In the remarkable story of exodus and deliverance in the second book of the Hebrew Scriptures, the people emerge from the confining womb of slavery through the birth waters of the Red Sea. They emerge into a wide, new world where there is bread (manna), water, and even fresh meat. But again and again, like all us self-centered humans, they test the patience of Moses; they also test the faithfulness of the God who calls, saves, and provides.
As the story unfolds, God calls Moses to the mountaintop where he is immersed in fire and cloud and sapphired glory for forty days and forty nights. When he returns to the camp in the valley, Moses comes with the Ten Commandments, a summary of the larger Law that teaches Israel how to live in relationship with God and with one another.
The two tablets represent the two aspects of this living in relationship. The first four commandments (traditionally pictured on the first tablet) address Israel’s proper worshipful attention to the one who rescued them from Egypt. The last six of the Ten Words summarize what it looks like to live together in honorable community.
Then numerous laws, commandments, and precepts offer great detail about nearly every aspect of their life together in community. This includes very clear warning about the treatment of foreigners, “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt . . .” (Ex 23:9) . . .
Of course there is other law in the Torah as well, not just the moral code. Much of the Mosaic Law is ceremonial law that details the particulars of worship, rules for the priesthood, and rules for the sacrificial system. (We will see more of this in Leviticus.)
Fundamentally, the Law from Sinai teaches the covenant people of Israel how to be in relationship with Yahweh through ceremonial worship and also with one another in fairness and justice. Some of the laws are grounded in a specific culture, time, and place; law contingent on the particular circumstances of a particular people in a particular age.
But as people and events changed throughout history, portions of the Law are now understood to have been temporary. For example, Jewish communities in 2021 do not stone rebellious children or maintain slaves, and Jews since the devastation of the Second Temple have not practiced the commandments of the ancient sacrificial system.
However, faithful Jews throughout the centuries have continued to be faithful to the Law’s eternal decrees of love and justice. All religions evolve. All viewpoints change. Healthy faith grows and always is “seeking understanding” . . .
Read more at Charlotte Vaughan Coyle. Living in The Story: A Year to Read the Bible and Ponder God’s Story of Love and Grace (pp. 131-132). Resource Publications. Kindle Edition.