“The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous.” (Psalm 19.8-9)
There is beauty in the Law of God. The Law shows us God, and the way to walk with Him. Israel is given this Law so that she might be a society filled with the beauty of justice, love, compassion and integrity. These two chapters, full of laws, are really notes to the Ten Commandments, we might say, filling out their application in the complexities of every-day living.
Freedom and Service (21.1-11)
After giving Moses the Ten Commandments, God gives detailed law, the first being instructions on servants. For a people who were used to service and who were just weeks on from being slaves, this seems like a great place to begin ordering their new, just society.
These laws ensure that service is not a life-condition, unless the individual wants that (vv.1-7). There are also laws here to protect the rights of women, something so little recognised in the Ancient World (vv.7-11). These laws are an expression of the Sixth Commandment, do not murder, and envision a society where the most vulnerable are protected and treated as equal members of society. Then think of those who work long hours on low wages in shops, factories, the care sector; don’t you want dignity and protection for them? God does. His law speaks on their behalf.
Justice for All (vv.12-36)
Life is precious, and sacred. It is God’s gift, to be honoured by all. God gives the death penalty for murder (vv.12, 14), but He also ensures that there are laws to prevent a hasty and wrong application of that sentence (v.13). Then there are the laws which regulate punishments for injury. In an angry world people will fight and injure others, and these laws tell the Israelites the various penalties for different situations (vv.15-27). Justice must be the hallmark of sentences. Neither leniency which will foster a desire to vengeance from those injured, nor excessive punishment on the guilty which goes beyond the scale of the crime, will bring true justice. “Eye for eye” is justice which maintains civil order, and reflects God’s integrity (v.24).
Alongside the harm people do to each other, this agrarian society needs laws which extend to dangerous animals, and which also safeguard animals as property (vv.28-36). Animal rights are not a modern secular construct, but a God-honouring and God-ordained aspect of the just society.
Looking after what isn’t yours (22.1-15)
From care for people, protection of life, and through laws about livestock, we now have laws about property. Theft is very, very serious, whether it is from the field or the home (2. 1-4). Even accidental loss or destruction of property must be dealt with (vv.5-6). God’s Law legislates for the complexities of life, where property is lent, and then lost, stolen or damaged (vv.7-15). No, this is not an exciting section of God’s Word, but it speaks of His concern for the details of society, and charges us to reflect His own fair dealings with one another.
Caring, always (vv.23-31)
I count fourteen commands in vv.16-31, as different from each other as civil laws can be. Read them slowly, and think about them. They teach you to be careful in how you relate to others, and compassionate towards all. Above all, they teach you to care about you live, because you live your life before God. Because of Christ the great Law-keeper, we are God’s holy people (compare v.31). By His Spirit we walk in His ways, as we love to do so. And as we do He builds His new society.