Aloha Friday Message – August 28, 2015 – The Gift of Law

1535AFC083015 – The Gift of Law

Read it online here, please.

Deuteronomy 4:5-8 See, just as the Lord my God has charged me, I now teach you statutes and ordinances for you to observe in the land that you are about to enter and occupy. You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!” For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?

E pili mau na pomaika‘i ia ‘oe a me ke akua ho’omaika’i ‘oe, ʻŌmea! (May blessing always be with you and may God bless you, Beloved!)

Today’s focus passage is from the fourth chapter of Deuteronomy. The book of Deuteronomy is a collection of three long discourses by Moses about The Law – the Decalogue more commonly known as The Ten Commandments. The sections tell the people of Israel how these laws will enable them to live in the land God has given to them. If they follow the law God has given them, if they are faithful to God’s leadership and teaching, God himself will accompany them in all that they do. It is especially emphasized that they are not to follow or even consider other gods; there is one God, one Creator, one place of worship, and one law. The Torah presents the account of the creation, the Promised Land, the early history of the Hebrews, the laws of the Priesthood, the Census of the People and the dedication of the Tabernacle, and finishes with Deuteronomy as an historical retrospective of all that precedes it.

10-commandments-49012_640Deuteronomy is the fifth and last book of the Torah and summarizes the teaching of the Law. It also serves somewhat as an introduction to the historical books of Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings. The bulk of the book – Deuteronomy 21:1-Deuteronomy 28:69 – is a long listing of reviews of the various laws and regulations given to Moses, certain prophecies that accompany the Law, rules of national and interpersonal conduct, lists of curses and blessing associated with the keeping of the law, the promises for obedience, and the consequences of disobedience. All of this is based on the two accounts of the Ten Commandments; the first is in Exodus 20 and the second is in Deuteronomy 5.

Some might consider this rather “dry” reading as the content lists off scores of does and don’ts. Some folks look at some of those admonitions and use that as their argument for ignoring the Bible, or at least ignoring the Old Testament. An example can be found in Deuteronomy 21:18-21. This concerns rebellious offspring (age is not listed in the criteria). They are to be taken to the gate of the city, charged with disobedience, and stoned to death by the elders of the community. There are a number of rules like this, and – again – folks point to those and say, “the Judea-Christian tradition is full of the violence of an unjust and violent God!” On the other hand, today in what some claim to be “Sharia Law,” violent punishments like these are said to be the proper way of dealing with sin. One might readily ask, “Isn’t law supposed to promote justice and good will? How can violence be part of that?”

We often point at The Golden Rule (See Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31) as a kind of summary of the Law and many believe it originated with Jesus. Actually many of the ancient codes of law as well as a wide variety of religions have a very similar teaching. It is sometimes referred to as the Ethics of Reciprocity. If you would be interested in seeing more about that, I recommend the Wikipedia article titled Golden Rule. In these messages we have often directed attention to Matthew 22:36-40 which tells us the two most important commandments are to Love God completely and to loves one’s neighbor. There are some instances where this Law of Reciprocity is either reversed or even contradicted. Satanists and certain groups of severely vicious racists promote the idea that those who are on “your side” are to be treated well and those who are not are to be eliminated. This is the kind of hate-speech we are now hearing frequently by the demonically-inclined proponents of radicalized Islam that are identifying themselves as ISIS. One might summarize their ethical reciprocity rule as “Do unto others before they do unto you.”

Certainly it can also be said that many religions – including Christianity at some points in history – committed many heinous acts in the name of “salvation” such as tortures, executions, and even genocide all in the cause of preventing souls from being tortured in Hell for eternity. Fortunately, we have matured beyond that point in genuinely-Christian faiths. I make the emphasis there because there are in this age some persons professing to be Christian that most certainly are not. For these people, the concept of Divine Law is based on greed and hatred. There is nothing “divine” about what they teach or how they behave. If we consult the History of Legal Codes, we can see that there were basic sets of laws to govern persons and nations as far back as 2300 BC. That’s 1400 years before Moses! We might recall that in Ancient Mesopotamia there were complex codes of Babylonian origin, and one in particular – the Code of Hammurabbi – is usually studied in Ancient History classes either in High School or College. Knowing the Law or studying the law is not always the same as following the law.

How we behave when considering the Law is a reflection of how we respect the Law. How we respect the Law is a reflection of how well we understand the Law. For the balance of this message, we will be looking at these manifestations of compliance with the Ten Commandments. Perhaps the first thing we should tackle is the idea that the Ten Commandments are 10 Laws. That is not true. It is one Law that has ten parts, so if you break one part of the Law, you have broken the whole Law. “But I’ve never murdered anyone or committed adultery! How can you say I’ve broken the whole law?” If you break a corner out of a window, you have broken the window. That’s not hard to understand. The window is considered as a whole. Whether you smash it to smithereens or just put a crack in the glass, it is from that point forward a broken window. In the same way, the Law, as set forth in the Ten Commandments is THE Law; that is not a plural word – Law. Note the verb form I used: Ten Commandments IS. Present tense, simple case, affirmative language which basically denotes equality between the subject and predicate.

Knowing that it is the One Law, it is easy to understand that no one lives without breaking the Law. And it is attempting to live like that upon which the Pharisees repeatedly failed. Until challenged by Jesus’ teaching about the real meaning and purpose of the law, we earthlings consistently got it wrong. We’re still getting it wrong, but doing a better job of understanding why we’re wrong. And that is the Gift of the Law. The Law itself shows us how to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.” (See Micah 6:8 again). By understanding this, we can pray, “Teach me and help me to be just and merciful, to live righteously, and to walk humbly before You wherever Your Spirit guides me.” In short, we endeavor to live the Law of Love.

Exceeding reciprocity is really nothing new either. If you understand reciprocity as being “blessings for a blessing and invitation for invitation” (to dinner for example) then you also probably accept “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.” That was the retributive side of reciprocity. As early in Scripture as Leviticus 19:18, we read 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. Jesus tells us in Luke 6:28 to “bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” In the Gospel of Matthew this is presented as Love for Enemies in Matthew 5:43-48 (Click on that one to see it in context.) God repeatedly tells us to exceed reciprocity. For example, in Romans 12:20 Paul quotes Proverbs 25:21-22: 21 If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat;     and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink; 22 for you will heap coals of fire on their heads,     and the Lord will reward you.

This is something that seems to go against human nature and it can be intensified though our sinfulness. Love your enemies? Return good for evil? Look at 1 Peter 3:9 Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing. THAT is the Law of Love, the Gift of Law that helps us define sin. It is the Law of Love that surpasses the One Law of Moses. It fulfills all that Law through loving God and each other. What a wonderful gift that is! We are a Chosen Nation, a Priestly Kingdom chosen by God and blessed by God with the Gift of his law, for what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today? Blessed be God forever!

Whatever, whenever, wherever, whoever, however, if ever, forever — at your service, Beloved!

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture passages are from the New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE) New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Aloha Friday Messages by Charles O. Todd, III is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

 

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About Chick Todd

American Roman Catholic reared as a "Baptiterian" in Denver Colorado.

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