“You are not to permit a sorceress to live.”
“Whoever has sexual relations with an animal must be put to death.”
Exodus chapter 22 can logically be divided into two parts.
Those laws and regulations that come before verse 17 or 18 and those that come after.
You’ll notice that the structure of the laws up until verse 17 follow a nice and clean “IF and THEN” structure.
In other words, IF you do this, THEN this is the consequence.
Such practical societal codes were normal and expected in those days.
The truth is Israel’s God-ordained legal code was quite similar to what existed in other ancient Middle Eastern societies.
What was considered a crime in Israel was for the most part also considered a crime in other societies.
However, there were some distinct differences.
For example, sanctioned mutilation of criminals was strictly prohibited.
Israel’s law code established much more mercy and compassion for thieves than her surrounding nations.
If these same thieves had lived in other societies, they would have had their limbs summarily chopped off for stealing.
Israel’s law also decreed that human beings held higher intrinsic value than animals.
And animals in turn had higher value than other types of property.
Now the laws starting from 17 or 18 are of an entirely different character than the IF and THEN rulings which come before.
To commit one of these prohibited acts would be so out of character for a member of God’s family that in most cases the immediate destruction of the offender was called for.
These acts, rather than being crimes committed against one’s fellow man, deal more with matters of morality and one’s conscience.
Also, the previous laws (up until verse 17 or 18 depending on which translation you use), take CIRCUMSTANCES and INTENT into consideration when deciding what the consequences should be.
However, for the majority of the laws listed in verses 17 (18) to 30, circumstance and intent seem to play no role.
If you commit one of these acts, you’re done for, period.
Let’s take a look at two of these laws today.
Verse 17 confronts pagan magic head on and makes it clear that no sorcery whatsoever is to occur among God’s people.
So what is sorcery exactly?
Well, sorcery is invoking the names of pagan gods, spirits aka demons to do your bidding.
Think of Harry Potter and all of his spells.
Such magic would obviously be an affront to the firm monotheistic stance of the Hebrew religion which proclaims “the Lord your God, the Lord is ONE”.
In those days, sorcery was quite common and people were very attracted to the perceived power that a sorcerer could wield.
The witch or sorceress is feminine in the verses here because apparently female practitioners predominated.
Now what needs to be noted is that Israel was famous for being a nation that did NOT practice magic and divination.
In the Book of Numbers, a sorcerer named Balaam who was hired to curse Israel testified to this when he said “Lo, there is NO augury in Jacob, no divining in Israel…..”-Numbers 23:23
Next, in verse 19, we’re told that anybody who has sex with an animal is to be put to death.
Obviously this abominable practice must have been fairly common for the Lord to go out of His way to address it here.
The truth is such a wicked practice was quite widespread amongst the inhabitants of the Land of Canaan.
Is there any wonder the Lord wanted to have the Canaanites completely wiped off the face of the planet?
This reminds of a story I heard from an Israeli friend who I used to sell imitation jewelry with out on the streets of Tokyo (back in my wild days).
He was reminiscing about his days in the Israeli military and told me about a time when he was put in charge of night watch surveillance.
He said he was scoping out an area with his high-powered night vision binoculars when he came across a most peculiar sight.
He saw an Arab man having his way with a goat out in the fields.
When I heard that I was like wow!
I thought such practices only happened in ancient times or were just the fanciful product of somebody’s perverse imagination.
I guess not and the relevance of ALL of God’s Word even for today impresses itself upon me all the more.