Intensifying the Rules

So, your newly licensed teenager is asking to borrow the family car. They have been responsible; they have passed the test; they seem generally trustworthy. You go over some ground rules – like obeying those inconvenient signs that want you to drive 25 miles an hour within residential areas along with all manner of driving laws. Operating a vehicle comes with a huge responsibility. And on their maiden trip into the brave new world of being a license bearing driver, they drive where you told them not to drive and receive a ticket for ignoring those annoying speed limit signs. Not to make this too much of an issue, but they basically trampled all over your trust in them. Do you ban them for life? Down the road at a pre-determined time (like when they turn fifty) you will probably let them drive again. And when you do, you will most likely go over the whole rule thing again. And you just might intensify those rules. That might be appropriate.

Exodus 34:10-28 is all about covenant renewal; a reestablishing of ruined relationship. God doesn’t mention renewal however. It is almost as if he is starting over without mention of the past. Sometimes that may be exactly what is needed. He is in the process of cutting a covenant and as proof of his presence he will again do extraordinary deeds. These actions will be something new; never before seen on the earth; fearfully awesome. Again, the Presence of Yahweh is terrifyingly beautiful. One of these extraordinary works will be to drive out the people of Canaan before the Israelites so that they can possess the land. And with this amazing action comes a warning: cut no covenant with them. God is cutting a covenant with Israel. They are not to turn around making covenants willy-nilly with the people. God’s biggest concern is that they will be unfaithful and prostitute themselves out to other gods. God’s name or character is Jealous. When he makes a covenant he expects faithfulness. Notice the progression leading to idolatry here. It may begin with an seemingly innocent invitation to a sacrificial meal. It’s just a meal after all. Then, they might just begin to make marriage arrangements. And then, BOOM! You have idolatry. Verses 11-16 deals with the first and second commands of the Ten Words. It is also repetitive and most likely on purpose. This is exactly where they had just messed up.

What follows is a series of commandments that are found earlier. Some of these are given verbatim and some contain the basic substance of the earlier stated command. The instructions of the Passover are found in 23:15. The passage dealing with first-born offerings or redemptions (vv. 19-20) is found in 13:12-13. The Sabbath law (v. 21) is also found in 23:12. It is stressed here that they are not to work on the Sabbath even during plowing and harvest. It would have been tempting to keep working during these busy times. Yeah, we humans don’t like to interrupt working for our physical needs to spend a bit of time focusing on the spiritual stuff. Verses 22-23 deal with two more feasts (Feast of Weeks and Feast of Ingathering. Also found in 23:14-16) and combines these with Passover. These three feasts are the Pilgrimage Feasts; the feasts that all males are to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate Yahweh and his providence. Verse 24 gives a promise that basically removes what may have been an excuse not to travel all the way to Jerusalem. While they were in Jerusalem, God would make sure that no one would covet (the tenth commandment) their land and take it over. No “if I go traipsing off to Jerusalem, some ornery low down punk will come steal my land” excuse here. The first fruit of the harvest is God’s (23:19a). And a young goat is not to be boiled in its mother’s milk (also found in 23:19b). This may have been about avoiding some fertility rite the Canaanites practiced.

Moses is commanded to write down these words. Wait a minute! In verse 1 Yahweh said he would write down the words. Most likely Yahweh wrote down the Ten Words again and then had Moses write the rest. Moses was again up on the mountain for forty days. Writing on rock is not a quick endeavor.

God is and always has been about redemption. Jesus came inaugurating a new age; writing a new commandment on our hearts. Some believe this has made everything easier and in some ways it has. But if you read through Matthew 5-7 you will discover that he has intensified the rules. He said that it is no longer merely about the physical act of murder. It is about hatred in your heart. It is about lust in your heart. It is about you and the Holy Spirit cleaning up inside out; scrubbing until you are a new man; redeemed!