Covenant Exodus

Our final unit is law in the Hebrew Bible and since I get to make up my own lesson I will base it on Exercise 56 found on page 300 in the Christopher Stanley text.

Prior to the examination of scriptures I will be doing here is some background information I wish to share. Dr. Cheryl Anderson reminds that biblical laws are not meant to be used in today’s context and if you try and do that be sure you know what the law really says before trying to do so. Also, laws change over time and the examples she uses are the two sets of Ten Commandments with the Deuteronomy version as a rewritten version of the ones found in Exodus.

In his lecture Dr. Brooke Lester discusses the different legal codes such as Covenant located in Exodus 20:22-23:33 which were codes written for male heads of household in the community and were to be applied between these types of households, Deuteronomic found in Deuteronomy 12-26 to talk about changes in law code about slaughter and sacrifice and king rules, Holiness Leviticus 17-26 codes on how to keep the land clean. He also talks about the Decalogue which proceed the codes in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21 and the Cultic Decalogue found in Exodus 34:10-26.

Decalogue is a fancy name for the Ten Commandments and because the first three or four depending on the version you are using begin with religious laws they cannot be the basis for United States civil law. Another reason they cannot be used as such is because there are multiple versions which are not exactly the same. A third reason is that there are other collections of laws in the Hebrew Bible. Exodus 20:22-23:19 is the Book of Covenant and covers some of the same issues as the Decalogue but here there are punishments. Lastly, when Moses breaks the first set and God reissues another Ten Commandments they are very different than the original set. (Brown)

Please remember this the next time someone argues that the Ten Commandments are the foundation for the laws of the United States. They are not.

Another point Dr. Lester makes is about Apodictic law which is Israelite law that commands without conditions vs Casuistic law which is based and similar to the nations near by. These laws are written in an if, then format or when, then. Capital law is if someone does a certain behavior they shall be put to death.

One last piece of background information to assist you in understanding Hebrew Bible law is that Hammurabi’s code was the most important law code in the ancient Near East and it was the basis for the Covenant Collection found in Exodus 20:22-23:33. Yet, it was not used by judges to make their decisions in court but as a proclamation by the king to guarantee justice. (Van De Mieroop)

Examination of four sets of scriptures will assist us in seeing how law is contained within the Hebrew Bible.

Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:1-21

Barry Banstra calls these the Ethical Decalogue full of the religious and moral commands. Looking at Exodus first it can be seen that God is speaking to the Israelite people reminding them it was God who brought them out of Egypt. Verses 4-6 explain to the people that there is only God to worship so the gods of their ancestors and other nations shall not be worshiped. Do not misuse God’s name. Verses 8-11 are a reminder to keep the Sabbath day and not to work on it nor let any family member, slave, livestock, or foreigners in town work because that is the example set forth by God. Honor one’s parents. The list of don’ts murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness against a neighbor, covet any thing your neighbor has: house, wife, slave, ox, donkey, or anything else.

In Deuteronomy the passage starts with Moses talking to the people of Israel telling them God made a covenant with them when he went up Mt Horeb. Here is what God said to him: stated that God brought them out of Egypt and they shall have no other god before God. Verses 8-10 state do not make idols or worship them and going farther to state that subsequent generations of children will be punished for the iniquities of parents who disobey but those generations who obey will get Gods steadfast love. Do not misuse God’s name. Verses 12-15 lists the same group of individuals and animals which need to rest on Sabbath this telling remind the people to do so because they should remember they were once slaves whom God saved. Honor parents. Shall nots are murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness against a neighbor, covet a neighbor’s wife, house, field, slave, ox, donkey or anything belonging to the neighbor.

The most notable difference is the reminder to the people to treat their slaves well for they were once mistreated slaves and God wants them to not treat their slaves how they were treated.

Exodus 21:1-6 and Leviticus 25:39-46

Examples are of case or caustic law because they have the if, then statements.

Starting with Exodus where if one buys a male slave the slave shall work six years and released without debt his seventh year. If he is single, then he shall leave single-if married, then his wife goes with him. If he is given a wife who has children the wife and children remain property of the master and he goes alone. On the condition that a slave states his love for his family this means he pledges allegiance to his master gets his ear pierced and remains a slave for life to that master.

In Leviticus if you have workers who become impoverished and sell themselves to you they cannot be your slaves. Instead they shall work until the year of jubilee (Jubilee is the fiftieth year and a reminder of the time when the people of Israel were captives in Babylonia.) Next God reminds that these individuals were saved from Egypt the same as the wealthy person so slaves can only be taken from nations other than Israel. Slaves can be given to children as inherited property. Ending with a reminder that fellow Israelites must not be mistreated. 

Leviticus 17:1-9 and Deuteronomy 12:13-18

These scriptures are addressing burnt offerings Leviticus is very detailed and is God informing Moses to speak to Aaron and his sons regarding the rules of slaughtered animals being brought to the entrance of the tent to be presented to God and if it is not done then the offender will be cut off from the group. And this rule applies to foreigners residing with the Israelite people.

Deuteronomy states directly to the people from God to take burnt offerings to the correct place in each tribe. It can be eaten wherever as long as the blood is not consumed and needs to be poured out onto the ground. Although the grain tithe, wine, oil, firstlings of herds and flocks, any votive gifts given as a vow, freewill offerings, and donations must still go the the designated place to honor God.

I believe this is an example of the laws having to change because of context. It was probably too hard to bring meat to Jerusalem from the farthest away tribes, but the other items would keep longer or were easier to transport and still needed to follow the rule of temple consecration for these items.

Numbers 18:21-24 and Deuteronomy 14:22-29

In the last example Numbers God tells the people that the Levites are to be in charge of the temple and will be the religious leaders accountable for their actions. Since this is now their lot in life they no longer have allotment among the Israelites.

Deuteronomy is speaking about tithes and how they need to be brought to the temple unless it is too far away then the people can sell their sacrificial items and bring the money to the temple spending the money on what they choose and consuming it in God’s presence making sure to include the Levites since they have no allotment. Every third year a full tithe shall be given so that not only will the Levites be taken care of but also the foreigners, orphans, and widows.

The second scripture includes more individuals in need while both are reminders to care for those unable to care for themselves when it comes to tithing.

Anderson, Dr. Cheryl

Bandstra, Barry

Baur, William

Brown, William

Lester, Dr. Brooke

Stanley, Christopher “The Hebrew Bible: A Comparative Approach”

Van De Mieroop, Marc