Workplace Safety II

Have you ever let someone, a friend maybe, borrow something of yours, only to have them break it? I hate that. At least I hate it when they had me back the broken thing I lent them. Sucks to be me, I guess. That’s not exactly God’s perspective. For God, it seems that, “you break it, you bought it” rings more true.

“If a man opens a pit, or digs a pit and does not cover it over, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall make restitution; he shall give money to its owner, and the dead animal shall become his.

Exodus 21:33,34 NASB

Keeping a workplace safe isn’t just about the employees, it’s also about the things used in the course of the work. If a business owner borrows material needed to conduct business, then he has a responsibility to keep the material safe and in good working order. That means that, if the workplace is destructive to whatever is borrowed to conduct business, steps should be taken to protect the material.

I have a side job working for a coffee bar. In this job, the owner relies on material supplied by a vendor to provide coffee. It’s a great vendor. They provide training, but also coffee machines. They do this to promote small coffee shop business, and in turn grow their own business. But what happens when one of the young barista’s breaks one of their machines? The vendor has a choice, but so does the business owner. According to this passage, the business owner is liable, or at least should try to be.

But this particular law would probably apply better to “facilities”, where holes to do more plumbing were to be done, or run various types of cables underground. What about utility companies running their utilities underground along a roadway? There are lots of reasons businesses dig in the ground these days. This rule basically says, cover the pit, or pay for damages. Our society agrees, even 4,000 years later. Go figure.

“If one man’s ox hurts another’s so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and divide its price equally; and also they shall divide the dead ox. Or if it is known that the ox was previously in the habit of goring, yet its owner has not confined it, he shall surely pay ox for ox, and the dead animal shall become his.

Exodus 21:35,36 NASB

Don’t you hate it when oxen fight? The point here isn’t the oxen, but the responsibility of the business owner. If the ox hadn’t done this before, then they split the benefit and cost. Rather than try to figure out which ox is to blame, or started the fight, just divide the ox, both live and dead (someone’s grilling tonight!). This prevents the sort of useless fighting that divides and unbalances a community.

On the other hand, if a business owner knows about the condition of the ox (for instance, he bought an ox that killed another), and doesn’t restrain it. That’s the point here. The business owner needs to keep his workplace safe. In the coffee shop illustration, the machines need to be safe to work with. In the coffee shop, that means they have to have the right sort of electrical setup, 240-volt outlets and the right amperage. If they don’t, they’re not safe, and neither are those who work with them.

Sure, keeping a workplace safe is expensive, but it’s important. If those who have the means to be an employer don’t keep the employees safe, they fail, and are subject to punishment. If they try, but “stuff happens”, that’s not on them. In our society though, we want to punish everyone involved to ridiculous levels. These workplace safety laws hold business owners accountable, but also strive for balance. Ironically, the political mantra of the early 21st century, “It’s the economy, stupid” also applies here. But for greed, few get it, whether business owners or those hurt at work.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Workplace Safety I

In the days of the Industrial Revolution, the workplace became a deadly place. Even wounds could become deadly, and wounding wasn’t uncommon. The combination of ridiculously long hours, dangerous equipment, and little or no training made the mills and manufacturing plants dangerous indeed. Times have changed. Now it’s typically more dangerous to own a factory or business than work in one. Our society has progressed! On the other hand, have we progressed to the point of the sons of Israel?

“If a man strikes the eye of his male or female slave, and destroys it, he shall let him go free on account of his eye. And if he knocks out a tooth of his male or female slave, he shall let him go free on account of his tooth.

Exodus 21:26,27 NASB

The treatment of slave owners of slaves is addressed here, and the loss of a body part, tooth to eye, resulted in their freedom. The rule clearly holds slave-owners responsible for how they treat those in that condition in their household. Back in verses 20 and 21, we saw that striking a slave, but not killing them didn’t result in the death of the slave owner. Yet, now we learn that striking them, and damaging their eyes or teeth results in their freedom, the loss of any service the master would have gained from them.

This law, again, protects those who are unable to protect themselves. And limits the penalty of those who might be helpful to the poor with their wealth. It keeps people in this society functioning. The point is to live in the land honoring God, but God allows that the stuff of life gets in the way. The details of living, bad choices, and bad circumstances distract from honoring Him. So, these rules are designed to reset the balance. A safe workplace is part of that balance.

“If an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall surely be stoned and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall go unpunished.

Exodus 21:28 NASB

This verse is clearly about the safety of working on a farm. The owner of the farm, animals and land, is held accountable for the safety of those he employs, and slaves. An ox is a crucial component to farming in that day. They were like modern tractors in that they were used for all sorts of things, not just plowing. The strength of the ox is what enabled a farm to function, whether olives, grapes, or grains were grown. But that necessary implement of farming had to be kept in check.

If, however, an ox was previously in the habit of goring and its owner has been warned, yet he does not confine it and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned and its owner also shall be put to death. If a ransom is demanded of him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is demanded of him. Whether it gores a son or a daughter, it shall be done to him according to the same rule. If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall give his or her master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.

Exodus 21:29-32 NASB

Knowing of the problem with an ox and not taking proper precautions results in death, of the ox, but also of the owner. He can be redeemed, but he doesn’t set the redemption amount. This is an issue God takes very seriously. Owners/Employers have a grave responsibility before God to care for their employees.

Holding those who have the means to employ others accountable brings balance to the economy. When the wealthy have no accountability, they will naturally oppress those with less power. Expecting them to moderate themselves is foolish. On the other hand, to excessively favor the employee disrupts the balance of an economy. To make it inordinately expensive to go into business increases risk, and lowers the return. That’s inhibits business. Business owners need to be held accountable, not punished for being in business.

So, if you own a business, how are you honoring God with how you treat your employees? If you are an employee, how are you honoring God through your work? Those are the two questions we can take away from this passage. Simple? Until we enter the doors of our employment or business. Then it suddenly gets complicated.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Limiting Vengeance

My family, on my dad’s side hales from West Virginia, the land of a famous feud between the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s. It became legendary, and legend suggests it started over a pig, or something equally ridiculous. I now live in a place that had another such feud between families around the turn of the 20th-century. Two settler families hurt and killed one another over river ferry rights. It went on for over 20 years, and now neither family lives in the area.

Vengeance resonates with us, and the role of a “family avenger” goes back thousands of years, well past any sense of “honor”, back to family duty. But, it was supposed to be about justice, not angry vengeance. It was about balance, not just angry aggression. That’s difficult to do when we are wronged, when someone we love is taken from us by another. In our grief we are angry, at the loss, at the pain caused by another, and the fear it could happen again. And in response to these emotions, we want to make sure it never happens to us again.

That is not the way of our Creator. His way is significantly different, and a lot more sensible.

“If men have a quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist, and he does not die but remains in bed, if he gets up and walks around outside on his staff, then he who struck him shall go unpunished; he shall only pay for his loss of time, and shall take care of him until he is completely healed.

Exodus 21:18,19 NASB

I love that phrase, “…he who struck him shall go unpunished”. Think about that. No vengeance for wounding someone. No city of refuge. The only requirement is to pay for his lost wages, and care for him until he recovers. That makes sense. In our day, we have insurance for such things, and don’t even think about it. We go to court to sue, seeking damages, and penalties, but here, we see God’s perspective is to restore balance. In our courts, vengeance seems to reign. But that isn’t the perspective of a disciple of Jesus.

“If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; for he is his property.

Exodus 21:20,21 NASB

This one is more difficult. Here, the status of a slave, something God protected in the first law we looked at, appears relegated to “property”, yet only if injured. If the “owner” kills the slave, the law of the family avenger (blood redeemer) comes into play, along with the city of refuge, and so on. Owning a slave doesn’t entitle the owner to the life, only to the work the slave performs, and if the slave dies due to treatment, the owner is either treated as a murder, or at the minimum, is out all he paid for the person’s work.

It still seems harsh to our 21st-Century sensibilities that if the slave dies after a few days (the damage isn’t that bad), there is no punishment. Now I’m not loving that phrase as much. I don’t like thinking that this debt-slavery issue relegates this fellow Hebrew to property. Clearly, the protection and status of such slavery is limited, even by our Creator. The practice of indenturing isn’t a great institution after all. Our Creator and Savior limits the bad effects, but it’s still bad. On the other hand, wait for tomorrow.

“If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life,

Exodus 21:22,23 NASB

Does anyone else wonder how often this happened? Is it really enough that it winds up in the legal code? But think through the concepts at work. The life of the infant is what is at issue. If the infant dies, then the incident is handled as a killing. If it is injury, then the family and judges decide the penalty, but with limits. This next statement, in my opinion, is the point of the capital punishment and limiting laws.

But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

Exodus 21:23-25 NASB

The point is that the penalty does not exceed the crime. The feuding between families happens when the penalty exceeds the crime, or there is no penalty for a crime. When balance becomes crucial, “Capulet-and-Montague” problems can be avoided. And, unfortunately, this is a problem for churches as well. It’s a sad irony, but those confessing Jesus as Lord still succumb to this problem. It happens because of unforgiveness, bitterness, and a failure to live out the lordship of Jesus.

Where have you, perhaps, held resentment, and wanted revenge rather than justice? Where might you need to forgive? Or, where have you failed to punish equitably? Do you need to address a sin which you have let pass? When we, as a community of disciples of Jesus, are commanded to love each other, hold each other accountable, and correct our fellow disciples. In doing so, we help each other on the path of discipleship, leaning on each other as we strive for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Capital Crimes

The death penalty is one of those hot-topics that can start a life-long argument, separate friends, define enemies, and incite a riot. Since another of those topics is religion, it seemed like a great idea to combine both. After covering slavery, including daughter enslavement, how could it get any worse?

“He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.  But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint you a place to which he may flee.  If, however, a man acts presumptuously toward his neighbor, so as to kill him craftily, you are to take him even from My altar, that he may die.

Exodus 21:12-14 NASB

The main law regards one man striking another, resulting in death. But, like the laws regarding slavery, there are corollaries. Notice that, if the hand of God is detected in the death, “…but God let him fall into his hand…”, then a place of refuge is provided to escape the “blood redeemer”. This one suggests the carrying out of the penalty is not performed by an “executioner”, but a “blood redeemer”. This is another family role, like “kinsman redeemer”, only this one redeems the blood of the murdered.

Notice also that one acting craftily against his neighbor, like premeditated murder, then there is no refuge for him, even the sanctuary of worship is no refuge. (You can find the practice of this specifically in 1 Kings 2:28-34. Joab tried it, and it didn’t work for him.) Here, the killer acted against the “hand of God”, in a sense grasping the life from the hand of God. Even so, there is no sheriff, there is no police, judge, jury, bailiff, or executioner. There is the blood redeemer. It’s a different, much simpler community. So, judging it using standards of our 21st-Century society isn’t possible.

“He who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death. He who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.

Exodus 21:15-17 NASB

One of the biggest criticisms of capital punishment is that innocent people can be executed. Most often, you don’t hear a criticism that the “punishment doesn’t fit the crime”, since in our society it always follows homicide. But what if someone were executed for striking their parent? How about “cursing” their parent, would that warrant death? What sort of society punishes such things with death, and who is it a punishment of, the child, or the parent? What would parenting look like in our society if the parents knew that their child could be killed for cursing them? It’s almost impossible to imagine from our perspective, it makes so little sense. And yet, to our Savior, Jesus, it makes sense.

This sort of penalty makes little sense in our society, we would think it excessive, even insane. And, in our society, with the sorts of laws and institutions we have, it would be insane. Yet, these laws indicate something profound. If we, immersed in our society miss the message, then a message of our Savior is lost. Parenting, and the treatment of parents by their children is dear to our Savior. Why? Why is cursing a parent punishable by death? Could it be that our Savior wants us to teach our children that they have a Father in heaven unimaginably greater than ourselves?

Being easy with how our children treat us, accepting mistreatment and disrespect, these things impede our Savior’s reach into their lives. We focus on how harshness and loveless parenting divides children from their Savior, and it does. Our Father in Heaven is neither of those things. But the answer is not to go in the other direction and pander to them.

Remember that our Creator and Redeemer loves us passionately. And yet we suffer. He permits difficulty. He even causes difficulty for us. He disciplines us because He loves us. And yet He never permits us to be destroyed, to fall with no recovery, and to be taken from Him by anyone. It’s not one or the other, it’s both and. We are to parent as we are parented by our Father in heaven.

So, let them live, but let’s not make it easy for our children to disrespect us. They may not be executed by human institutions or laws for their disrespect, but our Father in heaven may take them from us. He will certainly hold them accountable. If you want to protect them, discipline them. It’s important to our Savior.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Unimaginable Character

How often have you run across passages or stories in Scripture that horrify you? How many times have you discovered a passage that you struggle believing is in character of our Savior? If you have found very few, perhaps you can try to imagine Jesus discussing this one:

“If a man sells his daughter as a female slave, she is not to go free as the male slaves do.

Exodus 21:7 NASB

This is one of those passages that are difficult to reconcile with the character we ascribe to Jesus. How could Jesus condone slavery, let alone a father selling his daughter into such an institution? Yet, that same Jesus, ministering to a Samaritan woman one moment, and a woman caught in adultery the next, lived a thousand years after the culture of this law. Think about that, Jesus a thousand years after Moses. So, to judge this law against the culture of first-century Judaism, and especially 21st-century America, looses all sense of perspective. Still, it’s in there, it’s inspired, and Jesus came to fulfill the law rather than abolish the law. That’s a tacit approval of this law.

The circumstances that would drive a father to the necessity of enslaving his daughter would have to be severe, regardless of culture. If the normal rules of debt-slavery were followed (i.e. those for male slaves), then this father would be left with an unmarryable daughter after six years. That becomes clearer as the rest of the corollaries are examined:

If she is displeasing in the eyes of her master who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He does not have authority to sell her to a foreign people because of his unfairness to her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters. If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights. If he will not do these three things for her, then she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.

Exodus 21:8-11 NASB

What is not necessarily obvious here is that God has combined two sets of cultural traditions/laws in order to convert a debt-slavery transaction into a marriage contract. There is no option to sell the woman into typical “slavery”, she remains protected as a fellow Hebrew. In fact, notice that the woman is considered family: She’s either 1) a wife (designated for himself), daughter-in-law (designated for his son), or relative (let her be redeemed – technical term for “kinsman redeemer”). So there are some very serious protections included in these corollaries. If the buyer will not adhere to any of these three, then she goes free and the owner forfeits his payment (i.e. the father keeps the money/loan and gets his daughter back).

Also notice the status of this sort of “wife”. If another wife is acquired in a “normal” fashion, then the “purchased wife” has the same rights, guaranteed. She’s not less of a spouse because of how she entered the household. This protects the rights of the poor, protecting them from exploitation by the wealthy, in fact, such a woman is raised to the status of the wealthy (the “husband” cannot reduce her food or clothing).

Judged from the perspective of Bronze Age Cultures, what our Redeemer has done here is elevate the status of women, protect families, and protect women and the poor from exploitation. So, if you do encounter a 21st-century critic of this law, feel free to ask them why they would be against such things.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Social Legality

It seems that “legalism” among disciples of Jesus has created a situation where a major portion of inspired Scripture has been jettisoned: the Torah. It’s as if the law is irrelevant to modern disciples. What is ironic about this is how difficult it has become to now practically apply the Scripture that is still acceptable. There is an alternative.

What if disciples of Jesus considered the Torah of God was actually helpful, still inspired, and still relevant to a life as a disciple of Jesus? What would that look like? How could someone “saved by grace through faith” find laws helpful? Well, let’s look at some. Here’s one we deal with every day, slavery…

“If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment.

Exodus 21:2 NASB

And this is where the typical believer points out that this has no relevance to their lives, and that they even find it embarrassing that God would have a law encouraging slavery. It’s time to be atypical. Read that through. “If you buy a Hebrew slave…” Why would that even happen? It happened when a Hebrew became impoverished and needed money to keep the family farm afloat. This is an indentured servant, not a captive of war or arbitrary enslavement of a race of people. It served that culture as a way to make money without putting up the farm as security. Instead it was the physical labor of a person.

But keep reading, “he shall serve for six years…” there is a legal limit to how much work or how long this person works. It’s not a life sentence, it’s not a curse or a sign they’ve lost everything. It’s not the end of the world. It’s a six-year agreement. Most loans are for longer than that, even for cars. This law refuses to demean a Hebrew who is suffering some sort of financial setback or loss. It protects him from being abused by those with more money.

But there are other problems that could stem from this cultural practice.

If he comes alone, he shall go out alone; if he is the husband of a wife, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife, and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall belong to her master, and he shall go out alone.

Exodus 21:3-4 NASB

The first part protects both the person who “buys” the Hebrew’s work for six years and the Hebrew bought. If he comes in unmarried, he’s not allowed to take another slave with him (no running off with another slave who’s time isn’t up yet). That part makes sense. If he’s married when he becomes a slave (the “master” got a “two-fer”), he leaves with the wife. There’s no breaking up a family unit which was intact to begin with.

But this sets up the next statement which is hard, and protects the slave-owner. If the slave-owner joins one of his female slaves to the Hebrew slave, she stays after the six years. And this is the rule, even if there are children. To understand this better, it may be helpful to read ahead to the law about female “slaves” (maidservants), but that isn’t the only instance. It could be a foreign female slave in view here. Either way, ownership which was there before the union remains after the freeing of the male slave. It’s a problem, a serious one, and God is interested keeping families together, and has a solution.

But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man,’ then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently.

Exodus 21:5-6 NASB

This is a very cultural law, but it solves the problem of broken families. The other option is for the slave to go out alone, and earn enough to redeem his family. That could be a problem if poverty caused his situation in the first place. The reality is that it would better to remain a slave if he truly wanted to keep his family together. And, judged from this culture in this time, it’s a horrible situation. And it wasn’t great in their day either. But keep in mind that Paul makes rules about household slaves and their owners in Ephesians 6.

Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.
And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.

Ephesians 6:5-9 NASB

Keep in mind this is a very different sort of slavery than what was practiced in Europe and the United States during the 18th and 19th Centuries. This was voluntary and clearly temporary. It was a “contract” between two people. What the law was designed to do was protect the poor, limit the power of the rich, but also protect “property rights”. While we may judge this culture of the 13th Century BC harshly by our 21st Century AD mores and culture, the truth is that our Creator is clearly interested in how the rich treat those less fortunate, and how the poor are not to be allowed to disrupt the economy (read it again).

When we judge this rule by the standards of our culture then we miss the message of our Savior. He is interested in how we treat those less fortunate, and those more fortunate. We assume the former, and forget the latter. Both have responsibilities. Both are answerable to the same Creator.

As Paul points out, “…both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.” We forget that. But our Savior does not. We can learn from these forgotten and disregarded, ignored legal texts. And this is just the first lesson. More to come.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Eyeing Your Neighbor

Can we all agree that our culture is obsessed with the “stuff of life” rather than the living of it? It seems like, even to mention living life, requires the right set of stuff to do so, and if you don’t have that set, you’re not actually living to the fullest. That’s a generalization. Some are striving to simplify, but honestly, there’s a “market” for that as well (Google “simplify my life”, and hit the “Shopping” link in the results – it’s crazy).

The tenth law of the Decalogue is about “coveting”:

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Exodus 20:17 NASB

It sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? You shall not covet, how hard can it be? Yet, when your neighbor gets something new, or new to them, do you notice? Do you consider the cost, the potential for you to acquire the same thing or something even better? Maybe not. Perhaps you are more admiring of their ability, intelligence, or luck, perhaps? Coveting doesn’t have to be about noting their recent purchase of a rhinoceros, and thinking how you’ve always wanted one of those. Sometimes it’s that they could buy one, and you wouldn’t even know where to shop for an affordable puppy.

The process of comparing ourselves to others, and measuring ourselves by the standards of others, is common, constant, and exhausting. I’m tired just writing about it. The thing is, there’s more at stake than I think we realize.

For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

Ephesians 5:5 NASB (emphasis mine)

It turns out that this law violates the first and second ones. What a horror to discover that these laws are interrelated! Oh wait. We sort of already knew that, or we should have. The greatest commandment isn’t even one of the Ten Commandments, and the second greatest isn’t either. The summary commands go together. Paul points out in the connection in Romans:

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13:8-10 NASB

Jesus gave priority to the “Shema”, the call to Israel to listen and love God with their whole being. Yet Paul clarifies that the law is actually summarized in how we treat others, loving them as we love ourselves. How can he do that? How can he dodge loving our Creator with our entire being? He doesn’t. He has spent nearly 12 chapters pointing out that it is impossible to love others without loving Jesus with our whole being. He has pointed out that without the law we wouldn’t know sin, without the standard of our Creator there is no understanding of how much we need Him, and without Him there is no meeting the standard. Yet with Him all things are possible, including obedience.

When we covet, we live trapped in a belief that our Creator is not sufficient for us. When we do that, He is no longer our first love.

When we love others so freely we rejoice when they succeed, even in midst of our own defeat, we live out a belief that our Creator is wholly sufficient for everything we need. Believe first, the rest is the result of the belief. Believe that, and we will never covet, murder, steal, commit adultery or bring false testimony. It’s all connected.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Self and Love of Others

Loving God and loving others as yourself summarize the law and prophets. Jesus says so, a lot, or at least in three of the Gospels. So, how does loving our neighbor as ourselves correspond to laws 6 through 9 of the Ten Commandments?

“You shall not murder.
“You shall not commit adultery.
“You shall not steal.
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Exodus 20:13-16 NASB

It may sound like it’s obvious, and perhaps it is. Think through what Jesus claims:

But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “ ‘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 foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:34-40 NASB

Or my favorite:

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that HE is One, and there is no one else besides Him; and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions.

Mark 12:28-34 NASB

The first three, possibly four, laws of the ten are about our devotion to our Creator and Savior. The rest are about how we treat others, “No murder, adultery, stealing, or lying in court.” So, how are these four laws summarized as “Love your neighbor as yourself”? C.S. Lewis has a great examination of this summarized law of loving your neighbor. In Mere Christianity, he examines what he calls, “do as I would be done by”, or the Golden Rule of “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” But it’s derived from this law to love your neighbor as yourself.

I don’t want to plow his field again, he got it spot on. Instead, I want to bring out something he points out that I found very illuminating. He said:

Now that I come to think of it, I have not exactly got a feeling of fondness or affection for myself, and I do not always enjoy my own society. So apparently “Love your neighbor” does not mean “feel fond of him” or “find him attractive.” I ought to have seen that before, because, of course, you cannot feel fond of a person by trying. Do I think well of myself, think myself a nice chap? Well, I’m afraid I sometimes do (and these are, no doubt, my worst moments) but that is not why I love myself. It is the other way round: my self-love makes me think myself nice, but thinking myself nice is not why I love myself. So loving my enemies does not apparently mean thinking them nice either…Go a step further. In my most clear-sighted moments not only do I not think myself a nice man, but I know that I am a very nasty one.

Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity, pg 90, Macmillian Publishing Company, 1952 .

So, love of others isn’t predicated on particularly liking ourselves. Lewis goes on to point out that we care for ourselves even though we don’t like ourselves. And, in much the same way, we are supposed to love others regardless of whether we like them or not. We are to love them even if they are very nasty sorts of people, just as we are, occasionally. Yet, where’s the point of connection with these four laws?

“Don’t murder” might be the easiest one since we’re more likely to preserve our lives than to destroy ourselves. And, even in the case of suicide, there is often a selfish element (though, not always, and that is not a simple issue). But it is safe to say we are generally more likely to preserve our lives than destroy ourselves. So, the command not to murder fits, in fact, a case could be made that we are to save lives, moving from a prohibition to an encouragement.

“Don’t steal” may be more difficult to see in relation to how we treat or love ourselves. We don’t typically “steal” from ourselves. On the other hand, we tend to consider our “stuff” to be worth protecting, sort of like our lives. In fact, we tend to tie our “stuff” very closely to our “lives” (which is not a wonderful approach). In this way, caring for the stuff of others includes stealing it, but it also means carrying for anything of theirs in our possession.

“Don’t be an adulterer” actually fits well with “stealing”, just stealing another person’s spouse. On the other hand, adultery is often tied to selfishness. Desires are met without regard for the effects this will have on others. For many people, desires rule their actions, making whatever they want to do more valuable than relationships. But, if we seek the desires of others over ourselves, or consider the desires of others as we decide our own actions, then selfishness is less likely to drive us. We love as we love ourselves when we attempt to fulfill the desires of our spouse as we want to fulfill our own desires.

Finally, “Don’t lie in court” seeks honesty in legal dealings, perhaps in the city gate, but can also be business transactions. The idea here is that we, in such situations, would seek our best interests. So, in such situations, we should love others (i.e. treat others) as we desire to be treated, connecting this law very clearly to the Golden Rule. Which is true for all four of these laws. We love others as we love ourselves when we treat others as we would be treated. We want to be treated honestly when we deal with other in professional or legal settings? Then we should treat others honestly in professional and legal settings.

It really isn’t rocket surgery to figure out the connection between these four laws and loving our neighbor as ourselves. It’s the application of it to our daily lives that we struggle with. It’s not always easy to think of others as more important to us than we are to ourselves (Philippians 2:3). It sounds easy, or simple, but the practice is so counter to our culture, our desires, and our natural selfishness that we often don’t even see what we’re missing. What is something you can do today that will break you out of your own selfishness? I’m going to do dishes, I think, maybe laundry? I don’t know, but something my spouse typically does.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

The Good Child

If you had siblings, then you probably have one who was the “good child”, the favorite. At least it seemed that way from your perspective. If you have more than one kid, you probably see better, but that’s not a given. I have only one, and my Master knew she was all we could handle. That’s a lot to wrap up into one kid, but she excels in living out a mixture of her mother and I.

But, is that what it means to “honor” your parents? Is it only living out the mixture of the two that makes up your “nature” part? I hope not. Unfortunately, there are so many who should never have had kids, never wanted them, and have taken little or no interest in them. For some parents, the kids are only a means to more government assistance. It’s sickening. And yet, this commandment isn’t conditional.

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.”

Exodus 20:12 NASB

You would think that there would be something here about parenting. Shouldn’t there be? Yet, it all falls on the kids. Honor your parents. It isn’t until Paul that there’s more guidance for parents, “Don’t exasperate your children. As if that’s not going to happen.

It’s possible that our Creator acknowledges that parenting is hard. Regardless of the child, regardless of the circumstances, parenting is difficult. Parents know nothing about it until the first one comes along, and they simply do the best they can (or, are supposed to do the best they can). Children are to honor their parents for the difficult job they were given, regardless of how well the kids think they did it or not.

This law comes with a promise, or a “carrot” in a sense. As Paul points out in Ephesians 6:2,3, this is the first law with a promise. The promise is long life in the land of promise. Paul applies it to long life anywhere. The truth is that honoring parents, perhaps learning from them, does give one important life-lessons that will prolong life on this earth. It’s important.

But what about when the parents don’t parent, aren’t interested, leave their kids behind, abandon their responsibilities, and leave a trail of empty broken kids behind them? What about those parents? How can those children honor such parents?

I don’t know. I haven’t been there, experienced such parenting, or lived with such pain. I hope that, in such cases, living better, being a better parent, and rising above the pain is the honor due. In such cases, honor may need to live alongside pain, anger, and frustration.

Regardless of how good or bad a parent was, every child has to wrestle with forgiving them. It’s right, but more, it’s healthy for the child. It may make little or no difference to the parent, but it will free the child. Perhaps this is the most basic and important element in honoring parents.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Take A Break

The Sabbath is one commandment that is kind of “out of character” from the others. The ones before are about the priority of God in our lives. The ones following are about how we treat others. What is this one about?

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.

Exodus 20:8-11 NASB

There is clearly something about this practice that our Creator believes to be important. In fact, Yahweh says He did it. He created everything, and then rested. I doubt that He was tired. I doubt He needed some “ME time”, or to recharge, or whatever.

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable.

Isaiah 40:28 NASB

It seems that the Sabbath was not so God could rest up for His next big engagement. In fact Jesus says something rather remarkable about the Sabbath:

And it happened that He was passing through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples began to make their way along while picking the heads of grain. The Pharisees were saying to Him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And He *said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?” Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:23-28 NASB (Emphasis mine)

According to Jesus, the Sabbath was created for the Creator’s human creatures, rather than the other way around. So, when our Maker rests on the seventh day, He does so for us, not for Himself. This became a marker, setting apart the Jews from the other peoples among whom they lived. And it became a source of ridicule, even nearly cost them their existence during the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid rulers (see reference here).

So, the issue may have become more about being obviously Jewish, and less about sanctifying the day. Still, what was God’s point? Why did He sanctify the day in the first place? It wasn’t for Himself, it was for His creatures, but to what purpose?

I suspect that nothing sanctifies like the presence of our Creator and Savior. Whatever He touches becomes holy. Perhaps, because of this, this day is holy because it’s in contact with Him. And when we use a whole day a week to be with Him, that day is holy. In a sense, this law of the ten forms the pivot point where we move from them being about our Creator to being about the creatures. The Sabbath law connects the two sets through association of the two in relationship.

Do you use it that way? The whole day, is it devoted to your Savior? Would others observing your day claim that it is entirely devoted to time between you and your Creator? Is it truly “holy” in the sense that He has come into contact with it, and you? I doubt it. I find it nearly impossible to fill the day only with time with my Master. Perhaps you are more successful than I. If you are, that’s awesome, and I encourage you to keep doing it. If you don’t, if, like me, you struggle to get more than church attendance into it being about Jesus, then what can be done to change our attitude about it?

Perhaps time with my wife counts as I honor my Savior in my time with her. Maybe you have friends that get together after church for lunch or to spend the afternoon doing whatever. Can that time count as holy time? Has it come into contact with our Creator? I’m reminded that nowhere does it say that the Sabbath isn’t a corporate thing. Nothing says that it has to be practiced as individuals. In fact, isn’t going to church on the Sabbath a “group activity”? Why does the end of a church meeting mean the end of celebrating the Sabbath?

Perhaps, like Jesus says, we need to think of the Sabbath as something our Creator created for us. And, like everything else He created, He made it to draw us closer to Him. So, if that’s what this day is about for you, about enjoying all that your Savior is to you, and all those He has connected you with, then perhaps you are dedicating the whole day to Him. Let’s discover that line of peace and rest between legalistically requiring rigid limits to activities, and blatant treatment of the day as just another day off to play. Maybe we can keep it holy together.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation