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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Exodus 21

Verses 1-36

Exodus 21:1

The Maker's Laws, whether they are promulgated in Sinai thunder, to the ear or imagination, or quite otherwise promulgated, are the Laws of God; transcendent, everlasting, demanding obedience from all men. The Universe is made by Law; the great Soul of the World is just and not unjust. Look then, if thou have eyes or soul left, into this Shoreless Incomprehensible; into the heart of its tumultuous Appearances, Embroilments and mad Time-Vortexes, is there not, silent, eternal, an All-just, an All-beautiful; sole Reality and ultimate controlling power of the Whole? This is not a figure of speech; this is a fact.

Carlyle, Past and Present.

The Egyptians were the first people upon the earth who emerged into what is now called civilization. How they lived, how they were governed during the tens of hundreds of generations which intervened between their earliest and latest monuments, there is little evidence to say. At the date when they become distinctly visible they present the usual features of effete Oriental societies; the labour executed by slave gangs, and a rich luxurious minority spending their time in feasting and revelry. Wealth accumulated, Art flourished. Enormous engineering works illustrated the talent or ministered to the vanity of the priestly and military classes. The favoured of fortune basked in perpetual sunshine. The millions sweated in the heat under the lash of the taskmaster and were paid with just so much of the leeks and onions and flesh-pots as would continue them in a condition to work. Of these despised wretches some hundreds of thousands were enabled by Providence to shake off the yoke, to escape over the Red Sea into the Arabian desert, and there receive a code of laws under which they were to be governed in the land where they were to be planted.

What were these laws? A revelation of the true God was bestowed on them, from which, as from a fountain, a deeper knowledge of the Divine Nature was to flow out over the earth; and the central thought of it was the realization of the Divine government not in a vague hereafter, but in the living present. The unpractical prospective justice which had become an excuse for tyranny was superseded by an immediate justice in time. They were to reap the harvest of their deeds, not in heaven, but on earth. There was no life in the grave whither they were going. The future state was withdrawn from their sight till the mischief which it had wrought was forgotten. It was not denied, but it was veiled in a cloud. It was left to private opinion to hope or to fear; but it was no longer held out either as an excitement to piety or a terror to evildoers. The God of Israel was a living God, and His power was displayed visibly and immediately in rewarding the good and punishing the wicked while they remained in the flesh.

It would be unbecoming to press the parallel, but phenomena are showing themselves which indicate that an analogous suspension of belief provoked by the same causes may possibly be awaiting ourselves. It may be that we require once more to have the living certainties of the Divine government brought home to us more palpably; that a doctrine which has been the consolation of the heavy-laden for eighteen hundred years may have generated once more a practical infidelity; and that by natural and intelligent agencies, in the furtherance of the everlasting purposes of our Father in heaven, the belief in a life beyond the grave may again be about to be withdrawn.

Froude, Short Studies, vol. II.

References. XXI. 5, 6. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx. No. 1174. XXII. 21, 22. H. Adler, The Orphan and the Helpless, Sermons, 1855-84. XXII. 29. R. B. Brindley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xl. p. 41.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Exodus 21". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. 1910.