Week of June 3: God's call to treat people with fairness, consideration and mercy
By Glenn Hannigan
Scripture: Exodus 23:1-9
These nine verses are filled with practical guidance of how God’s people are to make a stand against injustice or partiality, whether dealing with a family member or personal enemy. This passage is part of a larger set of instructions referred to in Exodus 24:7 as Book of the Covenant.
These directives served as a guide for the Israelites to know how to live in Godly relationship with each other, which should always be marked by fairness, honesty, and impartiality. This passage reveals God’s desire that his people would form a community that puts an emphasis on compassion, reconciliation and justice. It also specifically warns against people being swayed by popular opinion or the voice of “the masses.”
A specific directive
The opening of the passage calls for obedience and adherence to the ninth commandment. God’s directive for his people was very specific about the importance of remaining impartial and, thus, maintaining personal integrity and a pure heart. The specific challenge that existed in that day was similar to what we might find in many small towns or communities today: most everyone within that culture knew everyone else. There was bound to be favoritism as well as prejudice.
If there was a conflict that reached judicial officials, some of the people involved would mostly likely have been friends, relatives or neighbors. Today, judges can recuse themselves if a relative or acquaintance ends up in a case inside their courtroom. That certainly would not have been the case with the Israelites in the day.
God provides us with specific situations where we need to maintain fairness and impartiality by avoiding:
• Engaging in rumor-mongering.
• Giving false testimony in court.
• Caving in to the majority view within the community, even when there's disagreement.
• Taking the side of the poor simply because they are poor.
Many of these principles have clear application in today’s world. It is all too easy for us to be on the receiving end of false rumors and innuendo, if not face-to-face over coffee, then certainly through social networking or email. It only takes a matter of seconds to forward malicious gossip across town, or even across the world.
Stand your ground
It is also easy for us to become swept up in popular opinion and be swayed by conventional wisdom, not because it is correct or appeals to our conscience, but simply because it is embraced by a majority. Going against the tide carries risk and consequences. Have you ever worn a Falcons jersey or Braves cap at a road game in Philadelphia, New York, or other hostile territory? Have you ever refused to cheat or compromise when others around you had already done so?
It is human nature for us to take the side of friends or relatives whenever they are involved in a conflict or heated debate with people we do not know. But God demands that his people do what is right, just and true in all circumstances, whether that means defending an enemy or opposing a friend.
If we are committed to being truthful, and remaining faithful to God’s call on our lives, then we will not yield to peer pressure, engage in false testimony or slander, or show favoritism for the poor, or against the poor.
If we are committed to being kind then we will treat enemies with fairness and respect as well as foreigners, or any “outsiders” (such as Philly sports fans).
Of course, in God’s call to righteousness and holiness, there are sins of omission as well as commission. We are accountable not only for the wrong we do, but for the correct action we do not do. God calls us to actively help an enemy in need. These verses serve as a foreshadowing of Christ’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.
Here is our challenge: Can we really deal with an adversary the same way we would deal with a neighbor? If we happened to come across a neighbor’s ox or donkey that had wandered away from his farm, we would certainly return the animal. And this is the same way we are called to treat our enemies. He might be your opponent but treat him like a neighbor when you have the opportunity.
There’s a special burden on those who have positions of power and influence to provide justice to the vulnerable. In these passages we are told that those who are poor and needy should not be denied justice. In verse 7 we are commanded to be careful not to do harm or convict the innocent. Because, ultimately, we know God himself will judge.
In verse 8, we are warned about bribery, which is subversive to a system of impartial judgment and fairness. In the same way, we must show kindness and mercy to strangers because we, too, were strangers and aliens to the household of God at one time. By the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, we have been adopted as children. But we should not forget what it was like to be outsiders and aliens.
We should not forget what it is like to be treated unfairly, to be the source of unkind rumors, to be slandered, to be abandoned, to feel like everyone is an enemy.
But since we have received mercy and grace, let us show others mercy and grace, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Glenn Hannigan is the editor of the North Georgia Advocate and a Local Licensed Pastor, serving Ebenezer UMC in Roswell.