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police officer February 9 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today's Bible reading (NIV) or alternate versions (use your browser arrow to return): Exodus 21, 22, 23, 24

The Importance of Social Laws and Enforcement

What is the purpose of having laws? Are laws standards to limit our freedoms? The late Pastor Adrian Rogers once said that “people today want freedom from restraints. They are sort of like people on an airplane throwing out the pilot and announcing that they are now free.”* We can guess the results of that, can't we? We know we have natural laws which we must obey, but we also need social laws. The purpose for social laws is to make sure people and property are handled fairly and equitably with justice. This is one of the functions of government and why we have officers policing our neighborhoods and streets, protecting our rights.

The establishment of government is important in forming a new society of people. Before moral and social laws were instituted, the government of the recently freed people of Israel was a theocracy. It was administered by Moses, Aaron, his sons, and seventy elders of Israel. As we saw in our last Bible study (February 8), the LORD gave Israel the moral law (the ten commandments) through Moses, but how does God want them to practice these laws? What follows in today’s Bible study is a summary of God’s social law—the moral law lived out in exemplary case studies.

What may surprise many of us is that the first regulation regards the treatment of slaves. We might think God would have abolished this practice since he recently delivered his people from Egyptian slavery. Hebrew slavery, however, differs from Egyptian slavery. Egyptian slavery was forced, and sometimes cruel and harsh labor for an indeterminate amount of time. Hebrew slavery is indentured service, in which a poor man sells himself and/or his family. In exchange for their services they are given a place to live, food to eat, and are treated fairly. The time of service is no longer than six years unless the servant wants to continue the arrangement.

Slavery has been legally abolished in many civil societies, so there is no direct principle which may be applied in such cases. We can learn from these Scriptures, however, not to take advantage of the poor, but if possible, give them opportunities to earn a living. We should treat them with dignity, justice, and equity, especially if they are fellow believers in Christ.

In the Israelite social law there are punishments for many capital offenses. Usually, we think of death penalties in connection with murder or with acts of high treason against the state, but in these laws there are also capital punishments for attacking or cursing parents, worshipping other gods, sorcery, hurting or taking advantage of orphans and widows, and for some instances of sexual immorality and perversity.

For the safety of the community and to preserve its morality and holiness as a people of God, it was sometimes necessary to exercise this most severe punishment. Despite what some research says, capital punishment for capital offenses is a deterrent, and the LORD wanted it exercised in appropriate cases.

The third major regulation regards the principle of restitution—a just and equitable compensation for injuries incurred. Under this set of laws, if a slave or hired man is injured on the job, he is to receive compensation. If properties (animals and slaves in particular) are harmed, there is to be restitution. If thieves steal, there is to be reimbursement plus penalties. In certain cases, however, there is to be no restitution if there is no great injury done and/or it is an accident.

In today's society we go before government officials to report civil injustice, but Christians should not pursue frivolous law suits. The book of 1Corinthians further instructs Christians not to pursue any trivial law suits against their brothers in Christ, lest the testimony of Christians be harmed (1Corinthians 6:1-7). We should work it out ourselves or take it to the church.

Another major law mentioned in Exodus 23 could be categorized as the law of justice and kindness. If the Israelites are witnesses to crimes, they need to report it and give testimony, but they are not to give false accounts or accept bribes. Bribes pervert justice. They are also to be kind even to their enemies if they or their property suffer some injury or mishap.

We know that Jesus instructs us believers to love our enemies (Luke 6:27). Remember, we were enemies whom Christ loved (Romans 5:10), and when we love our enemies we demonstrate his love.

Yet another law mentioned here and frequently in other Bible passages is the law of keeping the Sabbath, not only as a day of rest for people, but also a time of rest for animals and even a year of rest for farmland every seventh year. Furthermore, three times a year the Israelite men are to gather together to celebrate the Feast of the Unleavened Bread (to commemorate their deliverance from slavery in Egypt), the Feast of Harvest (the first fruits of their harvests), and the Feast of the Ingathering (the end of their harvest season, like our Thanksgiving). Jesus said Sabbaths are made for man (meaning all human beings; Mark 2:27). We honor God when we keep a weekly day of rest and remember to be thankful for our blessings.

After the giving of moral and social laws, the LORD promises to be their God and to lead, protect, and bless them if they obey. This is a covenant which is confirmed by a blood sacrifice. Then he shows Moses, Aaron, and the seventy elders of Israel some of his glory. Before he calls Moses up onto Mt. Sinai, he specifically gives instructions for the people not to worship false gods. For the third time the leaders and people promise to obey the LORD their God. Will they do it? We will soon find out.

Do we want God’s blessings? Then we need to honor God and our fellow man in practice, not just with words. Do you know the true God of heaven who dispenses justice and mercy? He can give you peace, forgiveness, and spiritual life so you will want to worship and obey him, and to be good to your neighbor (more...)

Lessons to Live By

  • The purpose for social laws is to make sure people and property are handled fairly and equitably with justice.
  • Do not to take advantage of the poor, but if possible give them opportunities to earn a living. Treat them with dignity, justice, and equity, especially if they are fellow believers in Christ.
  • Capital punishment for capital offenses is a deterrent, and God wanted it exercised in appropriate cases.
  • We should go before government officials to report our civil injuries, but Christians should not pursue frivolous law suits, especially with fellow Christians. We are to settle disputes peaceably or with the help of our church.
  • Jesus instructs us believers to love our enemies. We were also enemies whom Christ loved, and when we love our enemies we show his love. (more...)
  • We honor God when we keep a weekly day of rest and remember to be thankful for our blessings.
  • Do we want God’s blessings? Then we need to honor God and our fellow man in practice, not just with words.

*(date and place unknown; it was heard on a Christian radio broadcast)

Focus Verse

James 1:27 (NIV) “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

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A Look Ahead: Now that God has established a theocracy and civil government, he instructs Moses to build The Tabernacle, a portable worship center. How does it compare with Our Worship Center? Find out in our Next Lesson.

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