Lots of laws! How do you lead a large group of people through the wilderness? So many people trying to live together in community led to so many laws. In fact, the laws number 613 in total. 365 prohibitions and 248 admonitions. Reading this part of Exodus and the next book Leviticus may make us think, “What the world needs now is laws, more laws.” This is where we get the expression of “eye for eye and tooth for tooth.” Certainly, every culture needs to make and enforce laws to help people live together. This is the work of government.
Then I remember that the Bible does not end with Exodus or Leviticus or Malachi, for that matter. What if we see this part of the Bible not as our list of laws for life but as part of the greater story of God’s redemption of humankind? God gave the people laws which they did not keep. In the end, we needed a Redeemer. So the whole Bible leads to Jesus. This means we never study any passage without the firm foundation of Christ and his love in mind.
When the religious leaders of Jesus asked him to weigh in on the most important commandment, he actually landed on two: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. The verses I have chosen remind us of the second of these. God did not want his people to mistreat foreigners because they knew what it was like to be foreigners. When I lived in Germany as a young teenager, immigrants from a third country made my life pretty miserable. They beat us up and when we stood up for ourselves they egged our door and burned our car. These workers had a very different attitude toward Americans than we had commonly experienced from our German hosts.
When I came to Tallowood we had a chance to send missionaries to the country of origin of our persecutors over in Germany. Over the years, we sent more missionaries there than to any other country in our time at Tallowood. A young man from that country became a close friend and followed the Lord in baptism at our church. If you have ever been an ex-pat, or a foreigner, you know how hard it it is sometimes just to live in a different culture. This should greatly increase our compassion for the guest in our gates.
How do we lead a large group of people through the challenges of the early twenty-first century? Lots of love. One way to evaluate our own spiritual growth today is to ask, “Am I growing to love God and my neighbors more?” This may tell us more about our hearts than our passion for “eye for eye and tooth for tooth.”