Monday, May 13, 2019

Laws of Compassion

"Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt" (Exodus 22:21).

The Book of the Covenant (Exodus 21–23) is not simply a law code. It is more like a sermon from God to Israel dealing with His commands for all of life. Thus, it contains not just laws that might be part of a judicial code, but also religious laws and moral commands. Moreover, it contains arguments and exhortations.

In Exodus 22:21–27 we find God’s commands regarding the weak and defenseless members of society. In verse 21, the Israelites were specifically told never to mistreat or oppress the strangers in their midst. They were to remember that they had been strangers in Egypt and that “you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens” (23:9). As God had shown kindness to them, they were to show it to others. As God had loved them when they were ornery and unloving, so they were to love others. “Do unto others as I have done unto you” is the version of the Golden Rule we find in Exodus.

In verses 22–24 God told the Israelites they must not oppress widows and orphans (or more literally, the fatherless). Throughout the Bible, God manifests a ferocious concern for women and children who do not have husbands and fathers. The supremely jealous God (Exodus 34:14) will be a Husband for the widow and a Father for the fatherless, and His jealousy will burn with fury if those under His special protection are mistreated. God told Israel that just as He heard their cry when they were oppressed in Egypt, so He would hear the cry of the widow and fatherless. Just as He destroyed the Egyptian oppressor, so He would destroy them if they oppressed widows and orphans.

In verses 25–27 God tells Israel not to extort interest from a loan to the poor. These verses did not prohibit interest on a business loan or investment (Luke 19:23), but they did forbid interest on a loan to an impoverished brother. It was legitimate to take a pledge from a poor person in exchange for a loan, but there were certain essentials that might not be taken as a pledge (vv. 26–27; Deuteronomy 24:10–13, 17–18). For example, a cloak might be taken from him during the day to prevent his using it to get other loans and becoming overwhelmed with debts, but it had to be returned at night so that he might sleep in it.

Do our laws oppress aliens and strangers? Does our system oppress widows and orphans? Is the Christian community failing in its responsibility to care for the poor? What do you know about these things and what can you do about them?