There are two laws, that to my mind, are tightly connected. Today, I visit these two laws. Why? In part, because I see them violated by some churches. I suspect that these violations occur more frequently because the commands are seen as “laws of Moses” rather than the “Jesus commands” they really are.
The Two Laws
The first law is found in Deuteronomy 22:8. In the NIV it says, “When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof.”
The second law comes from Exodus 21:33-34. It says, “If a man uncovers a pit or digs one and fails to cover it and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit must pay for the loss; he must pay its owner, and the dead animal will be his.”
Once again, these are laws based on true justice, one of God’s attributes. The phrase “guilt of bloodshed” in 22:8 gives us a clue. The principle goes something like this: Whenever we build something, we are responsible to mitigate the risk of injury to man and beast.
First, the Legal Basis
In the garden of Eden, God firmly established, for all humanity, the principle of property rights. In Genesis 2:16 & 17, we read these words spoken to Adam: “And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’ “
As the creator of all the trees and plants in the garden, God kept one of them for himself and gave all the others away. The principle of private property rights teaches us that the one who creates (in God’s case) or makes (in man’s case) has the right to use, enjoy, sell, give away or destroy what he/she has made. God had created these things. He alone had the right to give them away or to declare that they were for his use alone.
When Eve, and then Adam, took from the tree and ate, what law did they break? If your answer was “You shall not steal” you are correct. They stole. They instantly became guilty of theft and forfeited an inheritance they had already been granted – all of the other trees in the garden. If you would like to learn more about this topic, I recommend reading Dr Gary North’s book entitled “Christian Economics for Students” (free in digital form) [ WARNING: This is not light reading. You will be required to think. ]
Now, we should note that God’s laws come with sanctions for violators. God was gracious enough to warn Adam that there would be a consequence to a property right violation (or theft). Adam chose not to heed the warning label and suffered the consequences. For now, we can just note that without the legal basis of property rights, the two commands above have little relevance.
A Short Diversion
I should also mention that this legal basis utterly destroys any notion of legitimacy for socialism and communism. Both of these human constructs seek to take property rights away from individuals and give them to the state. The state rewrites the eighth commandment like this, “You shall not steal, except by majority vote.”
Ultimately, the state becomes the worst thug in the world, not just because it is heavily armed, but because it wears a cloak of legitimacy via the authority it wields. All to say that socialism will never work, as history has revealed over and over. However, this does not appear to dissuade evil people from trying to make it work, believing that THEY are smarter than God – and all who tried socialism before them!
Back to the Two Commandments
In the modern western world, we deal with moderately high levels of precipitation so flat roofs are generally avoided. (Yes, there are many commercial buildings with flat roofs where the surface area under roof makes pitched roofs impractical.) So, we might conclude that this is a law that does not apply to us. However, what does apply, is the principle behind the law.
Let me put the two commands together this way: Whether we are building into the sky or digging into the ground, if there is danger of injury to man or beast, the owner/builder is responsible to mitigate the risk of injury. When we don’t take that responsibility seriously and someone dies or someone’s property is damaged, we have violated their personal property rights – rights that God himself established. By doing so, we steal from the injured party. This is no small thing.
First, a Construction Example
Let me give a couple examples of ways that some churches violate these two commands. First, an example that involves actual construction: Many churches use platforms with a podium in their church buildings. Access to the platform generally requires acending and descending steps. What I often see, is that handrails are missing or tread lighting has not been provided for low light conditions. A small infraction we think, but not for the one who falls and experiences a crippling injury that affects the rest of their life.
Second, a Less Obvious Example
This next example illustrates how God’s laws rightfully extend beyond the written example. In the United States we have a civil government body called O.S.H.A. (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) which is tasked, primarily, with encouraging companies to obey these two commands. (Of course, it is doubtful that they realize this is what they are doing! It is also worth noting that O.S.H.A. has created and relies on far more regulations than God created for His own people.)
One area of O.S.H.A. regulation has to do with noise levels. Now that scientists have developed ways to measure volume and have conducted extensive tests, we know that exposure to volumes above 85db (decibels) results in permanent hearing loss. Here is what OSHA writes on the topic: “Exposure to loud noise kills the nerve endings in our inner ear. More exposure will result in more dead nerve endings. The result is permanent hearing loss that cannot be corrected through surgery or with medicine. Noise-induced hearing loss limits your ability to hear high frequency sounds and understand speech, which seriously impairs their ability to communicate. Hearing aids may help, but they do not restore your hearing to normal.” (see https://www.osha.gov/noise)
Some churches feel compelled to crank up their sound systems when the worship team is on stage. (Apparently, they interpret the admonition to make “a joyful noise unto the Lord” as meaning “a LOUD noise?”) I have personally measured volumes in excess of 100db in a church auditorium, so I know it happens.
Now, we may be tempted to think “what harm could it do?” After all, it’s only for a short time, right? So, lets run the math. If the band/worship team play an average of 15 minutes per week, that comes to 13 hours of high level noise exposure per year. (Assuming this happens 52 weeks a year.) The effects of this repeated exposure will be very gradual and will likely go unnoticed.
However, two groups will be affected far more than the average listener. One, is members of the music team, who, because of practice sessions and/or multiple services, are exposed for longer periods of time. The other, is young children and unborn infants – who are far more sensitive to high sound volumes.
The point of this example is that God’s justice, when it comes to the rights of others, is not confined exclusively to construction projects or flat roofs and pits. Vehicle maintenance (as in brakes, balding tires, etc), vaccines, firearms, driving habits and drinking habits all fall under the jurisdiction of these two commands.
Listening to Jesus
During his earthly ministry, our rabbi used an idiom that was common among rabbis of his day. The expression went like this: “You have heard it said . . . but I say to you . . . .” This idiom was not intended to convey new commands or teachings, but rather, to express an unfamiliar interpretation or amplification of an existing law. We see this in Matthew chapter 5 where Jesus says to his audience “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment . . .” (verses 21 & 22, NKJV) This idiom is used again in verses 27, 33 38 and 43.
In our day, we have done something far worse. We have stricken God’s legitimate codes of conduct from the list entirely, leaving us with a paltry subset of God’s instructions. Then we twist Paul’s words so we can hide behind a “straw man” (a logical fallacy used to make another person’s argument easier to attack) of “grace” pitted against “law”. May God have mercy on us.
The Letter of the Law
I trust that these brief examples have expanded our horizons just a bit. As believers in the rabbi Yeshua, we need to live by the principles behind His commands – instructions that are based on his divine nature. They are gifts to us, in that they make our daily decision making process much easier. As the psalmist says, His words light our path.
So, the questions of the day are these: Do these two commands I just discussed apply to us today? Have we been actively applying them? If not, why not?