Friday, September 28, 2012

Exodus 23:1-9 Laws Involving Our Treatment of Others

"Do not spread false reports.

Do not help a wicked man 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 man in his lawsuit.

If you come across your enemy's ox or donkey wandering off,
be sure to take it back to him.
If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load,
do not leave it there; be sure you help him 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 righteous.

Do not oppress an alien;
you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens,
because you were aliens in Egypt."

Exodus 23:1-9 (NIV)

These statements are fairly clear without any explanation.  However, as I read further in the commentaries and thought about other verses which I knew regarding the same subjects, I realized that one could easily write a whole post (or more) about each area covered in this section of verses.  Instead, I'll just write some things about each section.  I know that these concepts will come up again and again, in both the Old and New Testament, and each time they do, we get a clearer idea of what it looks like to live as a follower of God.

Do Not Spread False Reports 
This seemed obvious, because lying is forbidden.  However, one verse which the commentaries recommended led me to another aspect of why this this spreading of false reports is forbidden.  It is Leviticus 19:16 (NIV) and it says this:

"Do not go about spreading slander among your people.
Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor's life.
I am the LORD."

I thought that this was interesting because although many of the instructions in Exodus 23:1-9 above seem to be about keeping the ninth commandment found in Exodus 20:16 ("You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor."), this verse brought out the fact that such slanderous reports can take on a life of their own and even end up endangering someone's life.  The 'do not go about' part of this verse in Leviticus brought to my mind an image of someone eagerly running around spreading the latest gossip about someone else.  Whether in the context of a lawsuit, or in the company of friends, it is tempting to 'share' the latest news, even at others' expense.  However, out attitude is to be that we would not do anything which might endanger a neighbor's life.

Some Scriptural examples of how this might occur are found in Deuteronomy 22:1-4, where a woman is falsely accused of something which might cost her her life, and in I Kings 21:10-13, where Queen Jezebel slanders Naboth so that he will be put to death and her husband, King Ahab, can then obtain Naboth's property.  I might add that in both cases, a false report could lead to the accuser's death.  In fact, in Ahab and Jezebel's case, it eventually lead to both of their deaths.  So don't be mislead into thinking that gossip or slander is just a little matter with no real consequences.

Do Not Be a Malicious Witness
I guess that both of the Scriptural examples above could serve equally well in this matter.  This behavior seems to be happening in a legal case, where one could be tempted to testify against someone else.  Either because of a bribe, or a friendship, or some type of obligation, we might be tempted to help a guilty person win their case against an innocent person.  However, God sees the truth in each case and will not let the guilty go unpunished.

Do Not Follow the Crowd
We are not to just blindly follow the crowd, especially when they are intent upon doing evil.  When giving testimony in a lawsuit, we are not to give false testimony just to fit in with what everyone else is saying.  This would be a perversion of justice.  In addition, we are not to adjust our testimony to give a poor person a break.  Of course we are to be concerned for the needs of the poor, but this does not include exchanging the truth for a lie, even if our intent is to help a poor person.  Real justice requires us to tell the truth, without favoritism of any kind.

Do Unto Others... you would like them to do towards you.  In this case it includes caring for the property of others, even if you would consider them an enemy.  A wandering animal was to be returned to its owner -- even if you do not particularly like that person.  In an even more in-your-face act of kindness, if we see an enemy struggling (in this case with an overloaded animal), we are to directly assist them.  We are not to turn away or pretend we do not see what is happening.  Although this may be awkward, and we may fear that he/she will just rebuke us for our efforts to help, you can not deny that this act of kindness would make a huge impression upon an 'enemy' and perhaps even make him/her begin to want to know more about this God whom you serve.

Four items are mentioned here:
  • Don't deny justice to someone just because they are poor.
  • Have nothing to do with a false charge.
  • Don't put an innocent or honest person to death.
  • God will not acquit the guilty.  He sees and knows the truth about everything.  Even if you can fool everyone else, you can't fool God.
No Bribes
We are not to accept a bribe, because this is wrong and has several effects according to this verse:
  • It blinds those who see.  In other words, it causes a person who clearly sees the truth to pretend to be blind to it.
  • It twists the words of the righteous.  It changes our perception of a righteous person's testimony from a clear presentation to something twisted and evil.  In order to accept a bribe, we would have to be willing to mangle an otherwise straightforward testimony and change it into something else.
Don't Oppress Aliens
This ought to be easy for the Israelites to understand.  Oppression was evil and they had already experienced it in Egypt.  Although such an alien might be powerless to resist oppression, God saw it and would be displeased if His people participated in such actions, particularly since He had delivered them from their oppression in Egypt.
As I read all these laws, I was struck by the fact that every aspect of our lives provides the opportunity to glorify God.  Even simple acts of kindness can have a huge impact upon others' lives.

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