Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Do NOT Break that Ox: Exodus 22

There are various parts of going through the whole Bible that will be easy to write about. The Resurrection of Christ. The Fall of Jerusalem. David and Goliath—even the book of Revelation will be a fun one to go through.

Right now, though, we're in Exodus. Exodus 22 (link) to be precise. Now, you could click on through and read this chapter and it would do you no harm whatsoever. You would, however, perhaps wonder a bit about how this bears on you. Let's break it into pieces.

Or, better yet, let's not. There are various theories of the writing of Exodus that put forward the idea of multiple authors and how that explains the seemingly convoluted nature of these chapters.

There is, however, another possibility. That possibility is this: the divisions we cast into life are more than just artificial, they are unsustainable. Looking in this chapter, we can actually see that.

Take the first section: there are rules and laws here about restoration of material when it has been borrowed, lost, or stolen. Addressed first is recompense for theft, and that is followed quickly with the discussion of the Exodus version of the Castle Doctrine: if someone is breaking in at night, then their death is on their own head if killed in the process. However, if it's daytime, that's not the case. If it's daytime, you are not to strike the thief that way but to capture him.

Then we see that allowing your animals to overeat your own food supply and then eat your neighbors' food is not allowable, either. Then there's info about how to handle loaned items disappearing.

It is, essentially, a solid defense of laws regarding the right of private property. People may reasonably demand restitution for their property losses and may even take a life if it seems that there is a potential for their own harm by one taking it. (That would be the reason for the night allowance of killing: it is hard to know what someone's intent is then, but not in the daytime. It is not killing to protect your material, but for your life.)

That's a great right-wing moment in Scripture. Here we can sit, glad to hold our own stuff and defend it, and count ourselves as doing the Word of God. We can expect a return from those who steal our stuff, we can lock the door and load the shotgun. It sounds great.

Yet it does not stand alone. Instead, following hard after this are commands regarding how other people are to be treated. Of special note is the command that a man who seduces an unmarried woman, he is responsible to go ahead and marry her. Not abandon her or pass her off as used goods for later. While we now find that a bit harsh and old-fashioned, it was likely an improvement over the treatment of girls at the time.

Tucked in are laws about executing those who corrupt religion and morality which were crucial then but are not the way we handle things now. It is of value to routinely ignore those who would violate these commands, but Hebrews 9:27 points out that judgment falls at death, and so just as God's grace has reached us before that point, so we strive to allow all we can to live out their natural years, praying for His grace to intersect.

Then we have a further development of the idea of care and compassion for those in need. Sojourners, immigrants are to be cared for. Widows and orphans provided for, the poor treated kindly and not exploited.

In short, it's the modern-day liberal's dream world: nobody should go hungry or cold, no meanness, no grumpy people anywhere. Yet one should consider this: the care for the needy is not extorted at the point of a sword, either.

It is here as life should be: there are both the needs of the many and the rights of the one, and these are not separate issues. It is only in a society that abhors theft and even negligent destruction of property that the ability exists to care for the poor, widows, and orphans. It is only in a place where people's hearts are moved to care for strangers and sojourners that you can trust others to mind your stuff.

We must come back to that place, together: compassion and caring and private property and justice and social needs are not opposites. They are portions of the composite that society must build on.

Of final, special note is Exodus 22:28. To the left, you ought to notice the first half of the verse. To the right, you ought to notice the second half of the verse. To the ones that rule and the ones that wish to rule: neither should you be a curse to the people, for keep this mind: the ultimate earthly authority in this country is the people who have consented to be ruled by you in accordance with the agreement that is the US Constitution. Whether you are a stubborn donkey or a blundering elephant, we the people retain the right of veto. Through the Constitutional Convention process now, but through the Continental Congress process if needed in the years to come.

Today's Nerd Note: It is somewhat of a giveaway of the presumptions of a Biblical scholar when you find out how they ascribe authorship of the Pentateuch. The ones who come to the text assuming divine inspiration will usually find a single author, though perhaps later editor, behind the text. They will see a unity in what is present.

Those with a more earth-bound view will readily split the text into multiple components, sometimes slicing Hebrew sentences in half, to ascribe to multiple groups of writers and editors a bundle of source texts. Then, a group of final editors generated the text as we see it now, but it is so far divorced from the claimed setting that it's no reflection of reality.

There would be exceptions, but that's the broad pattern of Biblical studies right now. It comes from this: the whole of the Pentateuch has some marvelous diversity of vocabulary and focus and it seems odd for one man to have done it. This is potentially true, but it is also possible that Moses authored the main text and that a few later edits and revisions were made, all under the inspiration of God.

The key, though, is this: God has preserved for us a unified text. Jesus referred to it as a unified text. That should be good enough. If it's not, then there are some good points to consider: some of the proponents of the "compilation view" suggest that too much of the Pentateuch sounds just like other writings of the mid-2nd millennia BC, so they think it must have been copied; those same folks suggest that it wasn't even written until the mid-1st millennia BC and was done to justify the existence of the Jews.

Here's the problem: the cultures that the literary forms are borrowed from (supposedly?): those cultures did not exist nor was there evidence of them at the time. Many of those cultures have been found by archaeologists who have used the Biblical text to kick start their work. Makes sense, right?

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