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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, January 11 2024

Is God's Law bondage?

When we first encounter ancient Israel as a nation in the Bible, they had gone from enjoying the bounties of the land side by side with their Egyptian hosts, to being slaves. The Egyptians set "taskmasters" over them, forcing them to construct cities such as Pithom and Raamses (Exodus 1:11). They were so brutal that they even murdered Israel's newborn male babies (Exodus 1:22).

Is God's Law bondage?
Egyptian taskmaster scene from 'The Ten Commandments' 1923 American silent movie produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille.

The suffering of Egyptian slaves is verified by archaeological evidence."... The famous wall painting from the Thebean tomb of Rekhmire ... [depicts] the overseer of the brick-making slaves during the reign of Thutmose III" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1990, Vol. 2, p. 304), and the painting on Rekhmire's tomb shows "overseers armed with heavy whips" (ibid.).

Hard labor and beatings were the reality of Israelite life. "Now it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out to his brethren and looked at their burdens. And he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren" (Exodus 2:11).The Israelites cried out in their suffering. God said, "I have surely seen the oppression of My people ... and have heard their cry ..." (Exodus 3:7).

God had pity on His people, and appointed Moses as their leader to bring them out of Egypt (Exodus 3:10), climaxing in the miraculous parting of the Red Sea, providing an escape from Pharaoh's pursuing army (Exodus 14:21-31). God brought the Israelites to the foot of Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:2) and, beginning with the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), God gave His law to Israel, as the standard by which Israel was to live. They were to be set apart by obedience to His commandments (Leviticus 18:1-4).

Many believe this law was only for Israel, and when you accept Christ you are not subject to Old Testament law because Christ abolished that law. But in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) Christ expounded His view of the guidelines and laws of the Old Testament: "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled" (Matthew 5:17-18).

Jesus emphasized we must obey the law of God. "His purpose is not to change the law, still less to annul it, but to reveal the full depth of meaning that it was intended to hold" (John R.W. Stott, The Bible Speaks Today, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England, 1978, p. 72). When someone approached Him and asked, 'Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?'" Christ's response was clear: "... If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments" (Matthew 19:16-17). The next two verses make it plain that the commandments Jesus is referring to are the Ten Commandments.

In spite of Christ's plain statement about the Old Testament law, many Bible students have misunderstood His teaching."In every generation of the Christian era there have been those who could not accommodate themselves to Christ's attitude to the law ... for they declare that the very category of law is abolished for the Christian ... that no law any longer binds Christian people except the law of love ..." (The Bible Speaks Today, p. 72).

Those who believe the law is no longer binding tend to take the approach that to teach the commandments are to be obeyed is to promote a form of bondage, whereas to be a Christian means to be free. True liberty is not freedom from law. Righteous laws secure and guarantee freedom.

The law of God is a way of life that guarantees the welfare of the individual and society. When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, He did not deliver them from one form of slavery into another. He liberated them from a society in which they had no protection through law, giving them a law that guaranteed their safety and protection.

God calls Christians to accept Jesus Christ as personal Savior. We are also called to a life of obedience to God's commandments. Law-keeping does not earn a person salvation, which is a gift from God (Romans 6:23), but God calls us to repent of our former way of living (1 Peter 4:3), and the law is our guide to repentance. It identifies sin and shows us how we should live, as Paul points out, "Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law" (Romans 7:7). The keeping of His laws is our grateful response to God (1 John 5:2-3; John 14:15, 21).

Far from being a blueprint for slavery, the commandments of God illuminate the pathway of a life free from the debilitating and destructive consequences of sin. This is not bondage. It is true freedom, and the path to happiness and joy and the way to eternal life.