Exodus 21-22, Mark 8
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. – Mark 8:34-38 ESV
It's hard to read these two chapters in Exodus and not have your mind filled with questions. You can't help but wonder why God included laws regarding slaves. Why didn't He just outlaw slavery altogether? The whole legal concept on an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth comes across as so antiquated and uncivilized. And what is really interesting is that all of these commands or statues come after the Ten Commandments. Why is that important? Because the Ten Commandments banned much of what is dealt with in these two chapters. They were not to have any other gods other than Yahweh. They were not to worship idols. They were forbidden to murder, commit adultery, steal, testify falsely against a neighbor, or to covet. And yet, in chapters 20-21, we have additional rules and regulations regarding what to do with murderers, thieves, the covetous, and adulterous. Why? Because these laws were not an attempt to create heaven on earth. They were not intended to bring about a utopian society, but to illustrate man's sinfulness. Paul asks and answers the question: "Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions…" (Galatians 3:19 ESV). God gave the law because the world in which man lived was racked by sin. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, mankind had steadily succumbed to the same predisposition to rebel against God and live according to a standard ruled by self and sinfulness. Even a cursory read of these two chapters should paint a vivid picture of a world in need of salvation. Slavery was NOT God's intention or will for mankind, but it existed. Why? Because of man's own sinful, selfish nature. Because of inequality and the existence of poverty. Why did God have to provide additional laws regarding murder when He had already banned murder altogether? Because mankind was unable to keep that law. Men were going to kill one another regardless of what God had decreed. Because of sin. As you read through these two chapters you see words like, strike, death, steal, quarrel, curses, and gores. You read of cases of neglect, abuse, dishonesty, poverty, and inequality.
The world in which the Israelites lived was brutal and sin-ridden. God never expected His Law to redeem mankind from sin. In fact, Paul tells us, "For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law" (Galatians 3:21 ESV). The law was never intended to save us. Jesus was. He was God's plan of salvation from the very beginning. The law, like a speed limit sign on a highway, simply shows us our sin. It let's us know we have broken the law. It condemns, but it can't redeem. God's law reveals His holiness and man's sinfulness. Paul makes it clear that the law of God reveals the sin of man. "if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, 'You shall not covet'" (Romans 7:7 ESV).
What does this passage reveal about God?
God looked down on mankind and saw sinners sinning against one another. Men were enslaving one another. Murder was not only commonplace, it was justified and rationalized. Sexual sins of all kinds were taking place. Injustice and inequality was rampant – even among the people of God. And yet, the people of God were to be set apart, distinctive, different. They were to live holy lives, displaying a fear of God and marked by a distinctively different set of standards. At the end of chapter 22, God reminds them, "You must be my holy people" (Exodus 22:31 NLT). God desired to make a difference in their lives. He longed for them to live set apart. He had redeemed them from physical slavery, but His greatest and ultimate desire was to redeem them from slavery to sin. But that would not take place until His Son came to earth, in human flesh, and lived a sinless life in complete compliance with God's law. He would be the first and only man to keep the law of God perfectly. And it would be that accomplishment that would make Him the perfect sacrifice for the sins of mankind. Again, Paul puts it in words far more eloquently than I could write. "For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:3-4 ESV). God knew mankind well. He knew their propensity for sin and their inability to live righteously. But He didn't leave us helpless and hopeless. He sent His Son.
What does this passage reveal about man?
Over in the gospel of Mark, Jesus looked at the large crowd of people who had gathered around Him, and He said, "I feel sorry for these people" (Mark 8:2 NLT). He was moved by their physical hunger, so He performed a miracle that provided them with food. Later on, the Pharisees demanded that Jesus show them some kind of miraculous sing from heaven to prove His authority. Mark records, "he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, 'Why does this generation seek a sign?'" (Mark 8:12 ESV). He knew their hearts and saw their real motives. Jesus was saddened by their stubbornness and unbelief. Every day of His life on this earth, Jesus was confronted by needs. He was surrounded by lost people suffering from the effects of sin: hunger, disease, disbelief, selfishness, and even self-righteousness. Men had a difficult time seeing Jesus for who He really was. Their motives for following Him were selfish in nature. Even His own disciples could not grasp the true nature of His ministry. His miracles amazed them, but usually left them with more questions than answers. Even Peter, after having been told by Jesus that He was going to have to go to Jerusalem and suffer and die, refused to accept this news and rebuked Him. Jesus responded by saying, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man" (Mark 8:33 ESV). Peter, like most men, was guilty of living with an earthly perspective, rather than a heavenly one. He was stuck on a horizontal plane, seeing everything from his limited human viewpoint. His view of Jesus was distorted by His myopic perspective. And Jesus, much like the law, somewhat harshly revealed the true nature of Peter's sin-prone heart.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
I live in a world marred by sin. It is all around me. It constantly influences and infects me. I must do daily battle with my own sin nature, experiencing the same frustration that Paul felt. "For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate" (Romans 7:15 ESV). The presence of sin around me, and even within me, is a constant reminder of my need for a Savior. I am a work in process. Like the Israelites, I am living in and amongst sinful people, and I am one of them. But I have the capacity to live differently. I have the Holy Spirit living within me and the Word of God available to me, so that I can know God's will and live it in His strength, not my own. I am no longer obligated to keep the law in order to be made righteous. I have the righteousness of Christ. My sins have been paid for by His death on the cross. But I do have an obligation to live differently and distinctively in this sin-marred world. And God has given me not only the responsibility to do so, but the capability as well. So when God says, "You must be my holy people," I know that I have within me what it takes to make that command a reality in my life.
Father, this world is a difficult place in which to live. But You have given me new hope, new life, and a new capacity to live differently, distinctively and holy. May I continually recognize my need for Your strength to live according to Your will as Your child. May I learn to live increasingly more holy in a world marred by sin and in need of proof that there is a Savior. Amen