The Bible and Social Justice

Exodus 22

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
February 2017

For the last few weeks, we have been studying case law in Exodus 21-22. It has some strange laws but these are important laws that still apply to us, even though we are not under the Law of Moses.  This is still God’s Word and there are lessons we can learn from these chapters.

In the last few weeks, we have learned about the Bible and slavery.  We learned about the Bible and capital punishment.  We learned about the Bible and the occult.  Today, we are going to look at the Bible and social justice.

This is a very important topic.  People talk about social justice all the time in the media.  Most have no clue what it means.  Often what they mean by social justice is very different from what the Bible means by it. Today, we will see what the Bible says about social justice.

Before we get to those topics, we want to look at two strange laws that we did not have time to cover last week.  They deal with two ancient crimes. Both of these are capital crimes.  The punishment for these crimes was death.  Every crime did not result in death.  Only the really bad ones did.

One is a sexual crime.  One is a religious crime.  These crimes tell us something about God.  He sees things very differently than people do today. Let’s look at these two case laws.  The first deal with sexual perverts.

Sexual Perversion

The first one we are going to look at today deals with sexual perversion.  Not all sex crimes resulted in death.  We saw one sex crime in the chapter that did not result in death but this one did call for the death penalty.  The crime was sex with animals. “Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal is to be put to death.” (22:19 NIV)

The KJV says, “Whosoever lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death” (22:19).  That might give some people the wrong impression.  This is not talking about someone who sleeps with their pet.  It is talking about someone who has sex with animals. That’s a strange crime.

God looks at perversion differently than people do. Many have the view today that what you do behind closed doors is your own business.  It is a private matter. There are no rules.  You can do whatever you want with whoever you want.  Here we learn that this is not true.  God is the one who created sex.  He has the right to regulate it. He created it exclusively for a man and a woman in the context of marriage.

Doesn’t every country have a law against this?  Believe it or not, the answer is “no.”  There was a law from the Ancient Near East on bestiality around this time period.  It is similar to what Exodus says when you first read it.  “If a man has sexual relations with a cow… he will be put to death” (187).  “If a man has sexual relations with a sheep… he will be put to death” (188). “If anyone has sexual relations with a pig or a dog, he shall die” (199).

Later, in the same Hittite Law Code, we are told, “If a man has sexual relations with either a horse or a mule, it is NOT an offense” (200).  This was a crime for some animals but not others, which seems a little strange.  At least the Bible is consistent.

What about in our own country?  What are the laws about this in the US regarding this behavior?  It may be a little shocking to find out the answer to that question. Each state has different laws.  In some states, it is completely legal in some states (Kentucky; Nevada; Texas; Vermont; West Virginia, Washington, D.C).

In most states it is illegal but the punishment is small.  The maximum penalty is a few months or a few years in prison.  In many states it is just a misdemeanor.  Rhode Island and Massachusetts have the strongest laws. They have a maximum of twenty years in prison for this crime and they are liberal states.[1]

God says that the punishment for this crime should be, not imprisonment, but DEATH.  This crime was so serious, the penalty was death.  In fact, in Leviticus tells us that both the person and the animal were to die (20:15).  We now come to the second crime.  This does not deal with sexual perverts.  It deals with religious perverts.

Religious Perversion

“Anyone who sacrifices to any god other than the Lord MUST be DESTROYED.” (22:20 NLT)  This idea is repeated in the next chapter of Exodus.

“My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I WILL WIPE THEM OUT. Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. You must DEMOLISH them and BREAK their sacred stones TO PIECES.” (23:23-24).

That’s interesting.  The First Commandment says we are not to worship any false gods. These verses say that we are to kill anyone who worships idols.  It sounds like genocide but it is not racial.  It is religious.  If a Hebrew began to worship another god, that Hebrew man or woman was also to be destroyed.

That does not sound very ecumenical or pluralistic.  It does not sound too tolerant.  It doesn’t sound very nice.  It is a little counter-cultural.  In America, idolatry is not a crime.  It is a right.  It is a constitutional right.  It is protected by the First Amendment.

Should we do this today?  There are radical groups today that believe we should do this today.  They are called Christian Reconstructionists. They believe that we should have public stoning today. They are as barbaric as the Taliban or ISIS. We do not execute idolaters today because we do not live in a theocracy.

One day, there will be a theocracy on earth.  When Jesus returns, there will be only one God worshiped on earth.  There will be no freedom of religion.  A theocracy is a bad idea today because it is a dictatorship.  It is not a democracy.  We are sinners.  Jesus is sinless.  He will rule the world in perfect righteousness and justice. When He returns, idolatry will be outlawed.

“On that day, I will banish the names of the idols from the land, and they will be remembered no more,” declares the Lord Almighty. “I will remove both the prophets and the spirit of impurity from the land. (Zechariah 13:2)

I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips; no longer will their names be invoked. (Hosea 2:17 NIV)

The Lord alone will be exalted in that day, and the idols will totally disappear. (Isaiah 2:18 NIV)

No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. (Jeremiah 31:34 NIV)

The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:9 NIV)

This passage gives us what God thinks about idolatry.  He hates it.  There is nothing He hates more than idolatry.  The Bible says that idolatry provokes God to anger.  What God hates, we should hate.  We should hate idolatry in our own life and should break into pieces any form of idolatry that we have.

The Bible and Social Justice

“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. “Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.

“If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it by sunset, because that cloak is the only covering your neighbor has. What else can they sleep in? When they cry out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate. (22:21-27 NIV)

This brings us to the topic of social justice.  Justice is God’s idea.  The Bible says a lot about justice.  Social justice is not a liberal agenda.  It is a biblical agenda.  Justice is God’s heart. He is a God of justice.  The Bible says that everything God does is just (Deuteronomy 32:4).

The Bible says that God loves justice (Psalm 11:7; Isaiah 61:8). He cares about the poor and oppressed.  He cares about the fatherless.  He says that He is father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5).  He is a defender of widows (Psalm 68:5).  Social justice is important to God.  Here is the shocker.  Social justice is so important that, in some ways, it is is more important than even worship.

I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:22-42 NIV)

God does not want us to treat each other terribly and then come and bow act real spiritual in church.  Amos spoke up for the poor and the oppressed in his day.  He was the prophet of social justice.  Amos 5 is one of the most famous passages in the Bible.  Martin Luther King quoted from it in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.  Not only do we have this statement about justice rolling on like righteousness, we have other statements in Amos about justice.

There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court and detest the one who tells the truth. You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain. For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.” (5:10-12 NIV)

Isaiah was another OT prophet who talked a lot about justice.  He lived about the same time as Amos in the 8th century BC.  These are some of the things found in his book. “Learn to do right; SEEK JUSTICE. DEFEND the oppressed. TAKE UP THE CAUSE OF the fatherless; PLEAD the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17 NIV)

The Lord takes his place in court; he rises to judge the people. The Lord enters into judgment AGAINST THE ELDERS AND LEADERS of his people: “It is YOU who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in YOUR houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor? declares the Lord, the Lord Almighty. (Isaiah 3:13-15)

WOE to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches? (Isaiah 10:1-3)

Jesus brought this topic up to the Pharisees.  He said, “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, BUT YOU NEGLECT JUSTICE and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” (Luke 11:42 NIV)

Is God a Liberal?

Since social justice is so important to God, does this mean that God is a liberal, since this is what liberals are always taking about?  Put another way, Is God a liberal democrat?  God is not liberal when it comes to crime and punishment.  He does not soft on punishment.  Some of these crimes receive strict sentences.  He is not liberal on morality.  He is not liberal when it comes to sex.

He does not support the idea you can do whatever you want, so long as you do not hurt anybody.  Adultery made God’s top ten list.  God does not support gay marriage.  He was the one who created marriage.  He created it exclusively for a man and a woman and made homosexuality a capital crime.  He is not liberal on abortion.  He is not liberal on moral, sexual, reproductive or gender issues.

What about on social issues?  God has compassion for the poor.  That is true. The solution in the Bible to poverty is not big government. When liberals talk about social justice, they mean economic redistribution, higher taxes, and big government. That is not anywhere in the Bible.

God is not liberal when it comes to welfare.  The Bible says, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.”  The poor in the Bible were taken care of in the OT but it was not through a government program. It was done through gleaning.  They lived in an agricultural economy.

“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:9-10)

Deuteronomy says this was also for the fatherless and the widow (24:19). It sounds a little inefficient.  When you harvest your land, don’t harvest everything.  That sounds like you are wasting food.  God said to leave some in your fields for the poor.  That was the way they dealt with hunger in the OT.  What if you did not want to?  It was not optional. It was required but it was not a burdensome requirement. Everyone had to leave a little food in their field for the poor.

God commanded people to do this but even the poor had to work to get their food.  God did not tell people to harvest everything and give some to the poor.  He did not tell them to do it for them.  The poor had to work for their own food. In some cases, it was hard work.  They were not given a handout from the government.

Liberals believe in distributive or economic justice, which is not justice at all.  It involves taking from the rich and giving to the poor, which is a form of injustice.  It is a form of stealing.  It is the Robin Hood philosophy.

It redistributes the wealth of hard-working people who have taken major risks to those who have risked nothing and who have done nothing to earn it.”[2] That is NOT what the Bible means by social justice.  What is the Bible talking about?  It has nothing to do with economic redistribution.  Let’s look at the text.

This chapter mentions social justice for the poor, social justice for the foreigners or immigrants, as we would call them today, social justice for the widows and social justice for the orphans.  It mentions these four groups of marginalized people.  This passage tells us how these groups are NOT to be treated.

Do not MISTREAT or OPPRESS a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. Do not TAKE ADVANTAGE OF the widow or the fatherless.” (22:21-22).  It would be very easy to take advantage of all of these groups.  They were the weakest members of society.  They had no power.  It is easy to exploit a foreigner or a poor person.  God says not to do that.  Don’t use your power to take advantage of or hurt people.  If you do, God will judge you.

Strong Warning

Social justice is important to God.  If you do that, there is a strong warning by God.  Notice, Exodus 22:23-24.  “If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. 24 My anger will be aroused, and I will kill YOU with the sword; YOUR wives will become widows and YOUR children fatherless” (NIV).

If you abuse widows, orphans and foreigners, God will judge you.  God will kill you and your kids will become widows and orphans.  The punishment will fit the crime (lex taliones).  That is a strong warning.  We see the same thing in Deuteronomy 27:19. It says, “Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!” (NIV)

The focus in this section is one the poor. God says here that there are two things that you are not to do to the poor.  First, you are not to charge them interest. “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest.” (22:25 NIV)

It was legal to charge people interest in the ancient world and is legal today.  In fact, the interest rate is often high.  God’s people were to be different.  They were NOT supposed to do what everyone else was doing.  God said, “Don’t charge the poor interest.”

Don’t try to take advantage of the poor and try to get rich off the backs of the poor.  It is not wrong to lend people money but they were not to charge the poor interest.  They were to get an interest free loan.

In fact, they were not even to charge each other interest. This is radical.  Jews could not charge interest to other Jews.  That was forbidden. We know this from Deuteronomy 23:19. “You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a fellow Israelite, so that the Lord your God may bless you in everything you put your hand to in the land you are entering to possess” (NIV).  That would be like charging family and friends for borrowing money.

Second, God says that you are not allowed to take certain things as collateral for your loan. “If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it by sunset, because that cloak is the only covering your neighbor has. What else can they sleep in? When they cry out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate” (22:26-27 NIV).  If he does not have anything but his clothing, you can take it but you have to return it at night.  That is interesting.

Some people are all business.  If you need a quick loan, they will provide one for a fee.  They would take a poor man’s cloak (if that is all that he has to pay).  If the poor man could not pay it back, he did not get it back and got cold in the night or could not sleep, they would say, “That’s not my problem.”  God says, “Don’t do that.”

This tells us two things.  There is nothing wrong to have a security for a loan but we are to treat people differently based on their needs. We should not treat everyone the same.  The poor should be treated differently.  It is wrong to take the only covering a person has and use it as collateral. It also tells us that we are to show compassion to people.

Radical Teaching of Jesus on Lending

Before we leave this topic, let’s look at what Jesus said about lending to the poor.  He made several statements about lending.  We see them in Luke.

Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” (Luke 6:30 NIV)

And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back” (Luke 6:33-35 NIV).

“But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:13-14 NIV)

Jesus said that if a poor person asks you for something, give it to them.  Don’t ask for collateral.  Don’t charge them interest.  In fact, do not even expect anything back in return.

Don’t expect to get the money back with interest.  He says, “Don’t expect to get anything back from a loan. Don’t expect to get the money back with interest.  In fact, do not expect to get it back at all.  If they cannot pay you back, then rejoice.  God will pay you back one day.”

Now, it is not wrong to expect to get back what you loaned to someone but Jesus called His followers to do something more.  He calls them to a radical view on lending in which we treat is as a gift, rather than a loan. He did this because He taught that it was more blessed to give than to receive.  Next week, we will be back in Exodus 22 as we look at what the Bible says about immigration.



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