Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Exodus 22:1-24:18


Laws are important. You can't have a society without them. In Exodus 22-23we have more laws for ancient Israel.

Though I may value the separation of Church and State in the U.S., no such separation existed, or was conceivable in ancient Israel. The laws we read here are a mix of the ceremonial and civic, though that distinction did not exist.

The penalty for theft or property damage is restitution. In cases of theft, restitution could be several times the value of the stolen item.

My father used to say a Detroit cop advised him that he could kill an intruder into his home. "Just make sure he falls inside the house." Among the Israelites, a home intruder could be beaten to death, provided it was between dusk and dawn. During daylight hours, if you killed that same intruder, you were held guilty for his death.

The laws in Exodus 22 seem to be grouped loosely. Sometimes there is no discernible reason for the order in which they are presented. For example, verses 16-17 specifies that a man who seduces a virgin shall pay her father the bride price for her. Whether he marries her or not is the father's choice. Verse 18 prescribes the death penalty for women who practice sorcery.Verse 19 prohibits bestiality.

Some of the laws seem motivated by sheer compassion. The Israelites were not to oppress resident aliens, widows or orphans. If one took a neighbor's cloak as collateral for a loan, they were to return it before nightfall so that the neighbor could sleep warmly in it.

I cannot comment on all of the laws in these chapters.

In chapter 23 the Israelites are told not to follow a majority in wrongdoing. Good advice.

Verse 2 says that they shouldn't favor the poor in a lawsuit and verse 6 says neither to deny them justice. The intervening verses enjoin the Israelites to take care of even their enemies' property.

Verse 10-11 command a sabbatical year. Every seventh year, fields should be rested. This sounds like good agricultural practice to me. It is also a way of showing care for the poor and the wild animals who can eat from the uncultivated field.

Some of these laws seem quaint or culturally remote. Others seem universally applicable and valid even today. What do you think? Which laws do you find appealing? Which appalling? Which eternal? Which culturally conditioned?

Verses 14 ff. command all Israelite men to attend the three annual festivals: the festival of unleavened bread (Passover), the harvest festival, and the ingathering festival. My Jewish Study Bible says that the third festival was when the processed grains and new wine were put in storehouses.

Verse 19 says that Israelites shouldn't boil a kid in its mother's milk. This may have been a pagan practice. Observant Jews today don't eat dairy products and meat at the same meal based on this precept.

In verses 29 ff. God promises that an angel will go ahead of Israel to help them conquer Canaan, the land promised to Abraham. The conquest will take place little by little, but the inhabitants of the land must be driven out because the temptation to worship their gods will be great. Whether this was prescient or written from the perspective of a later time, it certainly prove to be an ongoing problem once Israel is settled.

Chapter 24 begins with YHWH calling Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and 70 of Israel's elders to "come up to the Lord" and "worship from a distance." Then it  tells us that the people agreed to God's laws and Moses wrote them down. Then the covenant was ratified, first with sacrifices, then with the sacrificial blood being splashed on the altar and on the people. Then Moses et al. go to eat and drink in God's presence. They see God at least from a distance.

In verse 13 Moses takes Joshua up Mount Sinai with him, but in verse 15 it is Moses alone who goes into the fiery cloud of God's glory. Seven days later, God speaks to Moses. Forty days later, Moses will come back.

Next: Exodus 25-27.

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