Exodus Chapters 21-23

Exodus Chapters 21-23

Read Exodus Chapter 21-23. After you have read the chapter, read the passages below to help you dive deeper into the Chapter. Conclude in Prayer.

“The three chapters (Exodus 21 to 23), came like a practical application of the Ten Commandments, to suit the circumstances in which the Jews lived at that time. They present us with living faith, understanding about our relationship with God and with our fellow men, and even with the beasts and the earth. That is why we do not study these chapters in detail, as laws and statutes, but we want to recognize the divine view as to human life. As an example, we find some regulations to organize the mutual relationships between slaves and their masters. But now, as there is no more slavery, we do not ignore these regulations, because they bear the spirit of mutual relationships among human beings.” - Fr. Tadros Y. Malaty 

“The Ten Commandments began by the commandments pertaining to the relationship of man with God, followed by those pertaining to his relationship with his fellow men. Then the Lord Christ came to summarize all those commandments in one phrase, “You shall love God and your neighbor”. But here, they start by the commandments or statutes concerning the neighbor, like those concerning the slave, the murdered, the afflicted, those in debt, the strangers, the widows, and the orphans, etc., followed by commandments that concern the feasts, and then those pertaining to our relationship with God. Thus, if these statutes are interpretations of the Ten Commandments, it is as though God intends not to separate commandments concerning our relationship with God, from our relationship with our fellow humans. They are all forming one unit, or one life. We should never assume that we could please God by worshipping and giving, on the expense of our relationship with others. We should not, as well, assume that our good relationship with our fellow men, atone for our negligence in our relationship with God.” - Fr. Tadros Y. Malaty

Chapter 21

THE TRUE AND ETERNAL SABBATH - "We read that every Hebrew keeps the same Passover, and that in the seventh year every prisoner is set free, and that at Jubilee, that is, the fiftieth year, every possession returns to its owner. All this refers not to the present but to the future. For being in bondage during the six days of this world, on the seventh day, the true and eternal sabbath, we shall be free. If we wish to be free, we will be free even while still in bondage in the world. If, however, we do not desire it, our ear will be bored in token of our disobedience. We shall, with our wives and children, remain in perpetual slavery if we prefer the flesh and its works to liberty.” - JEROME

SLAVERY TO THE WORLD - "That man is truly free, a true Hebrew, who is entirely God‘s. Everything that he possesses shares in freedom. He has nothing in common with the man who rejects freedom and says, I have loved my master…. I will not go out free. The man who subjects himself to the world is returned not only to his master but also to his infirmity, because he loves the world or his mind, that is, his nous, the author of this desire. He is returned not only to his wife but even to those pleasures which make him so bound to household matters that he does not care for what is eternal. Thus, at his threshold and door his master shall pierce his ear, in order that he might remember the decision by which he chose slavery.” - AMBROSE

THE MURDERER IN GOD’S PLAN - "Even the person who unwittingly committed a murder was still within the ministry of God, since the law makes this statement regarding him: God delivered him into his hands. His hands therefore served as an instrument of divine punishment. The Levite is then the minister who remits, whereas the man who (in the example just cited) unwittingly and unwillingly struck another in a homicidal act became in fact an administrator of divine punishment. See to it that Christ is infused into the act of slaying an impious man and that sanctification accompany and be part of your attempt to abolish what is abominable. - AMBROSE

TO SPEAK WELL OF PARENTS - "One who speaks ill of his mother or father will die the death. One who speaks well of them will have full enjoyment of the rewards of life. If our parents in the flesh should enjoy such good will from us, so much the more would this hold true for our parents in the spirit.” - CHRYSOSTOM 

THE LAW RESTRAINS VIOLENCE - "But what parts of the law can I defend as good with a greater confidence than those which heresy has shown such a longing foras the statute of retaliation, requiring eye for eye, tooth for tooth and stripe for stripe? Now there is not here any smack of permission to mutual injury. There is rather, on the whole, a provision for restraining violence. To a people which was very obdurate and wanting in faith toward God, it might seem tedious and even incredible to expect from God that vengeance which was subsequently to be declared by the prophet: Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord.
Therefore, in the meanwhile, the commission of wrong was to be checked by the fear of
retribution immediately to happen. So the permission of this retribution was to be the prohibition of provocation. In this way a stop might thus be put to all hot-blooded injury. By the permission of the second the first is prevented by fear. By this deterring of the first the second act of wrong fails to be committed.”

CONCORDANCE OF OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS - "Celsus* does not quote any passages from the law which are apparently in contradiction to what stands in the gospel, so that we might compare them. He says, And to a man who has struck one once one should offer oneself to be struck again. But we will say that we are aware that it was said to them of old time, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, and that we have read also the words; But I say unto you, to him that strikes you on one cheek offer the other one also. However, I imagine that Celsus derived some of his vague notions from those who say that the God of the gospel is different from the God of the law and so made remarks like this. I would reply to his objection that the Old Testament also knows the doctrine that to him that strikes you on the right cheek you should offer the other one also. At any rate, it is written in the Lamentations of Jeremiah: It is good for a man when he bears a yoke in his youth, he will sit alone and in silence when he has taken it on himself. He will give a cheek to the man who smites him and shall be filled with reproaches. The gospel then does not lay down laws in contradiction to the God of the law, not even if we interpret literally the saying about a blow on the jaw. And neither Moses nor Jesus is wrong. Nor did the Father forget when he sent Jesus the commands which he had given to Moses. Nor did he condemn his own laws and change his mind and send his messenger for the opposite purpose.” - ORIGEN *Celsus was a pagan who attacked Christianity in the late second century in a book entitled The True Word

THREE LEVELS OF JUSTICE - "Not to exceed due measure in inflicting punishment, lest the requital be greater than the injury that is the lesser justice of the Pharisees. And it is a high degree of justice, for it would not be easy to find a man who, on receiving a fisticuff, would be content to give only one in return and who, on hearing one word from a reviler, would be content to return one word exactly equivalent. On the contrary, either he exceeds moderation  because he is angry, or he thinks that, with regard to one who has inflicted an injury on another, justice demands a penalty greater than the injury suffered by the innocent person. To a great extent, such a spirit is restrained by the law, in which is written the directive, An eye for an eye and A tooth for a tooth. Moderation is signified by these words, so that the penalty may not be greater than the injury. And this is the beginning of peace. But to have absolutely no wish for any such retribution that is perfect peace.” - AUGUSTINE

GOD LEADS HIS PEOPLE GENTLY - " Such an enactment required a man not to injure others. Supposing him to have sustained an injury, his anger at the wrongdoer must not go beyond an equal retribution. But the general bearing of the legal mode of life was by no means pleasing to God. It was even given to those of old time as a schoolmaster, accustoming them little by little to a fitting righteousness and leading them on gently toward the possession of the perfect good. For it is written, To do what is just is the beginning of the good way; but finally all perfection is in Christ and his precepts. For to him that strikes you on the cheek, he says, offer also the other - CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA

THE LAW AND GRACE - "The law does not forbid the retaliation of wrongs and revenge for injustices when it says, An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Grace wants our patience to be proven by a redoubling of the mistreatment and the blows that come upon us, and it commands us to be ready to endure double hurt when it says, Whoever strikes you on your right cheek, offer him the other. And to him who wants to contend with you at law and to take away your coat, give him your cloak as well. The former says that enemies must be hated, but the latter decrees that they are to be loved to such an extent that we must even pray to God continually on their behalf.” - JOHN CASSIAN

Chapter 22

VIOLENCE IS WORSE THAN THEFT - "Therefore the thief being taken pays fourfold, but he that spoils by violence is worse than if he steals. And if this last ought to give fourfold what he stole, the extortioner should give tenfold and much more. Even so he can make atonement for his justice. For of almsgiving not even then will he receive the reward. Therefore says Zaccheus, I will restore what I have taken by false accusation fourfold, and the half of my goods I will give to the poor. And if under the law one ought to give fourfold, much more under grace. And if this is so for one who steals, much more it is so for one who spoils by violence.” - CHRYSOSTOM

We have already dealt with the crime of adultery in chapter twenty (the sixth commandment). Here, the concept of adultery goes far to include sorcery and sacrificing to foreign gods. Whoever uses sorcery for his benefit would be like a wife who forsakes her man, and seeks another to sustain her. Sacrificing to idols is like a bride who, instead of offering her life as a sacrifice of love to her only groom, she offers her heart a sacrifice of lust and defilement to others. Some wrongly assume that adultery was banned by God, because it hurts one of the parties, physically, socially, or emotionally. But the Law reveals it as a sin of uncleanness, which is hated by God, Who commands that whoever lies with a beast, be put to death, as he defiles his soul and body, together with the earth itself. Fr. Tadros Y. Malaty

THE SEVERITY OF THE LAW - "In the law of the true God it is written, He that sacrifices to gods shall be put to death, save only to the Lord. The dreadful sanction of this command makes it clear that God wanted no sacrifices offered to such gods, good or bad.” - AUGUSTINE 

WHAT TRUE INTEREST IS - "There is a great deal about sharing and exchanging, but it is enough to say that the law forbids lending at interest to a brother.4 By brother it means not merely one born of the same parents but a member of the same tribe or one of the same faith, who shares in the same Logos. The law does not deem it right to collect interest on the capital. It seeks to enable free giving to those in need, with hands and minds wide open. God is the creator of this free gift. It is he who shares his goods, exacting as the only reasonable interest the most precious things human beings possess: gentleness, goodness, high-mindedness, repute, glory” - CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA 

“He warned His people against oppression, reminding them of two things: first, having tasted and experienced the humiliation of being a stranger, how could they not feel the pain of one? Second, He could not stand to hear the crying out of the oppressed and the needy, which would kindle His wrath against the oppressors.”  - Fr. Tadros Y. Malaty

Robbing God's Rights - "Speaking in this chapter of refraining from stealing the possessions of others, and from oppressing the strangers, the weak, and the needy, He also speaks of refraining from robbing God’s right in the firstborns and first fruits (chapter 13), as a sign of consecrating the whole congregation to God. It is amazing that His care for the firstborns and first fruits are not only in order for the needy to find their fulfillment in the house of the Lord, but He even cares for the dogs, saying, “And you shall be holy men to Me: you shall not eat any meat which is torn by beasts in the field; you shall throw it to the dogs” (Ex. 22: 31). On the other hand, He commanded us to be holy to Him, from the practical point of view, through giving the firstborns of our sons, beside those of beasts of the field, and the first fruits of our ripe produce; and abstractly, through refraining from eating unclean items: “You shall not eat any meat that is torn by beasts in the field” . It is as though the believer, in his fellowship with God, strives to do virtue and also refrains from wickedness. He acts in righteousness and refuses evil.” - Fr. Tadros Y. Malaty

THE FIRST FRUITS OF THE SENSES - "Those emotions therefore which are morally good are the first fruits of our senses, whereas the others are of common and indifferent stock. This classification was used by Moses, following in that respect the language of the Jews, in his reference to the threshing floor of the law: The tithes of your threshing floor and of your wine vat you shall not delay to pay: you shall give the firstborn of your sons to me. All the morally good emotions of your senses are the first fruits of the threshing floor of the soul in such a manner as grain is separated in an actual barn floor." - AMBROSE

Chapter 23

JUSTICE MAY NOT BE CORRUPTED - "You shall not favor a poor man in his lawsuit, Scripture says. What therefore is the meaning of these words? Do not be overcome by pity or unduly influenced if the wrongdoer happens to be a poor man, it means. And if we must not show favor to the poor man, much more must we not do so for the rich. Moreover, I address these words not only to judges but also to all men, so that justice may nowhere be corrupted but everywhere kept inviolate." CHRYSOSTOM 

“Helping others, and justice: "Helping others is not optional, but it is a divine commitment that does not apply only to humans, but it extends even to the donkey of an enemy, lying under its burden. If man - under the Law - is committed not to refrain from helping the donkey of his enemy, lying under its burden, what would be his responsibility, if he delays supporting his enemy or his brother, while in the time of grace? And as St. John Chrysostom says: [If the matter is like this, as far as the donkey is concerned, how can one gain forgiveness, if he despises the soul of his enemy, or disregard that of his friend?].”

DO NOT HOLD A GRUDGE. - "A reputation for nobility follows the refusal to remember ills and leads to the cessation of hostility. From this we become disposed to concord, and concord leads to happiness. If you catch anyone you regard as a traditional enemy acting stupidly and irrationally out of desire or temper, turn him toward good behavior." - CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA

TAKE NO JOY IN OTHERS’ MISFORTUNES - "The Lord tells us to relieve and lighten the burden of beasts of burden, even when they belong to our enemies. He is teaching us at a distance not to take pleasure in the misfortunes of others and not to laugh at our enemies. He wants to teach those who have exercised themselves in these disciplines to pray for their enemies.” - CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA

BRING OTHERS INTO THE CHURCH - "You shall not appear before the Lord empty, that is, enter not into the temple without sacrifices. Now if it is not right to go into the house of God without sacrifices, much more ought we to enter the assembly accompanied by our brethren. For this sacrifice and offering is better than that, when you bring a soul with you into the church” -CHRYSOSTOM 

THE ANGEL WAS JOSHUA (JESUS) - "Consider these words. Let the Jew, not to speak of the Manichaean, say what other angel he can find in Scripture to whom these words apply, but this leader who was to bring the people into the land of promise. Then let him inquire who it was that succeeded Moses and brought in the people. He will find that it was Jesus and that this was not his name at first but after his name was changed. It follows that he who said, My name is in him is the true Jesus, the leader who brings his people into the inheritance of eternal life, according to the New Testament, of which the Old was a figure. No event or action could have a more distinctly prophetical character than this, where the very name is itself a prediction.” - AUGUSTINE

The Feasts: The Book of Leviticus speaks in more details about the Jewish feasts and their rituals. But here, the Book of Exodus concentrates on a particular concept, namely their importance in social life; it dealt with three of these feasts, from three aspects: 

  • They ate unleavened bread, not only in the feast of the unleavened bread, but also in the two other feasts. As we said in chapter 12, the unleavened bread refers to the new life. As though the feast is a chance for man to reconsider his inner accounts, and his relationships with others, lest he might have oppressed anyone, or disregarded the right of the poor or the stranger.
  • b- “….Nor shall the fat of My sacrifice remain until morning (Ex. 23:18). He says here, “My sacrifice,” for it is not the feast of man, but that of God, in which He rejoices in man. He 126
    probably meant by that commandment to tell man to distribute all what concern the feast on that day among the poor, and not to keep any of it for himself or his family 
  • c- Presenting the firstborn 

The major feasts of the Jews are: 

  • The Feast of the Unleavened Bread, which is inseparable from the Passover 
  • The feast of the Harvest, on the beginning of harvest season, when they used to offer the first fruits of their produce 
  • The feast of Tabernacles at the end of the season

Heavenly Father, we thank You for the promise that You gave to Moses on the mountain that “I will send an angel before you to keep you in the way, and to bring you into the place which I have prepared." We know dear God this speaks of the true Joshua, The Word of God Himself, who would incarnate, take human form, and guide us to the Heavenly Jerusalem. As O Lord, You concluded giving the law to Your people with this promise, Your Son Jesus, also promised to be with us till the end of the ages. Let us O Dear God not be slaves to the law, but rather let us live in liberty of Your Son Jesus, to the end of Ages. Amen.