No daughter or son of Israel is to be a cult prostitute.
We have in these verses an excellent lesson upon mercantile morality. There are too many people in this world who are not at all particular how money is made, if only it be made. "The wages of iniquity" are as welcome to them as to Balaam. But it is plain from these verses that the Lord does regard the way money is won, and will not handle what has come licentiously himself, nor give any countenance to his people in doing so.
I. MONEY MADE BY WICKEDNESS IS ABHORRED OF GOD. The wretched woman who lives by her own dishonor, the wretched man who lends himself to licentiousness, are both intolerable to the Divine King. The idols of the heathen may receive the wages of licentiousness, and be served by lewd women, as the history of heathenism shows, but God will have no such dedications polluting his house. As the Holy One, he will not be served by the deliberately unholy and profane.
II. MONEY MADE OUT OF THE NEEDS OF THE POOR SAINTS IS ALSO AS ABOMINATION TO GOD. It was a noble law that Jew was not to play the money-lender to few. To extort from a brother what his needs can ill afford to pay, is forbidden. The Jews were to be brothers indeed, in readiness to lend without hope of recompense. And although this arrangement may not be literally binding under this dispensation, there is a general idea abroad of the undesirableness of making money out of God's poor people. There is to be special consideration shown surely to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10). We should suspect a man of worldliness who extorted big interest from a struggling Church, when well able to advance the desperately needed loan.
III. A SPHERE FOR USURY IS RECOGNIZED BY THE LORD. The stranger may borrow under an engagement to pay interest. This is only right. If usury were universally forbidden, the world of commerce would come to a standstill. Capital would not accumulate if it had no reward awaiting it. The stranger, consequently, comes and asks the favor of a loan. He has no claim on you for it, but he is willing to pay a fair price for the obligation. The whole edifice of commerce rests upon the legality of such a transaction, it is a mutual benefit. At the same time, there may be extortion and speculation in usury, just as in other lines of business; and God shows that "extortioners" (1 Corinthians 6:10) have no part in his kingdom. It is selfishness pure and simple, and in its most tyrannical and despicable form.
IV. ALL VOWS REGISTERED IN CONNECTION WITH OUR MONEY-MAKING MUST BE FAITHFULLY PERFORMED. It is almost a natural instinct that vows should be made unto the Lord in connection with our prosperity. Often a person struggling to realize an "honest profit," while the transaction is only in progress, and the issue is still uncertain, dedicates a proportion, if the Lord send him success; or a proportion of a new crop, if it be a good one. Such vows must never be recalled, but always honor-ably met. "Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay" (Ecclesiastes 5:5).
V. THE RIGHTS OF THE HUNGRY SHOULD ALSO BE RESPECTED IF A LAND IS TO ENJOY SUCCESS. The vines are so productive in Palestine, when properly cultivated, and the vineyards so unprotected, that a hungry passenger may fill himself and no one be a bit the poorer. Or he may enter the field of standing corn and make what use he can of his hands. In other words, the hungry was regarded as having a right to satisfy the cravings of nature and to pass on. And when it was placed on the statute-book as a right, it saved the poor man's self-respect and never interfered with his personal freedom. This "poor-law" gives man his need without asking him to surrender his liberty. This is its beauty, it meets the pressing necessity without destroying the person's legitimate self-respect. Liberty is more precious to any upright soul than bread; and it is a wholesome instinct which, as far as possible, should be respected in any beneficent national arrangement. - R.M.E.
Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped.
A Flemish artist was painting a picture when two friends noticed the high finish of a broom which was only an insignificant item in the composition. He told them he should spend three more days in working on the broom, intending to be mindful of detail in the general effect of his picture. Moses gave grand laws to the Israelites. His legislation as to the religious duties of the people is sublime. But he was not indifferent to regulations touching their common life, and bent his mind to the task of showing the minute as well as the vast in the order of right-doing. The word servant as used by Moses meant slave. Remembering what the Israelites had to endure in their Egyptian bondage, he had great sympathy with those who were held in servitude and compelled to work without remuneration. He could well understand that a man or woman in slavery, badly treated, and with no hope of an ameliorated lot, would, if possible, get away from the cruel owner and make a desperate rush for liberty. He did not blame the slave for stealing away from the owner. If technically there was theft in such an action, there was no dishonesty. The slaves who at one time escaped from southern plantations to Canada did no wrong. The masters suffered loss, but they lost what did not belong to them by any righteous law. There is a moral and spiritual application of this. Many people are in slavery. It is true they have not lost their civil liberty; they have not been sold in any slave market; they know nothing of literal chains, scourges, and labour for which there is no payment. They are proud of the freedom which is one of the glories of their native land. But they are slaves, for they are in bondage to evils which they have allowed to obtain mastery over their souls. There are powers in them which make them feeble for action when they would do good, and almost force them to transgression of Divine law. They have a right to break loose from the enthralling powers of sin, for sin holds nothing by legal proprietorship. Every sinner has a right to freedom, and is urged to rush to Jesus as a refuge from tyranny. The escaped slave was to be kept from the pursuer. When in the morning the master called for the slave, and there was no answer, and looked for him, but could not find him, he would conclude at once that the slave had gone away. Making inquiries, the master would ascertain the direction the fugitive had gone, and follow him until he found the place in which he was hiding. He would say to the elders: "My slave is here, and I must have him. Give him up to me." "No, no" was to be the reply; "we shall never give him up, and so long as these walls stand the poor man shall be kept out of your hands." We rejoice that our country has long been what the Israelitish village and city were to be to the escaped slave in the old time. The footprint of the slave on British soil is the certificate of his manumission. When the slaves of sin get loose from their bonds, and escape into Immanuel's land, they at once experience the blessedness there is in the liberty of the children of God. Christ never gives up to any old master those who have fled for refuge to His land; He loves them so much that He does not wish to have them out of His sight; and to defend them from the powers which would tear them back to sin He throws around them the awful grandeur and radiant blaze of His own perfections. The escaped slave was to be kindly treated. The man who had made a rush for freedom was not to rush into a new slavery. Those to whom he fled for refuge were not to take advantage of his necessities and use him in compulsory labour for their own profit; no service or tax was to be levied on him as the price of security from his old master. He was to be treated as a free Israelite, and to be allowed to live and work where he liked. The sinner who escapes from slavery to Immanuel's land is to be welcomed and cared for by members of the Church. He is to be recognised as having a claim to brotherly love, and to all the dignities and privileges that distinguish the Christian life. Even if members of the Church do look shyly on a newly converted sinner, Jesus does not, but bids him welcome to the palace of love, and opens to him immensities of blessing.
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