Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Justice, Bribes, and Oppression -- Exodus 23:6-9


“You shall not pervert the justice due to your needy brother in his dispute.  Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or the righteous, for I will not acquit the guilty. And you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just. And you shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt.”


The first sentence tells us not to skew justice either against or for a needy brother’s actions or disputes just because he is poor. It is really an extension of verse 3 earlier in the chapter where we are told not to be partial to a poor man in his dispute. The idea being that everyone is entitled to his/her fair day in court.
And then God warns His people to stay away from (have nothing to do with) a false charge. If you know someone is being falsely accused, there is no excuse whatsoever for us as Christians to be supportive of that accusation.  Sometimes we do so for convenience, sometimes because we want to show we are part of the team, or we want to be in support of the person bringing the false charge forward (especially if they are our boss or someone whom we need for our own goals to be achieved).  God says don’t even think about it. This matter becomes even worse if in the process of litigating a false charge, the innocent or righteous person is killed or put to death (or falsely imprisoned). If we become party to that, we become the guilty ones and God will not acquit us in His justice system. Matthew Henry suggests that this also means we are not to be a false witness against a person we believe is not guilty. And he even takes it one step further outside the courtroom or the justice system and into everyday common conversation. He reminds us that, “A man's reputation lies as much at the mercy of every company as his estate or life does at the mercy of a judge or jury; so that he who raises, or knowingly spreads, a false report against his neighbor, especially if the report be made to wise and good men whose esteem one would desire to enjoy, sins as much against the laws of truth, justice, and charity, as a false witness does-with this further mischief, that he leaves it not in the power of the person injured to obtain redress.” Enough said.
Next, God warns us about taking bribes. Good, honest, moral, business transactions and other relational interactions do not require bribes. Once a bribe is accepted, the transaction/interaction loses all its respectability. The receiver of the bribe then sees everything from a different perspective, exerting great effort and feeling great fear, to keep others from discovering he/she has taken a bribe. God says that is no way to live.
And finally God tells us not to “oppress a stranger” or in today’s world, an “immigrant” to our lands for the His people were to remember they too were once “strangers” in the land of Egypt. That seems to be a general theme that applies to us as Christians. In one sense, we were, prior to our conversion, strangers to the family of God, but by His Grace, we have become adopted sons and daughters. We are not to forget that in our relationship with strangers among us. However, with respect to immigrants, it is fair to consider the direction in light of some questions we can pose:
1. To what extent and under what circumstances should Christians be supportive of open immigration policies?
2. How do we translate God’s direction of not “oppressing a stranger” with respect to their own cultural behaviors, their own justice system, their own faiths, etc., especially where those run counter to both our secular society (albeit ever-evolving) and the faiths of the majority of a country’s existing citizens?
I personally cannot find any support in Scripture for translating “do not oppress a stranger” in a way which includes the possibility of giving one a free pass to practice behaviors or customs or beliefs that put others – individuals, groups, or the nation as a whole, in any danger or real justified fear, whatsoever. Our job is to treat strangers fairly and justly.
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