Not Even the Best of Us

Not Even the Best of Us

by Chassidy Rogers

When Jesus is asked in Matthew 22 what the greatest commandment was, he replies, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Jesus essentially tells the Pharisees who had questioned him that all of the Law of God could be summed up in these two ways- Love the Lord with every part of you, and love your neighbor as yourself. If you do these two things, you’ve fulfilled or obeyed the Law.
The problem, of course, is that we can’t do that. Not perfectly, anyway. Not even the best of us, on our best day.
We find ourselves today in Exodus chapters 21 and 22. Just one chapter ago we read of God giving Israel the ten commandments. Here’s a brief run through of what he tells them: Have no other Gods before me. Don’t make a carved image of anything to bow down to and worship. Don’t take my name in vain. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Honor your father and mother. Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Do not covet.
And yet, as we read through chapters 21 and 22, we see phrases like the following, “Whoever strikes a man so that he dies……Whoever strikes his father and mother…..whoever steals a man and sells him……whoever curses his father and mother……if a man steals an ox or sheep…….if a man seduces a virgin to lay with her……you shall not revile God….”
Does any of that sound familiar? In the ten commandments, Israel was given the proper way of living in covenant with God. And then right after, God gives them guidelines for what to do when they don’t live in or keep up their side of that covenant.
Remember our problem? It’s the same problem the Israelites had. They can’t live up to the law. They can’t obey it. Not perfectly. Not even the best of them on their best day.
They shouldn’t murder, but when they do…..They should honor their father and mother, but when they don’t…..they shouldn’t steal, but when they do…..
It’s easy to think as we read through this list that God is condoning these various offenses. But that’s not the case. Another encounter Jesus has with the Pharisees can give us insight on this.
In Matthew 19 when asked about divorce, Jesus replies telling them God’s good design for marriage- that a man and woman should become one flesh and not separate. The Pharisees then ask why Moses commanded someone to give a certificate of divorce and send their wife away. Jesus replies, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”
Jesus replies that it’s only because of sin, the results of the fall, that things like this happen. Not only divorce, but anything outside of God’s good design.
Murder, theft, dishonoring parents, adultery, reviling God- all of these things take place because of sin, because of the fall. So God gives the people the ten commandments, but he knows they can’t keep them. So he provides guidelines for them for when they break the law, here is what you do.
This doesn’t mean he wants them to break the law. But he knows they will. He doesn’t want his people to murder, steal, dishonor, commit adultery, revile him. That’s not his good design. But he knows they will.
He knows our frame, after all.
It’s helpful to remember as we read through chapters like these that God not only set Israel apart in a spiritual way, but also as a nation. And coming out of Egypt, God was giving them civil guidelines as well. He was teaching them how to be a nation.
He doesn’t give them these guidelines in chapters 21-22 because he wants them to break the law; He gives them because he knows they will.
I’m reminded of a few things here:
First- the love of God. Even though he knows his people will disobey, he still enters into covenant with them.
Second, the grace of God. He knows they will break the law, and he tells them what to do when that happens.
Third, the thoughtfulness of God. He cares for his creatures- from the slave to free, male and female, ox and sheep, even the fields he’s made- nothing is outside of his sight or creative care.
Lastly, the sacrifice of God. We can’t fulfill the law. Yet, Romans 3 tells us, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”
Praise be to God.

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