Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless. (Exodus 22:21-24, TNIV)
Hey, I never promised warm fuzzies on this blog.
I’m sure I’ve seen this passage before, but when reading Exodus 22 a few months ago, I stopped in my tracks at verse 24. There aren’t many places in scripture where God threatens to kill his own people, at least not this directly.
That’s not to say there aren’t other things the Hebrew scriptures deemed worthy of death. Just a few verses earlier, God tells his people, “Do not allow a sorceress to live.”
…and, “Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal is to be put to death.”
…and, “Whoever sacrifices to any other god… must be destroyed.”
But what strikes me about these commands, in contrast to Exodus 22:24, is their passivity; God delegates the act of punishment. But when it comes to the one who mistreats the foreigner, the widow, or the orphan, God takes matters into his own hands.
It’s no longer, “Let that person be put to death.” Suddenly it’s, “I will kill you with the sword…”
Years later, Amos (the farmer-turned-prophet) recorded these words from God:
Strike the tops of the pillars so that the thresholds shake. Bring them down on the heads of all the people; those who are left I will kill with the sword. Not one will get away, none will escape. (Amos 9:1, TNIV)
Who is Amos speaking to? To find out, you have to turn back just one chapter:
Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land, saying, “When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?” — skimping on the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat.
The Lord has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done.” (Amos 8:4-7, TNIV)
I think it’s safe to say God cares deeply about how we treat the poorest and the most vulnerable…
Of course, if mistreating the poor makes God this angry, imagine how pleased, how happy he is when we do our part to bring justice, compassion, relief… when we stand with the poor and not against them… when we use the wealth he’s given us to bless others…
According to the scriptures, God’s love far exceeds his anger (Exodus 34:6-8). That’s some pretty good news, especially for those of us who are just beginning to understand our responsibility to the poor.