A Pattern of Things to Come
1. What makes it difficult for an individual to get justice under today’s legal arrangement?
TODAY there is such a maze of laws on the books of most nations that the individual seeking justice is usually unwise to try to be his own lawyer. Besides, “loopholes” exist that usually favor the rich. Would it not be pleasant to live under a law code that was straightforward and simple—in that a court case would not be costly, even for the ordinary man, and where any man, rich or poor, could informally bring his case before the court and get an impartial hearing?
2, 3. Why is it profitable for us to give consideration to the law that God gave to Israel?
2 Such was the Mosaic law code that God gave to Israel. Of this law the Bible says: “The judicial decisions of Jehovah are true; they have proved altogether righteous.” (Psalm 19:9) The fine quality of Jehovah’s judicial decisions can be seen in an examination of a few of the statutes making up this code of a little more than 600 laws.
3 Christians are not under that law given to Israel, but it is profitable to consider it. Why? Because the Law clarifies how Jehovah views matters and it illuminates the principles by which he deals with his creation at all times.
4. What position and authority did Jehovah have in ancient Israel’s government?
4 The administration of the government of Israel was unique in that Jehovah was its supreme and absolute Ruler. He was the King and was, additionally, God, the Head of religion. The prophet Isaiah said: “Jehovah is our Judge, Jehovah is our Statute-giver, Jehovah is our King; he himself will save us.”—Isaiah 33:22.
5. In Israel, how was obedience to the law also a practice of true worship?
5 Idolatry, or the worship of any other god, was therefore at the same time treason, an offense against the government. Likewise, flagrantly violating the law of the land was an act of disrespect toward God, the Head of the nation’s worship. A willful violation of the law was tantamount to blasphemy. Thus, obedience to the law was a part of true worship.
6, 7. Describe how civil rights were protected.
6 There were no civil-rights problems under the Law when its judges and rulers obeyed God. It protected the native, the alien resident and even the foreigner staying temporarily in the land.—Exodus 22:21; 23:9; Leviticus 19:33, 34.
KIND CONSIDERATION FOR THE POOR
8. How did the Law give consideration to the poor?
8 The economy of Israel was mostly agricultural, each man having his own land inheritance. Some Israelites, through bad management or financial reverses, might become poor and have to sell their land. Some alien residents might also come into bad circumstances. In kindness to them, the arrangement was that each farmer, in harvesting, should not reap the edges of his field. He should also leave behind any sheaf of grain forgotten by the harvesters. (Leviticus 19:9, 10; Deuteronomy 24:19-21) This was left as gleanings for the poor person.—Ruth 2:15, 16.
9, 10. How did all the people benefit from the laws protecting poor persons?
9 Of course, this took work on the part of the poor person, for gleaning was not easy. Consequently, there were no idle poor on the hands of the government—no dole and no welfare state. (Deuteronomy 15:11; Ruth 2:3, 7) This parallels the Christian principle at 2 Thessalonians 3:10, where we read: “If anyone does not want to work, neither let him eat.”
10 Along with the arrangements for the poor person to earn a living, all citizens were put under obligation to treat needy ones with generosity. This promoted brotherhood and national unity.—Leviticus 25:35-38.
A “SLAVERY” THAT WAS NOT OPPRESSIVE
11. In ancient Israel, why was slavery not harsh and oppressive, as it has been in more recent times?
11 “Slavery” in Israel was not like the oppressive slavery known in more recent times. It was actually a way of protecting the family who, through financial reverses or calamity, were obliged to sell their land inheritance and who eventually used up the money received from the sale and were destitute. Or, they might get heavily into debt. Then, instead of being self-employed as they had been, the family, or certain members thereof, could go into “slavery.” But this slavery was very much like our modern-day principle of employment, working for another person, which for many is a form of ‘economic slavery.’
12. What was the arrangement for Hebrew “slaves”?
12 For example, the Hebrew “slave” had to be treated, not like property, but as a “hired laborer.” Furthermore, he was to be released after six years’ servitude. (Leviticus 25:39-43) At his release his master or “employer” had to give him material things, as he was able, to help the man and his family to make a fresh start. (Deuteronomy 15:12-15) By this arrangement a family could avoid being destitute and could have food and clothing until such time as they could stand on their own.
13. (a) What was the possibility of freedom before the normal six years of servitude was fulfilled? (b) What protection was provided for young Hebrew girls who were slaves?
13 Moreover, the person, while in “slavery,” could engage in projects or other business or investments, so that in some cases a man was able to buy himself out of servitude. Or a near relative could pay off any indebtedness he might have, thereby releasing the man as a free person. (Leviticus 25:47-54) A daughter who went into “slavery” often was taken as the wife of her master. She had to be given full dues as was the case with any wife.—Exodus 21:7-11.
PROTECTION FOR WOMEN
14. How was a divorced woman protected?
14 Women were protected by the marriage laws. A man had to have valid cause to divorce his wife, and additionally was required to give her a certificate of divorce. The certificate of divorce protected her from any false charges in case of remarriage.—Deuteronomy 24:1; see Jesus’ explanation about divorce at Matthew 19:3-9.
15. What laws served as a deterrent to fornication?
15 A man who seduced a virgin girl, not engaged to marry, had to marry her, at her father’s discretion, and could never divorce her. (Deuteronomy 22:28, 29; Exodus 22:16, 17) In the case of an engaged woman, a death penalty for the man protected her from sexual assault, which was considered as serious as murder.—Deuteronomy 22:25-27.
16. (a) Was polygamy the original arrangement of God? (Matthew 19:4-6) (b) Why did God tolerate polygamy in ancient Israel?
16 Although polygamy was allowed, it was regulated for the woman’s benefit. Polygamy, a practice of long standing, was tolerated because it was not God’s time to straighten out all things. God waited until the time of Christianity to restore the original state of monogamy. (1 Corinthians 7:2) God’s way has been to teach and lead his people as they were able to understand and accept correction of their ways. Jesus said to his disciples, at John 16:12: “I have many things yet to say to you, but you are not able to bear them at present.” Thus, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, many things were clarified and made straight for them.
17. How was the less loved wife in a polygamous marriage protected?
17 In a polygamous marriage, one of the wives was often favored by the husband. But protection was given by the Law to the less loved wife. For example, if her son was the father’s firstborn he would not be deprived of his firstborn rights, for the father could not give them to a son later born to a favorite wife.—Deuteronomy 21:15-17.
18. How were women, even among Israel’s enemies, protected?
18 Even women in enemy cities were not sexually molested. Nor were prostitutes found in the vicinity of army camps, for sex relations were forbidden to soldiers engaged in war operations.—Deuteronomy 21:10-14.
19. What was the advantage of there being no prisons in ancient Israel?
19 The criminal laws were far finer than those on statute books today. There were no prisons provided for under the Law. Only later, during the rule of the kings, were prisons instituted, improperly, in Israel. (Jeremiah 37:15, 16; 38:6, 28) Since no prison sentence was given for any crime, it meant that no criminals were being fed and housed at the expense of the hardworking people who obeyed the law.
20. What was the penalty for stealing, and what benefits did it bring?
20 If a man stole from his fellowman, he was not imprisoned. In this way he was able to work and pay for what he stole. His victim suffered no loss. In addition, the thief was required to pay double or more for what he stole, depending upon the item stolen and his disposition of it. (Exodus 22:1, 4, 7) If he did not pay, he was sold into slavery. He had to work for his victim or for another Israelite until he had paid off the judgment against him for what he had stolen. (Exodus 22:3) If he presumptuously refused to follow through on his sentence, he would be put to death. (Deuteronomy 17:12) This law not only helped the victim of the thief but also was a strong deterrent to stealing.
21. (a) What was the penalty for deliberate murder? (b) What was the arrangement for the accidental manslayer?
21 Life was considered sacred under the Law. A deliberate murderer could in no way be exonerated. He was to be put to death without fail. Thus in Numbers 35:30-33 we read: “Every fatal striker of a soul should be slain as a murderer at the mouth of witnesses, and one witness may not testify against a soul for him to die. And you must take no ransom for the soul of a murderer who is deserving to die, for without fail he should be put to death. . . . And you must not pollute the land in which you are; because it is blood that pollutes the land, and for the land there may be no atonement respecting the blood that has been spilled upon it except by the blood of the one spilling it.” This law removed such a wicked person from Israelite society. He did not run free to commit more murders. The accidental manslayer, however, could receive mercy.—Numbers 35:9-15, 22-29.
22. How was the sacredness of life especially emphasized?
22 Even the unsolved murder was not allowed to go unatoned for. The city nearest the scene of the slaying was considered as bloodguilty and under a curse unless the city elders performed the ceremony required, to receive removal of community bloodguilt before God. Thus the sacredness of life was deeply impressed upon the people.—Deuteronomy 21:1-9.
23. Describe the law governing kidnapping.
23 One’s person was considered inviolable. Kidnapping was a capital crime. The kidnapper in whose hand the person was found or who had sold the kidnapped one into slavery was to be put to death without fail.—Exodus 21:16; Deuteronomy 24:7.
24. How was respect for the family maintained, and with what result?
24 When the nation followed the Law, there were few problems of juvenile delinquency. The essential unit of the nation was the family. Great respect for the parents, as well as for the chieftains of the nation, was taught. (Exodus 20:12; 22:28) Mob action was condemned. (Exodus 23:1, 2) A son of responsible age who was incurably rebellious, perhaps becoming a glutton and a drunkard, was to be executed. (Deuteronomy 21:18-21) Whoever struck his father or mother, or called down evil upon them, was to be put to death. (Exodus 21:15, 17; Leviticus 20:9) Respect for the home and family resulted in respect for the nation’s rulers, particularly its Chief Ruler, Jehovah God.
RESPECT FOR PROPERTY RIGHTS
25. How were lost-and-found items handled?
25 In modern times, the practice popularly followed in regard to lost items is ‘finders keepers.’ But in Israel, anyone who found an animal or some item was required to restore it to its owner. If the owner lived far away and was unknown, then the item was to be kept until the owner searched for it. (Deuteronomy 22:1-3) In order to aid the owner who came to the village looking for his lost property, the finder would, of course, have to report to the city elders or officials that he had it.
26, 27. (a) What respect was maintained for a man’s home and property? (b) Of what benefit were these laws to the poor?
26 The sanctity of the home was most highly respected. A man could not collect a debt by going into the debtor’s house to get what had been pledged as security. The creditor had to wait outside and let the man bring out the pledged article to him. (Deuteronomy 24:10, 11) Neither could a creditor foreclose on one’s immediate means of living or one’s essential clothing, since a poor man might have only some grain to grind to feed his family, or only one outer garment as a covering.
27 On this point it is written in Deuteronomy 24:6, 12, 13: “No one should seize a hand mill or its upper grindstone as a pledge, because it is a soul that he is seizing as a pledge. And if the man is in trouble, you must not go to bed with his pledge. You should by all means return the pledge to him as soon as the sun sets, and he must go to bed in his garment, and he must bless you; and it will mean righteousness for you before Jehovah your God.”
KINDNESS TO ANIMALS
28. How did God show his thoughtfulness and kindness in his laws regarding animals?
28 Animals were also given kind consideration. If a man saw a domestic animal in distress he was required to help it, even if it belonged to an enemy of his. (Exodus 23:4, 5; Deuteronomy 22:4) Beasts of burden were not to be overworked or mistreated. (Deuteronomy 22:10; Proverbs 12:10) The bull was not to be muzzled so that he could not enjoy the fruits of his labor when threshing grain. (Deuteronomy 25:4) Kindness to wild animals was also fostered. A man was not to remove both a mother bird and her eggs, thereby wiping out the family. (Deuteronomy 22:6, 7) Among domestic animals an individual was not to slaughter a bull or a sheep and its young on the same day. All of this was a deterrent to a spirit of cruelty.—Leviticus 22:28; compare God’s consideration for animals as expressed at Jonah 4:11 and Leviticus 25:4, 5, 7.
ZEAL FOR TRUTH
29, 30. What laws governed witnesses in legal cases?
29 In the interests of justice and mercy, a witness in a legal case was required to testify to whatever he knew about the case. If he did not do so he would be subject to a curse publicly uttered by the judges. Such a curse, God would enforce. (Leviticus 5:1; Proverbs 29:24) He was not to commit perjury, for this was lying “before Jehovah.” If accusations made against another were found to be deliberately false, the accuser would suffer the same penalty that would have been meted out to the one falsely accused.
30 Accordingly, we read in Deuteronomy 19:16-19: “In case a witness scheming violence should rise up against a man to bring a charge of revolt against him, the two men who have the dispute must also stand before Jehovah, before the priests and the judges who will be acting in those days. And the judges must search thoroughly, and if the witness is a false witness and has brought a false charge against his brother, you must also do to him just as he had schemed to do to his brother, and you must clear away what is bad from your midst.”
31. What other laws promoted zeal for righteousness and also tended to prevent false or careless testimony in a legal case?
31 No one could be put to death on circumstantial evidence alone. There had to be at least two eyewitnesses to establish the truth. (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15) The witnesses against a man found guilty of a capital crime were to be the first to share in stoning the man to death. This law promoted zeal for righteousness in Israel. Not only the judges, but every citizen was thus required to demonstrate his desire to keep the land clean from bloodguilt before God. It was also a deterrent to false, hasty or careless testimony. Good was derived from the law in Deuteronomy 17:7, which reads: “The hand of the witnesses first of all should come upon him to put him to death, and the hand of all the people afterward; and you must clear out what is bad from your midst.”
FORBIDDEN SEXUAL RELATIONS
32. What illicit sexual relations were punishable by death?
32 Adultery was punishable by death for both parties. (Leviticus 20:10) The revolting practices of homosexuality and bestiality incurred the death penalty, according to Leviticus 20:13, 15, where it is written: “When a man lies down with a male the same as one lies down with a woman, both of them have done a detestable thing. They should be put to death without fail. Their own blood is upon them. And where a man gives his seminal emission to a beast, he should be put to death without fail, and you should kill the beast.”—See also Leviticus 20:16, 17; Romans 1:24-28.
33, 34. How did the Law promote physical cleanliness?
33 The Law enjoined upon the people not only moral cleanness but also physical cleanliness. The laws on cleanness required the Israelites to destroy earthenware vessels that came into contact with any animal that died of itself. Other vessels as well as garments had to be washed. Such a law kept the Israelites ever alert to be clean. Persons with communicable diseases were quarantined. (Leviticus 13:4, 5, 21, 26) Infected garments and houses were quarantined, and in some cases, destroyed. (Leviticus 13:47-52, 55; 14:38, 45) No blood was to be eaten.—Leviticus 7:26.
34 From a medical viewpoint, the law of sanitation and quarantine, along with the moral laws and the prohibition on blood, were marvelous protections from typhoid, typhus, bubonic plague, hepatitis, gonorrhea and syphilis and a host of other diseases.
MERCY TO REPENTANT ONES
35. Were the judges in legal cases allowed latitude to show mercy, depending on the circumstances?
35 The Law was not harsh or inflexible. Judges were given latitude to show mercy. If a man sinned against his fellowman, and then repented, he could be restored to God’s favor by first straightening out matters with the injured party and then by presenting a guilt offering to Jehovah. (Leviticus 6:2-7) Jesus Christ alluded to this law when he said: “If, then, you are bringing your gift to the altar and you there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, and go away; first make your peace with your brother, and then, when you have come back, offer up your gift.” (Matthew 5:23, 24) Today, servants of God cannot have peace with Him if they are doing wrong toward their fellowman.
36. What fine things did the Jubilee year law provide?
36 The Jubilee, which occurred every fiftieth year, was a time of rejoicing. All land inheritances that had been “sold” were returned to their owners. Hebrew slaves were released, even if their six years’ servitude was not yet fulfilled. (Leviticus 25:8-13, 39-41) This law had the grand effect of restoring the economy to the original, balanced state that God established when Israel entered the Promised Land. It prevented the situation we see in many lands today—an extremely rich landowner class and an extremely poor “serf” class. No land monopoly was possible when the law was enforced.
37. In summary, what reason could be given that we should study God’s law to Israel?
37 Thus the Law made a citizen a free man. Every family was safe from falling into a state of perpetual poverty. The family dignity was maintained, the family spirituality was kept high. The father could spend time with the family, the sabbath days and sabbath years providing time for attention to such things as teaching the children. So, while Christians are not under the Mosaic law today, it provides a glimpse of God’s ways and dealings and a “shadow of the good things to come.”—Hebrews 10:1.
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The Law provided for the poor, requiring that the edges of fields be left for them to glean
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Announcement of the Jubilee year required that all lands be returned to their original owners