Friday, November 10, 2006

Exodus 23

Exodus 23: Various laws; God promises to send His angel

Synopsis

This chapter starts out with some more laws, continuing the set of laws that the LORD has been handing down for the last few chapters.


  • Don’t “spread false reports”, and don’t be a malicious witness.
    • Similarly, people are not to follow the crowd in doing wrong. Specifically, it’s mentioned that when people are giving witness in a lawsuit, they should not go with the crowd to pervert justice.
      • Interestingly, it also mentions that they should not show favouratism to a poor man, in his lawsuit.
  • If you come across the ox or donkey of someone who hates you, bring it back to them.
    • Or, if you see their donkey falling down under its heavy load, help it.
  • Do not deny justice to the poor, in their lawsuits. Don’t have anything to do with false charges, and don’t put innocent people to death.
  • Don’t accept bribes, “for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous” (verse 8).
  • The Israelites were not to oppress aliens, since they know what it was like to be an alien in a foreign land.
As we’ve seen in previous laws, we see again here that God has concern for the poor. They are not to be denied justice, just because they’re poor. However, we also see that God cares for justice even more than He cares for the poor—the Israelites were not to show favouratism to the poor in a lawsuit, just because they were poor! The upshot of these rules is that the Israelites were to ensure that everyone in their society got justice; if a man is being sued, the judge(s) should do their best to determine whether he’s really guilty, regardless of whether he’s rich or poor. And, similarly, the Israelite citizens who might be testifying were to be sure they were telling the truth.

You may also have noticed, as I did, that the Israelites were commanded to help out the animals of their enemies. (Not just help their enemies, but help out the animals of their enemies.)


  • The Israelites were only to grow crops for six years in a row; in the seventh year, they were to “let the land lie unplowed and unused” (verse 11).
    • During the seventh year, when the fields were being left unused, the poor were to be allowed to eat from them, and whatever the poor didn’t eat, the wild animals could have.
  • The Israelites were only to work six days in a row, and every seventh day was to be a day of rest, “so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed” (verse 12).
  • The Israelites were not to invoke the names of other gods—their names were not even to be heard from the Israelites’ lips.
I find it fascinating that the Israelites were not only to give their animals and servants a day of rest each week, but were also to give their land a year of rest every seven years. (Later on—I don’t remember if it’s in Exodus, or a subsequent book—we’ll see some laws about the “year of jubilee”, which will sound even stranger, to us.) Of course, as interesting as I may find these laws, I don’t think there’s a record of the Israelites ever giving their land a year of rest, or observing the “year of jubilee”.

Now, whenever I mention the Sabbath, I always mention that it’s not so much about rest, as it is about devoting a day to the LORD. In this passage, it’s specifically mentioning a day of rest—but it’s a day of rest for your animals and servants, so that they may be refreshed. On the Sabbath, the Israelites were to be concerned about the LORD and about the people around them.


  • The Israelites were to celebrate three feasts every year:
    1. The Feast of Unleavened Bread, which commemorates the Exodus from Egypt
    2. The Feast of Harvest, which celebrates the firstfruits from their crops
    3. The Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when they were gathering in their crops from the fields
  • During the listing of these feasts, the LORD mentions that “[n]o one is to come before me empty-handed” (verse 15c).
  • Verse 17 says this: “Three times a year all the men are to appear before the Sovereign LORD.” I don’t know, however, if this is referring to the three feasts mentioned above, or if this is something separate; i.e. “you have these three feasts, and all men are to appear before me three times a year.”
  • When presenting sacrifices/offerings to the LORD, there are some rules on how it should be handled:
    • the blood of a sacrifice should not be presented along with anything containing yeast
    • any fat left over from festival offerings should not be kept until morning
    • the best of the Israelites’ firstfruits should be brought to the house of the LORD
    • The Israelites were not to boil a young goat in its mother’s milk
For me, the reasoning for some of these rules is obvious, and the reasoning for some of the others is non-obvious. For example, it’s obvious to me why the Israelites were never to come before the LORD empty-handed; among other things, it reminds them that everything they have comes from Him. (It’s also a sign of respect, and you could probably come up with other reasons.) Similarly, they were to bring Him the best of their firstfruits, not keep it for themselves, because He deserves the best.

I think that the reason they were not to mix the blood of a sacrifice with anything containing yeast might have something to do with the fact that yeast is made up of living organisms. The other thing that springs to mind is that the yeast might make it look like there’s more blood than there really is, but I don’t know if that even makes sense. It’s not like any of the sacrifices demanded a certain amount of blood or anything, and that they’d be cheating the LORD out of a proper sacrifice by making it look like there was more blood than there really was. (They definitely might have been tempted to bring Him an inferior animal, and keep the best for themselves.)

I’ve never understood the rule about not boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk. I remember reading that when I was 15 or so, and trying to puzzle it out; any time I think about the fact that there are some things in the Bible that we don’t understand, for some reason this rule always pops into my mind. On the one hand, it seems kind of “ironically cruel” to boil a goat in its mother’s milk, but that’s as far as I get in trying to reason this one out. Maybe it makes more sense to you; in fact, maybe it’s obvious why He gave them this rule, and I just have some kind of a mental block.

After these rules, God tells the Israelites that He is going to send His angel ahead of them, to lead them into the place that God has prepared. The angel will bring them into “the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites” (verse 23), and the LORD will wipe those peoples out. The Israelites are commanded not to worship the gods of these peoples; they are to get rid of all of their implements of worship (the idols and “sacred stones”). God even gives the Israelites a promise:

Worship the LORD your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span. (verses 25–26)

However, the LORD is not going to wipe out the people all at once, or else “the land would become desolate and the wild animals too much for [them]” (verse 29).

Thoughts

If it hasn’t been made explicit yet, the Israelites are on their way to “the promised land”, which is pretty much where the current nation of Israel is. (I’m guessing that it didn’t have exactly the same borders as the current nation of Israel has, although geography isn’t my strong suit, and I haven’t looked into it. And, of course, Palestine is a complicating factor in trying to make a comparison…) However, there are people already living in that land. The LORD has decided to wipe these people out, because of their wickedness. For example, remember this passage from Genesis 15:

As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates—the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

(Genesis 15:12–21, emphasis added)


He’s not just giving the Israelites a new place to live; He’s also getting rid of a sinful people, that He no longer wants to put up with.

So, in the last section of the passage we’re looking at today, the LORD is making it clear that He is the one who will be driving out the peoples who live in the “promised land”, where the Israelites are going to live. He is not commanding them to go in and do it, and then rewarding them with the land; He is going to wipe out the peoples who currently live in the land. The Israelites will be going into battle, yes, but it is the LORD who will be winning those battles; they are never to believe that they’ve won the battles themselves.

And, in future books—maybe even later in Exodus, I can’t remember for sure—we’ll be seeing some battles which will be clearly won by the LORD, through divine means, on behalf of the Israelites, and not by the might of the Israelites. Of course, that won’t be anything new, because we’ve already seen what He did to the Egyptians, when He was bringing the Israelites out of Egypt.
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