Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Strangers In The Land: Ger 009

Exodus 23:1-9
“You shall not circulate a false report. Do not put your hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. You shall not follow a crowd to do evil; nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after many to pervert justice. You shall not show partiality to a poor man in his dispute.
“If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it.
“You shall not pervert the judgment of your poor in his dispute. Keep yourself far from a false matter; do not kill the innocent and righteous. For I will not justify the wicked. And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the discerning and perverts the words of the righteous.
“Also you shall not oppress a ger, for you know the heart of a ger, because you were ger in the land of Egypt.

What Does It Say?

Exodus 23 also has list of miscellaneous commandments, but they are something of a mirror to Exodus 22. While Exodus 22 deals with not oppressing the poor, Exodus 23 instructs us not to oppress others on behalf of the poor.

There are two passages here the deal with this explicitly; "You shall not show partiality (hadar) to a poor man in his dispute" and  "You shall not pervert (natah) the judgment of your poor in his dispute." This ties in with the idea of being an honest witness and not perverting justice in the earlier verses.

The verb hadar means "to honor," so the idea is not to show undue consideration for the poor when rendering judgement. Don't show them favorable treatment due to their poverty, judge rightly. Natah means "to stretch," so the idea is not to stretch the case (we might say 'stretch the truth' or 'stretch the law') in order to render a favorable judgement for a poor man.
No. Just, no

There are many Bible verses that instruct us not to oppress the poor; indeed, there are many that instruct us to actively help them. And while it is a good thing to give of your own wealth to help the poor, some people try to make the Bible into a Marxist text, where the rich are always villains and the poor are always noble.

But we are forbidden to pervert justice in favor of the poor. We are not to rob the rich to help the poor. We are not to lie about the rich to help the poor. While in this world justice is often tipped in favor of the rich and powerful, in the West we're just as likely to unjustly punish the rich (or even the financially stable) just for being rich (or financially stable).

Justice is Justice, and it is the right of the poor, the rich, and everyone in between. It is owed to us as  individuals, not as social groups. And while that doesn't relate directly to ger, it does inform our treatment of them: do not to tip justice in favor of ger just because some of them are poor or vulnerable.

The verse dealing with the ger here is almost identical to the Exodus 22 passage, but it goes further. Exodus 22 is a bit "tit for tat" - don't oppress the ger because you were ger in Egypt. Exodus 23 takes it a step further: don't oppress the ger because you know the heart of the ger. You can sympathize, you know what it's like, you know that feel.

Ancient Israelis, comforting a ger in their midst.

In the Bible, God tends to repeat the stuff that's most important. That's part of the reason why we get four Gospels instead of one. So the fact that we get a second appearance of an almost identical commandment reinforces the importance of not oppressing the ger. Just don't do it. Even if we aren't supposed to oppress people in favor of the ger, treating them fairly shows our heart. It's a matter of our identity as people who know what it's like to be strangers in a strange land.

I'm going to preview some New Testament stuff here, but in a spiritual sense, the Church is the New Israel. We too know what it's like to be ger, strangers and wanderers in a world that hates us. We know the heart of the ger, and this should guide us in our treatment of ger.

Next: Exodus 23:10-13

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