Notes on Exodus 19-21

The Ten Commandments. Almost everyone is aware of them, so I will not spend time discussing each of them. However, I will expand on some.

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing. . .” I have a fascination with the concept of images. Images have power that is totally non-rational. Think about a photograph of a loved one. If that loved one were to pass away or if the relationship ends, the image of the person becomes something supernatural to us. How many of us would lose our minds if someone threw an image of a dead child or parent into a fire? The image is not the person. It is only a symbol.

The same can be said of religious imagery. There was a famous controversy over an “art” project called “Piss Christ” in which a cheap plastic cross was placed in a jar of urine. The message the artist wanted to portray was that it was just a piece of plastic in human urine. Christians everywhere were outraged because the cross (or at least the image of it) is a sacred symbol representing Christ.

That plastic had very little intrinsic value, but we imbue the image with power and importance. Think about the absurdity of it. Jesus Christ was literally tortured and murdered, but rose from the grave. Christ is not a cross. Christ is not cheap plastic. Christ was not in that jar. Yet the commandment is to NOT make any graven image or any LIKENESS. That includes plastic crosses, crucifixes, paintings, photographs, or any form of visible representation of something real that may lead us to worship the object rather than the subject.

“Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain;” This verse is typically brought up whenever some old timer wants to make you feel bad for using bad language. This verse is not a condemnation of “swearing” as most swear words are arbitrarily socially constructed. Jesus Christ and God are names of God, thus should not be used when cursing. However, the “f word” and many other swear words are mere euphemisms of other words that society has somehow deemed as offensive. The only difference for some is contextual. “Ass” is in The Bible when it refers to a donkey. It is profane to use it when talking of a person’s hindquarters. The societal pressure is so great that I have seen pastors use “donkey” whenever “ass” shows up in Scripture.

Society should never trump Scripture. Such is the power of our socialization.

Furthermore, taking the Lord’s name in vain transcends language. When you call yourself a Christian and post a half-naked photograph (an image) on Instagram, you are taking God’s name in vain. When you call yourself a Christian and get wasted at a party, you are taking the Lord’s name in vain. When you smoke marijuana, get tattoos, get fat, have pre or extra-marital sex you are defiling the temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:15-20); you are taking the Lord’s name in vain.

Exodus 21:22-25 is an interesting passage, in that it deals with the loss of a child by some sort of external physical trauma. Some read this as abortion. Some as miscarriage. I have read interpretations that this verse shows that the destruction of the unborn is not murder, for the penalty for murder is death. The penalty in this case is as light as the woman’s husband wishes. The stipulation is “if any mischief follow” (verse 23) then death is the punishment.

Here is my interpretation (in parentheses): “If men strive (argue/fight), and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her (miscarriage, stillborn, premature birth), and yet no mischief follow (the mother and premature baby survive): he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine (it’s up to the husband to determine if it was an accident, manslaughter, or murder); and he shall pay as the judges determine (the courts have the final say. And if any mischief follow (if the mother or child dies or are permanently wounded), then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

You see, “her fruit depart from her” does not necessarily mean that the baby dies. This is why a murder charge is not a definitive punishment. A woman who is 8 or 9 months pregnant may go into labor because of stress or physical trauma, and the baby’s life may very well be viable outside of the womb. If there are complications, however, the punishment becomes more severe.

Anyone reading this verse as abortion, I think, is wrong. Notice that the focus is hurting a woman with child, not hurting the child directly. Anyone reading this as miscarriage is only partially right in that it COULD be a miscarriage, thought that’s not the only possibility.

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