Exodus 22:18
Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.
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(18) Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.—The word translated “witch” in this passage is the feminine singular of that rendered by “sorcerers” in Exodus 7:11, and means “a mutterer of charms.” The use of the feminine form can only be accounted for by supposing that, practically, witchcraft was at the time mainly professed by females. Whether “witches” had actual help from evil spirits, or only professed to work magical effects by their aid, the sin against God was the same. Jehovah was renounced, and a power other than His invoked and upheld. Witchcraft was as much rebellion against God as idolatry or blasphemy, and deserved the same punishment.

Exodus 22:18. Witchcraft not only gives that honour to the devil which is due to God alone, but bids defiance to the divine providence, wages war with God’s government, puts his work into the devil’s hand, expecting him to do good and evil. By our law, consulting, covenanting with, invocating, or employing any evil spirit to any intent whatever, and exercising any enchantment, charm, or sorcery, whereby hurt shall be done to any person, is made felony, without benefit of clergy; also pretending to tell where goods lost or stolen may be found, is an iniquity punishable by the judge, and the second offence with death.

22; 1 - 31 Judicial laws. - The people of God should ever be ready to show mildness and mercy, according to the spirit of these laws. We must answer to God, not only for what we do maliciously, but for what we do heedlessly. Therefore, when we have done harm to our neighbour, we should make restitution, though not compelled by law. Let these scriptures lead our souls to remember, that if the grace of God has indeed appeared to us, then it has taught us, and enabled us so to conduct ourselves by its holy power, that denying ungodliness and wordly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world, Titus 2:12. And the grace of God teaches us, that as the Lord is our portion, there is enough in him to satisfy all the desires of our souls.Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live - See the marginal references. and Leviticus 20:27. The witch is here named to represent the class. This is the earliest denunciation of witchcraft in the law. In every form of witchcraft there is an appeal to a power not acting in subordination to the divine law. From all such notions and tendencies true worship is designed to deliver us. The practice of witchcraft was therefore an act of rebellion against Yahweh, and, as such, was a capital crime. The passages bearing on the subject in the Prophets, as well as those in the law, carry a lesson for all ages. Isaiah 8:19; Isaiah 19:3; Isaiah 44:25; Isaiah 47:12-13; Micah 5:12, etc. 6. If fire break out, and catch in thorns—This refers to the common practice in the East of setting fire to the dry grass before the fall of the autumnal rains, which prevents the ravages of vermin, and is considered a good preparation of the ground for the next crop. The very parched state of the herbage and the long droughts of summer, make the kindling of a fire an operation often dangerous, and always requiring caution from its liability to spread rapidly.

stacks—or as it is rendered "shocks" (Jud 15:5; Job 5:26), means simply a bundle of loose sheaves.

i.e. Any person that is in league with the devil, and by his help either doth any mischief, or discovers and practices things above the reach of other men or women. Of which see Exodus 7:11 Leviticus 20:27 Deu 18:10 1 Samuel 28:9. The word is of the feminine gender, partly because women are most prone to these devilish arts, and most frequently guilty of them; and partly to intimate that no pity should be showed to such offenders, though they were of the weaker sex.

Thou shall not suffer a witch to live. Such that had familiar spirits, and conversed with them, and by means thereof got knowledge of many things relating to persons, at least pretending they did; and who did or seemed to do many strange and surprising feats, as even to raise the spirits of departed persons, to converse with them and gain knowledge by them, though in reality they did not, and could not do such things, but used some juggling tricks to deceive the people, and in which they might be assisted by evil spirits; as appears from the case of the witch of Endor, who was surprised at the appearance of Samuel, it being out of the ordinary course of her art and practice really to bring up the spirit of a man deceased, whatever pretensions might be made to it; however, such being deceivers of the people, and leading them into unwarrantable practices, and off of a dependence on God and his providence, and from seeking to him, and asking counsel of him, they are by this law condemned to death, such an one was not to be suffered to live; not that it was lawful for anybody to kill her, or that any private person might or must do it that knew her, or took her to be a witch; but she was to be had before a court of judicature and tried there, and, if found guilty, to be put to death by the civil magistrate: so Jarchi's note is,"but she shall die by the house of judgment;''or the sanhedrim; for these words are spoken to Moses the chief judge, and to those that were under him, and succeeded him and them; though the Targum of Jonathan prefaces them thus:"and my people, the children of Israel, thou shalt not, &c.''and though only a witch is mentioned, or this is only expressed in the feminine gender, because a multitude of this sort of people were found among women, as Ben Melech observes, and so Aben Ezra; yet wizards, or men that dealt with familiar spirits, are included; and it may be reasonably concluded from hence, that if women, who generally have more mercy and compassion shown them, yet were not suffered to live when found criminal in this way, then much less men: and this law is thought by some to follow upon the other, concerning enticing and lying with a virgin not betrothed; because such sort of persons were made use of to entice and decoy maids to gratify the lusts of men. Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.
18. Magic and divination were practised extensively in the ancient world, as indeed they are still among uncivilised peoples and among the uneducated even in civilised countries: we have particularly abundant information respecting the practice of them in Assyria (see briefly the writer’s Daniel, in the Camb. Bible, p. 13 ff., more fully Jastrow, Relig. of Bab. and Ass. (1898), pp. 352–406). As inconsistent with the spirit the religion of Jehovah, as fostering superstition, and as associated commonly with heathen beliefs, they are condemned repeatedly in the OT.: see Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:6; Leviticus 20:27 (all H), and esp. Deuteronomy 18:10-11, locus classicus on the subject, where eight types are enumerated (see the writer’s note ad loc.); and often in the prophets. See further on the subject, with numerous illustrations of the methods of magic practised different parts of the world, O. C. Whitehouse’s articles Magic, Soothsayer, Sorcery, in DB.

a sorceress
] The fem. (only here) of the word rendered sorcerer in Deuteronomy 18:10, Malachi 3:5, 2 Chronicles 33:6, Daniel 2:2†: cf. Jeremiah 27:9; and sorceries in 2 Kings 9:22, Micah 5:11, Nahum 3:4, Isaiah 47:9; Isaiah 47:12†. Micah 5:11 seems to shew that the ‘sorceries’ were something material, such as drugs, herbs, &c., used superstitiously for the purpose of producing magical effects. Sorcery was resorted to for all kinds of purposes, to heal diseases, to ward off disasters, to bring misfortune upon a neighbour, to inspire a woman with love, &c.; it was often supposed to operate by the power obtained through incantations or other spells over spirits (the Arab. jinn).

The law is one which, as the reader need hardly be reminded, has often been wofully misapplied, and led to the committal of great cruelties: witches were often burnt in the middle ages; and they were executed in England as late as 1716. The right feeling that sorcery is debasing and superstitious finds expression in a law which is no doubt not out of harmony with the severe punishments common in the East, even to modern times,—and even, we may add, in mediaeval Europe: but the law belongs to the older dispensation, and does not breathe the spirit of Christ (Luke 9:55). The rise of a historical sense, and the recognition that the revelation contained in the OT. was progressive and that the laws given to Israel are not, simply as such, binding upon Christian nations, have taught men that an injunction such as this can have no place in a Christian law-book.

Verse 18. - Law against witchcraft. Witchcraft was professedly a league with powers in rebellion against God. How far it was delusion, how far imposture, how far a real conspiracy with the powers of evil, cannot now be known. Let the most rationalistic view be taken, and still there was in the practice an absolute renunciation of religion, and of the authority of Jehovah. Wizards (Leviticus 19:31) and witches were, therefore, under the Jewish theocracy, like idolaters and blasphemers, to be put to death. Exodus 22:18The laws which follow, from Exodus 22:18 onwards, differ both in form and subject-matter from the determinations of right which we have been studying hitherto: in form, through the omission of the כּי with which the others were almost invariably introduced; in subject-matter, inasmuch as they make demands upon Israel on the ground of its election to be the holy nation of Jehovah, which go beyond the sphere of natural right, not only prohibiting every inversion of the natural order of things, but requiring the manifestation of love to the infirm and needy out of regard to Jehovah. The transition from the former series to the present one is made by the command in Exodus 22:18, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live;" witchcraft being, on the one hand, "the vilest way of injuring a neighbour in his property, or even in his body and life" (Ranke), whilst, on the other hand, employment of powers of darkness for the purpose of injuring a neighbour was a practical denial of the divine vocation of Israel, as well as of Jehovah the Holy One of Israel. The witch is mentioned instead of the wizard, "not because witchcraft was not to be punished in the case of men, but because the female sex was more addicted to this crime" (Calovius). תחיּה לא (shalt not suffer to live) is chosen instead of the ordinary יוּמת מות (shall surely die), which is used in Leviticus 20:27 of wizards also, not "because the lawgiver intended that the Hebrew witch should be put to death in any case, and the foreigner only if she would not go when she was banished" (Knobel), but because every Hebrew witch was not to be put to death, but regard was to be had to the fact that witchcraft is often nothing but jugglery, and only those witches were to be put to death who would not give up their witchcraft when it was forbidden. Witchcraft is followed in Exodus 22:19 by the unnatural crime of lying with a beast; and this is also threatened with the punishment of death (see Leviticus 18:23, and Leviticus 20:15-16).
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