Exodus 21 – 23

The Details of the Law
Exodus 21 – 23
Exodus 21 – 23. Here we have the “judgments” that accompany the ten commandments. If ch.20 gives the basics of the law, then ch.21-23 gives the details. These judgments cover a wide variety of relationships and circumstances that Israelites would find themselves in, and describe how they should act in those circumstances to be righteous before Jehovah. It deals with slaves (21:1-11), then with homicide (21:12-17), then with various bodily injuries (21:18-32), then with property damage (21:33 – 22:15), then with various relationships and characters in society (22:16-31), then with justice and neighborliness (23:1-9), and finally with Sabbaths and feasts (23:10-19). These “judgments” give the Lord’s preset determination for what Israel should do. They often begin with “if this…” followed by instructions. These things were laws for a people under a legal system, but as Christians we read them and seek to apply the principle to our lives.

Laws on Slaves (21:1-11)

Slaves in Israel. We can see from the laws governing slaves that God’s desire was for His people to be free. There is much more on the issue in Lev. 25, where we read that “For they are my bondmen, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: they shall not be sold as men sell bondmen” (Lev. 25:42). God would not have any one of His people forced into unpaid slavery as the Gentile nations around were doing, and as Israel painfully remembered the Egyptians doing to them. Yet there were situations that might arise in which a Hebrew would be sold as a slave. “And if thy brother grow poor beside thee, and be sold unto thee, thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bondservant: as a hired servant, as a sojourner, shall he be with thee; until the year of jubilee shall he serve thee” (Lev. 25:39-40). Slavery in Israel was paid servitude. Hebrew servants were always to be paid, and when the year of Jubilee came, they would all be set free. Why? Because the people and land belonged to Jehovah. Servitude to any earthly master would only be temporary. Exodus 21 gives additional details about the treatment of slaves, both male and female. Hebrew masters could be more generous, but not less.

Male Slaves (vv.1-6)

The Servitude of Christ. A servant is one whose very purpose is to do the will of another. In Isaiah we have the tale of two servants. Israel was called as a servant of Jehovah;“But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend; Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away” (Isaiah 41:8-9; 49:3). Israel as Jehovah’s servant is a picture of what we are in the flesh. Israel was a failing servant, and so God brings in another to be His perfect servant; “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth, etc.” (Isaiah 42:1). It is a stunning proof of His humility. He, the Lord of Glory, came into this world as a man and took the place of a servant! It says He “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7). What humility and grace! “Morning by morning”, Christ the Perfect Servant awoke at the command of God to receive fresh instructions from Him, and to receive words that would help those who were weary (Isa. 50:4). He woke and slept at the command of His Father (Psa. 127:2). The will of His Master led to suffering, shame, and ultimately the cross (Phil. 2:8); but Jesus could say, “I was not rebellious; I turned not away back” (Isa. 50:5). He put His full trust and dependence in God, but then was forsaken of God! He has not seen all the fruit of His toils (Isa. 49:4), He knows what it is to be cut off and have nothing. As the Perfect Servant Christ fully accomplished the will of God. Nor did Christ cease to be a Servant at the cross. As the Perfect Servant He serves us now as our High Priest and Advocate; He washes our feet as He washed the disciples’ (John 13). Therefore, He is our perfect example in service; “For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). Surely, we might think, in the day of glory when Christ divides the spoil, when He sees the fruit of His travail as Servant and is satisfied (Isa. 53:10-12), that His servitude will cease? Not so. As the Perfect Servant, He will come forth and serve us for all eternity, ministering to us the Father’s love and grace (Luke 12:37). Yet Christ is never called ‘our servant’, instead He is called Jehovah’s servant. Servitude and the servant character can never be disconnected from our Lord. The law of the Hebrew slave in Exodus 21 is a beautiful type of our Lord as the perfect Servant, who chose to remain forever in the place of a servant because of love.
¶ 1 And these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them. v.1 Judgments. What follows in ch.21-23 are the “judgments” that accompany the ten commandments. They are called “judgments” because they contain the Lord’s predetermined decisions about what Israel should do in various circumstances. The first relationship or issue taken up is that of slavery; particularly of owning Hebrews servants.
2 If thou buy a Hebrew bondman, six years shall he serve; and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing. v.2 The Year of Release. Permanent servitude was not God’s mind for His people; they had just escaped that condition in Egypt. However, if a man grew poor or owed a debt, he might sell himself into slavery in order to pay a debt or just to survive. In keeping with the Sabbath of years, a servant would work for six years (as hired or paid, Lev. 25:39-40), but in the seventh year he would be released free of charge. In Deut. 15:14 we find that through he would go out alone, he would be well provided for. This would allow the man to go back to his own inheritance and have a farm or business of his own. This was a wonderful provision of the law, and it prevented some of the horrific kinds of existence that were common in the Gentile world.
3 If he came in alone, he shall go out alone: if he had a wife, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 If his master have given him a wife, and she have borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out alone. vv.3-4 The Servant’s Family. If the servant had a wife when he entered the master’s house, she and his children were free to go with him in the seventh year. Where things got difficult was in the case of a wife given to the servant by his master. She and any children borne him belonged to the master. A child born to a slave girl would become a slave. Paul uses this principle in Galatians 4:24 to show that the law can never liberate – only give birth to bondage. The male servant could go free after six years, but he would have to leave his wife and children behind. So, in this case, the Hebrew servant would have a difficult decision to make. Would he have freedom? or would he have relationship? What a situation for a wife to find herself in, or a child of a Hebrew servant! “Will Father choose us?”
5 But if the bondman shall say distinctly, I love my master, my wife, and my children, I will not go free; 6 then his master shall bring him before the judges, and shall bring him to the door, or to the door-post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall be his bondman for ever. vv.5-6 A Servant Forever. The law had a provision for this case, that a family be not divided. But there was a cost to the Hebrew servant. Yet love was the motive; he could say “I love my master, my wife, and my children, I will not go free”. He could keep his wife and family if he chose to remain as a servant forever. It was not a light decision, and he should not be pushed into it; hence, “if the bondman shall say distinctly, etc.”. It had to be a choice of his own will. Then, the decision being made, he would be brought before the judges of Israel, and the ceremony of v.6 would be carried through. The door or door post of the physical house represented the master’s household. The ear bored through speaks of suffering no doubt, as the penalty of love, but also it represents the hearing ear of a servant attached to that house as an obedient slave for ever. Who among mere men would put “master” before “wife” and “children”? Only one; so we can see this is a type of Christ.
A Type of Christ. The Hebrew Servant is a lovely picture of the Lord Jesus as the perfect servant. He became a man, and took upon Him the form of a servant (Phil. 2:7), and ever did the Father’s will. As a man, Christ was given certain relationships by the Father: a bride (the Church), and children which God has given Him (all believers, but perhaps Israel specifically in view). He could have “gone out free” so to speak, but like a grain of wheat, He would have been alone (John 12:24). See John 6:39. In love for His master (John 14:31), wife (Eph. 5:25), and children (Jer. 31:3), the Lord Jesus has chosen to remain a man and servant forever! His love for Master was the highest motivation. What a heart! It is a condition that He will never rescind. Another has said, “When He had fulfilled His personal service on earth, He would not abandon either His assembly or His people. He is ever God, but ever man, the humbled man, the glorified and reigning man, the subject man, in the joy of eternal perfection.”1 Being brought before the judges is the acceptance of the penalty of love; coming to terms with the cost. The ear bored through is a hint at the sufferings of Calvary. Our Lord’s love brought Him not only to the door post, but to the cross where He laid not only His ear, but His life down for God first, then for His people. He was left alone in those hours of darkness that he might never be alone again! And now in resurrection He serves us as our High Priest and Advocate!
Himself He could not save,
Love’s stream too deeply flowed,
In love Himself He gave,
To pay the debt we owed.
Obedience to His Father’s will,
And love to Him did all fulfill.
The Digged, Opened, Pierced Ear. It is a very helpful study to look at the ear of Christ in the Old Testament prophecies. The ear of the Lord Jesus was: digged (prepared) at His incarnation (Psalm 40:6), opened morning by morning throughout His devoted life in daily dependence (Isaiah 50:4), pierced at His death (Exodus 21:6), showing that He was fully devoted to the obedience of God unto death, and to remain as a servant forever.23

Female Slaves (vv.7-11)

7 And if a man shall sell his daughter as a handmaid, she shall not go out as the bondmen go out. v.7 Protected. Female slaves were in special danger of being taken advantage of, and thus were given specific measures for their protection. Here we find that female slaves were not to go abroad on the streets in service like the men. They were to stay in the house or on the property for their protection. Some feel that “she shall not go out” refers to the seventh year of release, citing Neh. 5:5. However, Deut. 15:12, 17 shows that this is not the case.
8 If she is unacceptable in the eyes of her master, who had taken her for himself, then shall he let her be ransomed: to sell her unto a foreign people he hath no power, after having dealt unfaithfully with her. v.8 Unwanted Servant Brides. It seems from these verses that in some cases girls would be sold to masters with the intention of marriage, either to the master or his son (v.9). If the girl was not pleasing to the master, he must allow her parents the opportunity to ransom her; i.e. to buy her freedom. The master was not allowed by law to sell an unwanted female slave to a foreign people for profit. A rebuke is issued to the man in this case; he had dealt unfaithfully with her, having denied her an expected portion as a wife. Certain things were permitted under the law that were not God’s mind, but were tolerated for a time (Matthew 19:7-8; Heb. 7:19). This law was one means of protection for a female Hebrew slave who was rejected as a bride.
9 And if he have appointed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the law of daughters. v.9 Unwanted Servant Daughters-in-Law. Second, if she were purchased as an intended daughter-in-law, he must treat her with the dignity of a daughter, looking after her needs for food, clothing, shelter, etc. This would be similar to Judah’s responsibility to Tamar. Basically, if she was denied the stability of a husband, she must be given the stability of financial protection. 
10 If he take himself another, her food, her clothing, and her conjugal rights he shall not diminish. 11 And if he do not these three things unto her, then shall she go out free without money. vv.10-11 Unwanted and Replaced Servant Wives. Third, if she was made the man’s wife, and then was unwanted, and another maidservant was taken in addition to the unwanted maidservant, she must have her needs provided for. Three things must be given her: “her food, her clothing, and her conjugal rights”. If she was denied on any one of these counts, the maid servant was to be freed without condition. This was the bare minimum treatment of maidservants, and far from the mind of God concerning marriage, but we must remember that “the law made nothing perfect” (Heb. 7:19).

Laws on Homicide (21:12-17)

Homicide. We are given added details about the subject of murder, which was covered under the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex. 20:13). We also have more details on the fifth commandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother” (Ex. 21:12). As the Lord explained in the sermon on the mount, violence stems from hatred in the human heart. Although we are not under the law, and corporal punishment has not been committed to the assembly in the New Testament, we can still glean some valuable principles from these judgments. Violence and strife is not to be tolerated in the assembly. Someone who stirs up strife in the assembly needs to be disciplined, and in the most serious cases it would lead to excommunication. In fact, a “striker” or “brawler” would be precluded from oversight in the assembly (1 Tim. 3:3).
Capital Punishment in Israel. Capital punishment in Israel was generally to be carried out by stoning. When murder took place, it was not the proper order for victims to practice vigilante justice, but if they did there were no repercussions. For example, it was right for Absalom to be killed, but Joab should not have taken the matter up in his own hand. It would have been better if Absalom had been brought to the judges, convicted, and then stoned by the people. Stoning brings in the consciences of all the people in the matter. We have an analog to this in the New Testament, where the consciences of all in the assembly need to be exercised when evil is judged in the assembly (2 Cor. 7:11). In Corinth, one man had committed the fornication, but the whole assembly had gone along with it. The assembly is responsible to exercise corporate self-judgment. This is the typical meaning of the priests’ eating the sin offering (Lev. 10:17).
¶ 12
He that striketh a man, so that he die, shall certainly be put to death.
13 But if he have not lain in wait, and God have delivered him into his hand, I will appoint thee a place to which he shall flee.14 But if a man act wantonly toward his neighbour, and slay him with guile, thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die. vv.12-14 Murder and Manslaughter. The first kind of homicide that is taken up is murder. Someone who violently takes the life of another is a murderer, and under God’s law, murderers were to be punished with death. This is the same principle that God gave to Noah when He gave the dispensation of government; “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (Gen. 9:6). Murder is perhaps the most serious sin that man can commit against his fellow man. It is quite something to realize that this is what Israel (by wicked or Gentile hands, Acts 2:23) did to the Lord Jesus. What is taken up generally in v.12 is then broken down into two classes in vv.13-14. The important distinction is between accidental homicide and premeditated intentional killing. We call the intentional slaying of v.13 “manslaughter”. It is interesting that the Lord doesn’t say it would be wrong for manslaughter to be avenged, because a life was still taken, and it would not be unrighteous to pay for that life with another. But what He does say, in mercy to the manslayer, is that He would provide a place for him to flee, later called the “cities of refuge” (Num. 35:6-8; Deut. 19:1-13; Jos. 20:1-9 ). In v.14 the point is made clear that, if there was intent in the homicide, there was to be no exceptions to the penalty for murder. Even if the man who is guilty would flee to the altar of God, and lay hold of the horns of that altar and beg for his life, no mercy could be shown. We read of that very thing with Joab (1 Kings 2:28). The law was inflexible.

Application to Israel.
The nation of Israel is guilty of the death of their Messiah as an intentional homicide, inasmuch as they called for His crucifixion, uttering the solemn vow, “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matt. 27:25). In the law we find that a woman’s vow could be annulled by her father or husband if he heard it on the day she said it (Num.30:5, 8, 12). The Lord Jesus did just that for Israel! In grace, after being lifted up on the cross, Jesus “made intercession for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12) when He cried “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”.4 He sealed the sin of the crucifixion as a sin of ignorance (the ignorance of unbelief), and on that basis God could give an extension of grace to Israel after the cross, which we read of in Acts 1-7. For example, Peter preached, “And now, brethren, I know that ye did it in ignorance… Repent therefore and be converted, for the blotting out of your sins, so that times of refreshing may come , etc.” (Acts 3:17-21). God had opened an offer of forgiveness to Israel, provisional on their receiving the witness of the Spirit. Some did receive that witness, and fled to Christ for refuge (Heb. 6:18), Himself becoming a city of refuge for the “manslayer”. However, the nation at large rejected that provisional offer, and Stephen speaks to those who rejected it according to their responsibility as murderers, as we see in Acts 7:52; “the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers. Nevertheless, though Israel is certainly guilty (as a nation, not individually), the prayer “Father, forgive them…” still has efficacy with God on Israel’s behalf. Through the sacrifice of Himself on the cross, Christ has opened a path for Israel’s future restoration. But when they are restored, Israel will have to acknowledge that sin, repent of it nationally (Zech. 12:10), and acknowledge the price that had to be paid for their restoration; i.e. the very life that they took – as far as responsibility is concerned “taken”, though in actuality it was “laid down” of Himself – has become the basis of the expiation of that very sin (Deut. 21:1-9).
15 And he that striketh his father, or his mother, shall certainly be put to death. v.15 Violence to Parents. It is remarkable that violence to parents is classed in the same category as murder, and it’s punishment was to be the same. It is firmly stated that a child who strikes his mother or father would “certainly” be put to death. There is a moral connection between rebellion against parents and murder. When a child does not learn to submit to the authority of their parents at home, later on they will grow up to cause all sorts of violence in society. God has given special authority to parents over their children, and it is a sacred order to be guarded. Under the law, if this order was violated, it demanded the most serious penalty. As an application of this to believers in the New Testament, we need to honor those who have been our spiritual fathers and mothers. There may be times when we disagree about things, but we are never to attack them. In application of v.17, we need to speak and deal gently with them; “Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father… The elder women as mothers…” (1 Tim. 5:1-2).
16 And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall certainly be put to death. v.16 Kidnaping and Enslavement. Another category of crime that is classed with murder is the kidnapping of people, stealing them against their will, and in some cases selling them into slavery. Those who do this are call “man-stealers”, and for them and other such criminals the law was written (1 Tim. 1:9-10). Even though owning slaves was tolerated, as we see at the beginning of the chapter, the making of slaves by force was never to be done. A person could sell themselves in order to repay debt. We have a spiritual application of men-stealing in the heretic and party-maker. These ones draw away the unsuspecting into a system that produces bondage; “by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:18). They are like Absalom, who “stole the hearts of the men of Israel” (2 Sam. 15:6).
17 “And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall certainly be put to death.” [quoted Mark 7:10] v.17 Cursing Parents. Returning again to the honor that children should have for their parents, even to curse father or mother would result in death. It underscores the importance that God places on submission to authority. Submission to authority begins with the very first relationship that we have when we are born into this world, of being subject to our parents. The fifth commandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother” (Ex. 21:12) came with a promise of blessing if it was observed, but here we find that violating it came with a promise of judgment.

Laws on Bodily Injuries (21:18-32)

18 And if men dispute, and one strike the other with a stone, or with the fist, and he die not, but take to his bed, 19 — if he rise, and walk abroad upon his staff, then shall he that struck him be guiltless; only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall cause him to be thoroughly healed. vv.18-19 Minor Injury. The first class of bodily injury that is taken up is minor injury caused by a physical altercation. Any minor injury that could be recovered from would not be punished with blood. As far as “the loss of his time”, as a man would not be able to work while he recovered from an injury, and to pay for treatment until the person was “thoroughly healed”, restitution must be paid. There was not a one-size-fits-all policy, each injury would be different. We can apply this to strife between brethren that causes a brother or sister to be turned aside and hindered in their service to the Lord. The offending brother is responsible for that loss! They are also responsible to help in whatever way we can to see that one restored as soon as possible.
20 And if a man strike his bondman or his handmaid with a staff, and he die under his hand, he shall certainly be avenged. 21 Only, if he continue to live a day or two days, he shall not be avenged; for he is his money. vv.20-21 Excessive Punishment of a Slave. The excessive punishment of a slave in these verses clearly refers to reasonable discipline for rebellion. It is not the corporal punishment of the magistrates. Cruelty was never to be tolerated towards slaves. If somehow the punishment caused the death of the servant, that death was to be avenged. However, if the punishment meant he was laid aside for one or two days, the loss of the servant would be considered the punishment of the master. The expression “for he is his money” does not mean that the servant was considered the property of the master (e.g. American slavery) but that the loss of a servant translated into a financial loss for the master. We might reflect, does this judgment of the law measure up to the full character of God as light and love revealed in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ? No. The law made nothing perfect, but it did set bounds on what men could do within the extent of the law. God’s mind was far higher than this; “And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him” (Eph. 6:9). We can apply this to ourselves in a spiritual sense as well. If we seek to correct our brother who has erred, we need to be careful that we do not do them more harm in the process. If we deal so harshly with another such that we turn them away from the Lord, we are responsible. Even in a milder case, if our rebuke puts a brother out of sorts for a time, we have lost the valuable service of that member of the body of Christ.
¶ 22 And if men strive together, and strike a woman with child, so that she be delivered [‘yatsa’], and no mischief happen, he shall in any case be fined, according as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and shall give it as the judges estimate. 23 But if mischief happen, then thou shalt give life for life, 24 “eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” [quoted Matthew 5:38] hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 branding for branding, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. vv.22-25 Injury to Pregnant Mothers and Unborn Children. Women with child were protected under the law in a special way. These verses have been taken in a few different ways, and it is hard to say dogmatically which way is correct. Some view v.22 as an injury that leads to miscarriage but no permanent injury to the woman, and v.23 as the permanent injury or death of the mother. Others view v.22 as an injury to a pregnant woman that causes a premature delivery but nothing more serious, and v.23 as any lasting injury to mother or child, including death. The latter position makes more sense to me because of the word ‘yatsa’, meaning birth (Gen. 25:26, 38:28; Job 3:11, 10:18; Jer. 1:5, 20:18), which better translations such as that of J.N. Darby render it “she be delivered”.5 In either case, we know that God values the life of the unborn (Psa. 139:13-16; Jer. 1:5). If we take it the latter way, an injury causing premature delivery that left mother or child healthy would be still be fined according to what the woman’s husband would exact, and in an amount that the judges would estimate. Such reckless endangerment must be punished. But if mother or child was harmed in any way, the violent offender would be punished accordingly. Although abortion isn’t stated here, we can see how abhorrent to God is the very concept! Then we have that saying quoted by the Lord in Matt. 5:33, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, etc.”. This was not for the individual to encourage retaliation, but rather for the magistrate to establish fair penalties. Punishment for injury would fit the crime. Yet the flesh always abuses the law, and it gradually because a license for retaliation. As the Lord taught in the Sermon on the Mount, grace takes a higher path than requiring an eye for an eye, and instead turns the other cheek! It is interesting that this seems to be the general principle for personal injury. Clearly this is broader than mothers with unborn children, but it comes in here because the Lord is showing the special value that is placed on motherhood and babies. We can apply this in a spiritual way to strife among brethren that causes harm to one who is a mother or child in the family of God. There are those who are babes in Christ (1 Cor. 3:1), and there are those who nurse and cherish them as their own children (1 Thess. 2:7). A strife that involves one who is shepherding a young believer is a sad thing, but incomparably worse is such a strife that leads to the young believer being turned away from the Lord, or to the loss of a shepherd! The Lord values spiritual motherhood, and woe to those who offend a young believer (Matt. 18:6-9).
26 And if a man strike the eye of his bondman or the eye of his handmaid, and it be marred, he shall let him go for his eye. 27 And if he knock out his bondman’s tooth or his handmaid’s tooth, he shall let him go free for his tooth. vv.26-27 Injury of a Slave. Violence to slaves that caused the permanent loss of an eye or tooth, etc. would be immediately repaid with their emancipation, and the forgiveness of whatever debt had put them into servitude. We can apply this in a spiritual sense as a warning to be gentle with the Lord’s servants. We can damage our brother’s eyesight by setting a bad example for him, which will hinder his moral discernment. We can damage his ability to take in food by feeding him that which the flesh desires. Without these things an entire career of service could be in jeopardy, which is a great loss.
28 And if an ox gore a man or a woman, so that they die, then the ox shall certainly be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be guiltless. 29 But if the ox have gored heretofore, and it have been testified to its owner, and he have not kept it in, and it kill a man or a woman, — the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. 30 If there be imposed on him a satisfaction, then he shall give the ransom of his life, according to what is imposed on him. 31 Whether it gore a son or gore a daughter, according to this judgment shall it be done to him. 32 If the ox gore a bondman or a handmaid, he shall give to their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned. vv.28-32 Injury by Goring. Next we have the case of the homicidal beast. If an animal killed a person, the animal was to be put to death (Gen. 9:5). The owner would not be charged in this case because it was an accident. But if that animal had previously demonstrated a pattern of violence, and if the owner knew about it but did not deal with the animal to prevent an injury, and that animal killed someone, not only would the animal be stoned, but its owner also would be put to death. In exchange for the owner being put to death, the family of the victim could impose on the owner a price of satisfaction, as estimated by the judges. Whatever this price was, the owner would have to pay it as a ransom for his life. This “satisfaction” price could even bankrupt the master, and cause him to become a slave of the victim’s family. This would hold true if the victim was a son or a daughter, and the price could be whatever the victims family would set, according to the judges’ estimate. However, if it were a servant that was killed, a bondman or handmaid, the price was predetermined in the law at “thirty shekels of silver”. It is solemn to consider that this is the price for which Judas betrayed the Lord Jesus. The value that Judas placed on the life of the Blessed Lord, referred to as a “goodly price” in holy sarcasm (Zech. 11:13), was the price of a slave. In any case, if an animal killed a person, the animal was to be put to death by stoning. When an animal was put to death for killing a person, its flesh was not to be eaten. On one hand this could have to do with the fact that stoning would not drain the blood from the meat, so to eat it could mean eating blood. But on the other hand, it shows that this killing was not just another slaughter for meat; it was a solemn execution. We see in these verses a principle that those in a place of service (ox) need to be careful that their strength (horns) are never used to harm a brother or sister in Christ. We are responsible before the Lord for our actions, and the Lord will deal with us in His government based on how we serve. But if those in oversight have known about a tendency in an individual to be harmful to others, and have not dealt with the issue, then they bear culpability in any offense that is caused.“They watch for your souls, as they that must give account” (Heb. 13:17).

Laws on Property Damage (21:33 – 22:15)

Theft and Property Damage. In the following section we have added details that connect with the eighth commandment, “Thou shalt not steal” (Ex. 21:15).
33 — And if a man open a pit, or if a man dig a pit, and do not cover it, and an ox or an ass fall into it, 34 the owner of the pit shall make it good, shall give money to the owner of them; and the dead ox shall be his. vv.33-34 Animals Falling. If carelessness on the part of someone, such as digging a pit and leaving it uncovered, caused the accidental death of another person’s service animal, the careless person would have to pay for a replacement, but could keep the meat from the dead animal. It is a principle in the ways of God that we are responsible for the effect we have on others. “For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself” (Rom 14:7). We are responsible to consider how our actions might influence others. Digging a pit could be like stirring up an issue. Not covering it would be like leaving the issue unresolved, and another might stumble and be injured spiritually. For example, if we have a question about a substantive issue that scripture is not explicitly definite on, we need to use care in discussing it. Another example could be pointing out problems in the assembly, or discussing the sins and failures of others, without discernment or wisdom from the Lord. It can lead to the spiritual injury of those who are simple.
35 — And if one man’s ox gore his neighbour’s ox, and it die, then they shall sell the live ox, and divide the money thereof, and divide the dead also. 36 Or if it be known that the ox have gored heretofore, and its owner have not kept him in, he shall in any case restore ox for ox; and the dead shall be his. vv.35-36 Oxen Killed by Goring. Next we have the case of a person’s ox killing another person’s ox. Here it is not an accidental death, but the result of aggression by an agent under a person’s responsibility. In this case, a bifurcation is made. If the remaining ox had no history of aggression toward other animals, then there was no culpability. The loss would be treated as an accident, and the two owners would divide the sale price of the live ox, and divide the meat from the dead ox. But if the remaining ox had a history of aggression toward other animals, the loss of the other animal would be considered the responsibility of the live ox’s owner. In that case he would pay to replace the dead ox, and could keep the dead ox as meat for himself. We can apply this as well to our responsibility in the house of God. When those under responsibility cause trouble, everyone suffers. But if those in oversight have known about a tendency in an individual to “sow discord among brethren” (Prov 6:19), and have not presented this to the assembly for corporate discipline, then they bear the responsibility for the outcome.
¶ 1 If a man steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it, he shall restore five oxen for the ox, and four sheep for the sheep. 2 If the thief be encountered breaking in, and be smitten so that he die, there shall be no blood-guiltiness for him. 3 If the sun be risen on him, there shall be blood-guiltiness for him; he should have made full restitution: if he had nothing, he would have been sold for his theft. 4 If the stolen thing be actually found alive in his hand, whether it be ox, or ass, or sheep, he shall restore double. vv.1-4 Stealing Animals. Next we have the issue of stolen animals like oxen and sheep. Theft that resulted in the loss of the animal (if he “kill it, or sell it”) would not merely be punished with restitution of the stolen animal, but a four or five-fold restitution. (For the principle, see 2 Sam. 12:6; Luke 19:8. Notice that the Lord was gracious in bringing before David the story of the stolen sheep. If Nathan had instead told David a story of a stolen ox it would’ve been five sons that died instead of four.) If the thief was caught in the process of breaking and entering and killed by the owner in defense of property, the death of the thief would be his punishment, and the slayer would not be blood-guilty. However, if time transpired between the robbery and the discovery of the thief, the owner was not permitted to avenge theft with murder. If he did, he would be guilty of the thief’s blood. Instead the matter should be brought to the judges and the thief forced to make full restitution, and if he were impoverished he might have to sell himself into slavery. If the animal was recovered from the thief unharmed, he would have to restore double, but if the animal had been lost (v.1) he would have to repay four or five-fold. This would not only serve as a deterrent but also would also repay for loss of time, use, and offspring from the stolen animal. Spiritually we might think of oxen as those servants who feed the Lord’s people (teachers), and sheep as those who clothe or warm the Lord’s people (pastors). A thief could answer to a heretic or party-maker, who effectively draw away those who ought to be here for the Lord’s use, and cause a loss of that ministry.
5 If a man shall cause a field or vineyard to be eaten, and put in his cattle, and pasture in another man’s field, of the best of his own field, and of the best of his own vineyard shall he make it good. v.5 Property Damage by Animal. This judgment concerns the intentional destruction of another person’s property – their inheritance – by putting cattle to pasture there without restraint. The animals could destroy a field (a year’s work) or worse a vineyard (several years’ work) because the owner is shirking his responsibility. This type of property damage would be repaid accordingly; “of the best of his own field, and of the best of his own vineyard shall he make it good”. We could apply this to the danger for those in responsibility in a local assembly to shirk their responsibility to feed and shepherd those under their care. To avoid that duty is to neglect the good of our brethren. Often an unruly person who is not dealt with by their brethren can become a burden to others, rob the saints of peaceful and profitable ministry, and effectively spoil their enjoyment of the spiritual inheritance. Instead we are to take care for our brethren, so that they enjoy their portion in Christ without hindrance.
6 — If fire break out, and seize the thorns, and the stacks of corn, or the standing corn, or the field be consumed, he that kindled the fire shall fully make it good. v.6 Property Damage by Fire (Arson). The next judgment concerns arson: the act of deliberately setting fire to property. Fire can do incredible damage, and the culpability for that damage lies with the person who kindled the fire. We might apply this to trouble that one might stir up in the assembly, usually through their words. It only takes a spark to get a fire going. If we are careless we can set a chain of events in motion that can wreak havoc on the assembly! “Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!” (James 3:5). It might begin with “the thorns”, or useless subjects, and proceed to the “corn”, representing that which the saints feed on (Christ). Strife in the assembly can rob the assembly of the enjoyment of that food. The damage spreads through the stacks of corn (storage), and into the standing corn (fresh crop). Eventually, the whole field or assembly can be consumed. How can restitution be made? Apologies can be given, but the damage once done is nearly impossible to repair. To make restitution one can supply corn (minister Christ) without limit.
¶ 7 — If a man deliver unto his neighbour money or stuff to keep, and it be stolen out of the man’s house; if the thief be found, let him restore double; 8 if the thief be not found, the master of the house shall be brought before the judges, to see if he has not put his hand unto his neighbour’s goods. 9 As to all manner of fraud, — as to ox, as to ass, as to sheep, as to clothing, as to everything lost, of which a man saith, It is this — the cause of both parties shall come before the judges: he whom the judges shall condemn shall restore double to his neighbour. 10 If a man deliver unto his neighbour an ass, or an ox, or a sheep, or any cattle, to keep, and it die, or be hurt, or driven away, and no man see it11 an oath of Jehovah shall be between them both, that he hath not put his hand unto his neighbour’s goods; and the owner of it shall accept it, and he shall not make it good. 12 But if it have been stolen from him, he shall make it good unto its owner. 13 If it have been torn in pieces, let him bring it as witness: he shall not make good what was torn.vv.7-13 Loss of Stored Property. In these verses we have various cases of property that was committed to another for safekeeping, whether it be goods (vv.7-8) or animals (vv.10-13). There is the case of accidental loss, such as a thief stealing it, the animal being hurt or dying, etc. Then there is the case of fraud, where the trustee puts “his hand unto his neighbour’s goods”. If the loss was accidental, the easiest cases would involve evidence: i.e. the thief being found, or the pieces of a torn animal being brought as a witness. The more difficult cases were when there was no evidence, and all rested on the testimony of the trustee. The judges would decide between the two parties “as to all manner of fraud, — as to ox, as to ass, as to sheep, as to clothing, as to everything lost”. Ultimately, without witnesses, it would have to be left with “an oath of Jehovah shall be between them both”. The folly of swearing such an oath in falsehood would be far greater than telling the truth and restoring double to his neighbor. In v.12 there is a difference made for a stolen animal. With money or goods, the trustee would not restore them if stolen on his watch. With animals, the trustee would restore them if stolen on his watch, although not if lost to natural causes. This demonstrates an added responsibility with animals. In a spiritual sense, we as Christians are trustees of many things: money, time, and abilities. Further, sound doctrine has been committed to us as an “entrusted deposit” (1 Tim. 6:20). We are responsible as to how we keep these things, and our diligence will be reviewed at the judgment seat of Christ! Also, we are responsible for souls committed to our care. Like with the animals, there is an added responsibility when it comes to looking after the welfare of our brethren (Heb. 13:17). We could also apply this to information that a brother or sister confides to us to keep secret. We are responsible not to let it out!
14 — And if a man borrow anything of his neighbour, and it be hurt, or die, its owner not being with it, he shall fully make it good; 15 if the owner thereof be with it, he shall not make it good; if it be a hired thing, it came for its hire. vv.14-15 Loss of Borrowed or Rented Property. The case of borrowed, rented, and stored property were all handled differently. The judgments in the law accounted for a variety of circumstances. There are three cases in vv.14-15 distinguished: (1) borrowed without supervision, (2) borrowed with supervision, and (3) rented property. If a borrowed animal died while it was being used, the borrower would have to “fully make it good”. Hence the cry, “Alas, master! for it was borrowed” (2 Kings 6:5). If the owner was with a borrowed animal when it was hurt or died, the borrower was not responsible to make it good. Perhaps this was because the owner was present to see and consent to how the animal was treated. A rented tool or animal came for its hire; if it was damaged the loss for the owner was covered by the rent payment. We see in these three cases that the more trust was given to the borrower the more responsibility he had. The least amount of trust is seen in the man who rents his property, a little more when he loans it with supervision, and most of all when he loans it without supervision. We can apply these principles in several ways. First in our relationships with one another, we ought to consider the rights our our brethren, and take care that we do not offend them. The more trust they place in us, the more we should strive to be worthy of that trust. Perhaps in a greater sense, the Lord has lent us everything we have, entrusting it to our care. Nothing we have if really our own. Therefore, in all we do, and with everything we possess, we are to consider His rights and His interests!

Laws on Society (22:16-31)

The judgments that follow to the end of this chapter concern various classes and elements in Israeli society. There were certain limits that had to be observed, especially regarding the underprivileged and dispossessed. There were certain kinds of iniquity that were not to be tolerated whatsoever. There was respect for authority that needed to be maintained. All of this was for the glory of Jehovah and for the earthly blessing of Israel. While the particular details are not the same for us in Christianity under grace, we too can have a happy, healthy culture in the assembly if we walk within the guidelines of scripture. Not that we obey the Word of God out of a sense of legal obligation or for acceptance, but rather because we love Him know that He desires our blessing.

Protection of Virgins (vv.16-17)

¶ 16 And if a man seduce a virgin that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall certainly endow her, to be his wife. 17 If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall weigh money according to the dowry of virgins. vv.16-17 Virgins. Any type of sexual immorality (called “fornication” in the New Testament) was sin in the Old Testament. We have the homosexuality of Sodom and Gomorrah condemned (Gen. 18-19). We have the instance of adultery with Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, where Joseph resisted her temptation, saying “how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9). The law had punishment for adultery and fornication when it occurred in various circumstances: with a married person, with a betrothed person, and with a virgin. None of the law’s demands could really set right the wrongs caused by sin, but the law put limits on what man in the flesh was allowed to do. When a man and woman lie together, they become one flesh (1 Cor. 6:16). The proper course of action is for the two to be married, which is a formal and permanent union (Gen. 2:24), and which only death or fornication can break. Here we find that a virgin who was seduced by a man would not be abandoned with nothing. The man would have to marry her, thus saving her from a life of shame and loneliness. But if her father refused to give her to him (for unknown reasons), the man would be forced to pay the dowry to her father, so that she could be provided for financially. Again that statement echos, “For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did” (Heb. 7:19). 

Three Kinds of Iniquity (vv.18-20)

18 — Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. v.18 Witches. A witch is someone who communicates with evil spirits. Such a person is in league with the servants of Satan, the great enemy of God. A witch in Israel was to be put to death, having committed an outrage against God (Deut. 18:10-12). It is interesting that Saul was zealous in putting witches and wizards out of the land (1 Samuel 28:3) but then, Samuel warned him that his actions were just as bad; “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry” (1 Samuel 15:23). Saul proved this later, when he had turned away from the Lord and the Lord had turned away from Saul, in desperation he turned to a witch (1 Sam. 28:7)! There are still witches and sorcerers today, and many who deal in occult things, especially in countries where the light of Christianity burns faintly. The believer should be repulsed by any form of spiritual wickedness.
19 — Every one that lieth with a beast shall certainly be put to death. v.19 Zoophiles. The sin of a man or woman having sexual relations with an animal (called bestiality or zoophilia) was punishable by death in Israel under the law. It was wrong for angels who were never created for marriage (Mark 12:25) to leave their first estate and go in to daughters of men (Gen. 6:1-2) resulting in a severe and swift judgment (Jude 6). How much worse for men and women, created suitable to marriage, to go down to the lower creation and have relations with an animal! Bestiality is usually at the end of a path of lower and lower forms of sexual immorality.
20 — He that sacrificeth to any god, save to Jehovah only, shall be devoted to destruction. v.20 Idolaters. As outlined in the first commandment, the worship of any god but Jehovah was an abomination in His sight. Israel was called to serve Jehovah, and Him only. Their testimony to the one true God would be marred by idolatry being practiced in Israel. Idolaters were to be put to death. We can apply this to ourselves in Christianity because anything other than God that becomes an object of worship or occupation for us is an idol. In the assembly, we should be careful of any doctrine that tries to align or blend Christianity with any other religion.

Compassion Toward the Needy (vv.21-27)

21 Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him; for ye have been strangers in the land of Egypt. v.21 Strangers. To “vex” a stranger might be to harbor prejudice toward, or persecute someone who is not from the tribes of Israel dwelling within their land (Deut. 10:19). To “oppress” a stranger would be to treat them unfairly or force them into slavery. The motivation for this is that the children of Israel were strangers in the land of Egypt. They ought to remember what it was like to live in a land that did not belong to them, surrounded by people who viewed them as foreigners, and who oppressed them for hundreds of years. We could apply this to ourselves today. The stranger might speak of an unbeliever within the sphere of our acquaintance. They are always to be treated with compassion and love. However, it does not say they were to intermarry with the strangers, etc. We must be careful that compassion for unbelievers does not turn into fraternity with the world.
22 Ye shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. 23 If thou afflict him in any way, if he cry at all unto me, I will certainly hear his cry; 24 and my anger shall burn, and I will slay you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless. vv.22-24 Widows and Fatherless. The “widow or fatherless child” in Israel would be those who were left by circumstances without a man to provide for their needs (2 Kings 4:1). Human nature is to take advantage of those who have no way to protect themselves. The Lord promised to hear the cry of the fatherless and widows, and His anger would rise up against any who would oppress the underprivileged, and in His government would see the hard-hearted man killed, and his family put in the same predicament. The New Testament goes much farther than a prohibition. “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).
¶ 25 — If thou lend money to my people, the poor with thee, thou shalt not be to him as a usurer: ye shall charge him no interest. v.25 Lending to the Poor – No Interest. Under the law, the children of Israel were not to lend money to their brethren (Israelites) with the condition of interest, although they could charge strangers interest (Deut. 23:20). It wasn’t wrong in and of itself, but it was inconsistent with their calling as nation, to represent Jehovah before the nations. Interest is one tool greedy men use to get richer off the backs of poor men who can never pay their way out of debt. It is a form of slavery, which God never intended for His people. We have instances of this being done in the Old Testament where the Lord showed that He was displeased (Neh. 5:5, 7). We might apply this to ourselves in the assembly. There are times when our brethren may, by circumstances, be forced to impose upon us. This may be in a material sense, or a moral sense, such as in the case brotherly forgiveness. We are to give and forgive without condition!
26 — If thou at all take thy neighbour’s garment in pledge, thou shalt return it to him before the sun goes down; 27 for that is his only covering, his garment for his skin: on what shall he lie down? And it shall come to pass, when he crieth unto me, that I will hear; for I am gracious. vv.26-27 Lending to Neighbors – Limits on Collateral. While lending with interest was not allowed between Israelites, lending in exchange for collateral was allowed. Yet the law placed limits on what could be taken, and for how long. Withholding collateral that would deny a poor neighbor their basic necessities was not allowed. Before the sun went down, a neighbor’s garment taken in pledge had to be returned. To fail in this would make the neighbor’s bad condition even worse. They were to consider their neighbor, and think what it would be like to be in those circumstances; “on what shall he lie down?” Again there is a warning that, if one were to fail in this, and hard-heartedly refuse to return life-sustaining collateral, God would hear the cry of the poor, because He is “gracious”, and would act according to His righteous government.

Giving Honor (vv.28-31)

28 “Thou shalt not revile the judges, nor curse a prince amongst thy people.” [quoted Acts 23:5] v.28 Honor for Authority. The law made it clear that the children of Israel were to have respect for those in authority over them. The “judges” were those with judicial authority. The word is ‘elohim’, the same word frequently used for God, literally meaning ‘mighty one’. In John 10:34-36 the Lord defends His claim to deity from Psa. 82:6 where Jehovah calls the judges of Israel “elohim”, (lower case “e”) or, “gods” (lowercase “g”), because these men were commissioned by God and responsible to judge in God’s name. The people were responsible to honor these ones because they had authority from God. If an unpopular judgment was made by the judges, the people were not permitted to speak ill of them. The “princes” were leaders of tribes and families within tribes. The people were not to curse a prince, but to honor him for his place of leadership. In Christianity we too have those in authority over us. As individuals, we are responsible to submit to “the powers that be” as “ordained of God” (Rom. 13:1). Peter says we are to “Honour the king” (1 Pet. 2:17, see Jude 8). But in the assembly we have those in authority over us too; assembly oversight. We are to “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves” (Heb. 13:17). The younger are to submit to the older ones, etc. (1 Pet. 5:5; 1 Tim. 5:1). When respect for authority degrades, innumerable troubles follow. We see this trend of things in the world today, but it should never characterize the believer.
29 — Thou shalt not delay the fulness of thy threshing-floor and the outflow of thy winepress. The firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give unto me. 30 Likewise shalt thou do with thy calf, with thy sheep: seven days shall it be with its dam; on the eighth day thou shalt give it me. vv.29-30 Honor for the Lord: Firstfruits. The Lord had already introduced the principle that the “first” belonged to Him (Ex. 13:12), but He now extends it from the firstborn to the firstfruits! The fulness of their grain harvest and grape harvest represented their time and energy. The children of Israel were to surrender the best of everything to Jehovah, along with the firstborn of their sons, and their animals. We can apply this spiritually to how the Lord must have the first place in our lives. They were not to “delay” to give it (v.29). We should not put the Lord’s claims off to later in our life, because delays turn into denials. He must have the first place now! There is an exception with the sacrifice of the calf or sheep, that the young would be allowed to remain with the mother for seven days. The mother’s affection was to be acknowledged in this way. We have an example of this with Samuel, who Hannah raised at home until he was weaned, then brought him to the temple.
31 — And ye shall be holy men unto me; and ye shall not eat flesh torn in the field: ye shall cast it to the dog. v.31 Honor for the Body. The children of Israel were to be “holy men” unto Jehovah, and that meant they were to be careful about what they fed on. A dead body found in a field was fine food for a dog, but not for one Jehovah had claimed for Himself! Physically speaking, to eat that kind of flesh could lead to disease and death. The children of Israel needed to take care about what they put into their bodies. The body of a Christian is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and we ought to live in the consciousness of that truth; “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). But we can apply this more broadly than to our physical bodies. We must take care what we feed on in a spiritual sense as well. Are we feeding on the filth of the flesh? Or are we feeding on the Word of God?

Laws on Justice and Duty (23:1-9)

The next section of judgments deals with uprightness in judicial matters and also in society. It is ax expansion of the ninth commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness” (Ex. 20:16; Deut. 5:20). Corruption is the root of decline in society, and these judgments warn against it. Honesty and uprightness are vital in our individual lives and in the assembly as well, which means there is a very practical application of these things for us as Christians. All of these judgments center around one axiom: we should do the right thing! Do the right thing when others are not, do the right thing when our affections or our own personal bias are telling us otherwise, do the right thing even if it means a personal inconvenience or loss. The importance of this is compounded for those in a place of leadership. David could say, “The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God” (2 Sam. 23:3). See also Deut. 1:16-17.

Unbiased Judgment (vv.1-3)

It was very important for every Israelite, but especially those with the responsibility to judge matters, to have unbiased judgment. To show nepotism, favoritism, partiality, or politicization would destroy the foundation of society. We can apply this same principles to our individual lives and in the assembly, particularly in assembly administration.
¶ 1 Thou shalt not accept a false report; extend not thy hand to the wicked, to be an unrighteous witness. v.1 False Witnesses. Bearing false witness is one of the most blatant forms of dishonesty. The children if Israel were prohibited from accepting a false witness when it was known to be so, or from being a false witness or supplying a false witness in order to assist the cause of the wicked. This applies to spreading false rumors; i.e. to pass on information that we know (or suspect) to be untrue. Bearing and accepting false witness is especially serious when it falsely implicates an innocent party, as in the case of slander, or a murder trial. The liar becomes an accessory to the crime. The Jewish leaders were guilty of both at the trial of Jesus. One of the things the Lord hates is “a lying tongue”, and Christians are instructed, “putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour” (Ephesians 4:25). Honesty is the basis of relationships between believers, and it must be upheld in our interactions with one another.
2 Thou shalt not follow the multitude for evil; neither shalt thou answer in a cause, to go after the multitude to pervert judgment. v.2 Mob Mentality. To “follow a multitude” is the idea of mob mentality, or even peer-pressure; to act wrongly or testify falsely because others are doing so. It is the same for us: we must act righteously as an individual before God, regardless of what the majority does. We are not to live in the fear of the majority, but in the fear of God. In James 2 we are warned about showing partiality to the rich in the assembly, and then the conclusion; “Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?” (James 2:4).
3 Neither shalt thou favour a poor man in his cause. v.3 Favoritism in Judgment. To “favour a poor man in his cause” is to show leniency to a poor person when they commit a crime, simply because they are underprivileged. It is very right to have compassion for the poor, and to show mercy, but never to allow feelings of compassion to cloud our judgment. We can apply this to our responsibility in the assembly to judge evil. Circumstances and background are certainly important when it comes to shepherding a soul, but when it comes to judging sin, we must not makes excuses, and instead judge according to the facts.

Conscientious Duty (vv.4-5)

4 — If thou meet thine enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt certainly bring it back to him. 5 If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under its burden, beware of leaving it to him: thou shalt certainly loosen it with him. vv.4-5 Duty. God would have His people understand that they had a duty to one another even if they were at odds, and when no one else was looking. The natural response when one sees his enemy’s animal going astray is to let it continue on its way, with a sense of satisfaction at the calamity is befalling the one who has wronged us. They were not to let personal feelings get in the way of doing what was right, and returning the straying animal to its owner. This would serve to mend the broken relationship; “for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head” (Rom. 12:20).

Fair Judgment (vv.6-9)

6 Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of thy poor in his cause. v.6 Prejudice. In v.3 we had leniency shown to the poor, and in v.6 we have prejudicial judgment against them. To falsely convict a person for a crime simply because they are poor is a travesty of justice. We have a parallel to this brought forward in James 2; prejudice against the poor and favoritism toward the rich affecting behavior in the assembly. This ought never to take place among the Lord’s people.
7 Thou shalt keep far from the cause of falsehood; and the innocent and righteous slay not; for I will not justify the wicked. v.7 Upright Judgment. The judges in Israel were responsible to judge uprightly. When “the cause of falsehood” was brought before the judges, they were not to entertain it. They were to be vigilant that an innocent person was not wrongfully convicted and put to death. The Lord warns that He would not justify the wicked. If Israel’s judges were wicked, the Lord would judge them! How solemn to consider these things in connection with the treatment that Israel’s leaders gave to the blessed Lord Jesus. Rather than seek to do what was right, they sough false witnesses to accuse Him. Then they had Jesus, the perfectly Righteous One, put to death.
8 And thou shalt take no bribe; for the bribe blindeth those whose eyes are open, and perverteth the words of the righteous. v.8 Bribes. Bribes have the unique ability to pervert the judgment of a normally discerning and righteous person. Bribery was strictly prohibited. We might apply this more broadly to any kind of self-interest that would serve as an ulterior motive to sway our judgment.
9 And the stranger thou shalt not oppress; for ye know the spirit of the stranger, for ye have been strangers in the land of Egypt. v.9 Fairness to Strangers. Next we have the judgment concerning strangers. This might at first seem to be a repetition of Ex. 22:21, but really this v.9 is targeted to the judges in Israel. They were not to use their position of influence to oppress the stranger in the land. To “oppress” a stranger would be to treat them unfairly or force them into slavery. The motivation for this is that “ye know the spirit of the stranger, for ye have been strangers in the land of Egypt”. They ought to remember what it was like to live as foreigners in Egypt, where they were oppressed for hundreds of years. If administrative responsibility was never to be abused in Israel under the law, how much less in Christianity under grace?

Laws on Sacred Seasons (23:10-19)

¶ 10 And six years thou shalt sow thy land, and gather in its produce; 11 but in the seventh thou shalt let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of thy people may eat of it; and what they leave, the beasts of the field shall eat. In like manner thou shalt deal with thy vineyard, and with thine olive-tree. vv.10-11 The Sabbath Year. Israel was to sow their fields and reap the produce six years, but on the seventh they were to let it rest or lie fallow. They were not to harvest olives or grapes that year as well. This was called the Sabbath year (Lev. 25:3-7). Naturally, on that seventh year there would be a small crop that would grow up of its own accord, and the poor could be fed abundantly from that, such that the animals would also have something to eat. It would demonstrate the Lord’s ability to provide for His people (Lev. 25:20-22). This would give the land time to “rest” as well, so that it might be fruitful for years to come. The Lord warned Israel that, if they were greedy, and disregarded the commandment of the Sabbath year, that He would see to it that the people were taken away so the land could enjoy its rest (Leviticus 26:32-35), and this was exactly what happened later on (2 Chron. 36:21).
12 — Six days thou shalt do thy work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest; that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger may be refreshed. v.12 The Sabbath Day. The seventh day was to be a day of rest, for the purpose of allowing people to be refreshed. In the Lord’s time, the Pharisees were keeping the Sabbath fastidiously, but elevating it over other more basic imperatives. They were using the Sabbath to oppress their fellow man, but the Lord intended it for blessing. He corrected them by saying, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
13 And ye shall be on your guard as to everything that I have said unto you; and shall make no mention of the name of other gods — it shall not be heard in thy mouth. v.13 Faithfulness to Jehovah. Israel was to be “on guard” concerning all the things the Lord had said to them. Our hearts are deceitful, and if Israel was not careful, disobedience to one part of the law might creep in. They were to be faithful to Jehovah, and to Him only. Earlier we had the Lord’s commandment on what to do with an idolater who sacrificed to other gods; i.e. they were to be put to death. Now we find that the children of Israel were not even to mention the names of other gods. This is an example of Jehovah as Jealous; “For thou shalt worship no other god: for Jehovah, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14). God is jealous, protective, defensive, and vigilant over what rightfully belongs to Him. Israel is often compared to an earthly bride of Jehovah, and how offensive to every husband is the name of another man on the lips of his bride? The application to ourselves is obvious.
14 Thrice in the year thou shalt celebrate a feast to me. 15 Thou shalt keep the feast of unleavened bread, (thou shalt eat unleavened bread seven days, as I have commanded thee, in the time appointed of the month Abib; for in it thou camest out from Egypt; and none shall appear in my presence empty;) 16 and the feast of harvest, the first-fruits of thy labours which thou hast sown in the field, and the feast of in-gathering, at the end of the year, when thou gatherest in thy labours out of the field. 17 Three times in the year all thy males shall appear in the presence of the Lord Jehovah. vv.14-17 Three Pilgrimage Feasts. There were seven total feasts of Jehovah (Lev. 23), but here we have the three main feasts that were required. All the males in Israel would appear before the Lord – where His presence was physically represented, first in Shiloh then in Jerusalem (Deut. 16:16) – to keep the feasts. When they appeared, the people were not to be empty handed, but were to bring sacrifices to the Lord. In Ex. 34:24 we find that governmentally, the Lord would make it so no one would take their property while they were away from home, keeping the three pilgrimage feasts!
  1. First was the “feast of unleavened bread”, which took place in the first month of the Jewish year (spring), called “Abib” formerly, and “Nisan” after the Babylonian captivity. The feast of unleavened bread began immediately after Passover, and often when it is spoken of generally it includes the Passover (Luke 22:1). The Passover speaks of the death of Christ to shelter the believer from the judgment of God, and the seven days of unleavened bread speaks of the holy walk of the believer in response to that sacrifice (1 Cor. 5:7-8). Actually, three spring-time feasts were celebrated within the span of about a week; the Feast of Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of First-Fruits.6
  2. Second was the “feast of harvest”, also known as the Feast of Weeks, which took place in the summer, the day after seven Sabbaths from the Feast of First-Fruits (fifty days). This feast coincided with wheat harvest, a crop sown reaped in summer. The people would offer two wave loaves to the Lord as the first-fruits of their wheat harvest, which would continue to be gathered throughout the summer. The Feast of Weeks represents the assembly in its testimonial character.
  3. Third was the “feast of in-gathering” also called the Feast of Tabernacles, which took place at “the end of the year” (fall) when the main crops were harvested; e.g. corn and grapes (Deut. 16:13). The Feast of Tabernacles speaks of the rest that Israel will enjoy in the Millennium under the reign of the Messiah, after the tribulation judgments are over and the nation has been restored. As in the spring, so with the fall there were three feasts celebrated together: the Feast of Trumpets, the Feast of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles.
These three “pilgrimage” feasts were to be given a priority by the people of Israel, and we have examples of the Lord Jesus as a man going up to Jerusalem for each of the three. It interesting that there are three times the church is said to come together as well: for breaking of bread (1 Cor. 11:18),, for prayer (Acts 12:12), and for ministry (1 Cor. 14:23). We are exhorted to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Heb. 10:25).
18 Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leavened bread; neither shall the fat of my feast remain all night until the morning. 19 The first of the first-fruits of thy land thou shalt bring into the house of Jehovah thy God. Thou shalt not boil a kid in its mother’s milk. vv.18-19 Sacred Things. Next we have four things that were to be held as sacred by the children of Israel, because they were sacred to the Lord. The first two things were the blood and the fat, which always and only belonged to God (Leviticus 1-6).
  1. First, “the blood of my sacrifice” was never to be offered with leavened bread. The blood of a sacrifice represents the life of Christ laid down in death. Leaven speaks of sin. It was a holy life, untainted by sin, offered up before the eye of God.
  2. Second, “the fat of my feast” was not to be left all night, but was to be offered to the Lord immediately. The fat speaks of inward energies of Christ, fully devoted to the will of God.
  3. Third, “first of the first-fruits” belonged to the Lord, and was to be brought into the house of Jehovah and offered to Him. The first-fruits speaks of the life of Christ here in this world which was for the glory of God.
  4. Fourth, “the mother’s milk” was not to be used to boil her own kid. We might wonder as why this prohibition is included with the other three, because the other three clearly speak of Christ in the most elevated way. The mother goat’s milk was given for the natural nourishment and blessing of her young, not to aid in its destruction! Even though the mother goat would have no comprehension of what was being done, it was still morally wrong to use the milk for that purpose. That a mother’s milk could be taken for man’s use is granted. That a kid could be taken for man’s use is granted. But to heartlessly boil the kid in its own mother’s milk was a moral outrage. Motherhood is sacred to God (see also Deut. 22:6-7). There are things, even in nature, that are perfectly acceptable in isolation, but given certain circumstances or relationships ought never to be. We might apply this to ourselves: the believer ought to have a moral sensitivity that sets him apart from people of this world.

Epilogue: The Angel and The Land (23:20-33)

Possessing the Land. The whole journey of Israel from Egypt to Canaan is typical of the progress in understanding the believer’s position. The conquest of Canaan is covered in the book of Joshua, and its New Testament corollary is the epistle to the Ephesians. Canaan was Israel’s promised possession, a picture of our portion seated in heavenly places in Christ. The first thing Joshua saw after Gilgal was the Angel of the Lord with a drawn sword. Like Joshua and the children of Israel, we also should be prepared that there will be warfare in Canaan. Fighting will characterize possession of the land. In Ephesians the warfare is not with the flesh, but with spiritual wickedness in high places. However, here we find that that the Lord would fight for the children of Israel. If they obeyed the Lord, He would see to it that they possessed their inheritance to the full boundaries promised to Abraham! For us, while our spiritual blessings are not conditional, the practical enjoyment of them is.
¶ 20 Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee to the place that I have prepared. 21 Be careful in his presence, and hearken unto his voice: do not provoke him, for he will not forgive your transgressions; for my name is in him. 22 But if thou shalt diligently hearken unto his voice, and do all that I shall say, then I will be an enemy to thine enemies, and an adversary to thine adversaries. 23 For mine Angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in unto the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will cut them off. vv.20-23 The Angel of Jehovah. Jehovah promises to send “an Angel” ahead of the children of Israel, to preserve and guide them on their journey to Canaan. This is the same “Angel of the Lord” that is frequently mentioned in the Old Testament (e.g. Ex. 3:2; Num. 22:22; Jdg. 6:12; 13:3), which is a pre-incarnate manifestation of the Son. The people were to be careful in his presence, because “my name is in him”; i.e. Jehovah’s authority was in Him. If they did not listen and obey the Angel, they would provoke Him to anger. But if they listened and obeyed, the Angel would fight their battles for them; “as captain of the army of Jehovah” (Jos. 5:14).
24 Thou shalt not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do after their deeds; but thou shalt utterly destroy them, and utterly shatter their statues. 25 And ye shall serve Jehovah your God; and he shall bless thy bread and thy water; and I will take sickness away from thy midst. 26 There shall nothing cast their young, nor be barren, in thy land; the number of thy days will I fulfil. vv.24-25 Jehovah Alone to be Served in Canaan. It was imperative for the children of Israel to not fall into the idolatry of the Canaanites, but instead to destroy the idolaters and their statues. If Israel remained faithful to Jehovah alone, He would grant them governmental mercies such as abundance of crops, taking away sickness, fruitful herds, and long life in the land. Later on, when Israel fell into idolatry, Jehovah would bring upon them governmental judgments, culminating in expulsion from the land. In a similar way, if we take up with spiritual idols they will rob us of the enjoyment of our spiritual portion in Christ.
27 I will send my fear before thee, and confound every people to which thou comest, and will make all thine enemies turn their back to thee. 28 And I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee. 29 I will not drive them out from before thee in one year: lest the land become desolate, and the beast of the field multiply against thee. 30 By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou art fruitful, and possess the land. 31 And I will set thy bounds from the Red Sea even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness unto the river; for I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, that thou mayest dispossess them from before thee. vv.27-31 Canaanites to be Dispossessed. The Lord would cause the fear of Himself to spread amongst the inhabitants of Canaan in advance of the children of Israel, such that many of their enemies would flee from them (v.27). For others who were more stubborn, the Lord would send “hornets” before the people, to drive the enemies away (v.28). It could be that the Lord uses hornets as a figure, although it could very well have been literal hornets. The point is the Lord would do it (Jos. 24:12). When chased by a hornet, a man runs away in terror. The Lord would not dispossess all the Canaanite tribes at once, because the evacuation of the Canaanites would outpace the entrance of the Israelites, and the rich farmland would come to ruin in the intervening months or years. Another words, the Lord would dispossess the Canaanites with such perfect timing as to drive them out just as Israel was possessing the land, such that they would come into the possession of well-groomed fields, and in some cases already planted and ready to harvest! This might speak of the normal growth and apprehension of spiritual truths by a believer. It is not normal for someone to possess their entire inheritance immediately. The land was meant to be lived in, and the truth is meant to be walked in. If we grow intellectually only, it will be for our harm. The Lord will lead us to grow in our understanding of divine things in accordance with His own perfect wisdom, and as we are willing walk in the light of what He has already revealed. If they were faithful, they would possess the full borders of the land (v.31). In history, Israel never possessed more than roughly ten percent of that land. The full possession of Israel’s inheritance will be seen in the Millennium!
32 Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor with their gods. 33 They shall not dwell in thy land, lest they make thee sin against me; for if thou serve their gods, it is sure to be a snare unto thee. vv.31-32 The Canaanites. Israel was not to compromise with the Canaanites in the process of dispossessing them. To make a covenant with the people or their gods (e.g. Baal, Ashteroth) would be treason against Jehovah. To allow the Canaanites to dwell in the land would eventually lead to Israel falling into idolatry. Later on Israel did make a covenant with the Gibeonites (Joshua 9:6), and allowed various tribes of the Canaanites to dwell in the land (Judges 1:30, etc.). Sure enough, this led to Israel getting snared with Canaanite idolatry. While making a covenant or allowing the Canaanite to dwell in the land was not outright idolatry, it would lead to it. For us as Christians, we need to be careful what we tolerate in our lives. Any kind of agreement or loose association with the false objects of this world can be a snare to us in our Christian walk.
  1. Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible. Hebrews 1o.
  2. Here the ears "dug" express His incarnation, as "opened" (Isa. 50) His daily dependence, and "bored" (Ex. 21) His devotedness in death and forever. - Kelly, W. Notes on Psalms.
  3. I highly recommend the following address: Address by Chuck Hendricks, The Digged, Opened, Pierced Ear, Toledo 1987
  4. Israel’s vow to keep the law (Ex. 24:7) was not instantly annulled however, and therefore Jesus had to bear the iniquity of it (Num. 30:15; Isa. 53:11).
  5. Josephus shows us that the traditional interpretation of Jewish lawyers was aligned with the former position, that that injury leading to miscarriage was a crime only to be fined (v.22), but the death of the mother was the capital offense (v.23). “He that kicks a woman with child, so that the woman miscarry, let him pay a fine in money… as having diminished the multitude by the destruction of what was in her womb…but if she die of the stroke, let him also be put to death.” Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews 4.8.33. Abortion advocates would use this position to justify killing the unborn, as if it were somehow a lesser offense. But that does not bear on the meaning of the verse.
  6. The Feast of First-Fruits as mentioned in Lev. 23:9-14 is different from what we have in v.16. The Feast of First-Fruits aligned with the week of unleavened bread, and coincided with barley harvest; a winter crop sown in autumn and reaped in spring. The people would offer a sheaf of barley to the Lord as the first-fruits of their harvest. The first-fruits speaks of Christ in resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20-23).