The Vulnerable in the Law
21 Don’t mistreat or oppress an immigrant, because you were once immigrants in the land of Egypt. 22 Don’t treat any widow or orphan badly. 23 If you do treat them badly and they cry out to me, you can be sure that I’ll hear their cry. 24 I’ll be furious, and I’ll kill you with the sword. Then your wives will be widows, and your children will be orphans.
25 If you lend money to my people who are poor among you, don’t be a creditor and charge them interest. 26 If you take a piece of clothing from someone as a security deposit, you should return it before the sun goes down. 27 His clothing may well be his only blanket to cover himself. What else will that person have to sleep in? And if he cries out to me, I’ll listen, because I’m compassionate. (Exodus 22:21-24)
The language in that passage is pretty blunt. Israel has just escaped slavery. God warns them that if they turn around and do the same thing to immigrants (or others on the underside of society) their roles would be reversed. They would be playing the role of Egypt and God would therefore be on the side of those they are harming.
This tells us something else important about God: it isn’t simply that God loves Israel more than Egypt (or anybody else). It would be easy to interpret the Exodus as God just playing favourites and Egypt making the mistake of messing with the favourites. Yet in many of these texts including the one above, God makes it clear that if Israel starts to act like Egypt, he will need to act in ways that hurt them in order to again bring freedom. God consistently sides with the oppressed through all of Scripture, seeking freedom and justice for all.
There is no shortage of other passages saying very similar things about caring for the vulnerable, including the poor, widows, orphans, resident aliens, disabled, elderly, day labourers, and really any potential victim. We can see warnings away from teaming up with important people in doing evil for our own gain:
Don’t spread false rumors. Don’t plot with evil people to act as a lying witness. 2 Don’t take sides with important people to do wrong. When you act as a witness, don’t stretch the truth to favor important people. 3 But don’t privilege unimportant people in their lawsuits either.
6 Don’t undermine the justice that your poor deserve in their lawsuits.7 Stay away from making a false charge. Don’t put an innocent person who is in the right to death, because I will not consider innocent those who do such evil. 8 Don’t take a bribe, because a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. (Exodus 23:1-3, 6-8 CEB)
We can see requirements for making sure everyone has food:
28 Every third year you must bring the tenth part of your produce from that year and leave it at your city gates. 29 Then the Levites, who have no designated inheritance like you do, along with the immigrants, orphans, and widows who live in your cities, will come and feast until they are full. Do this so that the Lord your God might bless you in everything you do. (Deuteronomy 14:28-29 CEB)
There are many examples of this principle, including but not limited to: Ex 22:21-27; 23:1-10; Dt 14:28-29; 15:1-11; 16:11-14; 23:19-20; 26:12-15. There are hundreds of verses that are related directly or indirectly to caring for the vulnerable. At the Canadian Bible Society, we’ve even produced a Bible with texts related to poverty and justice highlighted. It is clear that this is a high priority for God in setting up a new nation here in the Law, a priority that is consistent across all Scripture.