There are always issues, and we must know how to address them.

Foundations for a Christian Worldview: The Times (3)

Then Isaac sowed in that land, and reaped in the same year a hundredfold; and the LORD blessed him. The man began to prosper, and continued prospering until he became very prosperous; for he had possessions of flocks and possessions of herds and a great number of servants. So the Philistines envied him. Genesis 26.12-14

Every age
In every age, people have to deal with a variety of issues confronting them, to which they must respond, and which can affect the course of their lives. This was as true for the patriarchs and the people who followed Moses through the wilderness as it is for people in our day.

When we think of the kind of issues that characterize the times we live in, certain recurrent themes come to mind: justice and fairness, wealth and poverty, property rights, ethnic and racial differences, political stability, moral and cultural differences. Human beings are never very far from having to make decisions and choices relating to one or another of such issues. 

These issues are present in the books of Moses, and by observing how God’s covenant people dealt with such issues, we can discern principles and practices to guide us in thinking about our times and the worldview vision that should guide us. Here I do not intend an exhaustive treatment of this subject. Instead, by looking at just a few examples of such issues, I hope to add more definition to the worldview footprint that emerges in the Law of God.

Seek peace
Issues arise in every age that pit people against one another, creating tension and uncertainty. Disputes over rights and property, international disagreements, acts of injustice, and racial differences are just a few of the issues that can set people on edge.

The general principle that seems to have guided the people of God whenever such issues arose was to seek peace with their neighbors. We see this, for example, in the case of Isaac and the Philistines. To avoid the consequences of famine, Isaac sought to live peaceably among the Philistines in Gerar, following the Lord’s will for him. Though he got off on the wrong foot with them, his little act of deception was quickly redressed, and Isaac lived, worked, and flourished among the Philistines for many years.

But his neighbors became jealous of his prosperity, and sought to drive him away by depriving him of water rights. In response to repeated seizures of his wells, Isaac moved on and dug new ones. The Lord blessed him and renewed His covenant with Isaac, so that he prospered even more. This led the Philistines to come and seek peace with Isaac, who had been such a man of peace among them. After a little chiding of the king and his entourage, Isaac agreed and entered a covenant of peace with them.

We see this same peaceable spirit in Moses’ first approach to Pharaoh. He made his request – that the people should be allowed to go into the wilderness and hold a feast with their God – humbly, even adding “Please” in so doing (the Hebrew, נָּ֡אnah,means something like please or I pray or won’t you). Only after Pharaoh’s repeated rejections, and the increasing hardness of his heart, did Moses and God take the gloves off and lower the boom.

Again, as the people of Israel approached the land of promise, they sought peaceful passage through the territory belonging to the Amorites (Num. 21.21ff), promising not to despoil the people of the land as they passed through. They only resorted to war when their offers of peace were rebuffed, and they were attacked.

Various statutes in the Law of God outline guidelines for living in peace with one’s neighbors, as well as with surrounding nations and peoples. God is a God of peace, and peace is always prominent among the promises He makes for His people. They, in turn, are called to seek peace and be peace-makers wherever they can.

Exercise compassion
A second general principle we see in the Law of God for defusing tensions and alleviating uncertainty is the practice of compassion. We see this in various ways, but especially in the laws that address caring for the poor and for foreigners.

The gleaning laws included in the Law of Moses provide a compassionate attempt to help the poor. These were good laws on two counts. First, is the obvious provision of food for those who, for one reason or another, were not able to provide for themselves. Farmers were instructed not to reap the corners of their fields, or to go over their vines or olive trees with a fine-toothed comb. They were to leave fruit for the poor to gather. If a farmer forgot a sheaf of wheat or a basket of harvested fruit, he was not to return to claim it, but to leave it as part of the gleanings.

The second point was just as important. Poor people in ancient Israel were not to expect a handout to meet their needs. They had to work for it. By going through the fields and vineyards, gathering what they could, they maintained both an ethic of work – foundational, as we have seen, to what it means to be an image-bearer of God – and the sense of dignity that goes with taking responsibility for one’s own wellbeing.

The Law’s approach to dealing with foreigners – “strangers,” as it is commonly put – was to allow them space to work and live, contingent upon their obeying the laws of the land. God commanded His people not merely to have compassion on strangers and aliens, but to love them, remembering that they had once been unloved strangers in a foreign land – unloved, that is, except by God Himself (Ex. 22.21; 23.9; Lev. 19.34).

The overarching principle
The issues that confronted God’s people, whether of justice or property or social disparities or international threats, were to be governed by one overarching principle: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19.17, 18).

Loving one’s neighbors as one would like to be loved is a simple formula for addressing all manner of issues that might arise in communities and between citizens. Neighbor love is a reflection and a channel of God’s love, which lies at the foundation and in the heart of all human existence.

Various statutes in the Law of God encode this principle in specific ways, some so venerable as to be cited by writers in the New Testament as continuing to be valid in their day (cf. 1 Cor. 9.3-14; Jms. 5.1-4; etc.). The great issues that divide people can only ultimately be redressed when love – not money or status or race or political alliance or any other such thing – is the common currency that binds a society together. 

From the beginning, God intended His people to master the work of loving their neighbors as themselves, and to be a light to the world, showing and leading the way in dealing with all the various kinds of issues that threaten our fallen world. He knew that this would not always be possible, and so counseled His people to prepare for war when peace-seeking, compassion, and love could not prevail. But the dominant theme and remedy for the issues that arise between people, according to the Law of God, is to learn the art of neighbor-love, and to practice it faithfully and well.

For reflection
1. What do you consider to be the great issues facing us in our times? How do people typically try to deal with these?

2. What does it mean for you to be a loving, compassionate, peace-maker in your Personal Mission Field?

3. The Church should be the training-ground for neighbor love (cf. Jn. 13.1-15). Suggest some ways local churches could improve in this.

Next steps – Transformation: How consistent are you in loving your neighbor as yourself? For the next few days, ask God to give you specific opportunities to love your neighbor. Jot these down as they come, and pray them back to the Lord at the end of the day. Ask the Lord to help you become more aware of such opportunities, and to fulfill them as Jesus would.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.