Moses is on the mountain with God. He has received the Ten Commandments, and now God is going to expand and explain them.
God is Just and Merciful
As with the Ten Commandments, the first thing we should notice is not what they command, but what they tell us about who God is.
Quickly we find out that God is just. He highly values righting wrongs. God hates injustice and oppression. He loves fairness and honesty.
Over and again, we see that God requires punishment always be proportionate to the crime. Eye for an eye. Tooth for tooth. If someone steals an animal from your farm, you cannot, then, take revenge on that person’s family members. However, the thief must make amends for the animal he stole. Justice is served, but it is fair and appropriate for the offense.
These laws reveal that the ultimate judge, the one before whom all guilty parties come, is not an earthly ruler, but God himself. He is the final judge. He is the ultimate offended party. Even the wrongs we commit against one another, are ultimately committed against God because we have broken his law and have harmed people made in his image.
For our crimes against him and against one another, we are found guilty. And the just penalty that accounts for our wrongs comes with a price that has to be paid: Death.
But this isn’t the only view of God these laws reveal. God also calls himself compassionate. He protects the poor and vulnerable from the oppressor. He defends the defenseless and protects the vulnerable. God sets up laws that are wildly progressive for this time in history. These laws are on behalf of those lowest in their society: slaves, woman, foreigners, and the poor.
God Wants a Just and Merciful Society
These laws not only tell us what God is like. They also show us what God wants. God wants a societywhere people are treated fairly, where justice is upheld, and where the marginalized are provided for.
God wants a world that looks like him. And his method of creating it is to create a people who look like him. Israel is to inhabit the characteristics of God which would, in turn, create the kind of society that God wants for his world.
Where is Jesus?
One question these laws raise is how the justice and mercy of God go together? How does he demand eye for eye justice, while at the same time showing compassion to those who have done wrong? The answer is found in Jesus.
Jesus Embodies Justice and Mercy
Jesus is the just judge we meet in these chapters. However, he shows compassion, both to the oppressed and the oppressor. We see this in Jesus’ teaching in the New Testament, “You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well” (Matthew 5:38-40).
But, like the social laws in Exodus, this is not just a teaching we are supposed to obey. Jesus’s statement about an eye for an eye, tells us something about who he is and what he does.
For we have done evil to God. We deserved eye for eye punishment for that. But Jesus turned the other cheek, and took the eye-for-eye, tooth-for-tooth punishments we deserved on the cross. That is how God’s love of righting wrongs is satisfied. That is how he can show us compassion without denying his justice. Jesus is the only one who never broke a single one of God’s laws, but died as if he did on behalf of those who had.
Jesus Creates a Just and Merciful Society
Even more, the kind of just and fair society the law tried to make through its commands, is actually fulfilled in the people who are saved by Jesus. God’s people failed to obey the law and create this kind of good society. That is because their hearts were hard, and the law could not change them. The law could only tell people what God was like, it couldn’t make them like God.
But Jesus does more than the law. He actually makes us into his image. He does this in two ways. First, by perfectly fulfilling the social laws toward us he trains us into people who can fulfill them toward others. Since he has shown us compassion when we were his enemies, we can extend compassion to everyone else, including our enemies. Since he provided for us when we were poor, we can provide for the poor around us. Since he loved us when we were foreigners to his family, we can love anyone from any people group.
Second, Jesus puts his own Spirit within us that actually forms us into his own image. This supernatural work is beyond anything the law could do. Only by Jesus dwelling in us and making us into people who look like him, will we ever be able to show mercy and justice to others in the way God wants. God is creating a society, in his church, that provides for the vulnerable and defends the defenseless.
But the ultimate and perfect society God wants to create is still in the future. When Jesus returns he will finally create the perfect society that reflects his character. There will be no tears, no pain, and people will live at peace with one another.
See For Yourself
May the Holy Spirit give you eyes to see the God of compassion and justice behind these laws. And Jesus as the one who extends this compassion to us by receiving our justice.