Sunday, May 27, 2007

Exodus 23: 1 - 19 -- That's It, That's the Law, That's the Whole of the Law

Michael Reads the Bible was very excited this week by the first comment posted to the blog by someone not personally known by michael5000. Thank you Barry W. for your thoughts. It is encouraging to know that I am not just spouting off to my pals. I may, of course, still be just spouting off -- but it's to the global community!

In celebration of the blog's coming of age, I have disabled the feature that had me read every comment before it was posted. Now, if you want to talk back, you'll have the satisfaction of instant publication. You know I always love to hear your ideas. But hey, I understand that you're busy, too.

Other housekeeping knickknacks:

  • Michael Reads the Bible is now registered at both ORBlogs, a community of Oregon bloggers, and at the massive Technorati site. The former is a very nice site for anyone interested in Oregon and, you know, blogs; the latter you probably already know about.

  • I continue to be amazed by how few people are blogging the Bible! There are of course plenty of blogs that offer sermon-like Bible-readings-of-the-day, and plenty of blogs by theology students talking about highly technical issues of Biblical scholarship. But, except for the guy at Slate, nobody else seems to be doing a sequential reading with commentary. It's kind of disappointing, as I expected I would have all sorts of fellow travelers to compare notes with. So, I'm asking all you Michael Reads the Bible gentle readers to keep an eye out for similarly-minded blogsters, and report back to base if you find anybody.

  • State of the Craft, my quilt blog, has reopened for business.

More Laws

So, after all that, we'll only cover 19 verses in today's post (which, incidentally, borrows its title from a massively excellent Yo La Tengo song). The first half of Exodus 23 wraps up the laws that God gives to Moses atop Mt. Sinai. It is basicly the end of the long statement of rules and regulations that began at Exodus 20 with the Ten Commandments. In the second half of Exodus 23, the narrative kicks in again, so we'll hold off on that until next week.

The first subset of Exodus 23 laws govern fairness and justice, and have a quality of common-sense liberalism that I find quite heartening. Here's the gist of them:

-- Don't slander people, and don't lie to help somebody do something they shouldn't be doing.

-- Don't do something you shouldn't, just because everybody else is. Actual words: Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. Just like Mom said! See, she knew more than you gave her credit for, didn't she.

Moses receiving the Ten Commandments, from a Jewish prayer book written in medieval Germany, c. 1290.-- Don't tell lies in order to make yourself popular when you are testifying at a lawsuit. Reasonable, but suprisingly specific.

-- If you are on the jury of a lawsuit, don't side with the poorer party just because they're poor. Again, suprisingly specific, but not a pointless commandment. When I was on the jury of a lawsuit a few years ago, I found it very hard not to side with the poor plaintiff against the large, rich organization, even though the organization was clearly in the right.

-- If you find your enemy's lifestock wandering off, take it back to him. If you see your enemy's donkey collapsed under its load, help out and get donkey and cargo where they need to be. The underlying notion here, that you should be civil even with those assholes whom you can hardly stand, is an important one. It's the frame of mind that benignly stares down prejudice, road rage, office politics, ethnic cleansing, chat room trolling, and all of the other social pathologies brought on by the love of having enemies, and makes something resembling a civilization possible.

-- If you are on the jury of a lawsuit, don't side with the richer party just because they're rich. Don't frame someone, and definitely make sure you never execute an innocent person. Exodus 23: 6 - 7 is another passage that I would like to see included with any representation of the Ten Commandments that gets put up on public property.

-- No bribes.

-- Don't oppress foreigners. Worded a little differently at Ex 22:21 and Ex 23:9, this is nevertheless the Commandment so nice, God gave it twice. Congress, take note!

Sabbath Laws

-- Every seventh year, let your field/vineyard/orchard lay unused, so poor people can use it and wild animals can hang out on it. Wow! That last part, and the wild animals may eat what they [the poor people] leave (11) comes perilously close to an enironmental directive. The passage as a whole implies that property rights must be tempered with responsibility to the community and with responsibility to the stewardship of nature. Imagine that!

-- Take every seventh day off. So that your ox, donkey, and slave can be refreshed. All work and no play....

-- Don't invoke the names of other gods. Wait a minute. What other gods?

Three Annual Festivals

-- For the Feast of Unleavened Bread, no one is to eat yeast for a week.

-- Celebrate the Feast of Harvest when the first crops of the year are ready.

-- Celebrate the Feast of Ingathering when the last crops of the year are in.

-- When sacrificing, use the best specimans from the crops. Don't mix blood and yeast. No leaving sacrifice fat out all night. And, no cooking baby goats in their mother's milk.

The concept of animal or even vegetable sacrifice is beyond the pale of modern sensibilities, making the bits about sacrifice in the Old Testament uncomfortable to read through. Demands for sacrifices, and odd rules about sacrifice procedure, make God seem frankly alien, weird, barbarian, and cultish. The feasts are no problem, and the injunction to use the best specimens for sacrifices makes as much sense as sacrifice in general, I suppose. But a demand not to mix blood and yeast? It seems both occult and dazzlingly arbitrary to a modern reader.

The great canon of law as revealed to Moses, having started with the Ten Commandments and continued through a surprisingly comprehensive code of law and, in the material we covered today, calls for social justice, ends with a picayune non-sequitor of a regulation that completely fails to inspire. Do not cook a young goat in its mother's milk. Um... no worries, God. I promise I won't.

Next Week: an Ark, a Tabernacle, a Covenant, and other highly Old Testament action.


Anonymous said...

Not entirely sure you're still monitoring this blog... but I've read half of it tonight - GREAT WORK!

The commandment to not cook a calf in his mother's milk was made in recognition of the familial ties between the two animals.

Basically, it's cruel to sacrifice a calf if the mother's watching. It's beyond evil to kill the calf in front of the mother and then cook it in her milk - it adds insult to injury.

Michael5000 said...

Thanks, Anonymous. I am still monitoring, and reading, and writing. Thanks for taking a look.

Jessica said...

Side Note:
Even God Himself acknowledges the existence of other gods (“Has any god ever tried to take one nation out of another nation…” Deutoronomy 4:34). He warns us time and again in His Word to be careful not to place our trust and our worship in other gods.

God = the supreme being.

gods= an image of a deity; an idol.

The question is not the existence of God and/or gods but where our faith lies. What we believe.

Not sure of God’s existence? Read Does God Exist? written by a former atheist.