Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Justice for All

“You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit.

“If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him.

“You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit. Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked. And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of those who are in the right.

“You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 23:1-9, ESV)

The commandment against bearing false witness is expanded here. Spreading a false report is a way of violating this command and is not loving your neighbor. Joining with others to bear false witness with malicious intent is evil and a perversion of justice. Though usually it is the poor or weak person who is so exploited, you also cannot side with a poor person if he is in the wrong. You must bear true witness at all times.

Love your enemy. If he is in a dire situation you must help him. This is the positive aspect of the command against murder. As Jesus elaborates, if you have hatred in your heart you are guilty. Rather, seek the life in every respect of all people, including your enemies.

The poor deserve justice just like everyone else and those who pervert it will face God’s wrath. Bribes are wrong and subvert justice. The spread of bribery in some countries is a blight on the people and the nation.

The Law comes back to taking care to treat well the sojourner or foreigner. And the reason again is the sympathy Israel should have since they too were sojourners in Egypt. Love of our fellow man, of our neighbor, extends to every human being on God’s earth. Prejudice and racism are abhorent to Him and should be to us.

The World Justice Project (WJP) Rule of Law Index® is the world’s leading source for original, independent data on the rule of law.  The 2016 edition expands coverage to 113 countries and jurisdictions (from 102 in 2015), relying on more than 110,000 household and expert surveys to measure how the rule of law is experienced and perceived in practical, everyday situations by the general public worldwide. Performance is measured using 44 indicators across eight primary rule of law factors, each of which is scored and ranked globally and against regional and income peers: Constraints on Government Powers, Absence of Corruption, Open Government, Fundamental Rights, Order and Security, Regulatory Enforcement, Civil Justice, and Criminal Justice.

The WJP Rule of Law Index is the most comprehensive index of its kind and the only to rely solely on primary data. The Index’s scores are built from the assessments of local residents (1,000 respondents per country) and local legal experts, ensuring that the findings reflect the conditions experienced by the population, including marginalized sectors of society.

WJP Rule of Law Index 2016 Regional Highlights:

  • When compared globally, countries in the Western Europe and North America continue to top the WJP Rule of Law Index, followed by countries in the East Asia & Pacific region. On average, the South Asia region obtained the lowest scores.

  • Western Europe and North America (defined as EU + EFTA + North America) accounts for 8 of the top 10 places in the rankings, with Denmark remaining the highest-ranked country in rule of law followed by Norway. Romania was the biggest mover in the region’s rankings (calculated by comparing countries against the original 2015 WJP Rule of Law Index country set, excluding 11 new countries added this year), rising 4 positions to 32nd out of 113 countries worldwide over 2015 rankings. Meanwhile, France and Hungary each lost 3 positions, to 21st and 49th respectively.

  • Sub-Saharan Africa’s top performer is South Africa, surpassing Ghana and Botswana in this year’s rankings and into 43rd place globally. Nigeria and Burkina Faso were the biggest movers among the 18 countries indexed in the region, climbing 11 and 10 spots respectively. In contrast, Botswana lost 6 positions while Kenya and Ethiopia each lost 5 places.

  • East Asia and Pacific is the second-ranked region in rule of law, behind Western Europe and North America. New Zealand and Singapore are the top performers in the 2016 rankings, ranking 8th and 9th respectively out of 113 countries worldwide. The biggest mover was Vietnam, rising 7 positions to 67th globally. The biggest decliner was the Philippines, dropping 9 positions to 70th. Malaysia and Republic of Korea also recorded significant declines.

  • Eastern Europe and Central Asia’s leader is Georgia, ranking 34th out of 113 countries worldwide, followed by Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia, FYR. Apart from Albania, Turkey, and Russia, most countries in this region remained largely unchanged since 2015. Albania dropped 9 positions to 72nd globally; Turkey fell 8 positions to 99th; and Russia moved down 6 positions to 92nd.

  • Latin America and the Caribbean’s top performer is Uruguay at 20th out of 113 countries, followed by Costa Rica and Chile. Argentina was the biggest mover, jumping 12 spots up to the 51st position worldwide. Meanwhile, El Salvador lost 8 positions, while Venezuela is the weakest performer among all the 113 indexed countries.

  • Middle East and North Africa’s top performer among the 7 countries indexed in this region is the United Arab Emirates, at 33rd overall. Iran climbed 13 positions to 86th, while Egypt dropped the same number of positions to 110th out of 113 countries worldwide.

  • South Asia’s top performer is Nepal, coming in at 63rd position globally. With the exception of Nepal, which dropped 5 positions in 2016, the performance of most countries in this region remained in line with last year.

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Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Taking Law into Our Own Hands

“Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death. But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place to which he may flee. But if a man willfully attacks another to kill him by cunning, you shall take him from my altar, that he may die.

“Whoever strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death.

“Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.

“Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death.

“When men quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist and the man does not die but takes to his bed, then if the man rises again and walks outdoors with his staff, he who struck him shall be clear; only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall have him thoroughly healed.

“When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money.

“When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

“When a man strikes the eye of his slave, male or female, and destroys it, he shall let the slave go free because of his eye. If he knocks out the tooth of his slave, male or female, he shall let the slave go free because of his tooth.

“When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. But if the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not kept it in, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. If a ransom is imposed on him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is imposed on him. If it gores a man’s son or daughter, he shall be dealt with according to this same rule. If the ox gores a slave, male or female, the owner shall give to their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned. (Exodus 21:12-32, ESV)

How shall the law concerning murder be implemented and interpreted for the community? God gives several cases that will help judges determine how to impose justice in this regard:

– Committing murder should result in the death penalty. However, a distinction is made between premeditated murder and what we call manslaughter. In the case of manslaughter (God let the deceased fall into the hands of the killer) immediate imposition of the death penalty shall wait until there can be a hearing in a city designated by God to where the killer may flee and await justice. If it is obvious that it was premeditated, death may be instant.

– Killing one’s parents, even cursing them, results in the death penalty. Patricide and matricide is most despicable.

– Kidnapping is a capital offense. This should have shown Israel that not just actual murder but murderous intent was conceived of in this commandment, as Jesus clearly explains in his sermon on the mount (Matthew 5).

– If murderous intent does not result in the death of the victim, the death penalty is not imposed but the one who injured must take care of and compensate the one injured.

– Killing one’s slave is also a capital offense. Severe injury to one’s slave purchases their freedom from the violent master.

– If a woman is struck during a conflict and delivers prematurely, yet the baby lives, there shall be compensation made as the judges determine, but if the baby dies then the life of the one who caused it is forfeited. The baby in the womb bears the same rights as the one born.

– If an animal kills a human the animal must be put to death, but if the owner of the animal knows that his animal is prone to such dangerous actions and does nothing to prevent this happening, the owner’s life is forfeit (he is guilty of murder). If in mercy the owner is allowed to redeem his life with money he will pay whatever the judge imposes on him. In the case of a slave being killed, the owner of the animal must pay the price of the slave to compensate his or her owner and the animal must be killed.

We see, then, the justification for jurisprudence, the consideration of motives and guilt, as means of making sure that the law is applied correctly and justice is done in a society. God cares about this very much.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Sixth Command

The sixth commandment is not properly translated, “You shall not kill.” Killing is not prohibited in every form by God, but only certain forms of killing are prohibited. For example, God commanded Israel in this same Law of Moses to kill the Canaanites in battle and take possession of their land (Deuteronomy 7:17-24).

Capital punishment is also commanded in the Mosaic Law for specific crimes. In Exodus 21 specific applications of the Ten Commandments are made and in verses 12-14 the death penalty is required for anyone who kills someone with premeditation. In verses 15-17 striking one’s parent and kidnapping are said to be capital offenses. These and other instances of invoking capital punishment are in accord with God’s decree to Noah in Genesis 9:5,6 and are obviously not considered “murder,” which is prohibited in this sixth command.

Murder refers primarily to premeditated and even unpremeditated slaying other than in war and civil justice (the Hebrew word is used of both premeditated and unpremeditated killing, Numbers 35:16-31 and Deuteronomy 4:42). The slaying of another, intentionally or unintentionally, other than for capital crimes or war, is prohibited by this commandment. Life is God’s gift and man is made in God’s image, a very precious gift indeed (Genesis 9:5,6). To steal that gift from another is a violation of God’s moral will. Every society on earth views it as such.

But this commandment should be viewed from a positive, more inclusive perspective. To state this command positively would be to say something like, “Preserve life.” It has application not only to personally refraining from violence but also to being one who doesn’t just stand by when life is in danger, but who gets involved to preserve the lives of others.

How might we be more that bystanders when an alcoholic neighbor gets in the car and drives away intoxicated? How do we help the pregnant girl who sees abortion as her only option? What application does this commandment have to preventing a depressed individual from committing suicide? How about when we know a parent is abusing children? Or when in war there are obvious atrocities, what do we do? All these situations and others are opportunities for us to live out the depth of this commandment and not remain bystanders.

There are difficult ethical questions bound up in this command. Is self-defense that results in the death of another considered murder? Is pulling the plug on a terminal patient wrong? Is careless driving that results in death worthy of severe punishment? Is there a justifiable war these days? Different parts of the body of Christ have given different answers to all these questions. Each must seek to honor this law of God.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Third Command

“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” Is the third commandment a prohibition against such an oath? The third commandment says,

“You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name” (Exodus 20:7).

In this case, misusing the name of God means taking it on as support for one’s truthfulness in an oath or promise. It says in effect, “The truthfulness of my promise rests on the truthfulness of God, and I expect His punishment if I violate it.” Breaking such an oath would thus be misusing God’s name (using it in vain, as the King James version says, using it in an empty or meaningless way).This is why Leviticus 19:12 says, “Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God” and Numbers 30 gives the only exceptions to fulfilling of vows.

There are other ways of misusing God’s name that this commandment implies (cursing, using God’s name in a flippant or joking manner, living hypocritically, etc.). But the primary focus is on the seriousness of making a promise on the merit of God’s honesty and then breaking it. It is like saying God did not keep His word.  Deuteronomy 6:13 commanded Israel to swear only by the name of the true God, Yahweh. But Jesus prohibits any oaths in Matthew 5:33-37. Apparently it was common to hear someone swear by “heaven” or something else associated with God as a way of avoiding both keeping one’s word and incurring God’s judgment (Matthew 23:16-22). “After all,” they might say, “I didn’t use God’s name.” Jesus says, “Do not swear at all…simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’ (Matthew 5:34,37). James repeats this in James 5:12. This does not mean that the one who says ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ is not required to keep his or her word. But it avoids making God responsible for its truthfulness. That is a dangerous thing to do. God will not fail to punish those who misuse His name.

So is it wrong to swear in court? Jesus submitted to an oath in court (Matthew 26:62-64) and Paul used oaths with God’s name (2 Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 1:20). Thus Jesus’ prohibition is likely meant to refer to the oaths of daily conversation which are more liable to being broken. Of course, the seriousness of oaths in certain circumstances still comes under the standard of the third commandment.  Are you good for your word? Does your life, as well as your words, reflect the righteous character of God? Do not let your life or your words end up sending a message that God is less than you represent Him to be. He will not hold us guiltless.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Complaining

Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” And he cried to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.

There the LORD made for them a statute and a rule, and there he tested them, saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer.”

Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they encamped there by the water.  (Exodus 15:22-27 ESV)

If God was able to be a shield of cloud and fire between Israel and the Egyptians, create a dry path through the Red Sea, and then once the Israelites were through draw the Egyptians into the sea and drown them, could He not take care of them in the wilderness?  They made their three day journey into the wilderness to worship Yahweh as commanded but when they needed water and there was none that was drinkable, they complained against Moses.  Moses did what he was supposed to do, appeal to Yahweh, and Yahweh showed him a way to purify the water, then led the people to a place full of pure water springs and palm trees.

Thus begins an ongoing pattern of relationship between Moses and the people of trial and subsequent complaining.  Yahweh tells Israel that He is purposely testing them.  The rule is this, “Obey Me and I will keep you healthy.”  This is not Yahweh’s promise to us, but to Israel in that particular period in their history.  Yet it is still, in one way, the rule of life for us.  Trust and obey the Lord and He will use us to expand His kingdom on earth.  Yahweh entered into covenant with Israel in an initial way this day, something that would be expanded when they got to Mt. Sinai with more detail about what obeying and trusting Yahweh would look like.  He has entered into covenant with us, as well, the New Covenant which He made with Israel and we now enjoy as the church because we are in Christ, the ultimate Israel.  As the old song says, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.

 

Refrain:
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

 

Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.

 

Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share,
But our toil He doth richly repay;
Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross,
But is blessed if we trust and obey.

 

But we never can prove the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey.

 

Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet,
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way;
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.

Trust and Obey | John H. Sammis, 1887

Daily Thoughts From Exodus: Holy Insubordination

Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.”  (Exodus 1:15-22 ESV)

Satan, the serpent of old, seeks to kill and destroy God’s people, and through the Pharaoh of Egypt he attempts to exterminate Israel by killing off her sons.  Pharaoh seeks to enlist the aid of the Hebrew midwives, perhaps because an outright slaughter would bring some resistance from his own people.  Paul tells us to obey the authorities God has put in place over us but he does not mean to obey them in contradiction to God, and even as the apostles John and Peter disobeyed the Sanhedrin when they told them to stop preaching in Jesus’ name, the midwives disobeyed Pharaoh.

But to protect themselves the midwives made up a lie about Hebrew women and their birth practices.  Pharaoh’s prejudice against Hebrews made him susceptible to believing that their women were different than other women and didn’t need midwives, something obviously contradicted by the fact that there were so many Israelites identified as midwives.  God blessed these lying midwives with families of their own.  Apparently childless women often became midwives to help those who could have children, a sad and ironic practice taken one way or, taken another way, a chance to celebrate with others what you could not experience yourself.

It is sometimes okay to lie, as when a threat is made against you or those you love by someone violating God’s will.  Would God have protected them if they had told the truth?  Perhaps.  But Pharaoh did not deserve the truth, just as an assailant breaking into your home and asking if anyone else is there does not deserve the truth.  There is a hierarchy of values, obedience to God, for example, taking precedence of obedience to a divinely permitted authority.  And protecting people takes precedence over telling the truth.  Those who have sought to rescue Jews during the Nazi regime or to rescue slaves during the Civil War era, understood and practiced this.

Pharaoh does not quit in his quest to decimate Israel.  Now he commands the mothers and fathers themselves to drown their sons in the Nile.  Allowing newborns to die like this was the equivalent of modern day abortion and widely practiced in many nations.  But it was not practiced in Israel and was abominable to God.  And these mothers wanted their children.  How many Israelites complied we do not know, but we’ll see that one mother refused to submit to Pharaoh’s command.

A Biblical Theology of Work – Part 1

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

oil on wood panel
oil on wood panel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It has been referred to as the Cultural Mandate.  It is a requirement from God of all human beings that we reproduce ourselves in order to fill the earth and subdue it.  God built a planet we call Earth capable of sustaining many billions of people and He wants us, commands us, to rule over it in a way that in fact does sustain us.  This requires work, effort on our part, to successfully accomplish the utilization of Earth’s resources in a way that pleases God and brings life to Earth’s population — us.

Before Adam and Eve disobeyed God (Genesis 3) God gave them work to do (Genesis 2) that included taking care of the Garden of Eden (2:15) and understanding and overseeing the animals of this area (2:19,20).  This responsibility did not cease after man’s rebellion, but became fraught with frustration as the ground began to work against man’s best efforts to grow food.  In the process human beings developed systems for raising livestock, growing food, producing music and forging tools (Genesis 4), all of which were necessary for our health and development as divine-image replicators.

In contrast to the pagan notions of man’s responsibilities, God did not create us to be His slaves and do all His dirty work.  He made us to be presidents to His chief executive role, vice-regents to His kingly rule, and managers for His owner-operated business.  There are at least three implications to this Cultural Mandate:

  • We are workers under divine appointment

We are not independent contractors.  The work we are called to do is or should be determined by God.  We are responsible for knowing what kind of work would be acceptable to Him in faithfully caring for His world and each other.  We may say that providing prostitution, or drugs, or control over other people is providing a service, but it is not the kind of service God says helps His world thrive.  And of course, He knows best what will make us thrive.  Our work must be of the kind that furthers the honor of God and the welfare of mankind.  This is His world and we are asked to share in making it livable.

  • We are stewards of God’s green earth

A steward is someone who takes care of someone else’s property.  His or her responsibility is not to own it but to develop it for the sake of the owner.  It just so happens in this case that the owner, God, has made us partners in the ownership, but nevertheless, He is the principle owner.  So our work must serve to develop and utilize, not exploit for ourselves, the world He has given us.  This means we must use arts and technology wisely and lovingly to reflect the character of God and benefit our race (see Lessons from the Old Testament: Arts and Technology).  It must certainly mean that we do not so exploit our world that we make it less habitable or reduce its quality of livability.

  • The more of us there are, the more work that needs to be done

We were made to care for each other the way God cares for us.  So as we multiply we need to create better systems for caring for each others’ needs for food, shelter, beauty, clothing and protection.  Our goal cannot be personal wealth but public weal, the prosperity and well-being that we can secure for all people.  And though it might be argued that capitalism is the best system in a fallen world for such public weal, sinners always find a way to take personal advantage of even the best systems to the detriment of others, and those who submit to God look for ways no matter the system to help others thrive.

Are you a plumber?  You are helping me and our whole culture thrive.  Do you grow food, deliver and sell food, make clothes, sell insurance, pave roads, build buildings, serve in government, paint pictures, make music, heal, administer funds, advocate for lawbreakers, develop community laws, cut hair, raise livestock, put out fires or any number of other “professions”?  You are working as God’s appointees to tend His world and people in ways that make it possible for us to fill the earth.  You are so cool, because the part that you play combined with the part that I play and all of us play makes possible a relatively peaceful and prosperous life.  We are caring for each other under God’s wise direction, and that’s what makes the world go round.

For further reading:

What is the Cultural Mandate?

The Cultural Mandate

What the Cultural Mandate Means for Your Work

Video and Resources from Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City