Lessons from the Law: No.22 : Laws of Social Responsibility
Ex 22:16,17 “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. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins.
The remaining verses in this chapter we’re going to call laws of social responsibility although they also cover their relationship with the Lord. Caring for others seems to have been a high priority in these laws of the Covenant. This was to be a caring people. We first see it in respect of young women being taken advantage of as seen in our verses above. Wow! How this would revolutionise modern Western societies! If you have intercourse with a virgin, you are to marry her! That is all about taking responsibility. Only today I heard a man saying, “Oh no, I don’t believe in marriage. Yes I’ve got a partner and she has a kid. My previous partner had two kids, but I don’t believe in marriage!” Here was a man procreating and walking away from responsibility. The virgin is the first of the vulnerable people who the Law protects.
But that caring was also extended to foreigners living within Israel: “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.” (v.21) Racial prejudice had no place in the people of God. The foreigner is the second of the vulnerable groups who the Law protects.
That caring attitude also extended to those who were vulnerable because they are alone, although part of Israel, widows and orphans: “Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. 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.” (v.22-24) That was a serious word! That indicates how concerned God is for the weak and the vulnerable in society. Widows and orphans are the third vulnerable group that the Law protects.
That caring attitude was extended to cover not taking advantage of those who needed to borrow from you: “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.” (v.25-27). It recognises that the person who has to borrow because they are poor and needy, are particularly vulnerable and as such they should be treated with compassion, for the Lord is a compassionate God and you will be answerable to Him if you do not care for those who are less well off and vulnerable.
Yes, this was to be a distinct people and part of that distinctiveness meant that clear boundaries were drawn as to what was considered acceptable. To emphasise the seriousness of this, the death penalty was applied to those who blurred the distinction between light and darkness by dabbling in the occult: “Do not allow a sorceress to live.” (v.18). Now although it is not stated here, this and the following prohibitions are in respect of things that not only show a disdain for God, but they also show a disdain for the holy nature of Israel. This was supposed to be a holy nation, a nation that was distinct and different and which shone as a light or an example to the rest of the world, to show the world how God had designed mankind and how a good society in relationship with God was possible. These subjects we are now considering demeaned people, and demeaned the nation and stopped them being that light to the nation. It is for that reason that they are considered so serious that the death penalty is there to act as a severe deterrent. The first of these prohibitions was thus in respect of those who blurred the distinction between God and what is, in fact, demonic powers.
The second prohibition in this group is in respect of those who blurred the distinction between human and animal: “Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal must be put to death.” (v.19) The third prohibition was in respect of those who blurred the distinction between real and false in the spirit realm: “Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the LORD must be destroyed.” (v.20) Each of these prohibitions demeans the people, demeans society and demeans God!
But the height of that distinctiveness was to be in respect of the way they related to the Lord Himself. Thus they were always to honour Him and respect His authority: “Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people.” (v.28)
Similarly they were to express that honour in giving a token offering of their produce, as an expression of thankfulness: “Do not hold back offerings from your granaries or your vats.” (v.29a) and their first born son, cattle and sheep as token offerings to remember the Exodus deliverance: “You must give me the firstborn of your sons. 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.” (v.29b,30) This holiness was to extend even into their eating, probably to maintain health, by not eating savaged meat: “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.” (v.31). A truly distinctive people!
Thus in this group of laws we see that Israel were called to be distinctive in the way they cared for the weak and vulnerable among them, and in the way their whole lives were impacted by their relationship with the Lord, which meant them living differently in very practical ways from neighbouring countries. The intention was that the goodness of life in Israel, and they way they put the Lord first, would point others to the Lord.
Today, similarly, to those of us who are Christians, Jesus says, “You are the light of the world…. let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:14,16) May we be so!