The Ten Commandments have been delivered. And we have enough time following them. But it’s not like God was done speaking then. There are plenty more admonitions and warnings to be mentioned after that. And it’s possible that they have even more to say about the heart of God then the ‘big ten’. But these aren’t hanging up in anyone’s court and I’ve never heard anyone fight over Exodus chapter 21. So what gives?
God definitely understands that the way people learn is “repetition, repetition, repetition.” He tells Moses (again) in 20:23:”Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.” Is there any wonder that we still mess up our lives the most when we worship something else other than God, whether it’s money, power, sex, fame, etc.? And yet, the opposite is true, too: “Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you” (v. 24).
But let’s get at these ‘additional instructions’ without any cute names, and see what’s going on there:
Slavery was allowed, but after six years of slavery, the person (if Hebrew) went free without paying their debt (Ex. 21:2). Sounds semi-compassionate. Then you get to verse 4, and a slave who married another slave during slavery, the wife and potential children didn’t go free. Sounds systematic, and indubitably, it makes my skin crawl. Quite frankly, the next sets of verses about slavery make me think this is all some kind of backlash against the way the Egyptians held slaves, but doesn’t sound like the God I know. This sounds like Moses working within the system to try to create order, while at the same time encouraging the Israelites to behave better than the Egyptians. Either way, I just can’t wrap my mind around slavery being acceptable to God, and as a ‘canon reader,’ I have to assume that this came through the mouthpiece/viewpoint of Moses trying to keep the peace. It still stinks.
Beyond slavery, we get some interesting points:
-If someone killed another in anger/on purpose, they were to die; if it was manslaughter/unintentional, God provided places they could flee to (7 cities, I think), but they dodged a bullet if the person they hit could recover and walk away. Attack or curse your parents, and it was no doubt, off with your head. Kidnapping meant death, too (Ex. 21:14-18).
-Obviously, offspring are always important from maintaining culture and family lines, but it’s shocking (given the current arguments over what a person is or isn’t) that the unborn fetus was protected as early as Mt. Sinai with lethal repercussions (Ex. 21:22-25).
-Your bull kills someone, the bull dies; the bull kills someone after they’ve already killed someone, you die (Ex. 21:28-32). Guess you’d be smart to keep that bull on a leash.
-“If a thief is caught breaking in at night and is struck a fatal blow, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; but if it happens after sunrise, the defender is guilty of bloodshed” (Ex. 22:2-3). What you can see in front of you counts.
-Here’s a bit of amusing, very detailed ruling: if your tools were stolen while a neighbor was boring them, the neighbor is on the hook for restitution (22:7-9). Can you imagine how much more quickly tools were returned in Moses’ day?
-Sex wasn’t to be taken lightly, because it was ultimately the way that the nation would continue. The legacy and covenant would be passed down so having children out of wedlock didn’t help anything (Ex. 22:16-17). It’s why sex with animals was taboo, too – to cut down on centaurs participating in the covenant (Ex .22:19).
… and then it gets good. Check out the following verses:
“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt” (22:21). In other words, “you know what it’s like, so don’t do it to anyone else.” If we were more aware of times we’d been mistreated, how would we react differently?
“Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. 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” (Ex. 22:22-24). There are lots of the world’s ills blamed on fatherless children. What would happen if you and I (and the church) made them a priority? What would happen if we helped them rather than blaming them?
“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. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it by sunset, because that cloak is the only covering your neighbor has. What else can they sleep in? When they cry out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate” (Ex. 22:25-27). Again, don’t marginalize or mistreat those who are in need, because once, you were in need.
-We already know we’re not to spread false witness, but we treat ‘gossip’ like it’s not really a big deal. But God knows the way word spreads like wildfire, and the way those words can cause more damage than many actions can: “Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness” (Ex. 23:1).
– NEWSFLASH, COMMON SENSE COMING: “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 person in a lawsuit” (Ex. 23:2-3). That might be my favorite instruction in the whole section. Don’t follow the crowd! Don’t get caught up in the group think! Don’t buy into the hype! As I type, I’m shaking my head… when will we learn?
-If you see someone else’s property in trouble, help them, don’t just let it slide because they’re your enemy (Ex. 23:4-5).
-And again: “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt” (Ex. 23:9). “You, who’ve been oppressed, should fight oppression.” Seriously, how many people have done wrong to someone else because of the wrong done to them? Societal woe #1?
-The law of fallow: the Israelites were to work the fields for six years and to leave it unused in the seventh. We’ve lost sight of not working, not laboring, not overusing things. We trumpet more and more production to negative effect. God was trying to help the land and the people (Ex. 23:10-12).
-And then, for the fiftieth time, God says, “Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips” (Ex. 23:14).
No matter how you slice it, God keeps coming back to pushing respect for each other, and for God. It’s pretty clear that it boils down to “loving God and loving others,” no matter how many stipulations or levels of detail we’re provided. If we accepted faith/religion/practice as simplified to those two things, would we be any more successful? Would we be any more faithful? There’s a simplicity there that bears examining … but the levels of rules and regulations is only going to grow over the next few books of the Bible. Stay tuned.
Any rules that struck you right, wrong, or different? Reply below!