Exodus 22:21-24 (20-23 MT)
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 2 February 2019
Scripture Text: The Scripture text of this commentary is prepared by Blaine Robison based on the Westminster Leningrad Codex found at BibleHub.com. The essentially literal translation seeks to reflect the Hebraic character of the author and writing. Other Bible versions may be quoted. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions.
Sources: Bibliographic data for works cited may be found at the end of the chapter commentary. Works without page numbers are cited ad loc. Important Jewish sources include the following:
● LXX: The abbreviation "LXX" ("70") stands for the Septuagint, the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, which was in use among Jews by the mid-2nd century B.C. Online.
● Josephus: Citations for Josephus, the first century Jewish historian (Yosef ben Matityahu), are from The Works of Flavius Josephus (c. 75–99 A.D.) trans. William Whiston (1737). Online.
● MT: The Masoretic Text is the authoritative Hebrew text of the Tanakh for Rabbinic Judaism. Work on developing a uniform Hebrew Bible began in the 2nd century under Rabbi Akiva, but completed by Jewish scholars known as the Masoretes between the 7th and 10th centuries A.D. The oldest extant manuscripts date from around the 9th century. Online.
● Talmud: Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. The Jerusalem Talmud, identified with "TJ," may be found here. Click here for Talmud abbreviations.
● Targums: The targums are early Aramaic translations of the Hebrew text with commentary: Targum Jerusalem (1st c. AD), Targum Neofiti (1st c. AD), Targum Onkelos (c. 35–120 AD) and Targum Jonathan (2nd c. AD). See an index of Targum texts here.
Special Terms: In order to emphasize the Hebraic nature of Scripture I use the terms ADONAI (for 'LORD' when quoting a Tanakh source), Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus) and Messiah (Christ).
Syntax: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB" and the meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009). Parsing information for Hebrew verbs is taken from John Joseph Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament (1989). An explanation of Hebrew verbs and grammatical construction can be found at Hebrew4Christians.com.
Justice for Theft, 22:1-4
Justice for Property Damage, 22:5-6
Justice for Breach of Trust, 22:7-15
Justice for Seduction, 22:16-17
Justice for Abominations, 22:18-20
Justice for Strangers, Widows and Orphans, 22:21-24
Justice for Poor Debtors, 22:25-27
Justice for Animals, 22:28-31
NOTE: The verse numbering in parentheses follows the Masoretic Text.
Background: For synagogue Sabbath services the Torah is divided into 54 Parashôt ("portions") for sequential reading. Parashôt appear in manuscripts as early as the Dead Sea Scrolls, but Jewish tradition assigns their creation to Ezra. The annual reading through the Torah concludes on Simchat Torah ("rejoicing in the Torah") on 22 Tishri (Sept-Oct). For more information see The Parashah Cycle.
Context: In the Hebrew Bible the passage explained below is found in Parashat Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1−24:18). The Hebrew word mishpatim (pl. of mishpat, SH-4941) can mean "judgments, laws or legal rights." In practical terms the plural noun refers to acts of doing justice as required by the circumstance. They are heavenly rulings in hypothetical cases. The Torah does not just present a theory of justice but how justice is done 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 Parashat Mishpatim God decreed how to do justice for employees (21:2-6), for wives (21:7-11), for victims of murder (21:12-14), for parental abuse (21:15, 17), for victims of kidnapping (21:16), for personal injury (21:18-32), for property damage from negligence (21:33-36; 22:5-6), for victims of theft (22:1-4), for breach of trust (22:7-15), for victims of sexual assault (22:16-17), for idolatry (22:18, 20), for acts of perversion (22:19), for strangers, widows and orphans (22:21-24; 23:9), for poor debtors (22:25-27), for honoring God and rulers (22:28), for consecrating firstborn (22:29-30), for holy service (22:31), for due process in legal matters (23:1-3, 6-8), for neighbor relations (23:4-5), Sabbath rest (23:10-13), for honoring pilgrim feasts (23:14-19), for preventing animal cruelty (23:19), and for conquest of the land of Canaan (23:20-33).
The passage below is an integral part of these instructions for doing justice. More particularly verses 21-24 (MT 20-23) deal with the protection of the underprivileged classes, specifically non-Israelites living among Israelites, widows, and orphans. The principles articulated in this section are basic to God's law, not a deduction from it, because ADONAI cares for all of those harmed by others. This compassion reflects His very nature. Indeed God expresses His expectation of His own people who are bound to Him by covenant (Edersheim 210). Kaiser notes that there are two shifts in these verses. In verses 1-20 the third person singular dominates, but in this section there is a (1) a shift to the first person, which placed God himself as the special protector and advocate of these underprivileged people, and (2) a shift to second-person plural in verses 22-24.
21 (20) "And a sojourner you shall neither mistreat nor oppress him for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
Parallel Passages: Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:33; Deuteronomy 1:16; Ezekiel 22:7; Zechariah 7:10
And: The letter vav (ו) is added to the noun as its first letter for conjunctive effect. The vav as a conjunction has these three basic uses: (1) coordinate and connect, "and," the most common use; (2) have a contrasting or adversative use, e.g. "but," as the context requires; or (3) a disjunctive or parenthetic use, e.g. "now" (Ross 73-74). The first usage is intended here. a sojourner: Heb. ger, a sojourner or temporary dweller with no inheritance rights, first in Exodus 12:48. In English Bibles this term is variously translated as "foreigner, resident alien, sojourner or stranger." Among Jewish Bibles, the CJB has "foreigner" and the TLV has "outsider," but non-Messianic versions all have "stranger."
Every expression of 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 of Bible times was not comparable to the modern categories of visas (e.g., student, tourist, or work) or an illegal alien. A sojourner was expected to submit to the ruling authorities, obey the laws of the country in which he lived, be self-supporting and adapt to the local culture. However, he may not have enjoyed the same rights as native born persons or citizens. The first person mentioned in the Bible as a sojourner is Abraham (Gen 12:10; 23:4; cf. Heb 11:9) and consider his excursion into Egypt (Gen 12:10-15).
The LXX renders ger first with Grk. paroikos (SG-3941), alien, foreigner, sojourner, (Gen 15:13; 23:4; Ex 2:22; 18:3); and second with Grk. prosēlutos, (SG-4339), "one that has arrived at a place, stranger, sojourner" and then one who has come over to Judaism, a convert, proselyte (LSJ). The Greek word prosēlutos is a technical term invented by the Jewish rabbis who translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek to identify non-Israelites that joined with Israel (Ex 12:48, 49; 20:10 and here). The term occurs nowhere in classical Greek literature (DNTT 1:360). Ger is used here to indicate non-Israelites who had chosen to unite with Israel.
From the time of the Exodus there were two classes of sojourner-proselytes:
Gate Proselyte: Heb. ger ha-sha'ar, "proselyte of the gate" (Ex 20:10, Deut 5:13-14, 14:20-29, 16:10-14, 24:13-14, 26:11-12, 31:11-12), was a "resident alien" (ger toshav, Num 35:35), who lived among Israelites and was expected to obey the laws of the land (Lev 24:22; Num 9:14; 15:16, 29). Gate proselytes were not circumcised and thus were not allowed to share in the Passover sacrifice. However, they were expected to abstain from work on the Sabbath. Under rabbinic law the gate proselytes were expected to obey the seven Laws of Noah (Abodah Zarah 64b). The Noachide Laws as defined by Jewish tradition required the practice of justice and prohibition of idolatry, murder, blasphemy, sexual promiscuity, theft, and eating flesh taken from a live animal (Sanh. 56a; Yeb. 48b).
Righteous Proselyte: Heb. ger tzedek (or ger ha-b'rit, "proselyte of the covenant"), was a Gentile who chose full identification with Israel (cf. 2Chr 2:17-18; Esth 8:17; Matt 23:15; Acts 2:10), and, if male, submitted to circumcision in accordance with the Torah (Ex 12:48). A righteous proselyte was bound to all the precepts of the Torah (cf. Ex 12:19, 43-49; 20:10; Deut 1:16; 5:14; 14:21; 26:10-11; 31:9-13), and considered a full member of the Jewish people. A righteous proselyte could participate fully in all religious festivals and enjoyed all the legal rights and privileges accorded native Israelites (Deut 1:16; 5:13-14; 10:18-19; 14:29; 16:11-14; 24:14, 17, 19-21; 26:12-13; 27:19; 28:43). In terms of piety a righteous proselyte lived as a traditional Jew, including wearing tzitzit ("fringe, tassel," Num 15:38-39; Menachot 43a) and being present at the reading of the Torah (Deut 31:12), demonstrating his willingness to be bound by its demands.
In the land of Israel both categories of proselytes were granted the same legal protections as native Israelites. It should be noted that no proselyte of any kind was ever called a Jew, probably because of the ethnic definition of Y’hudi, the distinctive promise of the land of Israel to the Jews in perpetuity and the special relationship of the Jews to the Torah (cf. Gal. 5:3) (Stern 339). Proselytes had no inheritance rights in the Land promised to the Israelites. Only in the age to come will proselytes be granted land among the tribes of Israel (Ezek 47:22-23). God never required Gentiles to be circumcised to receive salvation and the issue was settled by the apostles (Acts 15).
Assimilation of non-Hebrews into the covenant people has a long history, primarily by intermarriage. Abraham took Hagar, an Egyptian, as a concubine-wife (Gen 16:3). Then two sons of Jacob took Canaanite wives (Judah, Gen 38:2; and Simeon, Gen 46:10). Moses also married two non-Israelite women, a Midianite (Ex 2:21) and a Cushite (Num 12:1). Many indigenous people in Egypt joined Israel in the exodus ("mixed multitude," Ex 12:38). Gill comments that some of the "mixed multitude" were Egyptians, and some of other nations that had resided in Egypt, and who, on various accounts, might choose to go along with the Israelites. Some would go because of intermarriage, not wanting to be separated from their relations, others on account of devotion to the God of Israel, and others through worldly interest, the land of Egypt being a desolate place after the plagues.
The Targum of Jonathan 12:38 computes the number of the non-Israelites to be 240,000. The main body of Israelites included over 600,000 men able to bear arms (Josephus, Ant. II, 15:1), not counting Levites, old men, women and children (cf. Ex 12:37; Num 1:45-47; 11:21). The total population probably exceeded 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). Of interest is that all the males that entered Canaan in the time of Joshua were circumcised (Josh 5:5), which would have included the children of the original sojourners.
you shall neither: Heb. lo, adv., neg. particle, not; always negates properly the word immediately following and used here to express a prohibition. mistreat: Heb. yanah, Hiphil impf., m.s., to oppress, maltreat, perhaps suppress. Rashi interprets the verb to mean "by taunting with words, to vex (cf. Isa 49:26). nor: Heb. lo. The second use of the negative particle serves as a formulaic coupling with the previous lo to express "neither…nor." oppress him: Heb. lachats, Qal impf., m.s., to squeeze, press, oppress. Rashi interprets the verb to mean "by robbing him of his money." In opposition to all national exclusiveness, the stranger (though not the strange god, Deut 31:16) is to be kindly welcomed (Edersheim 210). This same instruction is repeated elsewhere in the Torah (Ex 23:9; Deut 24:14; cf. Jer 22:3).
for: Heb. ki, conj., that, for, when, because. The conjunction is used here to express causality with an inferential aspect. you were: Heb. hayah, Qal perf., 2mp, to fall out, come to pass, become, be. sojourners: pl. of Heb. ger. God had warned Abraham, "Know for certain that your seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will be enslaved and oppressed 400 years" (Gen 15:13 TLV; cf. Acts 7:6). in the land: Heb. b'erets, earth or land, and can mean (1) the earth as the planet in contrast to heaven; (2) a portion or region of the earth; land, country, region; (3) land as contrasted with the sea, as well as the ground or soil as the place of agriculture. The second meaning applies here.
of Egypt: Heb. Mitsrayim (Mizraim in Christian Bibles), a land in northeastern Africa, home to one of the earliest civilizations, and an important cultural and political influence on ancient Israel. In contrast to the modern nation, ancient Egypt was confined to the Nile River valley, a long, narrow ribbon of fertile land (the "black land") surrounded by uninhabitable desert (the "red land"). Egypt proper, from the first cataract of the Nile to the Mediterranean, is some 750 miles long. The name is rendered in the LXX as Grk. Aiguptos. The Greek historian Herodotus (440 BC) provides perhaps the earliest secular account of ancient Egyptian culture (Histories, Book II). An Egyptian priest, Manetho of Sebennytus (285-246 BC), wrote a book Aegyptiaca in Greek to share the history and civilization of his country with others. The original work has perished, but fragments have been preserved and transmitted by other ancient authors. See the complete work here: Manetho.
The last clause of the verse presents a powerful logical argument. In the next chapter the Israelites are reminded, "you know how a foreigner feels" (23:9 CJB). Rashi comments the clause implies that if you taunt him, he can also taunt you and say to you, "You too emanate from strangers." The Sages gave the following interpretation of this passage:
"Our Rabbis taught: He who wounds the feelings of a proselyte transgresses three negative injunctions, and he who oppresses him infringes two. Wherein does wronging differ? Because three negative injunctions are stated: Viz., Thou shalt not wrong a stranger [i.e., a proselyte]. And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not wrong him, and ye shall not therefore wrong each his fellowman, a proselyte being included in 'fellowman.' But for 'oppression' also three are written, viz., and thou shalt not oppress him, Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger, and [If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee,] thou shalt not be to him as a usurer which includes a proselyte! — But [say] both [are forbidden] by three [injunctions]. It has been taught: R. Eliezer the Great said: Why did the Torah warn against [the wronging of] a proselyte in thirty-six, or as others say, in forty-six, places? Because he has a strong inclination to evil. What is the meaning of the verse, Thou shalt neither wrong a stranger, nor oppress him; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt? It has been taught: R. Nathan said: Do not taunt your neighbor with the blemish you yourself have." (Baba Metzia 59b)
The observation of Eliezer makes an important point. Instruction concerning treatment of the ger/prosēlutos occurs many times in the Torah (Ex 20:10; 23:9, 12; Lev 16:29; 19:10, 33, 34; 22:18; 23:22; Num 9:14; 15:14, 15, 16, 26, 29; 35:15; Deut 1:16; 5:14; 10:18, 19; 12:18; 14:29; 16:11, 14; 24:14, 17, 19, 20, 21; 26:11, 12, 13; 27:19; 28:43; 29:11; 31:12). Such repetition emphasizes God's passionate concern that Israelites do justice for the sojourners in their midst. In this particular legislation God forbids taking revenge for what their slave-masters in Egypt did to them.
Conversely, while the instruction here constitutes a negative command of what not to do, other instructions are positive of what to do for the sojourner. The sojourner employee was to be given the day off on Shabbat (Ex 20:10; Lev 16:29; Deut 5:14). The cities of refuge were for the sojourner as well as the sons of Israel (Num 35:15). The Israelite was enjoined to love the sojourner as himself (Lev 19:34; Deut 10:19). Offerings were to be accepted from sojourners at the tabernacle (Lev 22:18; Num 15:14). Most significantly, the sojourner received the benefit of sin offerings (forgiveness, Num 15:26). God loves the sojourner and like the Israelite gives him food and clothing (Deut 10:18).
22 (21) Any widow or an orphan you shall not afflict.
Parallel Passages: Deuteronomy 24:17; Jeremiah 7:6
Any: Heb. kol, the whole or all. The LXX has pas, adj., comprehensive in scope, but without statistical emphasis; all, every. Followed often by a singular, the noun is to be understood collectively. widow: Heb. almanah (LXX Grk. chēra), a woman bereft of her husband. or an orphan: Heb. yathom (LXX Grk. orphanos), deprived of parents, with implication of being left to one's own resources; orphan, orphaned. The term does not necessarily mean that both parents are dead. Some versions make this point by translating the noun as "fatherless" (AMP, CSB, ESV, KJV, NIV, NKJV). you shall not: Heb. lo, neg. adv. See the previous verse. afflict: Heb. anah, Piel impf., 2p-mp, to be bowed down or afflicted. The Imperfect tense is future-oriented and combined with the negative adv. functions as a prohibition. The plural form applies to every Israelite.
The LXX has kakoō, treat badly, afflict, embitter, make angry. Like the sojourner or resident alien in the previous verse, so widows and orphans were to be protected (cf. Deut 16:11, 14; 24:19-21; 26:12-13). The widow and orphan have no husband, or father to be on their side and protect them, and are weak and helpless to defend themselves, and therefore it must be barbarous to do them any injury, either to their persons or property (Gill). No one ought to be afflicted and distressed by another, either in body or mind, or substance, and especially such as have no helper, not any to assist them and sympathize with them.
Taking care of widows and orphans is an important value to God and Israelites were later rebuked for failure to care for widows (Isa 1:17; 10:1-3; 58:7; Jer 22:3; Zech 7:10; Mal 3:5). Rashi observes that this command is a law for every man, and binding upon all. The Scripture speaks of these two categories, because of their weakness, and very limited means of support. They are more frequently afflicted than others by cruel and unmerciful men taking the advantage of their inability to defend themselves. Yeshua rebuked certain Pharisees for devouring "houses of widows" (Matt 23:14) and promised that they would receive great condemnation from God (Mark 12:40).
23 (22) If afflicting you afflict them and if crying they cry out to me, hearing I will hear their cry.
Parallel Passages: Deuteronomy 10:18; 15:9
If: Heb. im, conj., functions here as a hypothetical particle. afflicting: Heb. anah, Piel inf. absolute. See the previous verse. The infinitive may allude to a pattern of unjust treatment. you afflict: Heb. anah, Piel impf., ms. The singular form could mean "any one of you." Gill says the doubling of the verb emphasizes afflicting "by any means whatever," whether by reproaches, censures, insults, beating, false imprisonment, etc., and in their substance, by withholding from them what belongs to them, taking what they have, or cheating and defrauding them in any respect.
them: Heb. eth, direct object, 3p-ms. The masculine direct object refers to both the widows and orphans in the previous verse according to the rule that when two or more subjects of different genders, the masculine is employed (Keil 414). The singular form represents the entire class as a single unit. and: Heb. ki, conj. See verse 1 above. BDB explains the meaning of the conjunction here as "that (=indeed)." if: Heb. im. The particle introduces a hypothetical clause that issues from the first clause. crying: Heb. tsaaq, Qal inf. absolute, cry, cry out, call. they cry out: Heb. tsaaq, Qal impf., 3p-ms. The Targum of Jonathan has "in crying, cry." The doubling of the verb indicates persistence in petitioning God. to me: Grk. el, prep. with 1p suffix; to, into, towards.
hearing: Heb. shama, Qal inf. absolute, to hear. The infinitive indicates that God is always listening to His people. I will hear: Heb. shama, Qal impf., 3p-ms. The doubling of the verb emphasizes God's intention to respond because of His covenantal promises (Ex 2:24-25). their cry: Heb. tseaqah, fem. sing. construct, 3p-ms., a cry of distress, an outcry. 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). God is the Father of the fatherless, the husband of the widow, and the Judge of their oppressors.
24 (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.
Parallel Passages: Deuteronomy 31:17
And my wrath: Heb. aph, a nostril, nose, face, anger. This verse continues the thought from the previous verse. will burn hot: Heb. charah, Qal perf., to burn or be kindled with anger. The opening clause depicts God as being seriously provoked by injustice. and I will kill: Grk. harag, Qal perf., to kill or slay. you: pl. of Heb. eth. See the previous verse. with the sword: Heb. chereb, a sword as a weapon of war. and your wives: pl. of Heb. ishshah, woman, wife, adult female. will be: Heb. hayah, Qal perf. See verse 21 above. widows: pl. of Heb. almanah. See verse 22 above. and your sons: pl. of Heb. ben, a male offspring or descendant. The noun is used in three distinctive ways in Scripture: (1) to identify direct paternity; (2) to mean a more distant ancestor; or (3) to mean in a broader sense of having the characteristics of. The first and second meanings can apply here.
fatherless: pl. of Heb. yathom. See verse 22 above. Keil comments that "killing with the sword" points to wars, in which men and fathers of families perish, and their wives and children are thus made widows and orphans. The Targum of Jonathan explains that the prediction of slaying with the sword indicates that when evils of injustice should become frequent among the Israelites, God would allow a neighboring nation to break in upon them in an hostile way, and put them to the sword; hence the stated consequences.
Cole considers this verse a divine application of lex talionis ("law of equivalent retribution"). This important principle of equivalence or proportionality is summarized in the well-known verse, "Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot" (Deut 19:21 NASB). Contrary to popular thinking, this rule was not given to authorize revenge, but to establish a limit on punishment or damages awarded in a court hearing. The offender is to be punished to the same degree, but not more, as he has inflicted on the victim. (See my article Biblical Justice.)
The Israelites witnessed the principle of equivalence in Egypt. The Egyptians afflicted Israel, God's first-born son (Ex 4:23), so the first-born of Egypt died. The wives of Egyptians were left widowed by the disaster at the Red Sea. Cole concludes that the society that lacks social justice will itself come under God's judgment.
Conclusion: 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). The negative format of the instruction in this passage is comparable to later Jewish sentiment: "What you hate, do to no one" (Tobit 4:15). Rabbi Hillel expressed it in the generation before Yeshua as told in this passage of the Talmud:
"A certain Gentile came before Shammai and said to him, 'Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.' Thereupon he repulsed him with the builder's measuring rod which was in his hand. When he went before Hillel, he said to him, 'What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah, the rest is commentary. Go and learn it." (Shabbat 31a)
BDB: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Oxford University Press, 1907. Reprinted by Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981.
Cole: R. Alan Cole, Exodus: An Introduction and Commentary. Inter-Varsity Press, 1973.
Edersheim: Alfred Edersheim, Bible History Old Testament (1876-1887), Updated Edition. Hendrickson Publishers, 1995. Also online.
Gill: John Gill (1697-1771), Exposition of the Entire Bible. Online.
Kaiser: Walter C. Kaiser, Exodus. Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 2. Software version 2.6. Zondervan Corp., 1989-1999.
Keil: C.F. Keil, The Pentateuch, Vol. 1 of Commentary on the Old Testament (1866-1891) by C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch. Hendrickson, 2006.
LSJ: Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon. Revised and augmented by Sir Henry Stuart Jones. Clarendon Press, 1940. Online.
Rashi: Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaqi (1040-1105), Commentary on the Tanakh. Online.
Ross: Allen P. Ross, Introducing Biblical Hebrew. Baker Academic, 2001.
Stern: David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.
Copyright © 2019 by Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.