You Shall Not

When we think of laws, we typically things in terms of legality. But when we think of commands, the sense becomes one of obedience or disobedience. Even though we obey laws, and there can be civil disobedience, we still don’t think of commands in terms of legal or illegal, only obedience and disobedience.

This section of Exodus has changed. It changed prior to this, around verse 18, but it was subtle, and the real change becomes obvious here, in verses 21 through 24. This feels more like the Ten Commandments, especially the first four:

“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.

Exodus 22:21-24 NASB

It’s a command with an explanation, and then an added penalty. The penalty isn’t from the “elders”, or a court, the penalty is a promise of God of harm to disobedient. Ordinarily, we like promises of God. We make books of them, meditate on them, and pray them, as if they give us control over God. But do we include these sorts of promises, the ones that bring a curse upon the disobedient?

Sojourners, widows, and the fatherless (orphans) are the three primary classes of powerless people in Israel. They were powerless, so God takes up their cause. They are unable to defend themselves, so God defends them. They have no resources, so God becomes their resource. Or that is how it is supposed to work. In our day, those preying on the disadvantaged are many, and take many forms. One of the worst categories is made up of drug dealers. The epidemic of drug use among homeless people is guaranteed to keep them homeless and powerless.

But there are other classes of powerless people. There are children who are among the most vulnerable. There are those who suffer with emotional and mental problems. And there are those who have so compounded the mistakes in their lives, they see no hope, the hopeless. All of these classes of powerless people have enormous vulnerabilities, and each of them are plagued by our society, our culture, and many of us. The answer to these problems aren’t obvious, easy, or quick. Therefore many simply avoid them.

But the battle isn’t just for these people, it’s against their oppressors. And their oppressors can seem very powerful, they can seem right or just. Their oppressors can be those who believe they are trying to help. The problem isn’t solved by physical changes, although those help. The problem is spiritual, and ultimately is the same problem we all have, separation from our Creator. To fix that, they need what we need, our Savior.

It may be, that the good news of a Savior can’t get through the noise of their physical or emotional need. So, those do need to be addressed, as part of the process of delivering the message of Jesus as their Savior. And then, addressing those needs has to continue as they learn about life with Jesus as their Savior. This is part of the reason Jesus created churches, to meet these needs as He did in His ministry, to see people as He saw them, and have compassion as He had, and still has.

This “law” or commandment is still valid today, as is the curse for disobedience. The phrase, so popular in the middle of the 20th Century is still true, “There, but for the grace of God, go I”. Those oppressing the disadvantaged will become them, eventually. It’s a promise of our Creator. Even it that’s not us, we still need to take steps to join with our Savior in reaching out to them.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation


Spiritual Investing

And Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!  For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  They who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?”  But He said, “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.”  Peter said, “Behold, we have left our own homes and followed You.”  And He said to them, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life.”  (Luke 18:24-30 NASB)

Sometimes, I find that promises in Scripture, from Jesus Himself even, are hard to swallow.  Will I really gain much more than I sacrifice in this life?  I leave my family, goods, and whatnot for the Kingdom of God and I will gain many times as much at this time? Seriously?  I find that strangely at odds with themes we covered prior.  What about the cost of discipleship?  So, I can safely cast away everything now, and have much more at this time not just eternal life in the age to come?

Yes, I doubt. I do.  I’m not apologetic about it, I doubt.  I read the Hebrew Scriptures about how the people followed God, and then fell away.  I see how they were oppressed and cried out and God delivered.  I think of God watching them worship after deliverance, only to have them fall away again, be oppressed, and delivered all over again.  It’s the “Judges Cycle”, but repeated in Samuel and Kings as well.  It happens when the rain doesn’t fall, the crops aren’t ripening, and the grapes and olives fail.  Their neighbors seem fine and worship another god, some storm god, and their crops look good.  So the people hedge their bets and worship both.  I’ve read it dozens of times, and I’ve seen the pattern in my own culture, sometimes even in my own life.

The problem with which I wrestle is what if I don’t receive many times more?  What if God’s promise doesn’t come about?  Peter is crucified upside down, not in a bigger house with a bigger family.  John dies after somehow surviving Patmos with criminals.  The other ten are all killed for their faith, James almost immediately.  Where was the “many times more at this time” that Jesus promised?  I don’t see that but I do see the faithfulness of the ones Jesus told that to.  They heard that, invested, but didn’t record how they experienced that blessing at that time.  We hear later they all died.  Is it a “Role Call of Faith” sort of thing where they all died without seeing what was promised?  Why even put that tidbit in there about “at this time” in the first place?

I struggle with it.  I read it, but I struggle with believing it.  I suppose the answer is to invest and learn what it really means.  Perhaps I need to sacrifice to understand what exactly Jesus meant by gaining much more at this time.  I don’t see it, but trust Him.  I don’t read about how the disciples and followers gained much more of the same sort of thing, but so what?  Do it anyway.  They did.  And they still recorded this promise, do you get that?  This promise of Jesus was heard by all three sources used by Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  And they heard it and the Gospel writers recorded it.  And yet no one felt compelled to explain how it was true in the lives of the disciples.  It was supposed to be obvious without the need for explanation.

So, I don’t get it, but there’s so much that goes into that category.  I don’t really understand how the promise was fulfilled in the life of Peter, James, John, Paul, or the others.  I don’t understand, but I won’t either until I invest, and wait for the return on that investment from my Master.  And so here I go…

What’s your view through this knothole?  What do you learn from this assurance from Jesus that it’s safe to invest everything with Him and for His Kingdom?