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Sem-Turtle: Appreciating the Gift of the Law

February 26, 2013

What follows is a recent reflection of my seminary studies on how the Law given to the Israelites should be viewed as a gift of God’s presence:

Our study of Genesis and Exodus has opened my eyes to how God’s presence was viewed as a gift to the Israelites. Rather than viewing Hebrew Scriptures as the history of a (defective) covenant based on works, I am beginning to see the story of how God has repeatedly offered Himself to us. Genesis begins with the creation of the universe and the crowning of this creation with persons created in the very image of God. In the beginning God’s presence was palpable – God walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the garden. The greatest gift of creation was not simply to be “naked and unashamed”; the greatest gift was to be in communion with God – to stand in His very presence.

After sin and the Fall, humanity was banished from the garden and exiled from God’s own presence. Immediately Cain and Abel sought to find acceptance in God’s eyes through offerings, but while Abel’s offering was acceptable to God, it did not bring Abel into God’s presence. Noah found favor in God’s eyes and was spared from God’s judgment, but this did not place Noah in God’s presence. Abraham spoke to God and received blessings and promises from God, but still it is not clear that Abraham or his descendants would enjoy God’s presence. And then came Moses.

Moses stood before the presence of God at the burning bush. God instructed Moses to deliver the Israelites and bring them back to the very place where Moses stood before God. And after the Passover and Exodus, the people came into the presence of God before Mount Sinai. It was here that the Law was first handed down to the Israelites. The Law was not a punishment, nor was it a substitute for a fallen nature. The Law was a gift.

God said to the people, “Be holy for I am holy.” With these words God told the people how to come into His presence – Be holy. The Law was the gift that provided the Israelites with the means to seek holiness – the means to be in God’s very presence.

As Christians we take God’s presence for granted. We see the Law as punishment or rules. We no longer appreciate the loving invitation that was wrapped into the Sinai covenant. Be holy for I am holy – come stand in my presence!

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