"These are the ordinances that you are to set before them:
The "rights" or "judgments" contained in this and the two following chapters show the manner in which the spirit and principles of the preceding moral legislation were intended to be applied to the regulation of the outward life of the Jewish state.
(1) As respects their origin, not a few of these laws have obviously their root in old customs, while others may have been derived from the decisions of Moses in the wilderness (Exodus 18:16). The code, therefore, in its present shape, cannot be supposed to have been verbally dictated by Jehovah to Moses; yet God may have instructed Moses as to the particular laws which were to be embraced in it, and may have revealed his will on special points which were as yet undetermined. The "judgments" were, in any case, given to Israel under express Divine sanction (ver. 1).
(2) As respects their nature, the laws relate to the determination of legal rights, and to the ordering of the course of justice; in part, also, to the behaviour of the members of the community to each other in various out ward relations, and to fundamental religious ordinances. The spirit of the code is throughout that of the moral law; the principles embodied in it are those of the commandments. The point of view from which its statutes are to be regarded is, however, a different one from that which was occupied in considering the moral law as such. Moral law speaks with the voice of "the categorical imperative." It sets up the perfect ethical standard. What falls short of this is wrong, involves sin, and is condemned. It knows nothing of a morality which is merely relative. The practical legislator, on the other hand - much as he might wish to do so - cannot so mould external institutions as to make them all at once, and at every point, correspond with the requirements of ideal morality. He must, to a large extent, take things as they are - must start with existing conditions and usages, and try to make the best of them. Absolute morality, e.g., would refuse to recgonise such a state as that of war; yet, so long as wars exist - and to this hour they are of frequent occurrence - some code must be devised, representing such application of ethical maxims as is possible to military life, and to that extent stamping a moral character on the profession of the soldier. The cases of deviation from ideal morality in the laws of Moses are, however, remarkably few, relating chiefly to war, slavery, and marriage. In regard to these subjects, the legislation necessarily partakes of the backward character of the times. The statutes given are not the absolutely best, but the best which the people, at that stage of their moral and social development, could receive; that is, the relatively best - the best for them. This leads to a third point -
(3) The incompleteness of the law. The statutes here given, so far as they partook of the imperfection of the time, were not intended to be final. Within the law itself, as will be readily perceived, there was large room for development; but even the letter of the law was not so fixed, but that, in course of time, large parts of it might, and did, become obsolete; new institutions, adapted to new needs, and introduced, by proper authority, taking the place of the old ones. Mr. Robertson Smith is therefore not fair in his representation of what he calls the "traditional view," when he affirms - "The Divine laws given beyond Jordan were to remain unmodified through all the long centuries of development in Canaan, an absolute and immutable code" ("Old Testament," p. 333). On such a theory, if anyone held it, his criticism would be quite just - "I say, with all reverence, that this is impossible. God, no doubt, could have given by Moses' mouth a law fit for the age of Solomon or Hezekiah, but such a law could not be fit for immediate application in the days of Moses and Joshua God can do all things, but he cannot contradict himself; and he who shaped the eventful development of Israel''s history must have framed this law to correspond with it." The reply to this is, that the most conservative defenders of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch do not deny the necessity for, and admissibility of, great developments of the principles of the law. It may suffice to quote Hengstenberg:" First, it is a gross error, though often repeated, that the Pentateuch embraces the whole civil law of the Israelites. In that portion of the Scriptures there is shown the greatest aversion from all untimely interference with the course of historical development. Only those points are determined which must be so, add in no other way, according to the fundamental maxims of the theocracy," etc. ("Authenticity," vol. it. p. 498, Eng. trans.). - J.O.
These are the Judgments.
These judgments stood related to the second table of the Law, just as the regulations concerning the worship of the altar stood related to the first. It is to be remembered also that these "judgments," and those of the same kind which afterward were added as occasion arose, are to be distinguished from the moral law, not only as applying to the state rather than the individual, but also as local and temporary in their nature, representing not what was ideally best, but only what was then practically possible in the direction of that which was best. Some very superficial people criticise them as if they were intended for the nineteenth century! The Decalogue was, and is, intrinsically perfect; the "judgments" were adapted to the circumstances and wants of Israel at the time. And it would be a good thing if reformers of modern times would always remember the same wise and necessary distinctions, between that which is ideally perfect and that which alone may be practically possible. Still further it is to be remembered, that these judgments were suitable to "the Theocracy" of Israel; and hence those are entirely wrong who attempt to use them as precedents for general legislation in the limited monarchies and republican governments, and otherwise entirely altered circumstances, of modern times. Yet if we could only compare these "judgments" with the laws and customs of the nations around, we should see by force of contrast how exceedingly pure, wise, just, and humane they are; and especially where private relations are dealt with, we have touches which would not shame the New Testament itself, however much they may in another sense shame us, as for instance Exodus 23:4, 5
. The third division of the book of the covenant has to do with matters which relate neither to worship exclusively, nor to civil relations exclusively, but to both. These are the Sabbath year, the Sabbath day, and the yearly festivals (Exodus 23:10-19
). As for the Sabbath year and the festivals, they will come up again in the fuller details given from the tabernacle and recorded in Leviticus. And as for the Sabbath day, we may simply remark the significance of its presence here in the book of the covenant, as well as in the Decalogue, indicating that while in its principle it belongs to universal and unchangeable law, in its letter it formed part of that national covenant which was merged in the new and better covenant of the later age.
There is a very common reflection upon the Hebrew lawgiver, which, though it does not call in question any particular law, is yet designed to vitiate and weaken the impression of the whole — that he was a stern and relentless ruler, who may indeed have understood the principles of justice, but whose justice was seldom tempered with mercy. This impression is derived partly at least from the summary way in which in several instances he dealt with rebellion. To this kind of argument there is one brief and sufficient answer: All bodies of men are acknowledged to have the right to resort to severe penalties when encompassed by extraordinary dangers. The children of Israel were in a position of great peril, and their safety depended on the wisdom and firmness of one man. Never had a ruler a more difficult task. Moses did not legislate for the ideal republic of Plato, a community of perfect beings, but for a people born in slavery, from which they had but just broken away, and that were in danger of becoming ungovernable. Here were two millions and a half who had not even a settled place of abode, mustered in one vast camp, through which rebellion might spread in a day. Moses had to govern them by his single will .... To preserve order, and to guard against hostile attacks, all the men capable of bearing arms were organized as a military body .... He suppressed rebellion as Cromwell would have suppressed it: he not only put it down, but stamped it out; and such prompt severity was the truest humanity. But it is not acts of military discipline that provoke the criticism of modern humanitarians, so much as those religious laws which prescribed the God whom the Hebrews should worship, and punished idolatry and blasphemy as the greatest of crimes. This, it is said, transcends the proper sphere of human law; it exalts ceremonies into duties, and denounces as crimes acts which have no moral wrong. Was not, then, the Hebrew law wanting in the first principle of justice — freedom to all religions? Now it is quite absurd to suppose the Hebrews had conscientious scruples against this worship, or seriously doubted whether Jehovah or Baal were the true God. They had been rescued from slavery by a direct interposition of the Almighty, they had been led by an Almighty Deliverer; and it was His voice which they heard from the cliffs of Sinai. But it was not merely because their religion was true
, and the only
true worship, that they were required to accept it; but because also of the peculiar relation which its Divine Author had assumed towards the Hebrew state as its founder and protector. They had no king but God; He was the only Lord. As such, no act of disobedience or disrespect to His authority could be light or small. Further: the unity of God was a centre of unity for the nation. The state was one because their God was one. The worship of Jehovah alone distinguished the Hebrews from all other people, and preserved their separate nationality. Admit other religions, and the bond which held together the twelve tribes was dissolved. How long could that union have lasted if the prophets of Baal had had the freedom of the camp and been permitted to go from tribe to tribe and from tent to tent, preaching the doctrine of human sacrifices? Hence Moses did not suffer them for an hour. False prophets were to be stoned to death .... Such was the Hebrew commonwealth, a state founded in religion. Was it therefore founded in fanaticism and folly, or in profound wisdom and far-seeing sagacity? "Religion, true or false," says Coleridge, "is, and ever has been, the centre of gravity in a realm, to which all other things must and will accommodate themselves." Would it not be well if some of our modern pretenders to statesmanship did not so completely ignore its existence and its power? The religion which Moses gave to the Hebrews was not one merely of abstract ideas; it was incarnated in an outward and visible worship by which it addressed the senses. Even in the desert the tabernacle and the altar were set up, and the daily sacrifice was offered; the smoke and the incense below ascending towards the pillar of cloud above, and the fire on the altar answering to the pillar of fire in the midnight sky. This daily and nightly worship made religion a real because a visible thing; it appealed to the senses and touched the imagination of the people, and held their spirits in awe. The feeling that God dwelt in the midst of them inspired them with courage for great efforts and great sacrifices.
TopicsJudgments, Laws, Ordinances
Outline1. Laws for men servants
5. For the servant whose ear is bored
7. For women servants
12. For manslaughter
16. For kidnappers
17. For cursers of parents
18. For smiters
22. For a hurt by chance
28. For an ox that gores
33. For him who is an occasion of harm
Dictionary of Bible ThemesExodus 21:1
LibraryThe Development of the Earlier Old Testament Laws
[Sidenote: First the principle, and then the detailed laws] If the canon of the New Testament had remained open as long as did that of the Old, there is little doubt that it also would have contained many laws, legal precedents, and ecclesiastical histories. From the writings of the Church Fathers and the records of the Catholic Church it is possible to conjecture what these in general would have been. The early history of Christianity illustrates the universal fact that the broad principles are …
Charles Foster Kent—The Origin & Permanent Value of the Old Testament
The Kinsman Redeemer
'After that he is sold he may be redeemed again; one of his brethren may redeem him.'--LEV. xxv. 48. There are several of the institutions and precepts of the Mosaic legislation which, though not prophetic, nor typical, have yet remarkable correspondences with lofty Christian truth. They may be used as symbols, if only we remember that we are diverting them from their original purpose. How singularly these words lend themselves to the statement of the very central truths of Christianity--a slavery …
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture
'Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: 39. But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. 41. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. 42. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.'--MATT. v. 38-42. The old law …
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture
A Discourse of the Building, Nature, Excellency, and Government of the House of God; with Counsels and Directions to the Inhabitants Thereof.
BY JOHN BUNYAN, OF BEDFORD. 'Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth.'--Psalm 26:8 ADVERTISEMENT BY THE EDITOR. Beautiful in its simplicity is this treatise on the Church of Christ, by John Bunyan. He opens, with profound knowledge and eminent skill, all those portions of sacred writ which illustrate the nature, excellency, and government of the house of God, with the personal and relative duties of its inhabitants. It was originally published in …
John Bunyan—The Works of John Bunyan Volumes 1-3
Appeal to the Christian Women of the South
BY A.E. GRIMKE. "Then Mordecai commanded to answer Esther, Think not within thyself that thou shalt escape in the king's house more than all the Jews. For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place: but thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this. And Esther bade them return Mordecai this answer:--and so will I go in unto the king, …
Angelina Emily Grimke—An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South
The Doctrine of Non-Resistance to Evil by Force Has Been Professed by a Minority of Men from the Very Foundation of Christianity. Of the Book "What
CHAPTER I. THE DOCTRINE OF NON-RESISTANCE TO EVIL BY FORCE HAS BEEN PROFESSED BY A MINORITY OF MEN FROM THE VERY FOUNDATION OF CHRISTIANITY. Of the Book "What I Believe"--The Correspondence Evoked by it-- Letters from Quakers--Garrison's Declaration--Adin Ballou, his Works, his Catechism--Helchitsky's "Net of Faith"--The Attitude of the World to Works Elucidating Christ's Teaching--Dymond's Book "On War"--Musser's "Non-resistance Asserted"--Attitude of the Government in 1818 to Men who Refused to …
Leo Tolstoy—The Kingdom of God is within you
The Sermon on the Mount - the Kingdom of Christ and Rabbinic Teaching.
It was probably on one of those mountain-ranges, which stretch to the north of Capernaum, that Jesus had spent the night of lonely prayer, which preceded the designation of the twelve to the Apostolate. As the soft spring morning broke, He called up those who had learned to follow Him, and from among them chose the twelve, who were to be His Ambassadors and Representatives.   But already the early light had guided the eager multitude which, from all parts, had come to the broad level …
Alfred Edersheim—The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
The Deputation from Jerusalem - the Three Sects of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes - Examination of their Distinctive Doctrines.
APART from the repulsively carnal form which it had taken, there is something absolutely sublime in the continuance and intensity of the Jewish expectation of the Messiah. It outlived not only the delay of long centuries, but the persecutions and scattering of the people; it continued under the disappointment of the Maccabees, the rule of a Herod, the administration of a corrupt and contemptible Priesthood, and, finally, the government of Rome as represented by a Pilate; nay, it grew in intensity …
Alfred Edersheim—The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
The Sixth Commandment
Thou shalt not kill.' Exod 20: 13. In this commandment is a sin forbidden, which is murder, Thou shalt not kill,' and a duty implied, which is, to preserve our own life, and the life of others. The sin forbidden is murder: Thou shalt not kill.' Here two things are to be understood, the not injuring another, nor ourselves. I. The not injuring another.  We must not injure another in his name. A good name is a precious balsam.' It is a great cruelty to murder a man in his name. We injure others in …
Thomas Watson—The Ten Commandments
That Deep Things Ought not to be Preached at all to Weak Souls.
But the preacher should know how to avoid drawing the mind of his hearer beyond its strength, lest, so to speak, the string of the soul, when stretched more than it can bear, should be broken. For all deep things should be covered up before a multitude of hearers, and scarcely opened to a few. For hence the Truth in person says, Who, thinkest thou, is the faithful and wise steward, whom his Lord has appointed over his household, to give them their measure of wheat in due season? (Luke xii. 42). …
Leo the Great—Writings of Leo the Great
In Death and after Death
A sadder picture could scarcely be drawn than that of the dying Rabbi Jochanan ben Saccai, that "light of Israel" immediately before and after the destruction of the Temple, and for two years the president of the Sanhedrim. We read in the Talmud (Ber. 28 b) that, when his disciples came to see him on his death-bed, he burst into tears. To their astonished inquiry why he, "the light of Israel, the right pillar of the Temple, and its mighty hammer," betrayed such signs of fear, he replied: "If I were …
Alfred Edersheim—Sketches of Jewish Social Life
Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia.
Part I. History of the Councils. Reason why two Councils were called. Inconsistency and folly of calling any; and of the style of the Arian formularies; occasion of the Nicene Council; proceedings at Ariminum; Letter of the Council to Constantius; its decree. Proceedings at Seleucia; reflections on the conduct of the Arians. 1. Perhaps news has reached even yourselves concerning the Council, which is at this time the subject of general conversation; for letters both from the Emperor and the Prefects …
Athanasius—Select Works and Letters or Athanasius
The Section Chap. I. -iii.
The question which here above all engages our attention, and requires to be answered, is this: Whether that which is reported in these chapters did, or did not, actually and outwardly take place. The history of the inquiries connected with this question is found most fully in Marckius's "Diatribe de uxore fornicationum," Leyden, 1696, reprinted in the Commentary on the Minor Prophets by the same author. The various views may be divided into three classes. 1. It is maintained by very many interpreters, …
Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg—Christology of the Old Testament
The Blessing of Jacob Upon Judah. (Gen. Xlix. 8-10. )
Ver. 8. "Judah, thou, thy brethren shall praise thee; thy hand shall be on the neck of thine enemies; before thee shall bow down the sons of thy father. Ver. 9. A lion's whelp is Judah; from the prey, my son, thou goest up; he stoopeth down, he coucheth as a lion, and as a full-grown lion, who shall rouse him up? Ver. 10. The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come, and unto Him the people shall adhere." Thus does dying Jacob, in announcing …
Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg—Christology of the Old Testament
The book of Exodus--so named in the Greek version from the march of Israel out of Egypt--opens upon a scene of oppression very different from the prosperity and triumph in which Genesis had closed. Israel is being cruelly crushed by the new dynasty which has arisen in Egypt (i.) and the story of the book is the story of her redemption. Ultimately it is Israel's God that is her redeemer, but He operates largely by human means; and the first step is the preparation of a deliverer, Moses, whose parentage, …
John Edgar McFadyen—Introduction to the Old Testament
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