For many people today the Law of Moses seems primitive, barbaric, or arcane. Far too often focus is heightened on those aspects of the Law which most today find off-putting. Despite all of this, most of the Law of Moses features commands and expectations which most agree would lead to a more healthy society if they were followed.
One concern noted in the Law might seem to be manifestly evident and obvious to us:
Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumblingblock before the blind; but thou shalt fear thy God: I am YHWH (Leviticus 19:14).
The idea of cursing the deaf or putting something in the way of a blind person is quite cruel to most of us. Who could do such a thing? Such actions are terrible ways of taking advantage of other people’s difficulties. We are saddened to know that such a law is established because it is something people did or could easily be imagined as doing. Perhaps we ourselves have seen a few revelers or “punk kids” who would curse the deaf or put hindrances before the blind. Yet surely this is not a major problem, right? Or perhaps is it a symptom of a greater concern?
Is God only concerned with those who are physically deaf or blind? One notable aspect of the Law of Moses, distinctive even in its own time, is the concern God manifested within it toward those who found themselves at a disadvantage: the poor, the orphan, the widow, those with physical disabilities, the sojourner, etc. A year of Jubilee was to be proclaimed every half century to release all Israelites from their debts and allow the poor to reclaim their heritage (Leviticus 25:8-55). Widows and orphans were not to be afflicted (Exodus 22:22). Israelites should not oppress or wrong a sojourner in their land, since they knew what it meant to be a sojourner while in Egypt (Exodus 22:21, 23:12).
Not long after God made provision for the honor of the blind and deaf, He declared that Israelites should “love [their] neighbor[s] as [themselves]” (Leviticus 19:18), a concept also established in the new covenant (Romans 13:8-10). Jesus rightly established how the “Law and the Prophets” are summed up in this command along with the command to love YHWH their God with all their heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:34-40; cf. Deuteronomy 6:5).
People understand why they should love God. God is powerful; God has made all things; God has given us many gifts; God is worthy of honor and praise. But do people understand how they must love their neighbor as themselves if they truly wish to say they love God? God has no desire for anyone to take advantage of the deficiencies of their fellow men. And yet how many are so shallow and base as to do such things? Unfortunately, there are many in society who take advantage of other people, physically and economically, because they are weak, poor, disabled, sojourners, naive, or otherwise simple.
We can think of many culprits. Payday loan centers stay in business because of such practices. Banks have little compunction in loaning money to people who they know are unable to repay so they can squeeze out a lot of profit from interest and other fees. Senior citizens and those who are disabled are especially prone to con men and con corporations. As opposed to trying to instill proper spending habits in people (especially the young), plenty of people, agencies, and corporations are more keen to profit on their ignorance or lack of self-control. People come here in dire and terrible circumstances, and many exploit them and profit on them at every turn. The government looks away, having written the laws to benefit those who would exploit and providing little protection for those who have been exploited. Any moment at which it seems the tables would be turned, and those who have the advantage might become disadvantaged, the oppressors are overwhelmed with anxiety and fear: what if they become the disadvantaged? They certainly do not want to be treated the way they have treated others!
Far too often, when people think about “loving their neighbor,” they think of people like themselves. They think they are easily loved, and they love those who are like them. As Jesus makes plain, anyone can love those who love them or who are like them (Matthew 5:46-47). God calls people to something greater: His love, which is given for all, especially those not like Him (Matthew 5:38-48, 1 John 4:7-21)!
YHWH is God of gods and Lord of lords, and He executes justice for the widow and orphan, and loves the sojourner, providing her food and clothing (Deuteronomy 10:17-18). Why were the Israelites to avoid causing hindrances to the blind and deaf? Their God is YHWH, and they should fear Him. Such behavior is not at all what God is about. God is the champion of the disadvantaged: He shows no partiality and does not regard anyone to be any better than anyone else, and thus sees through human pretense of treating others poorly because they are perceived, by whatever metric, to be unworthy, “less than,” and inferior (Deuteronomy 10:17; cf. Romans 2:11). Government agents can be bribed; God cannot be. God sees through the pretenses humans make to justify their exploitation and oppression of others. He will not be mocked.
The Law of Moses may not be in force today, but most of its principles remain part of what God expects from those who would serve Jesus as Lord. Jesus expects Christians to be merciful, and to treat others the way in which we would like to be treated (Luke 6:31-36). Christians are to remember the poor and visit the orphan and widow (Galatians 2:10, 6:10, James 1:27).
The God of Israel, the God of gods and Lord of lords, is the God and Father of us all; His character is unchanged, and is manifest in Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-3). We ought to love God, but we cannot say we love God if we do not love people whom God made in His image and among whom we live (1 John 4:7-21). In the world people will always attempt to gain an advantage over those in a less fortunate position, leveraging their power and strength to benefit themselves, and fomenting anxiety, fear, and hate, lest the tables are turned and those who have the advantage become disadvantaged. In Christ, however, it cannot be so (Matthew 20:25-28). Jesus freely gave up all advantage and suffered as disadvantaged; those who would follow after Him must do the same, and associate with the lowly, caring for the disadvantaged, and willing to suffer the shame in doing so (Romans 12:16, Philippians 2:5-11, 1 Peter 2:18-25). Let us not put a hindrance in anyone’s way; let us not be guilty of taking advantage of our fellow man in his weakness; let us care for him or her in their situation, loving them as ourselves, and obtain a share in life from the God who is love and has loved us so!
Ethan R. Longhenry