YOUR HISTORY OF BEING REDEEMED FROM SLAVERY IN EGYPT SHOULD MOTIVATE YOU TO SHOW COMPASSION, DIGNITY AND RIGHTEOUSNESS TO THE POOR AND VULNERABLE
Albert Barnes: In this and the next chapter certain particular rights and duties, domestic, social, and civil, are treated. The cases brought forward have often no definite connection, and seem selected in order to illustrate the application of the great principles of the Law in certain important events and circumstances.
Daniel Block: The instructions regarding marriage and family issues in verses 1–5 are followed by a series (14 = 2 x 7) of short paragraphs dealing with a range of issues and only loosely linked thematically. The overarching concern is to develop sensitivity to the plight of the vulnerable in society and instill in persons with means a sense of responsibility for their well-being. This collage of instructions continues the trajectory of compassion found in earlier texts (esp. 15:1–11 and 23:19–20[20–21]), an observation strengthened by reminders of Israel’s experience as slaves in Egypt in 24:18 and 22, which echo similar statements in 15:15.
L. M. Grant: God’s laws were not merely arbitrary exactions: rather they were for the greatest good of His people Israel, whether they realized it or not.
C. H. Mackintosh: [Chaps. 22-25] The portion of our book on which we now enter, though not calling for elaborate exposition, yet teaches us two very important practical lessons In the first place, many of the institutions and ordinances here set forth prove and illustrate, in a most striking way, the terrible depravity of the human heart. They show us, with unmistakable distinctness, what man is capable of doing, if left to himself. . .
But, we have said, there is another valuable lesson furnished by this section of our book which now lies open before us. It teaches us, in a manner peculiar to itself, the marvelous way in which God provided for everything connected with His people. Nothing escaped His gracious notice; nothing was too trivial for His tender care. No mother could be more careful of the habits and manners of her little child, than the Almighty Creator and moral Governor of the universe was of the most minute details connected with the daily history of His people. By day and by night, waking and sleeping at home and abroad, He looked after them. Their clothing, their food, their manners and ways toward one another, how they were to build their houses, how they were to plough and sow their ground, how they were to carry themselves in the deepest privacy of their personal life – all was attended to and provided for in a manner that fills us with wonder, love and praise. We may here see, in a most striking way, that there is nothing too small for our God to take notice of when His people are concerned. He takes a loving, tender, fatherly interest in their most minute concerns. We are amazed to find the Most High God, the Creator of the ends of the earth, the Sustainer of the vast universe, condescending to legislate about the matter of a bird’s nest; and yet why should we be amazed when we know that it is just the same to Him to provide for a sparrow as to feed a thousand millions of people daily?
Peter Pett: [Chaps. 22-25] We have all heard sermons where the experienced preacher suddenly begins to roam far and wide, jumping swiftly from one subject to another in rapid succession, picking out information here and there, in order to present an overall picture. Sometimes there may seem to be no logic to it, but there usually is. And that is partly what Moses was doing here The regulations that follow may not seem to come in any discernible overall pattern, although Moses probably had one in his mind. But items are grouped together, or joined by key words and thoughts. Moses had a wide collection of laws from which he here extracted examples covering a wide range of circumstances so as to turn their thoughts back to Yahweh’s written Instruction. It was not intended to be comprehensive or detailed, but to convey an impression. (In the same way a similar lack of connections was found in many law codes).
I. (:5) DEMONSTRATE RIGHTEOUSNESS TO YOUR NEW WIFE = THE WEAKER VESSEL
A. Free From Community Responsibilities (Like Warfare)
“When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out with the army,
nor be charged with any duty;”
Jack Deere: If he were killed in combat he would probably have no posterity to preserve his name in Israel (on the significance of this see 25:5-10).
Thomas Constable: The reason for this provision was so the man could establish a strong relationship with his wife and perhaps begin producing descendants. Both strong homes and descendants were essential to God’s purposes through Israel. Going into war and dying amounted to stealing from his new bride or fiancée.
B. Free to Bring Joy to His Wife as He Establishes His New Household
“he shall be free at home one year
and shall give happiness to his wife whom he has taken.”
Daniel Block: The awkward clause “have any other duty laid on him” refers to duties that might be imposed on him for the good of the community. He must invest his energies in establishing solid economic and social foundations for his household. Indeed, the exemptions are to apply for one full year.
The verse ends with a remarkable rationale: husbands of new brides are exempt from all communal obligations so they may devote themselves to the happiness of their wives. With keen pastoral insight Moses has painted a picture of marriage that contrasts sharply with that portrayed in verses 1–4. Whereas the two husbands had caused their wife extreme stress, a husband is to pursue righteousness by bringing joy to his wife.
Duane Christensen: The man is to “remain at home one year,” presumably to conceive a child. According to Tigay — Hebrew “bring happiness,” could also be translated “gratify” in the sense of giving the wife conjugal pleasure ( 223). . . As shown in the previous section, 24:5 functions as a bridge, serving as the conclusion to 23:2—24:5 and the introduction to what follows in 24:5—25:19.
Gerald Gerbrandt: The logic of the exemption may relate to the ancient concern that an action once started should be allowed to be completed: the time frame of a year would allow the marriage to be made complete through the joy of a child (cf. Jer 29:6). But the focus of the text is on the joy and happiness that the couple should have during this time, whether the correct translation is that of the NRSV, to be happy with the wife (cf. RSV), or of the NIV, bring happiness to the wife (cf. KJV, NABRE, NJB). Certainly included in this happiness is the joy of sexual activity (Nelson 2002: 289, cf. Prov 5:19).
John Schultz: A country is not made safe by the strength of its army but by the solidity of its families. In the same way is a church not made strong by the ministry of its pastors but by the marital love and fidelity of its members. The breaking apart of families is the undoing of a nation, and particularly of the church of Jesus Christ.
II. (:6-7) DEMONSTRATE RIGHTEOUSNESS IN SUPPORT OF THE SANCTITY OF LIFE
A. (:6) Don’t Deprive Someone of Their Ability to Subsist
“No one shall take a handmill or an upper millstone in pledge,
for he would be taking a life in pledge.”
Daniel Block: The handmill, which consists of an upper millstone and a lower stone slab on the ground, provides an apt illustration of the principle. To demand a millstone as a pledge meant depriving a household of the basic instrument for making essential food (bread), which was tantamount to claiming the debtor’s life as a pledge.
Duane Christensen: A handmill or an upper millstone”, a necessary item in food preparation, was made of basalt or other hard stone able to withstand constant rubbing. Millstone sets were used to make flour for bread and thus were part of the necessary “kitchen utensils” in every home. To dispossess a family of its grain mill would amount to taking away its means of sustenance. It would appear that creditors took only the upper stone, which usually weighed about four or five pounds (Tigay  223; cf. idem, FS J. Milgrom, 374–76). . .
No matter what the circumstances may be, we do not have the moral right to take from another person their means of livelihood, however much they may owe us for loans made in times past.
Michael Grisanti: A millstone consisted of two pieces of rock, the top one resting on the lower one, and was used to grind grain to flour for bread. The bottom stone (“nether stone”) could weigh ten to twenty pounds, and the upper stone (“rider stone”) would weigh much less (about five pounds; van der Toorn, ABD, 4:831; cf. Tigay, “Some Archaeological Notes,” 374–76). Though taking both stones would be difficult, taking the upper stone would be relatively easy. But by taking just the upper stone, a person could render a millstone worthless and thus “take the life” (i.e., the livelihood) of the debtor.
B. (:7) Execute a Violent Kidnapper Who Has Stolen a Life
“If a man is caught kidnapping any of his countrymen of the sons of Israel,
and he deals with him violently, or sells him,
then that thief shall die; so you shall purge the evil from among you.”
Duane Christensen: no one has the right to “steal a person [life]” by treating a fellow human being as merchandise. Though the text here refers directly to the circumstance of kidnapping, the principle applies to the matter of selling someone into slavery as well. In either case the culprit was condemned to death in ancient Israel. We do well to remember that there are many ways to “enslave” a fellow human being. Those who traffic in addicting drugs, including tobacco and alcoholic beverages, or encourage other addictions such as gambling, pornography, and illicit sex, are often guilty of stealing the life of a fellow human being. In biblical law there is no comparison between those who would steal livestock, or property of any sort, and those who would “steal” a human life. The punishment for the latter was death.
Eugene Merrill: To steal a fellow member of the covenant community was, in effect, to rob God of his most precious possession, a human life. Respect for possessions of another thus reaches its climax in respect for another’s life and independence before God.
Peter Craigie: Stealing the life—the crime is social murder, for though the victim does not literally die, by being sold into slavery he is effectively cut off from the covenant family of God. Hence the penalty for the crime is severe—death! To cut a man off from the covenant community was to cut him off from sharing in the blessing of God for his people in the Promised Land.
III. (:8-9) DEMONSTRATE RIGHTEOUSNESS IN DEALING WITH INFECTIOUS SKIN DISEASES
A. (:8) Obey the Levitical Regulations
“Be careful against an infection of leprosy, that you diligently observe and do according to all that the Levitical priests shall teach you;
as I have commanded them, so you shall be careful to do.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: As generally recognized, the term translated leprous skin in this passage does not refer narrowly to the disease now called “leprosy,” or Hansen’s disease, but to a larger category of skin problems, especially those with a communicable nature. This particular word of warning, really not a law in any sense, is striking since it assumes instructions given elsewhere, which it then encourages the people to follow.
Eugene Merrill: The instruction here then serves a double purpose:
(1) to prescribe treatment of those who contracted leprosy by placing them under the care of the Levites (cf. Lev 13:1-14) and
(2) to warn against usurpation of divinely authorized leadership, particularly by bearing false witness. Moses was unmistakably in view here as the theocratic administrator, but he represented any leader of the community, including the Levitical priests to whom the leper submitted himself for treatment. To speak evil against such leadership was to challenge the sovereignty of God himself and thus to invite his swift and sure retribution.
B. (:9) Remember the Judgment on Miriam
“Remember what the LORD your God did to Miriam
on the way as you came out of Egypt.”
Duane Christensen: There is a significant lesson here for anyone who would presume to challenge the role of a leader God has raised up within a given community. Such action is sinful and brings pollution in its wake that must be dealt with. No one in leadership, however high the rank or position, is immune from the danger of committing Miriam’s sin of hubris. When such a matter occurs, the law is clear: God himself will bring punishment in the form of “leprosy”—a symbolic way of saying that a contaminating disease will become evident on that person, and that disease must be dealt with according to God’s own instructions. The afflicted person is to be excluded from the “camp” for a season, until such time as the proper rites of purification have removed the pollution, and the guilty party submits once again to proper authority under God.
IV. (:10-13) DEMONSTRATE RIGHTEOUSNESS TO POOR DEBTORS
A. (:10-11) Don’t Intimidate Debtors by Aggressive Behavior but Demonstrate Patience
“When you make your neighbor a loan of any sort, you shall not enter his house to take his pledge. 11 You shall remain outside, and the man to whom you make the loan shall bring the pledge out to you.”
Daniel Block: here we find additional instructions on how creditors may lend to the poor. Elaborating on Exodus 22:25–27[24–26], Moses sets the context and presents the case as a general principle. Whereas in the earlier text the loan involved silver and prohibited Israelites from capitalizing on the misfortunes of others, here Moses casts the net more broadly and seeks to limit the psychological damage caused by economic stress. He prohibits creditors from intimidating debtors by entering their houses to demand the pledge. Instead, lenders are to stand outside and wait for borrowers to bring them the pledge. As elsewhere, the goal is a community built on ethical values of trust and compassion.
Duane Christensen: The reason the creditor is not permitted to enter the debtor’s home to distrain property is usually interpreted to mean that “the debtor and his family would be humiliated by another man acting as master in the debtor’s domain, and the confrontation could lead to a fight” (Tigay  225).
Gerald Gerbrandt: This time the question is how far a lender can go to get a pledge from the debtor. The text allows the lender to request the pledge but prevents the lender from entering the home of the debtor to claim the pledge. For the lender to enter the home would be humiliating for the debtor and could suggest that the lender is now in charge of the home. The honor and dignity of the debtor, who remains a neighbor, is to be respected. This process also allows the debtor to determine what the pledge is rather than having the lender barge in and choose it.
Michael Grisanti: First, a lender is to honor the privacy of the borrower. His property is still his property, and he is worthy of respect.
MacArthur: Lending to the poor was permitted, but without:
1) interest (23:19, 20);
2) coercion to repay; and
3) extension of the loan beyond the sabbatical year (15:1, 2).
IVP Bible Background Commentary: Regulations concerning a pledge.
It was a common business practice in the ancient Near East for a person to “make a pledge” (i.e., offer as collateral) a portion of his property as a guarantee of paying off a debt or other financial obligation. For instance, the Code of Hammurabi and Hittite laws stipulate the pledging of land or planted fields. Hammurabi and Middle Assyrian laws both deal with the legal rights of persons who have been taken in pledge for a debt. What is distinctive about the Deuteronomic law, as compared to the older version in the covenant code (Ex 22:26–27), is its emphasis on protecting both the humanitarian rights and the personal honor of the debtor. Thus the creditor may not enter the debtor’s house to take an object in pledge. Instead, the debtor’s dignity is preserved by maintaining the sanctity of his personal dwelling and by giving him the opportunity to choose what will be offered. In this way the poor are treated on a par with all other Israelites.
B. (:12-13) Don’t Exploit Debtors but Show Compassion
“And if he is a poor man, you shall not sleep with his pledge. 13 When the sun goes down you shall surely return the pledge to him, that he may sleep in his
cloak and bless you; and it will be righteousness for you before the LORD your God.”
Daniel Block: Moses does not say whether the pledge was to be returned for good or if the lender might return every morning to hold the object during the day until the loan is repaid.
V. (:14-15) DEMONSTRATE RIGHTEOUSNESS TO HIRED SERVANTS
A. (:14) Don’t Oppress Them
“You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy,
whether he is one of your countrymen or one of your aliens
who is in your land in your towns.”
B. (:15) Don’t Delay Paying Their Wages
“You shall give him his wages on his day before the sun sets,
for he is poor and sets his heart on it;
so that he may not cry against you to the LORD and it become sin in you.”
Daniel Block: Having challenged his hearers in principle not to take advantage of day laborers, in verse 15 Moses explains what he means: day laborers must be paid at the end of the day in which they perform their services. He concludes with four reasons why they should do so:
(1) The hired hand is destitute, having offered his services because he has no independent access to wealth.
(2) The man has worked all day in anticipation of payment at the end of the day; he must not be disappointed.
(3) Heartless failure to pay will cause the hired man to cry to Yahweh against his employer (cf. 10:18; Ex. 22:27).
(4) Failure to pay will render the employer guilty of a crime. The declaration that “it will be [counted] against him as sin” (pers. trans.) is the opposite of the verdict received by creditors who demonstrate righteousness by being gracious to debtors (v. 13; cf. 15:9; 23:20).
Gerald Gerbrandt: The passage does not assume a civil legal system that will enforce this kind of regulation, but rather portrays a world in which God hears the cry of the weak and oppressed and responds to that cry. The cry of Israel in Egypt is the archetypical cry to God (Exod 2:23–25). God has responded to then, and God will respond again. The employer who disregards this becomes like the Egyptian oppressor.
Eugene Merrill: here the focus is on human dignity, even of the poorest of the people. To view the poor as inferior or as easy victims of oppressive manipulation is to slander them, for they, like anyone else, are created as the image of God.
VI. (:16) DEMONSTRATE RIGHTEOUSNESS REGARDING INDIVIDUAL ACCOUNTABILITY FOR SIN
“Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons,
nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers;
everyone shall be put to death for his own sin.”
Daniel Block: This fragment is linked to the preceding by the word “sin” (ḥetʾ).
Patrick Miller: The legal codes and the prescribed legal system found in them never allow for vicarious punishment or corporate punishment unless in fact the whole community is guilty, as in the case of Sodom. The Deuteronomic insistence on this principle is underlined in the Deuteronomistic History in II Kings 14:6, where Deuteronomy 24:16 is quoted directly to explain why the children of royal assassins are not punished. Both the legal corpora and the prophets insist that each person must be held responsible for his or her actions while insisting with equal vigor that no other persons—within the family or outside it—be held accountable or punished for someone else’s sin (cf. Ezek. 18; Jer. 31:29–30). Both parts of that principle are fundamental to the nature of biblical law and its understanding of the relation of individual to community and the nature of moral responsibility.
David Guzik: It is wrong for a parent to automatically blame themselves for their wayward children; though they may have a part in the problem, it isn’t always the case. There are instances when God commands that a whole family be punished for sin, such as with the family of Achan in Joshua 7:16-26. When God deals with a whole family, it shows that there must have been some conspiracy between family members, for each is responsible for his own sin.
VII. (:17-22) DEMONSTRATE RIGHTEOUSNESS TO THE VULNERABLE IN SOCIETY (ALIENS, ORPHANS, WIDOWS)
A. (:17) General Principle
“You shall not pervert the justice due an alien or an orphan,
nor take a widow’s garment in pledge.”
B. (:18) Rationale
“But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt,
and that the LORD your God redeemed you from there;
therefore I am commanding you to do this thing.”
Daniel Block: Not only should the memory of their own experience of divine grace stimulate compassion toward all who are disadvantaged, including foreigners, but in so doing they will emulate the character and actions of their God (10:18–19).
C. (:19-21) Specific Examples Related to Gleaning Practices – Leave Something for the Poor to Harvest
1. (:19) Don’t Harvest Every Sheaf
“When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it;
it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow,
in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”
2. (:20) Don’t Empty Your Olive Tree Completely
“When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again;
it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow.”
3. (:21) Don’t Gather All the Grapes from Your Vineyard
“When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again;
it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow.”
Daniel Block: Fundamental to Israel’s constitution was the notion that Yahweh reserved the right to determine how the land would be used (cf. Lev. 25), part of which included the right of all in the covenant community to a share in its produce. These instructions build on earlier legislation (Lev. 19:9–10; 23:22), where Yahweh had called on landowners to leave the corners of their fields uncut and leave for the poor and the alien whatever they dropped while harvesting the crop. These instructions are even more pastoral, seeking to instill in the covenant community a spirit of generosity that goes far beyond the original legislation. . .
Since the grain at the edges of fields was often inferior in quality and mixed with weeds, and since grapes and olives on the ground tended to ripen prematurely or have some defect and quickly spoil, the significance of these provisions was limited. So Moses enjoins landowners and harvesters to leave for the poor whole sheaves of grain already cut and tied but which they had neglected to take home, those grapes still on the vines that harvesters had overlooked, and olives that do not fall to the ground when the branches are beaten to shake them loose. The point is, rather than begrudging fallen and inferior fruit to the poor, the oversights of the harvest and late maturing crops and grapes and olives are to be left intentionally for the benefit of aliens, the fatherless, and widows.
Gerald Gerbrandt: The farmer also is given instructions on gleaning. Not only do the instructions assume that gleaning is appropriate; they also encourage the farmer not to be too diligent in the harvesting process lest no produce is left behind for those gleaning. The intent is similar to the directions of Leviticus, where the farmer is asked to refrain from harvesting at the very edges or stripping the vineyard bare (19:9–10; 23:22). Care for the disadvantaged and needy again is translated into concrete action. The particular action may not relate easily to contemporary times, but the larger concern applies.
Eugene Merrill: The alien, orphan, and widow then were to be allowed to gather up what remained as a means of sustaining themselves by their own labors. The largess was thus not an outright gift but a benefit to be gained by the initiative and industry of the needy person as well as the benefactor. This permitted the recipient to salvage his own honor while at the same time delivering the landowner from any sense of arrogant control over the lives of those dependent on him. In a loose manner, at least, the ninth commandment was thereby adhered to because the reputation of the disadvantaged was left intact by those who otherwise might have undermined it by any overly patronizing manner.
D. (:22) Rationale Repeated
“And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt;
therefore I am commanding you to do this thing.”