Spiritual Growth: Laws Are Meant To Change
What is a law? This may seem like a simple question. But it’s actually a little more complex than it appears.
Google’s dictionary define law in this way:
- A system of rules that a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members and may enforce by the imposition of penalties.
- A statement of fact, deduced from observation, to the effect that a particular natural or scientific phenomenon always occurs if certain conditions are present.
So which of these do we mean when we speak of the laws of the Hebrew people, the Israelites? What about God’s law or biblical law?
I have suspicion: Christians get confused about whether God’s law is
- A statement of fact that cannot and does not change or
- A system of rules for a particular community
You see there are scientific laws that are facts. They are immutable. These laws are things like gravity, cause and effect, or Isaac Newtons infamous laws of physics. They don’t change. They are facts that describe the way the world works. You cannot really challenge them. They simply are.
But there are also laws for people and groups of people. These laws are not immutable. They can change. They do change. They should change (particularly as knowledge increases, as people mature, as communities grow and expand, as context shifts and changes).
An example: with my kids, I have a law about food in the car. It’s really quite simply…..no food. When my older girls were 2 and 3 and 4 years old, they destroyed our little blue Kia because we allowed them to have food in the car. There are spills and stains in that car that just won’t come out. So, when we got our new CMax, I made a rule….no food.
Now why did I make this law?
- Because a car had been destroyed and I didn’t want that to happen again with something new.
- Because the kids were still too young to be careful enough with food in a car.
- Because I wanted them to have more guidance with being clean and careful.
Do I have food in the car? Yes, on occasion when it is a necessity because of time or travel.
Will I keep this law forever with my kids? No, as they grow learn and mature the law will relax and change because they will be able to be more responsible, careful and clean.
Will there always be an element of keeping food out of the car? Absolutely! The car is not the dinner table!
So here’s the thing. Biblical laws are much more like my law about food in the car than the immutable laws of physics. But Christians forget this…or maybe don’t even realize it.
An example: in ancient times, it was common practice to give extremes punishments for community crimes. If someone stole something, then you could cut off their hand, for example, as punishment for stealing. Well, in the Bible god gives Moses some new laws that limit this pre-existing law. They start with the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and they go on and on. There are like 630 some odd laws that God gives. Some of those laws limit the violence of punishment.
In Exodus 21:24 God lays out a law that scholars today call the lex talionis. You know it as an eye for en eye, a tooth for a tooth. That law limited violence by essentially saying you can not enact a punishment that is harsher than the crime committed. No more can you cut off a hand for stealing. God changes the pre-existing law.
But that is not the only time God changes this law! People grow, develop, mature. Culture changes. Context changes. And so during the time of the Roman Empire, a new law comes from God through the teachings of Jesus which we read about in Matthew 5:38
“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 an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.”
This completely changes things! No longer can you be a tit for tat society. You cannot simple enact a punishment which fits a crime. Instead, you must walk the extra mile to try to change someone’s heart and behavior.
Jesus is essentially putting in place a rehabilitation program. To turn your cheek was not simply to submit yourself to another blow, but rather to up the ante, to call someone out in a way that would have brought them shame had they slapped you again. The goal was to point out the wrong they had committed and to place them in a situation where they had to recognize the damage they had done, face to face with their victim. The goal was changing of heart and habit. The goal was reconciliation!
Why didn’t Moses get this law? Why didn’t it come to for several hundred years? Why did God change it?”
Well, eye for and eye was what was needed in the time, context and community of Moses. That law helped people grow, mature and develop during its time. But during Jesus’ time, context, and community something different was needed. Something further was needed to help people grow and mature having been shaped by the eye for an eye law for so long. So God changes the law to meet the needs and the situation.
God’s laws are not simply immutable. They change and people change, as communities change, as context changes. And that is exactly what we also see happening with the daughters of Zelophehad.
Laws had said that property and possessions were inherited by sons. But the daughters of zelophehad brought before the community and instance where the law was not working, not fair, and actually creating injustice. They courageously spoke up, not just to change things, but because they were trying to survive!
And Moses listens! Think about that for a minute. Moses was a man, so it wasn’t necessarily in his interest to listen to these women. As the leader he could have simply done what he thought was right. He could have held to tradition and enforced the current law of inheritance. He could have ignored these women. He could have done a lot of things. But Moses listened and took this seemingly outrageous, crazy, progressive idea straight to God.
And then God listens and changes the law! God actually says, “You know what. These ladies are right! The law must change!”
For people who want to pull out laws from the Bible to beat others over the head, they need to pay attention here. People bring a concern to God. God listens to them. God realizes they are right. And God changes the law!
And the truth is, this is what any good leader does. Rules change as people change and as needs change. Good leaders know this. Good parents know this. Good churches know this. God knows this!
I wonder what laws God is calling us to change today?
I wonder, what people out there right now are bringing before God the issues, concerns, and problems and saying to God, “Hey, this isn’t working. Somethings gotta give. Our survival depends on it!” I wonder…
Are we listening to these people? Are we taking them seriously like Moses did? Do we simply hold to the tradition and status quo? Or are we going to God in honest and authentic pray? I wonder…
I wonder if the one speaking up for change is you! I wonder what needs and concerns you need to bring up right now because of things not working in your life, in the world around you. I wonder who is taking your requests to God in prayer. I wonder…
I wonder what God is saying in response. And are we listening to God?