Do Not Allow a Sorceress to Live

22:16 to 23:9

    DIG: How do these laws relate to the Ten Commandments? To the sovereignty of God? To where you live? How are the Israelites different, or holy, compared to the pagans around them? On what basis is the LORD entitled to the firstborn (12:24-30; 13:1-2 and 14-16)? How are justice and mercy related here?

    REFLECT: Even though you live in a sinful world, how can you seek to live a more holy life this week? How do justice and mercy compare to the typical way you “do business” or “live and let live?” How can you show justice and mercy to fellow workers, students, customers, family, or strangers because of what God has done for you?

    This is a very long section that has one common theme, evil practices or crimes against humanity. Social justice was as important to God in the TaNaKh as it is today. All these commandments were part of the 613 in the Torah.

    This first group of commandments are an extension of the seventh commandment: You shall not commit adultery (20:14). After the cases of stealing property, Scripture proceeds to deal with stealing from the heart. Unmarried and unbethrothed daughters in Israel were considered part of their father’s property; consequently the loss of a daughter’s virginity diminished her value and therefore compensation was due to the father.427 If a man seduced a virgin who was not pledged to be married and slept with her, he had to pay the bride-price, and marry her. The bride-price was a gift, often substantial (Deuteronomy 22:28-29), given by a prospective groom to the bride’s family as payment for her (Genesis 24:53), a custom still followed in the Near East.428 If her father was so angry that he absolutely refused to give her to him, he still had to pay the bride-price for virgins that was considerably more (22:16-17). The specific amount of the payment is not stated. But in a parallel passage in Deuteronomy 22:29, it was set at fifty shekels of silver.

    According to the Torah, if two people had sexual relations prior to betrothal, they were required to get married. The seriousness and severity by which the Torah regards the act of pre-marital intercourse ought to give us pause in the community of believers today. We live in an age where sex before marriage is not only commonplace, but appears to be the norm. God is not pleased or honored with such activity. The message of abstinence must be proclaimed to a world that has believed the lie of Satan.429

    A sorceress was not allowed to live (22:18). The LORD was very serious about idolatry (Deuteronomy 18:10, 14; First Samuel 28:9; Isaiah 47:12-14). According to the belief system in the ancient Near East, all true power in the world was magic. The god who displayed the greatest magical feats was considered the most powerful. Ancient people also used magic to manipulate the gods to their own advantage. Of course, the Israelites were greatly exposed to such practices in Egypt. In fact, the term for sorcerers is used in 7:11 of the magicians of Egypt who contended with Moses and Aaron. Magic was said to be evil by Hebrew law, because it attempted to triumph over ADONAI’s will who is supreme over all the earth.

    Anyone who had sexual relations with an animal was put to death (22:19). Bestiality (also see Leviticus 18:23, 20:15-16; Deuteronomy 27:21), although forbidden among the children of Israel, was common in both Baal and Canaanite worship. The practice seemed to be accepted in countries around the Eastern Mediterranean sea-coast. Hittite law was the only code in the area that discouraged against it. But even they did not condemn it in every case. Their laws said that people were exempt from punishment if they had sex with a horse or a mule! God’s word, on the other hand, allows no exceptions, because bestiality is simply an abomination (Leviticus 18:23, 20:15-16).

    Whoever sacrificed to any god other than ADONAI was destroyed, because at that point he or she became cherem, or devoted to destruction (22:20). There are several examples of this kind of judgment in the TaNaKh (Numbers 31:15-17; Deuteronomy 7:2, 26:16-17; Joshua 10:11 and 11:12; Judges 21:11; First Samuel 15:3 and 27:9-11; Jeremiah 25:9). Probably the best-known example is that of Achan. The entire city of Jericho was declared cherem, or devoted to destruction by God Himself. That meant everything in Jericho wasn’t to be touched. But when Achan kept a beautiful robe, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, the Israelites were unexpectedly defeated in their next battle of Ai because of his disobedience. Because Achan had touched that which was cherem, he personally became devoted to destruction. As a result, Joshua, together with all Isra'el, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the gold wedge, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor and stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them (Joshua 6:18 to 7:28). The same fate waited anyone who sacrificed to foreign gods.

    The fundamental principles laid down in the Ten Commandments, our blue print for living, which are reflected in the Book of the Covenant, still apply to us today. That is, idolatry is wrong and an evil activity. We are not to participate in it.430

    Next, God protected the underprivileged and the needs of people low on the social scale are discussed (22:21-27). Grain was to be left behind for widows and orphans during the harvest (Deuteronomy 24:19-21), including the edges of fields (Leviticus 19:9-10). They were to be given special hospitality at feasts (Deuteronomy 16:11-14), they received a special tithe every third year (Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 16:12-13), and to be allowed to plant crops in others’ fields during the sabbatical year (23:11-12). Therefore, the LORD said: Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt (22:21). 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 orphans (22:22-24). The punishment was measure for measure.

    A Jew could not lend money to another Jew with interest. They could lend money to Gentiles and gain interest, but not Jews (Leviticus 25:35-37; Deuteronomy 15:7-11, 23:19; Nehemiah 5:7-12; Job 24:9; Proverbs 28:8; Ezekiel 18:13 and 22:12). Generosity in such matter was extended even further by Yeshua (Luke 6:34-35). If you lend money to one of My people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender and charge him interest (22:25). 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 (22:26-27).

    Some churches often tend to be hesitant in dealing with the needy with whom they come in contact. Part of this certainly stems from a desire not be characterized as a “social-gospel” group of believers, that is, mainly interested in social causes. Many churches consequently bend over backwards to make certain their theology is right, and that they are diligently proclaiming the Gospel. That is good, but it should not be at the expense of helping the indigent and needy. Good theology and social activism are not mutually exclusive, but should work together. A proper understanding of the Gospel is that it has social ramifications. Old Covenant believers had no choice. They were commanded by God to care for the alien, the widow, and the orphan. We must do the same.431

    Next, God deals with commandments concerning those higher on the social scale (22:28-31). They deal with an expansion of the Third Commandment: You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God (20:7). The basic theme is not using the LORD’s name thoughtlessly or lightly.

    Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people (22:28). The word blaspheme means to take lightly. The emphasis here is not to treat the LORD in a light-hearted way. Two examples of people doing this are found in Leviticus 24:10-13 and First Kings 21:1-16. The word curse means to despise another. They were to honor God and those who He had placed over them.

    The Israelites were reminded that their best belonged to ADONAI. Do not hold back offerings from your granaries or your vats (22:29a). Literally this verse says: Do not hold back from your fullness and your dripping. This probably meant the firstfruits of the field and of the vine. The message was clear. Don’t hold back, give the best that you have to the LORD. The same held true for the firstborn of Israel’s sons. You must give Me the firstborn of yours sons. We have already seen in 13:1-16 that the firstborn belonged to God, which meant that they must be sacrificed (of course that meant that they were to be redeemed, or substituted, with a lamb). 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 (22:29b-30). There is a clear parallel here with circumcision on the eighth day (Genesis 17:12), another type of dedication to ADONAI. This time likely represents a period of completeness after which the subject is adequately prepared to be given to God.432

    Animals killed by carnivorous beasts were not to be eaten by Israel, because eating meat torn by wild beasts made them unclean (Leviticus 17:15 and 22:8). You are to be My holy people. One of the signs of being a people who have been set apart was obeying strict dietary commandments. So do not eat the meat of an animal torn by wild beasts. Throw it to the dogs (22:31, also see Leviticus 7:24). Israel’s inward holiness was supposed to be accompanied by her being physically separate from every form of uncleanness.433

    Not only does this section expound the Third Commandment, but it also reflects the teaching of the Fifth Commandment. It demands of us that we honor those in authority over us, whether it is God or man. It forbids us to despise them. When Paul stood before the Sanhedrin, he was seen rebuking one of the priests. After he was told that the priest was the high priest, Paul backs off by saying: Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written, “Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people” (Acts 23:4-5).434 We also need to honor those in authority over us (Romans 13:1-7).

    The final cycle of laws pertaining to social responsibility focused on matters of legal justice. Most of the commands that follow are expansions of the ninth commandment: You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor (Exodus 20:16). Therefore, do not spread false reports in a court of law. No one was supposed to act in collusion with an evil person who was attempting to avoid the rules of justice. Do not help a wicked man by being a malicious witness (23:1). Violations of the basic principles found here are also written in Deuteronomy 22:13-19 and Proverbs 25:21.

    Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. Much heartache in life could be avoided by obeying this commandment. Usually, the crowd isn’t bent on doing much else! We should only follow truth and justice. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit if he is in the wrong (23:2-3). In other words, he shouldn’t be able to get away with a crime just because he is poor (Leviticus 19:15).

    Part of the teaching of this section of the Torah was, that believers were not to follow the crowd when the crowd was determined to do evil. Believers are also to stand against mob rule and against the will of the majority when it is wrong. But someone may say, “I am in the minority.” Yes, but praying people are in the minority. People who love God’s Word are in the minority. Honoring God’s day in His house is an exercise for the minority. But do not be discouraged! For we serve a conquering King who leads the minority!435

    This section continued with the basic idea that justice was to prevail. And that justice was to be unprejudiced, that is, to apply to all people in Israel. If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. In this regard, the enemy is treated like a friend or neighbor (Proverbs 25:21).436 If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there. Be sure you help him with it (23:4-5). The word enemy’s and someone who hates you, probably means a legal adversary. The Israelites were to be kind even to the animal of someone with whom they had a legal dispute.437

    Denying justice to the poor, giving false testimony in court, and accepting bribes were common problems in the ancient world. Therefore, God commanded the Israelites: Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits (23:6). This is the other side of the coin of 23:3. There, it forbid favoring them in court; here, it prohibited any form of bias against them for being poor. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death (23:7a). Judges needed to be very careful not to put an innocent person to death. And if that meant that occasionally a criminal might go unpunished, there was no need to despair, because God would eventually judge them Himself. He said: For I will not acquit the guilty (23:7b).

    ADONAI commanded: Do not accept a bribe under any circumstances, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists or perverts the words of the righteous (23:8). Someone who was blinded and perverted to justice was, and still is today, a very dangerous person. Taking a bribe became a symbol of individual corruption for the Jews. A wicked man accepts a bribe in secret to pervert the course of justice (Proverbs 17:23; also see Deuteronomy 10:17; First Samuel 8:3; Second Chronicles 19:7 and Psalm 15:5).

    Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt (23:9). This command was already given in 22:21. But here, it is given in a judicial context. The alien was vulnerable to injustice because his rights were not the same as a Jew. As a result, the judge was not to oppress him. Having experienced oppression first hand in Egypt, they were to turn it around and reflect the LORD’s love for all. This final verse serves as a fitting conclusion to 23:1-9.

    The people of God today, like those of old, are to seek justice for all. And this old poem gets at the heart of it.

    Though the heel of the strong oppressor may grind the weak to dust,

    And the voice of fame with loud acclaim may call him great and just,

    Let those who applaud take warning and keep this motto in sight:

    No question is ever settled until it is settled right.

    Yes, believers are to have compassion and mercy on the weak, needy, and helpless. But we are also to seek justice in the world, and not show partiality to anyone. Truth must be the ultimate goal.438


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