"God's Love in the Old Testament" - Appendix 1



Appendix 1 to chapter 22

"The 'Social Laws' of Exodus 21-23"




Appendix 1: The ‘Social' Laws of Exodus 21-23



In chapter 20 God gave the Ten Commandments because the first four match reality and anything less degenerates into pagan superstition and fear, and the latter six bring peace , order and stability to society. Remove them and all those three characteristics are also removed. In chapter 21 onwards we have the social law worked out in more detail.


Before we start reading, please keep in mind the culture of the world at that time. Although today we would find slavery abhorrent, in that day it was common. Similarly we may have very different understanding of the place and role of women in society to that which existed then. Over the centuries, many of these things would change, things that we might consider to be expressions of primitive societies, but we should note that the Law of Moses recognised those attitudes and practices and sought to regulate them for the welfare and wellbeing of the people concerned until such changes were able to be brought much later in history. Watch out for that in these laws!



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21:1 These are the laws you are to set before them:

  • The start of a set of new laws that applied specifically to Israel .


21:2 If you buy a Hebrew servant…. .

  • These were clearly for Israel and only Israel .
  • Circumstances would change and therefore certain laws would simply no longer applicable to them.
  • Now having said that, we can consider how these laws reflect God's design for all peoples.
  • What are the characteristics that we find in them, what are the principles that operate?
  • The first is that God designed and planned this world before He created it, so that it would work in certain ways. We might call these the laws of nature.
  • The second truth that flows from the first is that God knows best, and that includes what is appropriate at particular times in history (hence the laws about slavery) and what things are generally good for creating a peaceful and orderly society.
  • A third truth, that again flows from the previous one, is that God knows that we are sinners and knows that things will go wrong in society and so gives laws that both restrain the wrong and lay down guidelines how to deal with things when they do go wrong.

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The Law for Servants


Ex 21:2-4 If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.

  • The situation would be that a family was poor and in need and so might sell a family member into servitude. They would become the ‘ownership' of the master who bought them and the family would receive the payment for them and they would receive their keep and become almost part of the family who bought them, and would work for them.
  • The point that is at issue here is that when such a thing happened, the Lord demands that their period of service be limited to six years only and then they be released without payment.
  • The servant is to be treated as a ‘hired worker or a temporary resident', NOT a slave!
  • Servant-hood is strictly limited and so if poverty pushes a family into service, that is only for a relatively short period and not for a lifetime. If the servant was married when he came, then his wife went as well and when the period of service came to an end they both left.
  • If the master gives the servant a wife, she is under the master's directions and so she and any children remain with the master at the end of the period (unless of course a friendly master should release her as well). However legally she was to stay with the Master. It would be likely that a servant knowing this would either marry with the obligations and stay on at the end, or simply not marry during that time.


Ex 21:5,6 But if the servant declares, `I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free, then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.” (v.5,6)

  • There is an implied recognition here that being a servant for a good master actually created a great sense of security. It was just a job and one which had rewards which the servant might wish to continue. For a good master, such a job may have had no more onerous requirements than many jobs today, and in fact probably created a great deal of security for the servant in a day when there were no ‘benefits' or other means to care for such people.
  • If the servant did want to stay on, then a simple procedure of creating a permanent body mark (like we pierce ears for earrings) indicated his intent and the master's agreement to have the servant and his family stay on. Actually piercing the ear against the doorpost of the home probably also added the sense symbolically of him being attached to that home. In reality it was no more different than ear piercing today.
  • The purpose of these instructions was to formalise a process that often happened anyway – the servant staying on after the six years – in order to prevent abuse and to protect the servant by formalising the arrangement in the eyes of the Law and of the local community.

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Women in Service


Ex 21:7,8 If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as menservants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her.

  • In an under-developed country, most of us would agree that women are more vulnerable than men.
  • They are vulnerable because mostly they are physically weaker than men, and also because sexually they could be preyed upon by stronger men.
  • In verses 7 to 11 which cover the female servant (this applies to servants and not slaves) the word ‘If” occurs five times, indicating five possibilities that are being covered by this law.
  • The first one refers to a Hebrew father who has fallen into abject poverty (for that's only when this was allowed) and who is seeking to care for his children, as well as income for the family.

Ex 21:7 “If a man sells his daughter as a servant.”

  • Here the father, in exchange for money, puts his daughter into the family of another to work “in service”. This is so that she can prove herself, and it acts as a prelude to becoming the wife of the master, or even of his son. It was a practice of the Middle East and so the laws here are to protect her in such circumstances.

Ex 21:8 If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her.”

  • In other words, after he has taken her as a wife, if that relationship does not work out because for some reason she is unable to live up to the role of wife, then she is not to be sold off but must be redeemed by her family (implied).
  • It is probable that this really means that this occurs if the Master decides not to marry her because she turns out not to be a virgin. Even within this practice, as alien as it is to us, there is care for the woman and protection against her being sold.

Ex 21:9 “If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter.”

  • If she is taken on as the wife of the son, she is not to be considered a servant but is to have all the rights and privileges of a member of the family.

Ex 21:10 “If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights.”

  • If the man took a second (or even third wife) which was not uncommon, the first girl must not lose out in any way and must still be cared for and provided for.

Ex 21:11 “If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.”

  • If that does not happen the contract is annulled on both sides.
  • In a loving family context it would only happen if the family fell into hard times and could not cope, and the father's intentions are likely to include the welfare of his daughter.
  • Yes, in every situation within the compass of the law, there would always be abuses, but wherever possible the law sought to provide for the care and welfare of everyone covered by it.


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Capital Crimes


Ex 21:12 -14 Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. However, if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen, he is to flee to a place I will designate. But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death.

  • The Law now moves on to cover murder and manslaughter.
  • The Ten Commandments stated “You shall not murder.” This law spells out what should happen when that basic law has been broken.
  • Behind these three verses is the heart of criminal law: premeditated killing is murder; accidental killing is manslaughter.
  • The basic law is that “ Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death.” That is the starting point: it is wrong to kill someone – seriously wrong!
  • But then comes a looking at the motivation for the act: “ if he does not do it intentionally.” If it is unintentional that is different from “ if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately.”
  • The secondary reason for assessing motivation, is because of what is going to follow. If it was manslaughter, then the perpetrator could flee to one of the cities of refuge:

Num 35:10-13 “When you cross the Jordan into Canaan , select some towns to be your cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone accidentally may flee. They will be places of refuge from the avenger, so that a person accused of murder may not die before he stands trial before the assembly. These six towns you give will be your cities of refuge.”

  • There is within this additional law a realism and an awareness of human behaviour that is admirable.
  • There is the awareness that even though it may have been manslaughter it may take time to prove that and in the meantime the close family of the person killed may be so incensed by the killing that they may want to go out and take revenge on the killer. That would not be justice.
  • No, the cities of refuge were a device to thwart human anger.

Ex 21:15 “Anyone who attacks his father or his mother must be put to death.”

  • You will see in your Bible a footnote to the effect that the word ‘attacks' could mean ‘kills'
  • This focuses the violence of death or attempted death on the sanctity of the family, which was the primary building block in that society that God was creating.
  • Whether it is murder or attempted murder, when it applies to parents, then death is to follow. The consequences of the breakdown of society were too great; this must act as a deterrent.

Ex 21:16 “Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death.”

  • The taking away of life by kidnapping (not literal death) is considered just a heinous.

Ex 21:17 “Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.”

  • A curse, here, is not a casual slanderous comment; it is a purposeful bringing of an occult curse that will have effect and as such, is put into the same category as the previous laws, for it has the same potential.
  • Again it is linked with the sanctity of the family, the primary building block of society. That is why it is so serious and that is why it will seem so strange to us who live in a society where we are so casual about the family building block that we have made it easy for it to be broken up, and we do so little to support and strengthen it, allowing abuses of many kinds to continue almost unchecked.

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Injuries Inflicted


Ex 21:18,19 If men quarrel and one hits the other with a stone or with his fist and he does not die but is confined to bed, the one who struck the blow will not be held responsible if the other gets up and walks around outside with his staff; however, he must pay the injured man for the loss of his time and see that he is completely healed.

  • The Law moves to minor injuries and four situations are envisaged in verses 18 to 27, two involving fights and two involving slaves or servants.
  • First, the first of the two fight situations: the Law recognises that sinful men will have upsets and disagreements and in the heat of the moment it will turn violent.
  • Murder and manslaughter have already been covered, so now we consider lesser injuries incurred during such upsets.
  • There is an argument which turns violent and one man sustains injuries that confine him to bed.
  • Very well, says the Law, that happens and it is no big issue, but there are two things to be considered.
    • The first is the fact that the man confined to his bed to recover from his injuries will not be able to work and so he should be compensated for his loss of work by the other man who caused the injury.
    • Second, and this is quite delightful, the man who caused the injury is to go to the injured man and “see that he is completely healed.”
  • In other words, he is to care for him, and that means have contact which, by its very nature, gives an opportunity for rebuilding a relationship after the upset.
  • The picture of the one caring for the one he has injured could well be included in our own modern laws. It is part of the reconciliation work that is sometimes being done today in the legal system.
  • The second ‘fight situation' occurs a few verses later:

Ex 21:22-25 If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”

  • i.e. If the pregnant wife of one of the men (for that is the likely scenario) seeks to intervene and stop the fight and be injured and give birth prematurely but there is no other injury, then a fine shall be imposed on the other man for having caused it, assessed as a compromise of what the husband demands and the court agrees.
  • For more serious injuries caused, the penalty is to match the injury. This is a ‘limiting law', given to limit there being revenge. The idea is that the punishment should equal the harm caused and no more. It thus stops worse happening through revenge.

Ex 21:20,21 “If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.

  • i.e. if a slave is killed by a master the laws of murder and manslaughter will apply. If it is a temporary injury there is to be no penalty. To us today, parts of this appear quite unfair and I think it is right to say that it is unfair.
  • It is, of course a law legislating for a situation that we would not want to happen today but which would continue on for thousands of years. Slavery is an outworking of a sinful Fallen World. In a redeemed world it would not happen.
  • As I have commented elsewhere, I believe the Lord tolerated slavery (never commending it) simply because to abolish it would mean the complete changing of the mindset of a particular nation or series of nations and it would be many years before that could come about.
  • The Lord never forces us to change our thinking and so slavery was an unpleasant face of humanity all over the world for a long time. Thus this law is inhibiting the behaviour of slave masters for they would be fearful of killing a slave because of the repercussions. Striking a slave in the heat of anger, presumably because of disobedience, was not what God wants to happen, but is tolerable in as much as slavery was tolerable until ‘civilised mankind' could eventually see otherwise.

Ex 21:26 ,27 If a man hits a manservant or maidservant in the eye and destroys it, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the eye. And if he knocks out the tooth of a manservant or maidservant, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the tooth.”

  • If a servant is injured the penalty to compensate for that injury is that the servant is to be released.
  • As one commentator has said, slavery in Israel was ‘rural, domestic and small scale', yet the Law made sure it still was concerned for the welfare of such workers.
  • In the Jewish community, the slave was not without rights as was the case with slavery elsewhere in the world.
  • Yes, slavery may have existed, but the Israelite master who had slaves had to care for them and where his own sinful nature resulted in them being injured, the Law was there to speak up for them.

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Injuries by Animals


Ex 21:28 ,29 If a bull gores a man or a woman to death, the bull must be stoned to death, and its meat must not be eaten. But the owner of the bull will not be held responsible. If, however, the bull has had the habit of goring and the owner has been warned but has not kept it penned up and it kills a man or woman, the bull must be stoned and the owner also must be put to death.

  • In an agricultural society this is a very real issue to be dealt with. Bulls are notoriously dangerous and the possibility of a person being gored to death by a bull is very real. If that should happen, possibly in recognition of the seriousness of a human life being taken, the bull shall be killed but not eaten. Presumably it would just be burnt to get rid of it. As towards responsibility for the bull, the starting place is that the owner of the bull will not be liable for what it has done.
  • However, as with most of these laws, there is a caveat, which is that if the owner knew of the tendency of this bull to injure people who got near it, then he would be held liable and both he and the bull are put to death for causing the death of another when the owner had known of the likelihood.
  • The law of “Strict Liability” in our land says that if you bring something onto your land known to be dangerous if it escapes off the land, and it does escape, you are liable for the damage caused if you do allow it to escape. This is the same sort of law behind these verses here. They deal with, first of all, a bull killing a human being, and then a bull killing another bull.

Ex 21:30 However, if payment is demanded of him, he may redeem his life by paying whatever is demanded.”

  • We have seen already that the owner's life is thus forfeit but the family of the dead person may take compensation instead if they wish and the owner thus keeps his life.
  • This was no doubt the more preferable option.

Ex 21:31 This law also applies if the bull gores a son or daughter.”

  • In other words, the law is no different if the person killed by the bull is a child. This point is made in the light of what then follows:

Ex 21:32 “If the bull gores a male or female slave, the owner must pay thirty shekels of silver to the master of the slave, and the bull must be stoned.”

  • i.e. i f a slave was killed the compensation goes to the owner for his loss. Because a foreign slave (see earlier) was considered to be less important than a Hebrew, the death penalty for the owner does not apply and he just has to pay compensation to the owner of the slave.
  • Note: in the two verses above, death was not mentioned but the assumption is that that is what followed being gored by the bull, as they follow on from our initial verses above. It is also assumed, because of the natural flow of the verses, that they refer to a situation where the owner was aware of the bull's propensity to harm.)

Ex 21:33,34 If a man uncovers a pit or digs one and fails to cover it and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit must pay for the loss; he must pay its owner, and the dead animal will be his.”

  • This is simply a case where compensation must be paid for the loss of an animal by his carelessness, but the dead animal remains his for him to do whatever he will with it.
  • Where the carelessness comes in the form of allowing one bull to kill another, then both dead and live bull values are divided between the two owners:

Ex 21:35 “If a man's bull injures the bull of another and it dies, they are to sell the live one and divide both the money and the dead animal equally.”

  • This assumes that the first owner was not aware that his bull had a propensity to be vicious

Ex 21:36 “However, if it was known that the bull had the habit of goring, yet the owner did not keep it penned up, the owner must pay, animal for animal, and the dead animal will be his.”

  • i.e. if he was aware of its propensity, then he simply has to pay the full price of the dead bull to its owner and the carcass becomes his for him to do whatever he wants with it.

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Laws of Theft


Ex 22:1 "If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.

  • Being an agricultural economy, theft of animals was clearly the worst sort of theft envisaged because it took away a family's food or livelihood. Domestic theft is that sort covered here.
  • The law here seems to have an element of deterrence in it. The assumption is, of course, that the thief has been found out. The thief has stolen an animal belonging to someone else and has either killed it or sold it on. In other words, there is no possibility of giving it back. The original owner has lost his property and there is no way of returning it.

Ex 22:4 If the stolen animal is found alive in his possession--whether ox or donkey or sheep--he must pay back double.”

  • In other words, he's not going to get away with just giving back the animal; there is an element or punishment or deterrent about it, for he has to give double what he took.
  • Yet there is a further element to be added:

Ex 22:3b “A thief must certainly make restitution, but if he has nothing, he must be sold to pay for his theft.”

  • This surely is the ultimate deterrent: if you steal and can't pay the appropriate amounts you will end up working to pay for the debt.
  • Next comes dealing with the situation of where a thief breaks in and the homeowner, defending himself or his home, kills the intruder:

Ex 22:2,3 “If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; but if it happens after sunrise, he is guilty of bloodshed.” (v.2,3)

  • The law is very simple: if it happens after dark, the homeowner is not guilty; if it happens in the daylight, he is. Presumably there is a recognition that in the dark there is a greater likelihood of fear and great probability of violent defense, and greater difficulty in being careful to avoid over use of force that might result in death of the intruder.
  • In the daytime presumably there is less fear and it is easier to control what takes place, and therefore the homeowner should do what he can to avoid seriously injuring the intruder. In recent years court cases have come more in line with this way of thinking. It is a recognition of the practical difficulty in carefully defending your home, especially at night.


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Laws of Negligence


Ex 22:5,6 If a man grazes his livestock in a field or vineyard and lets them stray and they graze in another man's field, he must make restitution from the best of his own field or vineyard. "If a fire breaks out and spreads into thorn bushes so that it burns shocks of grain or standing grain or the whole field, the one who started the fire must make restitution.

  • In modern law a duty of care arises when a person is in a position to foresee that an action or lack of action of theirs is likely to cause to others injury of damage or wrong reliance upon them, and negligence occurs when there is a breach of that duty and as a result another has suffered damages (loss).
  • If livestock escape, of course they will eat the grass on neighbouring ground. If fire breaks out and is not contained, of course it will cause damage on neighbouring land. In both cases the original land owner is liable for the dame to his neighbours land.


Ex 22:7-9 If a man gives his neighbor silver or goods for safekeeping and they are stolen from the neighbor's house, the thief, if he is caught, must pay back double. But if the thief is not found, the owner of the house must appear before the judges to determine whether he has laid his hands on the other man's property. 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 his neighbor.”

  • If the goods are stolen the original law of theft applies (Ex 22:4) but if no trace of a thief is found it may be that the neighbour may have taken the good for himself and so it must be taken to court, and if the court determines the neighbour has taken the goods for himself then the normal law of theft applies.

Ex 22:10-12 “If a man gives a donkey, an ox, a sheep or any other animal to his neighbor for safekeeping and it dies or is injured or is taken away while no one is looking, 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. But if the animal was stolen from the neighbor, he must make restitution to the owner.”

  • The law appears at first sight to be the same as for personal property left in safe keeping but the difference is that rather than go to court to settle it, it is settled by a solemn oath before God which is seen as sufficient to deter untruth, and no restitution is required when the animal has simply died or injures itself. The reference to it being “ taken away while no one is looking” would seem, to suggest it was taken either from his own property or without the knowledge of the person caring for it, because in this case the other person is required to make restitution for it

Ex 22:13 “If it was torn to pieces by a wild animal, he shall bring in the remains as evidence and he will not be required to pay for the torn animal.”

  • i.e. if a marauding wild animal got in and destroyed the animal being cared for, as long as there is evidence of the remains there are no repercussions.

Ex 22:14 ,15 “If a man borrows an animal from his neighbor and it is injured or dies while the owner is not present, he must make restitution. 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.”

  • This is a case where an animal is borrowed (?possibly a horse or a donkey) and it is injured or dies while with the other man. The outcomes depend on whether the owner was present or not. If he was (and can see there was no mistreatment – implied?) there is no come back, but if he wasn't then the borrower must make restitution. If it happens when the animal was hired, then it is assumed that the hire cost covers such eventualities.
  • Again, in an agricultural economy, these things would happen and were therefore very important. God gives the guidelines that are quite reasonable and they operate to protect each person involved.


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Laws of Social Responsibility


Ex 22:16,17 "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. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins.

  • This is in respect of young women being taken advantage of as seen in our verses above. They are the first vulnerable group covered here.
  • But that caring was also extended to foreigners living within Israel :

Ex 22:21 “ Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt .”

  • Racial prejudice had no place in the people of God. The foreigner is the second of the vulnerable groups who the Law protects.
  • That caring attitude also extended to those who were vulnerable because they are alone, although part of Israel , widows and orphans:

Ex 22:22 -24 Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. 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.”

  • Observe God's concern for the weak and the vulnerable in society. Widows and orphans are the third vulnerable group that the Law protects.
  • That caring attitude was extended to cover not taking advantage of those who needed to borrow from you:

Ex 22:25 -27 If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest. If you take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.”

  • It recognises that the person who has to borrow because they are poor and needy, are particularly vulnerable (the fourth vulnerable group ) and as such they should be treated with compassion, for the Lord is a compassionate God and you will be answerable to Him if you do not care for those who are less well off and vulnerable.
  • Yes, this was to be a distinct people and part of that distinctiveness meant that clear boundaries were drawn as to what was considered acceptable.
  • To emphasise the seriousness of this, the death penalty was applied to those who blurred the distinction between light and darkness by dabbling in the occult:
  • Ex 22:18 Do not allow a sorceress to live.”
  • Now although it is not stated here, this and the following prohibitions are in respect of things that not only show a disdain for God, but they also show a disdain for the holy nature of Israel .
  • This was supposed to be a holy nation, a nation that was distinct and different and which shone as a light or an example to the rest of the world, to show the world how God had designed mankind and how a good society in relationship with God was possible.
  • These subjects we are now considering demeaned people, and demeaned the nation and stopped them being that light to the nation. It is for that reason that they are considered so serious that the death penalty is there to act as a severe deterrent.
  • The first of these prohibitions was thus in respect of those who blurred the distinction between God and what is, in fact, demonic powers.
  • Ex 22:19 Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal must be put to death.”
  • The second prohibition in this group is in respect of those who blurred the distinction between human and animal.

Ex 22:20 Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the LORD must be destroyed.”

  • The third prohibition was in respect of those who blurred the distinction between real and false in the spirit realm.
  • Each of these prohibitions demeans the people, demeans society and demeans God!
  • But the height of that distinctiveness was to be in respect of the way they related to the Lord Himself.

Ex 22:28 Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people.”

  • Thus they were always to honour Him and respect His authority.

Ex 22:29a Do not hold back offerings from your granaries or your vats.”

  • Similarly they were to express that honour in giving a token offering of their produce, as an expression of thankfulness:

Ex 22:29b,30 You must give me the firstborn of your sons. 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.”

  • Also their first born son, cattle and sheep as token offerings to remember the Exodus deliverance

Ex 22:31 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.”

  • This holiness was to extend even into their eating, probably to maintain health, by not eating savaged meat: (v.31). A truly distinctive people!

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Laws of Justice & Mercy


Ex 23:1-3 "Do not spread false reports. Do not help a wicked man 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 man in his lawsuit.

  • False reports and false testimony (v.1) are forbidden. Indeed letting public opinion sway you from the truth ( follow the crowd – v.2) and being biased for or against those in court, because of that ( siding with the crowd – v.3 ) is forbidden.
  • Note in passing that there are two reasons why you might ‘go along with the crowd': the first is because public opinion is with the lawbreaker (a wicked man), a bad man thought well of by people (watch for that in the media) and, second, because public opinion feels sorry for a poor man bringing an action, even if he is wrong.
  • The Law demands that you do not let emotions rule – only the truth!

Ex 23:6 Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits.”

  • The Law also requires that everyone has equal access to the courts. Excluding people from the judicial process because they cannot afford it denies them the opportunity for the truth to bring justice.

Ex 23:7 “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.”

  • The courts are to be about justice and anything that undermines justice is to be abhorred.
  • False charges deny the truth, and mishandling a case so the innocent are made guilty also denies the truth and denies justice: Justice is ascertaining the truth in disputes and acting accordingly.

Ex 23:8 “Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous.”

  • Thus bribes work against the truth being brought out and are therefore forbidden.

Ex 23:9 Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt .”

  • Working against someone simply because they are a foreigner denies them truth: Israel should know better – they have been aliens in Egypt !

Ex 23:4,5 If you come across your enemy's ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it.”

  • Denying truth denies care for people and caring is behind all of God's laws.
  • Caring should be extended even to those who you don't get on with.
  • Thus if you find yourself with an opportunity to help those you would consider and enemy or someone who hates you , then take that opportunity to bless them. Every now and then within the Law we find God's heart for reconciliation shining through.
  • The Law of Moses doesn't just try to right wrongs, it also tries to bring people back together again.


We find in these first nine verses of chapter 23 a strange blend of cries FOR justice and AGAINST untruth together with clear indications of care for the weak and poor, and even for helping those you don't get on with.

To recap, caring for and upholding truth is seen in verses 1-3 (right testimonies), v.7 (no false charges), and v.8 (no bribes). Care for the underdog is seen in verse 6 (the poor) and v.9 (the alien). Working for goodness and reconciliation is seen in verses 4 & 5 (animals).

Ex 23:7 I will not acquit the guilty.”

  • In the midst of all this is a quiet reminder that these are God's laws and that we are answerable to Him!


Thus we come to the end of the ‘social laws' of these three chapters. I hope you will have seen how reasonable they are in the circumstances of this embryonic nation under God.




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