maintain order. Without any central figure to restrain us, we would all go our separate ways and create chaos. Thus rules were written and set forth. The god of the Hebrews saw this very clearly and so imparted his laws to Moses upon Mount Sinai. (Galatians 3:19-20)
This Law differed from other previous codes and laws insofar as the first four items on the list handed down dealt directly with the position of god towards his people. In brief:
- . You shall have no other gods before me.
- . You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in Heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.
- . You will not take the Lord’s name in vain.
- . Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it Holy.
Contrast with the Hammurabic Code which contains 282 laws, one of which is: “An eye for an eye.” Sound familiar? That is number 196 of the Hammurabic code and it reads: “If a [noble-]man put out the eye of another [noble-]man, his eye shall be put out.”
This much older code begins:
"Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind ..."
The code then launches into the listing of the laws beginning thus:
1. If a man has accused another of laying a nertu [death spell?] upon him, but has not proved it, he shall be put to death.
2. If a man has accused another of laying a kispu [spell] upon him, but has not proved it, the accused shall go to the sacred river, he shall plunge into the sacred river, and if the river shall conquer him, he that accused him shall take possession of his house. If the sacred river shall show his innocence and he is saved, his accuser shall be put to death. He that plunged into the sacred river shall appropriate the house of him that accused.
3. If a man has borne false witness in a trial, or has not established the statement that he has made, if that case be a capital trial, that man shall be put to death.
And so on. There is no opening provision for recognition of God Almighty in the Hammurabic code beyond the brief mention in the introduction. Clearly what Both King Hammurabi and Moses (and their gods) agreed upon was that, “An eye for an eye” was regarded as just recompense. As a matter of justice within the confines of law and order, that would indeed appear to be the case.
Why then do modern-day theologians, pastors and teachers proceed upon the premise that Christ’s admonition to, “Turn the other cheek.” Is merely an extension of “An eye for an eye” when the meaning is completely contradictory to the intent of the former law? Hammurabi made provision for different classes of people with respect to the “Eye for an eye” concept. Law 198 reads: “If he has knocked out the eye of a plebeian or has broken the limb of a plebeian, he shall pay one mina of silver.” How would Christ’s admonition expand upon this? What about the Hammurabic Law 199 which reads: “If he has knocked out the eye of a patrician's servant, or broken the limb of a patrician's servant, he shall pay half his value.”
I point out these examples only to illustrate the fact that what Christ said was the better way, is NOT an extension of the Mosaic or Hammurabic Law, but a countermanding of it. Paul was very clear on this subject when he said,
“God has made you alive in Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code (read the Mosaic Law), with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the Powers and Authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” - Colossians 2:13-15
Now consider what Paul has said about the Mosaic Law and look at what Christ had to say about the Mosaic Law:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
- Matthew 11:28-30
To be clear, the burden which Christ refers to here is the strictures of The Law. Unless one understands quite clearly that Christ came to fulfill the Law (meaning it was no longer necessary to us for our salvation was now in Christ), one is going to have a very, very difficult time understanding the point of God having come to earth in human form.
Upon corporal death, humans souls were transported to a place of imprisonment referred to by the Hebrews as Sheol. Here they remained until the time of the great judgment which no one—not even the angels—knew when was to come. Thus a human’s souls were burdened both in life and in death. Christ came and by fulfilling the Mosaic Law, freed us from its strictures and burdens.
One has to understand that such laws are written for man in his fleshly state, existing in a finite realm. Christ desired more for His children, something far better. He desired we grow and mature. Christ had no intention of ever leaving us under the awesome burden of the Law any more than a parent would expect their children to remain suckling milk from their mother’s breasts and remaining in diapers in perpetuity. We expect our kids to grow and mature and take upon themselves greater responsibilities. At a certain point, they will be regarded as adults and begin to teach their own children. God is no different. Those who continue to cling to the Law invalidate Christ and His work upon the cross for they regard Him as irrelevant, believing the Law is superior. Beyond that, however, those who continue to cling to the Law remain Spiritual infants. So afraid to follow the very Spirit which freed them, they are willing to cling with all their might to printed words which Luke and Apostle Paul has told them was given to us by angels, NOT God Almighty. (Acts 7:53, Galatians 3:19)
Our eventuality is not this earth, not this realm, not this time nor place; our eventuality is a place beyond time, beyond the flesh and makes what we know here to be nothing but a faint dream. We hold onto this place so tightly because we’re afraid to let go of what we know. Like a child clinging to their mother’s hem on the first day of school, we are terrified of growing up. Because so many of our Pastors and teachers have been led astray, we find allies in our fear; we believe we’re doing the right thing, when deep in our spirit we know we are not.
That nagging feeling we experience at church, that feeling we have which screams out to us, “Is this all there is?” is the pricking of the Spirit telling you it is time to grow up. Put away the milk and begin to eat solid food; small pieces at first, of course, but solid food none-the-less. The enemy will not like it when you begin to assert your autonomy in Christ. While you are a spiritual babe, you belong to them on this earth. You may be God’s afterward, but your effectiveness here has been blunted to a point of irrelevancy. This is not what God wants for you. If it had been, there would never have been a need for the Christ at all.
I’ll reiterate the Great Commission which Christ gave to us all for it is profound and so very important,
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
The root of the word “Disciple” is “learn” or “learner.” Such is born of a relationship and can come about no other way. We must endeavor to put aside the “hit and run” Christianity methodology. Saving people in an assembly line type process is NOT what Christ intended by the usage of the word “disciple.” God is very much interested in your spirit rather than your body. Recall Christ’s words,
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
- Matthew 10:28
When we “save” people and then send them on their way with a “pat” on the head, we are essentially rejecting Christ’s teachings. To be clear, WE’VE saved no one. What we as Christians are charged with is ushering others into an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ who is God Almighty. There will be no crowns one will have collected for how many people they have helped to say the “sinner’s prayer”, rather such crowns are born of the relationships one has cultivated and nurtured; they are born through being the true face of Christ to His children. If we cannot do that in even the simplest of our daily activities, we truly do not know what it is to be a Christian.
God values us as the spiritual essence we truly are. He will tend to our needs as He sees fit while we exist in the flesh, but His main goal is to see to it that we come to know Him intimately. For some, this will mean a life in which there is little in the way of task. For others, it will be a life of awesome tasking. I wish I could give the reader a rationale to why there is such disparity, but I am not God. What I do know is that God promised we would be justly rewarded for our efforts when this time on earth has passed.
In much the same way those who are facing the greatest obstacles are afforded the opportunity to overcome the greatest challenges, perhaps God has tasked us differently to give us all an opportunity to see the individual challenge unseen by our neighbors. Christ addressed the difficulty of the rich man entering into that intimate relationship because to do such meant the rich man would have to reset his priorities. Few even today with means are willing to do that and instead rationalize how God loves them more because He’s given them so much.
God is not impressed with the temporal; He desires us in the eternal. The Law was brought to us in our infancy by Ambassadors of the Most High God and despite their good intention, it was misused. Christ came and wrested control conventionally from those Powers and Authorities (Colossians 2:15) and has given us all the opportunity to now grow and live in Him.
Now what we do with that opportunity is completely up to us.