Saturday, August 25, 2012

XLVI - Exodus 21:1 - 23:19 - Laws for a Just Society

We've seen the Ten Commandments handed down by God to His people, who were to become the nation Israel, God's chosen.  There are 40 chapters in the book of Exodus.  We've gone through half of them and they have been full of activity.  The remaining chapters may not seem so exciting as what we have studied thus far, but they nonetheless are necessary reading for a proper understanding of God.  Try to read ahead of my blog postings because I will make comment on the chapters in general and some passages in detail.

Remember Moses had appointed judges to share the load which was on Moses himself.  These laws were given as a set of guidelines to help all of these judeges.  God knew that, in our human frailty, all of these laws would come into effect.  Much of these laws are given as "case studies" to be used as guides.  For example, the command to return your enemy's lost animal (23:4) would help a judge to decide other cases involving dealing with one's enemies.  Other laws were simple instructional statements and need no examples, such as in 23:8:  "Do not accept a bribe". 

The following outline will give an overview of laws mentioned in these next few chapters, but note that they are all extensions of the Ten Commandments, which will serve as the base for all laws for the next several hundred years.
1.   Civil and Criminal Laws  (21:1  -  22:17)
      A.  Regulations Relating to Slaves  (21:1-11)
      B.  Crimes Punishable by Death  (21:12-17)
      C.  Bodily Injury Crimes  (21:18-33)
      D.  Crimes Against Property  (21:34  -  22:15)
2.   Moral and Religious Laws  (22:16  -  23:19)
      A.  Death Penalty for Sorcery, Idol Worship, or Mating with a Beast  (22:18-20)
      B.  Compassion for the Powerless  (22:21-27)
      C.  Duties Toward God  (22:28-31)
      D.  Principles of Justice and Mercy  (23:1-9)
      E.  Laws About Religious Practices  (23:10-19)

The laws begin with those relating to slaves.  This is appropriate for the times.  As was common in their world, the Hebrews would continue to have slaves, but God saw to it that they treated their slaves justly.  These verses pertained to only Hebrew slaves, not those captured in war or bought outside the nation.  I know you are wondering how slavery could possibly come about in a new nation.  The chief reason for one Hebrew to become the slave of another is debt.  The law references debt often and in detail.  Today, if someone cannot make a car payment, the lender would repossess the car.  In the ancient world, they repossessed the debtor.  But the Lord put a strict time limit in which a person could own a slave.  After six years, the slave would go free.  The law goes on to clarify about the slave's wife and children.  It goes into further detail covering a slave who choses to remain a slave.  I told you earlier that the Bible addresses capitol punishment.  Verses 12-17 God lists the offences punishable by death:  1)  Murder, unless accidental.  2) Any premeditated murder.  3) Anyone who attacks his mother or father is to be put to death.  4) Kidnapping.  5) Anyone who curses his mother or father.

Vss 18-->  These verses deal in detail with bodily injury, pertaining to everthing from a fistfight to accidently harming a pregnant woman and her unborn baby.  Two things to notice:  The injured person must be proven to be truly injurred, and the law makes certain that the punishment does not exceed the crime (eye for an eye).  The law goes on to cover when someone's bull gores and injurs a person who is not the bull's owner.  It also covers when someone has caused injury to another person through negligence such as digging a pit and not covering it.  God thinks we should always be
thinking of the welfare of others no matter what task we might be undertaking.

These verses 21:34 - 22:15 deal in detail with personal propety, which is mainly livestock.  They cover neglegence causing property damage, accidental damage, restitution and formulas for calculating amounts, protecting one's property against intruders, illegal grazing, fire damage, safekeeping of valuables, and borrowing animals.  These laws are a matter of common sense and justice.

Verses 22:18-20 lists three social crimes punishable by death:  Sorcery, sex with animals, and sacificing to any other god.

Verses 22:21-27  -  Along with the poor, the stranger, widow, and orphan are often mentioned in the Old Testament law.  These people lacked sufficient power for themselves, mainly because they had no male head of the household to look after them.  The law made sure that noone was to take ill-advantage of these vulnerable people.  God states in no uncertain terms that He will avenge these people with a full compliment of His wrath.  He goes on to deal with loaning these people money and how compassion is to be practiced.  {We'll see later that one of the causes of the down fall of a nation was the mistreatment of the poor.  The prophets warned over and over again about this, but greed, among other things, was set in too firmly.}  When someone borrowed money back in those days, he was to offer something for security.  Often times the only thing they had to offer was their coat.  Coats were used not only as an outer garment, but also a blanket.  The law clearly states that if a lender is holding one's coat as security, he is to return it by sundown so the borrower would not have to spend the cold night without it.  At sunrise the next morning, the coat is to be returned to the borrower again for the daytime hours.

Verses 22:28-31 lists just a few requirements concerning living according to God's wishes.  Blasphemy against God is forbidden, but also cursing rulers {This means Moses, Aaron, and the judges they appointed.}  Also, God expects His people to tithe according to His commandments.  He emphasizes dedicating the first-born.  And He prohibits eating the meat of an animal that was killed by wild beasts.

The first 9 verses of chapter 23 deal with justice and mercy.  God forbids five things in the first three verses:  Do not spread false statements or inuendoes.  Do not knowingly help a guilty person with helpful statements.  Do not "go along" with the crowd at the expense of truth and justice.  Do not be influenced by the crowd when giving testimony.  And do not show favoritism to the poor because he is poor and causes compassion in your heart.  The next two verses tell us how to deal with our enemies.  (Jesus expounded on this a great deal in Matthew chapter 5.)  Justice did not depend on how one personally feels about someone.  If an enemy needs help, he needs help regardless of
personalities.  One example given was when an animal is lost and in a ditch, one is to help the animal out of the ditch and returned to its owner.  Our relationship with God supercedes our relationship with our fellow man.  This passage also goes into more detail about judging the rich and the poor.  Niether should find favoritism in a court of justice.  We are to beware not to accept bribes to favor the rich, and we should not allow our compassion to sway our feelings to favor the poor.

Verses 10-19 of chapter 23 deal with religious practices.  Firstly, it emphasizes the Sabboth, but expands it.  Notice how God says the land is to be farmed six years and rested the seventh.  The Old Testament goes into great detail about this later.  Up to this time, this was unheard of.  It continues on to say that the livestock are to be rested on the Sabboth for rest also.  Verses 14-19 lists three festivals to be celebrated.  The Feast of Unleavened Bread.  For seven days, no yeast was to be used in the bread.  This was to celebrated leaving Egypt.  The Festival of Harvest was to be celebrated
with the firstfruits of the crops.  The Festival of Ingathering was to be celebrated at the end of the year when all the crops were brought in from the fields.  God warns (vs 15b) that "no man is to appear before Me empty-handed".
Next post:  God's Angel to Prepare the Way

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