If a man was accused of a crime, and the proof fell short, so that the charge could not be made out against him by the evidence; then the Lord commanded that he was to be acquitted. However, if the accused person was found guilty, judgment was to be given against him. To justify the wicked is just as much of an abomination to the Lord as it is to condemn the righteous (Prov. 17:15). If the crime was not a capital crime, then the criminal was to be beaten. This was to be done solemnly – not tumultuously in the streets; but in open court before the judge’s face, and with so much deliberation that the lashes were counted. The Jews say that while this punishment was going on, the chief justice of the court read – with a loud voice – Deuteronomy 28:58-59 and 29:9; and then he concluded with the words of Psalm 78:38: “But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity!” Thus this was made a sort of religious act, and it was so much more likely to truly reform the lawbreaker. The Lord did give a proviso that a person who was thus punished was never be upbraided with it, nor was he to be viewed afterwards as having any mark of infamy or disgrace upon him. He was still to be looked upon as a brother (2 Thess. 3:15), and his reputation as such was preserved by the merciful limitation of his punishment. Happy are those who are chastened by the Lord, in order to humble them; for then they will not be condemned, with the unbelieving world, to destruction!
Verse 4 gave a charge to the Jewish farmers to not hinder their cattle from eating when they were working, if food was within their reach. But this law is very remarkable (and it encourages similar application of other such laws) because it is twice quoted in the New Testament, in order to show that it is the duty of the people to provide their ministers with a comfortable support (1 Cor. 9:9-10; 1 Tim. 5:17-18). In this precept, which teaches us to show kindness to the animals that serve us, and to allow them to enjoy the advantages of their labor; we learn that we must not only be just, but also kind to all persons who are employed for our good. Not only are we to support them, but we must also encourage them – especially those who labor among us in the Word and doctrine, and are thus employed for the good of our souls.
If an Israelite man married a woman and died without offspring, his widow was not to marry again into any other family, unless all of her late husband’s close relatives refused her (verses 5-10). This was so that the estate with which she was endowed might not pass into another family. The deceased husband’s brother, or next of kin, was to marry the widow; but he did have the liberty to refuse to do this, especially if he himself was already married. However, he had to endure public disgrace for doing so. In such a case, the widow – as the person who was most concerned for the name and honor of her deceased husband – was to complain to the elders about the kinsman’s refusal. And if he persisted in his refusal, she was to pull off his shoe and spit in his face in open court – thereby fastening a mark of shame upon him. In the Book of Ruth (4:7), we find this law being put into action. However, in that case, because there was another man (Boaz) who was ready to perform the duty of the near kinsman when the other man refused; it was Boaz who plucked off the kinsman’s shoe, and not Ruth.
In verses 13-16, we have a law against deceitful weights and measures. Justice and equity will bring down the blessing of God upon us. The way to have our days lengthened and prosperous is to be just and fair in all our dealings. Honesty is always the best policy; for dishonest gain always brings a curse upon people’s property, families, and souls. Happy are those who hold themselves to a standard of justice, who repent of and forsake their sins, and who put away evil things, so that they may not be condemned by the Lord!
The remainder of this chapter concludes with a law for the rooting out of the nation of Amalek. The mischief that the Amalekites had done to Israel was to be remembered – not in personal revenge; but in a zeal for the glory of God, Who had been insulted by them. When the Israelites’ wars against the Canaanites were finished, then they were commanded to make war upon Amalek – not merely to chase them; but to consume them, and to blot out the remembrance of their name. Here was an example of God’s patience, that He deferred this vengeance so long! And this should have led the Amalekites to repentance. It was nearly 1,000 years before the Lord’s judgment against these evil people was fully executed, when He Providentially raised up Mordecai and Queen Esther to counteract the murderous schemes of the wicked Haman – a descendant of the Amalekites who plotted the destruction of the whole Jewish nation! God’s just judgments may sometimes come slowly, but they will come surely.
In the attack of Amalek against the Israelites (Ex. 17), we see a picture of God’s people in all ages, in conflict with the enemies of our souls – who attack us at the very moment when the Lord is bringing us out of spiritual Egypt. Let us pray for grace to be enabled to slay all our lusts and corruptions, and all the powers of darkness and the world, which oppose our way to our blessed Savior!
We bless You, O compassionate God, that our chastisements have fallen far short of our sins! It is You, dearest Jesus, Who has been wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon thee, and with Your stripes we have been healed. As for all the Amalekites and enemies of our salvation, we pray that You would fill us with strength and holy resolution, so that our eyes may not spare them – however harmless they may seem. Instead, help us to cut them into pieces before You, O Lord! Amen.
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