|Series Theme: Meditations in Lessons from the Law of Moses|
Meditation No. 23
Meditation Title: 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.
Although it is perhaps one of the most obvious things of life, many people just don't realise it and appear surprised when things go wrong. The fact of the matter is that we live in a Fallen World, a world where every human being is tainted by sin and therefore we say and do silly and wrong things, and then wonder why life seems difficult. It is difficult because we are fallen and are no longer the gloriously perfect beings we were when God made the first man and woman. The Law is all about coping with a world where things go wrong and people aren't nice!
These laws recognise that things will go wrong in community life, that there will be disagreements, there will be appealing to the courts. Thus a number of these particular laws relate to what should happen in such disputes. For God, truth is important. A number of these issues are linked with the ninth of the Ten Commandments: You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. (Ex 20:16 ) Perverting the truth in any way in respect of such disputes is injustice.
Therefore we find in this section of the Law, 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!
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: Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. (v.6) 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: 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. (v.7) Justice is ascertaining the truth in disputes and acting accordingly. Thus bribes work against the truth being brought out and are therefore forbidden: Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous. (v.8) Working against someone simply because they are a foreigner (v.9) denies them truth: Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt . (v.9) Israel should know better they have been aliens in Egypt !
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: 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. (v.4,5) Thus if you find yourself with an opportunity to help those you would consider and enemy (v.4) or someone who hates you (v.5), 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).
In the midst of all this is a quiet reminder that these are God's laws and that we are answerable to Him: I will not acquit the guilty. (v.7) Every now and again in these laws we find quiet reminders that this is a people who are answerable to God. For example, 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. (Ex 22:22-25) Also, When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate. (Ex 22:27b) These reminders from the Lord come through to remind us that He is especially concerned for the weak and poor and if no one else will stand up for them, He will! Moreover, He will hold accountable those who oppress them. The warnings are clear.