Thursday, March 26, 2009

EXODUS: Chapter 23

Chapter 23
Summary:Even more of God's rules:
  • Do not pass along untrue reports. Do not cooperate with an evil man by affirming on the witness stand something you know is false.
  • Don't join mobs intent on evil. When on the witness stand, do not be swayed by the majority present, and do not slant your testimony in favor of a man because he is poor.
  • If you happen by an enemy's ox or donkey that has strayed away, you must take it back to its owner. If you see your enemy trying to get his donkey onto its feet beneath a heavy load, you must not go on by, but must help him.
  • A man's poverty is no excuse for twisting judgment against him.
  • Keep far away from falsely charging anyone with evil and never let an innocent person be put to death. I will not acquit the wicked.
  • Don't take bribes, a bribe hurts the cause of the person who is right.
  • Do not oppress foreigners; as you, the people of Israel, were foreigners in the land of Egypt*.
  • Sow and reap your crops for six years, but let the land rest for the seventh year. Let the poor amongst you harvest any volunteer crop that may come up, leave the rest for your animals to enjoy. The same rule applies to vineyards and olive groves.
  • Work six days only and rest on the seventh. This is to give your animals a rest, as well as the people of your household - your slaves and visitors.
  • Obey these instructions and never mention the name of any other god - either in prayer, or in taking an oath.
  • There are three annual pilgrimages you must make:
    • Pilgrimage of Unleavened Bread: for seven days you are not to eat bread made with yeast. This celebration is an annual event in March, the month you left Egypt. Everyone must bring a sacrifice at this time
    • Harvest Pilgrimage: When you must bring me the first of your crops.
    • Pilgrimage of Ingathering: This occurs at the end of the harvest season.
    • At these three times, every man of Israel shall appear before God.
  • No sacrificial blood shall be offered with leavened bread; no sacrificial fat shall be left unoffered until the next morning.
  • As you reap each of your crops, bring me the choicest sample of your first day's harvest; it is to be offered to God.
  • Do not boil a young goat in its mother's milk.
  • I will be sending an angel before you to lead you safely to the land I have promised you. Reverence him and obey him, for he will not pardon your transgression. If you are careful to obey him, then I shall be an enemy to your enemies. My angel will go before you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites, and Jebusites. I shall destroy those people before you.
  • You must not worship the gods of these other nations, nor sacrifice to them in any way. You must not follow the example of these heathens; you must utterly conquer them and break down their shameful idols.
  • You shall serve God only, then I shall bless you with food and water, and remove your sicknesses. There will be no miscarriages or barrenness throughout your land, and you will live out the full quota of your life.
  • The terror of God shall fall upon all the people who's land you invade and they will flee before you. I will send hornets to drive out the Hivites, Canaanites, and Hittites from before you. I will not do it all in one year, for the land would become a wilderness, and the wild animals would become too many to control. I will drive them out a little at a time, until your population has increased enough to fill the land. I will set your boundaries from the Red Sea to the Philistine coast, and from the southern deserts as far as the Euphrates River. I will cause you to defeat the people now living in the land, and you will drive them out ahead of you.

    You shall make no covenant with them, nor have anything to do with their gods. Don't let them live among you, for I know they will infect you with their sin of worshiping false gods - and that would be an utter disaster for you.
Notes:1.) Essentially God is repeating himself from Chapter 22. Exodus 22:21 says virtually the same thing as Exodus 23:9, substituting "stranger" with "foreigner".
Thoughts:Essentially, this chapter is mostly God's rules for dealing with other people, foreigners, and those deemed "evil".

Interesting to me, is verse 7, which God tells the people to stay away from "falsely charging others with evil" and to "never put an innocent person to death", which runs contrary to "presuming" that a man defending his home from a daytime burglar is automatically guilty of murder (see Chapter 22).

The biggest problem here is that human judgment is not perfect and can be flawed. We know that even today with some of the best criminal forensic sciences that occasionally we have imprisoned innocent people. Modern DNA testing has exonerated several incarcerated people for crimes that they had been jailed for, and sometimes even been sentenced to die for. Occasionally, we've even found out too late that we've killed an innocent person. The problem here is that God is demanding a lot of deaths here for a lot of "sins" and/or "crimes", that are supposed to be judged and executed by human beings. According to earlier chapters, we're told that God does indeed have the power to execute individuals - he killed both of Judah's sons Er and Onan in Genesis: Chapter 38 deeming Er to be "wicked" and killing Onan for not having proper sex with Er's wife. So why is God leaving executions in the hands of people, whom even with the best intentions, may make mistakes and kill the innocent, instead of being the executioner himself? On top of that, he threatens the people not to execute the innocent when presumably he should know better that we are imperfect, and are capable of wrongful convictions - just as our justice system sometimes does today.

God continues on with his rules, oddly repeating his rules on strangers/foreigners that he made the previous chapter, and his rules about observing the sabbath.

God makes it clear that these rules are to be obeyed, and for good measure he repeats that the people are not to recognize, or even mention the names of, other gods. He repeats his instructions about how to celebrate the annual holidays and how to conduct the animal sacrifices God demands - including such tips such as not to boil a baby goat in its mother's milk.

He then tells the people than an angel will be leading their way into the promised land, and that if the people obey the angel that it will help destroy the current inhabitants of the lands. I find this hard to reconcile with the modern description many Christians give of their religion as being a "peaceful" one. If God promises you a piece of land, then it is okay to destroy the people who are living there right now(?) - which I suppose, we shouldn't be having sympathy for, as God further describes them as "heathens", and that the people are to destroy all their religious idols when they arrive to destroy them.

God tells the people that if they obey, then they'll be blessed with food and water, God will take care of their illnesses, and their pregnancies will be free of complications and miscarriages, and no woman shall be barren.

He continues to tell the people of how he will drive the current inhabitants out little by little, until the Israelis are a great enough number to come in and invade. God sees no chance of any of these people being "saved" or "redeemed" and tells the Israelis not to let any of these people live amongst them, as apparently they're hopelessly "wicked" and cannot be converted. He tells the Israelis that these people will "infect" them with their "false gods" and that would spell the Israelis doom - presumably at God's hand.

Honestly, to me this sounds like God is doing a lot of profiling and stereotyping without concern for people as individuals. Much like he's done with the Egyptians in previous chapters, he's villainized the Hivites, Canaanites, and the Hittites and implied that not a single one of them are redeemable. God is not here to spread his message of love and joy for all to follow, he is here to let one chosen group of people dominate and destroy whoever gets in their way. As God's laws are written out, it wouldn't matter if a Canaanite saw God's glory and wanted to worship him and live amongst the Israelis, he's doomed to be destroyed by virtue of his location and his lack of luck for not being a descendant of Jacob/Israel.

Personally, I find this a very elitist way of approaching supposedly God's own people - as he has allegedly created us all - and only furthers the notion that either God is not an all loving creator, or that we're dealing with a man made entity that a tribe of people created to elevate themselves to a higher status among other people of the time.

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