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THE BOOK OF THE COVENANT (Exodus 20:1 to Exodus 23:33 ).
In Exodus 24:7 we read of a ‘book of the covenant’ written by Moses (see Exodus 24:4). Logically this must include the Sinai covenant and what follows, for the Sinai covenant was not made known to the people (they heard it as though it were thunder and the sound of a trumpet) until revealed to them by Moses. Some, however, see the book of the covenant as starting at Exodus 20:22 commencing with the words, ‘and Yahweh said to Moses’, but as these are provisions extending the Sinai covenant and gain their validity through it we would argue that The Book of the Covenant commences here, although not denying that it is in two sections. This is confirmed by Exodus 24:3 where Moses speaks to the people ‘all the words of Yahweh and all the judgments’. The ‘judgments’ are in Exodus 20:21 onwards (see Exodus 21:1), ‘all the words’ must surely refer to the ten words and Exodus 20:22-26.
Note to Christians.
As we look at this chapter, we as the true Israel, the Israel of God, made up of the descendants of those Jews who first came to Jesus Christ in such abundance to form the new Israel (‘My congregations’ - Matthew 16:18), and of all who through their testimony and its after effects have come to Him and been incorporated into the new Israel, can take to ourselves the words of His covenant. We can recognise in it our calling to be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 20:6 above; 1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9) and a holy nation (Exodus 20:6 above; 1 Peter 2:9), and rejoice in the fact that we are a people for His special possession (Exodus 20:5 above; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9). And hearing of the splendour of the revelation of God at Sinai, we can recognise afresh that we deal with a holy and powerful God, Who has not changed. What has changed is that Jesus Christ having been offered for the sins of the world, we can approach Him without fear if our hearts are right towards Him.
End of note.
Further Covenant Provisions (Exodus 21:1 to Exodus 23:33 ).
“Now these are the judgments that you will set before them.”
Having made known His covenant, and having established how they must approach Him, Yahweh now provides detailed treatment on particular cases. These are mainly in the form of case law (casuistic) based on specific examples, with an occasional reference to apodictic law (direct command from God - a rare form of law outside Israel probably mainly restricted to patriarchal societies). The first example is of Hebrew bondmen and Hebrew bondwomen. This demonstrates that a good number of such must have come out of Egypt attached to Israelite families, and it shows Yahweh’s concern for those who were now in bondage as Israel had been in Egypt. Other law codes put slaves well down in the list. They were of little account.
Law codes were fairly common in the Ancient Near East. There were the laws of Ur-nammu of Ur, Lipit Ishtar of Isin (2100 BC), the laws of Eshnunna and of Hammurapi of Babylon (1750 BC) as well as Hittite law codes and considerable written material dealing with casuistic law. They were not comprehensive and by no means dealt with all circumstances, even common ones such as arson. Perhaps some of them reflected rather changes in the law. Thus like Biblical law there were gaps which were covered by custom rather than code. Indeed the law codes were rarely quoted in court. Whether they were for the use of judges or simply a propaganda exercise is a matter of debate. Possibly a little of both. The difference in Israel is that their laws were promulgated by God, and in the end enforceable by Him.
The covenant provisions that follow are carefully gathered into groups, mainly following a chiastic format.
Sundry Regulations (22:18-23:9).
The regulations in this section are mainly apodictic, direct commands made specifically by God requiring total obedience. As such they are not paralleled in the law codes.
Regulations Concerning Farming Theft and Damage (Exodus 22:1-13 ).
Here we have five main paragraphs which begin with ‘if (ci) a man’ or ‘if (ci) a fire’ (English text (verses) Exodus 22:1; Exodus 22:5-7; Exodus 22:10), and a number of subparagraphs commencing with ‘if’ (’im), but in all cases there is no introductory ‘and’. Our analysis, however, includes the subparagraph commencing at verse 2 separately because of its distinctive nature.
a If a man steals beasts and kills or sells them he must heavily compensate for his theft up to five times (Exodus 22:1).
b If a thief break in at night and be smitten and die there is no punishment. If a thief break in by day he must not be killed, rather double restitution may be demanded and if necessary he be sold to pay the debt (Exodus 22:2-4).
c If a man’s beasts eat another’s fields by accident he shall make restitution (Exodus 22:5).
c The commencer of an accidental fire shall compensate for corn burned (Exodus 22:6).
b If a man is keeping his neighbour’s possessions and it is stolen the thief if found must pay double. If not found and there is suspicion of theft by the neighbour they may come before God for judgment and if found guilty he shall pay double (Exodus 22:7-9).
a If a man is keeping his neighbour’s beasts and they be stolen from him he shall make restitution. If it just ‘disappears’ the owner will accept the oath of Yahweh that he has not stolen it and there will be no restitution. If it is torn by beasts, production of the torn beast will avoid the need for restitution (Exodus 22:10-13).
It will be noted that in each case with its parallel ‘a’ refers to beasts stolen for which there must be compensation, ‘b’ refers to where a thief steals and must pay double, ‘c’ are two examples of accidental damage for which there must be restitution.
“If a man shall steal an ox or a sheep and kill it, he shall pay five oxen for an ox or four sheep for a sheep. If the thief be found breaking in and be smitten so that he dies there shall be no blood-guiltiness for him. If the sun be risen on him there shall be blood-guiltiness for him. He should make restitution. If he have nothing then he shall be sold for his theft. If the theft be found in his hand alive, whether it be ox or ass or sheep, he shall pay double.”
When a thief breaks in at night, whether to a tent, a house or an animal enclosure, any resulting harm to him is his own fault. The owner cannot know his intentions and cannot be held blood guilty for killing him. But if it is by daylight this does not apply, except of course in defence of himself or his family, as the owner is more aware of who it is and what is going on and knows what threat he is facing. The requirement then is that the thief make restitution.
In all cases a thief who is caught must make restitution. If he kills or sells a stolen animal the restitution is fivefold. If the animal is still alive it is twofold. If he cannot make adequate restitution pay then he can be sold to pay the debt.
There is a principle here that among other punishments a thief should pay recompense to his victim. There is also the clear distinction between killing a thief because he is a threat to life, and killing one in anger, the one being allowed the other being forbidden.
“If a man shall cause a field or vineyard to be eaten, and shall let his beast loose and it feed in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best of his own field and the best of his own vineyard.”
This regulation clearly assumes fruitful fields and vineyards. However they would have had such in Egypt and would have the same again in the land flowing with milk and honey. The regulation was no doubt already a recognised custom and as such is included here as a promise of the certainty of what is to come as they anticipate their future. God is not just providing regulation for this ‘short’ wilderness journey. He wants them to think of the future that is in view and to look forward to it and have confidence in it, not to think only in the short term. It is an earnest of the promised land.
The word for vineyards (kerem) is used in Arabic to represent a field cultivated with particular care, and that may be the case here.
Note that restitution is made from the best of his own fields. There is to be no argument about the quality of the lost grain. We may not have fields or vineyards, but there are two principles here, responsibility for damage caused which is our fault, and the need for proper and full compensation.
“If fire break out and catch in thorns so that the shocks of corn, or the standing corn, or the field be consumed, he who kindled the fire shall surely make restitution.”
Here a man who starts a fire is responsible for any damage it does. The ‘thorns’ are probably the thorn hedges that divide fields from each other. Thus, while burning in his own fields, he has been careless and allowed the hedges to catch on fire which in turn have spread the fire to the neighbouring fields. Alternately the brushwood in his field may have caught fire and spread it to the neighbouring fields. Full restitution is to be made, presumably again from the best in his fields. We are to take responsibility for our actions.
“If a man shall deliver to his neighbour silver or stuff to keep, and it be stolen from the man’s house, if the thief be found he shall pay double. If the thief is not found then the master of the house shall come near to God to see whether he has put his hand to his neighbour’s goods. For every matter of trespass, whether it be for ox, for ass, for sheep, for clothing, or for any kind of lost thing of which one says, “This is it,” the cause of both parties shall come before God. He whom God shall condemn shall pay double to his neighbour.”
The case here is where someone has entrusted silver, goods or livestock to his neighbour for one cause or another, and the neighbours claims it has been lost or stolen. If the thief is caught there is no problem. He has to pay back twice the value of what he stole.
But if no thief is caught then the question is as to whether the receiver of the goods is being honest. He may therefore be required to ‘come near to God’, through Moses or a deputy, or, later, the priests. This may involve his having to swear a solemn oath before God as to the truth of the situation (Exodus 22:11).
However, if the other party points to something and say, “This is it,” but cannot prove it to everyone’s satisfaction, the only answer then is to let God resolve the issue. ‘Come before God.’ In this case both parties come before God, that is approach God through Moses or his deputies, or later through the priests. In this case both may be required to swear an oath of Yahweh (Exodus 22:11), or the decision might be made by oracle from God (especially while Moses was alive), or by use of lots (compare 1 Samuel 14:41), probably through Urim and Thummim (Numbers 27:21; 1 Samuel 28:6). The aim is partly to frighten any guilty party into admitting the truth and to resolve the matter finally. The guilty person knows that Yahweh will know the truth. In this last case recompense is made to the innocent party of twice the value of what the guilty party sought to steal.
“If a man deliver to his neighbour an ass, or an ox, or a sheep or any beast to keep, and it die or is hurt or is driven away with no man seeing it, the oath of Yahweh shall be between them both as to whether he has not put his hand to his neighbour’s goods, and its owner will accept it and he shall not make restitution. But if it be stolen from him he shall make restitution to its owner. If it is torn in pieces let him bring it as a testimony; he shall not make good what is torn.”
The idea here would seem to be that the neighbour has taken responsibility for looking after the animal, presumably being rewarded for doing so. One difference between the case here and that in Exodus 22:9 is that here the owner does not specifically claim ‘this is it’, pointing to another animal. Thus the oath before Yahweh is to be accepted.
There are three possible eventualities. 1) that the animal has been hurt, or has died naturally or has disappeared without anyone knowing how, and the neighbour denies that it is his fault 2) that it is known that it was stolen because there is evidence to that effect. In this case the neighbour should have kept better care of it and has been negligent, 3) that the animal has been torn to pieces by wild beasts. ‘If it be stolen’ must refer to where the theft is somehow testified to, as against the cases where it just ‘disappeared’ because driven away with no man seeing it. In the former case restitution must be paid, but in the latter no restitution is required. The suggestion would seem to be that he should have prevented it from being stolen. It was his job. But that he could not be blamed for something unwitnessed, because no one would really know what had happened. Where it is torn in pieces by a wild beast no restitution is required, but the evidence is required (compare Genesis 31:39; Amos 3:12). This would prove that the keeper was on the alert.
“The oath of Yahweh.” An example where the use of God’s name is allowable in determining the just position before the court. Compare Hebrews 6:16.
In all these cases the background is that the neighbour is originally doing a good turn to the owner who has asked him to care for his property or is doing it for pay. Where the neighbour borrows the goods or beasts the situation is different.
Expansion of the Ten Words of the Covenant (Exodus 20:22 to Exodus 23:33 ).
In this section, which is composed of elements put together mainly in chiastic form (see later), Yahweh expands on the Ten Words of the covenant. Notice that it begins with ‘and Yahweh said to Moses’. This proceeds as follows:
a Instructions concerning future worship in obedience to the commandments in Exodus 20:3-5, for He will be with them and record His name in places where they go (Exodus 20:22-26).
b Instructions concerning bondservants remembering the manservants and maidservants in mentioned in Exodus 20:10 (Exodus 21:1-11).
c Instructions concerning those who cause death or injury and those who dishonour their parents in obedience to Exodus 20:12-13 (Exodus 21:12-36).
d Instructions concerning a neighbour’s goods in obedience to Exodus 20:15; Exodus 20:17 (Exodus 22:1-15).
d Instruction concerning the forcing of virgins, who belong to their families, which connects with Exodus 20:14; Exodus 20:17 (Exodus 22:16-17).
c Instructions concerning wrong attitudes which connect with wider implications from the words of the covenant, which include some for which the penalty is death, and the need for avoidance of dishonourable conduct (Exodus 22:18 to Exodus 23:11).
b Instructions concerning the Sabbath (compareExodus 20:8-9; Exodus 20:8-9) and the regular feasts (Exodus 23:12-19).
a Yahweh’s resulting promise that His Angel will go with them until the land is theirs, finishing with a warning against idolatry (Exodus 23:20-23).
We should note here that in ‘a’ the approach to and worship of Yahweh is in mind, and His recording of His name in places as they go on their way, and they are warned against idolatry, and in the parallel the Angel of Yahweh is to go with them and they are warned against idolatry. In ‘b’ we are instructed concerning bondmen and bondwomen and in the parallel the Sabbath is dealt with which, in the announcing of the covenant, contained reference to the rights of menservants and maidservant (Exodus 20:9). The bondmen also had a right to enjoy a seven year sabbath. It may be this connection which decided the positioning of this law prior to those concerning murder and theft. In ‘c’ we have reference to death and violence, while in the parallel death is the sentence for some of the crimes mentioned. In ‘d’ we have reference to misappropriation of people’s goods, and in the parallel misappropriation of their daughters.
Two Further Commandments (Exodus 22:14-17 ).
Both these verses begin with ‘and if’, differentiating them from the previous section. They deal with borrowing and enticement and stand on their own.
Borrowing From A Neighbour and The Enticement of a Virgin (Exodus 22:14-17 )
These two examples go together because the first deals with borrowing a beast, the second with ‘borrowing’ a daughter.
a If a man borrows some beast from his neighbour and is unable to restore it in its proper condition, he must make restitution (Exodus 22:14).
b If its owner is with it or of it is hired he need not make it good, for the owner must accept responsibility for caring for what is his, and the cost of hire takes into account the risks of loss.
b If a man entice a virgin who is not betrothed and lie with her (and thus ‘borrows’ her without permission, he shall surely pay a dowry for her to be his wife. She shall be recompensed and treated as though her father had agreed to it, the appropriate dowry being paid.
a If her father utterly refuse to give her to him he shall pay silver according to the dowry of virgins. In other words he must make full restitution for what the father has lost.
Note that in ‘a’ restitution is made for loss, and the same is true in the parallel. In ‘b’ there is a contrast, for in the first ‘b’ the borrowing is by agreement whereas in the second it is not. In the second case the father was neither there nor ‘hired’ her out. Thus in the first case the loss must be borne, in the second the woman has to be taken into account and must be made an honest woman.
“And if a man borrow anything from his neighbour, and if it is hurt or dies its owner not being with it, he shall surely make restitution. If its owner is with it he shall not make it good. If it is a hired thing it is reckoned in its hire.”
In the case of borrowing restitution must be made for loss unless it was lost while the owner was in charge of it. But in the case of hire it is assumed that the insurance against loss is included in the hire so that no restitution is required.
“And if a man entice a virgin who is not betrothed and lie with her, he shall surely pay a dowry for her to be his wife. And if her father utterly refuse to give her to him he shall pay silver according to the dowry of virgins.”
The unmarried daughter is seen as totally subject to her father, who takes responsibility for her welfare. If the man is seen as suitable he pays the dowry price and marries her. He seemingly has no choice in the matter. By his act he has basically chosen to marry her. But if the father objects then the man still has to pay the marriage dowry because the father will now have difficulty in marrying his daughter to someone else and thus loses the benefit of the marriage dowry.
The marriage dowry is mentioned only in Genesis 34:12 and 1 Samuel 18:25 but was well known elsewhere. It was paid to the father at the time of betrothal.
In the case of rape the dowry is later fixed at fifty shekels of silver and the man must marry her and cannot ever divorce her (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). Where the virgin is betrothed the penalty is death (Deuteronomy 22:23-27).
Sundry Regulations (Exodus 22:18 to Exodus 23:9 ).
The regulations that follow are mainly apodictic, direct commands made specifically by God requiring total obedience. As such they are not paralleled in the law codes.
Regulations Concerning Unacceptable Conduct - Three Deadly Sins And Two Calls For Compassion (Exodus 22:18-24 ).
The opening ‘and’ in Exodus 22:21 may suggest that Exodus 22:18-20 are connected with it. If this be so we may have an interesting chiasmus:
a A sorceress not to live (Exodus 22:18).
b A beast not to be lain with (Exodus 22:19).
c Other gods not to be sacrificed to (Exodus 22:20).
b A resident alien not to be wronged (Exodus 22:21).
a A widow and fatherless child not to be afflicted (Exodus 22:22-24).
In ‘a’ the sorceress is in contrast with the godly widow. The sorceress is powerful and is out to cause harm, an must therefore be put to death. The widow is helpless and harmless and must therefore not be harmed in any way. In ‘b’ the contrast of the beast with an alien is interesting, reflecting the fact that men often saw ‘foreigners’ as sub-human. The Egyptians despised all who could not speak Egyptian, and saw them as inferior beings. But while sexual association with a beast was punishable by death, association with a resident alien was acceptable. He/she was not to be harmed in any way. Love is not to be shown to a or b (or indeed c), whereas love is to be shown to the parallel b and a. If this be so there is a contrast of what is to be avoided and what is to be cared for.
Three Deadly Sins (Exodus 22:18-20 ).
These three sins represent contact with alien spheres which are so unseemly that they warrant the death penalty; dealings with sorcery (the occult, the world above man), sexual relations with beasts (the world below man) and sacrificing to false gods (the world of demons). All involved moving into spheres outside man’s jurisdiction. Those who involve themselves with such things are to be put to death. They take man from his proper sphere.
“You shall not allow a sorceress to live.”
This refers most specifically to one who weaves charms and spells, in other words to what we tend to think of as white witchcraft, although witches can be more virulent. Using enchantments and practising divination by omens was considered to be on a parallel with the eating of blood which was strictly forbidden (Leviticus 19:26).
The use of magic which sought to control higher occult powers for personal purposes was widespread in the ancient world, both in Egypt and especially in Babylon and Assyria. Nineveh was described as ‘the mistress of sorceries’ (Nahum 3:4, compare Isaiah 47:12-13). The code of Hammurapi and Assyrian law both prescribe the death penalty for it where used harmfully. It was also widespread among the Canaanites, and Jezebel was looked on as a sorceress (2 Kings 9:22). Examples of what is condemned are given in Deuteronomy 18:9-12. The condemnation includes not only witches but spiritualist mediums, tarot cards, ouija boards, planchettes etc. because these are ways of seeking to consult ‘familiar spirits’ (Deuteronomy 18:11 and compare Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:6). The word ‘wizard’ is always paralleled with those who have familiar spirits.
The fact that reference is to a sorceress demonstrates that the practise, in Israel’s experience, was more widespread among women, but see Leviticus 20:27. Consider Ezekiel 13:18-23 for examples. The penalty was death. Such things were (and are) not to be treated lightly. The severity of the sentence suggests that such activity has an unusual virulency and is not just superstition. It is positively evil, and takes men and women into spheres which are harmful to them.
“Whoever lies with a beast shall surely be put to death.”
Such bestiality was common in the ancient world, and generally abhorred. It was practised among the Canaanites (Leviticus 18:23-25). Hittite law prescribes the death penalty except where a horse or mule was concerned (horses were highly regarded among the Hittites). It is absolutely forbidden by God and the death penalty follows. It is the opposite of reaching into the occult. It is diminishing men and women to being but beasts, and denying the image of God in man.
“A beast.” Generally used of domestic animals but it includes all animals of every kind.
“He who sacrifices to any God, save to Yahweh only, shall be utterly destroyed.”
Sacrificing to any god or goddess is absolutely forbidden on pain of death. Yahweh alone is to receive worship. ‘Utterly destroyed.’ The word means ‘devoted’, that is, handed over to God and doomed to destruction. Contact with such ‘gods’ was seen by Moses as being involvement with demons (Deuteronomy 32:17).
These are three things on which there is a total ban, the practise of magic and seeking guidance from the spirit world, bestiality, and the worship of idols, for they take man outside his true sphere into spheres which are God-forsaken.
Regulations Concerning The Unprotected (Exodus 22:21-24 ).
These regulation are in contrast with the first three. Here the emphasis is positive, because resident aliens and widows were not to be seen as like sorceresses, indulgers in bestiality and idolaters. This may include the veiled warning against a racism that saw in a resident alien all that was bad, or the assumption that old widows who lived by themselves were sorceresses or witches.
“And a stranger you will not wrong, nor shall you oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Israel are to show love and concern for ‘strangers’, that is resident aliens, remembering how they had once been the same. It was all too easy to see the stranger as a threat or a menace in some way, or even as the equivalent of ‘beasts’. But Israelites must beware how they behave towards them, for unless such do misbehave they are watched over by God. They are not to be seen as outside Israel’s sphere, and despised because of their not being in the covenant, and thus to be rejected and ill-treated. For they may even opt to come within the covenant. We too should have a concern for those who are from foreign parts, remembering that they may feel lost and lonely.
There is constant reference in the Pentateuch to the fact that Israelites should learn from their own miserable and heartrending experience to show concern for others, for they too had been ‘strangers’, had been bondmen, had had to work on unceasingly (Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:34; Deuteronomy 5:15 related to Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 10:19; Deuteronomy 15:15 related to Exodus 21:2-11). We too, as they, should learn from our experiences to have concern for others.
“You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to me, I will surely hear their cry and my anger will grow hot and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall be widows and your children fatherless.”
Those who have no protector can look to God for their protection. The widow and the fatherless child have none to watch over them. They are therefore God’s special concern. It was all too easy to see them as under punishment from God because of their misfortune, and therefore as those for whom none need be concerned. But it was not to be so. Those who harm them in any way will suffer God’s anger and the result will be that they will be slain, leaving their own wives as widows and their own children as fatherless. God is applying here the judgment of like for like (the lex talionis).
“I will kill you with the sword.” This injunction is remarkable in that those who disobey it are warned of God’s direct intervention. Like the law against coveting it cannot always be dealt with in court and so will be dealt with by the great Judge Himself. The warning is that God will then withhold His own protecting hand. The group or nation that ignores its needy will receive what it deserves. ‘Kill with the sword’ involves brigands or invading forces and therefore God’s direct action by bringing violence against them.
God’s concern for widows and orphans and ‘strangers’ and those who are defenceless comes out again and again throughout the Bible (Deuteronomy 10:18; Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 24:17; Deuteronomy 24:19-21; Deuteronomy 26:12-13; Deuteronomy 27:19; Psalms 68:5; Psalms 146:9; Proverbs 15:25; Isaiah 1:17; Isaiah 10:2; Jeremiah 7:6; Zechariah 7:10; Malachi 3:5; James 1:27). It reminds us that God sees how we behave towards the weaker members of society.
Regulations Concerning Creditors And The Poor (Exodus 22:25-27 ).
In both examples the creditor is to show compassion to the debtor. The examples are too few for a chiasmus.
“If you lend money to any of my people among you who are poor, you will not be to him as a creditor, nor shall you lay on him usury.”
This is not dealing with business interest as a fair return on capital. It refers to exploitation of poor people by charging them interest when ‘helping’ them in their need. God expects that His people will help the needy. He also expects that they will not seek to gain from it.
“You shall not be to him as a creditor.” That is, pursuing him relentlessly until he has paid his debt. ‘Nor lay on him usury.’ That is, charge him interest.
“If you at all take your neighbour’s outer garment as a pledge, you shall restore it to him by the time the sun goes down. For that is his only covering. It is his garment for his skin. In what will he sleep? And it shall be that when he cries to me I will hear, for I am gracious.”
A man who has to pledge his own basic clothing is poor indeed, for it is essential to his well-being. Thus the essential outer garment must only be used as a short term pledge, within the day. It must not be required as a long term pledge, for it is as essential to him as his skin, and protects his skin, especially in the cold of night. Amos 2:8 speaks of breaches of this commandment. Of what use then is the pledge? It prevents him pledging it again to someone else.
“When he cries to me I will hear.” As with widows and orphans the poor are God’s special concern, allowed on earth that we may do them good, and He will be directly involved in dealing with those who mistreat them. Man’s responsibility for his fellowman comes out strongly in these verses, it is man who has been appointed as God’s agent to run the world and he will be responsible for any failure to do it properly, and that includes us.
“For I am gracious.” The word is often paralleled with ‘merciful’. It refers to God as not acting towards us as we deserve but in kindness and love.
The principles behind these provisions apply to us all. They are that God is concerned about the needy and helpless and that we should be equally concerned.
Regulations About Duty to God (Exodus 22:28-31 ).
Again we might discern a pattern as follows:
a Not to revile God or ruler (Exodus 22:28).
b Not to delay offering firstfruits of corn and vintage (Exodus 22:29 a).
c The firstborn of their sons to be given to Yahweh (Exodus 22:29 b).
c Firstborn of ox and sheep to be given to Yahweh (Exodus 22:30).
b Israel to be holy to Yahweh (Exodus 22:31 a).
a And is not eat torn flesh but must cast it to the dogs (Exodus 22:31 b).
Note that in ‘a’ God and the rulers are seen as worthy to be treated with reverence, while torn flesh is seen as unworthy and to be treated with scorn. Furthermore reviling God is in the parallel compared with eating torn flesh. Both are an insult to God and depict someone not in the right with God. The dogs contrast with the rulers, rulers must be reverenced, dogs are despised. In ‘b’ there must be no delay in the offering of firstfruits, in the parallel they must not delay in recognising that they have offered themselves. Alternately we might link the firstborn of beasts with Israel’s holiness, paralleling the firstfruits of corn and vintage with the firstfruits of beasts. In ‘c’ both types of firstborn are to be given to Yahweh. There is also a forward movement, contrasting those who revile authority with those who through offering their firstfruits and firstborn become holy to Yahweh and are thus not of those who eat what is unclean and thus dishonour God.
Exodus 22:28 “You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people.”
The two thoughts are in parallel. The ruler stands in the place of God. As such, to curse or revile him is to curse or revile God. And to revile God in any way is to commit the greatest of sins (compare Leviticus 24:15-16). How careful we should be in our dealings with those whom God has set over us. Note the use of ‘God’ rather than ‘Yahweh’. The emphasis is on authority not covenant relationship. In contrast Israel are to be holy to Yahweh, not only regarding His authority but walking in covenant obedience.
The thought in this verse is of our stance in relation to authority. Authorities, while they are acceptable authorities, are to be treated with respect because of the position that they hold under God as Creator. The people as a whole may replace them, but while they are there, their position deserves respect even if they do not.
Exodus 22:29 a
“You shall not delay to offer the abundance of your fruits and of your liquors.”
Literally in the Hebrew ‘to offer the abundance of your fruits and of your liquors’ is strictly, ‘your fullness and your trickling ‘. Both nouns are rare but what is in mind is the offering of firstfruits. Later, and possibly even at this stage in the light of Genesis 28:22 (compare Genesis 14:20), this is a tenth (Deuteronomy 14:22-29; Deuteronomy 26:1-12).
It may refer to fullness of harvest and trickling of the vintage. Deuteronomy 22:9 refers to ‘the fullness of your seed’ in contrast with the vintage. However, in Numbers 18:27 ‘fullness’ is used of ‘the fullness of the winepress’ and some have seen the ‘fullness’ as the vintage and the ‘trickling’ as oils. Either way it is an expression of gratitude and recognition that all belongs to God.
But the principle point is that these are firstfruits which belong to Him and are to be made holy to Him.
“Liquors” or ‘trickling’. A word unknown elsewhere. In Jeremiah 13:17 a word from the same root means to ‘shed tears’. Thus it probably means some form of liquid or liquid movement.
Exodus 22:29-31 a (29b-31a)
“The firstborn of your sons you will give to me. You will do the same with your oxen and with your sheep. Seven days it will be with its dam, on the eighth day you will give it to me. And you shall be holy men to me.”
This reflects Exodus 13:2, ‘sanctify to me all the firstborn --- both of man and of beast’. The principle of the redemption of the firstborn of man has already been laid down in Exodus 13:12-13. The principle of the eighth day parallels circumcision (Genesis 17:12). On the eighth day the firstborn of the ox or sheep is sacrificed as given to God (compare Leviticus 22:27-33), the firstborn of man is circumcised as given to and belonging to God, and redeemed by the offering of a sacrifice.
Note that here (Exodus 22:31) and in Leviticus 22:32 these ideas are directly linked with the holiness of God’s people. The offering of the firstborn is the sign that the people are holy to God, separated to Him and His special people. And the people must continually be holy to Him like the offered firstfruits.
“You (plural) shall be holy men to me.” The commands, which have been in the singular as addressed to each Israelite, are now completed by a statement which is in the plural. But a glance will show that the change was necessary for the sense. It is the holiness of the people as a whole, as represented by the men, that is in mind, because their firstborn have been consecrated to Yahweh. This is the opposite of reviling God, and consonant with those who gladly offer their firstfruits.
Exodus 22:31 b
“Therefore you shall not eat any flesh that is torn of beasts in the field. You shall cast it to the dogs.”
One sign of the man of the covenant is that he abstains from all flesh that would render him ‘unclean’ and thus displeasing to Yahweh. In Leviticus 22:8 such flesh is contrasted with the ‘holy things’, including the flesh of sacrifices given to the priests as ‘holy things’ for their consumption when holy. So there is there the thought that the flesh of slain beasts is not ‘holy’. That is why here, because the people are holy to God, they should not eat of it. Besides to eat of the flesh of slain beasts would be to eat flesh from which the blood has not been properly drained. (It could also be dangerous medically, and this, unknown to them, was a health safeguard for the people of Israel. It could, however, be that Moses did know of it from his experiences among a desert people.).
“You shall cast it to the dogs.” Dogs are rarely mentioned but their presence is assumed (Exodus 11:7; Deuteronomy 23:18; Judges 7:5; 1 Samuel 17:43 and often). They are usually seen as scavengers and not highly thought of. They were domesticated from earliest times, and in Egypt were held in reverence and used in hunting. Job 30:1 suggests they were used by shepherds, but despised. They were seen as so unholy that even the price paid for their hire (compared with a prostitute’s wages) was not acceptable as payment for any vow, although the thought there might have been catamites (Deuteronomy 23:18). Thus they were seen as suitable recipients for ‘unholy’ meat. They were presumably hired as guard dogs.
But the use of ‘dogs’ here may indicate foreigners, not in an insulting way but as being ‘unclean’, and not of the true stock. For such meat could be given or sold to resident aliens and foreigners (Deuteronomy 14:21).
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Exodus 22". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
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