Miscellaneous Case Law

Exodus 22-23

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
March 2017

We have been studying the chapters that follow the Ten Commandments. They are a series of case laws.  They are the kind of chapters in the Bible that most Christians tend to ignore. These case laws deal with all kinds of different topics.  Today, we want to look at four different topics.  These topics are not all directly related.

We will be looking at what God says about the FIRSTBORN.  We will be looking at what God says about FOOD.  We will look at what God says about FAIRNESS or justice.  We will also look at what He says about FOLLOWERS (in a bad sense of the term).  Some of these laws seem a little strange to us.  We are not under the Law of Moses today but there are lessons we can learn from these laws.

Instructions about Giving

Do not hold back offerings from your granaries or your vats. “You must give me the firstborn of your sons. 30 Do the same with your cattle and your sheep. Let them stay with their mothers for seven days, but give them to me on the eighth day. ( Exodus 22:29-30 NIV)

God says that there are certain things that His people were to give Him (offerings, sons, animals).  You say, “I understand giving God grain offerings and animal sacrifice but what about giving God you sons.”  What is he asking for here?  Were people supposed to kill their firstborn sons, like they killed animals.  Were they to be sacrificed to God?  No.

God hates child sacrifice.  That was forbidden in the Law of Moses (Leviticus 20:2-5 says, “The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any Israelite or any foreigner residing in Israel who sacrifices any of his children to Molek is to be put to death. The members of the community are to stone him. 3 I myself will set my face against him and will cut him off from his people; for by sacrificing his children to Molek, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name.” (Leviticus 20:2-5 NIV). The Jews in the OT were to sacrifice their animals but they were to redeem their sons.

After the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites and gives it to you, as he promised on oath to you and your ancestors, 12 you are to give over to the Lord the first offspring of every womb. All the firstborn males of your livestock belong to the Lord. 13 Redeem with a lamb every firstborn donkey, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. REDEEM EVERY FIRSTBORN AMONG YOUR SONS. (Exodus 13:11-13 NIV)  God says it again in Exodus 34:19-20.

What does it mean to redeem your sons? It only applied to sons, not daughters.  Daughters did not have to be redeemed and it only applied to firstborn sons, not to all of them.  They were not sacrificed or taken away but you had to pay money for them.  A payment had to be made.  it was a called “redemption money.”

The Lord also said to Moses, 45 “Take the Levites in place of all the firstborn of Israel, and the livestock of the Levites in place of their livestock. The Levites are to be mine. I am the Lord. 46 To redeem the 273 firstborn Israelites who exceed the number of the Levites, 47 collect five shekels for each one, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs.

48 Give the money for the redemption of the additional Israelites to Aaron and his sons.” 49 So Moses collected the redemption money from those who exceeded the number redeemed by the Levites. 50 From the firstborn of the Israelites he collected silver weighing 1,365 shekels, according to the sanctuary shekel. 51 Moses gave the redemption money to Aaron and his sons, as he was commanded by the word of the Lord. (Numbers 3:44-50 NIV)

Now how does all of this apply to us today? Some of these laws seem strange today.  In our culture, the firstborn does not mean what it meant in their culture.  Our firstborn sons do not receive a double portion of the inheritance.  We do not redeem our firstborn sons today.  We do not have animal sacrifice today.

We are not under the Law of Moses.  Contrary to what most preachers think, including all Baptist preachers, tithing is not a command for Christians.  It is not commanded in the NT.  The NT does not even talk about a first fruits offering.  Giving God our first fruits is not commanded in the NT either.  The NT does talk about first fruits but it is always people (e.g., James 1:18; I Corinthians 16:15; Revelation 14:4).

The point of this passage in Exodus is that we are to put God FIRST in our life.  That is still true today.  Do we put God first in our life?  The passage says that we are to give God some things (firstborn sons, cattle, sheep).  That is still true today as well. We focus on getting things from God.  We want God to give us things.  We need to give God some things.

That raises an important question.  What can we give God?  He owns everything.  We can give Him our worship and praise.  We can give Him our talents to use for His glory.  We can give Him our money. The wise men brought Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh.  We can give to God our bodies. Romans 12 says that we are to offer them as a living sacrifice. Instead of using them to do evil, we can use them to do good.

Instructions about Eating

The last verse of Exodus 22 deals with what to eat or rather what not to eat. “You are to be my holy people. So do not eat the meat of an animal torn by wild beasts; throw it to the dogs.” (22:31 NIV).  That is a strange verse.  It deals with roadkill.  Most of us get our food from the grocery store, also some people hunt.  It seems strange to me but there are some people who eat road kill, like some back woodsmen.

One Pentecostal preacher, who is Native-American, talked about how poor he was when he grew up.  He said that this was what his family ate.  They looked for fresh ones and not animals with maggots on it.  It is free food.  Some groups, like PETA, think it is actually ethical, because you are not eating an animal that you killed.[1]  God says not to do this.  Jews were forbidden to eat an animal that died accidentally or was eaten by other animals.

He shall not eat an animal which dies or is torn by beasts, becoming unclean by it; I am the LORD. (Leviticus 22:8).  Other passages tell us how long they were unclean.

If an animal that you are allowed to eat dies, anyone who touches its carcass will be unclean till evening. 40 Anyone who eats some of its carcass must wash their clothes, and they will be unclean till evening. Anyone who picks up the carcass must wash their clothes, and they will be unclean till evening. (Leviticus 11:39-40 NIV)

It is repeated elsewhere in Leviticus (17:15).  What was wrong with doing this?  Any contact with a dead body in the OT made you ceremonially unclean. It also is not very sanitary.  An animal in this condition contains more diseases and contaminants.

Instructions about Justice

Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness. “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit (23:1-5 NIV)

Here are three principles that deal with justice.  These are important principles for judges.  They are principles in the chapter for people who take the witness stand.  There are principles here about justice for every citizen.

God is a God of justice.  He loves justice.  It is part of His nature.  These principles deal, not social justice, but criminal justice. These rules are violated every day in our world today.  We might have done some of these things. The first instruction is about spreading false reports, lies, and misinformation.  Do not spread false reports (Exodus 23:1).

The Ninth Commandment says “Do not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). This is an expansion of the Ninth Commandment.  How do we do this today?  There are two ways. One, we spread a false report by making up lies about someone and fabricating things.  It can even be done by the media (e.g.,CNN).  Donald Trump calls it “fake news.”

It is against the law to spread false reports about someone. It is called slander or libel today.  but people do it all of the time, especially in the political season.  People will do anything and say anything to get elected.  They throw as much dirt on the other person as they can.

We are not to spread false reports, either by accusing someone of a crime that they did not commit or by saying someone is innocent you know is guilty.  That is the other side.  The second half of the verse says, “Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness.”

There is another way we break this rule today.  We can break it by spreading unconfirmed reports about someone, which is most cases, turn out to be false.  We need to be sure what we say about someone is true.  There is another word for spreading unconfirmed rumors about someone, usually their personal life.  It is GOSSIP.

Leviticus 19:16 says, “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people” (KJV).  A modern paraphrase would be “Don’t gossip.” Talking about people, even when they are not present, is not wrong but it is wrong to broadcast a bunch of rumors about someone just to hurt them and make you feel better.

The second instruction is about being fair in legal matters. Judges are to be fair.  They are not to put an honest person to death. Exodus 23:7 says, “Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty” (NIV).  They are not to condemn the innocent (like Pontius Pilate did).  They are also not to let the guilty get off.

How many people have gotten away with murder in America?  They went through the legal system.  The evidence was clear the verdict came in their favor (e.g., Lizzie Borden, O.J. Simpson, Casey Anthony). Everyone is entitled to a fair trial but we stand guilty before God when we help the wicked escape justice.

Judges are not to accept bribes.  Exodus 23:8 says, “Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent.” In some places, justice can be bought.  Money can buy justice.  If you want a certain verdict, you give some people some money.

Judges are to be fair in another way .  They are to be completely unbiased in their decisions.  There has to be integrity in the legal process.  God gives one example of unjust favoritism, and this may be a little surprising. Exodus 23:3 says, “Do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit.” 

Justice should be blind.  When the rich commit a crime, judges should not favor them because they are rich.  When the poor commit a crime, they should not favor them, feel sorry for them and give them a break. One day, everyone will stand before God, rich and poor and everyone will be treated equally. He is not a respecter of persons. God says, “I will not acquit the guilty” (23:7).  Even if they are poor, He will not acquit them.  We should not either.

You say, “I thought God was always on the side of the poor.”  Some Christians say that he is (e.g., Ron Sider[2]).  He is not.  That is the liberal lie. God cares about the poor and so should we.  We should have compassion for people but God is NOT always on the side of the poor. He is on the side of justice.

He is passionate about justice and that includes justice for the poor.  Exodus 23:6 says, “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits” but the rich are not always wrong and the poor are not always right.  Legal decisions should be based on the merits of the case and not whether the defendants are rich or poor.

The third instruction is about peer pressure. Peer pressure is not limited to high school.  It actually affects all of us.  Exodus 23:2 says, “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong” (NIV).  It is written into our laws today.  It is called “mob action.”  Inciting a riot is a felony.  It is a federal law.  This command sounds a little counter-cultural.  We have a democracy, a government of the people, for the people, by the people.  Our whole political system is based on a majority.  We like majorities.

There is an old Latin proverb vox populi, vox dei.  It means “the voice of the people is the voice of God.”  Democracy is the best form of government on the planet in a sinful world.  It is better than being ruled by a dictator but democracies are not perfect.  There are some problems with democracies.

Problems with Democracies

1) Majorities are not always good.

A majority voted for Hillary.  A majority crucified Jesus Christ.  They yelled “crucify him.”  Majorities have done all kinds of evil things.  A majority of people supported slavery at one time. A majority of people supported Hitler.  People in Germany thought he was great at one point.  He was popular.  All you have to do is to watch the video of Hitler’s speeches.

2) Majorities are not always right.

But how do we determine what is truth?  Truth has nothing to do with beliefs.  If you take a math test, you may get half of the questions wrong.  Just because you believed that all of the answers were right didn’t make them right.  Beliefs cannot change a fact.  It doesn’t matter if I believe in the law of gravity.  It still exists whether I believe in it or not.  If I jump off of a building, I am going to fall.

Majorities are not always good.  They are also not always right.  They do not determine truth.  A Gallop Poll in 2016 says that 61% of Americans support gay marriage.[3]  Does that make gay marriage right?  A 2001 Gallop Poll that says that 60% of Americans think that it is not wrong for people to have sex before marriage.[4] Does that make it okay to have sex before marriage?  No.

A majority of people at one time believed that the earth went around the Sun.  That did not make it true.  That is a logical fallacy.  It is called Argumentum ad populum (literally “argument to the people”).  This logical fallacy says that something is true because it is popular and because most people believe in it. It has a lot of different names (bandwagon fallacy).

Majority opinion is not the source of truth.  Polls do not determine morality.  Truth is not based on consensus.  A consensus can be wrong.  Wrong does not become right just because everybody is doing it! G.K. Chesterton once said, “Right is right even if no one does it; wrong is wrong even if everyone does it.”[5]

Who decides what is right?  God does.  Romans 3:4 says, “God is true, even if everyone else is a liar” (ISV).  Just because a million scientists say that life evolved by chance apart from God, it does not change the facts.  “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” is still true.  It will always be true.

Practical Application

What is the application for us?  Peer pressure has a powerful effect on people, especially teenagers (alcohol, drugs, premarital sex). Just because everyone is doing something in society does not make it right.  Just because everyone is doing something in the church does not make it right either.  You might be going to the wrong church.  We are to follow truth, not a crowd.

Our focus should not be on what other people are doing but on what God calls us to do. Romans 12:2 says “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will” (NIV) Christians should stand out, not try to fit in or blend in with society and do what everyone else is doing.

[1] http://www.peta.org/about-peta/faq/is-it-ok-to-eat-roadkill/supermarket

[2] Ronald J. Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity (Chicago: Word Publishing, 1997), 84

[3] http://www.gallup.com/poll/191645/americans-support-gay-marriage-remains-high.aspx

[4] http://www.gallup.com/poll/3163/majority-considers-sex-before-marriage-morally-okay.aspx

[5] G. K. Chesterton, Collected Works, 27:463.

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