Monday, February 16, 2015

Don’t Sacrifice to Other Gods and Don’t Oppress Strangers, Widows, Orphans -- Exodus 22:20-24

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Exodus 22:20-24: “He who sacrifices to any god, other than to the Lord alone, shall be utterly destroyed.  And 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.”
As strange as it may seem to me, according to most translations or versions of Scripture, these verses do indeed go together as a single paragraph.  But did God have a special reason for linking “don’t sacrifice to any other god” and “do not oppress stranger or afflict widows or orphans”?  Is it possible that the message that God was getting across here in this first verse of our text, “don’t sacrifice to any god other than the Lord” was really meant to go with the idea of the idolatrous acts of the previous verse (19) dealing with bestiality? Perhaps.
Making a sacrifice to a god is indeed worship.  And I believe our God may be saying here, “Look, first of all you are only to worship me.  And secondly, worshipping me is not so much about animal sacrifices as you may think.  It is more about how you live your life with respect to others.  Ministering to others is the worship I really want you to give me.”
So, based on that, God says, “do not wrong a stranger”.   Do not act erroneously, immorally, wickedly, dishonestly, sinfully, unfairly, or criminally towards him/her.  Furthermore, God says, “do not oppress” a stranger.  That means do not coerce, tyrannize, dominate, repress, vanquish, persecute, harass, hound, plague or torment him/her.
No matter what God’s precise intention was, we can be sure of this – strangers in the life of Christian are not to be treated lightly.  There has been much written about that so we do not need to cover it here except to say that perhaps many of us need to do much better in that area than we have to this point – individually, as families, and in our churches.  Each of us can rate ourselves on that score.  God simply reminds the people of Israel, as He reminds us today, we were all strangers at one point – the Israelites were strangers in the land of Egypt, and we were once strangers to the family of God and then being adopted as sons and daughters through the sacrifice of Christ for our sins.
The other group that God tells us not to “afflict” is the group comprised of widows and orphans. That means we are not to trouble, bother, worry, upset, distress, affect, or exasperate them. And we do this, not necessarily so much through our maliciousness, but rather by our sins of omission – the steps and care we do not take to alleviate their distress and exasperation.
God says when we who can, do not help the orphans and the widows, they in their desperation may cry out to Him.  And if they do, He “will surely hear their cry” because that is what our God does.  But guess what?  While we cannot say for sure that when He does, He will address their need in the way we would expect, we do know something else.  We know that if that need could have been addressed by us, God Himself will have His anger sparked against us – the ones who could have met their needs and did not.
And here is the part that is even worse.  It is bad enough for God to be angry with us, but He actually says “He will kill us with the sword” leaving our wives and children to become widows and orphans, respectively, themselves.
What does that say to you and me?  Let me be both blunt and bold.  I believe it says God deals with us based on how we treat orphans and widows and others in need.  I cannot find a way out of that.  There are no ifs, buts, or whys about it.  There are people in the world who have tremendous need through no doing of their own and God says it is our job to “not afflict them” or perhaps it is better read, as “to not let them be afflicted”.  I like the way the Greek Septuagint LXX translates the Hebrew text here saying, “All widows and orphans are not to be injured”.  That is powerful.  God says “I am putting my people in charge of making sure all widows and orphans are not injured in any way – physically, socially, intellectually, sexually, emotionally, spiritually, etc.”  That is your job and mine.
God requires us to do that because they have lost, Matthew Henry suggests, “those that should deal for them, and protect them.”  How often we have an occasion to help someone who is not familiar with the way of business or the law, desperately needing our protection, advice, and help.  They need as Henry says to “be treated with kindness and compassion.”
Matthew Henry also notes that it is a great comfort “to those who are injured and oppressed by men that they have a God to go to who will do more than give them the hearing.  Many of us have been there and know exactly the value of that knowledge.  But Henry also goes on to say that there is another side to this equation. “It ought to be a terror to those who are oppressive that they have the cry of the poor against them, which God will hear . . . God will severely reckon with those that do oppress them. Though they escape punishments from men, God's righteous judgments will pursue and overtake them.”
And it does not end there.  Henry points out that even men “that have a sense of justice and honor will espouse the injured cause of the weak and helpless”, so how much more would we expect the righteous God to do so.  God has every right to pass upon those that oppress the widows and the orphans the ultimate penalty with the poetic justice it deserves – their own wives becoming widows and their own children becoming orphans. 
As Christians you and I cannot simply live with only the head knowledge of this.  We have a major responsibility in this area.  The God of the Old Testament was known by these judgments, and He is the same God today.  He is just as tough and serious about His love for the oppressed and His demand on us to address the situations He allows us to.  How are we doing?
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