Monday, September 10, 2012

Exodus 22:16-27 Behavior Matters: Rules Regarding Treatment of Others

"If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married
and sleeps with her,
he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife.
If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him,
he must still pay the bride-price for virgins.

Do not allow a sorceress to live.

Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal must be put to death.

Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the LORD must be destroyed.

Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.

Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan.  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 be like a moneylender; charge him no interest.
If you take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset,
because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body.
What else will he sleep in?
When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate." 

Exodus 22:16-27 (NIV)

At first when I looked at this section of Scripture, it seemed to be a bunch of unrelated ideas:  seduction, sorcery, sacrifice to other 'gods', sexual practices, treatment of aliens, treatment of widows and orphans, and lending practices.

However, they all involved people, our treatment of them, and the effect our behavior has on other people.  Each of these matters has to do with our behavior in relation to someone else.

Seduction  If a man seduced a virgin who was not pledged to another man, he had to pay the bride-price and take her as his wife.  The bride-price was a gift given to the bride's family.  If someone seduced a woman, he had to pay the bride-price and she would become his wife.  However, if her father, who had the final say in such matters, refused to allow her to become his wife, the offender would still have to pay the bride price.
Sorcery  According to this passage, a sorceress was not to be allowed to live.  There is a list in Deuteronomy of other occult practices which are absolutely forbidden to those who follow God:

"When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you,
do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there.
Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire,
who practices divination or sorcery,
interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells,
or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.
Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD,
and because of these detestable practices
the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you.
You must be blameless before the LORD your God.
 The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination.
But as for you, the LORD your God has not permitted you to do so.
The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me
from among your own brothers.
You must listen to him.

Deuteronomy 18:9-15 (NIV)

Well, that list is quite thorough and probably covers any questions we may have about what is forbidden.  I notice that the phrase "the LORD your God" is repeated three times in this small passage.  I think that this is to emphasize that the LORD, and no one else, is God, so His people should be getting their direction, or information or comfort, or assurance, from Him, and not from any of these other practices which are detestable to God.  This also explains why the punishment for sorcery was so severe.  A sorceress would
be consulting other idolatrous sources for her 'power', and would also be leading others into such practices.  Both of these things would be considered an abomination to the LORD.

Sacrifice  In the same vein of thought, someone who sacrificed to other 'gods' besides the LORD must be destroyed.  Again, the thought is that not only is such an action considered a great offense to God, but it also would serve to lead others to participate in such detestable practices.  That is probably why it is punished so severely.

Sexual Practices  Without getting into graphic detail, let me just say that sex with animals was strictly forbidden.  A note on Exodus 22:19 in the NIV Study Bible (pg. 121) says that ancient myths and epics describe these types of acts being performed by pagan gods and demigods in Babylonia and Canaan.  Often in God's dealings with His people He reminds them that they are to be a people set apart for His purposes.  If the Israelites participated in these detestable practices, they would be just like the other nations which the LORD was driving out before them.

Treatment of Aliens  No, not little green men, but those who are from other countries who are living in the land.  The Israelites had suffered when they had been enslaved aliens during their time in Egypt.  However, since nearly all of the Israelites who had been of adult age (besides the faithful Caleb and Joshua) had died during their desert sojourn, many from the younger generation may not remember or have been aware of the suffering which their parents had endured.  So they are reminded that they should not mistreat or oppress an alien.

Widows and Orphans  In a similar fashion, widows and orphans and other such people who may be powerless should not suffer abuse.  In our passage, God warns that those who abuse widows and orphans will suffer consequences, for God will hear their cries, His anger will be aroused, and He may even bring death to the oppressor.  Then their loved ones would become orphans and widows.

There are a striking number of passages about the fact that God has a special concern for widows, orphans and aliens.  Here are just some of them:

Exodus 23:6-12

Leviticus 19:9-10

Deuteronomy 14:29

Psalm 10:14-18

Isaiah 1:23

Jeremiah 7:6

Zechariah 7:8-10

Malachi 3:5

Matthew 25:34-45

Romans 15:26

Galatians 2:10

James 1:27

Lending   If anyone lends to one of God's people who are needy, he is not to seek to profit from the exchange.  No interest is to be charged.  In fact, if a neighbor's cloak has been taken as a guarantee for repayment of a debt, the lender is to return it to the man by sunset so that he may use it to cover himself.  After all, it is not as though a poor person would have an excess of other clothing or blankets which could be used!  If the lender ignores this direction, the man may cry to God and He will hear, for He is compassionate.  The implication is that God will also take action against the uncaring lender. 
As I noted, all of the above practices have some effect upon other people who surround us.  God's people are to be distinguished by their love and care for others, which is to be evident in all areas of our lives.      

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