I shared in my previous blog that the lectionary for Morning Prayer had skipped several chapters in Exodus. This is done because there are only so many days and so much room. The motivation of the editing may not all be wholesome, but choices have to be made and everything cannot be included.
[side note: Many churches do not use lectionaries, it is the choice of preacher. This also entails editing. I prefer a lectionary because it keeps me from making the choice and it is something which Jesus did as well. In fact. some smart scholars have been able to connect Jesus' teaching (especially in John) with the lectionary in use in His time. The readings and His "preaching" are connected.]
Exodus 21-23 is called the Book of the Covenant. It follows on The Ten Words (10 commandments in our usage) and covers lots of themes. It is probably helpful to see these laws as filling in the "10" and explaining what it means to do/not do the things God demands. There is no differentiation between cultic and moral laws. The ancient life was more holistic and integrated than ours. Too often we compartmentalize things (which can lead to minimizing things). I try to remember that the Jewish Law was not created by Jews, it was given to Jews. It was God's law. It still is. And figuring out how that all works is very complex and confusing.
Some laws govern the treatment of slaves (Hebrew slaves are freed in he seventh year) and are hard for us to fathom. Does God condone slavery? And what exactly was slavery at that time? How is it different from the lack of freedom we experience now?
The list of capital offenses is interesting. You are put to death for murder, but those who murder in the heat of the moment can flee to the altar. Premeditated murder, however, can not be escaped, even at the altar. Kidnappers are executed, as are those who strike or curse their parents. The proverbial "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth actually begins with life for life and then includes hand, foot, burn, wound and stripe. It is all about balance and justice. This occurs in conjunction with the punishment for hitting a pregnant woman and causing a miscarriage. The person is fined. As a pro-life person that is troubling. Additionally, witchcraft, bestiality and worship of foreign gods are capital offenses.
What is surprising is the demand that you take no interest on a loan to the poor or curse a leader (two American institutions!). And for all the assumptions that the New Testament is more loving than the Old, the Israelites are told to help an enemy in need if he is having trouble! It also says you cannot pervert justice on behalf of the poor (I blogged on this years ago) or the rich. Justice is blind! And God seems to have said it should be. There is a stern warning to not aid and abet those engaged in evil practices. You are to give the first fruits to God.
To say, in theory, that we are not bound by the Law is fine, but everyone knows that we who believe in Jesus are still called to do right. The Law was in flux even in ancient times. New situations, deeper insight and understanding led to shifts. It is the nature of life. Yet the meditation on these three chapters would be fruitful and useful. Some things we may reject, others we may nuance, but some would be as appropriate and as challenging today as they were three thousand years ago. Check it out, what do you think?