Celebrating 60 Years!

Exodus 23b – The Secret Seventh Principle for Interpreting the Law

We have been studying the Law in the book of Exodus for over two months now. Throughout our time in the Law, I have given and illustrated “Six Principles to Help Christians Interpret the Law.” All six of these principles were based on teaching from the New Testament. As a refresher, here are the six principles:

 

Principle #1) The Law reveals how to love God.

Principle #2) The Law reveals how to love others.

Principle #3) The Law reflects the character of God.

Principle #4) The Law demonstrates how sinful we are.

Principle #5) The Law points forward to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Principle #6) Christians interpret according to the spirit of the Law.

 

But did you know that there is also a seventh principle to help us interpret the Law? In the New Testament, Jesus tells us that we are to go into all the world, preaching the Gospel, baptizing and making disciples (Mt 28:19-20). The Christian mission for Gospel evangelism is outward. We start where we are and we work outwards, proactively endeavoring to take the Gospel to new regions and to people who haven’t heard of it. We don’t stay put and expect them to come to us; we go to them (I could do a whole other blog on that topic as it relates to church outreach and evangelism, but I’ll stick to the topic!).

So the Church goes out with the Gospel. Israel, however, stayed put. They were given a land, and as we saw in the text today, they were expected to stay in the land. Their worship took place in the land, their identity was tied to the land, the presence of God was in the land. When God punished Israel, what did He do? He exiled them – kicked them out of the land.

The land was important. Israel stayed put right there.

Well, how did the Old Testament “Gospel” of Yahweh get out? Was God not concerned about non-Israelites hearing and knowing the truth and having a saving relationship with Him?

Of course He was. But the paradigm worked differently back then. Instead of going out with the Gospel, Israel stayed put and people came to them. From the very beginning, when making what we call the “Abrahamic Covenant,” God told Abraham that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3 ESV). From the get-go God had a missional motive for the people on earth. He chose to use Israel to spread that mission and spread His fame.

Fast forward to Deuteronomy 4. The Israelites are standing outside the Promised Land. God is about to renew the Mosaic covenant with them with a fresh retelling of the Law. Listen to what Moses tells the people concerning the Law:

“Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ 7 For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? 8 And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?” (Deut 4:6-8 ESV).

Notice the intended effect of Israel keeping the Law: other nations will see them acknowledge their great wisdom and their great God. The Law has the effect of drawing in other nations to God. The Jews are not called to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel.” They are called to stay in Israel, to be set apart and holy in all they do, and the people will notice and come to them.

This is exactly what we see when they first enter the Promised Land. Remember Rahab, the prostitute who housed the two spies in Jericho? She tells the spies that she and all the people of the land have already heard of what God has done before the Israelites ever stepped foot into the Promised Land (Josh 2:9-11). And this is what causes her to come to salvation!

In fact, Rahab uses the exact same language there as we heard in Exodus this morning. God told the Israelites that when they got to the land, He would send His “terror” and “confusion” against the people in the land. This is contingent on the Israelites’ obedience to the Law (Ex 23:21-22, 24-25a). Rahab tells the spies that the “terror” (same word) of the people has fallen upon them in the land. The Israelites’ obedience to God (at least during the Sihon/Og victories; cf. Josh 2:10) has caused the same “terror and confusion” that Yahweh promised and thus caused the conversion of Rahab and her family once she recognized the greatness of God.

The point is (and the secret seventh principle is): The Law has a missional focus. When we as Christians look at the Law, we can ask the interpretive and applicational question: “How does this law fulfill its missional function?” In other words, what about this law would have set the Israelites apart enough for other nations to look on and want what they had?

This is connected with the third principle (The Law reflects the character of God), since it is not the Law in and of itself that the people are drawn to, but the God behind the Law and its wisdom. As much as the Israelites obeyed the Law and reflected God in their actions, other nations would see this and (ideally) desire to have a relationship with this God as well.

Now, why did I keep this a “secret”? Why did I only preach six principles instead of seven? The simple answer is, I thought that it was a bit overload for the time I had allotted to preach the material. Yes, there are missional elements in Exodus (see the “mixed multitude” of 12:38). Yes, every law in Exodus has a missional element as well. But in the time I had to preach, I simply and pragmatically felt it would be too much for the moment.

And also, it will likely show up when we get to Exodus 33-34. I think it might be a more natural outflow of some of the concerns Moses has with God’s desire to destroy Israel (see 32:12, 33:16). Look forward to hearing more when we get there.

So for now, it’s a “secret.” But just remember – God has always had a heart for His people and those that don’t know Him. Let this be an encouragement for you to share the Gospel with someone around you today.

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