Not Taking Advantage of Others
Exodus 22:22-27 (ESV)
Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. 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.
If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it by sunset, because that cloak is the only covering your neighbor has. What else can they sleep in? When they cry out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.
Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people.
Notes on the Scripture
Don’t take advantage of the helpless. This is not a controversial set of laws and for the most part, it is broken only by criminals.
The one place in the United States where one might find it legally broken is in institutions that engage in “subprime” lending, such as pawnshops and predatory mortgage lenders. But we have not seen very much of the latter since the financial fiasco of 2008-09. In fact, some people believe that the meltdown was God’s way of punishing us for violating these laws; for the disaster was, in fact, largely the result of lending money, at high interest, to desperate, vulnerable, and foolish people.
“Do not curse the leader of your people.” The last sentence is going to cause some sighs, for reviling U.S. Presidents seems to be a creative art form. But there is a theme that runs throughout the Bible, and it is something that many Christians simply ignore: The constant entreaty to steer clear of politics. Politics is mammon. Engaging in political action is, at its core, an attempt to gain power, the power to coerce other people to do what we think they should do.
For example, it is almost irresistible to say to ourselves, after reading today’s Lesson: “God commands mankind not to abuse the widow and orphan. We should pass a law to protect them. It is the Christian thing to do.”
But — that is not what the Bible says. The New Testament emphasizes the point repeatedly. Obey the civil authorities. Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. The duties of treating others well — in fact, all of the duties put upon us — apply to us. They do not authorize us to compel others.
Our duty is to learn, follow, and obey. We can choose to serve Christ, or we can serve the Tea Party or the Democratic Party or some other earthly cause. “Your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:5)
New Christians, except the most devoted, have fully realized the implications of Christ crucified. The Jews expected a Messiah who would be a sort of super-David; instead, they got Jesus Christ, whose attitude towards political affairs was utter disdain. His trust was not simply in God; His trust was absolutely and totally in God, to the point that He did not even attempt to resist arrest and execution.
The co-opting of Christianity by politicians — even the most patently evil of them — is an abuse of the Bible that has occurred without ceasing throughout history. “Gott mit uns,” reads the belt buckle of a German soldier — God with us. But it is hard to picture Christ encouraging anyone to pick up a rifle, in order kill other men.
Almost all of us have patriotic sentiment, opinions about politics, faithfulness to causes or organizations of all sorts. It is human. But this is a good subject for reflection, meditation, and prayer: Christ demands that we love God “with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind.” For, without fail, dedication to any cause other than Jesus Christ will, inevitably, drive others away from Him, and make His place in our own hearts that much smaller.