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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Exodus 22

 

 

Verses 1-5

Exodus 22:1-5

If a man steal.

The law of robbery

God made provision not only for the acquisition of property, but for its security. Hence this law, which respects--

1. Theft.

2. Housebreaking.

I. Theft (Exodus 22:1-4). As the wealth of an Israelite consisted mainly in flocks and herds, the depredations of the thief were directed for the most part against them.

II. Housebreaking (Exodus 22:2-3). Learn--

1. That God’s providence extends to property as well as persons. Both are His gift.

2. That those who endeavour to thwart that providence play a losing game.

3. That the recognition of that providence is not inconsistent with, but demands the use of, means. It is an abuse and perversion of it to tamely submit to wrong when the legitimate prevention of wrong is within our reach.

4. That providence protects even the life of the wrong-doer, and no man must wantonly interfere with that protection. (J. W. Burn.)

Actual and virtual criminality

I. Men must suffer for crime.

II. Men must suffer, unavenged, the extreme consequences of criminal conduct.

III. Men must learn, by degrees of suffering, that there are degrees of criminality.

IV. Men must learn that property has rights.

V. Men must learn to consider the welfare of their neighbours. (W. Burrows, B. A.)

How to get at a thief

This is the only way of getting at a thief. You cannot reason with him. He dismissed his reason before he committed his felony. He had first to strangle his reason; he committed murder in the sanctuary of his soul before he committed theft in the fields of his neighbour. What, then, is to be done with him? “He must be made to feel the folly of theft; he must be made to feel that theft is a bad investment; he must be made to feel that he has played the fool even in the excess of his cleverness. The thief would be made to know what dishonesty is, when for the one ox he must pay five in its place. He could have evaded an argument; he could have doubled upon a covenant, and have quibbled about the ambiguity of its terms; but he could not shuffle out of this four-square arithmetical arrangement. Five oxen for an ox, four sheep for a sheep; and by the time the thief had played at that game two or three days, he would have put on the garb, at least, of an honest man! (J. Parker, D. D.)

Substitutionary restitution

A coal merchant in one of our American cities was approached by a minister in regard to the salvation of his soul. The merchant declared it an impossibility for him ever to become a Christian. He gave as a reason his mode of business. For a long term of years, he had, according to a too general custom, given short weight. He had thus grown rich, and now felt the inconsistency of seeking religion without restitution. This was impossible: many of his customers were dead, others beyond his knowledge. The thought of the poor who had paid for coal they had never received rested heavily on him. He asked the minister if he thought the substitution of a gift to the poor would be acceptable to God. The minister advised him to try it. A large donation, more than equal in amount to his unjust gains, was made, and the merchant sought God in earnest. He was happily converted, and is to-day a prominent member of the church.

Tardy restitution

As a gentleman in London entered his house, he found a well-dressed female sitting on the stairs, who asked pardon for the liberty she had taken, saying that, hearing the alarm of a mad dog, she had taken refuge in his house. On hearing her story, he gave her some refreshment; and she left, thanking him for his civility. In the evening his lady missed her gold watch; and it was concluded the female was the thief. Fifteen years afterwards, the watch was returned, with a note from this woman, saying the gospel had changed her heart, and she desired to return the watch to its rightful owner.

Unrighteous restitution

What a shame then is this to Christians, who minding nothing less than restitution, make ex rapina holocaustum: out of a world of ill-gotten goods, they cull out some small fragments to erect some poor hospital; having cheated thousands, build alms-houses for some few, and then set a glorious inscription in front, whereas this one word, Aceldama, would be far more proper. (J. Spencer.)

Compensation for damage

A man in New Jersey told me the following circumstances respecting himself and one of his neighbours. “I once owned a large flock of hens. I generally kept them shut up. But one spring I concluded to let them run in my yard, after I had clipped their wings so that they could not fly. One day, when I came home to dinner, I learned that one of my neighbours had been there full of wrath, to let me know that my hens had been in his garden, and that he had killed several of them, and thrown them over into my yard. I determined at once to be revenged. I sat down and ate my dinner as calmly as I could. By the time I had finished I thought that perhaps it was not best to fight with my neighbour about hens, and thereby make him my bitter enemy. I concluded to try another way, being sure that it would be better. After dinner, I went to my neighbour’s. He was in his garden. I went out and found him in pursuit of one of my hens with a club, trying to kill it. I accosted him. He turned upon me, his face inflamed with wrath, and broke out in a great fury, ‘You have abused me. I will kill all your hens, if I can get them. I never was so abused. My garden is ruined.’ ‘I am sorry for it,’ said I: ‘I did not wish to injure you; and now see that I have made a great mistake in letting out my hens. I ask your forgiveness, and am willing to pay you six times the damage.’ The man seemed confounded. He did not know what to make of it. He looked up to the sky, then down at the earth, then at his neighbour, then at his club, then at the poor hen he had been pursuing, and said nothing. ‘Tell me now,’ said I, ’what is the damage and I will pay you six-fold; and my hens shall trouble you no more. I will leave it entirely for you to say what I shall do. I cannot afford to lose the love and goodwill of my neighbours, and quarrel with them, for hens or anything else.’ ‘I am a great fool!’ said my neighbour; ‘the damage is not worth talking about; and I have more need to compensate you than you me, and to ask your forgiveness than you mine.’” (Mrs. Child’s Letters from New York.)


Verses 1-15

6

PART III.--RIGHTS OF PROPERTY.

Exodus 21:33 - Exodus 22:15.

The vital and quickening principle in this section is the stress it lays upon man's responsibility for negligence, and the indirect consequences of his deed. All sin is selfish, and all selfishness ignores the right of others. Am I my brother's keeper? Let him guard his own property or pay the forfeit. But this sentiment would quickly prove a disintegrating force in the community, able to overthrow a state. It is the ignoble negative of public spirit; patriotism, all by which nations prosper. And this early legislation is well devised to check it in detail. If an ox fall into a pit or cistern, from which I have removed the cover, I must pay the value of the beast, and take the carcase for what it may be worth. I ought to have considered the public interest (Exodus 21:33). If I let my cattle stray into my neighbour's field or vineyard, there must be no wrangling about the quality of what he has consumed: I must forfeit an equal quantity of the best of my own field or vineyard (Exodus 22:5). If a fire of my kindling burn his grain, standing or piled, I must make restitution: I had no right to kindle it where he was brought into hazard (Exodus 22:6). This is the same principle which had already pronounced it murder to let a vicious ox go loose. And it has to do with graver things than oxen and fires,--with the teachers of principles rightly called incendiary, the ingenious theorists who let loose abstract speculations pernicious when put into practice, the well-behaved questioners of morality, and the law-abiding assailants of the foundations which uphold law.

It is quite in the same spirit that I am accountable for what I borrow or hire, and even for its accidental death (since for the time being it was mine, and so should the loss be); but if I hired the owner with his beast, it clearly continued to be in his charge (Exodus 22:14-15). But again, my responsibility may not be pressed too far. If I have not borrowed property, but consented to keep it for the owner, the risk is fairly his, and if it be stolen, the presumption is not against my integrity, although I may be required to clear myself on oath before the judges (Exodus 22:7-8). But I am accountable in such a case for cattle, because it was certainly understood that I should watch them; and if a wild beast have torn any, I must prove my courage and vigilance by rescuing the carcase and producing it (Exodus 22:10-13).

But I must not be plunged into litigation without a compensating hazard on the other side: he whom God shall condemn shall pay double unto his neighbour (Exodus 22:9).

It only remains to be observed, with regard to theft, that when cattle was recovered yet alive, the thief restored double, but when his act was consummated by slaughtering what he had taken, then he restored a sheep fourfold, and for an ox five oxen, because his villainy was more high-handed. And we still retain the law which allows the blood of a robber at night to be shed, but forbids it in the day, when help can more easily be had.

All this is reasonable and enlightened law; founded, like all good legislation, upon clear and satisfactory principles, and well calculated to elevate the tone of the public feeling, to be not only so many specific enactments, but also the germinant seeds of good.


Verses 1-31

6

THE LESSER LAW.

Exodus 20:18 - Exodus 23:33.

With the close of the Decalogue and its universal obligations, we approach a brief code of laws, purely Hebrew, but of the deepest moral interest, confessed by hostile criticism to bear every mark of a remote antiquity, and distinctly severed from what precedes and follows by a marked difference in the circumstances.

This is evidently the book of the Covenant to which the nation gave its formal assent (Exodus 24:7), and is therefore the germ and the centre of the system afterwards so much expanded.

And since the adhesion of the people was required, and the final covenant was ratified as soon as it was given, before any of the more formal details were elaborated, and before the tabernacle and the priesthood were established, it may fairly claim the highest and most unique position among the component parts of the Pentateuch, excepting only the Ten Commandments.

Before examining it in detail, the impressive circumstances of its utterance have to be observed.

It is written that when the law was given, the voice of the trumpet waxed louder and louder still. And as the multitude became aware that in this tempestuous and growing crash there was a living centre, and a voice of intelligible words, their awe became insufferable: and instead of needing the barriers which excluded them from the mountain, they recoiled from their appointed place, trembling and standing afar off. "And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us and we will hear, but let not God speak with us lest we die." It is the same instinct that we have already so often recognised, the dread of holiness in the hearts of the impure, the sense of unworthiness, which makes a prophet cry, "Woe is me, for I am undone!" and an apostle, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man."

Now, the New Testament quotes a confession of Moses himself, well-nigh overwhelmed, "I do exceedingly fear and quake" (Hebrews 12:21). And yet we read that he "said unto the people, Fear not, for God is come to prove you, and that His fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not" (Exodus 20:20). Thus we have the double paradox,--that he exceedingly feared, yet bade them fear not, and yet again declared that the very object of God was that they might fear Him.

Like every paradox, which is not a mere contradiction, this is instructive.

There is an abject fear, the dread of cowards and of the guilty, which masters and destroys the will--the fear which shrank away from the mount and cried out to Moses for relief. Such fear has torment, and none ought to admit it who understands that God wishes him well and is merciful.

There is also a natural agitation, at times inevitable though not unconquerable, and often strongest in the highest natures because they are the most finely strung. We are sometimes taught that there is sin in that instinctive recoil from death, and from whatever brings it close, which indeed is implanted by God to prevent foolhardiness, and to preserve the race. Our duty, however, does not require the absence of sensitive nerves, but only their subjugation and control. Marshal Saxe was truly brave when he looked at his own trembling frame, as the cannon opened fire, and said, "Aha! tremblest thou? thou wouldest tremble much more if thou knewest whither I mean to carry thee today." Despite his fever-shaken nerves, he was perfectly entitled to say to any waverer, "Fear not."

And so Moses, while he himself quaked, was entitled to encourage his people, because he could encourage them, because he saw and announced the kindly meaning of that tremendous scene, because he dared presently to draw near unto the thick darkness where God was.

And therefore the day would come when, with his noble heart aflame for a yet more splendid vision, he would cry, "O Lord, I beseech Thee show me Thy glory"--some purer and clearer irradiation, which would neither baffle the moral sense, nor conceal itself in cloud.

Meanwhile, there was a fear which should endure, and which God desires: not panic, but awe; not the terror which stood afar off, but the reverence which dares not to transgress. "Fear not, for God is come to prove you" (to see whether the nobler emotion or the baser will survive), "and that His fear may be before your faces" (so as to guide you, instead of pressing upon you to crush), "that ye sin not."

How needful was the lesson, may be seen by what followed when they were taken at their word, and the pressure of physical dread was lifted off them. "They soon forgat God their Saviour ... they made a calf in Horeb, and worshipped the work of their own hands." Perhaps other pressures which we feel and lament today, the uncertainties and fears of modern life, are equally required to prevent us from forgetting God.

Of the nobler fear, which is a safeguard of the soul and not a danger, it is a serious question whether enough is alive among us.

Much sensational teaching, many popular books and hymns, suggest rather an irreverent use of the Holy Name, which is profanation, than a filial approach to a Father equally revered and loved. It is true that we are bidden to come with boldness to the throne of Grace. Yet the same Epistle teaches us again that our approach is even more solemn and awful than to the Mount which might be touched, and the profaning of which was death; and it exhorts us to have grace whereby we may offer service well-pleasing to God with reverence and awe, "for our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 4:16, Hebrews 12:28). That is the very last grace which some Christians ever seem to seek.

When the people recoiled, and Moses, trusting in God, was brave and entered the cloud, they ceased to have direct communion, and he was brought nearer to Jehovah than before.

What is now conveyed to Israel through him is an expansion and application of the Decalogue, and in turn it becomes the nucleus of the developed law. Its great antiquity is admitted by the severest critics; and it is a wonderful example of spirituality and searching depth, and also of such germinal and fruitful principles as cannot rest in themselves, literally applied, but must lead the obedient student on to still better things.

It is not the function of law to inspire men to obey it; this is precisely what the law could not do, being weak through the flesh. But it could arrest the attention and educate the conscience. Simple though it was in the letter, David could meditate upon it day and night. In the New Testament we know of two persons who had scrupulously respected its precepts, but they both, far from being satisfied, were filled with a divine discontent. One had kept all these things from his youth, yet felt the need of doing some good thing, and anxiously demanded what it was that he lacked yet. The other, as touching the righteousness of the law, was blameless, yet when the law entered, sin revived and slew him. For the law was spiritual, and reached beyond itself, while he was carnal, and thwarted by the flesh, sold under sin, even while externally beyond reproach.

This subtle characteristic of all noble law will be very apparent in studying the kernel of the law, the code within the code, which now lies before us.

Men sometimes judge the Hebrew legislation harshly, thinking that they are testing it, as a Divine institution, by the light of this century. They are really doing nothing of the sort. If there are two principles of legislation dearer than all others to modern Englishmen, they are the two which these flippant judgments most ignore, and by which they are most perfectly refuted.

One is that institutions educate communities. It is not too much to say that we have staked the future of our nation, and therefore the hopes of humanity, upon our conviction that men can be elevated by ennobling institutions,--that the franchise, for example, is an education as well as a trust.

The other, which seems to contradict the first, and does actually modify it, is that legislation must not move too far in advance of public opinion. Laws may be highly desirable in the abstract, for which communities are not yet ripe. A constitution like our own would be simply ruinous in Hindostan. Many good friends of temperance are the reluctant opponents of legislation which they desire in theory but which would only be trampled upon in practice, because public opinion would rebel against the law. Legislation is indeed educational, but the danger is that the practical outcome of such legislation would be disobedience and anarchy.

Now, these principles are the ample justification of all that startles us in the Pentateuch.

Slavery and polygamy, for instance, are not abolished. To forbid them utterly would have substituted far worse evils, as the Jews then were. But laws were introduced which vastly ameliorated the condition of the slave, and elevated the status of woman--laws which were far in advance of the best Gentile culture, and which so educated and softened the Jewish character, that men soon came to feel the letter of these very laws too harsh.

That is a nobler vindication of the Mosaic legislation than if this century agreed with every letter of it. To be vital and progressive is a better thing than to be correct. The law waged a far more effectual war upon certain evils than by formal prohibition, sound in theory but premature by centuries. Other good things besides liberty are not for the nursery or the school. And "we also, when we were children, were held in bondage" (Galatians 4:3).

It is pretty well agreed that this code may be divided into five parts. To the end of the twentieth chapter it deals directly with the worship of God. Then follow thirty-two verses treating of the personal rights of man as distinguished from his rights of property. From the thirty-third verse of the twenty-first chapter to the fifteenth verse of the twenty-second, the rights of property are protected. Thence to the nineteenth verse of the twenty-third chapter is a miscellaneous group of laws, chiefly moral, but deeply connected with the civil organisation of the state. And thence to the end of the chapter is an earnest exhortation from God, introduced by a clearer statement than before of the manner in which He means to lead them, even by that mysterious Angel in Whom "is My Name."


Verse 6

Exodus 22:6

If fire break out.

Responsibility for actions

In the twenty-second chapter of Exodus the rights of property are defended, and the text before us may be considered as the law of fire insurance under the Mosaic dispensation. The law was a constant lesson to the people on their vast responsibility for the consequences of their conduct. God’s law thus showed that Omnipotence identified itself with every just claim, and would insist on compensation for every wrong inflicted.

I. This ancient law brings into view the general doctrine of liability for the consequences of our actions and neglect. Nothing is more difficult than to raise in most men’s minds a vivid sense of the widespreading results of their own character and conduct. They readily acknowledge the responsibility of others, but not their own. Men never take so modest a view of their own individuality, as when the object is to set forth the insignificance of their own contribution to “the evil that is in the world.” But such calculations are founded on a gross delusion. The most commonplace sinner has a power of mischief in him which might sadden the blessed as they look at it.

II. The dormant sense of liability for the consequences of our conduct ought surely to be awakened by considering how we hold other men responsible in common life.

II. The right conception of judgment to come is the bringing to the consciousness of the finite the knowledge of the infinite in this regard. “This, hast thou done.” He who subverts the faith or the conscience of one soul subverts in effect the faith and conscience of all souls, and “their blood will I require at the watchman’s hand.”

IV. These considerations should impress the mind with a new sense of the infinite bearings of our thoughts, words, and actions; and should make us “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” Let to-day be the day of salvation by becoming the day of judgment, for “if we would judge ourselves, we should not be condemned with the world.” (E. White.)

The penalty of carelessness

Learn--

1. To be careful of your neighbour’s material, intellectual, and spiritual interests, and do not damage them by a careless word or action.

2. In order that these interests may not be invaded, put a strong check on those loose and vagrant so-called interests of your own.

3. In order to prevent any possibility of the transgression of these interests, see that those passions of avarice, envy, and revenge which cause so much mischief in the world, are quenched.

4. If these interests are invaded, render a frank, manly, and ample restitution.

No trifling with bread

This is right. The Bible really builds upon granite bases; there is nothing merely fanciful in this legislation. This is sound common-sense, and common-sense in the long run wins the esteem and confidence of the world. No man may trifle with bread. Bad enough to burn down any kind of property; but to consume stacks of corn is to commit murder with both hands; to light the standing corn when it waves in the fields is to thrust a knife, not into one heart, but into the very life of society. How can restitution be made? It cannot be made. You cannot replace corn; money bears no relation to corn; corn is not an arithmetical quantity. Destroyed bread is destroyed life. Who destroys bread? He who makes poison of it; he who turns it into a drink that takes away the reason and deposes the conscience of men. He who holds back the bread-stuff until the time of famine that he may increase his own riches by an enhanced market value is not a political economist, unless, under such circumstances, a political economist is a heartless murderer. And if it is wicked to set fire to corn, is it a light or frivolous matter to set fire to convictions, faiths--the bread-stuff of the soul? Is he guiltless who takes away the bread of life, the bread sent down from heaven? Is he a pardonable incendiary who burns down the altar which was a stairway to the light, or reduces to ashes the Church which was a refuge in the day of storm? (J. Parker, D. D.)

Who kindled the fire

This statute had a peculiar necessity in such a hot, dry country as Palestine, where there was a peculiar danger from accidental conflagrations. If a man burned over his stubble field, it was necessary, before the dry grass was lighted, to see that the wind was in the right quarter, and every precaution taken that the flames should not kindle upon the property of a neighbour. The sound principle that underlies this law is that men must suffer for the evil they do through thoughtless recklessness, as well as for what they do with malicious intent.

1. If I invite a group of young men in my house to surround a card-table, I may simply design to furnish them an hour’s amusement. But perhaps a lust for gambling may lie latent in some young man’s breast, and I may quicken it into life by my offer of a temptation. There is fire in that pack of cards. And I deliberately place that fire amid the inflammable passions of that youthful breast. On me rest the consequences of that act, as well as upon him whom I lead into temptation. The motive does not alter the result by one iota.

2. Among social virtues none is more popular than that of hospitality. When bountifully practised toward the needy, it rises to the dignity of a Christian grace. And ordinary hospitalities may be set to the credit of a generous spirit. But here is the master or mistress of a house who spread their table with a lavish provision for the entertainment of their evening guests. Among the abundant viands of that table the lady of the house places the choicest brands of Madeira wine, and on a side-board she sets out a huge bowl of inviting punch. And among the invited guests of the evening comes a man who has promised the wife of his early love that be will never again yield to his awful appetite, and turn their sweet home into a hell. He sees the tempter in that accursed punch-bowl, and is pressed very courteously to “take a glass.” The fire “catches in the dry thorns” in an instant. He drinks. He goes reeling into his own door that night, and his whole household is in a flame of excitement and terror, and agony and shame. Now, who kindled that fire? Let her who put the bottle to her neighbour’s lips make answer.

3. The artillery of this Divine law against incendiarism has a wide range. It is pointed against that social nuisance, the slanderer. “Behold how great a matter his little fire kindleth.” The utterance of evil reports may be well likened to playing with fire.

4. This law against incendiarism applies to every utterance of spiritual error and infidelity. He who utters a devilish suggestion to corrupt the innocence of chastity sets fire to passion, and becomes the incendiary of a soul. He who scatters a pernicious literature comes under the same condemnation. He who sows scepticism, by tongue or pen, sets fire to the “standing corn” of righteous opinion. Beware how you play with the sparks of falsehood. Beware how you play with the fire of wicked suggestion, that may kindle a blaze of sin in another’s heart. (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)


Verses 7-13

Exodus 22:7-13

If a man shall deliver unto his neighbour money or stuff to keep.

The law of trusts

1. God’s law provides strictly to keep men faithful to their trusts by men.

2. Theft may abuse and frustrate the trust of the most faithful men.

3. Such theft discovered is punished with double restitution by God.

4. In theft undiscovered and upon suspicion, trustees are bound to clear themselves by oath.

5. A right oath as it terminates upon God, so ought in some cases to be taken before magistrates (Exodus 22:8).

6. In doubtful cases about trust, civil powers are enabled to try men, and judge by oath.

7. The falsifier of trust convicted must restore double (Exodus 22:9).

8. Living stuff trusted to any and dying, none knowing how, the trustee’s oath must clear him (Exodus 22:10-11).

9. Living goods trusted to keeping upon consideration if stolen, must be made good by the keeper (Exodus 22:12).

10. No law binds men to restore what Providence takes away from men by wild beasts (Exodus 22:13). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


Verse 14-15

Exodus 22:14-15

If a man borrow.

Borrowing

1. God in His law provideth against hurting our neighbour’s goods by borrowing.

2. Hurt and death may come to things borrowed without the sin of the borrower.

3. In case of the borrower’s faultlessness in hurt, no restitution doth God award.

4. In case of wilful hurt and spoil the borrower by God’s law must make it good.

5. Things wilfully hurt which are borrowed by hire must be satisfied by God’s law.

6. Perishing of such in a lawful use of them, God’s law accounts satisfied by their hire (Exodus 22:14-15). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Concerning borrowing

Learn:

1. On the one hand--

2. On the other hand--


Verse 16-17

Exodus 22:16-17

If a man entice a maid.

Lessons

1. Providence may suffer men through strength of lust to entice and defile virgins.

2. Such enticing and polluting is grievous sin against God and man abhorred of the Lord.

3. In case of such sin God hath judged recompense to men, as He executeth vengeance for Himself. (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Want of wariness

Flamingoes are very shy and timid birds, and shun all attempts of man to approach them; the vicinity of animals, however, they disregard. Any one who is acquainted with this fact can take advantage of it so as to effect the slaughter of these beautiful animals by dressing himself up in the skin of a horse or an ox. Thus disguised, the sportsman may get close to them and shoot them down at his ease. So long as their enemy is invisible they still remain immovable, the noise of the gun only stupefying them, so that they refuse to leave, although their companions are dropping down dead around them. They are taken in by appearances; and so long as the man is disguised they accept him as the creature which he pretends to be, even though his actions clearly indicate that he is something else. Shy, beautiful, and harmless, the unfortunate bird meets destruction simply for want of wariness. Many a lovely human being with the like qualities has met her doom for want of that same trait. (Scientific Illustrations.)


Verses 16-31

CHAPTER XXII.

THE LESSER LAW (continued).

PART IV.

Exodus 22:16 - Exodus 23:19.

The Fourth section of this law within the law consists of enactments, curiously disconnected, many of them without a penalty, varying greatly in importance, but all of a moral nature, and connected with the well-being of the state. It is hard to conceive how the systematic revision of which we hear so much could have left them in the condition in which they stand.

It is enacted that a seducer must marry the woman he has betrayed, and if her father refuse to give her to him, then he must pay the same dower as a bridegroom would have done (Exodus 22:16-17). And presently the sentence of death is launched against a blacker sensual crime (Exodus 22:19). But between the two is interposed the celebrated mandate which doomed the sorceress to death, remarkable as the first mention of witchcraft in Scripture, and the only passage in all the Bible where the word is in the feminine form--a witch, or sorceress; remarkable also for a far graver reason, which makes it necessary to linger over the subject at some length.

SORCERY.

"Thou shalt not suffer a sorceress to live."-- Exodus 22:18.

The world knows only too well what sad and shameful inferences have been drawn from these words. Unspeakable terrors, estrangement of natural sympathy, tortures and cruel deaths, have been inflicted on many thousands of the most forlorn creatures upon earth (creatures who were sustained in their sufferings by no high ardour of conviction or fanaticism, not being martyrs but simply victims), because it was held that Moses, in declaring that witches should not live, affirmed the reality of witchcraft. No sooner did the argument cease to be dangerous to old women than it became formidable to religion; for now it was urged that, since Moses was in error about the reality of witchcraft, his legislation could not have been inspired.

What are we to say to this?

In the first place it must be observed that the existence of a sorcerer is one thing, and the reality of his powers is quite another. What was most sad and shameful in the mediaeval frenzy was the burning to ashes of multitudes who made no pretensions to traffic with the invisible world, who frequently held fast their innocence while enduring the agonies of torture, who were only aged and ugly and alone. Upon any theory, the prohibition of sorcery by the Pentateuch was no more answerable for these iniquities than its other prohibitions for the lynch law of the backwoods.

On the other hand, there were real professors of the black art: men did pretend to hold intercourse with spirits, and extorted great sums from their dupes in return for bringing them also into communion with superhuman beings. These it is reasonable to call sorcerers, whether we accept their professions or not, just as we speak of thought-readers and of mediums without being understood to commit ourselves to the pretensions of either one or other. In point of fact, the existence, in this nineteenth century after Christ, of sorcerers calling themselves mediums, is much more surprising than the existence of other sorcerers in the time of Moses or of Saul; and it bears startling witness to the depth in human nature of that craving for traffic with invisible powers which the law prohibited so sternly, but the roots of which neither religion nor education nor scepticism has been able wholly to pluck up.

Again, from the point of view which Moses occupied, it is plain that such professors should be punished. They are virtually punished still, whenever they obtain money under pretence of granting interviews with the departed. If we now rely chiefly upon educated public opinion to stamp out such impositions, that is because we have decided that a struggle between truth and falsehood upon equal terms will be advantageous to the former. It is a subdivision of the debate between intolerance and free thought. Our theory works well, but not universally well, even under modern conditions and in Christian lands. And assuredly Moses could not proclaim freedom of opinion, among uneducated slaves, amid the pressure of splendid and of seductive idolatries, and before the Holy Ghost was given. To complain of Moses for proscribing false religions would be to denounce the use of glass for seedlings because the full-grown plant flourishes in the open air.

Now, it would have been preposterous to proscribe false religions and yet to tolerate the sorcerer and the sorceress. For these were the active practitioners of another worship than that of God. They might not profess idolatry; but they offered help and guidance from sources which Jehovah frowned upon, rival sources of defence or knowledge.

The holy people was meant to grow up under the most elevating of all influences, reliance upon a protecting God, Who had bidden His children to subdue the world as well as to replenish it, and of Whom one of their own poets sang that He had put all things under the feet of man. Their true heritage was not bounded by the strip of land which Joshua and his followers slowly conquered; to them belonged all the resources of nature which science, ever since, has wrested from the Philistine hands of barbarism and ignorance. And this nobler conquest depended upon the depth and sincerity of man's feeling that the world is well-ordered and stable and the heritage of man, not a chaos of various and capricious powers, where Pallas inspires Diomed to hunt Venus bleeding off the field, or where the incantations of Canidia may disturb the orderly movements of the skies. Who could hope to discover by inductive science the secrets of such a world as this?

The devices of magic cut the links between cause and effect, between studious labour and the fruits which sorcery bade men to steal rather than to cultivate. What gambling was to commerce, that was witchcraft to philosophy, and the mischief no more depended on the validity of its methods than upon the soundness of the last device for breaking the bank at Monte Carlo.

If one could actually extort their secrets from the dead, or win for luxury and sloth a longer life than is bestowed upon temperance and labour, he would succeed in his revolt against the God of nature. But the revolt was the endeavour; and the sorcerer, however falsely, professed to have succeeded; and preached the same revolt to others. In religion he was therefore an apostate, and in the theocracy a traitor against the King, one whose life was forfeited if it was prudent to exact the penalty.

And when we consider the fascination wielded by such pretensions, even in ages when the stability of nature is an axiom, the dread which false religions all around and their terrible rituals must have inspired, the superstitious tendencies of the people and their readiness to be misled, we shall see ample reasons for treading out the first sparks of so dangerous a fire.

Beyond this it is vain to pretend that the law of Moses goes. It was right in declaring the sorcerer and the sorceress to be real and dangerous phenomena. It never declared their pretensions to be valid though illegitimate. And in one noteworthy passage it proclaims that a real sign or a wonder could only proceed from God, and when it accompanied false teaching was still a sign, though an ominous one, implying that the Lord would prove them (Deuteronomy 13:1-3). This does not look very like an admission of the existence of rival powers, inferior though they might be, who could interfere with the order of His world.

Sorcery in all its forms will die when men realise indeed that the world is His, that there is no short or crooked way to the prizes which He offers to wisdom and to labour, that these rewards are infinitely richer and more splendid than the wildest dreams of magic, and that it is literally true that all power, in earth as well as heaven, is committed into the Hands which were pierced for us. In such a conception of the universe, incantations give place to prayers, and prayer does not seek to disturb, but to carry forward and to consummate, the orderly rule of Love.

The denunciation of witchcraft is quite naturally followed, as we now perceive, by the reiteration of the command that no sacrifice may be offered to any god except Jehovah (Exodus 22:20). Strange and hateful offerings were an integral part of witchcraft, long before the hags of Macbeth brewed their charm, or the child in Horace famished to yield a spell.


Verse 18

Exodus 22:18

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

Spiritualism-modern witchcraft

The Bible regards witchcraft--

1. As a stern and diabolical reality (Leviticus 20:27; Deuteronomy 18:9).

2. As unlawful trafficking with the unseen world (Leviticus 19:31; Isaiah 8:19, “For the living to the dead,” i.e., on behalf the living to the dead).

3. As sometimes trickery and imposture (Isaiah 8:19), “that peep and mutter” (probably ventriloquise. See art. Pythoness, Smith’s Dic. Bible).

4. As filthy defilement (Leviticus 19:31).

5. As deserving death (Leviticus 20:6. cf. text).

6. As one of the crimes for which the Canaanites were destroyed.

7. As inconsistent with a trust in God (Isaiah 8:19).

8. As frustrated by God (Isaiah 44:25).

9. As a power from which the godly have nothing to fear, for there is no solitary prayer in the whole Bible to be protected from its enchantments, and no thanksgiving for deliverance from them. In this country we only meet with it now in the form of spiritualism, and as such--

I. It is dangerous.

1. Because it destroys all faith in the person and providence of God, and hence imperils the hopes, aspirations, and safety of the soul.

2. Because it tends to debase man’s moral standards, and to obliterate the fact of sin.

3. Because its direct aim is to subvert Christianity, and to abolish the Word of God.

4. Because it comes before the imagination and the affections with plausible appeals.

II. It shuns the light.

1. Its performances, like the old witchcraft, take place in the dark, and under circumstances the force of which requires the exertions of the strongest will. On the contrary, the grand facts of both Old and New Testaments were “not done in a corner,” but in the light of day.

2. It is chary of the open exhibition of its credentials to the critic and the unbeliever; this privilege is reserved for those who first believe in the magician and in his powers. The miracles and other credentials of the Bible--court scrutiny--were mainly for the conviction of those who disbelieved.

3. And why does it shun the light? For the old reason (John 3:19-21).

III. It is unlawful..

1. Because expressly forbidden in the Word of God. Christ and His apostles meet the spirits not in darkened cabinets but with open exorcism.

2. Because of its avowed mission to pry into and traffic with the unrevealed matters of the spirit-world. God has emphatically set His face against this (Deuteronomy 29:29).

3. Because it is “another gospel” (Galatians 1:8).

IV. It is partly gross imposture.

1. Spiritual realities are solemn and imposing, and worthy in every way of the high source from which they emanate. When God communicated to the prophets and apostles we do not hear that it was on dancing tables, illegible inscriptions on slates, or through books made luminous by phosphoric oil. We do not hear of angels or spirits, whether in Old Testament or New, pulling men’s hair, scattering sweetmeats, rapping on walls, hurling bed pillows, appearing in regimentals, or handling hot coals.

2. Spiritual realities in the Bible were never discovered to be small tricks.

3. Spiritual realities in the Bible have never been explained by natural phenomena as have much of the legerdemain of modem magic.

V. It is uniformly useless.

1. For harm (Isaiah 8:19), when there is a firm trust in God.

2. For good (Luke 16:27-31), when there is no such trust. (J. W. Burn.)


Verse 21

Exodus 22:21

Neither vex a stranger.

The stranger

The spirit of the Hebrew law was broader than race, or country, or kindred. Among the ancients generally a foreigner had no rights in any country but his own. In some languages the very word “stranger” was synonymous with enemy. Against these race hatreds Moses set up this command. Not only were foreigners to be tolerated; they were to receive the fullest protection (see Leviticus 24:22). (H. M. Field, D. D.)

Sound policy

This was not only a humane law; but it was a sound policy. Do not wrong a stranger; remember ye were strangers. Do not oppress a stranger; remember ye were oppressed. Therefore do unto all men as you would they should do to you. Let strangers be well treated among you, and many will come among you, and the strength of your country will be increased. If refugees of this kind be treated well, they will become proselytes to your religion, and thus their souls may be saved. (A. Clarke, D. D.)

She was a stranger

A missionary was requested to go out to a new settlement to address a Sabbath-school. He had preached in the morning, and was wearied and felt quite unfitted for the task, but reluctantly consented to go. When he found himself at the spot, he looked round the assembly with great misgivings, not knowing what to say to them. He noticed a little girl, shabbily dressed and barefooted, shrinking in a corner, her little sunburnt face buried in her hands, the tears trickling between her small brown fingers, and sobbing as if her heart would break. Soon, however, another little girl, about eleven years old, got up and went to her, whispered kindly to her, and taking her by the hand, led her toward a brook, then seated her on a log, and kneeling beside her she took off her ragged sun bonnet, and dipping her hand in the water, bathed her hot eyes and tear-stained face, and smoothed her tangled hair, talking in a cheery manner all the while. The little one brightened up, the tears all went, and smiles came creeping around the rosy mouth. The missionary stepped forward and said: “Is that your little sister, my dear?” “No, sir,” answered the noble child, with tender, earnest eyes, “I have no sister, sir.” “Oh, one of the neighbours’ children,” replied the missionary; “a little school-mate, perhaps?” “No, sir; she is a stranger. I do not know where she came from; I never saw her before.” “Then how came you to take her out and have such a care for her if you do not know her?” “Because she was a stranger, sir, and seemed all alone, and needed somebody to be kind to her.” “Ah,” said the missionary to himself, “here is a text for me to preach from--’Because she was a stranger, and seemed all alone, and needed somebody to be kind to her.’” The words came to him, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.” So, taking the little girls by the hand, he went back to the school-room and told the people the simple story; then spoke of the great love that all should bear to one another, even as the dear Saviour sought out those who were humble and of low estate, making them His peculiar care. The missionary forgot his weariness, and felt that God had put good word in his mouth.


Verse 21

Exodus 22:21

Neither vex a stranger.

The stranger

The spirit of the Hebrew law was broader than race, or country, or kindred. Among the ancients generally a foreigner had no rights in any country but his own. In some languages the very word “stranger” was synonymous with enemy. Against these race hatreds Moses set up this command. Not only were foreigners to be tolerated; they were to receive the fullest protection (see Leviticus 24:22). (H. M. Field, D. D.)

Sound policy

This was not only a humane law; but it was a sound policy. Do not wrong a stranger; remember ye were strangers. Do not oppress a stranger; remember ye were oppressed. Therefore do unto all men as you would they should do to you. Let strangers be well treated among you, and many will come among you, and the strength of your country will be increased. If refugees of this kind be treated well, they will become proselytes to your religion, and thus their souls may be saved. (A. Clarke, D. D.)

She was a stranger

A missionary was requested to go out to a new settlement to address a Sabbath-school. He had preached in the morning, and was wearied and felt quite unfitted for the task, but reluctantly consented to go. When he found himself at the spot, he looked round the assembly with great misgivings, not knowing what to say to them. He noticed a little girl, shabbily dressed and barefooted, shrinking in a corner, her little sunburnt face buried in her hands, the tears trickling between her small brown fingers, and sobbing as if her heart would break. Soon, however, another little girl, about eleven years old, got up and went to her, whispered kindly to her, and taking her by the hand, led her toward a brook, then seated her on a log, and kneeling beside her she took off her ragged sun bonnet, and dipping her hand in the water, bathed her hot eyes and tear-stained face, and smoothed her tangled hair, talking in a cheery manner all the while. The little one brightened up, the tears all went, and smiles came creeping around the rosy mouth. The missionary stepped forward and said: “Is that your little sister, my dear?” “No, sir,” answered the noble child, with tender, earnest eyes, “I have no sister, sir.” “Oh, one of the neighbours’ children,” replied the missionary; “a little school-mate, perhaps?” “No, sir; she is a stranger. I do not know where she came from; I never saw her before.” “Then how came you to take her out and have such a care for her if you do not know her?” “Because she was a stranger, sir, and seemed all alone, and needed somebody to be kind to her.” “Ah,” said the missionary to himself, “here is a text for me to preach from--’Because she was a stranger, and seemed all alone, and needed somebody to be kind to her.’” The words came to him, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.” So, taking the little girls by the hand, he went back to the school-room and told the people the simple story; then spoke of the great love that all should bear to one another, even as the dear Saviour sought out those who were humble and of low estate, making them His peculiar care. The missionary forgot his weariness, and felt that God had put good word in his mouth.


Verses 22-24

Exodus 22:22-24

Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child.

God’s care for the widow and fatherless

I. That widows and orphans have claims upon our regard.

1. They have claims upon our sympathy. Their stay, comfort, defence is gone. What state can be more sorrowful and helpless!

2. They have claims upon our protection and help. Our resources are only held in stewardship for God’s purposes, and to what better purpose could they be applied, both as regards its intrinsic merits and the Divine will concerning it.

II. That widows and orphans have special privileges.

1. God has legislated for them. Not in the dry and hard manner in which penal and ceremonial codes are obliged to be enacted, but in a way which throws them on the broad and better principles of humanity and love.

2. God stands in a peculiar relation to them (Psalms 68:5). In the absence of their natural guardians He takes them under His wing.

3. God is always ready to help them; to hear their cry (Exodus 22:23; Jeremiah 49:11).

III. That any oppression of the widow and fatherless will be rigorously punished (Exodus 22:24).

1. The oppressor is left to the righteous judgment of God, who will surely avenge His own (Luke 18:7).

2. The oppressor is left to the terrible retribution of a hard and cruel heart, which inflicts as much punishment on the subject as on the object.

3. The oppressor is left to the certain contempt and execration of his fellow-men.

Husbands and fathers, learn--

1. To provide for the wants of those whom you may leave behind to mourn your loss.

2. Then, having made a proper use of means, leave them with calm faith in the power and goodness of their “Father in heaven.”

3. Help the widow and the orphan, as your wife may be left a widow and your children fatherless. (J. W. Burn.)

Verse 25-27. Any of My people that is poor.

Judgment on an usurer

There was once in this church a poor widow, and she wanted £20 to begin a small shop. Having no friends, she came to me, her minister; and I happened to know a man--not of this church--who could advance the money to the poor widow. So we went to this man--the widow and I--and the man said he would be happy to help the widow. And he drew out a bill for £20, and the widow signed it, and I signed it too. Then he put the signed paper in his desk, and took out the money and gave it to the widow. But the widow, counting it, said, “Sir, there is only £15 here.” “It is all right,” said the man; “that is the interest I charge.” And as we had no redress, we came away. But the widow prospered. And she brought the £20 to me, and I took it myself to the office of the man who lent it, and I said to him, “Sir, there is the f20 from the widow.” And he said, “Here is the paper you signed; and if you know any other poor widow, I will be happy to help her in the same way.” I said to him, “You help the widow! Sir, you have robbed this widow, and you will be damned!” And, my friends, I kept my eye on that man. Before six months were over God smote him, and he died. (Wm. Anderson, D. D.)

Regard for the poor and needy

While General Grant was President of the United States, he was at one time the guest of Marshall Jewell, at Hartford, Conn. At a reception tendered him by the Governor, where all the prominent men of the State were gathered, a roughly-pencilled note, in a common envelope, signed by a woman, was handed him. It was put into his hands by a young politician, who thought it a good joke that “an old woman in tatters” should presume to intrude upon the President at such a time. “You need not bother about her; I sent her away--told her you were not here to be bored,” the young man said to Grant. The President’s answer much surprised the politician. “Where is this woman; where can I find her?” he inquired, hurrying from the room. The letter he held in his hand, written poorly in pencil, told a sorrowful story. It said in substance: “My son fought in your army, and he was killed by rebel bullets while fighting for you. Before he died he wrote me a letter which told how noble a man you were, and said you would look out for his mother. I am poor, and I haven’t had money or influence to get anybody interested in me to get a pension. Dear General, will you please help me for my dead boy’s sake?” Sadly the woman had turned away from the mansion, her last hope dead. A servant pointed her out to President Grant, walking slowly up the street. The old soldier overtook her quickly. She was weeping, and turned towards him a puzzled face as he stopped her and stood bareheaded in the moonlight beside her. The few words the great, kind man spoke turned her tears into laughter, her sorrow into joy. The pension before refused her came to her speedily, and her last days were spent in comfort. (Christian Age.)

Take care of the poor

“Take care of the poor, and the Lord will take care of you,” was the wise counsel of a bishop to a candidate for ordination.

The profit of helping the poor

The welfare of the lowest is bound up with that of the highest, so that the “injury done to the meanest subject is,” as Solon said, “an insult upon the whole constitution,” and a blow at the prosperity of all. Sir Robert Peel gave his daughter, on her birthday, a splendid riding-habit, and rode by her side for an airing in the park, his heart swelling with pride that be could call such a maiden daughter! At once, however, she fell sick of the most malignant type of typhus fever, and despite all medical skill and parental care died. A careful inquiry as to the source of the germs of the fatal disease revealed the fact that the poor seamstress, who had embroidered that robe in a wretched attic, had been compelled to use it to cover her husband when he shivered with the chills of the deadly fever. And from that garret of poverty the infection of death passed into the mansion of the Premier. Society has her own ways of avenging our neglect of her poorest and neediest children. In one bundle are we all bound up, for weal or woe. We give, though we do not always know it, to save ourselves, not alone to save others. Ignorance and idleness are handmaids of vice, as intelligence and industry are handmaids of virtue. God sees that no one is so much profited as ourselves by those gifts to His poor, which are corrective of self-indulgence, expansive of our noblest sympathies, educative of our highest nature, and which, while they help to lift humanity to a higher level, as surely lift ourselves with the rest. (Christian Age.)

Pious poverty

I have no legacy to leave my children but pious poverty, God’s blessing, and a father’s prayers. (R. Prideaux.)


Verse 28

Exodus 22:28

The ruler of thy people.

The Divine right of magistrates to respect

I. That the powers that be are ordained of God (Romans 13:1-5; 1 Peter 2:13-15).

II. That magistrates must re treated with respect, both their persons and their decisions (Joshua 1:16-18).

1. Because they administer that which, when it is law at all, is based on the will and authority of God (Romans 13:2).

2. Because they administer that which is the bulwark of national stability and personal safety (Romans 13:3).

III. That magistrates must receive respect, irrespective of the effect of their decision (Proverbs 17:26).

1. Because they are but the servants of the law.

2. Because if through human infirmities, justice should occasionally miscarry, it is better to suffer than to bring the law into disrepute (Proverbs 24:21-22).

3. But if their decisions violate conscience, then Acts 4:19-20; Acts 5:29.

IV. That magistrates must be secure against all hostile action (Proverbs 17:26; Job 34:17-18).

1. Fear will warp the judgment.

2. Fear will divert the course of justice.

V. That magistrates are not only entitled to respect, but to our sympathy and prayers (Psalms 22:1-2; Ezra 6:10; 1 Timothy 2:2).

VI. That disrespect to magistrates is severely condemned (Jude 1:8). Let magistrates, all who are in authority and all who administer law whether civil or domestic, whether in law courts, homes, or houses of business, remember--

1. That they are responsible to God (2 Samuel 23:3). Let them see

2. That they are responsible to man. Upon their decisions depend the well-being of the citizen, and the stability of the realm.

3. That their title to sympathy and veneration is recognized by the people at large. (J. W. Burn.)


Verse 29-30

Exodus 22:29-30

The firstborn.

First fruits to God

God asks for nothing that we have not to give. He asks that we will give to Him of what He has given to us, that we will put to its true and highest use what He for that end has bestowed. We cannot give fruit that we do not bear, or that is green and unripe, but only that which is fresh and mature, waiting to be gathered in.

I. God asks for the first ripe fruits of our education. The wise man’s education is never finished. To cease to learn is to cease to grow; to cease to grow is to decay in force and faculty. Yet there is a special sense in which education ceases. The youth leaves school, the scholar the university, the apprentice is “out of his time.” Then we have to think and act for ourselves, and use the knowledge we have acquired. We have to face the great questions that concern man’s life and destiny. Then God asks from us the first ripe fruits of our education in the use of our intelligence and feeling and conscience. He asks us to face these great questions; to think soberly and ponder the path of our feet.

II. God asks from us the first ripe fruits of our toil. The Jews gave this in kind--from flock, vineyard, or field. We give an equivalent--money. The first money earned is the first-fruits of toil. From that lay by something for God.

III. God asks from us the first ripe fruits of our conversion. I have often seen a child so overcome with an unexpected gift that he has forgotten to say “Thank you,” but surely Christ does not expect such forgetfulness from those whom He has snatched from the burning.

IV. Then there are some first-fruits of experience which God commands us to offer to Him. “I have learned by experience” is the confession sometimes of self-convicted folly, sometimes of grateful wonder. How near have we been to spiritual death! How well hidden the pitfalls under our feet! How strong the arms that have held us up! How wonderful the consolations! How sweet the grace of the Divine! So experience enriches the soil in which we are planted to produce a lustier and richer growth. Now to offer to God the first ripe fruits of experience is surely to learn and profit by its lessons. It is to remember; to take warning; to know our own selves--our peculiar weaknesses and danger; it is to trust God more and self less; to look for larger answers to prayer, and more wonderful vindications of faith.

V. Does not God want those lovely and precious fruits which grow on the household vine? The only true dedication of children to God is that Christian nurture which leads to their dedicating themselves. (R. B. Brindley.)
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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Exodus 22:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/exodus-22.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, September 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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