Exodus 22:20-23

Blaine Robison, M.A.

Delivered 2 February 2019


A Call to Do Justice


20 "And 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 afflict.
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 here.

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 3:26-28).

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 their oppressors.

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 will answer.

Barukh Hashem.

Copyright 2019 by Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.