At the risk of offending those of you who are cat lovers, let me tell you why I am not a cat person. We have a cat named Otis and I think he is a pretty typical cat. We provide the beast, I mean precious cat, with food, water, shelter, and an occasional fur brushing. We don’t have very many rules. Don’t destroy the furniture is a big one. ‘m pretty sure he understands that we don’t want him to claw the couch. But he does it anyway and he does it as he is looking us in the eye, almost daring us to respond. He treats our rules lightly as if they didn’t matter. And, consequently, he treats us as if we don’t really matter, even though we buy the monster, I mean lovely fur ball, food and cat litter and even toys at Christmas. I know he is just a cat driven by his stupid cat impulses. And maybe that’s the point. People should rise above that sort of thing and yet we often treat lightly the rules of God; God who has provided us with everything.
Exodus 22:28-31 begins with the command to respect God and ends with the command to be a people set apart. The Israelites entered into a covenant relationship with God and therefore with each other. Being in a covenant relationship with God is not as easy as a hand shake or a pinkie swear. Yahweh has several guiding principles which are intended to help them in their relationship building within the community. And there is no mistaking that these guiding principles are descending from Yahweh himself. And in order for any of this to work, the people are told, “You shall not treat God lightly.” Many translations and commentators have “curse” here. However, this is a different word than that applied to the leaders. The one applied to God means “to treat lightly, with contempt, to slight.” Any putting aside Yahweh’s directions is a treating of him lightly; as if he has no significance. Specifically, if you curse the tribal chieftains, you are disrespecting God. These leaders were chosen by the people, but they were also viewed as having been put in place by God and therefore blessed by him. They enjoyed the shalom of God. But if you curse them, you would in effect trying to take away the blessing and the shalom. You would be attempting to undermine what God had done; undoing God’s doing.
Another way they could disrespect Yahweh is if they delayed or held back their offerings. The two words used are literally “fullness and drippings.” They refer to a bumper crop of grains and wine and oil. So, the idea is to be blessed by God with a bountiful harvest and then grudgingly giving only what is necessary instead of joyously giving with thanks for a great harvest. These offerings of first fruits were intended to be a grateful celebration. The same is also true of their first born sons. Exodus 13:13 states that the sons are to be redeemed and this is tied into the tenth mighty act; the death of the first born of Egypt. The first born of their livestock were also to be offered up on the eighth day; after they could be safely removed from their mothers. This is about honoring God and the memory of his deliverance. To do this half-heartedly or resentfully is to treat God himself lightly.
The Israelites were intended to be men set apart. And not set apart just for the sake of being different, but set apart and dedicated to God. Again, Yahweh intended them to be an example of what it meant to be in a relationship with the One True God. Interestingly, in verse 20, the word “utterly destroyed” is the word “placed under the ban,” referring to the things dedicated to God. But if these “under the ban” items or people became defiled they were to be destroyed. God is calling his people to be holy because he is holy. Relationship with him was intended to shape them. And being sanctified they were not to eat any animal that had been torn to pieces. This probably had to do with avoiding contamination; physical and ritualistic. Eating pre-gnawed upon meat that you happen upon in a field holds physical risks. But there is also the idea of coming in contact indirectly with an unclean predator animal. Plus the dead animal had not been properly bled in order to avoid eating the blood which represents life. The surrounding nations may grab up that meat, roast it and eat, but the Israelites are set apart.
When we come across a commandment of God and rebelliously ignore it we are disrespecting Yahweh. We are in effect telling him that he has little to no significance. Don’t be like a cat! Don’t look God in the eye and defiantly scratch the couch or curse whom he has blessed. Live a life of joyous thankfulness for the bounty that flows from heaven. You are to be a people set apart. Let the nations eat what they will. You are in a covenant relationship with a Holy God; set apart and dedicated to his service. Peace, Walter