Friday, 19 September 2008

Grace and Law in Exodus

This is part of what we have been doing in our Bible study group. We're looking at the identity of the God of the Old Testament. As Deut 4:32-39 makes clear, God saved Israel and revealed himself to them in word and deed in order that they might know who he is. God's identity is constituted through his salvific action:

Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. 6 Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. 7 I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. 8 I will bring you into rthe land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.’ ” (Exod 6:5-8)
This salvation provides the context for obedience to the law:

You yourselves have seenwhat I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagle's wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession(Exod 19:4-5)
This is seen in the Decalogue itself. God doesn't start with "You shall have no other gods before me" but rather

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me" (Exod 20:2-3)
This is seen even more clearly in Deuteronomy, where the whole historical prologue, chapters 1-4, precedes the Decalogue in chapter 5.

Fulfilling God's will then, is not a matter of striving to comply to an abstract moral system. It is a response to the redemptive work of God in your life, who calls you into service as a result. Fulfilling God's will is a matter of thankfulness for what God has done.

This echoes the New Testament:

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you (John 15:12)

We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19; see also Rom 12:1).

Sin, then, is not a matter of "missing the mark" in any abstract sense. It is a matter of forgetfulness of what God has done and who he is:

Sons I have reared and brought up,
but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its owner,
and the ass its master's crib;
but Israel does not know,
my people does not understand. (Isa 1:2-3)


they exchanged the glory of God
for the image of an ox that eats grass,
they forgot God, their Saviour,
who had done great things in Egypt (Ps 16:20-21).


there is no faithfulness or kindness,
and no knowledge of God in the land;
there is swearing, lying, killing, stealing, and adulery ...
and the land mourns (Hos 4:1-3)

These thoughts are taken from Christ Wright's Old Testment Ethics (reviewed here) and Childs' Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context.

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