There are many things to remember when we’re reading ‘law’ passages. We looked at a couple last time; today’s passage provides an opportunity to consider some more. As we read through, the word ‘miscellaneous’ springs to mind. That’s not to say there is a lack of importance to what we read, just that it is hugely varied – in more ways than one.
Firstly, there are commands that do seem to carry a great deal of weight, e.g., “do not steal” (v.11). This, like others in today’s passage, echoes the 10 commandments (Exodus 20); few, if any, would dispute that keeping it is a good idea. Then there are those that, nowadays, people differ on – e.g., v.28 (regarding tattoos). Nowadays, some see this as a relic of a bygone era; others as a command that still carries weight. Finally, there are commands like the one in v.27, that, outside of Orthodox Judaism, are largely ignored. It can all seem a bit of a minefield!
So, what are we to do? Well, we’ve a clue. The most frequently used phrase in today’s passage is “I am the Lord”. The individual commands appear once only (although sometimes they might be repeated elsewhere), but the phrase “I am the Lord” (see, now I’m doing it!) appears 14 times. The command may be important, but remembering who God is, is far more so. Maybe that’s why Jesus was so frustrated by the Pharisees, because they focused on the command, not the author. It helps us remember that one of the primary reasons for the law (if not the primary reason) is because it tells us what God is like. We are made in his image (Genesis 1.26-27) and are to be like him (1 Peter 1.16), so it’s only fair that we have some kind of reference as to what that looks like.
This means two things (for now!): firstly, that this is not someone ‘laying down the law’ for the sake of it; no, this is what God is like and he expects nothing more or less from us than he does of himself. Therefore, obedience, if it flows, flows from the desire to reflect him not from the fear of doing something wrong.
Secondly, we’re told in the opening verses of Hebrews (1.1-3) that regardless of what went before, Jesus is, in fact, the perfect representation of what God is like. Our interpretation, therefore, of passages such as today’s, must be done through the lens of what Jesus said, taught, and did – and in particular, the crucifixion. He is our touchstone.
Father God, thank you for the cross, and its grace and mercy towards me and the world. Amen.