Law and Narrative In Exodus 19–24 -- By: Joe M. Sprinkle

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 47:2 (Jun 2004)
Article: Law and Narrative In Exodus 19–24
Author: Joe M. Sprinkle


Law and Narrative In Exodus 19–24

Joe M. Sprinkle

[Joe Sprinkle is professor of Old Testament at Crossroads College, 920 Mayowood Road SW, Rochester, MN 55902]

1 Introduction

James Watts writes, “Lawyers and judges do not usually read law books from beginning to end like novels. Instead, laws are collected, compared, harmonized, codified, and in general arranged systematically so as to preclude the necessity of ever having to read the whole code through from start to finish.”1 As Watts goes on to note, this is exactly how the regulations of the Pentateuch often have been read by traditional Jewish and Christian readers as well as modern critical scholars. The laws of the Pentateuch have regularly been analyzed by themselves without much consideration to the narrative context in which they are embedded.2 Without denying the usefulness of attempts to systemize biblical regulations, this paper stresses the need to read the laws contextually within their narrative and legal-literary frameworks and vice versa.

2 The Relationship between Laws and Narratives

The laws of Exodus 19–24 interrelate with the narratives of the Pentateuch in a variety of ways.

1. The laws are part of the narrative of God’s graciously establishing a personal relationship with Israel as distinct from other nations. From a formal point of view, the laws (Exod 20:1–17; 20:22–23:33) are part of, and subordinate to, the narrative of God’s establishment of the covenant with Israel at Sinai (Exod 19; 20:18–21; 24). More generally, this address is a continuation of the exodus story (Exod 1–18) in which God graciously initiates a personal relationship with his people, so that Israel will come to know Yahweh as their God (Exod 6:6–7; 16:12).

It is important to note how God first establishes the relationship with Israel by saving them and then subsequently regulates that relationship through the covenant and its laws. In other words, a relationship with God was established not by law-keeping, but as a free gift. Israel’s relationship

with God originates before the giving of the...

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