Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Exodus 22

Introduction

III. Israel at Sinai (XIX.-XL.).

The division Num 19-40 presents difficulties due to its very importance, see introduction to Ex. (last paragraph). But Num 25-31, 35-40 readily fall apart from the rest, as containing P's account of the Tabernacle (see on Exodus 25:1), the introduction to which is found in Exodus 19:1-2 a and Exodus 24:15 b - Exodus 24:18 a, Exodus 34:29-35 being a link section. All critics confess that in the remainder many details must remain doubtful. The Oxf. Hex. is for the most part followed here. It does not differ very widely from Baentsch, who has made a special study of this part. Gressmann's drastic reconstruction is highly suggestive in particulars, but as a whole is over-bold. The noteworthy fact is that both J and E preserve important traditions. In each there is an older stratum preserving these elements of the national memory of the religious and political confederation of the tribes: an awful appearance of God upon Sinai-Horeb (Exodus 19 JE, Exodus 20:18-21 E), and the giving of a sacred code, the (Ten) Covenant Words, inscribed upon stone tablets (Exodus 31:18 b E, Exodus 34:28 J) and sealed by a solemn sacrificial feast (Exodus 24:5 E, Exodus 24:11 J). Now these passages concur in presenting a favourable view of Israel at this period: he is the son gratefully responding to the compassionate love of his Father (cf. Exodus 4:22*), or the lowly bride returning the affection of her Husband. And this agrees with the view of the period taken by all the pre-exilic prophets who refer to it (see Hosea 2:15; Hosea 11:1; Hosea 11:3 f., Hosea 12:9; Hosea 12:13, Amos 2:9-11; Amos 3:1 f., Jeremiah 2:1-3; Jeremiah 2:34). Even Ezekiel's severe view rather points to the ancestral heathenism of the tribes (Egyptian, Exodus 23:3, but Canaanite or Amorite-Hittite, Exodus 16:3) than to any apostasy just at this epoch. Only Hosea 9:11, if it refers to the incident Numbers 25:1-5 JE, implies such a lapse. On these grounds it is probable that Numbers 32 JE (the Golden Calf and its destruction E, and the vengeance of the Levites J), together with not a little expansion elsewhere, belongs to a later stage in the moulding of the tradition. The order of incidents is hard to follow, because the editor who united J and E, in his care to preserve as much as possible of both, took the story of the tablets in J as a re-giving and rewriting of them with a renewal of the broken covenant. Much of Numbers 33 containing the colloquies with the Divine Leader belongs to this stage. All this, of course, involves a considerable disturbance of the Bible order and representation in Ex., which, but for one section, is substantially followed by D. But the essence of the great religious facts is irrefragably secure: Israel did, by whatever stages short or long, emerge from a condition little removed from contemporary heathenism, and learned to worship one gracious and holy God (p. 84). Differences concern only the manner and form of events, and their times. Later historians have so accustomed us to having at least the main events fitted neatly into their centuries B.C. or A.D. that we find it hard to think that serious writers could be centuries out in their reckoning. But just as prophets saw future events near and distant in a foreshortened perspective, so it may be that the Bible historians—called "the former prophets" (pp. 38, 244) by the Jews—saw their instances of the nation's glory and shame as more closely crowded together than they actually were. The main thing is that they actually saw them, and that, too, in the mirror of eternity." Throughout the whole we see the material, as it were, in a plastic state. As older conceptions were outgrown new touches could modify the details, though, fortunately for our chances of recognising the earlier levels of inspiration, traces of the old were not always obliterated. Sometimes we must suppose that these modifications had already been made during the period of oral tradition.

Verses 1-6

Exodus 22:1-6 E. Theft and Damage.—Fourfold restitution was due (Exodus 22:1), as in Roman law and Bedawin custom, for theft of a sheep (though fivefold for the doubly useful ox), reduced to twofold (Exodus 22:4) if returned alive (i.e. the stolen animal and another). A similar principle is found in Bab., Gr., Roman, and Indian law Probably Exodus 22:3 b links Exodus 22:4 directly to Exodus 22:1, providing that a pauper thief shall be sold to provide restitution money. Then, Budde suggests, Exodus 22:2-3 a will be a wrongly placed supplement, giving immunity if a robber be killed in the act, unless it be in daylight. The next case is clearer if, with slight changes of letters, we read, "if a man cause a field . . . to be burnt, and let the burning spread, and it burn in another man's field," etc. In that case, if his bonfire kindled a thorn hedge and burnt up good crops—an easy matter in the heat of summer—he must replace with the best of his own crops (Exodus 22:5); but an accidental fire called for bare compensation only (Exodus 22:6).

Verses 7-17

Exodus 22:7-17 E. Breach of Trust.—A man going on a journey would make his neighbour his banker. If the money or valuables were stolen, the thief, if found, was to pay double (Exodus 22:7); otherwise the surety must purge himself of the crime by oath at the local sanctuary (Exodus 22:8). A similar procedure, including some ordeal or divining process, was to be used when lost property was found under suspicious circumstances (Exodus 22:9). Where any mischance happened to an animal left in a man's charge, he might free himself from blame by taking "the oath of Yahweh" (Exodus 22:10 f.), just as among the Arabs still, according to Burckhardt and Doughty. If he let it be stolen, he must make restitution; but if it was torn by wild beasts (cf. Genesis 31:39), he had only to produce the carcase to escape blame, as in Bab. and Indian law. If harm befell a borrowed animal, the hirer must make it good, unless its owner was in charge of it (Exodus 22:14 f.). Seduction was regarded as damage to the father of the girl, and compensation required equal to the usual marriage gift (not "dowry"), as in Genesis 34:12, with marriage unless the father refuse. Probably the Judgments end here.

Verses 18-31

Exodus 22:18-31 E. Various Ordinances.—From this point up to Exodus 23:9 we have to do with miscellaneous laws, differing in the main both in form and substance from the Judgments, and therefore here regarded as belonging to the Book of the Covenant. But they may have come independently of either code. The death penalty for a sorceress (Exodus 22:18) sounds unduly severe, and this law may be taken as a classical instance of the progressive nature of revelation. Conditions change, and conscience gains light: hence Hebrew laws must not, it is at last perceived, bind Christian men, unless ratified afresh by the conscience. For lack of this perception witches were executed up to Exodus 17:16. But it is proper to note the tremendous power of magic in the ancient world and among heathen races to-day (cf. the eight types in Deuteronomy 18:10 f.), and its deadly nature as a negation of true religion. Magic proudly claims, by non-moral means, to master the powers of the unseen world: religion humbly seeks, through prayer, sacrifice, and service, to win effective fellowship with an unseen person (p. 174). And the modern application is, Thou shalt not suffer the magical idea or temper to live in the worship or institutions of religion. Unnatural forms of vice were rife in Canaan, and were made capital offences (Exodus 22:19, cf. H and D). Sacrifice to another god, as involving treason to the nation and its Divine Lord, was (Exodus 22:20) to be visited with the "ban" (i.e. devotion to Yahweh, the jealous God, by destruction, see pp. 99, 114). Consideration for the stranger or resident alien, to whom custom gave no legal status, as well as for the widow and orphan (Exodus 22:21-24), is a marked feature in the Hebrew laws: the clauses with plural "ye" are added notes. Legislators and prophets were perpetually alert to protect the weak against corrupt judges and the power of the purse generally. Here is one of the "notes" of a living religion. So, too, in times when commercial loans were unknown, and the only loans were of the nature of charity, it was natural that interest ("usury" in its old sense) should be prohibited (Exodus 22:25, see p. 112, Deuteronomy 23:19 f., Leviticus 25:36 f.*). But usury, in its present meaning of excessive interest, is still condemned by the spirit of this law. Loans on pledge were allowed, but a pledged mantle must be returned for use at night (Exodus 22:26 f., cf. Deuteronomy 24:6; Deuteronomy 24:10-13; Deuteronomy 23:19 f.). Special bedclothes are still strange to the poor of Palestine. In Exodus 22:28-31 we have a group more closely connected with religion. Irreverence (cf. Leviticus 24:15 H) and disrespect to rulers are condemned (Exodus 22:28). Firstfruits, firstborn, and firstlings were all due to God (Exodus 22:29 ff., see pp. 99, 102). Firstfruits are concisely specified (Exodus 22:29) as the full share (i.e. from the threshing-floor) and the tear-like trickling (i.e. from the winepress). It is not said here (Exodus 22:29 b) how the offering of firstborn boys was to be made (cf. Exodus 13:12 f.* J), but the obvious analogy of the firstlings (Exodus 22:30, "give me," as Exodus 22:29 b) suggests that the form at least of the law goes back to the time when children were actually sacrificed (cf. Genesis 22*). In all three cases we have the survival of a primitive belief that life is sacred, and that the first, fresh products of fertilising power are specially fit for sacramental and sacrificial use (Numbers 3:11-13*). It is a symbolical recognition of the need to consecrate the beginnings of enterprise, if real blessing is to follow. Observe that the sacrifice "on the eighth day" could only be at some near local shrine, not, as in D, at the central sanctuary; and that E says nothing of unclean animals like the ass, unless LXX rightly adds "and thine ass" (see Exodus 13:13 a J). This group closes with a law against eating any flesh that is torn of beasts in the field (Exodus 22:31), no doubt because the blood could not be properly drained from it (Genesis 9:4*). The reason given, that they were to be holy men" (Exodus 22:13 a), illustrates the process by which the word "holy" (i.e. devoted to or associated with God's life and being) was first practised upon the outward (what is ritually holy) and then applied to the moral and spiritual realm.

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Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Exodus 22". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pfc/exodus-22.html. 1919.