Elon, North Carolina
We are studying the Book of Exodus. For the last several weeks, we have case law found in Exodus 21-22. It is the part of Bible that is never read and certainly never preached. It contains some strange laws, like the one about selling your own daughter in to slavery.
On the surface, Exodus 22 does not seem to be that important but it deals with some very interesting topics. It deals with sex before marriage. It deals with seduction. It deals with rape. It deals with sorcery or witchcraft. It deals with sexual perversion, people having sex with animals. It deals with social justice. We will look at that topic next week.
Today, we will only be looking at the first twenty verses of the chapter. We will read the first part of the chapter but will really be focusing on the second part of the chapter. The first fourteen verses deal with property rights. What do these verses teach? They teach that we are responsible for our pets. That is still true today. They teach that if you damage the property of someone else, you are responsible for it. If you borrow something from someone else and it gets damaged, you are responsible.
5“If anyone grazes their livestock in a field or vineyard and lets them stray and they graze in someone else’s field, the offender must make restitution from the best of their own field or vineyard.
6 “If a fire breaks out and spreads into thornbushes so that it burns shocks of grain or standing grain or the whole field, the one who started the fire must make restitution.
7 “If anyone gives a neighbor silver or goods for safekeeping and they are stolen from the neighbor’s house, the thief, if caught, must pay back double. 8 But if the thief is not found, the owner of the house must appear before the judges, and they must determine whether the owner of the house has laid hands on the other person’s property.
9 In all cases of illegal possession of an ox, a donkey, a sheep, a garment, or any other lost property about which somebody says, ‘This is mine,’ both parties are to bring their cases before the judges. The one whom the judges declare guilty must pay back double to the other.
10 “If anyone gives a donkey, an ox, a sheep or any other animal to their neighbor for safekeeping and it dies or is injured or is taken away while no one is looking, 11 the issue between them will be settled by the taking of an oath before the Lord that the neighbor did not lay hands on the other person’s property. The owner is to accept this, and no restitution is required.
12 But if the animal was stolen from the neighbor, restitution must be made to the owner. 13 If it was torn to pieces by a wild animal, the neighbor shall bring in the remains as evidence and shall not be required to pay for the torn animal.
14 “If anyone borrows an animal from their neighbor and it is injured or dies while the owner is not present, they must make restitution. 15 But if the owner is with the animal, the borrower will not have to pay. If the animal was hired, the money paid for the hire covers the loss. (22:5-15 NIV)
God protects the rights of property owners here. Property is sacred. People have a right to own property. The punishment for stealing in the Bible is very interesting.
“Whoever steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep… Anyone who steals must certainly make restitution, but if they have nothing, they must be sold to pay for their theft. 4 If the stolen animal is found alive in their possession—whether ox or donkey or sheep—they must pay back double. (22:1, 4)
This is completely counter-cultural. How God punishes stealing is very different from society’s punishment. The punishment in the ancient world for stealing was DEATH. The Code of Hammurabi said, “If anyone is committing a robbery and is caught, then he shall be put to death” (22). The punishment in the Muslim world is AMPUTATION.
The punishment in the Bible is not amputation or death. It is RESTITUTION. If you steal a sheep or a cow, you have to pay back double. If you sell it, you have to pay back four or five animal. That is an effective punishment. With a punishment like that, you learn that crime does not pay. Criminals do. It is not worth it to steal. If you steal, you had to pay restitution and a fine.
A Sexual Crime
“If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. 17 If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins.” (22:16-17 NIV)
“If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.” (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).
What is going on here? This is a case of premarital sex. Neither person is married at the time. In this situation, a man seduces a woman. Exodus says that the man entices the woman. Deuteronomy says that he rapes her. Which is it? Both are right. It is rape. It is not like a serial rapist. It is an ancient form of what we call today “date rape” or “acquaintance rape.”
The woman is seduced by the man. The Hebrew word “seduced” has the idea of deceived. She is tricked into doing something that she does not want to do. What is the punishment for this crime? The man has to pay the father the bride price. He has to pay him fifty shekels. He has to marry the woman, if her father allows it, and he is not allowed to divorce her. That seems like a strange punishment for rape.
Were Women Forced to Marry their Rapists?
Critics of the Bible mock and ridicule this passage. To them, it is barbaric. It is cruel. Women have to marry their rapists. It is double victimization. It is like pouring salt on a wound. The victim has to marry the victimizer. They say that this is degrading to women. How would you answer these critics? Are they right?
In our day and time, this sounds terrible. On the surface, it makes the Bible look horrendous but we have to read this through the lens of another culture. The Jews read this completely different. In their culture, it does not degrade women at all. It actually teaches the exact opposite.
The Truth about Exodus 22:16-17
1) This law protects women
How does this law protect women? A single woman in that day who was raped was considered ineligible for marriage. The question we ask in this situation is, “Does she have to marry her rapist?” The question that was asked in the ancient world was, “After she is raped, who would marry and provide for her all?”
If a woman lost her virginity in the ancient world, she lost her value as marriage material. In that culture, she would be considered damaged goods. She was defiled. No one would want to marry an impure woman.
That caused a big problem in the ancient world. In biblical times, woman’s whole livelihood depends on the protection and support of a man. They received no inheritance when they father died. It all went to sons. This was the way to protect them and provide for them.
You say but it does not seem fair. Keep in mind that this law did not guarantee that she would marry her rapist. She was NOT automatically forced to marry her rapist. The rapist could ONLY marry her if he got the consent of her father. Her father had the right to prevent this from happening.
This put a lot of pressure on the father who made the decision but it was not a done deal. Who would want his daughter to marry a rapist? Who wants a slime ball as a son-in-law? He took his daughter’s chastity. Any wise father would consult his daughter on the matter. Even Rebekah was consulted about whether she wanted to go with the servant and marry Isaac.
2) This law protects marriage
The Law of Moses does not devalue women. It actually values them. Having sex with a woman and not marrying her devalues her. You would have to marry the woman and stay married all of your life. You could not divorce her.
This law cuts down on sexual promiscuity. Today, we live in a day when people sleep with whoever they want and how many people they want. If you had to marry everyone you slept with, it would cut down on people sleeping around.
In that way, this law is superior to our system today. There would be no free love. If a man makes love to a single girl, he has to pay the bride price to her father and he has to pay it, even if they do not get married. Fifty shekels was a lot of money. This law forced actually forced men to take responsibility for their actions.
“You must not allow a sorceress to live.” (22:18 NLT)
We come now to three more death penalty crimes. They are found in three verses in this chapter. One is a sexual crime. One is a religious crime. One is a pagan crime. We will only have time to look at the first one. The first sin is witchcraft.
Salem Witch Trials Today
What’s the punishment for witchcraft? Death. The verse does NOT say, “God will not allow a witch to live.” It says “YOU shall not allow a witch to live.” How does this apply to us? Should Christians kill witches today? That is what people did in Salem. They did not burn them but they did hang them.
They didn’t make up the law. They took it right out of the Bible. They read what it says. It says to kill witches. They obeyed it. They took it literally. They enforced this rule. Exodus 22:18 just mentions a female witch in Hebrew, because many of them happened to be female (like palm readers today) but the law of Moses did not limit this to just women. We know that from the Book of Leviticus.
“Men and women among you who act as mediums or who consult the spirits of the dead must be put to death by stoning. They are guilty of a capital offense.” (Leviticus 20:27 NLT)
The result was that it made a complete laughingstock of Christians. It made them all look harsh, intolerant and bigoted. It made them all look like a bunch of fanatics. Should we start up the Salem Witch Trial again? Should we get the Inquisition going again and begin burning heretics and idolaters? No.
There are three problems with enforcing this rule today. People who already tried this made three exegetical errors. This is a lesson on how to interpret the Bible. What is wrong with enforcing this law today?
First, this law given to Israel, NOT the church.
We are not Israel. America is not Israel. That was the mistake of the Puritans. When you read a passage in the Bible, you have to look at who the passage is addressed in the passage. That is a common mistake.
Second, this law was given during a theocracy.
This is another common mistake people make when interpreting the Bible. People do not look at the context. They pull a passage completely out of its context and try to apply it. These rules were given in the time of a theocracy.
What is a theocracy? That word is used in several different senses. We call Iran a theocracy today. It is usually defined as the political combination of church and state. There is no separation between the church and state. Religious and civil laws are the same thing (Sharia Law). This is a different use of the word.
The word theocracy literally means “the rule of God.” God ruled in the nation in a way that he is not ruling today. He appeared in a theophany every day (pillar of fire and cloud). He spoke audibly to the nation. God can still do that today but it is not His normal way of operating. God still speaks to people today but he usually does not do it audibly.
Three, the NT says that we are not under Law
The NT says that Christians are not under the Law today. We are under grace. That is why we do not have animal sacrifices. If we are not under the Law and this may not be a capital offense today, what is the application for us today?
This passage shows what God thinks of witchcraft. His attitude has not changed. We live in a free society. We are accepting and tolerant as a society. We no longer see sin as sin. Homosexuality is not longer viewed as sin. In fact, they are even allowed to marry.
Witchcraft in America
Witchcraft is allowed in the US. In fact, it is recognized as a legitimate religion. In 1986, the Fourth Circuit Court recognized Wicca as a religion with full First Amendment protections. The case was Dettmer v. Landon. Wicca comes from an Old English word for witch. This passage reminds us how serious God takes these actions. In Scripture, this is not a right but a crime. It is a capital crime.
Witchcraft and sorcery is not harmless, like it has become today. We have books about witchcraft (Harry Potter, which is about a boy sorcerer). We have television shows about witches (Sabrina, the Teenage Witch;’ ‘Charmed;’ ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’). We have made them seem completely harmless (Bewitched).
Hollywood makes them out to be good. The Wizard of Oz has good witches in it. In Harry Potter, the good guys practice white magic, instead of black magic. Hollywood portrays witches and wizards in a positive light. The Bible calls this an abomination. It does not distinguish between white and black magic.
9 When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. 10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft,
11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. 13 You must be blameless before the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 18:9-13 NIV)
God calls it an abomination. In the OT, it was punishable by death. in the NT, the punishment is even worse. Revelation 21:8 says that the fate of “those who practice witchcraft” (NLT) or “sorcerers” (ESV) will have their part in the lake of fire.
What is so wrong with witchcraft? It is not harmless. It is demonic. The truth is that there is power in witchcraft (Acts 16:16-18. Exodus 7:11,22; 8:7). It is dangerous to try to contact the spirit world. God said in Leviticus 20:6, “I will set my face against anyone who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute themselves by following them, and I will cut them off from their people.” (NIV)
The problem today is that many Christians seem to be ignorant of this law. Some Christians believe in astrology. Some read their horoscopes and post them on Facebook. They consult psychics. They do not seem to see that it is a completely pagan practice that God hates and judges. Next week, we will look at the other capital crimes in the chapter.