Blaine Robison, M.A.
Delivered 2 February 2019
Call to Do Justice
a sojourner you shall neither mistreat nor oppress him for you were
sojourners in the land of Egypt.
21 Any widow or an orphan you shall not
22 If afflicting you afflict them and if crying
they cry out to me, hearing I will hear their cry.
23 And my wrath will
burn hot and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives will be widows
and your sons fatherless." (Ex 22:23-12 BR)
For a complete exegesis
of this passage see my commentary
This passage is found in
Parashat Mishpatim, which begins in chapter 21 and concludes in chapter 24.
This section of Scripture covers a wide variety of civil and criminal
matters. The Hebrew word mishpatim can mean "judgments, laws or legal
rights." These are heavenly rulings in hypothetical cases. The Torah doesn't
just advocate a theory of justice but God presents how justice is done for
victims in concrete examples. In my view justice is only done when we apply
God's rulings and by that standard justice is not very common in our world.
In today's passage God
prohibits mistreatment of specific groups of people. The first group
mentioned are the sojourners who came with Israel in the exodus. The Hebrew
word for sojourner (ger)
means a person who was
not born in the country of his residence, but has come from another country
to live there. The sojourner is not just a foreign visitor. The LXX translates ger here with proselyte, a Gentile who has
chosen to unite with Israel and committed to obey God's laws. Those that
wanted to share in festival meals had to be circumcised.
Sh'mot records that a mixed
multitude left Egypt with the Israelites (Ex 12:38). Some of these people
were Egyptians, and some were of other nations that lived in Egypt. The
Targum of Jonathan calculates the number of the non-Israelites in the exodus
to be 240,000 out of perhaps as many as two million. They might have come
with the Israelites for a variety of reasons, but at Sinai they had agreed
to accept God's covenantal terms (Ex 19:8).
As a Gentile I really
appreciate the acceptance of Messianic Jews so that together we are one body
in Messiah. Yet, I can understand that for Israelites in the wilderness this
could have been a difficult command. It might be that some Israelites would
see the Gentiles in their midst as a constant reminder of their abusive
experience in Egypt. How do you not blame an entire people for what a small
number did? That conundrum is still with us. Nevertheless, God expected the
Israelites to grant equal rights to the Gentiles who chose to abandon idols
and embrace the God of Israel. Sha'ul declared that in Messiah, Jews and
Gentiles together are equal as children of Abraham and sons of God (Gal
The next verse applies the
same exhortation on behalf of widows and orphans. In ancient times social
welfare relied on the family, but if the breadwinner died, that left the
wives and children at risk. Many passages in the
prophets confront the lack of caring for their needs.
Jacob the brother of Yeshua said that taking
care of widows and orphans is the epitome of righteousness (Jas 1:27). It's
hard to believe that there are people so heartless as to take advantage of
the weak and defenseless, but that injustice still occurs today.
In verse 22 God declares in
a passionate way how He cares for the widows and orphans. He uses three
verbs that are doubled. In each case the doubling indicates persistence and
intensity. The first verb "afflict" implies a broad spectrum of cruel and
abusive behavior. Many versions translate the
second use of the verb as "in any way" to make this point.
The doubling of the verb "cry" indicates persistence in petitioning
God. The doubling of the verb "hear" indicates that God is always listening
and He will respond to those who cry out for help.
Yeshua told a parable of
a widow in such a circumstance to teach that God hears the persistent prayer
of those suffering injustice (Luke 18:1-8).
Yeshua even rebuked certain Pharisees for devouring "widows' houses" (Matt
23:14) and promised that they would receive great condemnation from God
(Mark 12:40). God is
the Father of the fatherless, the husband of the widow, and the Judge of
In verse 23 God gives a
shocking warning. He promised to repay repeated injustice with death by the
sword. In practical terms God would send a
neighboring nation to attack Israel. The warning illustrates the
justice principle of equivalence, that if the nation allowed mistreatment of
widows and orphans then God would inflict equivalent punishment. Israel
should consider how they were treated in Egypt and not act like their former
masters. As Hillel would say centuries later, "Whatever is hateful to you,
do not do to your neighbor" (Shabbat 31a).
The call to do justice for
the sojourner, widow and orphan were of such importance that God included
this instruction in the list of curses in Deuteronomy 27 to be pronounced on
Mount Ebal: "Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner,
the fatherless, and the widow" (Deut 27:19 ESV).
We should pursue shalom with
all men, as Sha'ul said (Heb 12:14), but when the innocent suffer and
followers of Yeshua are targeted by those who hate us it is appropriate to
cry out to God for justice. God will hear and He
Copyright © 2019 by
Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.