If you read yesterday’s Old Testament passage then you saw God give his basic principles and commands to the people of Israel and then he set about giving them in essence a constitution and a code of law by which they were to govern themselves. Most of the laws set forth in the remainder of Exodus and on into Leviticus were designed and set forth specifically for the people of Israel. However, there are a few that do have some application for us today, and Exodus 22:21-23:9 contains some of those laws that are still applicable today.
The first section of this passage that we are going to look at is Exodus 22:21-27, which says:
“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.
“Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.
“If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it by sunset, because that cloak is the only covering your neighbor has. What else can they sleep in? When they cry out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.
The people of Israel were to remember who they were and their mistreatment in Egypt, and they were to remember that the Lord would take action on behalf of the powerless and vulnerable members of society, especially within Israel. The word translated oppress in verse 21 and in Exodus 23:9 is used in Exodus 3:9 to describe what prompted the Israelites to call out for help. They needed to avoid putting themselves in the position of the Egyptians. The mention of collateral consisting of a garment needed for warmth at night shows that the loan involved helping a poverty-stricken person survive, so no luxury or business venture is in view.
The next section is Exodus 22:28-31 which says:
“Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people.
“Do not hold back offerings from your granaries or your vats.
“You must give me the firstborn of your sons. Do the same with your cattle and your sheep. Let them stay with their mothers for seven days, but give them to me on the eighth day.
“You are to be my holy people. So do not eat the meat of an animal torn by wild beasts; throw it to the dogs.
Respect for God displayed in behavior toward others is an issue in the verses that precede and follow this one. Respect for a leader or ruler is included, perhaps in both halves of the verse, if the Hebrew word “elohim” has the same reference to “judges” that it seems to have in verses 8-9. Offerings and the firstborn of humans and animals belonged to God. Only the firstborn of animals suitable for sacrificing were actually sacrificed. All others were redeemed for a price. And finally the phrase “to be my holy people” recalls the fuller description of the Lord’s vision for Israel in Exodus 19:4-6, which says, “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”, but is expressed more personally by listing individual choices. Leviticus provides further directions on how the people of Israel were to be set apart from those around them.
The last section is Exodus 23:1-9, which says:
“Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness.
“Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit.
“If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it.
“Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty.
“Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent.
“Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.
These verses touch on every economic status or personal feeling that might tempt someone to treat another unjustly. Favoritism either to the poor or to the rich is ruled out. Even in private matters involving the need of an enemy, an Israelite must not only return straying livestock but also render aid on the spot.
As in Exodus 22:21-26, the Israelites must remember who they were and what it was like as resident aliens, and they must consider who the Lord is his support of justice. The warning in Exodus 23:7 not to execute an innocent person comes with a reason: “for I will not acquit the guilty”. This may refer to God ultimately bringing to justice a guilty person who might slip through the court when judges take care not to execute an innocent person. Or it may refer to God bringing to justice any witness or judge who contributes to the execution of an innocent person. Either way, the Lord declared his concern for maintaining justice. With these things in mind, the Israelites must support justice equally for the poor, the rich and the resident aliens.
And now we come to the most crucial part of all this: how does all this apply to us as New Testament Christians who do not come under the law. And to fully understand that we need to look at Micah 6:8, which says, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” This passage gives the clearest and most complete picture of how God expects his people to conduct themselves. This verse gives a threefold standard of goodness and what our commitment to God involves.
- We must act justly, which requires being fair and honest in our dealings with others. Notice that it says we must “act justly”. This is significant because a person can claim to appreciate justice; but they speak falsely unless they are willing to take the necessary action to make sure that others are treated justly.
- We must love mercy, which requires showing genuine active compassion and kindness to individuals in need. Notice that its says we must “love mercy”. This is significant because people can actually appear to do merciful things, but their actions are not true unless they really love people from their hearts.
- We must walk humbly with our God, which requires constant gratitude toward God, total reliance on him and an undying respect for his purposes—following them every day. We must remember that public worship is only a small part of our total commitment to Christ. A genuine love for the Lord must be shown by gracious actions toward others—particularly those in need.
The Apostle John wrote these words in 1 John which sum up nicely what you need to grasp from Exodus 22:21-23:9:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 1 John 4:7-12
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
Exodus 23:14-25:40, Matthew 24:29-51, Psalm 30:1-12 and Proverbs 7:24-27