When I was a freshman in college I found out that I was ill prepared for the career that I had chosen. I had gone to college to study Geology. Having gotten there, I discovered that Geology was 90% lab work and only 10% field work. Having been an out-of-doors type as a Boy Scout I wanted the caving, hiking, rafting type of geology that I been experiencing in high school. So after only one semester of college I had to change my career paths.
In 1982, when I was looking for a new career path, Hill Street Blues was a new hit on TV. I had always liked cop and detective shows. I grew up watching Adam 12, The Rookies, SWAT, Columbo, Mannix, McMillian and Wife, Police Woman, Quincy M.E. and of course the epitome of 1970’s television Starsky and Hutch. I decided I wanted to be a cop. I was a big kid who was going to bust the bad guys, using my brain and my large size. Ah, the dreams of an 18 year old kid.
If you know me you probably know I never got to live that television fueled dream. I did however change my degree to Administration of Criminal Justice. The study program included history, sociology, political science, police science, and law. I loved the program it touched so many areas that were very interesting to me. Besides the police science course where we got to study criminal investigation techniques long before CSI was on the air, my favorite courses were the law courses. I had one course on constitutional law and two on criminal law. We were taught the foundations of the American justice system, studied case-law and precedence and even got to study the Illinois criminal law statutes in-depth.
One of the first things we were taught was that the American legal system is a descendant of today’s reading (Exodus 20 – 22). In today’s reading we find the 10 Commandments. This reading is the beginning of a long writing down of the law. It will come up again in Deuteronomy (2nd law). Laws are an important part of a civilized society. It defines what the society accepts and does not accept as proper behavior within that society. Typically laws are written after a societal ill is discovered and when a means to deal with that societal ill is needed, a law is written. For example, auto speed limit laws were not written before the auto was invented, they were written after some autos had frightened horses that were sharing the road. When I started in Information Security one of the initial problems was that there were not effective laws against internet crime, since that time legal entities have finally written effective laws against internet based crime. The bad activity comes first and the laws come second.
So, as we read the 10 commandments we get a glimpse into the Israelites society of 3500 years ago. We see that they had problems with putting other gods and idols first, the coveted the belongings of others, they stole, they murdered, they swore, they did not observe the Sabbath, they did not honor their mother and their father, and they had sex out of marriage. That 3500 year old society is not so different from the society we live in today.
Over the following daily readings through the rest of the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) we will have over 600 laws and standards presented to the nation of Israel. Some of them will be funny or confusing or extremely applicable to us today. Laws were a large influence in the Jewish customs, habits and rituals. For the Jews, keeping the law was their means to reach God. The process for atoning for sins and wrongdoings was heavily dependent on the proper selection and slaughtering of sacrificial lambs, goats and doves. Their means to achieve righteousness with God was based on laws and actions. Unfortunately, the rest of the Old Testament goes on to demonstrate to us that there was no way a human being is able to be justified by observing the whole law. The law was given to show man that his own actions were not enough to achieve justification and righteousness with God.
1500 years later, when Jesus was walking among the people he was asked a question:
34Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:
36“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
For us today, we no longer live under the need to observe all 600 + laws of the Pentateuch, worrying about our own ability to make amends with God. As we saw in my blog about our Passover reading from a few days ago, Jesus was the perfect lamb sacrificed for us. His blood was shed so that we could be justified and sanctified. He paid the price of our sins. He made amends to God for our sins on our behalf.