The statutes of the covenant range from apodictic law (thou shalt not under any circumstances), to casuistic law (if this is the case, then do this), to detailed descriptions of ritual regulations to be observed by the priests and the community. For Israel, everything required by the covenant was a matter of life and blessing, if properly observed, or of death and cursing, if ignored or forsaken. There are no circumstances that allow for the antisocial act of one human being killing another human being with no legal sanction: thou shalt not commit murder.
Ignorance of a given statute was no excuse. Any failure to obey a statute, ordinance, or judgment of the law was a sin. The statutes related to sacrifices for the unwitting sin are a good example of case law. If someone was guilty of an unwitting sin, the sinner performed the sacrifice when he learned of his sin ( Lev 4 ).
Leviticus 10 provides a good example of ritual law based on a specific case that results in an apodictic statute: Nadab and Abihu had been drinking before they entered the tabernacle to perform their duties. Because they were unable to distinguish "between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean, " they died in a blaze of fire before Yahweh. Thus, the everlasting statute through all generation is given. Priests are to drink no wine or strong drink when performing their duties lest they die (vv. 1-11).
Israel understood that the statutes applied to everyone equally, whether native born or resident alien. Uriah the Hittite is a good example of an alien who had joined himself to Yahweh and Israel. His faithful adherence to the statutes related to holy war resulted in his "murder" by David. This incident also illustrates another important point. When an Israelite sinned against another human being, he also sinned against the community and Yahweh. There was no distinction between public and private morality ( Deut 29:18-21 ).
A theological problem that continues to haunt us today is taking the promise of God's blessing for observance of all the statutes as an almost magical formula. One tries to evaluate his or her relationship with God in terms of outward circumstances. If everything is fine, one is basking in God's favor. If one is ill or oppressed or poor, one is under God's curse and needs to repent of sin or lack of faith. The Book of Job deals with this issue. The parable of Lazarus and the rich man speaks to it as well. Often our faith in God is in spite of circumstances, not because of them ( Luke 16:19-31 ; cf. Jer 44 ).
Mark D. McLean
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Statute'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".