These chapters continue a separate section of Exodus which started with a prologue in Chapter 20:22-26, and ends with an epilogue in Chapter 23:20-33.
It gives laws which expand on the original Ten Commandments. So far they have covered:
Much of this next section is self-explanatory and needs little comment from me!
1 ‘Whoever steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.
2 ‘If a thief is caught breaking in at night and is struck a fatal blow, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; 3 but if it happens after sunrise, the defender is guilty of bloodshed. ‘Anyone who steals must certainly make restitution, but if they have nothing, they must be sold to pay for their theft. 4 If the stolen animal is found alive in their possession – whether ox or donkey or sheep – they must pay back double.
5 ‘If anyone grazes their livestock in a field or vineyard and lets them stray and they graze in someone else’s field, the offender must make restitution from the best of their own field or vineyard.
6 ‘If a fire breaks out and spreads into thorn-bushes so that it burns sheaves of corn or standing corn or the whole field, the one who started the fire must make restitution.
7 ‘If anyone gives a neighbour silver or goods for safekeeping and they are stolen from the neighbour’s house, the thief, if caught, must pay back double. 8 But if the thief is not found, the owner of the house must appear before the judges, and they must determine whether the owner of the house has laid hands on the other person’s property. 9 In all cases of illegal possession of an ox, a donkey, a sheep, a garment, or any other lost property about which somebody says, “This is mine,” both parties are to bring their cases before the judges. The one whom the judges declare guilty must pay back double to the other.
10 ‘If anyone gives a donkey, an ox, a sheep or any other animal to their neighbour for safekeeping and it dies or is injured or is taken away while no one is looking, 11 the issue between them will be settled by the taking of an oath before the Lord that the neighbour did not lay hands on the other person’s property. The owner is to accept this, and no restitution is required. 12 But if the animal was stolen from the neighbour, restitution must be made to the owner. 13 If it was torn to pieces by a wild animal, the neighbour shall bring in the remains as evidence and shall not be required to pay for the torn animal. 14 ‘If anyone borrows an animal from their neighbour and it is injured or dies while the owner is not present, they must make restitution. 15 But if the owner is with the animal, the borrower will not have to pay. If the animal was hired, the money paid for the hire covers the loss.
We might say that all that is just common sense; but it’s never that easy if you are the aggrieved party. There needed to be third party judges who could take a detached view, but there needed to be some basic guidelines for them too.
It was difficult dealing with things – but much more difficult when dealing with
16 ‘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. 17 If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins.
18 ‘Do not allow a sorceress to live.
19 ‘Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal is to be put to death.
20 ‘Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the Lord must be destroyed.
It is interesting that in most countries, laws relating to those who deliberately set themselves against God (v18, 20) seem to be of little consequence today, while laws relating to the mistreatment of animals (v19) are still on the statute books.
21 ‘Do not ill-treat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.
22 ‘Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. 23 If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. 24 My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.
25 ‘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. 26 If you take your neighbour’s cloak as a pledge, return it by sunset, 27 because that cloak is the only covering your neighbour has. What else can they sleep in? When they cry out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.
This was another quality that God uniquely possessed. None of the other nations’ gods could ever be described as ‘compassionate’!
28a ‘Do not blaspheme God
Why do people blaspheme God?
It may be interesting to note that in England and Wales, following discussions on ‘human rights’, the offence of blasphemy was abolished by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008
28b or curse the ruler of your people.
See Romans 13:1-5
1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority isrebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience
The Emperor of Rome at the time Paul wrote this letter was Nero (AD54-68) who persecuted Christians, ‘burning them in his garden at night as a source of light’ (Wikipedia).
Is there ever justification for uprisings that are aimed at overthrowing the current ruler? (See also 1 Peter 2:13-17) A difficult one! Some possible answers here: http://www.gotquestions.org/civil-disobedience.html
29 ‘Do not hold back offerings from your granaries or your vats. ‘You must give me the firstborn of your sons. 30 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.
What is the difference between an Offering and a Sacrifice?
There seems to be little differentiation in the bible with several words used for both. Very generally we could say that offerings are love-gifts to God expressing our thankfulness to him, and as a form of worship, expecting nothing in return.
The term ‘sacrifice’ would usually indicate that an animal had been killed. Often this would be in place of another. Perhaps to expiate for sins, or to redeem a ‘first-born’ (Exodus 13: 12-16). In that sense, sacrifices were in effect to make payment of a debt due to God.
Much has been written about sacrifice, the following link may be a useful starting place if you wish to find out more:http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/dictionaries/dict_meaning.php?source=3&wid=S10219
31 ‘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.
This underlines the difference between the Children of Israel and the other nations ‘You are to be my holy people’ something they would continually find most difficult.
What does this mean to Christians? How are we to be ‘holy’?
1 ‘Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness.
2 ‘Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, 3 and do not show favouritism to a poor person in a lawsuit.
4 ‘If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. 5 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.
6 ‘Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. 7 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.
8 ‘Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent.
9 ‘Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.
Justice and mercy were major attributes of God. They were therefore vital for his people too. It seems that God is saying ‘If I have to spell it out to you, I will’.
10 ‘For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, 11 but during the seventh year let the land lie unploughed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what is left. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.
The people needed to understand that they did not own the land, it belonged to God. He would apportion it to the people as tenants for their use, and if crops were sown in it the resulting harvest would belong to them. But during the seventh year, whatever the land produced by itself was God’s and he could direct what became of any harvest.
12 ‘Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and so that the slave born in your household and the foreigner living among you may be refreshed.
Creator God knew that animals, slaves, and Israelites all needed a day of rest; even the land needed a Sabbath.
13 ‘Be careful to do everything I have said to you.
Would you say you are careful, or casual, in doing everything God has said to you?
Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips.
We probably have heard the names of some Egyptian gods, we may also know the gods of the Greeks and Romans – we were taught them at school. Actually the planets are named after them; even all of our days and four of our months are named after them. Yet God commands us to not even mention them – twice in the same sentence. So why are their names perpetuated in so blatant a manner?
14 ‘Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me.
15 ‘Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread; for seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Aviv, for in that month you came out of Egypt.
This was to be the most important festival.
(See the study on Exodus chapter 12)
‘No one is to appear before me empty-handed.
This phrase struck me (as church treasurer!).
When we come to worship, in what ways might we come ‘empty-handed’?
16 ‘Celebrate the Festival of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field.
‘Celebrate the Festival of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field.
Twice a year, when the first fruits appear after winter, and again when ‘all is safely gathered in’ a festival is to be held acknowledging where the Earth’s bounty comes from.
17 ‘Three times a year all the men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord.
This was not an optional church parade, God would use these occasions as an inspection. And not a quick ceremonial march past, each was required to personally come to the tabernacle, and later the Temple, to present himself to God. (I wonder, would they bring an offering, or a sacrifice?)
18 ‘Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast.
‘The fat of my festival offerings must not be kept until morning.
19 ‘Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.
‘Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.
Anything offered must be of highest quality, not tainted, not leftovers, nor with any heathen connotations.
20 ‘See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. 21 Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him. 22 If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you. 23 My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out.
This ‘Angel of the covenant’ is considered by many commentators to be Jesus himself. Neither men, nor angels had the authority to ‘forgive your rebellion’ (v20) – and the warning here was that rebellion against God was unforgiveable.
However, if they would only be obedient he will wipe out all the heathen nations and bring them into the Promised Land.
24 Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. You must demolish them and break their sacred stones to pieces.
In our culture this seems such an obvious and correct thing to do. But God did not include it here for no reason – he knew it would be a continual stumbling-block for the Israelites, leading to their eventual exile (2 Chronicles 36:11-20).
25 Worship the Lord your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away disease from among you, 26 and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span.
Again, such an obvious and correct thing for the people to do – so why did they find it so difficult?
27 ‘I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their backs and run. 28 I will send the hornet ahead of you to drive the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites out of your way. 29 But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. 30 Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land. 31 ‘I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the desert to the Euphrates River. I will give into your hands the people who live in the land, and you will drive them out before you.
Here God sets before them his plan for their future: God himself will give them the land, will feed them and protect them. Yet like so many people today, when offered a wonderful hope and a future, they turned their backs on God and said ‘We don’t want to do what you want us to do; we want to do what we want to do’.
God knew this too, so again he warned them:
32 Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods. 33 Do not let them live in your land or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you.’