An Eye for an Eye
The Education of Israel
Christ wanted to direct the people to God’s perfect will on the Sermon on the Mount. The fact that the Sermon on the Mount teachings differ from the teachings of the Mosaic law can only be rightly understood when we examine the situational context and purpose of the giving of the Mosaic law.
Prior to the exodus there were laws and ordinances that were kept by the people of God (Genesis 26:5). They were known and passed down from generation to generation (The Spirit of Prophecy, book 1, p. 264). Some of these included the sacrifice of the lamb, keeping the Sabbath, tithing, and later, the rite of circumcision. Because the Israelite people had been in slavery and had not been permitted to walk in the ways of the Lord for many generations, many of the laws were no longer held in regard or practiced. God had to remind the people of their heritage and teach them about the plan of salvation, which had been almost completely lost to them as they became steeped in the customs, religious practices, laws, and ancestral/historical influences of the land of their captivity over the successive generations.
In order to re-educate the people of Israel, the Lord started institution various symbolic methods of leading them to more than a cursory knowledge of Him.
Victims of lifelong slavery, they were ignorant, degraded. They had little knowledge of God and little faith in Him. They were confused by false teaching and corrupted by their long contact with heathenism. God desired to lift them to a higher moral level, and to do this, He sought to give them a knowledge of Himself (Education p. 34).
God teaches people in a manner that is both progressive and responsive. His teaching must be progressive because we can only handle so much at a time. Our cultivated tendencies and cultural influences can have a significant bearing on whether we are prepared to accept God’s ways and truths. Though He has much to teach us, He only gives us what we can bear, as a corporate body and as individuals (see John 16:12). He wants to reveal his complete will to us, but He must first prepare our minds to be receptive to His teaching. Our readiness is, then reflected not only in the desire that He has created within us to know the truth but to walk in it.
True Education is not the forcing of instruction on an unready and unreceptive mind. The mental powers must be awakened, the interest aroused. For this, God’s method of teaching provided. He who created the mind and ordained its law, provided for its development in accordance with them. In the home and the sanctuary, through the things of nature and of art, in labor and in festivity, in sacred building and memorial stone, by methods and rites and symbols un-numbered. God gave to Israel lessons illustrating His principles and preserving the memory of His wonderful works. Then, as inquiry was made, the instruction given impressed the mind and heart (Education, p. 41).
God’s methods seek to engage the mind of those He is trying to teach, speaking to them in ways they can understand and to which they can relate both intellectually and emotionally, while introducing deep spiritual truths and implications. This frame of reference will vary greatly according to time, culture, geographical location, or any other influencing factors that may surround the people He is seeking to reach. The ancient Israelites, recently delivered from slavery, were no exception to this rule. So, from the Exodus onward, we can see old laws reintroduced and new systems and types added to draw the people to Christ in a way they could understand and accept.
First, God introduced the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread as they exited Egypt to teach them that they had a Deliverer and Redeemer, the Lamb that was slain (Exodus 13:43). Also the people were call to sanctify all the firstborn of humans and beast unto the Lord (Exodus 13:2, 15), which was in commemoration of how the Lord protected and saved all the firstborn from the destroyer when the Last Egyptian plague killed all the firstborn of those who were dedicated unto the Egyptian gods at birth. Those who did not mark their doors with the symbolic blood of the Lamb, thereby accepting God’s authority and protection, were given over to the destroyer, who was the entity behind the god to whom they were dedicated and whose priest they would grow up to be in their own future households.
Next, God reintroduced His desire for them to keep the Sabbath. The people were already aware of the Sabbath, but God had to illustrate the importance of it in a way that would impact the people experientially, so they would come to understand its significance and meaning. This was necessary because, as slaves, they had not been able to practice their religion, which included keeping the Sabbath, for generations. He did this by providing manna for the people, providing a test of faith and dependence as well as an object lesson that would recommit them to the Sabbath blessing and truth:
The Creator’s rest-day was hallowed by Adam in holy Eden, and by men of God throughout the patriarchal ages. During Israel’s long bondage in Egypt, under taskmasters that knew not God, they would not keep the Sabbath; therefore the Lord brought them out where they could remember his holy day (Signs of the Times, February 28, 1884).
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not” (Exodus 16:4).
The next law to be proclaimed was the moral law given from Mount Sinai. Had the people been willing to simply obey His voice and let Him lead them in righteousness on a daily basis they would not have needed these written laws, but they were afraid of God speaking directly to them. So the Lord had to provide the moral law in written form, utilizing Moses as a mediator, as per their demand. In the Ten Commandments, God wished to reveal to the Israelites His goodness and give them a right understanding of His character and righteousness. Through the tabernacle services, He wanted to teach the plan of salvation, wherein Christ would not only pardon, forgive, and redeem but would also dwell in them and save them from being slaves to sin.
So to Israel, whom He desired to make His dwelling place, He revealed His glorious idea of character. The pattern was shown them in the mount when the law was given from Sinai and when God passed by before Moses and proclaimed, “The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.” Exodus 34:6. But this ideal they were, in themselves powerless to attain. The revelation at Sinai could only impress them with their need and helplessness. Another lesson the tabernacle, through its service of sacrifice, was to teach – the lesson of pardon of sin, and power through the Saviour for obedience unto life (Education pp. 35, 36).
The descendants of Abraham had almost completely lost their knowledge of God and His ways. They no longer had an understanding of the principles and promises of God revealed in the Abrahamic covenant; they had no true conception of the holiness of God or of their own sinfulness. They did not realize their need of a Savior or of their own inability to obey God’s laws in their own strength. They were conditioned to believe that the practices of the land they lived in were perfectly acceptable, even righteous, and justified in their own eyes. They had no experiential knowledge of Him that would create trust and loyalty in them. God had to teach them His ways and who He was all over again.
In their bondage the people had to a great extent lost the knowledge of God and the principles of the Abrahamic covenant. In delivering them for Egypt, God sought to reveal to them His power and His mercy, that they might be led to love and trust Him. He brought them down to the Red Sea – where, pursued by the Egyptians, escape seemed impossible – that they might realize their utter helplessness, and their need of divine aid; and then he wrought deliverance for them. Thus they were filled with love and gratitude to God and with confidence in His power to help them. He had bound them to Himself as their deliverer from temporal bondage.
But there was a still greater truth to be impressed upon their minds. Living in the midst of idolatry and corruption, they had no true conception of the holiness of God, of the exceeding sinfulness of their own hearts, their utter inability in themselves to render obedience to God’s law, and their need of a Saviour. All this they must be taught.
Even the civil laws of the heathen lands they lived in were completely ingrained into the Israelites’ way of thinking and sense of justice. They had been slaves for many generations of years and were conditioned to obey or be punished. They were ruled by fear, serving out of compulsion. They were used to being ruled by human laws with human penalties, with the predominate code of the law being the Code of Hammurabi instituted by the Babylonian king of centuries past. Therefore, the Israelites chose their own system of civil law early in their freedom when Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, advised him to put into effect a legal code with additional judges to help judge the issues of the people.
And you shall teach them the statues and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do, moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens (Exodus 18:20, 21).
Because of the people’s action of taking on their own civil law system, God had to react by introducing them to system of civil law designed to begin leading them back to the principles of His kingdom. These laws incorporated higher levels of morality than any other laws to which they had already been exposed. They were designed to progressively lead them back to God’s ideal of righteousness and point them to Christ. He gave these to Moses at the same time as He gave the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments outlined principles of righteousness and the judgments expanded these principles into practical application. These laws had to allow for their freedom of choice and had to be given in relation to what the people were able to bear. Taking into consideration their current level of morality and all their cultural biases and influences. His great task in this was to direct the people to a higher morality and to advance them in righteousness and knowledge of Him without interfering with the freedom of choice.
Unfortunately, their current level of righteousness, as reflected in the neighboring nations and cultures, was so debased that the Lord could only advance them in controlled doses of the light of truth. The Mosaic law was unique and was far more righteous and superior to any preexisting codes of law. Furthermore, the Lord wove into these laws deep spiritual symbolisms and lessons that would direct them to a new way of thinking and living. However, there was much in that reflected the laws they already understood, and which had already to a certain extent been incorporated within their culture, by their choice.
The civil and ceremonial laws were included in the Book of the Law kept in the side of the ark of the covenant.
After peaking all these laws, God called Moses, Aaron and seventy elders to meet with Him on the mountain. He asked Moses to stay up on the mountain to receive the tables of stone and listen to God recite the judgments again.
Moses wrote these judgments and statues from the mouth of God while he was with him in the mount. If the people of God had obeyed the principles of the ten commandments, there would have been no need of the specific directions given to Moses, which he wrote in the book, relative to their duty to God and to one another. The definite directions which the Lord gave to Moses in regard to the duty of his people to one another, and to the stranger, are the principles of the ten commandments simplified and given in a definite manner, that they need not err (Spirit of Prophecy, book1, p. 265).
God also foresaw the need of the tabernacle service for the people, and so He started to instruct Moses about the pattern of the earthly sanctuary while he was on the mount. God instituted the tabernacle service in response to their choice to have a tangible representation of their God and ritualistic services. God Knew in advance that the children of Israel would regress to idolatrous practices on their own if they did not have a system of religion that involved from, rite, and visible representations. He also knew they would corrupt any system of worship they were given with the heathen customs they had observed in which they had participated in Egypt. So God gave them a form of ritualistic service, but He also provided guidelines in order to mitigate the corruption He could foresee they would introduce into this system. God provides instruction base on the necessity he sees will arise.
Accustomed as they had been in Egypt to material representations of the Deity, and these of the most degrading nature, it was difficult for them to conceive of the existence of the character of the Unseen one. In pity for their weakness, God gave them a symbol of His presence. “Let them make Me a sanctuary,” He said; “that I may dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:8).
If man had kept the law of God, as given to Adam after his fall, preserved by Noah, and observed by Abraham, there would have been no necessity for the ordinances of circumcision. And if the descendants of Abraham had kept the covenant, of which circumcision was a sign, they would never have been seduced into idolatry, nor would it have been necessary for them to suffer a life of bondage in Egypt; they would have kept God’s law in mind, and there would have been no necessity for it to be proclaimed from Sinai or engraved upon the tables of stone. And had the people practiced the principles of the Ten Commandments, there would have been no need of the additional directions given to Moses.
The Sacrificial system, committed to Adam, was also perverted by his descendants. Superstition, idolatry, cruelty, and licentiousness corrupted the simple and significant service that God had appointed. Through long intercourse with idolaters the people of Israel had mingled many heathen customs with their worship; therefore the Lord gave them at Sinai definite instructions concerning the sacrificial service. After the completion of the tabernacle He communicated with Moses from the cloud of glory above the mercy seat, and gave him full directions concerning the system of offerings and the forms of worship to be maintained in the sanctuary.
Unfortunately, the Israelites fulfilled their own desire for a for visible God to worship even before Moses returned from the mountain by making the golden calf. God knew that transforming these people out of their paradigm of thought and experience would not be accomplished overnight. It would involve advancing them slowly. It had to allow freedom, even to choose error or unrighteousness. It could not be done by force or compulsion. So we see the progression of laws an structures being added in order to reach them in a way they could relate to. They were babes in their concept of God and His righteousness. This they had to learn, one step at a time.
Each time the Israelite people made a choice that was contrary to God’s ideal will for them, God had to react in righteousness. He did not forsake them. He strove to bring them back to His way by giving them an alternative that would advance them in righteousness while still allowing them to walk in the ways of their choice. Here are some instances we have thus far discussed:
|Israel’s Complaint||God’s Response|
|The Israelites demand food and complain, desiring to return to the flesh pots of Egypt.||God gives them manna and the Sabbath to teach them how to rest in and trust Him.|
|The Israelites refuse to hear from God directly.||God gives them Moses as a mediator and a written law.|
|The Israelites promise to “obey” all that God says, choosing a system of works (Exodus 19:8).||God gives them the Ten Commandments, promises of what He will fulfill in them by Faith|
|The Israelites choose a civil system as instituted by Moses under advisement of Jethro.||God gives them civil laws to govern them, more righteous than any others in the land (Deuteronomy 4:8)|
|The Israelites demand a tangible form of worship with celebrations and rituals, as demonstrated at the golden calf incident.||God gives them a sanctuary, feast days and ceremonial laws, which all point to Christ as their Deliverer and Redeemer.|
God, in His mercy, always meets people where they are and respects their choices. The eternal principles of His kingdom only allow for freedom of choice and service of love. So when human beings go astray and choose their own way, God strives to pull them back to His ways and to advance them in righteousness as quickly as they are able to bear.
In our next post we will begin to explore Hammurabi’s Code of Law and its relation to the “Eye for an Eye” principle as taught in the Sermon on the Mount and Old Testament Law.
If you have not had the opportunity to read the other posts in this series, I invite you to click the links below.
|01 He Wanted to Teach Respect||05 Approaching the Study of God|
|02 Why a Tree to Teach Respect||06 The Constitution of the Government of God|
|03 The End of the Great Controversy||07 A Perfect Law|
|04 Isaiah’s Wonderful Prophecy04 Isaiah’s Wonderful Prophecy||08 God’s Principles Tested|
|09 A Summary of God’s Constitution||13 The Supreme Revelation|
|10 Contrasting Statements||14 Urged to Destroy|
|11 Statements and Principles||15 Magnifying the Law|
|12 Does God Destroy – But How||16 Go the Second Mile|
|17a An Eye for an Eye||18 The Mystery of Iniquity|
|17b An Eye for an Eye||19 The Mystery-Unfolding Cross|
|17c An Eye for an Eye||20 The Way of the Cross|
|17d An Eye for an Eye||21 Rods and Serpents|