The Law: Part One
Theme Verses: Deut. 10:14To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Deut. 10:18He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. 2 Cor. 9:8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. James 1:27Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Study Texts: Exodus 16:1-35; Numbers 11:4-15; Matthew 6:9-13; Leviticus 1-7; Numbers 18; Leviticus 5:5-13; 12:6-8; 14:19-22; Exodus 13:1-16; 22:29-30; 23:19a; Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 18:3-5; Numbers 15:17-21; Deuteronomy 14:28-29
The Law and the Land
The Law can be summed up in one word: love. It was given to Israel not because God wanted them to become His people but because they were His people. The Law was an expression of holy living. It was a guide for Israel, not just in how they were to conduct their sacrifices or religious rites, but in how they related to each other and to God in everyday life. Socioeconomic issues take up a large portion of the Law. The Law extended into Israel’s business practices, acquisition of debt and repayment and court cases. The poor, needy, strangers, widows and orphans were singled out as those who were in need of special care. They were given privileges the wealthy did not have.
We usually think of the “Promise Land” as place flowing with milk and honey. God describes it this way in many passages. This did not mean that God would magically rain down food, clothing and shelter on those who were poor. The Law attests to the fact that once Israel entered the land, there would still be poor people among them. Their care and needs would be placed in the hands of the wealthy. God expected those who were wealthy to be responsible for those who lacked resources to survive. That was how the community of Israel was going to survive. That was how they expressed love.
Questions for Home Study and Class Interaction
1. God gave Israel manna in the desert to supply their needs, but warned them not to collect more than they needed for one day (Exodus 16:4-8, 18). Why were these stipulations made? What principle can we learn from this?
The setting for Exodus 16 is shortly after the defeat of the Egyptians at the Red Sea, one month after leaving Egypt. Israel had reached the Wilderness of Sin and began to complain they would starve to death because there was no food. They wanted to return to Egypt where they had been fed, forgetting the hardships they experienced as slaves. They also complained they no longer had meat, which is ironic, considering slaves rarely ate meat. They must have been thinking of the few times they were privileged to eat it. In the wilderness, they believed they would starve to death, forgetting the God who delivered them from captivity. They went so far as to suggest Moses had led them intentionally into the wilderness to starve to death. So God sent them manna (Meaning “what is it?”) as a test. This test of their faithfulness could be: 1) not to gather more than they were commanded in a day (thus a test of their obedience), 2) to show that they were trusting in God’s ability to provide (thus testing their dependence and trust in God), or 3) both. They were to only gather one days worth of food, except on Friday, because they were forbidden to gather it on Saturday. They gathered two days worth on Friday. They were also given quail to eat (see also Numbers 11:31), but it is uncertain if this was a perpetual gift or given sporadically. There are few references to this. They gathered one omer, about one gallon or one cup; it is difficult to know what the word means. And all Israel was to gather the same amount of rations per individual. No one was to have too much or too little. All of Israel would have their needs fulfilled. God cared for his people and he supplied them with sustenance.
2. How did Israel respond to God’s gift of manna (Numbers 11:4-15)? What did they want from God? What can we learn from this text about human nature?
In Numbers 11, Israel began their march through the Sinai Peninsula toward the Promised Land. They began to complain not of lack of food, but of having to eat the same thing over and over again. They wanted the variety they had in Egypt. In verse 18, they claimed to have been “well-off in Egypt”, not thinking of the slavery, but the delicacies they were able to consume. They wanted delicacies and good food, not just manna. They complained to Moses and Moses went to God, complaining himself of the horrible task of leading these people. God sent them quail, but not as blessing but a punishment. There were so many sent that they piled up 3 feet high in places (vvs. 31-35). When they took their first bite of the meat, God struck them with a plague, killing those who were greedy (probably those in v. 4). In vvs 19-20, God told Moses he would force Israel to eat them until the meat was coming out of their noses (the Greek version has “until the were nauseated”). Israel had become ungrateful and greedy. The place where this occurred was called Kibroth-hattaavah, meaning “graves of greediness” or “graves of craving”. God showed Israel the serious effects that greed had on them. He regarded their greed as such a problem that he had to kill those who were guilty of it.
3. Compare the concept of manna to Jesus’ statement in Matthew 6:11. What does Jesus say we should expect from God in terms of fulfillment of physical needs? Do His expectations match our expectations?
In what is termed as the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus told his disciples to pray for their “daily bread”, not an abundance of food. Jesus told them essentially to ask God to fulfill their needs physically. God is concerned for the welfare of his people, but we as his people must be careful to make a distinction between needs and cravings/ desires. God only promises what we need and no more in this context. When we pray for more than that, we may be treading on dangerous territory if it is for our own interest.
4. Read Leviticus 1-7 (in your Bible) and Numbers 18 regarding the nature of the sacrifices God required of the Israelites. To whom were the sacrifices given? What type of sacrifices were given?
The sacrificial system was given to Israel as a gift from God, not a system to burden them (Isaiah 43:23). It was to be an experience which led each Israelite closer to God. Through the bloody rite of sacrificing animals, Israel saw the devastating effects of sin and the need for blood in the atoning process. The religious implications were powerfully expressed. But the system had other implications. Sacrifices were both religiously and socially oriented. The priest were not given territory within the Promised Land. Their source of income came from the sacrifices. Not all the sacrifices were destroyed or burned completely like the whole burnt offering. What was left over was given either to the family and the priest (the fellowship offering) or the priest alone. And not just any food. The priest ate the food God was given. They ate from the best of their fellow Israelites’ crops and herds.
God was given the first portion and the fat. The fat was given to God not because of health reasons, but because it was regarded as the best portion. Fat is used in the OT texts to represent the best (Genesis 45:18; Psalms 81:17). God still stood out from the priesthood, but shared with his servants the gifts brought to him by Israel. The received the unblemished animals as payment. This proved to Israel the value of their service. They were the mediators and teachers of the Law. They were given a special, privileged position among the people. Israel was to honor them in that position.
5. Were all Israelites expected to give the same sacrifices (Leviticus 5:7-11; 12:8; 14:21-22)? What are the implications of this?
The gifts that were expected from the people differed on the bases of their socioeconomic status. The poor were not expected to bring expensive sacrifices and the wealthy brought the more expensive sacrifices. God expected more from those who had more.
6. What was the significance of giving the “first” (Exodus 13:1-16; 22:29-30; 23:19; Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 18:4; Numbers 15:17-21)? What kind of gifts do we give? Do we give our best or what we no longer use? What should we give?
In Israel, the first was given a special significance, tying it back into the Exodus when God killed the firstborn in Egypt and redeemed them from slavery. All belonged to God and could not be used until it was first dedicated to him by giving a portion as a sacrifice. Very little was excluded. There was the first dough (Numbers 15:17-21), the firstborn (Exodus 13:1-16; 22:29-30; 23:19), and the first fruits (Deuteronomy 18:3-4). Israel was to give to God their very best. He could be given nothing less.
7.The Israelites were to tithe every year. What did they do with their tithes every third year (Deuteronomy 14:28-29)? What should we learn from this principle? How would we feel if every third year we were to give 10% of our annual income to the needy and missionaries? What obstacles might we have in accomplishing this? Do these obstacles justify our not pursuing a similar practice?
Tithing was done every year in Israel. Ten percent of crops, herds and flocks were taken to the sanctuary/ temple and given to the Levites. The way animals were chosen for tithing was by counting them as they entered the pastures (probably what “under the rod” indicated in Leviticus 27:32-33), and each tenth animal was given as the tithe. The person tithing could not substitute an animal(s), so if all of their best passed under the rod, all of their best was to be given. There was no room in God’s kingdom for greed. The purpose of tithing was so Israel could “fear the Lord.” Other ancient near eastern cultures would hold harvest festivals in honor of their gods to dedicate the harvest to them. God wanted to make certain such a practice did not take place in Israel, but that they honored him as their provider. Sadly, such was not the case in Israel’s history. Baal got much of that credit.
Every third year, the tithes were apparently done differently. All the tithes were taken to local towns and redistributed among the needy and strangers. In Deuteronomy 26:12-15, a confessional formula was spoken during this event. God made certain that Israel understood his interest in the poor. Those gifts given in thanksgiving to God were shared with those who were needy. The poor and strangers had God’s attention.
Note: in the Greek translation of the OT (the Septuagint), it differs in its understanding of Deuteronomy 26:12. It translates it in a way that indicates that third year offering given to the poor was not the ten percent tithe that went to the Levites annually, but an additional ten percent tithe. Israel was then to tithe 20% that year. This has support in a later apocryphal book Tobit 1:7 (a Jewish book written about 190-170 BC) and in Josephus 4.8.22 lines 240-43.
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