In Exodus 23, Moses begins with laws relating to justice and fairness in the courts. Our conduct in legal matters is important. This is a call to higher living with much to gain from these laws of Israel if applied in our lives following Jesus and living in community…
1 “Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness.
2 “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, 3 and do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit.
4 “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. 5 If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it.
6 “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. 7 Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty.
8 “Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent.
9 “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.
The first principle here is integrity in testimony. No false reports. No false testimony.
As you can imagine, when we know someone is guilty or when we are close with the other side, we might be tempted to embellish or do anything we can to support the ‘right’ outcome. Don’t side with anyone in matters of justice. Side with the facts and share the facts you have accurately and truthfully.
Perversions of justice are not godly.
I have heard it said more than once that the big corporation or the rich guy can afford to take a hit in favour of the poor guy or the little guy. Again, Moses is clear to not favour the poor in such matters. Favour the truth.
Even when we hate a person, we ought to treat them fairly. In the middle of this talk about courts, Moses inserts an example of helping our neighbour with his oxen even if we hate him or he is our enemy. Why is this here? Because our conduct in everyday life begets our conduct in special cases such as legal affairs. Our honesty before a judge will reflect our honesty before our community.
Bribes, which should be understood as including the trading of favours in power relationships, are wrong. Don’t accept them. Why? Because bribes blind and twist (vs. 8), leaving the innocent in trouble.
And finally, Moses mentions the foreigner, which he has done before – Israel was taught to be hospitable to the foreigner because they were foreigners in Egypt and experienced the other side of this social grace.
This is a call to higher living, and there is much to gain from these laws of Israel if applied in our lives following Jesus and living in community.