How do we explain the stricter punishments of the nation of Israel?

If we are honest with ourselves, some of the punishments that took place in the nation of Israel give us pause. Not only were people regularly called out for their sin, often times death was the punishment. When we look at the church today, we don’t see folks being killed by the congregation for their sins. So why the change? How do we explain the stricter punishments in the nation of Israel?

Adultery Then and Now

For instance, in Deuteronomy 22 we read,

“Then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done an outrageous thing in Israel by whoring in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. “If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.” (Dt 22:21–22)

The punishment for adultery in Old Testament Israel was stoning, but in the New Testament the punishment is different. Consider 1 Corinthians 5:1-2

“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” (1 Co 5:1–2)

While the sin was the same, the punishment was different. Instead of death, they were excommunicated. The differences, however, don’t stop there. Not only were their lives spared, but it was hoped that they would repent and enter back into the community.

Why the Change?

I believe the change can be explained in several ways.

(1) We no longer live in a Theocracy

We have to remember that Old Testament Israel lived with God as their ruler. He set the laws for the nation. God acting as the governing authority of a nation is generally referred to as a Theocracy. 

Now we live as the church in many different countries ruled by Kings, Governments, Dictators, etc. The rules of each country dictate how we are to live and what the punishment for certain sins will be, or if they will be punished.

(2) Our camp no longer has to be purged of evil

When the nation of Israel began, God tabernacled among the people. His presence was in the Holy of Holies, which is the innermost part of the Tabernacle. In order for God, who is holy, to live in the same camp with an unholy people, sacrifices had to be performed daily and yearly. As well as the evil unrighteous person had to be removed from the camp. One way they were removed was through death.

Death not only removed the unrighteous sinner from the camp, it also reminded the people that a holy God lived in their midst, and that He required them to be holy in order to continue to have a relationship with them.

In the church age, however, God no longer tabernacles in the holy of holies. His presence isn’t present in our churches like it was in the Tabernacle. Instead, God tabernacles among us, as He lives in our hearts. Each and every believer is indwelt with the Holy Spirit. We are, then, the Temple of God.

God is able to dwell in us because of Jesus’ death on the cross. When Jesus died on the cross the Temple and the sacrificial system associated with it, was made obsolete. His death served as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. His blood now covers us making us righteous and holy, which allows us to have a relationship with a holy God.

Since we are the Temple and the ultimate sacrifice for our sins has been paid, we no longer have to purge the evil from us in order for God to remain in our lives. The evil has already been purged during Jesus’ death on the cross.

(3) Jesus has taken the punishment for sin

The punishment for willful sin in the Old Testament was death. In the New Testament, however, the punishment for sin, specifically unrepentant sin is excommunication from the church with the ability to repent and return to be a part of the community.

While our punishment for sin has changed, the ultimate punishment for sin has not changed. It is still death. Jesus has taken that punishment for us when He died on the cross.

So while there has been a change in practice – we are no longer killed for sin in the church age – the severity of sin is still the same. Sin equals death.

Return to the Question

To return to our question: How do we explain the stricter punishments of the nations of Israel? We explain it by saying that

  • The punishment wasn’t necessarily stricter. It was the same. Sin has always and will always equal death. We don’t experience that death now because Jesus has taken the punishment of sin for us.
  • As well as we don’t live in a Theocracy. We are governed by the state, who sets the laws and punishments.
  • Furthermore, God no longer tabernacles in the holy of holies in the midst of a camp, but in the hearts of individual believers, who have been made righteous by the blood of Jesus.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do you agree with the argument above? I would love your feedback.

Resources

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How Should We Motivate Those We Lead?

Old Brick Church

How should godly leaders motivate those they lead? The first king of Israel, Saul, provides a good case study.

Why Saul?

Saul, along with David, Samuel, and Jonathan are the main characters of the books of 1 and 2 Samuel. After reading through these two books, you might wonder why I chose Saul for a case study on leadership instead of Samuel or David. After all Saul is the inadequate leader the Lord rejects for David, who is the man after His own heart. I chose Saul not for his positive example, but for his negative. In other words, his actions show us how we shouldn’t lead.

Goliath’s Challenge

In 1 Samuel 17, Israel faces off against the Philistines. As they are set for battle, a man from the Philistine camp emerges who is 9 feet tall, decked in armor weighing 121 lbs, carrying a spear that is 15 lbs and as thick as the fat end of a baseball bat. Goliath is his name, and he is calling Israel to send a man to fight him in a winner take all match.

Goliath’s challenge is met with fear, anxiety, and distress. Not a man in Israel is willing to fight Goliath. Knowing the hesitancy of his men, Saul does what any leader would do. He attempts to motivate a man to take up the challenge.

How does he motivate his men?

In 1 Samuel 17:25, Saul promises the man who defeats Goliath great riches, his daughter’s hand in marriage, and freedom from taxes. Essentially, Saul motivates his men with worldly possessions.

Saul’s rewards were extended to all the men in Israel, not just a special group. Everyone in the army knows what Saul is offering, but none are willing to risk their lives against Goliath.

Saul’s motivation shows us what not to do

Saul’s actions show exactly why he was rejected as the king over Israel. He doesn’t trust God, nor does he lead his people to trust God. Instead he attempts to exploit his people’s idolatrous hearts.

Saul’s action are exactly the opposite of what a godly leader should do.

Godly leaders don’t push their people toward idolatry. Godly leaders pull their people away from idolatry toward God.

Why did Saul lead in this way?

He didn’t trust God. He focused on the challenge in front of him instead of remembering the Lord’s promises and His past victories. Not only had God promised them the land, but He had defeated the Ammonites, Amalekites, and Philistines under Saul’s rule already. Instead of reflecting on these things, he allowed his fear to take over.

What we learn

When we don’t trust God and lead out of fear, we start planning and thinking in worldly terms. We leave God out of the picture, and we attempt to lead guided by our own fallen intellect, which is woefully inadequate. Turning within and leading our people by exploiting their idolatrous hearts is not the answer. Instead we must turn ourselves and our people to God.

Question for Reflection

  1. How do you lead? Do you turn your people to God, or to the world?

What Does the Exodus Reveal About God’s Mission?

The Exodus Event serves as a model of holistic redemption. The event itself is a type, pointing forward to the redemption Jesus brings to all those who believe in Him as their Lord and Savior. Not only is it a type, but it also tells us the scope of God’s mission.

What is the Scope of God’s Mission?

When we look at the Exodus event, we see a four-fold scope in God’s mission:

(1) Political

In Exodus 1:1-22, we learn Israel were refugees in the land of the Egyptians because of the great famine. They originally were protected and lived by themselves in the land of Goshen, but after Joseph died they faced political oppression by the Egyptian’s. They were afflicted with heavy burdens because they were too many of them and they were too mighty for the Egyptians to handle. For fear that the Israelites might overthrow them, or band with another nation in war against them, they enslaved them. They made them work with brick and mortar, building store cities for them, as well as they were forced to serve in the fields, tending to the Egyptian’s crops.

(2) Economic

In Exodus 1:11-14, we also see that they were not allowed to care for their own well-being. Through forced labor, they had to care for the Egyptians by building them store cities and working their fields. This would have left no time for them to care for their own flocks and to work their own land. The prosperity they once knew was gone because of economic oppression.

(3) Social

In Exodus 1:8-22, we learn Israel was oppressed by Egypt because they were Hebrews. More than forced labor was dealt out to them, Pharaoh ordered that their midwives kill all male sons that were born to the Hebrew women. So then, the Hebrews were not only treated as slaves, but a state-wide genocide was ordered against their male sons simple because of who they were.

(4) Spiritual

Not only was the oppression Israel faced political, economic, and social, but it was also spiritual. They were kept by Pharaoh from journeying into the wilderness to worship their God (Ex. 4:22-23; 5:1-9).

God Heard their Cry

God heard the groanings of the Egyptians and He remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex. 2:23-25). He then raised up Moses and paired him with Aaron to go and confront Pharaoh (Ex. 3-4). Moses and Aaron’s initial request was denied by Pharaoh, so God sent plagues on the land of Egypt with the final one resulting in the Israelites release in the Exodus event (Ex. 5-12).

Through the Exodus Event, God delivered Israel from political, economic, social, and spiritual bondage. They were given their own land, God made them to be His people, and He defeated their enemy by drowning them in the Red Sea (Ex. 6:6-8; 14:26-31). While God did deliver Israel from this four-fold bondage and gave them these blessings, He did more than that. He delivered them from sin. Not so much their own sin, but the sin of Pharaoh, who was their oppressor [1].

So we see the scope of God’s missions involves deliverance from political, economic, social, and spiritual bondage, as well as deliverance from sin.

Connecting it to Jesus

The Exodus event becomes a motif, a recurring event that has significance in a story. It is used over and over throughout the prophets as they look forward to a final exodus (Eze. 20:32-38; 37:15-28; Jer. 16:14-15; Isa. 35:8-10) [2]. One that is led by Jesus, known as the New Exodus.

The New Exodus occurred during Jesus’ death on the cross, where He defeated Satan and his kingdom releasing those who believe in Him as their Lord and Savior from the bondage and slavery that oppresses human life and well-being and opposes God.

All those who believe in Jesus, form a new community, which is freed from the bondage of sin and the rule of Satan over their lives. One day, when Jesus returns, this new community will also be ultimately freed from all political, economic, social, and spiritual oppression, completing the New Exodus event. At this time, God’s glory will dominate (Isa. 40:5, 9-11; 60:1-22), Jesus will reign in justice and righteousness (Isa. 11:1-9), and everything will be restored back to its originally intended way of life as sin, which is the reason for all forms of oppression, is ultimately removed from the world (Isa. 65:17-25).

Conclusion

As we look at the Exodus Event, we see that it serves as a type pointing to the New Exodus that is led by Jesus Christ. It also serves to tell us the scope of God’s mission, which includes release from all political, economic, social, and spiritual bondage, as well as a release from the bondage of sin and the rule of Satan over our lives, so that we can worship God.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. If God’s mission involves the ultimate removal of all political, economic, social, and spiritual bondage, should we, as God’s people, who have taken up God’s mission, also work for these things?
  2. If we are to take up God’s mission, how might you propose we work for political, economic, social, and spiritual freedom?
  3. Have you witnessed others helped, or been helped yourself, by Christians to be released from political, economic, social, or spiritual bondage? If so, how did they accomplish this task?

Resources

  • [1] Christopher Wright, The Mission of God, 278.
  • [2] Zephaniah, Zechariah, as well as Matthew, Mark, and Luke recognize the New Exodus as a motif and use it in their writings.
  • Post adapted from Christopher Wright, The Mission of God’s People, 100-107.

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