In 2005, the film V for Vendetta made rebellion cool for suburban kids again. Guy Fawkes, a man famous for his part in a thwarted attempt to reestablish a Catholic monarchy in England, became the symbol for resistance, anarchy, and rebellion. Even if you missed the movie (I hope you did), a picture like the one below probably has come across a screen near you at some point. Disruption, resistance, and unruliness remain Fawkes’s legacy in the West, as his caricature adorns those who think freely by throwing things and posting to online forums.
Anarchy, the lack of rule, seems a good thing to a good many people. But when anarchy arises, what does it look like? We see it in post-Eden, pre-Flood peoples, peoples who made God sorry he created Man. Anarchy rises again in Sodom when virtually the entire city gathers around Lot’s house to sexually assault his guests. Finally, the Book of Judges, especially the final chapters, deals with a lawless society. It ends on the somber note: everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
In the contemporary West, we call people doing right in their own eyes freedom or liberty. Scripture and history reveal otherwise. Times such as those listed above prove anything but free for those living in them. They have much to offer in the way of abuse, oppression, and harm. Only bullies, warlords, and people of ill-gotten means flourish in times such as these.
Thus Exodus 22:16-23:9. The regulations here do seem random to our eyes. Predatory lending practices, sorcery, and bestiality all find mention here. What have these to do with one another?
Recall Exodus 19:6. God intended his people to live as a kingdom of priests. He desired them to reveal him to the nations around them. If he purposes them to live in such a missional way, can they accomplish their goal if their society communicates chaos? Certainly not. In the history of the world, chaos never benefited widows, orphans, poor folks, sojourners, or anyone God ever called dear to his heart.
So the people of God received instructions. He forbade them meaningless recreational sex (22:16-17). On pain of death would an individual attempt to manipulate supernatural powers (22:18). They could not pervert the sexual order of creation through intercourse with an animal (22:19). The would worship one God; the LORD (22:20). God disallowed predation on weak people (22:21-27). He prohibited the expression of the desire for his own death or the death of his anointed ruler (22:28). The rescued people of Israel would make his worship their first priority, not their last (22:29-30). They would not live as scavengers, eating unclean things with blood in them (22:31). Finally, their society would not tolerate conniving or conspiracy against one another (23:1-9).
Every one of these regulations made them set apart from the nations around them, even the ones seeming strange to our contemporary eyes. Understand when God speaks against sorcery, he does not speak of illusions enjoyed by so many today. He speaks against things which introduced people to spiritually dark forces. The magicians of Pharaoh come to mind. The nations surrounding God’s people practiced such things. Likewise, though (hopefully) the modern mind wonders why God had to explicitly condemn bestiality, some peoples in the ancient world had it in their religious narratives. Sumerian and Babylonian mythology both record divinities in sexual activities with animals, the famed minotaur of Greek myth also resulted from a bestial union.
With so much Old Testament scholarship and interpretation directed toward the similarities of the culture of ancient Israel to those around it, one could easily think Israel stood as merely another nation among other nations just like it. To a point, Israel did bear similarity to other nations. However, God’s people formed around one central thing: God himself. He directed them to live as a rescued people revealing their rescuer to those around them. They could not accomplish the mission without being distinct; they needed to differentiate themselves. They had their freedom from slavery in Egypt; they needed to show themselves free of all the things which befell the pagans with whom they shared borders.
God called Israel to swim upstream; as followers of Christ, we also swim upstream. To be sure, whether we live in the West, the East, or the global South, we live within a culture. However, we mark ourselves different through our identity in Christ. Where the world requires its people to join the moral and sexual revolutions, the people of God stand fast in the church’s understanding of morality and sexuality as revealed in Scripture. We swim upstream. We show ourselves different and distinct, and in so doing, reveal our gracious Master to a hurting world.
Dónal P. O’Mathúna, “Divination, Magic,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch, eds. T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 196.
Joe M. Sprinkle“Sexuality, Sexual Ethics,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch, eds. T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 749.
Edith Hamilton, Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes (New York: Warner Books, 1969), 157.