Oh, How I Love Your Law!
“Therefore be careful to observe them [the laws]; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’” —Deuteronomy 6:4
You can read previous parts of this article here: Part One, Part Two.
Parts One and Two of this article appeared in the June and July issues. Please write or call for a copy if you would like them. Those articles covered the five major principles of law and the specific laws of Exodus 21 and 22. We continue our exposition with Exodus 23 and part of 24.
Righteousness when Others Sin
You shall not circulate a false report. Do not put your hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. You shall not follow a crowd to do evil; nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after many to pervert justice. (Ex 23:1-2)
The initial reaction to these commandments is often: “I do not do that—I do not go around telling lies or join mobs in a riot.” It is good that we do not do those things, but the application of this law is bigger than that. Who are the wicked we are not to follow? Are they people with torn jeans and blank t-shirts that say “wicked”? Or could they be nicely dressed people that are leaders in our congregation or civil government? Could they be TV commentators?
The Hebrew word for wicked is rasha’. It is used over 200 times in the Old Testament, usually in a general sense to denote undesirable people. A few times we find specific sins defined as “wicked” or specific people that are called “wicked.” Murderers are called wicked (Num 35:31 and 2Sam 5-12, Pslm 37:14,32, Prv 12:6). People that do not repay loans are called wicked (Psalm 37:21). But the most frequent mention of wickedness is the perversion of justice—those that are wealthy or in authority using their power to do evil (Jer 5:26-8, Pslm 10:2, 11:2, 28:3, 17:9, 37:12,16, 55:3). In Proverbs 17:23 we find that bribery, offering money to pervert justice, is wicked. The elders that tried to lift themselves up over a righteous man, Moses, were also called wicked (Num 16:13,15,25-26).
Proverbs 29:12, KJV, is particularly interesting: “If a ruler hearkens to lies, all his servants are wicked.” A servant of a ruler that is listening to lies has the duty to tell that ruler the truth, and keep telling him until the ruler believes the truth. Of course, the ruler may depose the troublesome servant—but it is better to be deposed than wicked. It can be particularly difficult to tell the truth when an erroneous view-point is popular with the “boss” and most of our friends, but that is what the law requires.
This writer must confess to sitting in congregations and talking about how “John and Jane Exmember” must be bad because they were “disfellowshipped.” No sins of the Exmembers were publicly mentioned nor was I personally knowledgeable of any difficulties. Yet I followed the rest of the multitude in shunning and speaking evil of them.
This same problem can occur in secular society. A person can be arrested as a suspect for a well-known crime, and then be vilified, physically injured or even killed by angry people that have no evidence against the person except his arrest.
When we read Exodus 23:1-2, we must realize that we must avoid joining a crowd to do evil, even if the crowd is “respectable.” Our father is no respecter of persons (Rom 2:11).
You shall not show partiality to a poor man in his dispute (Ex 23:3).
If a poor man takes something from a rich man—something so small that he will not miss it, should the poor man go unpunished? What if the rich man gained his wealth from oppressing the poor man to begin with? Our all-wise Lawgiver knew that the approach of “I cheat a little so you can cheat a little” will only lead to evil. The poor man must be punished for stealing so he can learn to work for his living rather than stealing. If he has been oppressed by a rich man, then the rich man must be punished—in most cases by restoring double of what he has taken from others.
If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it (Ex 23:4-5).
This is a true test of what kind of heart we have. When someone that has caused us trouble is suffering, do we conclude that they are suffering a judgment from the Eternal and rejoice in their suffering? Or will we help them in their suffering? (The person may refuse your help, but it is at least your duty to offer.)
"You shall not pervert the judgment of your poor in his dispute (Ex 23:6).
This addresses an opposite problem to the one in verse 3. Judges shall not respect the person of the rich and decide in his favor, figuring that the poor man will not have any recourse. Unfortunately, this has nearly become a standard practice in our society by at least two methods: Laws are so technical and complex that it is often the man that can afford an expensive lawyer that gets his way—not the one with the righteous cause. Also, criminal sentencing studies show that a janitor who walks off with a few thousand in cash from a bank is likely to serve a much longer sentence than a white-collar employee that embezzles millions.
Importance of Justice & Fairness
Keep yourself far from a false matter; do not kill the innocent and righteous. For I will not justify the wicked. And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the discerning and perverts the words of the righteous (Ex 23:7-8).
Nearly our entire marketing and business world is based on false claims and bribes. Advertisers admit that they are not selling cars to the public; they are selling prestige and self confidence. They are not selling soap or make-up, but beauty and youth. Advertising claims are often as deceptive as possible—as long as they are not technically illegal. Popular books on “personal success” instruct readers to buy flowers or other little gifts for the boss to get a promotion later on. Bribery is often a way of life in obtaining big-business or government contracts.
Killing the innocent? Does anyone do that? Over a million babies are killed every year by people that did not adequately plan before their conception. Whether governments support or prosecute this killing is not as important as changing the attitude of parents that are willing to kill their children because they are inconvenient.
Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Ex 23:9).
While this scripture certainly refers to the policies of civil governments, it also refers to the way we treat others. When many of us began keeping the Sabbath, we became “strangers” to our friends and relatives—some of which stopped associating with our “strange” and unusual customs. What do we do now when someone begins to attend a religious group that has doctrines different than our own? Do we oppress the strangers?
Times for Resting
Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its produce, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the beasts of the field may eat. In like manner you shall do with your vineyard and your olive grove (Ex 23:10-11).
We do not have the space to adequately discuss the land rest scriptures in this article. There is much more information in Leviticus 25. It is important to note that it is very difficult to fulfill the intent of this scripture in that the seven-year cycle may have been lost and most poor people today live far away from farms and would have no idea when or how to gather from the resting land.
Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest, that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female servant and the stranger may be refreshed (Ex 23:12).
In contrast to the land rest, we do know when the weekly Sabbath is. Of the hundreds of languages throughout the world, about half of them derive their name for the seventh day of the week from “Sabbath.” The New Testament Scriptures record numerous confrontations between our Savior and the leaders of his day over what could be done on the Sabbath—there was no argument about which day was the Sabbath. Romans, exiled Jews, and other peoples have maintained calendars from the first century until now. There is no disagreement on which is the first and which is the last day of the week.
Something some of us may wish to think about is whether or not we are letting our servants rest on the Sabbath or not. If we pay someone to cook and serve us food, are they not our servant? Shouldn’t we prepare food on Friday, so we do not have to hire someone else to work for us on the Sabbath? It is true that most restaurant workers will certainly be at their jobs whether or not we patronize their business. However, the commandment to us is to give our servants the Sabbath off, not to give everyone else’s servants the Sabbath off.
Look only to our Father in Heaven
And in all that I have said to you, be circumspect and make no mention of the name of other gods [Hebrew Eloyhim], nor let it be heard from your mouth (Ex 23:13).
Some have taken this scripture to mean that we should never pronounce the names of other would-be deities—we should even avoid saying the days of the week or the names of the planets because most of them are derived from names of Greek and Roman deities. This understanding cannot be correct in that we are commanded to read the scriptures and they contain names of numerous pagan deities: Baal, Dagon, Chemosh, etc. Furthermore, there are places in Israel named after Baal, and these names are used in the scriptures (Jud 20:33, 2Sam 5:20, 13:23, 1Kngs 9:18). The intention here is that we should never invoke their names in a manner dignifying them as “gods.” Isa 45:5 makes it clear that there is “no God [Eloyhim] beside Me.”
Three times you shall keep a feast to Me in the year: You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread (you shall eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt; none shall appear before Me empty); and the Feast of Harvest, the firstfruits of your labors which you have sown in the field; and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you have gathered in the fruit of your labors from the field. Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord God. You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leavened bread; nor shall the fat of My sacrifice remain until morning. The first of the firstfruits of your land you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk (Ex 23:14-19).
These scriptures give us important information about the Holy Days and some of the offerings required of the people. We will discuss them in detail in future papers on the Holy Days.
The admonition not to “boil a young goat in its mother’s milk” occurs two other places in scripture (Ex 34:26, Deut 14:21). All of these places are talking about commands that produce prosperity and blessings. Adam Clarke and other commentators point out that there was an ancient ritual of boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk to assure a prosperous year. This is a clear command not to be a part of such false “prosperity rituals.” The traditional Jewish interpretation of these scriptures—avoiding the eating of milk and the meat of any clean animal at the same meal is very questionable. All verses specifically describe the ritual of boiling a young goat in its mothers milk. There is never a reference to other clean animals or any mention of eating anything together. In Genesis 18:8, we find Abraham serving his guests milk, butter and meat together.
Behold, I send an Angel [Hebrew mal’ak—messenger] before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Beware of Him and obey His voice; do not provoke Him, for He will not pardon your transgressions; for My name is in Him (Ex 23:20-21).
The Hebrew mal’ak appears in the old testament 195 times, about half the time it is translated “messenger”, a few times “ambassador” and the rest of the time “angel”. The Hebrew means “messenger” but does not indicate whether the messenger is heavenly or human. The Bible translators attempted to determine which messengers were divine and wrote “angel” when they found it appropriate. That leaves us to ask: “Who was this special messenger with ‘My name... in Him’”? Was it Moses? Joshua? A special angel? Melchizedek? YHVH? These are good questions to which we are still searching for answers.
Blessings for Obedience
If you indeed obey His voice and do all that I speak, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries. For My Angel will go before you and bring you in to the Amorites and the Httites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites and the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will cut them off. You shall not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their works; but you shall utterly overthrow them and completely break down their sacred pillars. So you shall serve the Lord your God, and He will bless your bread and your water. And I will take sickness away from the midst of you. No one shall suffer miscarriage or be barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days (Ex 23:22-26).
This is a simple promise of physical blessing for seeking the Eternal and obeying His way. It is interesting to note that as most Western nations are glamorizing and accepting more non-Biblical religious practices (New Age, occult, Roman, Greek, Hindu, etc.), the very curses described in these verses are coming upon us: devitalized bread, polluted water, massive health-care expenses, a more than 10% infertility rate among couples that want babies, and a rising death rate among young people.
I will send My fear before you, I will cause confusion among all the people to whom you come, and will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite from before you. I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the beast of the field become too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased, and you inherit the land (Ex 23:27-30).
These are promises that the Eternal made to his people that many have forgotten. These promises were made before Israel sinned in the matter of the golden calf, and before they lacked the faith to enter into the promised land at their first attempt. The Eternal promised to drive out the inhabitants himself—Israel would not have to fight! It was only later, after their lack of faith, that the Eternal had them go to war. Even when they did fight wars, if they obeyed the Eternal they had no or few casualties (see the books of Joshua and Judges). The more they disobeyed, the more casualties they had—eventually being defeated by the same people that the Eternal would have driven out if they had only obeyed.
We can learn a great spiritual lesson from this. Rather than wearing ourselves out fighting each of the many injustices that infringe upon us in this world, we might be better off to concentrate more on obeying those commands that our Father has clearly given us, and asking the Eternal to fight our battles for us.
And I will set your bounds from the Red Sea to the sea, Philistia, and from the desert to the River. For I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. You shall make no covenant with them, nor with their gods. They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against Me. For if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you (Ex 23:31-33).
In verse 9 we were told not to “oppress a stranger”, but here we are told he is not to dwell with us? How can we reconcile these scriptures? The answer is right here! The problems the Eternal brought out were “lest they make you sin against Me” and “serving their gods.” If “strangers” are openly practicing their religion and customs in sufficient numbers that Israelites are seeking to be like them, then it is a problem. Our Loving Father realized that celebrations and practices of other cultures would eventually draw His people away from Him. While it is not the job of His Congregation to try to change the immigration policy of today, we can understand why so many Western nations are having immigration problems.
Spiritually, we can learn a lesson about attendance at our worship services. Strangers can attend and should be treated fairly, but they should conform to the existing service. If they continually attempt to teach or practice doctrines that are clearly unbiblical, they should be asked to leave.
So Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the judgments. And all the people answered with one voice and said, "All the words which the Lord has said we will do.” And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord.... Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, "All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient." And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, "This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words" (Ex 20:3-4, 7-8).
After their initial agreement of obedience in Exodus 19:1-8, these verses record the major covenant between the Eternal and his people. While the “ten commandments” are special because the Eternal spoke them directly, there is no separate covenant recorded in relationship to them. When we think about the Sinai covenant, we must include all of these principles in Exodus 20-23.
To Be Continued
This concludes the Exodus portion of this study, but there are several other books that contain very similar sections of practical principles for our lives.
—Norman S. Edwards
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