Exodus 21-22

The devil is in the details

“These are the decisions that you will set before them: Exodus 21:1 NET

In chapter 20, God gave to the people the decalogue or the Ten Commandments. Now, in the following chapters, He expands on the 1o and gives actual application of the original ten laws for daily life. In these two chapters we see an expansion of laws five through eight. The NET Bible study notes describes this section in the following way: “There follows now a series of rulings called “the decisions” or “the judgments” (הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים, hammishpatim). A precept is stated, and then various cases in which the law is applicable are examined. These rulings are all in harmony with the Decalogue that has just been given and can be grouped into three categories: civil or criminal laws, religious or cultic laws, and moral or humanitarian laws.”

God gives the people of Israel His decisions or judgments on a variety of issues or potential circumstances of daily life. He did not leave them with just the original Ten Commandments and assume they would be able to make the application of those laws to all the situations that could arise in life. No, He gave them very detailed instructions or judgments in order that there would be no question about how these laws were to apply to their lives. Because it is in the details of life that the real troubles lie. The devil is in the details. He loves to make things much more difficult than they should be. He loves to play fast and loose with God’s law and get us to justify and rationalize our actions. And God seems to know that, because he goes to great lengths to show the people just how serious He is about His law.

And these “decisions” that God passed on to the people seem to all be about relationships or our interactions with others. God appears to be consumed with how His people will bear His image in their interactions and relationships with one another and the outside world. He gives a lot of importance to how we treat our possessions and the possessions of others. He goes into great detail about everything from virgins and oxen to widows and orphans. He gives application of the law for everything from personal injury and property damage to theft and dishonesty. Reading through these chapters is almost mind-numbing because of the minutia and the attention to detail given. You can almost get hung up on the details and lose sight of the principles behind it all.

Which reminds me of the encounter Jesus had with the expert in the law. This man approached the Lord one day and asked Him which of all the laws was the most important. And Jesus replied: “The most important commandment is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.'” (Mark 12:29-31 NLT). Notice that Jesus does not quote any of of the original Ten Commandments. He alludes to the first, but He quotes from Deuteronomy 6. He tells the man that the most important commandment or law is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. In other words, love God with all your being – with everything you have. The “decisions” outlined in chapters 21-22 of Exodus are an expression of what that looks like. We show love to God when we obey His law in the details of life. We also show love to God when we love one another. Love for God is not nebulous or ethereal – it is real and practical. It is expressed in the details of daily life. And yet, that is right where the enemy wants to cloud our thinking. He wants to keep our love for God as something that is merely a feeling, something abstract and impractical. But God wants our love for Him to be highly practical, highly relational, and highly visible. As we relate to one another and interact with the physical world around us, our love for God is expressed and fleshed out. Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35 NLT). How we live with and love one another in this world is proof of our love for God and our relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s all in the details.

Father, You took the time to flesh out for Your people the details of the law. You had the Holy Spirit inspire the writers of Your Word to write down these detailed “decisions” or instructions for a reason. But I tend to want to blow right past the details. I want to keep my love for You as abstract as possible. I want to be able to claim my love for You, but not have to prove it. Yet You tell us, “Love does no wrong to anyone, so love satisfies all of God’s requirements” (Romans 13:20 NLT). So when I love those around me, when I do what is right to those around me, I am expressing my love for You. Help me see this more clearly each day. May my love for You become increasingly more practical and less ethereal. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

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