March 19, 2023 | Doug Sauder
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In our next study, we’ll explore Exodus 21–23 as the Lord continues giving Moses the law. Discover how the Lord shaped His people through this law, set them apart, and brought about the coming of Jesus. We’ll also see how this law impacts us today!
Below, you’ll find some key discussion points to consider, questions to personally reflect on and/or discuss in your small group, with your family, or in your circle of friends, and some action points for the week.
Memory Verse of the Week: Exodus 21:1 (NIV)
“These are the laws you are to set before them . . .”
“These are the laws you are to set before them . . .”
READ: Exodus 21
We’re in that section of Exodus where God is giving His people a new set of instructions to live by that will reflect His heart in contrast to the idolatrous gods they were exposed to in Egypt. And as we come to this passage, we see the principles the Lord establishes for the relationship between servants and masters.
Now, let’s get this out of the way up front. It’s common for us to view sections of Scripture like this through a contemporary lens and arrive at some serious misunderstandings. To our modern minds, the concept of someone selling themselves into a life of servitude to a “master” is reprehensible. In our context, this sounds similar to abusive systems both past and present. But we need to pause and understand that the Lord is describing something far removed from this. In the ancient world, it was a matter of fact that many people were born into an impoverished condition without any property of their own. Their only hope of survival was to attach themselves to another household that could cover their needs. That’s the stark reality of the social structure of the ancient world—servitude was a provision for the poor.
It’s within this construct that God instructs His people on how they were to behave; and it’s vital we see His heart was for servitude among His people to be founded on the virtue of love. That’s right, love!
Notice that a servant was to commit themselves for six whole years and was then given the ability to leave on their seventh year of service. This put a check on the potential abuses that could occur within such a structure. But if that servant’s master had been benevolent and just in their treatment and the servant came to love them, they had the option to be part of that household for the rest of their lives. But mark well, it was the servant’s choice to make and the motivation was nothing less than love. And when this route was chosen, a servant’s love for another became more powerful than their personal liberty.
Much has changed in the three and a half millennia since this was written, but the principle of love being more powerful than personal liberties is as true now as it was then! We’re no longer compelled to live under the social structure given to the Israelites; yet, as followers of Jesus, we’re to choose love over liberty as we relate to others.
In Christ, life isn’t about preserving our independence at all costs; rather, it’s about recognizing what it cost the Lord to redeem us and allowing the love that compelled Him to do so to flow freely through us to others (Romans 5:5). When God establishes a community, be it ancient Israel or the Christian Church, He wants love to flow throughout its members. Love is the lifeblood that keeps the body of believers healthy and holy, leading them to honor and glorify the God who saves and sanctifies them.
Discussion Question 1: How does love form the foundation for the law of God?
Discussion Question 2: How does this principle parallel the Christian life today? How does it reframe your idea of being a servant to others?
READ: Exodus 22:1–20
The laws in this chapter existed because of the perversion of that which was created perfectly (Romans 1:21–32). Let’s look at them:
“If a man seduces a virgin . . .”
Today, with intense smugness and a deeply misplaced superiority of being more “evolved,” we look at a law like this as oppressive, “a tool of the patriarchy.” But the world was different then. Marriages were—as they still are in some places today—arranged. People didn’t date around.
So, this law was implemented to protect women and served to 1) demonstrate there’s no such thing as “casual” sex, 2) that our purity is valuable and should not be treated as cheap or free, and 3) to discourage premarital sex, a perversion of God’s perfect and beautiful design for marriage and human intimacy.
“Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal . . .”
Similar to the virginity law, this perverts natural intimacy and embraces a truly wicked, unnatural union. It’s unspeakably grotesque and unhealthy, but was practiced in the ancient world—often as part of worship and sacrifice.
Now, with moral principles around sexuality, they all go together. Premarital sex, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, incest, necrophilia, and pedophilia is all depravity. We can’t pick and choose what to follow based on culture. If we reject God’s Word when it comes to one area of sexual morality, there’s no other place to draw the line. We can’t say that sex with animals, children, or the dead is wrong if premarital sex is normalized because the ethic is “if it feels good, do it.”
“Do not allow a sorceress to live . . .”
In the ancient world, sorcery was generally tied to occult practices and heavy drug use, and it was often deadly. It invoked demonic entities, worshiped the devil (a perversion of the first two commandments), and was detrimental to the health and wellbeing of the people. It was spiritual terrorism!
“Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the Lord must be destroyed.”
This act traded drug use for killing an animal. It was a perverse form of worship in the name of false gods and demonic powers and the spreading of this amongst the people would have dire consequences for the people (as we see all through the Old Testament).
Laws like this were given by God for His people, not to His people.
Discussion Question 3: What is the importance of laws like these? How do they serve to protect not only the individual, but all people?
READ: Exodus 22:21–27
In the latter part of chapter 22, God uses a word to describe Himself. He factually describes His character, which means we better pay close attention to it because it’s of vital importance. The word is compassionate.
Compassionate (Hebrew: channun): Gracious. This word is used 13 times in Scripture and is exclusively used to describe the Lord, specifically to how the Lord has grace, compassion, and regard for those who are oppressed, mistreated, or vexed in some capacity by injustice. It tells us He sees, hears, understands, empathizes, and gives grace to the marginalized and downtrodden—and the evidence is found all throughout Scripture, including here in these social responsibility laws.
Do not mistreat a foreigner.
Do not take advantage of widows and orphans.
Do not take advantage of people in need.
Do not abuse the kindness of others.
You see, because God is gracious/compassionate, He’s also a defender who loves justice (Isaiah 61:8) and an avenger (1 Thessalonians 4:6) who rights wrongs. Like with Abel’s blood, which cried out to Him for justice, the cries of the oppressed reach the ears of the Lord, and His justice and judgment will come upon those who participate in the suffering and oppression of others.
Now, in this passage, He’s specifically addressing how He would deal with His covenant people of Israel, but the point remains and is true across the board. God hates injustice and, when all is said and done, His justice will prevail. And for both the Israelites then and the Church now, we’re called and commanded to be like God, to love what He loves, hate what He hates, and live in imitation of His character and example.
In the Gospels, Jesus gives us a vivid, crystal clear example of what it looks like to be compassionate and gracious toward others, revealing the lengths to which we His children are to go. It’s not enough to simply not charge interest if we loan someone money, we should be gracious to someone in need without expecting repayment (Luke 6:34). And forget about borrowing someone’s cloak, “If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also” (Matthew 5:40 NKJV). He exhorts us to go the extra mile with people, to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors, and He shows us how to care for the sick, the downtrodden, and the outcast. He tells us through James that “pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you” (James 1:27 NLT). And of course, the ultimate example of His compassion was the cross, where He bore upon Himself the full weight of the justice and wrath of God in order to make the mercy and grace of God available to all who would receive it!
So today, Christian, remember how seriously your Lord takes compassion, and remember how deeply He hates injustice and abuses. Take heed and be sober-minded, walking in the steps of the Lord with the fear of the Lord.
Discussion Question 4: What do laws like these show us about the character of God? What do Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount and throughout the Gospels show us?
Discussion Question 5: How can we apply these principles today?
Meditate on the laws shared in these chapters. Really dig deep and seek to understand what they are telling us about who God is.
In our next study, we’ll explore Exodus 23:20-24:18 as we learn about the Angel of the Lord and the covenant of God with the people. Discover how to avoid being uprooted by idolatry and worldly ideology and how to be rooted in the truth of God’s Word.
Danny Saavedra is a licensed minister who has served on staff at Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.