16 “If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. 17 If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride-price for virgins.
18 “You shall not permit a sorceress to live.
19 “Whoever lies with an animal shall be put to death.
20 “Whoever sacrifices to any god, other than the Lord alone, shall be devoted to destruction.
21 “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. 22 You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. 23 If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, 24 and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.
25 “If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him. 26 If ever you take your neighbor’s cloak in pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down, 27 for that is his only covering, and it is his cloak for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.
28 “You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people.
29 “You shall not delay to offer from the fullness of your harvest and from the outflow of your presses. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to me. 30 You shall do the same with your oxen and with your sheep: seven days it shall be with its mother; on the eighth day you shall give it to me.
31 “You shall be consecrated to me. Therefore you shall not eat any flesh that is torn by beasts in the field; you shall throw it to the dogs. – Exodus 22:16-31 ESV
When we view these laws from our modern vantage point, they appear to be rather random, a bit disjointed, and difficult to apply to our current context. Their heavy emphasis on an agrarian economy and their seeming endorsement of slavery makes them sound antiquated and no longer applicable. They come across as nothing more than a list of ancient legal codes from a bygone era.
But these laws are the divine directives passed down from Yahweh to His people and, as such, they provide important insight into His character. These civil laws were meant to direct the daily interactions of His people. He was leaving nothing to chance. The level of detail and specificity found in these laws reveals that God cared deeply about every area of His people’s lives. It was not enough that they refrain from worshiping false gods. Their love for Him must be reflected in their care for one another. It was together that they formed His treasured possession. It was as a community that they would best reflect His character and display His glory among the nations. These rather arbitrary-sounding laws were meant to dictate and determine their interactions with one another. He wanted them to love one another well.
The apostle Paul picks up on this communal context in his first letter to the believers in Corinth. He used the analogy of the human body to drive home the God-ordained interdependency of the members of the body of Christ. Each Christ-follower has been carefully placed within the context of a local church body and it is within that communal atmosphere that the life-transforming power of God is best displayed.
…our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”
In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.
All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. – 1 Corinthians 12:18-27 NLT
So, in reading these civil codes of conduct, it is important to see the timeless principles they contain. They were meant to guide the Israelites into greater godliness – so that they might better reflect the character of the Lawgiver. He is holy and He expects the people who bear His name to model their lives after His example – not perfectly, but faithfully. The fact that they would fail is built into these laws. These civil codes reveal what was to happen when someone fell short of God’s righteous standard. There were to be consequences. Penalties were to be enforced. Restitution was to be made. Relationships were to be restored. God was to be honored.
Verse 15 contains rules about borrowing. Then, as if out of nowhere, verse 16 abruptly shifts to rules about premarital sex. But there is actually a vital link between these two verses. The Hebrew word translated as “borrows” is שָׁאַל (šā’al), and it can also be translated as “to ask for.”
In verse 16, the Hebrew word translated as “seduces” is פָּתָה (pāṯâ), and it means “to persuade.” In both cases, words play a critical role. One man “asks for” something he wants to borrow. Another man “persuades” a young woman in order to get what he wants – her hand in marriage. This is not about rape, but about premarital sex. The man loves the young woman and wants to marry her but fails to keep things in their proper and appropriate order.
“…in this case the couple’s intercourse was consensual. It was a seduction in the true sense of the word. The woman was receptive to the man’s advances, for when the Bible says the man ‘seduces’ (Exodus 22:16), it means “he persuades the girl and she consents,’” – Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus: Saved For God’s Glory
This law was intended to deal with the inevitable cases of sexual promiscuity among young people within the community. Driven by their hormones, they would be tempted to forego God’s plan for courtship, marriage, and sex, and rearrange the order to meet their out-of-control passions. When that happened, there were rules to follow. The father of the girl could either refuse or accept the young man’s request to marry her. Either way, the young man was required to pay the bride-price. Through his actions, he had “bought” the young girl and made her his own – now he had to pay the price.
With her virginity taken from her, the young girl was in a precarious position. She would be considered “damaged goods” by other men in the community, making it virtually impossible for her to find a husband. So, if the man who “persuaded” her to have sex with him refused to marry her, he was obligated to set her up financially for the future. If he chose to go through with the marriage, he also had to make a financial commitment to prove his intentions. God expected this young man, who had done the wrong thing, to follow it up by doing the right thing. He was to take responsibility.
The next three verses take another abrupt turn, dealing with witchcraft, bestiality, and idolatry. While they appear to be completely disconnected, these three crimes all demand the death penalty because they all involve false worship. A sorcerous was someone who communicated with the dead in order to cast spells and tell fortunes. They claimed to possess supernatural powers that allowed them to foretell the future and control the fates of others. They were pretending to be like God and leading the people away from His will.
The prohibition against bestiality was a direct indictment of the pagan practices of the other nations that occupied the land of Canaan. Because of their emphasis on false gods, these cultures actually celebrated this form of deviancy by incorporating it into their worship. The Canaanites actually depicted their god, Baal, as having intercourse with a cow. And worshipers were encouraged to emulate the actions of their sacred deity. So this law was not out of place or unnecessary. It was a direct indictment of the nations that occupied the land God had promised to Israel, and He wanted them to understand that this kind of behavior was completely off-limits and deserving of death.
In fact, God makes it clear that anyone who makes any kind of sacrifice to a false god is worthy of death. He would not tolerate unfaithfulness among His people.
The remaining verses of chapter 22 focus on God’s compassion for the helpless and hopeless within the covenant community. These laws target the treatment of strangers, widows, orphans, and the poor. God would not tolerate the mistreatment of the disenfranchised and disadvantaged. He knew it would be easy to take advantage of the less fortunate because they had no means of defending themselves. So, He placed strict guidelines on all interactions with these individuals. They were to be seen as a protected class and treated with compassion. And failure to do so would result in dire consequences.
“If you exploit them in any way and they cry out to me, then I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will blaze against you, and I will kill you with the sword. Then your wives will be widows and your children fatherless.” – Exodus 22:23-24 NLT
Even allowing a neighbor to suffer discomfort by refusing to return his coat would bring down the wrath of God.
“If you do not return it and your neighbor cries out to me for help, then I will hear, for I am merciful.” – Exodus 22:27 NLT
Ultimately, all their actions were to be seen as evidence of their relationship with God. If they mistreated and abused one another, they were demonstrating their lack of regard for God’s law and their disregard for His character. Even their refusal to treat His appointed leaders with respect was nothing less than a refusal to honor Him as God.
God deserved their honor. He had earned it through His gracious redemption of them from slavery in Egypt. He expected them to keep their covenant commitments, including the dedication of their firstborn. At the Passover, He had spared all the firstborns of Israel. Now, he expected them to honor their commitment by dedicating the firstborns to Him.
God had consecrated the people of Israel as His own possession. They belonged to Him and expected them to live in keeping with their new identity. They were to be a holy people, living distinctively different lives from all their pagan neighbors.
“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” – Exodus 19:5-6 ESV
Their actions were to match their identity. Their behavior was to reflect their new ownership. They were God’s chosen people and they were to act like it.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.