Then Moses assembled all the congregation of the sons of Israel, and said to them, “These are the things that the LORD has commanded you to do:
“For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy day, a sabbath of complete rest to the LORD; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death.
“You shall not kindle a fire in any of your dwellings on the sabbath day.”
I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t understand a lot about the Old Testament. I’m back at the beginning, started Genesis again on January 16 and nearing the end of Exodus where God gives Moses and Israel the Law. And there are a lot of laws that God hands down to His people. And a much of it involves a lot of blood. Some of these laws I understand have to do with the social order and the need for people to protect each other from themselves and each other and the consequences when they fail to behave responsibly. In my thinking concerning the blood and the killing of the animals is that if you have to personally take a knife and kill an animal just because you misbehaved and if you understand the revulsion of that act, it should hopefully force you to think more seriously about further character failures so you wouldn’t have to repeat the killing. On the other hand if you were the kind of person who enjoys taking an animal’s life and blood-letting perhaps it should be your life that should be taken, and maybe at some future point it shall have been.
But having so many laws to have to remember and live up to must have been a tremendous weight to bear. Even the verse above, on the day of rest, you could do no work, not even to light a fire. And the punishment for doing some work? The punishment is death. That is a pretty final and extreme punishment for making a fire if your light in the stove went out on a Sunday morning while breakfast was cooking. I don’t understand why death would be a punishment for this, I’m just certainly glad I wasn’t born under the Law. I have had enough problems keeping God’s other laws that are written on every person’s heart!
At times I envy the Israel of the Old Testament because they saw plenty of the phenomenal power of God in extraordinary ways; as He prepared the Egyptians to expel the nation from the land using His plagues, as He led them through the Red Sea parting the water, leading them through the wilderness sustaining them with His powerful miracles, as He drove aside the many nations of the Promised Land with His strong arm in His glory. They got to see His pillar of fire by night and pillar of smoke by day in the Wilderness. They got to see and eat the Manna He gave them daily in their wanderings until the very day they walked into the Promised Land. So many wonderful things their eyes saw and ears heard, like the terrors on Mount Sinai when He came down to talk with them. ( Exodus 19:16-19) How I wish I could have been there to witness all that!
But then I read about all the minutia of the Law I’d have to maintain and think “how in the world could anyone have every kept all that?” And the answer, of course, is “no one.” Which is why we needed someone outside of ourselves to come and take away our sin since we were incapable of doing that ourselves. Thank God for His Son our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And not only that, but because of that selfless act of Jesus I am now considered to have fulfilled all the requirements of the Law. ( Romans 8:4)
So I am quite happy to be who I am, a gentile who has been “grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree” ( Romans 11:24) as Paul would say. Besides, I have something they didn’t have back then except on extraordinary occasions. And that is the indwelling Holy Spirit. Granted, far too often I don’t, and probably most of us don’t, comprehend this reality as fully and deeply as we truly should. Otherwise we would no doubt have a much larger impact on our social surroundings than we seem to be having, for the better and for the gospel, I mean. The power of God indwelling us, empowering us, to resist sin, to choose good, to glorify Him in our behavior. This Israel did not have in the Old Testament. Which is no doubt why they failed so often as individuals and as a nation. And failing so miserably and so utterly that the nation had to be exiled to Babylon and elsewhere and the Temple destroyed and the precious Ark of the Covenant destroyed. Israel knew God in their history but they did not know God in their hearts. But He promised that one day they would. And we are now living that promise. I must say I’d rather be living this promise than living the old promises.
[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]