Saturday, July 11, 2015

The relevance of the Old Testament "civic" law for us

It is debatable to what extent the Old Testament law can be neatly divided up into the moral, civil and ceremonial. All laws are moral in a sense. Who wants an amoral or immoral law? All life is lived in community and must be ordered and under authority. All laws touch civil society. And ceremonial is in escapable: it's there in how you greet your family in the morning, how you eat your breakfast - or at least you hope it is!

Anyway, there is some usefulness in the division.

So, what use is the Old Testament civic law given by God to ancient Israel for the "ordinary" 21st Century Bristish Christian?

Well, it has the same uses as all of God's laws, but perhaps some of them are not so easy to see. We may not have any slaves or oxen and we may not be in a position to re-write the statue book in a more godly form.

And here we always need to remember the caveat that these are God's law for Israel under the Mosaic covenant. They teach us what our laws should be, along with the rest of Scripture, but they are not those laws simpliciter.

(1) The Old Testament civic law given to Israel reveals the character of God.

God's words are never arbitary. They flow from who he is. God's people are to be like him. He is a God of holiness, love, justice, righteousness, community, kindness, generosity, fairness and much more.

(2) The Old Testament civic law given by God to Israel reveals our sin.

Of course it reveals Israel's sin too! This is not a utopian law. It is a law for people who are killing one another accidently and deliberately, a law for people who sleep with the wrong people and fail to return the lawn mowers they borrowed.

Yet when we compare our laws (even though they are so influenced by the Bible) and our society to the one imagined in the law (for example, with it's benign system of endentured servitude or it's systems of social welfare provision or debt cancellation) we see how far of God's standards we fall.

(3) The Old Testament civic law given to Israel reveals how God's people should live and order their society.

It stresses that life cannot be individual and privitised. Community, society, village, town, city and nation matter to God. He is king of this world not just of heaven. He is the God of contracts as well as Holy Communion. 

In our personal dealings and in so far as we are responsible for the ordering of our family, our school, our clubs and societies, our church, our village, we can try to live out the wisdom the law of God has taught us. We may have more ability to shape community life near us than we think.

And we have a vote - in fact quite a lot of votes. And we can belong to political parties (or not). And stand in elections.

Even the most unpromising parts of the civil law of ancient Israel are not the Word of God Emmeritus. They are useful for correcting, rebuking and training in righteousness so that we may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

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