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Dare to be Different

Date: Oct. 31, 2021

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Exodus 22:1-31

Key Verse: Exodus 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.

Happy Halloween, everyone! Today is Halloween Day, or All Hallows’ Eve. It is a day that so many people look forward to each year, especially the children. And that is because tomorrow is All Hallows’ Day or sometimes called, All Saints’ Day. It is a day to commemorate all the Christians who died for their faith, whether they are known or not. Like I said, so many people look forward to remembering those Christians who gave their lives for Jesus. Their sacrifice gives us the courage to stand in our faith during these divisive times. We must dare to be different while living our lives of faith, no matter what the cost. As we have heard in the past few weeks, the covenant, the contract between God and his people, beginning with the Ten Commandments and being focused down in last week’s passage, showed Israelites what it means to be God’s people. In many cases, the Commandments and subsequent rules demanded that the people be different than the other nations at that time. There were rules and regulations that led people to behave differently. Most of the world was polytheistic, meaning that they worshiped many gods, but the covenant people were to have only one God, the Lord. Also, there were many rules in how the Israelites were to deal with slaves because they were once slaves in Egypt, until the Lord freed them. In today’s passage, we will see more of these rules, rules dealing with property and social responsibility. It can be difficult going through the rules. Some of them are strange to our society, but as Mike pointed out last week, there is still much we can learn from these rules. They continue to help us see what is truly important in our lives of faith.

Two weeks ago, I alluded to something. In three of the gospels, there is a story of one of the teachers of the law asking Jesus what the greatest commandment was. “‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.’” (Mark 12:29-31) Jesus responded with the two most basic things that the Ten Commandments boil down to: to love God and to love people. When we adhere to those to tenements, we fulfill all the commandments. It is novel for us to think this way. The rest of the world doesn’t. The world at large doesn’t love, let alone care about, God, and our culture is so concerned about disregarding other people. We are called by the world to elevate ourselves and our needs, but God’s word calls for us to live a higher life, one that fulfills us in every aspect of our existence. The rules that we go through today give examples of how to be different from the world.

Our passage starts out today, “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.” (1) This first verse shows the severity of stealing an animal and slaughtering it or selling it. It belonged to someone else but was taken and not able to be returned to the original owner. Previously, we saw restitution in the form of eye for eye and tooth for tooth. There was equal restitution for what was done, but here there is more restitution: five times for cattle and four for sheep. The difference between the two, here, is that oxen are working animals. They help plow the fields and aid a person in many other ways. The loss of an ox also means the loss of part of the owner’s livelihood. Without the ox, the owner cannot do all the work that he needs to do. It’s like a stolen car. It is hard to get to work if your car is stolen if you rely on that car to get to work. Because of that, the restitution is greater for the ox than it is for the sheep. However, the reason it was so high, was to discourage stealing the ox or sheep in the first place. It is like those signs on the highway in construction zones that say there is a $10,000 fine and up to ten years in prison for hitting a construction worker. It’s meant to get you to think and not do something.

The next bit of laws concerns the victimized. “If a thief is caught breaking in at night and is struck a fatal blow, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; but if it happens after sunrise, the defender is guilty of bloodshed.” (2-3) Here, we don’t just have thievery, but also breaking and entering. If a person breaks into someone’s house, the owner might defend himself. If he does and uses lethal force, he is not guilty of murder if it is dark. Since it is dark, it is hard to see, and the owner might not know exactly what he is doing. In the daytime, the owner would be able to see what is going on and should be able to use non-lethal force to subdue the perpetrator. Unlike some other nations, the perpetrator still had some rights under this law. It is not one of those “I have the right to do what I want in my home” things. At night, deadly force could be used, but in the daytime, with more ability to see what is going on, the homeowner is able to exercise restraint and is liable if they were to kill the thief.

In the next part, we get back to restitution. “Anyone who steals must certainly make restitution, but if they have nothing, they must be sold to pay for their theft. If the stolen animal is found alive in their possession—whether ox or donkey or sheep—they must pay back double.” (3-4) Here, the restitution happens even if the offender is unable to make it. A person shouldn’t steal even if they have nothing. It is still their responsibility to make right what they did wrong, even if it costs themselves dearly. If the thief has the property, then they must give back double what they took. All this talk of restitution is interesting. There are many times where we teach our children that they need to make right if they did something wrong. If they make a mess, then they need to help clean it up. However, as adults this concept seems largely lost. Unless somebody is sued, there is no compensation or restitution for a wrong. If something is taken, then it is returned and nothing more. If there is litigation, then restitution comes into play. God’s people aren’t to live like that. God’s people are to make sure that the victim is more than compensated for their loss. If you offend, you got to make it right. Nowadays, even admitting you are wrong is a taboo. It is better to deflect and ignore the offense. The problem just needs to go away. But believers have to admit that they are wrong and find a way to make it right.

This thought continues in the next verses, “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. 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.” (5-6) I grouped these two verses together. The first one involves neglect. A person isn’t paying attention to what his livestock are doing and the trespass on someone else’s property and graze there. The other involves a fire spreading to another’s field and damages some crops. In both these cases, there isn’t any harm caused intentionally, like with stealing. Instead, the damage was done inadvertently. However, the lack of premeditation or intent to harm does not counteract the fact that a person’s action or inaction directly caused harm to another’s field. “I didn’t mean to,” is no excuse to try to fix it. Here the best of the offender’s crops is to be given in compensation. Again, as believers, we are to give above and beyond what is minimal to make things right.

Up next in the text are some rules surrounding what happens when a person gives some silver or goods or livestock to another person for safekeeping. The goods and livestock are treated separately, but there are similar consequences when things go wrong. For goods, if they are stolen, then the thief, if caught, must pay back double. If the thief is not found, the person who was supposed to be watching over the goods is brought before the judges to determine if the person laid hands on the other person’s property. For livestock, if it was killed or taken, a similar phrase is mentioned. It had to be determined if the person laid hands on the other person’s property. This means that the judges had to make sure that the person watching over the neighbor’s property, did not steal the property, whether goods or livestock, or were just negligent in their handling of the property. If something happened while watching over someone else’s stuff, there could be a temptation to blame everything on another, unknown thief. They might feel too ashamed to fess up to what they did, so they just try to blame someone else. These rules set up a framework for dealing with this type of fraud. If it is a real theft, then it should be treated as such, but, if it is an attempt of defrauding the other person, then an investigation before the Lord needs to take place to determine what really happened. Now, there were no forensic scientists at that time, and it was presumed that both parties were believers. In that case, the problem was brought before the Lord. Again, being honest and above board are what the Lord desires in his people. He wants them to be greater than the rest of the world and think of others before themselves.

Something similar is supposed to happen when someone borrows an animal, and it is killed. If the owner is not there, then the borrower must pay restitution for the loss, but if the owner is there, then no restitution is needed because the amount paid to hire compensates for the loss. In the first case, restitution is needed because something happened in someone else’s care, but in the second case, the owner is there and is responsible for his animal. These rules were set up so that people wouldn’t argue over whose fault it was for the death of the hired animal. Without the owner present, it’s hard to know what exactly happened and the borrower is responsible for the care of the animal. With the owner present, it is the owner’s responsibility to watch over his own property. He should not demand more, if he is there, but not paying attention to what is going on. The owner shouldn’t be greedy in his loss.

The next part falls under the social responsibility section and deals with marriage. “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.” (16-17) These verses seem very antiquated, nowadays. A bride-price is to be paid to the woman’s family. It sounds degrading, almost like property. In those ancient times, marriage was taken very seriously. There were whole rituals that were followed to ensure that marriage was not to be taken lightly or on a whim. Women were not treated like property, but a bride-price was given to the woman’s family. It was meant to compensate the family, but also to show how serious the man was in wanting to marry the woman. Marriage is a covenant, and a sign of that covenant is sexual intercourse. In God’s eyes, sexual intercourse is always a sign of covenant of marriage, regardless of whether a person is legally married or not. Sexual intercourse is what makes the couple one flesh, as mentioned in Genesis.

So, sex before marriage is like getting married to the person, even if they were legally not married. There are many times that sex before marriage happened because the groom didn’t want to pay the bride-price. They had sex to get married. The thought went, now that they had sex, she was his. These rules were set up to make sure that marriage was not entered because passion alone. The formality of the covenant still had to happen. Also, it wasn’t guaranteed that the marriage would still happen. Sexual intercourse before marriage wasn’t to be a method of calling dibs on a woman. The woman’s family could still refuse to give her to the man, but still demand the bride-price because of the seriousness of what transpired. These rules are meant to elevate the sanctity of marriage and show how serious it is. Modern times treat marriage like a disposable commodity. It is almost meaningless, nowadays. Some people have been married multiple times. Paying a bride-price might seem degrading to a woman, but it showed how much a woman was valued. Taking a woman’s virginity was not to be taken lightly. Sex before marriage meant that the man did not value the woman enough to go through all the requirements to take her as his wife. The system was set up so that the women wouldn’t be taken advantage of and treated like property.

Next, there is a bit of a shift. The next three rules, deal with very severe things. “Do not allow a sorceress to live. Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal is to be put to death. Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the Lord must be destroyed.” (18-20) Each of these three shows the punishment of death. They were severe problems because they threatened the first commandment, about God being the only God. Sorcery was a means to find secret methods or knowledge for personal gain. It led people away from the Lord when searching for help. It placed a person or secret knowledge above God. Sexual relations with animals was also deserving death. As mentioned before sexual intercourse was the mark of marriage. Also, the act was condemned because of its connection to some pagan fertility worship. Sex with animals was an act of worship to pagan god, but God’s people were to worship only the Lord. Which, then, takes us to the last of these three. That one literally talks about worshipping other gods. Again, the people weren’t supposed to follow the world in their worship, but to follow the Lord in worship. To violate that first commandment is a serious offense. One that deserved death. Now, the people who practiced these things were not to be put to death over their first offense, but the repeated disregard for the Lord. They couldn’t be left alone because they would end up leading so many people astray.

As we continue along, the passage begins to focus on the marginalized in society: the foreigners, the widows, the orphans and the needy. These weren’t the only marginalized people in society, but they were the most prominent. God’s people weren’t to take advantage of people in need. The foreigner has no one in the country that they can rely on, so society must help them, or at least not mistreat them. In those times, foreigners were often seen as contemptable. Those who were different were not to be trusted, but the Lord wants for his people to respect the foreigners because they were foreigners in Egypt. God cares for those who are in need. If we don’t treat those type of people with care, then the Lord says that he will come to take care of them and those who mistreat them. The last part of this section talks about not charging interest when giving to someone in need and to not take everything from them. God’s people are to show grace to those in need. Believers aren’t to be thinking of our own self gain, but sincerely thinking of others.

God called his people to be holy. He says at the end of the passage, “You are to be my holy people.” (31) They are to be a people that are different than the rest of the world. The world is selfish, and they are to be selfless. The world wants nothing to do with God, and they are to love God and obey him. As humans, in our sinful ways, we are selfish, only thinking about what is immediately around us, but we are called to be higher than that. We are to aspire to perfection, to the example of holiness and God himself. This doesn’t mean that we are smug about our holiness, but we strive to be better than the world. We don’t look down on the world because we think that we are better, because, in our sin, we are not better. But we must strive to be better than the world. The apostle Paul wrote to Titus, “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.” (Titus 3:3-8)

I like that last part. We are called to do things that are excellent and profitable for everyone. There are many things that we are free to do legally, but it does not mean that those things are beneficial. A lot of morality has been decriminalized lately. As believers, we can feel outrage that the secular law is changing, thinking that it is showing the degradation of the world. The world was always degraded, but we, as believers, grew comfortable to have our values legislated. Conversely, just because something was legalized, doesn’t mean that is it beneficial to us or society. We enjoy many freedoms, but as Paul also wrote, “‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.” (1 Corinthians 10:23-24) This is the higher calling. We aren’t just meant to follow the laws; we are meant to be the best of society. All too often, believers look no different than everyone else. We have the same selfishness and hate as the rest of the world. We want to be right more than we want to do what is right. We care more about how we look, instead of what we do. Our actions do not dictate our righteousness, but our righteousness through grace should dictate our actions.

In our sins, we can’t actually be different, but in Christ, we can be. Paul also writes, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4) Christ saved us to be better than we were: to be better than we could ever be on our own. He is so humble and so loving that he sacrificed himself on the cross, even though he is God. He practices what he preaches. If we want to be God’s people, we must follow his example. Jesus, himself taught, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) Our goal is to be perfection and where we fall short, Christ fills in, but we should never strive for less than perfection. We are not to live as the world lives. These rules presented here are meant to elevate Israel to become a kingdom of priest and a holy nation. They are to be set apart and to live higher than those around them. They were to be a beacon of God’s glory, and that now falls to us.

I know that I have not been living up to this beacon. I have not been all that different from the rest of the world. The anger that infects society also infects me. I have been far too quick to anger, as of late. But I have been called to live with love, compassion and understanding. I have often felt strange in this world, but in my sin and anger, I am no different than anyone else. I must dare to be different, to live with love and to aspire to be greater than I am. Christ died so that I can live anew, so we all can live anew. The ways of the world are not renewing and restoring, but God’s ways, his higher ways, renew the soul and give us new life. We are called to be better and not give into our base desires. But we are called to live according to a higher purpose.

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