THE BOOK OF THE COVENANT REVEALS HOW OUR VIEW OF GOD MUST IMPACT OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH OTHERS (ESPECIALLY THE VULNERABLE) AND OUR PURSUIT OF JUSTICE AND HOLINESS
Our theology must impact how we live out the details of our daily lives. These specific commands from the Book of the Covenant reveal how the character of God should be manifested in how we treat others and how we pursue our relationship with God. Since God is gracious and merciful and compassionate, we must act likewise. Since God is the protector of the most vulnerable in society, we must make sure that their rights are not abused. Since God is holy, we must pursue consecration and holiness. Since God is just, we must be committed to impartial justice.
Kevin McAteer: This passage describes various societal crimes that Israel was to avoid So what does God want us to learn from this?
– Be sexually pure (22:16-17)
– Don’t engage in idolatrous practices (22:18-20)
– Help the weak (22:21-27)
– Honor God (22:28-31)
I. (22:16-17) PROVIDING DOWRY PAYMENT FOR SEDUCING A VIRGIN
A. (:16) Necessity of a Dowry
“And if a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her,
he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife.”
John MacKay: Betrothal, the pledge to enter into marriage, played a far more significant role in the ancient world than engagement does today. Betrothal was a public and legally binding act in which the bridegroom paid the bride-price to the bride’s family. Although the marriage was not at that point consummated, the marriage bond was considered as validly instituted. The bride-price was not really paid to purchase the girl, though that was what occurred in the case of a concubine (21:7–11). The bride-price, or bridal money, was a form of compensation for the loss of a daughter’s services. It is probable that her father only acquired the right to enjoy the property or anything produced by it, and that it became the woman’s when her father or her husband died, or the marriage broke down.
Robert Rayburn: We still today require the young man to pay if a child is conceived, but we have stopped caring about the loss of virginity itself. The social problems that have ensued from that loss of concern for virginity are some of the most painful and costly that we face as a society. You will notice that the father isn’t under any obligation to give his daughter to this man.
B. (:17) No Necessity for a Marriage
“If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him,
he shall pay money equal to the dowry for virgins.”
Douglas Stuart: Paying a price for a bride can seem a practice degrading to women, one that treats them as mere property. This was not the way it was understood in ancient Israel. In fact, it honored the value of a woman. Consider that the system does not allow one to think of price paid as an indicator of worth since the bride pays zero for her husband (there was no dowry system in ancient Israel), yet there is no doubt of the husband’s worth. Part of the utility of a bride price was the way it forced a man to make a full and formal arrangement for marriage that properly involved both his interests and those of his bride-to-be, as well as the interests of his family and hers. The bride price requirement necessarily involved the families in substantial formal negotiations, and the price showed that something serious and important was at stake. Taking a woman to oneself and taking away her virginity were honorable if the proper negotiations had been completed, and a proper indication of her worth had been paid to her family, and the couple were legally married. Simply having sexual relations with her, with or without her permission, devalued her and showed blatant disregard for her worth. It also showed that a person (or when the premarital sex was consensual, that the couple) viewed marriage or its covenant sign (sexual intercourse) as less than a formal, legal, lifelong contractual commitment. The betrothal/bride price system was designed to make marriage harder to come by than what could be achieved on whim or quick decision, and it elevated marriage accordingly because people instinctively value what is hard and costly to get.
Thus when a couple failed to go properly through the marriage negotiation process and had sexual relations anyway, the law required the man to pay the bride price. The father of the bride remained in the negotiator’s position of being able to refuse to give his bride to her suitor (because if he loved his daughter, he would hardly want to see her married permanently to someone wrong for her just because she had been “seduced”). Since it would be much harder to marry her to someone else once she had been sexually compromised, he was still owed the bride price for her, lest no bride price ever be paid in the case that she was never, in fact, married thereafter. If he did allow her to marry the man she had already compromised herself with, whatever bride price was negotiated for the marriage prevailed.
Philip Ryken: A bride was not a commodity. In fact, rather than treating a woman as a piece of property, these laws were for her protection. There are always men around who would like to have the pleasures of sex without the responsibilities of marriage. Given the chance, they will take advantage of a young woman. But sex should never be separated from a covenant commitment. So in Israel a man couldn’t just sleep around. If he seduced a girl, he had to do the right thing, which was to marry her.
There was one exception. Even after a seduction, a father could refuse to allow a man to marry his daughter. By itself, the act of intercourse did not establish a marriage, as if the couple were “married in the sight of God.” No; if they were to be married at all, they had to be married properly, which included having the father’s blessing. In most cases he would probably consent, partly to protect his daughter’s reputation. But if he thought that the man was unsuitable, he had the right of refusal. This provided a strong incentive for a man who wanted to get married to conduct himself in an honorable way. If he went ahead and had sex with a girl, he was really pushing his luck! He still had to get her father’s permission, only now his character was in question.
Furthermore, if her father did refuse, then the man still had to pay the wedding-price! He had robbed the woman of her virginity, which would make it harder for her to get married. Some people would probably treat her as “damaged goods.” However, if she had her wedding-price, then at least she would have some means of support. This might also make it easier for another man to marry her, because he wouldn’t have to pay the wedding-price.
These laws were designed to promote godly patterns of courtship, marriage, and sex—in that order. Although the cultural context has changed, many of the same basic principles still apply. Ordinarily a couple who has shared intercourse should get married, but this is not automatic. It is better to avoid a bad marriage. And when it comes to marriage, fathers have a duty to look after their daughters. Under ordinary circumstances, when a couple (especially a young couple) wants to get married, they should seek the permission and blessing of the woman’s father.
Sex is for marriage, and not just for personal pleasure. Therefore, single men are called to sexual purity, and they bear full responsibility before God for any misconduct. This is not to say that women don’t have to answer to God for their own sin. But there is a Biblical principle of male leadership that is designed to protect women. These days most women have to look out for themselves, which puts them in an extremely vulnerable position. Things ought to be different in the church. A real man of God can be trusted to preserve his own chastity and to protect the purity of women. When a man fails to do this he causes real damage, and God will hold him accountable. This may seem old-fashioned to some, but it is in keeping with the character of God. Because he is holy and pure, he wants us to preserve the purity of our sexuality.
II. (22:18-20) PRONOUNCING DEATH PENALTY FOR SPIRITUAL ADULTERY
Douglas Stuart: That we have entered in 22:18–23:9 a new section of the Covenant Code is signaled by the change of legal style: virtually this entire section is written in apodictic legal wording, the alternative to the previously dominant casuistic legal style. In apodictic law the commands are given mostly in the second person, and the individual laws represent generally applicable legal instruction rather than the citation of cases designed to give a feel for particular situations and how to deal with them. . .
These apodictic laws pay special attention to crimes that should receive the death penalty (22:18–20, expressed paradigmatically by three capital punishment laws), laws forbidding the abuse of one’s neighbor (22:21–27), laws that call attention to the importance of preserving God’s holy honor (22:28–31), and a series of laws impressing on Israel the need for honesty in all relationships (23:1–8). Helping to unify this section of the Covenant Code is the twice-stated reminder that since the Israelites were themselves aliens in Egypt, they should remember the painful disadvantage of noncitizen status and be careful not to take advantage of anyone in an inferior social position (22:21; 23:9). This double reminder concludes both the opening set of laws (22:18–20) and the closing set (23:1–8) in the section and thus generally serves the function of an inclusio to surround and set off the remainder.
John Oswalt: The three stipulations in 22:18–20 involve the death penalty, probably because all of them involve behavior that grows out of the pagan understanding of reality and are thus in defiance of the true order of reality that God was trying to teach through the covenant. . . As later Israelite history would show all too amply, to lose the battle on these points would, without divine intervention, be to lose the entire war. God is not the world; there is a boundary between him and it which creatures cannot cross. Furthermore, there is a boundary between humans and the rest of creation. Paganism, insisting that humans, the natural world, and the divine are continuous with one another, denies these boundaries in every way it can. Activities such as sorcery, bestiality, and polytheistic idolatry were central expressions of this worldview of continuity. If the actual nature of God’s transcendence was to be learned and accepted, these activities and all that they represented could never be granted acceptable status in Israel.
James Jordan: Why these three laws? Obviously they are designed to sum up the demand for covenant fidelity, but what is the reason for their selection? I believe that it relates to the three offices of prophet, king, and priest. Offering false sacrifices is infidelity to God in the area of priesthood. Witchcraft is used to gain knowledge and information the false way (cf. 1 Sam. 28), infidelity to God I the area of prophecy. (But cf. Ezk. 13:17-23.) Bestiality is religiously an act of chaos, designed to obtain power, and thus infidelity to God in the area of kingship or dominion. Man was made to rule animals, not to get power form them (Gen. 1:28). The suitable mate for a man is a woman, not an animal (Gen. 2:18-25). Bestiality entails a thoroughgoing reversal of dominion.
J. Ligon Duncan: we see three capital crimes dealt with: sorcery, bestiality and idolatry. Notice here how the first, second, and seventh commandments are being applied. What we learn from this passage is that there are some crimes that are particularly spiritually injurious to the covenant community. These laws are all put in the imperative; they sound just like The Ten Commandments. “You shall not allow; shall surely be put to death; shall utterly be destroyed.” You get the imperative feel of The Ten Commandments even though they are dealing with specific situations. They are not phrased like the previous case laws–if this happens, if this happens, if this such and such. They are imperative; they are categorical laws about society; they are categorical ethical statements or religious stipulations and that reminds us that they are basic and fundamental.
A. (:18) Sorcery
“You shall not allow a sorceress to live.”
Douglas Stuart: Sorcery led people astray from placing their faith in Yahweh alone by inviting them to think that with the help of a medium (as in the story of Saul and the medium at Endor, 1 Sam 28) or enchantress or the like, they could learn hidden information or gain power over their enemies, and so on. The term “sorceress” encompasses a range of occult practices, any and all of which were forbidden to Israelites. Sorcery is condemned throughout the Old Testament (e.g., Lev 19:26; Deut 18:9–14; 2 Kgs 9:21–26; 17:17; Jer 27:8–11; Mic 5:10–15; Nah 3:1–4; Mal 3:5) and in the New Testament as well (e.g., Acts 8:9ff; 13:6–8; 19:19).
Philip Ryken: Sorcerers told fortunes, communicated with the dead, and generally practiced the rituals of the occult. All of these activities were absolutely forbidden in Israel (see Deut. 18:9–14). Other ancient cultures tried to make a distinction between black magic and white magic, which supposedly was used for good rather than evil. But white magic is as much a tool of the devil as black magic. Any attempt to know God’s will apart from his revelation or to prevail over his will by using satanic powers is an evil attack on his sovereignty. Sorcery is a sin because God wants to be trusted, not manipulated.
J. Ligon Duncan: Sorcery is a challenge to the sovereignty and providence of God. It is either an attempt, in some cases, to know the future that God has prepared, or in other cases, it is an attempt to manipulate the future that God has prepared. In other cases it is an attempt to usurp His sovereignty and providence over His people by doing harm to people through magic; and therefore, it is a challenge to God and is considered a capital crime in Israel.
B. (:19) Bestiality
“Whoever lies with an animal shall surely be put to death.”
Douglas Stuart: Bestiality (“sexual relations with an animal”) is a relatively uncommon practice but stands paradigmatically as an example of the sorts of perversions Yahweh’s covenant will not countenance. A person who practices bestiality shows himself to be someone who has no regard for godliness, but the practice goes beyond this in its significance. It also was apparently associated with various Canaanite fertility practices and thus was somewhat like the prohibition against boiling a goat kid in its mother’s milk. It represented the replacement of sexually based fertility religion for the saving truth of Yahweh’s covenant.
Bruce Hurt: Why is bestiality condemned so strongly? First, it is an unnatural perversion. Clearly, human beings were designed/intended to mate with other human beings, not animals. In the creation account, none of the animals were “suitable” for Adam (Genesis 2:20). Second, bestiality represents the ultimate of sexual deviancy. The fact that the animal was to be put to death (Leviticus 20:15-16), despite the fact that it would be “innocent,” indicates how wickedly perverse bestiality is. Third, and perhaps most importantly, bestiality essentially denies the uniqueness of humanity which God created in His image (Genesis 1:27). Bestiality lowers humanity to nothing more than an animal, a beast which is unable to distinguish right from wrong, natural from unnatural, love from lust.
Robert Rayburn: In those days as in our own, sex had widely been detached from its divinely ordered purpose and used simply as a means of physical thrill or, worse, as a method of accessing spiritual power. In jaded ages, the thrill is more and more likely to be induced by various forms of perversion. But this debases God’s gift and uses it not to adorn and bless the life of mankind, to draw men and women together in a sacred and unbreakable bond, to imitate God in creating life, but only for sensual fulfillment. Such behavior strips man of his dignity and renders him more like a beast than a creature created in the image of God. Such behaviors are not private in their consequences. Abroad in a culture such as ours, such practices alter man’s view of himself and of the nature of human life. We have seen this alteration happen before our very eyes in recent years. Additionally, it seems very likely that bestiality also had some religious significance for the Canaanites (who practiced sexual fertility rites of various kinds) and this is another commandment meant to separate Israel’s religious practices entirely from those of the peoples of the Promised Land to which she was going.
C. (:20) Polytheism or Idolatry
“He who sacrifices to any god, other than to the LORD alone,
shall be utterly destroyed.”
Douglas Stuart: “Whoever sacrifices to” is the virtual equivalent of “whoever worships.” There was no religion in the ancient world that did not employ sacrifice (the offering of food) as a key part of worship, so “sacrifice” functions as a synecdoche for “worship.” Thus this command says, in effect, “Worship only Yahweh, and if you try to introduce any other worship into the covenant people, you must be put to death.” Again the severity of the crime stems from its potential to keep people from the eternal salvation that was possible in the true God alone and therefore simply could not be achieved by fidelity to any other gods, whether by themselves or in syncretistic tandem with Yahweh.
III. (22:21-27) PROHIBITING OPPRESSION AGAINST THE VULNERABLE
Douglas Stuart: The terms “aliens,” “widows,” “orphans,” “poor/needy” are not intended to be an exhaustive list of certain categories of people. Instead they are intended to be evocative of the entire range of disadvantaged, unprotected, and easily mistreated individuals and groups in ancient times, including those among the Israelites who were disadvantaged in any way. Any of these words or any group of these words in any combination can function as a synecdoche for “any or all unprotected people.” No government welfare system existed in Israel. It was the responsibility of the covenant community—each Israelite, assuming the covenant was actually kept faithfully—to contribute his share of the welfare burden personally (rather than through taxes), to avoid personally any discrimination against the needy in any way, and to treat all those in need or of limited resources as brothers and sisters, virtual family members. Yahweh himself was the enforcer of this demand for fair treatment of all the “little” people anywhere in Israel (vv. 23–24, 27). He would not allow his people to act in a discriminatory manner, that is, in the manner of pagans. Their calling was to a higher standard, which reflected his own compassion for all. If they obeyed his covenant fully, he would prosper them sufficiently that they could have enough for themselves and enough left over to take care of those who, for whatever reason, could not make a living (cf. Deut 15:4).
John Oswalt: But if there is one God, who is not the world and cannot be manipulated through the world, and if he has made all humans in his own image and, as such, values them too much to manipulate them for his own ends, then everything is different. That is what we see in this section. Three specific classes of people are mentioned to represent all the rest. They are the non-Israelite permanent resident (22:21), the widow and orphan (22:22–24), and the poor (22:25–27). All of these people are vulnerable in one way or another, either because they have no clan, no husband or father, or no economic means with which to protect themselves. So God establishes himself as their protector (22:24, 27). Anyone who tries to abuse them for his or her own ends will have God to contend with, and they may well find themselves in the condition of those they are trying to exploit (22:24).
In all, God provides three reasons why the people should give up any attempt to manipulate those who are weaker than they. First, they should remember that they are finally no different than those they are tempted to oppress. They were once resident aliens in Egypt, and that they are no longer so is through no merit of their own (cf. Deut 10:18–19). Second, such manipulation is contrary to the character of the God with whom they are in covenant (22:27). Third, these are God’s covenant people (“my people,” 22:25), and it would be dangerous to tamper with his partners.
If I have understood the relationship between 22:18–20 and 22:21–27 correctly, it makes the content of the third section (22:28–31) more understandable. If it is necessary to counteract the wrong view of humanity that a wrong view of reality produces, what practices (and attitudes) will be characteristic of a right view of reality? That is the question I believe this group of stipulations is addressing. Verse 28 is then somewhat transitional. It would dishonor God to treat the poor as mere stepping stones to one’s own wealth. He does not treat them as objects and neither may those who name themselves by his name. But they would also dishonor God when they gave him less than their best. If they gave him only what they did not have a better use for, they were suggesting that he is not the one, the ultimate creator, outside of time and space, beyond the grasp of their magical offerings.
So verses 29 and 30 call for the giving of one’s best, one’s first, to God. By giving the first of crops, children, and animals, they were testifying that all they had was a gift from him. Thus, the offerings of the first and the firstborn were not an attempt to magically manipulate God into giving more, but rather a way of expressing thanks for what he had given and faith that as he had given so he would continue.
The final verse, 22:31, wraps up this point first in a very holistic way and then in a very specific way. First, it sums up what has been said: “You must be my holy people.” Why was God calling them to abandon the pagan way of understanding reality? Why was he calling them not to treat people as though they could be manipulated for one’s own benefit? Because he wanted them to belong exclusively to him and to share his character—to be holy (cf. 19:6). That is God’s goal for the entire human race, and he began with Israel. But then from the completely global he honed in to the narrowly specific. He gave Israel a glimpse of the broad picture, but knowing that they were hardly ready to grasp even the edges of that picture, he focused them on something practical that they could grasp in its entirety: Blood contains the mystery of life; that mystery is entirely in God’s hands; people who belong completely to God leave that mystery in his hands, so they don’t eat meat with blood in it.
Alan Cole: Verses 21–27 deal with the protection of the ‘underprivileged’ classes; aliens, widows, orphans and poor folk in general. It is striking, as Noth says, that all this is apodeictic, not casuistic; that is to say, it is basic to Israel’s law, not a deduction from it. Israel must care for the poor and helpless, because YHWH cares for them: that is his very nature.
Robert Rayburn: Taking all biblical texts together, the loaning of money at interest is not forbidden in the Bible. What is forbidden is excessive interest when circumstances make that possible and loaning money at interest to a fellow believer who finds himself in difficult straits. If a fellow Israelite wanted money with which to build up his business, this law would not prohibit such a loan, even from a fellow Israelite. What is being forbidden is taking advantage of someone’s misfortune. That would be mistreatment of the poor. God himself is merciful and his people must be as well. If they are not, they will have to answer to him. That is, you remember, a large part of the argument of prophets like Amos and Hosea. They accuse Israel of mistreating the poor and threaten God’s vengeance as a consequence.
A. (:21) Oppressing Foreigners
“And you shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him,”
David Thompson: Strangers were not citizens of Israel; they were “resident aliens.” They could not own permanent land among the Tribes and they could not have family backing in legal matters and they could not be involved in political matters. God did not want His people treating these strangers in an abusive way. He did not want them treated in an alienated or discriminatory way. He wanted them treated decently and with respect.
“for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
John MacKay: Such individuals were liable to be exploited, and their situation could be difficult because they had no family connections in the community or anyone who would help them protect their rights. A motive clause recalling Israel’s own history gives the reason why they were not to ‘ill-treat’ (act unfairly or with lack of consideration) or ‘oppress’ an alien. ‘Oppress’ is literally ‘squeeze’ and was used of the way Balaam’s donkey pressed both herself and his foot against the wall (Num. 22:25). It came to be applied to all forms of physical and psychological oppression. The Israelites knew what it had been like to be aliens in Egypt and to receive such treatment (1:11). They were therefore to treat aliens among them with care and respect (Lev. 19:34; Deut. 10:19).
B. (:22-24) Afflicting Widows and Orphans
1. (:22) Prohibition
“You shall not afflict any widow or orphan.”
2. (:23) Petition
“If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me,
I will surely hear his cry;”
3. (:24) Retribution
“and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword;
and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.”
C. (:25-27) Charging of Interest to Poor Israelites
1. (:25) Prohibition
“If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest.”
Walter Kaiser Jr.: The main problem was that charging interest of one’s brother was a way of avoiding responsibility to the poor and to one’s fellow man.
2. (:26-27a) Qualification – Taking of a Pledge
“If you ever take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, 27 for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in?”
Douglas Stuart: This law addresses loan sureties, the properties that people put up as “collateral” for a loan to assure the lender that they will repay. Normally a lender’s incentive to grant a loan is the confidence that if the borrower defaults, the lender can then take the property as his own in compensation for the unrecovered money. In the case of this law, as opposed to the law immediately preceding, a distinction is made between the way a poor person and a non-poor person must be treated. The presumption of the law is that most people have property that does not represent their very survival or the continuance of their health and that if that sort of property is pledged as surety on a loan, such collateral is allowable.
By contrast, people who own so little that they would actually have to pledge an essential item to obtain a loan (the instance paradigmatically cited being a cloak needed to keep warm at night) must be exempted from the requirement of putting up a surety—or else have the essential surety returned to them nightly. Otherwise their health would be put at risk by the loan, and that is unacceptable to Yahweh. A law such as this is patently paradigmatic; for “cloak” one could substitute food, job, shelter, family member, or any other “essential” thing.
3. (:27b) Petition
“And it shall come about that when he cries out to Me,
I will hear him, for I am gracious.”
John MacKay: There is then spelled out the reason why this sort of behaviour is expected in Israel. It is because it reflects the character of the Lord himself. This is a unique feature of Israel’s law code, not found in the surrounding nations, for what king—or for that matter what modern legislator?—would set himself up as the standard for the behaviour he expects to see among his people? But it is different with Israel’s covenant King. He both sets the standard of behaviour for his people and provides them with a living embodiment of it. The law code he has given is not a document for administrators and judges, but one that he expects to be regularly read to his people, and in it he urges them to become like himself.
IV. (22:28-31) PURSUING HOLINESS
A. (:28) Cursing Authorities
1. Cursing God
“You shall not curse God,”
2. Cursing Rulers
“nor curse a ruler of your people.”
David Thompson: Now the word “curse” is in the Piel stem and it has been debated as to the purpose of the stem. It seems to stress the fact that this is a serious, aggressive form of verbal attack with the goal of undermining or harming a leader.
B. (:29-30) Consecrating Offerings to the Lord in a Timely Fashion
1. (:29a) Offerings
“You shall not delay the offering from your harvest and your vintage.”
Douglas Stuart: Respect for God’s holiness also implies keeping basic rules such as the tithe and the firstborn offering because these are things that he rightfully owns and are thus due him automatically. Withholding these from him represents a direct act of defiance, an open (to him even if not to others) refusal to cooperate with his covenant by keeping from him those things that directly show that he is the sovereign and that all things belong to him. Any Israelite might be tempted to keep back offerings or payments to God of any sort, just as people today tend to make religious and charitable offerings from what they regard as their discretionary (leftover) income rather than even placing such giving in the same category as mortgage or car payments—let alone giving them the highest priority of all. God can seem less demanding, less threatening, more “distant,” more forgiving than the tax collector or the lending institution, and what is owed him can therefore end up being treated as secondary to what is owed to others. Note also the stern reminder in 30:15 relative to bringing tithes and offerings to the central sanctuary at the annual feast times. “No one is to appear before me empty-handed” (23:15).
2. (:29b-30) First-born
a. (:29b) Sons
“The first-born of your sons you shall give to Me.”
b. (:30) Livestock
“You shall do the same with your oxen and with your sheep.
It shall be with its mother seven days;
on the eighth day you shall give it to Me.”
C. (:31) Call to Holiness
“And you shall be holy men to Me,”
Philip Ryken: This is what God wants from us as well: comprehensive holiness. We have been set apart to serve God. God wants us to be like him, so that our whole lives are stamped with his character. What we do with our bodies, the way we care for the needy, the way we handle our money—in all these things, both large and small, we are called to holiness because we serve a holy God. The Scripture says, “Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’ ” (1 Pet. 1:15, 16).
“therefore you shall not eat any flesh torn to pieces in the field;
you shall throw it to the dogs.”
John MacKay: All this reflected on the special status of Israel as the ‘holy nation’ (19:6), the people set apart for special divine service. They are therefore required to acknowledge this status by acting in an appropriate way. 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 (22:31). Regulations regarding what to eat and what not to eat may seem to us to be far removed from holiness, but they were given by God to act as perpetual symbolic reminders to Israel of their privileged status as individuals and as a community. They had been given life by the God of life, and this was reflected in the fact that they were not permitted to eat animals that they found in open country. (‘By wild beasts’ is a free rendering of ‘in the field’, that is, open country.) Such animals had been killed by unclean predators and their flesh was not fit for consumption by God’s special people. It should only be eaten by scavenging animals such as dogs. Later in Deuteronomy permission is also given to give such meat to aliens living in their midst or to sell it to foreigners (Deut. 14:21). The problem was not with the quality of the flesh, but with its associations and the fact that the Lord wanted the best for his people.
Wiersbe: The reason behind this law is both religious and hygienic. The bodies of animals slaughtered incorrectly would still contain blood, and the eating of blood was forbidden (Lev. 22:8). Furthermore, a carcass lying in the field could quickly become spoiled and spread disease.
John MacArthur: Flesh of an animal killed by another and lying in the field became unclean by coming into contact with unclean carnivores and insects and with putrefaction by not having had the blood drained properly from it. A set-apart lifestyle impacted every area of life, including from where one collected his meat.
V. (23:1-9) PURSUING JUSTICE
Douglas Stuart: The laws in this section appear to be grouped chiastically, with vv. 1–3 and vv. 6–9 employing apodictic legal style in addressing various sorts of potential violations of the legal system, including denial of justice to easily oppressable groups. Sandwiched between them are vv. 4–5, a small group of laws in casuistic format addressing the kind of attitude toward others in the community and basic moral behavior that should characterize God’s covenant people even when no legal requirement per se is at issue.
John MacKay: But what all of these do have in common is the idea that behind all the circumstances of life stands the inviolable truth. That truth stands regardless of a person’s station in life, and regardless of the number or type of people who are for it or against it. Just as there are inviolate boundaries between creator and creation, and between human and nature, so there are inviolate boundaries between what is so and what is not so. And what is so—the truth—may not be corrupted for self-serving or self-protecting reasons. It supersedes the circumstances of a person’s situation. If the truth is in a person’s favor, then so be it. But if it is not in a person’s favor, so be it as well. Thus, these deceptively simple requirements are a powerful attack on the relativity of truth. But at the same time, they are also an attack on truth as mere abstraction. Precisely because the truth about truth is presented in the context of the life and behavior of persons, it is made profoundly clear that God is not first of all concerned about truth for its own sake. Rather, just as he is “true” in all his dealings with his creation, he expects his people to be true in all their dealings with one another and with their world. It is in being true to others whether they are rich or poor, powerful or helpless, friends or enemies, innocent or guilty, that we show whether we know the truth.
J. Ligon Duncan: With this message, we come to a section that in the main applies the ninth commandment– the commandment not to bear false witness. In the main, this set of laws or exhortations, calls on the people of God and especially on those who are in positions of influence—judges for instance, to be truthful in their dealings in the settings of the courts, but also it exhorts us to kindness to our enemies….First, verses 1 through 3, where we see these dictates for personal and practical obedience to the ninth commandment. What we learn in this passage is that our personal commitment to holiness is to show itself in our public fairness and truthfulness in the context of disputes. The language of this whole section, really verses 1 through 9, but especially verses 1 through 3, sounds a lot like the Ten Commandments. Did you catch the five “you shall nots” in the first three verses? Verse 1: “You shall not.” Verse 2: “You shall not.” Verse 3: “Nor shall you.” Over and over “you shall not.” General exhortation, general prohibition, no penalty. These are not like those case laws we were studying just a few verses ago. These sound like those grand exhortations of the Ten Commandments. “Thou shall not kill.” The language sounds like the Ten Words. We have here, then, categorical laws; these aren’t like the case laws. If this happens, then you do this; if this happens, then you do this. These are categorical laws—no penalties—they are exhortations. They come with some threatenings. Five prohibitions are found in verses 1 through 3 which outlaw behavior in courts of law that would jeopardize the integrity and the impartiality of the judicial process. These laws in verse 1 through 3 are applications of the ninth command. You shall not bear false witness, and the exhortations of verses 1 through 3 are especially directed at the people of Israel. When we get to verses 6 through 9, they will be directed primarily to the judges of Israel. But first Moses speaks to the people of Israel specifically about their behavior in legal settings and legal proceedings. And these commands indicate how seriously God takes impartial justice and the well-being of our neighbor even if we are in dispute with our neighbor.
A. (:1-3) Integrity in the Context of the Legal System
1. (:1) Avoid False Reports
“You shall not bear a false report;
do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.”
Douglas Stuart: False reports undermine the legal/judicial system by creating conditions that can lead to the conviction and punishment of an innocent person, robbing that person of the liberty that Yahweh’s deliverance and protection of his people was intended to provide.
David Thompson: When we spread something false, we damage the individual and the community. False allegations, unproved speculations can do great harm to someone innocent. Wise counsel is do not start a false report, do not give a false report and do not spread a false report.
2. (:2) Resist Peer Pressure
“You shall not follow a multitude in doing evil, nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice;”
Douglas Stuart: This law calls for individual believers, who in so many other cases are expected to conform to the group (as in worship or in keeping any apodictic law applicable to everyone at all times) to be willing to think and act as individuals clearly enough and righteously enough that they can stand against all others in their actions or testimony.
John MacKay: Even if you have to swim against the tide of prevailing ideas, pressure to conform to the outlook even of an overriding majority should be avoided if it involves injustice. This is not a matter of actively conspiring as in verse 1, but of permitting one’s perception of an affair to be unduly shaped by the consensus viewpoint.
David Thompson: God’s people are never to join in with a majority mob that is moving away from God and His Word and is out to do evil. Justice is never to be perverted even if the multitude of people is behind it. This is exactly what happened to Jesus Christ.
3. (:3) Don’t Show Partiality
“nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his dispute.”
Douglas Stuart: But the law, in an efficiency of expression, covers both the more likely temptation and the less likely temptation by citing the latter, “and do not show favoritism to a poor man.” It has the effect of saying, “Do not show favoritism to anyone in any testimony you ever give or judgment you ever make—neither out of fear of the powerful or hope for personal gain nor out of sympathy for the suffering of the lowly.” “His lawsuit” is ambiguous; it could mean the lawsuit initiated by a poor person, but could also refer to virtually any involvement in a legal case of a poor person, either as plaintiff or defendant.
B. (:4-5) Assistance Even Towards Your Personal Enemies
1. (:4) Catch and Return
“If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away,
you shall surely return it to him.”
Douglas Stuart: By placing these sorts of laws in the midst of laws that concentrate on honest, godly behavior in cases of lawsuits, God in effect said to his people, “In the midst of giving you laws about lawsuit behavior, I want to insert a reminder that I expect you truly to love your neighbor in every situation, no matter how your selfish inclinations might cause you to feel.”
The commands to catch and return to one’s enemy his errant ox or donkey and to help one’s enemy take care of his donkey in an accident represent serious challenges to normal selfish behavior and even to what might narrowly be regarded as prudent behavior. Most people would be disinclined to help an enemy (someone resented or troublesome or to whom one is motivated to be hostile for whatever reason) or would at least stay away from someone who showed hostility. Note that v. 5 provides as a parallel for “your enemy” in v. 4 the expression “someone who hates you” rather than “someone you hate,” thus eliminating the possibility of arguing, “I’d be glad to help someone I hate, but it might not be safe to get involved with someone who hates me!” Comprehended in the law is virtually every situation of helping people. If one is required to help even those who have made themselves one’s enemy, surely one would be required to help those who were more neutral on the scale of hostility, such as complete strangers or people who might merely be regarded as lazy in their care of their animals or the like. And, of course, friends and family and actual neighbors would be included as well.
James Jordan: God’s law is realistic. It does not command us to feel a liking, in the modern sense of “like,” for our personal enemies, which we may well be simply unable to do. Rather, it commands us to do good to them, which is well within our power. Doing good will bring about an emotional change in us, if such is needed.
2. (:5) Release and Return
“If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load,
you shall refrain from leaving it to him,
you shall surely release it with him.”
Aid the Ass!
Wiersbe: The words enemy’s (23:4) and someone who hates you (v. 5) probably mean “a legal adversary”; an Israelite was to be kind even to the animals of someone with whom he had a legal disagreement.
Walter Kaiser Jr.: Deuteronomy 22:1-3 gives fuller details on a man’s responsibility to his brother in the matter of restoring a lost animal or helping one in difficulty. This act of compassion was owed to one another regardless whether the man was an enemy (v. 4) or one who hated him (v. 5). Kindness to one’s enemy is commanded in Job 31:29 and Proverbs 25:21-22. Never does the OT command, “Hate your enemy,” as the oral tradition of Jesus’ day enjoined (Matt. 5:43).
C. (:6-9) Integrity in the Context of the Legal System
1. (:6) No Perversion of Justice
“You shall not pervert the justice due to your needy brother
in his dispute.”
John MacKay: The judge is not to deny them justice. The picture is that of an outstretched hand barring access or pushing them away. Rather there is to be an acknowledgement that the person involved is ‘your poor’ (compare Deut. 15:11). No matter what their background or economic circumstances, there is the covenant bond between fellow Israelites that should ensure they are fairly treated. Judges, in particular, should be careful not to favour the ruling elite or the rich and influential.
2. (:7) No False Charges or Wrongful Punishment
“Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent
or the righteous, for I will not acquit the guilty.”
Douglas Stuart: “Have nothing to do with [lit., “stay far away from”] a false charge” (v. 7) rings yet another change on the prevailing theme of absolute, uncorrupted justice as essential for the people who agree to Yahweh’s covenant. What was implicit in several laws already stated now appears explicitly and specifically: no one should ever be involved in any way with a complaint against someone in a court case that is not entirely true. Honesty must prevail throughout the legal system or the system cannot function fairly. Neither a witness nor a defendant nor a judge nor a jury may contribute to a false charge.
3. (:8) No Taking of Bribes
“And you shall not take a bribe,
for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just.”
4. (:9) No Oppression of Strangers
“And you shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Douglas Stuart: The goal was to keep them from the natural human tendency to befriend those most like them and discriminate against those thought to be somehow different.
John MacKay: This same requirement was found earlier in a similar form (22:21). It is presumably added here because the alien was another category of person who lacked influence in the community and so was liable to be treated unfavourably in the administration of justice.
John Davis: here it probably has specific references to courts of law as opposed to private reaction in the previous passage.