Exodus 23:3,6 (HCSB)
3 Do not show favoritism to a poor person in his lawsuit.
6 “You must not deny justice to a poor person among you in his lawsuit.
This pericope, in the HCSB, is titled “Laws about Honesty and Justice”, and that is pretty accurate. It naturally extends from the previous section of socially focused laws. The theme here is essentially, “Do the right thing.”
It seems only natural that God would express commands for His people to be honest and just, since He is the perfect embodiment of those two attributes. And note that there is often some sacrifice or effort to following God in these scenarios:
- Separating self from others. (Exodus 23:2)
- Return property to one’s enemy, not just walk on by and leave it. (Exodus 23:4)
- Help one’s enemy. (Exodus 23:5)
- Put justice before profit. (Exodus 23:8)
I find especially interesting the two contrasting references to the “poor” in this section. In Exodus 23:3 God warns no to show favoritism to the poor. And then in Exodus 23:6 He warns not to deny the poor justice. I think this is purposeful. Rather than see economic and social status as some sort of intangible “goodness” or “worth”, we are to conduct ourselves in a just and equitable manner. It seems man is so often too quick and eager to twist God’s word to meet his own desires. Imagine if only one of these verses had been part of scripture: how easy would it be to see one or the other alone as some sort of mandate against the other class?
Instead, God is interested in all people, not just the rich, not just the poor. And note that this whole section is not addressed to any specific economic class. These are behaviors of God’s people, which spans all classes. In the end, Exodus 23:8 states well the point: “Do not kill the innocent and just, because I will not justify the guilty.” In the end, which side do we want to be on? When we “justify” the guilty, we join their ranks. When we justify the innocent and just, we likewise join their ranks, along with God.
Lord, thank You for Your perfect justice. It is not an aspect of You that is very popular in modern times, but without it You would not be much of a God. I pray that we would follow Your lead, and stand against evil and dishonesty, and instead pursue justice and honesty. Help us to be the earthly example of Your compassion, mercy, and justice. Amen.