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THE BOOK OF THE COVENANT, continued.
Laws connected with rights of property, continued (Exodus 22:1-15). The fret section—Exodus 22:1-6—is upon theft. The general principle laid down is, that theft shall be punished if possible, by a fine. There is a moral fitness in this, since a man's desire to get what was his neighbour's would lead to the loss of what was his own. In ordinary cases the thief was to restore to the man robbed double of what he had stolen (Exodus 22:4) but, if he had shewn persistence in wrong doing by selling the property, or (if it were an animal) killing it, he was to pay more—fourfold in the ease of a sheep, fivefold in that of an ox. If the criminal could not pay the fine, then he was to be sold as a slave (Exodus 22:3). Burglary, or breaking into a house at night, might be resisted by force, and if the burglar were killed, the man who killed him incurred no legal guilt (Exodus 22:2); but, if the house were entered by day, the proviso did not hold (Exodus 22:3).
Laws about theft.
If a man shall steal an ox. The principal property possessed by the Israelites in the wilderness was their cattle; whence this occurs to the legislator as the thing most likely to be stolen. It required more boldness in a thief to carry off an ox than a sheep or goat; and so the crime was visited with a heavier penalty.
If a thief be found breaking up. Rather, "Breaking in"—i.e; making forcible entry into a house. The ordinary mode of "breaking in" seems to have been by a breach in the wall. Hence the word here used, which is derived from khathar, "to dig." There shall no blood be shed for him. Rather, "the blood-feud shall not lie upon him"—i.e; the avenger of blood shall not be entitled to proceed against his slayer. The principle here laid down has had the sanction of Solon, of the Roman law, and of the law of England. It rests upon the probability that those who break into a house by night bare a murderous intent, or at least have the design, if occasion arise, to commit murder.
If the sun be risen upon him. If the entry is attempted after daybreak. In this case it is charitably assumed that the thief does not contemplate murder. There shall be blood shed for him. Or, "the blood-feud shall hold good in his case"—i.e; his slayer shall be liable to be put to death by the next of kin. For he should make full restitution. Rather, "He shall make full restitution." The punishment of the housebreaker, who enters a house by day, shall be like that of other thieves—to restore double. If he have nothing. Rather, "if he have not enough"—i.e; if he cannot make the restitution required, then he shall be sold for his theft. It is somewhat fanciful to suppose, that this punishment aimed at enforcing labour on those who preferred stealing to working for their own living (Kalisch). Probably the idea was simply the compensation of the injured party, who no doubt received the proceeds of the man's sale.
If the theft be certainly found in his hand. If he be caught in flagrante delicto, with the thing stolen in his possession, "whether it be ox, or ass, or small cattle," he shall restore double. The law of theft in the Mosaic legislation is altogether of a mild character, as compared with the Roman, or even with the English law, until the present century. Double restitution was a sort of "retaliation"—it involved a man losing the exact amount which he had expected to gain
Punishment, even for one and the same offence, should be graduated.
Some codes treat a crime which can be given a single definite name, e.g; theft, as if it were in all cases uniform, and prescribe a single penalty—death, the bastinado, a month's imprisomnent. The Mosaic Law, with greater refinement and greater propriety, graduated the punishment according to the special character of the offence. The worst form of theft proper is burglary. Burglary destroys the repose of the household, introduces a feeling of insecurity, trenches upon the sacredness of the hearth, endangers life, affrights tender women and children. By permitting the destruction of the burglar, the law pronounced him worthy of death. Other forms of thieving were punished in proportion to the audacity and persistence of the thief. A man who had stolen without converting the property, was to pay back double. If he had converted it to his own use, or sold it, the penalty was heavier—fourfold for a sheep or goat, fivefold for an ox. There was especial audacity in stealing an ox—an animal so large that it could not readily be converted; so powerful that it could not easily be carried off. The graduation of punishment for all crimes is desirable—
I. BECAUSE THE SAME OUTWARD OFFENCE INVOLVES VARIOUS DEGREES OF INWARD WICKEDNESS; e.g; homicide varies between absolute blamelessness (Exodus 22:2) and the highest degree of culpability (Exodus 21:14). Assault may be the lightest possible matter, or approach closely to murder. False witness may arise from imperfect memory, or from a deliberate design to effect a man's ruin. Lies may be "white," or the blackest falsehoods which it is possible for the soul of man to invent. Punishment is, and ought to be, in the main retributive; and as the moral guilt varies, so should the penalty.
II. BECAUSE THE OUTWARD OFFENCE ITSELF IS MORE OR LESS INJURIOUS. By an act of stealing we may rob a man of a trifle, or reduce him to beggary. By a blow of a certain force we may inflict on him a slight pain, or render him a cripple for life. By a false statement in a court of justice we may do him no harm at all, or we may ruin his character. All crimes short of homicide vary in the extent to which they injure a man; and it is reasonable that the amount of injury received should be taken into consideration when punishment is apportioned. Therefore, a rigid unbending law, assigning to each head of crime a uniform penalty would be unsuitable to the conditions of human life and the varying motives of criminals. A wise legislator will leave a wide discretion to those who administer justice, trusting them to apportion to each offence the punishment which under the circumstances it deserves.
II. LAWS CONNECTED WITH RIGHTS OF PROPERTY (verses 33-36). From the consideration of injuries to the person, the legislator proceeds to treat of injuries to property, and, as he has been speaking of cattle under the one head, places cattle in the fore-front of the other. In this chapter two enactments only are made—one providing compensation in the case of a man' s cattle being killed by falling into the pit, or well, of a neighbour (verses 33, 34); and the other making provision for the case of one man' s cattle killing the cattle of another (verses 35, 36)
If a man shall open a pit. Rather, "If a man shall uncover a cistern." Cisterns, very necessary in Palestine, were usually closed by a flat-stone, or a number of planks. To obtain water from them, they had to be uncovered; but it was the duty of the man who uncovered them, to replace the covering when his wants were satisfied. Or dig a pit and not cover it. A man who was making a cistern might neglect to cover it while it was in course of construction, or even afterwards, if he thought his own cattle would take no hurt. But in the unfenced fields of Palestine it was always possible that a neighbour' s cattle might go astray and suffer injury through such a piece of negligence. An ox, or an ass, falling into a cistern, would be unable to extricate itself, and might be drowned.
The owner of the pit shall make it good—i.e; "shall duly compensate the owner of the cattle for its loss." And the dead beast shall be his. Having paid the full price of the slain beast, the owner of the cistern was entitled to its carcase.
Exodus 21:35, Exodus 21:36
If one man' s ox hurt another' s, etc. The hurt might be purely accidental, and imply no neglect. In that ease the two parties were to divide the value of the living, and also of the dead ox—i.e; they were to share between them the loss caused by the accident equally. If, however, there was neglect, if the aggressive animal was known to be of a vicious disposition, then the man who had suffered the loss was to receive the full value of the slain animal, but to lose his share of the carcase. This explanation, which the words of the text not only admit, but invite, seems better than the Rabbinical one, "that the dead ox should also be the property of the injured party."
The guilt of neglect.
Sins of omission are thought lightly of by most men; but God holds us answerable for them, as much as for sins of commission. The Psalmist defines the wicked man as one who neglects to "set himself in any good way." The neglect of the Israelites to cover their wells, or keep their cattle from goring others was to be heavily punished. Neglect and carelessness are culpable—
I. BECAUSE THEIR EFFECTS ARE AS RUINOUS AS THOSE OF MALICE AND EVIL INTENT. Carelessness and neglect of precautions may set a town on fire and burn hundreds in their beds. Or it may spread a loathsome and dangerous disease through a whole district. Or it may destroy the cattle of a whole county. Or it may allow moral evil to have free course, until an entire nation is sunk in corruption. Or, again, it may endanger our own lives, or destroy our souls. It is a question whether more evil does not actually result from carelessness than from deliberate intent. Youth is naturally careless. Desultory habits intensify carelessness. A deficient sense of the seriousness of life encourages and fosters it. Advanced civilisation, with its foppishness and superciliousness, developes its growth. The present age asks, "Is anything worth caring about?"—and is deaf to the Prophet' s words, "Tremble and be troubled, ye careless ones" (Isaiah 32:11).
II. BECAUSE GOD HAS IMPLANTED IN US FACULTIES OF PREVISION AND CALCULATION OF CONSEQUENCES, WHICH WERE INTENDED TO PREVENT OUR BEING CARELESS AND NEGLIGENT. Man differs from the lower animals chiefly in the possession of reason; and it is an essential part of human reason to look to the future, to forecast results, and calculate the balance of ultimate advantage and disadvantage. We know instinctively that our happiness depends on our actions; and it is therefore wholly unreasonable to be careless about how we act. If we have faculties which we might use and refuse to use them, God will be righteous to punish us for despising his gifts.
III. BECAUSE GOD HAS EXPRESSLY WARNED US AGAINST BEING CARELESS, AND EXHORTED US TO PRUDENCE AND FORETHOUGHT. "I will send a fire among them that dwell carelessly," said the Lord by Ezekiel. "Rise up, ye women that are at ease; hear my voice, ye careless daughters; give ear unto my speech; many days and years shall ye be troubled, ye careless women," are God' s words by Isaiah. "Go to the ant, thou sluggard," exclaims the wise man, "consider her ways and be wise." And again "Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established—keep thy heart with diligence—remove thy feet from evil." A careful cautious walk through the dangers and difficulties of life is everywhere enjoined upon us in the Scriptures; and we are plainly disobedient if we are careless.
LAW OF TRESPASS.—Next to theft, and not much behind it, is the wanton damage of what belongs to another—as when a person injures his neighbour's crops, either by turning beasts into his field, or by causing a conflagration in it. To turn beasts in was the more determinedly malicious act, and therefore the damage done was to be compensated by making over to the injured party a like quantity of produce out of the best that a man was possessed of; whereas simple restitution, was sufficient when fire had spread accidentally from a man's own land to his neighbour's. We may conclude that if the trespass of the cattle were accidental, simple restitution sufficed; and if the fire were kindled of set purpose, the heavier rate of penalty was exacted.
If a man shall cause a field or vineyard to be eaten.—Rather "to be eaten of," or "to be browsed upon." And shall feed.—Rather, "and it shall feed." Of the best, etc.—This means that, without reference to the quality of the crop damaged, the injurer should forfeit an equal amount of his own best produce.
If fire break out.—It is usual in the East (as in England) to burn the weeds on a farm at certain seasons of the year. When this is done, there is always a danger, in the dry parched-up Eastern lands, of the fire spreading, and carotid watch has to be kept. If this watch were neglected, a neighbour's sheaves or standing corn might be seriously damaged or even destroyed. The law punished such carelessness, by requiring the man who had kindled the fire to make restitution.
Exodus 22:5, Exodus 22:6
The law of love forbids all injury to a neighbour.
There are many who would scorn to steal the property of a neighbour, who yet make light of injuring it in other ways, as by trespass, or by negligence. But if we love our neighbour we shall be anxious not to injure him in any way. "Love worketh no ill to his neighbour." lie that allows his cattle to pasture in a neighbour's field, or his hares and rabbits to spoil a neighbour's crops, or his poultry to break bounds and damage a neighbour's garden, cannot feel towards him as a Christian should feel. Love would hinder any injuries, nay, even any intrusive or obnoxious act. Love would also be a strong check upon neglect and carelessness. Men are careful enough not to damage their own property; did they really love them, they would be as careful not to damage the property of their neighbours. And what is true of property is true of other things also. We are bound—
I. NOT TO INJURE OUR NEIGHBOUR'S CHARACTER, either by direct attacks upon it, or by carelessly suffering it to be maligned by others.
II. NOT TO INJURE HIS DOMESTIC PEACE.
1. By impertinent intrusion;
2. By spying and tale-bearing;
3. By scattering suspicions.
III. NOT TO INJURE HIS INTERESTS.
1. By divulging without necessity what may hurt him;
2. By pushing our own interests at his expense;
3. By knowingly advising him ill;
4. By setting pitfalls that he may fall into them.
If we offend in any of these respects, it is our duty, so far as possible, to "make restitution"—
(1) By compensating to him any loss he may have sustained;
(2) By disabusing those whose minds we may have poisoned;
(3) By ample and humble apology.
Too often this last will be all that is in our power; for "the tongue is a fire" (James 3:6), which scatters its brands far and wide, and creates conflagrations that it is impossible to extinguish. Let each and all seek to control that "unruly member" which "setteth on fire the course of nature," and is itself "set on fire of hell."
LAW OF DEPOSITS.—Deposition of property in the hands of a friend, to keep and guard, was a marked feature in the life of primitive societies, where investments were difficult, and bankers unknown. Persons about to travel, especially merchants, were wont to make such a disposition of the greater part of their movable property, which required some one to guard it in their absence. Refusals to return such deposits were rare; since ancient morality regarded such refusal as a crime of deep dye (Herod. 7.86). Sometimes, however, they took place; and at Athens there was a special form of action which might be brought in such cases called παρακαταθήκης δίκη. The penalty, if a man were east in the suit, was simple restitution, which is less satisfactory than the Mosaic enactment—"He shall pay double" (Exodus 22:9).
Stuff.—Literally "vessels"—but the word is used in a very wide sense, of almost any inanimate movables.
If the thief be not found.—It is not clear what was to be done in this case. Kalisch supposes that it came under the law of the oath (Exodus 22:10), and that if the man entrusted with the deposit swore that he had not embezzled it, he was let go free. But as stolen cattle were to be compensated for to the owner (Exodus 22:12), it would seem to be more consistent that stolen money or chattels should also have been made good.
For all manner of trespass.—It has been supposed that this refers to "every case of theft;" but Kalisch is probably right in restricting it to cases where a person was accused of having embezzled property committed to his care. He was in that case to appear before the judges (Exodus 18:23), together with his accuser, and to clear himself if he could. When he failed to do so, and was "condemned," he was bound to restore double. Which another challenges to be his.—Rather, "which a man challenges to be the very thing" (that he deposited). The ease is supposed of the depositor being able to point out that the person to whom he entrusted the deposit has it still in his keeping.
Exodus 22:10, Exodus 22:11
If a man deliver unto his neighbour an ass or an ox, etc.—The deposit of cattle is unheard of in classical antiquity; but it might well be the usage of a pastoral race (Genesis 47:3). The parallelism of the verse with Exodus 22:6 indicates that a deposit of the same kind is intended. If it die, or be hurt, or driven away.—The deposited beast might "die" naturally; or "he hurt" by a wild beast or a fall; or be "driven away "by thieves, without anyone seeing what had happened. In that case, if the man to whom the animal was entrusted would swear that he was no party to its disappearance, the owner had to put up with the loss.
If it be stolen.—If, however, the case was not an ambiguous one, but certainly known to he one of theft, restitution had to be made, since it was supposed that with proper care the theft might have been prevented.
If it be torn in pieces.—If again there was evidence that the creature had been killed by a wild beast, this evidence had to be produced, before the owner or the judges, for the trustee to be exonerated from blame. A similar proviso is found in the laws of the Gentoos.
Exodus 22:7, Exodus 22:8
The sacred character of trusts.
The main teaching of this third paragraph of Exodus 22:1-31. is the sacred character of human trusts. Men are taught that they must carefully guard the property of others when committed to their charge, and religiously restore it upon demand to its rightful owner. No conversion of such property to the use of the trustee, under any circumstances whatever, is to be tolerated. The principle laid down with respect to ancient, will apply equally to modern, trusts:—
I. If the thing entrusted be stolen, without the trustee being justly chargeable with having contributed to the theft by negligence, the loss must fall on the owner.
II. If it be lost by. non-preventible accident, as when a lion carries off a lamb, or when a ship goes down at sea, the case is the same—the trustee is not liable.
III. If, on the other hand, the trustee neglect to take sufficient care, and damage occurs, he is bound to make good the injury caused by his own laches.
IV. If he actually embezzle the trust, simple restitution will not meet the full claims of justice. He ought to be made to refund, and to be punished besides.
V. In doubtful cases the oath, or solemn assurance, of the trustee, that he has conveyed no part of the trust to his own use, ought to be accepted.
Trusts are among the most important of the contracts and obligations, whereby human society is carried on. Strict honesty and much thought and care are requisite on the one hand, confidence, gratitude and tender consideration on the other. Trustees, it is to be remembered, do, for the most part, unpaid work. No one can be compelled to be a trustee. And. unless a generous confidence is put in them, and their good intentions are presumed, alike by the law and by those for whom they act, trusteeship will be declined by prudent men, and great inconveniences will follow.
LAW OF BORROWING.—The act of borrowing is connected with that of depositing, since in both cases, the property of one man is committed to the hands of another; only, in the one case, it is at the instance and for the benefit of the man into whose hands the property passes; in the other case, it is at the instance and for the benefit of the other party. This difference causes a difference of obligation. The borrower, having borrowed solely for his own advantage, must take all the risks, and in any case return the thing borrowed, or its value, unless the owner was still, in some sort, in charge of his own property. Things hired are not, however, to be regarded as borrowed. If harm come to them, the owner must suffer the loss.
And it be hurt or die.—The thing borrowed might be animate or inanimate; either might be "hurt;" the former might not only be hurt, but "die." Whatever the damage, and whatever the cause, unless in the single rare case of the owner being in charge, the law required the borrower to make good the loss to the owner. This law must have acted as a considerable check upon borrowing.
If the owner thereof be with it.—By "with it," we must understand, not merely present, but in charge of it, or at any rate so near it that he might have prevented the damage, had prevention been possible. If it be an hired thing.—If anything were paid for the use of the thing, then it was not borrowed, but hired; and the owner was considered to have counted in the risk of loss or damage in fixing the amount of the hire. He was entitled therefore to no compensation Our own law does not rule this absolutely, but takes into consideration the proportion of the sum paid for hire to the value of the thing hired, and the general tacit understanding.
The duty of borrowers.
The duty of borrowers is very simple. It is to take care that that which they borrow suffers as little hurt as possible while it remains in their possession, and to return it unhurt, or else make compensation to the lender. People will not often be found to question the propriety of these rules; but in action there are not very many who conform to them. It is a common thing to take but little care of what we have borrowed; to keep it an unconscionable time; to neglect returning it until the lender has asked for it repeatedly; to keep it without scruple, if he does not happen to ask for it. Curiously enough, there are particular things—e.g; umbrellas and books, which it is supposed not to be necessary to return, and which borrowers are in the habit of withholding. Many go further, and feel under no obligation to repay even money which they have borrowed. All such conduct is, however, culpable, since it is tainted with dishonesty. Borrowers should remember—
I. THAT THEY FAIL IN THEIR DUTY TO THEMSELVES IF THEY DO NOT RESTORE WHAT THEY HAVE BORROWED. Self-respect should prevent them from a line of conduct which assimilates them to thieves, and is wanting in the boldness and straightforwardness that characterise ordinary thieves.
II. THAT THEY FAIL EGREGIOUSLY IN THEIR DUTY TO THE LENDER, who has put them under a special obligation to him.
III. THAT THEY FAIL IN THEIR DUTY TO MANKIND AT LARGE, since they do their best to deter men from ever lending, and so place difficulties in the way of borrowers. We all need to borrow at times.
IV. THAT THEY FAIL IN THEIR DUTY TO GOD, who has declared in his word, that it is "the wicked" who "borroweth and payeth not again" (Psalms 37:21).
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
We have to mark again in this chapter with how even a hand the law of Moses holds the scales of justice. The cases ruled by the principle of restitution are the following:—
I. THEFT (Exodus 22:1-5). The illustrations in the law relate to thefts of cattle. But the principles embodied apply to thefts generally (cf. Exodus 22:7). Note—
1. The law which punishes the theft, protects the thief's life. It refuses, indeed, to be responsible for him in the event of his being smitten in the night-time, while engaged in the act of housebreaking (Exodus 22:2)—large rights of self-defence being in this case necessary for the protection of the community. The thief might be killed under a misapprehension of his purpose; or by a blow struck at random in the darkness, and under the influence of panic; or in justifiable self-defence, in a scuffle arising from the attempt to detain him. In other circumstances, the law will not allow the thief's life to be taken (Exodus 22:3). All the ends of justice are served by his being compelled to make restitution. Blood is not to be spilt needlessly. The killing of a thief after sunrise is to be dealt with as murder. We infer from this that theft ought not to be made a capital offence. English law, at the beginning of this century, was, in this respect, far behind the law of Moses.
2. Theft is to be dealt with on the principle of restitution.
(1) It calls for more than simple restitution. At most the restitution of the simple equivalent brings matters back to the position in which they were before the criminal act was committed. That position ought never to have been disturbed; and punishment is still due to the wrongdoer for having disturbed it. Hence the law that if the stolen animal is found in the thief's hand alive, he shall restore double (Exodus 22:4); if he has gone the length of killing or selling it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep (Exodus 22:1).
(2) Penalty is proportioned to offence. Both as respects the value of the things stolen, and as respects the lengths to which criminality has proceeded.
3. If direct restitution is impossible, the thief shall be compelled to make restitution by his labour—"He shall be sold for his theft" (Exodus 22:3). It would be an improvement in the administration of justice if this principle were more frequently acted on. The imprisoned thief might be made to work out an equivalent for his theft; and this, in addition to the hardships of his imprisonment, might be accepted as legal restitution.
II. DAMAGE (Exodus 22:5, Exodus 22:6). The damage done, in the one case to a field or vineyard, by allowing a beast to stray into it, and feed upon the produce; in the other, by setting fire to thorn hedges, and injuring the corn-stacks, or standing corn, is supposed to be unintentional. Yet, as arising from preventible causes—from carelessness and neglect—the owner of the beast, or the person who kindled the fire, is held responsible. He must make good the damage from the best of his own possessions. We are held fully responsible for the consequences of neglect (cf. Hebrews 2:3).
III. DISHONEST RETENTION OF PROPERTY (Exodus 22:7-14). Cases of this kind involved judicial investigation.
1. If the charge of dishonest retention was made out, the fraudulent party was to restore double (Exodus 22:9).
2. If an ox, ass, sheep, or any beast, entrusted. to another to keep, died, was hurt, or was driven away, "no man seeing it," the person responsible for its safety could clear himself by an oath from the suspicion of having unlawfully "put his hand" to it (Exodus 22:11). In this case, he was not required to make good the loss.
3. If, however, the animal was stolen from his premises, under circumstances which implied a want of proper care, he was required to make restitution (Exodus 22:12).
4. If the animal was alleged to have been torn to pieces, the trustee was required to prove this by producing the mangled remains (Exodus 22:13).
IV. Loss OF WHAT IS BORROWED (Exodus 22:14, Exodus 22:15).
1. If the owner is not with his property, the borrower is bound to make good loss by injury or death.
2. If the owner is with it, the borrower is not held responsible.
3. If the article or beast be lent on hire, the hire is regarded as covering the risk.—J.O.
MISCELLANEOUS LAWS (Exodus 22:16-31)
Exodus 22:16, Exodus 22:17
Laws against seduction. It has been already observed that in the remainder of the Book of the Covenant there is a want of method, or logical sequence. Seduction, witchcraft, bestiality, worship of false gods, oppression, are sins as different from each other as can well be named, and seem to have no connecting link. Possibly, Moses simply follows the order in which God actually delivered the laws to him. Possibly, he wrote them down as they occurred to his memory. It is remarkable in his "law of seduction," that he makes the penalty fall with most weight on the man, who must either marry the damsel whom he has seduced, or provide her with a dowry, or, if she is a betrothed maiden, suffer with her the penalty of death (Deuteronomy 22:23, Deuteronomy 22:24).
If a man entice. Rather "seduce." He shall surely endow her to be his wife. In the East a man commonly pays money, or money's worth, to the parents in order to obtain a wife. The seducer was to comply with this custom, and make over to the damsel's father the sum of fifty shekels of silver (Deuteronomy 22:29), for his sanction of the marriage. If the father consented, he was compelled to marry the girl, and he was forbidden to repudiate her afterwards (ibid.).
If her father utterly refuse, etc. There might be such a disparity between the parties, or such an ineligibility of the man for a son-in-law, that the father might refuse to reestablish his daughter's status by the alliance. In that case the offender was to pay such a sum as would form a handsome dowry for the injured female, and enable her to enter with proper dignity the house of whatever man might be selected for her husband.
Law against witchcraft. Witchcraft was professedly a league with powers in rebellion against God. How far it was delusion, how far imposture, how far a real conspiracy with the powers of evil, cannot now be known. Let the most rationalistic view be taken, and still there was in the practice an absolute renunciation of religion, and of the authority of Jehovah. Wizards (Leviticus 19:31) and witches were, therefore, under the Jewish theocracy, like idolaters and blasphemers, to be put to death.
Law against unnatural crime. The abomination here mentioned is said to have prevailed in Egypt, and even to have formed part of the Egyptian religion. Though regarded by the Greeks and Romans as disgusting and contemptible, it does not seem to have been made a crime by any of their legislators. It was, however, condemned by the Gentoo laws and by the laws of Menu (11.17).
Law against sacrificing to false gods. Sacrifice was the chief act of worship; and to sacrifice to a false god was to renounce the true God. Under a theocracy this was rebellion, and rightly punished with temporal death. In ordinary states it would be no civil offence, and would be left to the final judgment of the Almighty. Utterly destroyed. Literally, "devoted;" but with the meaning of "devoted to destruction."
Law against oppression of foreigners. It may be doubted whether such a law as this was ever made in any other country. Foreigners are generally looked upon as "fair game," whom the natives of a country may ridicule and annoy at their pleasure. Native politeness gives them an exceptional position in France; but elsewhere it is the general rule to "vex" them. The Mosaic legislation protested strongly against this practice (Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:33), and even required the Israelites to "love the stranger who dwelt with them as themselves" (Leviticus 19:34). For ye were strangers. Compare Leviticus 19:34, and Deuteronomy 10:19. In Exodus 23:9 the addition is made—"For ye know the heart of a stranger"—ye know; i.e; the feelings which strangers have when they are vexed and oppressed—ye know this by your own sad experience, and should therefore have a tenderness for strangers.
Law against oppressing widows and orphans. With the stranger are naturally placed the widow and orphan; like him, weak and defenceless; like him, special objects of God's care. The negative precept here given was followed up by numerous positive enactments in favour of the widow and the orphan, which much ameliorated their sad lot. (See Exodus 23:11; Le Exodus 19:9, Exodus 19:10; Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 16:11, Deuteronomy 16:14; Deuteronomy 24:19-21; Deuteronomy 26:12, Deuteronomy 26:13.) On the whole, these laws appear to have been fairly well observed by the Israelites; but there were times when, in spite of them, poor widows suffered much oppression. (See Psalms 94:6; Isaiah 1:23; Isaiah 10:2; Jeremiah 7:3-6; Jeremiah 22:3; Zechariah 7:10; Malachi 3:5; Matthew 23:14.) The prophets denounce this backsliding in the strongest terms.
Ye shall not afflict. The word translated "afflict" is of wide signification. including ill-usage of all kinds. "Oppress," and even "vex," are stronger terms.
And they cry at all unto me Rather, "Surely, if they cry unto me." Compare Genesis 31:42.
I will kill you with the sword. It was, in large measure, on account of the neglect of this precept, that the capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and destruction of its inhabitants, was allowed to take place (Jeremiah 22:3-5). Your wives shall be widows, etc. A quasi-retaliation. They shall be exposed to the same sort of ill-usage as you have dealt out to other widows.
The law of lending money and borrowing. It is peculiar to the Jewish law to forbid the lending of money at interest by citizen to citizen. In the present passage, and in some others (Le Exodus 25:35; Deuteronomy 15:7), it might seem that interest was only forbidden in the case of a loan to one who was poor; but the general execration of usury (Job 24:9; Proverbs 28:8; Ezekiel 18:13; Ezekiel 22:12), and the description of the righteous man as "he that hath not given his money upon usury" (Psalms 15:5; Ezekiel 18:8), seem rather to imply that the practice, so far as Israelites were concerned, was forbidden altogether. On the other hand, it was distinctly declared (Deuteronomy 23:20) that interest might be taken from strangers. There does not seem to have been any rate of interest which was regarded as excessive, and "usurious," in the modern sense. In Scripture usury means simply interest.
If thou take at all thy neighbour's raiment to pledge. Lending upon pledge, the business of our modern pawnbrokers, was not forbidden by the Jewish law; only certain articles of primary necessity were forbidden to be taken, as the handmill for grinding flour, or either of its mill-stones (Deuteronomy 24:6). Borrowing upon pledge was practised largely in the time of Nehemiah, and led to very ill results. See Nehemiah 5:1-19. Thou shalt deliver it unto him by that the sun goeth down. The reason is given in the next verse. As it could not have been worth while to take the pledge at all, if it was immediately to have been given back for good, we must suppose a practice of depositing the garment during the day, and being allowed to have it out at night.
Wherein shall he sleep? The outer garment worn by the ancient Hebrews was like that of the modern Bedouins—a sort of large woollen shawl or blanket, in which they enveloped the greater part of their persons. It serves the Bedouins, to the present time, as robe by day, and as coverlet by night. When he crieth unto me. Compare verse 23. If the law is broken, and the man cry unto the Lord, he will hear, and avenge him.
Law against reviling God, or rulers. It has been proposed to render Elohim here either
1. "God;" or
2. "The gods;" or
The last of these renderings is impossible, since Elohim in the sense of "judges" always has the article. The second, which is adopted by the Septuagint and the Authorised Version, seems precluded by the constant practice of the most religious Jews, prophets and others, to speak with contempt and contumely of the false gods of the heathen. The passage must therefore be understood as forbidding men to speak evil of God. (Compare Leviticus 24:15, Leviticus 24:16.) Nor curse the ruler of thy people. Rather, "one exalted among thy people." The term is generally used of the heads of families (Numbers 3:24, Numbers 3:30, Numbers 3:35, etc.) and tribes (Numbers 7:10, Numbers 7:18, Numbers 7:24,, etc.) in the Pentateuch. Later, it is applied to kings (1 Kings 11:34; Ezekiel 12:10; Ezekiel 45:7, etc.). Our translators generally render it by "prince."
Exodus 22:29, Exodus 22:30
Law concerning first-fruits. God required as first-fruits from his people,
1. The first-born of their children;
2. The firstborn of all their cattle; and
3. The first of all the produce of their lands,
whether wet or dry; wine, oil, grain of all kinds, and fruits. The first-born of their children were to be redeemed by a money payment (Exodus 13:13; Numbers 3:46-48); but the rest was to be offered in sacrifice. The phrase, "thou shalt not delay," implies that there would be reluctance to comply with this obligation, and that the offering would be continually put off. In Nehemiah's time the entire custom had at one period fallen into disuse. (Nehemiah 10:35, Nehemiah 10:36.) The first of thy ripe fruits. Literally, "thy fulness." The paraphrase of the A. V. no doubt gives the true meaning. The first-born of thy sons, Compare above, Exodus 13:2, Exodus 13:12.
Seven days it shall be with its dam. See Le Exodus 22:27. The main object is that the darn may have during that time the natural relief derivable from suckling its off-spring. On the eighth day thou shalt give it me. Some analogy may be traced between this proviso and the law of circumcision. Birth was viewed as an unclean process, and nothing was fit for presentation to God excepting after an interval.
And ye shall be holy men unto me. Ye shall not be as other men, but "an holy nation, a peculiar people;" and therefore your separateness shall be marked by all manner of laws and regulations with respect to meats and drinks, designed to keep you free from every uncleanness. One such law then follows—
Law against eating the flesh of an animal killed by another. The blood of such an animal would not be properly drained from it. Some would remain in the tissues, and thence the antrum would be unclean; again, the carnivorous beast which "tore" it would also be unclean, and by contact would impart of its uncleanness to the other. Ye shall cast it to the dogs, is probably not intended to exclude the giving or selling of it to an Mien, if one were at hand, according to the permission accorded in Deuteronomy 14:21; but points simply to the mode whereby the flesh was to be got rid of, if aliens were not at hand, or if they declined to eat the animals. Dogs were so unclean that they might be fed on anything. Their chief use was to be scavengers (2 Kings 9:35, 2 Kings 9:36).
The severity and the tenderness of God.
The miscellaneous laws thrown together, without any clear logical sequence or indeed any manifest connection, in the latter part of this chapter, may, generally speaking, be grouped under the two heads of instances of the Divine severity, and instances of the Divine tenderness. Here, as in so many places, "mercy and truth meet together—righteousness and peace kiss each other." God is as merciful to the weak and helpless as severe towards the bold and stubborn evil-doer. If his justice is an inalienable attribute, so is his kindness and compassion. The twofold aspect of the Divine Nature is steadily kept before us by an arrangement in which its opposite sides are presented to our contemplation alternately.
I. INSTANCES OF THE DIVINE SEVERITY.
1. "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" (Exodus 22:18).
2. "Whoso lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death" (Exodus 22:19).
3. "He that sacrifices to any god, save unto the Lord on]y, he shall be utterly destroyed" (Exodus 22:20).
4. "Thou shalt not revile the gods (God) nor curse the ruler of thy people" (Exodus 22:28). In these utterances it is Justice that makes itself heard, wrath that manifests itself, severity that gives strict rules for human conduct, and threatens tremendous penalties in case of their infringement.
(1) Witchcraft is made a capital offence. Moderns constantly speak of witchcraft as founded on mere illusion, and regard witches and wizards as unfortunate persons, labouring under a certain amount of self-deception, and hounded to their death by persecutors far more to blame than their victims. It is generally assumed at the present day that to hold actual communication with evil spirits, and thus obtain supernatural power, is impossible. We are told that "it is absolutely impossible to acknowledge sorcerers or witches," and that "those who pretend to be such must be considered as impious and nefarious impostors" (Kalisch). The whole round of natural phenomena is presumed to be known, and no mystery to remain anywhere. Witches and wizards are tricksters; demonology and magic, delusions; evil spirits themselves either non-existent, or relegated to another sphere, and so entirely beyond human cognisance. But the language and ideas of Scripture are different. There evil spirits are regarded as really existing, and the witch is considered to have access to them. Death would scarcely be assigned as the penalty for mere trickery and imposture. It is well deserved by those who renounce God, and place their trust in spirits of darkness altogether. While the subject must be allowed to be one about which much obscurity still lingers, it would seem necessary for those who accept Scripture as an infallible guide, to put aside the shallow theories of modern sciolists, and hold, with the wisest of all ages, that "there are more things in heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in our philosophy."
(2) Unnatural crime is made capital. All that is contrary to nature, all that tends to produce "confusion" in his universe, is absolutely hateful to God. Human legislators cared little about a sin which a natural repulsion caused to be rare, and which had no very obvious ill effects upon society. Some religions consecrated it and made it a portion of their ceremonial. Some, and they were the greater number, viewed it with complete indifference. The Mosaic legislation, differing from almost all others, placed upon the offence the brand of heinous guilt, and required that both the man and the beast should die (Le Exodus 20:15, Exodus 20:16).
(3) The acknowledgment of false gods in an open and public way is forbidden under the same penalty. Thought is left free—no inquisitorship is established—but if men parade their misbelief by offering sacrifices to the gods of other nations, the insult to Jehovah is to be punished capitally. It was flagrant rebellion against God, and a transgression of the fundamental law on which the community was built (Exodus 20:3). It was a pollution to the land, and might draw down Divine judgment on the nation. It was offensive to the consciences of all God-fearing men in the community. No punishment under the death-penalty could be adequate for a crime, which was against God, against the State, and against society. The severity was, however, without parallel in other codes.
(4) Reviling God, and reviling rulers are both sternly forbidden; but the penalty is not as yet affixed. Reviling God was, like sacrificing to false gods, an overt act of insult, challenging notice, and if allowed, destructive of the theocracy. The penalty afterwards affixed to it was death (Le Exodus 24:16). In the Book of the Covenant it was thought enough to forbid it, the temptation to such an act not being great. Reviling rulers seems to have been coupled with reviling God in order to introduce the idea that "the powers that be are ordained of God," and consequently that those who resist them "resist the ordinance of God." The death-penalty, though not positively enacted in this case, is the natural consequence of resisting one who "beareth not the sword in vain." Thus far, therefore, the legislation here placed before us is severe—almost Draconic. Expressly or impliedly the death-penalty is threatened in every case. God is shown forth as an inexorable judge, who "will by no means absolve the wicked"—and man can but tremble before him. On the other hand, in the remainder of the passage we have—
II. INSTANCES OF THE DIVINE TENDERNESS.
1. "Thou shalt neither vex a stranger nor oppress him" (Exodus 22:21).
2. "Ye shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child" (Exodus 22:22).
3. "Thou shalt not lend thy money unto any of my people that is poor upon usury" (Exodus 22:25).
4. "Thou shalt not take thy neighbour's raiment to pledge" (Exodus 22:26). The Divine protection is extended especially over four classes of persons.
(1) The stranger—the sojourner in a foreign land—alien in blood, in language, in religion probably—cut off from the protection of his own government, or kinsfolk, or fellow-tribesmen, and therefore all the more appealing for protection to the pity anti the providence of God. To him the Sabbath rest had been already extended by a special provision (Exodus 20:10); if he would be circumcised, he might eat the passover (Exodus 12:48, Exodus 12:49); he might make his offerings at the door of the tabernacle (Le Exodus 17:8, Exodus 17:9); he was to have access to the cities of refuge (Leviticus 35:15). It was now enjoined that he should not be oppressed in any way; that he should not even be "vexed." Kindness, consideration, courtesy, were made the stranger's due. In the final summary of the law (Deuteronomy 10:18, Deuteronomy 10:19) it was declared that God "loved" him, and the general command was given to all Israelites—"Love ye the stranger; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt."
(2) The widow. His widowed mother was especially dear to our Lord; and it is perhaps with secret reference to the boundless tenderness called forth in him by her condition that throughout Scripture there is so deep a sympathy with the widow's lot. From the sad Naomi, with her piteous outbreak—"Call me not Naomi, but Mara"—to the blessed Anna and the pious Dorcas, the widows of the Revealed Word have the testimony of the Spirit in their favour. For the widow of Sarepta the great law of there being no return from the grave is first broken through, and the mother is comforted by receiving back her dead child (1 Kings 17:9-24). For the widow of Nain Christ wrought one of his three similar miracles. In the early Church special care was taken of widows (Acts 6:1; 1 Timothy 5:3-9 and 1 Timothy 5:16); and St. James was inspired to declare to the Church of all ages that "Pure religion and undefiled before God is this—to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27).
(3) The fatherless. The orphan is generally coupled with the widow in Scripture, and God's protection is equally extended over both. In the present passage the oppression of both is alike forbidden; and in other parts of the law both are secured certain advantages (Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 24:17, Deuteronomy 24:19, Deuteronomy 24:21; Deuteronomy 26:12, Deuteronomy 26:13, etc.). God proclaims himself in an especial sense "the father of the fatherless" (Psalms 68:5), and "the helper of the fatherless" (Psalms 10:14); in him the fatherless "find mercy" (Hosea 14:2). That tender compassion of the Most High, wherewith he looks on affliction generally, is poured without stint upon those who have so much need of his support and guidance, being left without their natural earthly protector.
(4) The poor. Poverty is a far milder affliction than bereavement, since by nature all are poor, no man bringing with him into the world any property. Still, in states where there has been an accumulation of wealth, it is a disadvantage to be born poor, and a still greater disadvantage to have known riches and to have lost them. Poverty will ever be the lot of large numbers; of the greater portion through their own fault, but of many without fault of their own. "The poor shall never cease out of the land," We are told (Deuteronomy 15:11); and, again, "The poor ye have always with you" (John 12:8). God's pity embraces this large class also; and he seeks to attract to them the regards of their more fortunate brethren. Not only were the Israelites forbidden to lend money to them upon usury; but they were expressly commanded to be ready to lend to them without (Deuteronomy 15:7-10). Such as fell into servitude for debt, and completed their time, were not to be cast adrift or sent away empty, but to be furnished liberally out of their master's flock and granary and winepress (Deuteronomy 15:13, Deuteronomy 15:14), that they might begin the world again with a little capital, and be saved from destitution. In modern times, owing to change of circumstances, laws such as this do not admit of a literal obedience; but we may act in the spirit of them, by never pressing hard on the poor, by sharing with them our superfluity, by pleading for them with others, and "seeing that such as are in need and necessity have right." There is still much oppression of poor men even in Christian countries—much need of improvement in their cottages, in the sanitary condition of their surroundings, in the medical provision made for them, and in the administration of the laws for their relief when old and infirm. A wide field is open for those who would obtain the blessing promised to such as "consider the poor" (Psalms 41:1).
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
This series of precepts deals with seduction, witchcraft, bestiality, and the sin of sacrificing to other gods than Jehovah. The case of the seducer might have been brought under the laws embodying the principle of restitution. It forms a transition to the others, in which we pass from the sphere of judicial right to what is negatively and positively due from Israel as "an holy people" to Jehovah.
1. Seduction. Lewdness in every form is sternly reprobated by the law of Moses (of. Deuteronomy 22:13-30). The man who seduced an unbetrothed maid was to be compelled to marry her; or, if her parents refused, was to pay her a dowry.
2. Witchcraft. With equal strictness was forbidden all trafficking, whether in pretence or in reality, with unholy powers. The crime—a violation of the first principles of the theocracy—was to be punished with death. There cannot be perfect love to God, and communion with him, and trafficking with the devil at the same time. The witchcraft condemned by the law was evil in itself, and was connected with foolish and wicked rites (cf. Deuteronomy 18:9-15).
3. Bestiality. This, as an inversion of the order of nature, and in itself an act of the grossest abominableness, was "surely" to be punished with death.
4. Sacrificing to other gods. Possibly this crime is mentioned here as, in a sense, the spiritual counterpart of the vices above noted, i.e; as involving
(1) Spiritual adultery,
(2) The worshipping of "devils" (Le Exodus 18:7; Deuteronomy 32:17),
(3) Filthy and impure rites (cf. Deuteronomy 23:17, Deuteronomy 23:18).—J.O.
Jehovah's proteges and representatives.
I. JEHOVAH'S PROTEGES (Exodus 22:21-28). These are the stranger, the fatherless, the widow, and the poor generally—all of whom the Israelites are forbidden to "afflict." The ground of Jehovah's interest in them is his own character—"for I am gracious" (Exodus 22:27). In him, however little they may sometimes think of it or feel it, they have a constant Friend, a great invisible Protector. They are (in the sense of Roman law) Jehovah's "clients." He is their great Patron; he identifies himself with their interests; he will uphold their cause. Injuries done to them he will resent as if done to himself, and will call the wrong-doer to strict account. If earthly law fails, let them cry to him, and he will put the jus talionis in operation with his own hands (Exodus 22:23, Exodus 22:24, Exodus 22:27). Exodus 22:25-28 specially forbid exacting treatment of the poor. Liberal help is to be afforded them. A neighbour is not to be harshly dealt with when driven to a strait. His garment, if given as a pledge, is not to be kept beyond nightfall, which is practically equivalent to saying that it is not to be taken from him at all (Exodus 22:27). What kindness breathes in these precepts! How justly does the law which embodies them claim to be a law of love! And how far, even yet, is our Christian society from having risen to the height of the standard they set up! Let us seek ourselves to translate them more uniformly into practice. Learn also, from these precepts, inculcating love to the stronger, how little ground there is for accusing the religion of Moses of fanatical hatred of foreign peoples.
II. JEHOVAH'S REPRESENTATIVES (Exodus 22:28). Magistrates and rulers are to be treated with respect. They are invested with a portion of God's authority (Romans 14:1).—J.O.
These, as part of the law's righteousness, are to be faithfully rendered. Let us not forget, when reflecting on what is due from man to man, to reflect also on what is due from man to God. When inwardly boasting of conscientiousness in rendering to every man his own, let us ask if we have been equally scrupulous in the discharge of our obligations to our Maker. In all spheres of life God claims of our first and best (see on Exodus 13:2, Exodus 13:12). God's highest due is that we be "holy." The precept in Exodus 22:31 is connected with the prohibition to eat flesh with the blood in it.—J.O.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The treatment of the stranger.
I. NOTE THE FACT THAT STRANGERS WOULD COME INTO SUCH CONTACT WITH ISRAEL AS TO PROVIDE OPPORTUNITY FOR THIS TREATMENT. Jehovah had done a great deal in Israel to make them a separated people—separated in many ways as by the land of their dwelling, their national institutions, their worship, their personal rite of circumcision; but separation, with all its rigours and all the penalties for neglecting it, could never become isolation. Solemnly indeed were the people enjoined to drive out the Canaanites, and trample down all idolatry; but there still remained the fact, that by a certain Divine and glorious necessity, strangers were to come into considerable intercourse with them. That strangers should have been drawn to them when they settled in their fertile home was only likely; but this must nave happened to some extent even before. We may be perfectly certain, considering the analogies of after generations and what we read of proselytism in the New Testament, that from the very first there must have been some with the proselyte disposition in them. Few perhaps of this sort were to be found in the mixed multitude coming out of Egypt—but still there were some. The Lord knoweth them that are his. If there are those of whom John might say, "They went out from us because they were not of us," so there are those of whom the Church may ever say, "They come to us because they are of us." For such God lovingly and amply provided from the first, even when they came with all the disadvantages and difficulties of strangers to contend against. There is in this very injunction, a foreshadowing of the power and attractiveness to which Israel in due time would rise, though as yet it was but a fugitive people without discipline and without coherence. Strangers in their need were even now drawn to Israel and would be drawn still more, just as years ago their needy ancestor and his children were drawn to Egypt because of the corn that was there.
II. THE STRONG TEMPTATION TO TREAT THESE FOREIGNERS BADLY. There is a very melancholy picture of human inconsistency here presented. Liberated slaves, forgetting the horrors of their own servitude, treat with like cruelty those exposed to the opportunity of that cruelty. Men soon forget their past condition. Israel, we see, forgot the horror of their own Egyptian experiences in two ways.
1. They lusted after the flesh-pots of Egypt.
2. They failed in sympathy for the foreigners among themselves.
When we have possessions and power and thus get the chance of domination, we are only too ready to treat foreigners either as interlopers wishing to spoil us, or tools fitted ― to increase our possessions. The world, alas! is always abounding in a great number of the feeble and unfortunate, of whom it is only too easy to take advantage. More than one class of these are mentioned in this chapter, and among them we see that the foreigner occupies a conspicuous place. The stranger is the man without friends; he comes into a place where the very things that profit the knowing are traps and snares for the ignorant. Consider the difficulties of a foreigner planted down in the midst of a huge city like London, a place of dangers and difficulties even for an Englishman who is thrown into it for the first time, and how much more for one whom ignorance of the language makes doubly strange! Blanco White, who it will be remembered was an exile from his native land of Spain, gives as an instance of Shakespeare's surprising knowledge of the human mind and heart "the passage in which he describes the magnitude of the loss which a man banished from his country has to endure by living among those who do not understand his native language." The words are those put into the mouth of Mowbray Duke of Norfolk, on his banishment by Richard II.
"The language I have learn' d these forty years,
My native English, now I must forego.
And now my tongue's use is to me no more
Than an unstringed viol or a harp,
Or like a cunning instrument cased up
Or, being open, put into his hands
That knows no touch to tune the harmony:
Within my mouth you have engaoled my tongue,
Doubly portcullis' d with my teeth and lips;
And dull unfeeling barren ignorance
Is made my gaoler to attend on me."
If this be so, the stranger's feelings are some index to the temptations of those among whom he is cast. There may not be downright robbery, but there are tricks of trade, extortionate charges on pretence of making hay while the sun shines; in short there are all sorts of human foxes ever on the watch to catch the ignorant, the innocent, and the confiding. But are God's people amenable to charges of this kind? It is evident that the Israelites were, from this warning to them. It was so easy to turn Jehovah's denunciations of the idolater into excuses for maltreating the stranger because he had the look of an idolater. Nay more, how easy it was both to yield to the idolatry and maltreat the stranger!
III. THE GREAT CONSIDERATION WHICH IS TO LEAD TO PROPER TREATMENT OF THE STRANGER. "Ye were strangers in the land of Egypt." Great as the temptation was to treat strangers badly, such treatment if only looked at in a certain light would be scarcely excusable at all This possible treatment of the stranger is to be looked at in the clear light of our Lord's parable concerning the forgiven yet unforgiving debtor. Israel had been strangers in Egypt, not only foreigners among the Egyptians, but to some extent exiles from God, who had put on the appearance of having forgotten them. But now he had brought them to himself, they were to be his people, a holy nation; and it was want of loyalty to God, it was behaviour unworthy of a holy nation for them to treat strangers as the Egyptians had treated Israel. God hates the oppressor everywhere and pities the oppressed. The people of God never dishonour their name more than when they trample on the alien from the commonwealth of Israel and the stranger from the covenant of promise. The alien may become as the home-born. The stranger may become familiar with Divine covenants and promises as if he were an Israelite from the womb. Even already the Israelites were being warned against counting too much on outward signs and natural descent. We should ever be looking for the minimum of living faith rather than the maximum of formal orthodoxy. A tiny seed is more to be cherished than a huge log of timber; for the one has whole living forests in it, and the other is dead and dead it must remain. We must labour to get the insight whereby we may penetrate through strange outward aspects and discern the spiritual life and sympathies underneath. God will give us the eye to discover, the honest and good eye, whether the stranger who comes is a wandering sheep seeking the true flock or a wolf in sheep's clothing. To mistake the sheep for the wolf is equally lamentable with mistaking the wolf for the sheep. The Pharisaic spirit so easily finds entrance, welcome and dominion in our breasts. It is so natural to play the censor towards those who sin the tins which we have no temptation to fall into. He without mercy for him that seems a stranger to God, may suspect that he is still a stranger himself. Many even of the Israelites at Mount Sinai had not been brought to God in the full sense of the term. Theirs was but a local contiguity to the awful demonstrations, not an attachment of the whole heart to the pure and glorious God who was behind the demonstrations.—Y.
The treatment of the widow and the fatherless.
This injunction is even more humiliating to receive than the preceding one. It was bad enough to find those who had been foreigners in Egypt oppressing foreigners among themselves, and forgetting their own sufferings and deliverances. Still the slight excuse was available that as God's mercy to Israel receded into the past, and became a mercy to a former generation rather than a present one (at least, so it might be plausibly put), it was only too likely to be forgotten. Men are unable to make the past stand with any power against the influences of the present. But here are those, the widow and the fatherless, whom Nature in her ever fresh and living power, marks out herself as irresistible objects for pity and succour. What a disgrace to human nature that an injunction not to afflict the widow and fatherless should be necessary! And yet common observation only too often and sadly tells us that the widow and fatherless children may easily become the victims of an inconsiderate and unscrupulous self-seeking, which in its practical results is as afflicting as the most deliberate cruelty. It is a very beautiful element of God's revelation of himself in the Scriptures, that he is so often set before us as caring for the fatherless and the widow, and denouncing those who do not care for them. Widows in their needs, and his supply for their needs, appear in some of the most prominent scenes of the sacred page. Observe the provision that was made for the fatherless and the widow, along with the Levite and the stranger, to eat of the tithe of the yearly produce (Deuteronomy 14:29), and also to get their share in the rejoicings at the feast of weeks and the feast of tabernacles (Deuteronomy 16:11-14). The neighbour's raiment might be taken to pledge under certain conditions, but a widow's raiment was not to be taken in pledge at all (Deuteronomy 24:17). The forgotten sheaf in the field, and the gleanings of the olive boughs and of the vineyards, were to be left for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow (Deuteronomy 24:19-21); and cursed was he to be who perverted the judgment of the same (Deuteronomy 27:19). When God sustained Elijah, at the time of judicial drought and famine in the land, he sustained the widow and the fatherless at the same time; and who knows how many widows and fatherless besides? It is part of the praise which is due to God in song, that he relieves the fatherless and the widow. A Father of the fatherless, and a Judge of the widows is God, in his holy habitation (Psalms 68:5; Psalms 146:9). There can thus be no mistake about God's interest in those who are left without their natural provider and protector. But then on the other hand, these very same Scriptures which assure us of God's concern, remind us of man's cruelty, unrighteousness, and oppression. Job tells us of those who drive away the ass of the fatherless, and take the widow's ox for a pledge (Exodus 24:3); and it was part of memory's brightening, as he thought upon his happier past, that he had delivered the fatherless and caused the widow's heart to sing for joy. God sent Isaiah to the hypocrites, the formal religionists who satiated God with ceremonial observances, to bid them turn to the realities of righteousness; and one of the foremost things among these was to judge the fatherless and plead for the widow. The faithful city had fallen, until those whose duty it was to judge the fatherless, and have the cause of the widow come to them, had sunk into companions of thieves and seekers of bribes. In the parable of the judge who feared not God, neither regarded man, we may be sure there is great significance beyond the purpose for which it was spoken. While first of all it teaches the need of importunity in prayer, it reminds us also how hard it is for the feeble woman, whose sphere has been the seclusion of home, to come out in the world and make her way against the oppressor and against the judge, who would be quick enough to listen to her if she was only rich, and could bribe him. By sheer carelessness and thoughtlessness, by the sin of omission even more than the sin of commission, we may fall into the wickedness of afflicting the widow and the fatherless; and to be on the alert to succour them is the only way in which we can effectually guard against this wickedness. We see that even in the Church of Christ, and in those first days when all that believed were together, and had all filings in common—when all seemed so beautiful and promising, heaven fairly begun on earth—even then, and only too soon, the widows began to complain that they were neglected in the daily ministrations. Some of this perhaps was mere mendicant grumbling, but much of it would have a real cause. The only way we can keep the oppressor's heart out of us is to have the heart living and acting under the power of a Divinely-inspired love. It is a first principle of Christian ethics that if we are not doing good, we are doing ill; and we may be parties to the worst oppression, even when we are not thinking of oppression at all. In what a light does this Mosaic injunction bring out the teaching of James as to that practical element in pure religion of visiting the fatherless and the widow. If the Christian—his opportunities, his motives, his consolations, his resources to help and advise being what they are—does not visit the fatherless and the widow, depend upon it others will with very different designs. The greatest promptitude and decision are needed to anticipate the action of the rapacious and selfish.—Y.
The treatment of the poor.
Here are two regulations, commanding not to be usurious in the lending of money to the poor, and not to retain the pledged garment over night. How forcibly they bring out the one crowning ill connected with poverty in the eyes of the world! The poor man is the man without money; and lack of money bars his way in only too many directions. Let him be ever so noble in character, ever so heroic, wise, and self-denying in action, it avails nothing. The poor wise man delivered the little city that was besieged by a great king; yet no man remembered that same poor man. These Israelites had gone out of Egypt with immense wealth, but probably even then it was very unequally distributed; and the tendency would be, as the tendency always is, for the inequality to become greater still. Hence in this regulation God was addressing those who from the inordinate feeling of desire which wealth inspires, would be peculiarly tempted to take advantage of the poor. God never shows any mercy to the rich man so far as his riches are concerned. Those riches are full of peril, and fuller of peril to their owner than to any one else. He who counselled, by his Son, to pluck out the right eye and cut off the right hand, is not likely to pay respect to a thing like wealth, even more external still. The chief matter in these regulations is how the poor and needy may be most advantaged, and whatever will do that most effectually is the thing to be done. Whether mere money be lost or gained is a matter of no consequence whatever.
I. THESE PROVISIONS WITH RESPECT TO LENDING OBVIOUSLY DO NOT EXCLUDE GIVING. "If thou lend money," etc. But God, in many instances, would be better pleased with giving than with lending. If only men were seeking with all their hearts to do his will, all these minute regulations would be unnecessary. The advantage of the poor, as we have just seen, was the main thing to be considered here. And it might be for the advantage of the receiver, and still more for the advantage of the giver in the highest sense of the word advantage, to give, hoping to receive nothing again. Just as money does untold harm when foolishly and wickedly spent, so when wisely spent it may do untold good. Lending may serve well, but giving may serve much better; and that is the wisest course which is judged to do the most good. Some would find it easier to give than to lend, being naturally generous, disposed to lavishness, shrinking from the risk of being thought stingy. And yet sometimes in giving they would be doing a very hurtful thing, for lending would be better.
II. Nor is there anything like A FORBIDDING OF THE LOAN OF MONEY FOR COMMERCIAL PURPOSES. If one man lends to another a certain sum of money with which to trade, it is plain that he acts lawfully in getting interest for the use of it. For if he were not lending money to another, he would be using it himself, and the interest represents his profit, which is the same whoever uses the money. The trade of the world, and therefore the good of the world would be greatly limited and hampered but for the use of borrowed capital. It may be that the man who has the capital has neither the disposition nor ability to use it. Let him then, upon a fair consideration, lend the capital to the man who can use it.
III. Chiefly we must strive to avoid THE TAKING SELFISH ADVANTAGE OF OUR NEIGHBOUR'S NECESSITIES. Rather we should rejoice to take advantage of these necessities to show beyond all dispute, that the love of God is indeed the ruling principle of our hearts. Man's extremity, it has often been said, is God's opportunity, and so it should be the Christian's opportunity. By timely aid, if we have it to bestow, let us strive to deliver the poor from the clutches of the usurer, and especially let us give our aid to what may be devised for the curing of poverty's disease altogether. Every alteration either in laws or customs which will tend to diminish Poverty—let it have our strenuous support. Bear in mind that whatever each man has beyond a certain moderate share of this world's goods can only come to him because others have less than reasonable comfort demands. We should ever be aiming by all methods that are reasonable, just, and practicable, to secure to each one neither poverty nor riches, but just that food which is convenient for him. God wishes every man to have his daily bread; and it is an awful thing that we by our selfishness do so much to make the question of daily bread the only one that many of our fellow-creatures have time or inclination to ask. It seems to take every hour and every energy to keep the wolf from the door.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Exodus 22". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany