Exceptions that Prove the Rule
When we think about the Law that God provided for Israel through Moses, we normally think of it as intractable, rigid, and heartless. Indeed, there are reasons for that characterization (Acts 15:10; Galatians 5:1), but that is far from the whole story. We need to remember that the Law was authored by the God who is the embodiment of love (I John 4:7-20), and therefore His nature will be present in that Law (Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8).
One of the characteristics of love is that it listens to others and is reasonable. (I Corinthians 13:4-7; James 3:17) If God is love, and His law is how love is carried out, then it follows that there would be times that God would listen and be reasonable in giving that Law. It should not surprise us when we see exactly that situation played out in the biblical narratives.
One such instance is seen in the establishment of the Passover observance in the first month starting on the fourteenth day of the month. (Number 9:1-5) This was to commemorate the day that Israel came out of Egyptian slavery, and remembering the event was important for the people. (Exodus 12) However, there were some who were unable to observe on that day, because they had been rendered ceremonially unclean through contacts with a dead body. They asked Moses, “We are unclean because of [the] dead person, why are we restrained from presenting the offering of YHWH at its appointed time among the sons of Israel?” (Numbers 9:7) Moses inquired of God, and He provided an opportunity on the second month for people unable to observe it in the first month. (Numbers 9:8-14)
When Moses himself came to realize on several occasions (Exodus 18:17-27; Numbers 11:10-25) that he was not enough by himself to judge the people and their legal complaints, God commanded the people to appoint judges over the people. Moses recounted that he was told to “Choose wise and discerning and experienced men from your tribes, and I will appoint them as your heads.” In turn, Moses charged those judges to “Hear [the cases] between your fellow countrymen, and judge righteously between a man and his fellow countryman, or the alien who is with him.” (Deuteronomy 1:9-18) Later, this need was recognized to be part of God’s law continually. (Deuteronomy 16:18-20)
The laws of inheritance as God was giving them to the people all assumed that men would have sons to take over the land of their fathers, but there was a man named Zelophehad who had five daughters and no sons. They inquired whether the land their father was to inherit would be lost because there was no male offspring. We can read that, “Moses brought their case before YHWH.” (Numbers 27:1-5) God responded, “The daughters of Zelophehad are right in [their] statements.” (Numbers 27:7) Seeing the need for justice, God established laws that would allow daughters to inherit land in the case that there were no sons. (Numbers 27:8-11; 36:5-12; Joshua 17:2-4)
When we read God’s Law, we read about His character. His character is love, and in love He enacts justice. Will we be careful to make sure we are reasonable and always seek justice?