One of my projects this past semester was to research a part of the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Bible) and to write a paper based on the original Hebrew. For the paper I chose to research Exodus 22:21-24. Instead of letting all that research just sit on my computer I thought I could summarize my paper and give this community a better understanding of these few short verses.
To start here is my personal translation of Ex. 22:21-24:
20And you shall not do violence to a foreign dweller nor oppress him because you were once foreign dwellers in Egypt. 21You shall not mistreat, or restrict, the widow or the orphan. 22 If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me (which they will cry out) I will surely hear them and respond to their cry. 23 And I will burn with anger and I will kill you with a sword. Your wives will be widows and your children will be fatherless.
One thing to note is the placement of this section. In Exodus 19 God and Israel are agreeing to a covenant together. Exodus 22 falls into a section that outlines the requirements of that covenant. There are many laws given but these laws are not restrictions to control anyone. Instead these laws are meant to protect the vulnerable and to show that as a nation Israel is committed to God.
We see that theses verses refer to a foreign dweller (a stranger). This term is best understood as someone who lives in the land long term, but doesn’t officially have any rights. This is very similar to DACA recipients in our society today. They live in the land and have no real rights and they are easily exploited. In Exodus the nation of Israel is told to not treat the foreign dweller with violence because they should remember what it was like being foreigners in Egypt. This is a call back to the end of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus where we learn that Israel was enslaved in Egypt for over 400 years. In that time, they never gained rights and were always considered foreigners in Egypt.
Foreigners were just talked about and then the next verse talks about treating widows and orphans properly. These groups refer to widows and orphans, but also include the poor, mistreated, foreigners, or anyone who was at a disadvantage in society. Restricting their food, clothing, or pay affected their life. They could be raped, starved, shelter-less, or had any number of other problems. God says that if they cry out from being mistreated he will certainly hear their cry and he will certainly act. He will leave the abusers family without a provider or protector.
We see God in this passage as a protector. He cares for the mistreated and he is the one who will act on their behalf. This applies to us as well. God will act on our behalf. He will protect us. We also see that we are to uphold our end of the deal. We are to care for those who are misfortunate. We are not to mistreat the foreigner or the widow or the orphan. Caring for others is how we uphold Gods law.
A FEW WAYS TO APPLY THIS:
1. Create jobs for ex-cons. Our prison system in America creates a cycle. Cons can’t get a job but have to have one in order to meet their probation requirements. This goes farther than probation since they are perceived differently in the long term.
2. Participate in fostering and adopting. This is a big crisis in our nation. Kids are homeless or in abusive families and they need safe places to live. You can help by donating time, clothes, money or by opening your house and actually caring for them.
3. Reforming our foreign policy. We have to treat the foreigner with respect. Think again to DACA recipients. Most don’t remember their original land, they don’t speak the language, and they don’t have any resources in the original land. To strip them of the protection they know in America is violence towards them. This should also affect how we vote for these policies, whether or not we fund a wall, and how we view people of different skin color.
4. This should affect how we view race and gender issues. Equal pay, equal hiring practices, equal rights. Everyone deserves the same chances in life.
5. Just as Israel was once strangers and were made into the people of God, we were once sinners made righteous to God. These verses should compel us to share the story of God through our actions towards others and in our witnesses of the work God has done in our lives.
We are not told to treat others how we want to be treated instead we are told to treat others the way God has treated us.