Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Exodus 23

This chapter accomplishes four goals.  It foreshadows the entry into Canaan.  It specifies ritual behavior for the feasts of Unleavened Bread, Harvest, and Ingathering.  It creates a "sabbath of years," a tradition that will later be further extended to Jubilee, in which the land is also to be allowed to rest, and the poor to profit from its gleaning.  And most interestingly, it extends the directives of the Ninth Commandment and intensifies the obligation to justice. 
As discussed previously, Joseph Teluskin (Biblical Literacy) characterizes the Ninth Commandment as focused narrowly on court testimony.  But notice how the implications of the Ninth Commandment are worked out this chapter.  We are commanded to avoid spreading false reports, which can easily lead to court cases, and are told to have nothing to do with false charges.  We are commanded to avoid malice in reporting what we have witnessed which, again, could help to avoid court cases.  Indeed, to keep malice from our hearts, we are instructed to assist our enemy should we find him in distress with an exhausted donkey or if his donkey wanders.

Once in court, we are advised not to side with the rich, the poor, or he crowd, but merely report the truth. To that end, we are enjoined against accepting bribes, since they distort our words. Worst of all, should we sentence an innocent man to death, we become guilty of murder. So, if we are earnest in obeying the Ninth Commandment against bearing false witness, we must avoid those things which could bring us to that point. Therefore, Telushkin's interpretation of the Ninth Commandment as a purely judicial issue is questionable. Any deviation from the truth that can lead to harm is a violation.

The description of the angel that will lead the Israelites into Canaan is interesting.  The angel carries the Lord's name within.  It will not forgive rebellion.  It will guard and guide the Israelites and terrorize God's enemies.  Ultimately, God acting through it and through the Israelites, will commit genocide against the Canaanites.


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