In this day and age two qualities are particularly valued by people all over the world: equality and honor. All around the world we see oppressed peoples rising up against the dictators that have ruled over them harshly for decades. We all see people fight and argue because they believe others have insulted their honor. This concern for both equality and honor has long been a concern of humanity. When the United States was founded, its founders, in declaring their independence from the empire of Great Britain, stated that all men are created equal and have been given certain rights that cannot be taken away from them. They also pledged to each other their lives and their sacred honor in defending those God-given freedoms.
Nor is the United States the only people around the world that has recognized the importance of equality and honor, for we see the world rising up against cruel and tyrannical leaders because of the denial of that equality and honor by those who rule in an ungodly and unrighteous way. It is my purpose today to talk about the price of equality and honor within the Word of God, that we may understand just how precious both equality and honor are to God and to God’s people.
The Price of Equality
What was the price of equality in ancient Israel? Let us read about it in Exodus 30:11-16. In this passage we see the price of the equality of all citizens in the census. Exodus 30:11-16 reads as follows: “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “When you take the census of the children of Israel for their number, then every man shall give a ransom for himself to the Lord, when you number them, that there may be no plague among them when you number them. This is what everyone among those who are numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sancturary (a shekel is twenty gerahs). The half-shekel shall be an offering to the Lord. Everyone included among those who are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering to the Lord. The rich shall not give more and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when you give an offering to the Lord, to make atonement for yourselves. And you shall take the atonement money of the children of Israel, and shall appoint it for the service of the tabernacle of meeting, that it may be a memorial for the children of Israel before the Lord, to make atonement for yourselves.”
Let us understand what this passage means. A nation typically takes a census either to know or boast about the number of people in a country or to determine how many soldiers it has to defend itself or to attack others. Instead of trusting in God for strength, many nations trust the number of people in their army, considering all men (and sometimes even women) as people fit to carry a gun in defense of the nation. What God is saying here is that if someone wishes to to avoid a plague in their nation for counting unfaithfully instead of trusting in God, a ransom had to be paid by each and every person counted in the census, the same regardless of whether the person was poor or rich, which would be given to the Levites to serve God.
This may seem unfair. To a rich person, a half-shekel was nothing. For a poor person, a half-shekel was two days worth of unskilled labor doing buffalo work. Let us ask ourselves, though, who gains more from equality? Does a rich person gain more from being equal with poor people, or does a poor person gain more from being equal with all of the mighty and wealthy people in a nation? Clearly, a poor person gains more from equality, and so therefore the price of equality was proportionally greater to him than to the wealthy person. God grants His people equality, but that equality before God comes with a price. Nothing worth having comes for free.
Let us briefly note two additional aspects of this tax. One is that the one time we have evidence of a census being taken in Israel, between four and five hundred years after this law was written, in 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chroncles 21, we see that David was stirred to count a census of Israel so that God could judge the wickedness of the people by sending a plague out on them, meaning that God did enforce His law.
Additionally, let us also note that this law was still in effect fifteen hundred years after the time of Moses, during the time of Jesus, when Jesus and Peter themselves paid this tax, as we find in Matthew 17:24-27. Let us turn there. In Matthew 17:24-27 we see a note about this very same temple tax: “And when they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying “What do you think, Simon? From whom to the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?” Peter said to Him, “From strangers.” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you.”
Here we see that Jesus himself, being the high priest according to the order of Melchizedek and also the Son of God, and therefore God Himself, worshiped in the temple, was exempt from paying the tax, since it went to glorifying Him. However, to avoid offending the temple tax collector and the religious leadership of the time in this matter, He graciously had Peter catch a fish with a one-shekel piece in it, which would pay the temple tax for both Him and Peter. Jesus paid taxes he was exempt from so that He would not cause others to stumble or think of him as an unbeliever. That is a serious example of faith through tax paying.
The Price of Honor
Let us now turn to the price of honor. How much does the honor of a virgin cost in the eyes of God? Do you know? It costs a lot more than a half a shekel, as we shall see. God deeply values purity and righteousness in conduct, and even though we, in this corrupt age, may not think of fornication and promiscuity as a big deal, God’s law considers it a serious matter. To see just how serious a price one must pay for fornication, let us turn to Exodus 22:16-17. Exodus 22:16-17 reads as follows: “If a man entices a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall surely pay the bride-price for her to be his wife. If her father utterfly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money according to the bride-price of virgins.”
You might think that the bride-price of virgins was not a big deal. If you thought that, though, you would be very wrong. Let us now turn to Deuteronomy 22:28-29 to read some further details on the penalties for fornication and the price of a young woman’s honor. Deuteronomy 22:28-29 reads as follows: “If a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are found out, then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has humbled her; he shall not be permitted to divorce her all his days.”
Let us examine what this means, briefly. If a young man and a young woman who are not engaged or married to someone else commit fornication with each other, the young man has to pay her father fifty shekels, one-hundred times the price of redemption from the census. Fifty shekels is almost double the price of 7 years of labor as a hired servant—this is the expensive bride price the young man has to pay the father of the young woman he slept with. This amount comes out to tens of thousands of dollars, or hundreds of thousands of baht today. Then, after the young man pays the bride-price, the father gets to choose whether or not the young man can marry his daughter. But either way, the young man still has to repay his debt for taking her virginity and her honor, which may require him to work for 10 or 11 years doing buffalo work, and she has the humiliation of being known as a whore, because she allowed herself to be seduced out of her virginity. Let us note in addition that if the two marry, the husband is forbidden from divorcing her his entire life—but must continue to take are of her and provide for her, no matter how they fight and feud later on, because of the dishonorable way in which he got her as a wife. Fornication is expensive according to biblical law.
Let us note that in this chapter, though, that this is the least expensive price for immoral sexual behavior. Let us find out what happens if a young man finds a young woman in the countryside. Deuteronomy 22:25-27 reads as follows: “But if a young man finds a young woman in the countryside, and the man forces her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the young woman; there is in the young woman no sin deserving of death, for just as a man rises against his neighbor and kills him, even so is this matter. For he found her in the countryside, and the betrothed young woman cried out, but there was no one to save her.” So, if a young man has sex with a young woman in the countryside, far from other people, he is automatically assumed by God’s law to be a rapist and is given the death penalty for taking the virginity of the young woman by force. This is serious business—fornication in the wrong place under God’s law could cost you your life if the young woman chose to claim it was not with her consent.
Let us go further and read of what happens when either or both the man or woman is engaged or married, in Deuteronomy 22:22-24. Deuteronomy 22:22-24 reads as follows: “If a man is found lying with a woman married to a husband, then both of them shall die—the man that lay with the woman, and the woman; so you shall put away the evil from Israel. If a young woman who is a virgin is betrothed to a husband, and a man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry out in the city, and the man because he humbled his neighbors wife; so you shall put away the evil from among you.”
Let us put these passages together and make sense of them. If a young woman or young man were engaged or married to others and had sex in the town, no crying out meant the assumption that it was consensual adultery, which was punished by stoning the adulterers to death. If fornication occurred in the countryside, it was assumed that the young woman was raped and the young man (or men) were killed by stoning. If a young couple in love but not engaged or married were found having slept together, the young man had to pay 50 shekels or 200 days worth of buffalo work for her father and the father got to decide if the young man was good enough for his little princess. This is how God’s law views the importance of sexual purity. The price of honor is expensive—it could cost you your life.
Let us therefore understand that just as honor and equality, respect and reputation, are important for human beings, they are also important to God. We have seen that in the Bible, both equality and honor have a price. If we do not treat other people with honor and respect, we pay a heavy price, perhaps even our lives, under the law of God. Likewise, our equality costs us in proportion to the value we gain from that equality with others. Therefore, let us resolve ourselves to treat others with respect and behave honorably, so that we can avoid the price of dishonoring others both now and in the judgment to come.