Today’s reading begins with advice for Moses from his father-in-law Jethro and concludes with God giving laws to Moses regarding restitution for injury to livestock.
It’s understandable why the Israelites relied on Moses. He spoke on God’s behalf to Pharaoh and was able to secure their release from captivity. Through him, God split the Red Sea for them to pass through on dry ground to the other side away from Pharaoh. He was a strong leader for the people. It became evident to Jethro on his visit to Moses that he was spreading himself too thin. He advised Moses to spread the responsibilities of leading and acting as judge for the people amongst other able men among the people. It’s not exactly clear as to why Moses hadn’t thought of this prior to this point, but it must have become apparent to him that he needed to relieve himself of some of the day to day work he had taken upon himself to do. It’s somewhat interesting that God isn’t mentioned in this passage as having an active role in this decision to distribute the duties of dealing with the people, but rather a decision made in the absence of God’s command.
Three months after leaving Egypt, Moses and the Israelites had journeyed to Mount Sinai. At Sinai, God makes a covenant with the people of Israel that if they keep His commandments that they will be His treasured possession and be a kingdom of priests. When Moses told the elders of Israel the words God had spoken to him, they agreed to obey God.
Soon after this God called Moses up to Mount Sinai to meet with Him. It was at this time that God gave the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel:
1. You shall have on other God’s but Me.
2. You shall not make for yourself any graven image and nor shall you worship or serve them.
3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
4. You shall remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy; not doing any work on this day.
5. Honor your father and mother.
6. You shall not commit murder.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
8. You shall not steal.
9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
10. You shall not covet anything of your neighbor’s.
After giving these laws to Moses, God also gave additional laws of behavior to Moses. They included such things as:
- Altars should not be made from hewn stone, but rather from earth or uncut stones in order that man would not profane God’s holy alter.
- The duration of enslavement of people who had sold themselves into slavery should only be six years. The only perpetual slavery would be by agreement between the master and the slave. In addition, masters were not permitted to sell women to another country or people group.
- Someone who strikes his father or mother shall be put to death.
- Anyone kidnapping someone shall be put to death.
- Anyone cursing his father or mother shall be put to death.
- When a man strikes another man, if he lives, the attacker will pay for his lost time.
- If a man strikes his slave and kills him, the slave’s life shall be avenged.
- If a man strikes a pregnant woman and the baby lives, he shall pay a fine; if the baby is harmed the punishment shall fit the crime: life for life, eye for eye…
- If a man injures his slave he shall grant his slave their freedom.
- If an ox gores a person, the animal shall be stoned. If the animal had been accustomed to gore in the past and kills a person, then the animal shall be stoned and the owner put to death. If a ransom is preferred then the owner may pay the ransom in exchange for his life. If the ox gores a slave, the owner shall pay thirty pieces of silver to the slave’s master and animal shall be stoned.
- If a pit is dug and someone’s livestock falls into the pit, the person who dug the pit will pay the owner of the animal the price of the animal.
- If an ox strikes another ox, the live ox shall be sold with the proceeds shared and the dead ox shared. If the ox has a history of aggression, the live ox shall be sold with the proceeds given to the victim and the dead ox will be given to the owner of the ox that was sold.
These are just the beginning of the laws that will be given to the Hebrew people by God. The laws that God gives to Moses are the foundation for a new nation and a new way of life.