INSISTENCE ON HONESTY
Consistently with the language of law, the question of honesty is looked at from a negative viewpoint, that is, emphasizing what one should not do. How easily one may circulate a false report without realizing it is false because he did not carefully check its source. May the Lord keep us from this. To circulate this is bad, and also to associate with others who do so. Both of these are seen in verse 1. Again, a crowd may be carried away by an evil report. We must not dare to follow the crowd. Nor must we speak in such a way as to advocate any perversion of justice. Verse 2 speaks of these two points. Even if we relax justice in favor of a person because he is poor, this is wrong, though we may think we are being kind (v.3). This would be approving evil, which we must never do at any time.
Verse 4 is again intended to try our honesty. Even if one is an enemy and we see his animal straying, the honest thing is to return it to him. Or if we know another person hates us and that person's donkey has too heavy a load, we are responsible to give what help we can (v.5), though it would be a natural inclination to ignore it. It is the same principle as found in Romans 12:20 : "If your enemy is hungry, feed him: if he is thirsty, given him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head."
Verse 6 gives the other side of the matter raised in verse 3. We must not dare to take advantage of a poor person to make him suffer wrongly. This is a common evil, of which James speaks in strongest terms (James 5:4). We must be on our guard always to avoid the slightest involvement in a false matter or in condemning the innocent or righteous (v.7). It is just as dishonest also to receive a bribe, for whatever cause it may be: if a righteous man does this, it will lead him to pervert his words (v.8). Finally, oppressing a stranger is also dishonesty, for we were once strangers and have been shown kindness by God. Honesty therefore would show similar kindness to strangers (v.9). All of these things, while written from the viewpoint of law, are still of real value in challenging us as to how honest we really are.
POSITIVE LAWS AS TO GOD'S SET TIMES
In contrast to the negative laws of the first nine verses, verses 10-19 speak positively as regards the attitude Israel was to show toward God. Just as there were six days of the week in which people were told to work, so they are told to sow their crops six years out of seven, and let the land lie fallow during the seventh year. Not only was this good for the land, but it would show consideration for the poor, who could come into another's property and take any volunteer produce that came up in spite of the land not being worked. This was to include vineyards and olive yards. All could be left without working them during the seventh year (vs.10-11). If the poor did not take what came up, it was still left for animals.
Again it is insisted that they were to work for six days only and rest the seventh day, -- Saturday, - and this rest included their servants and their animals (v.12). This was a gracious provision of God for their own benefit, not by any means a law that would oppress them. Yet obedience would show respect for God's authority, a matter insisted on in verse 13. They were not even to speak the names of idols, for such easy speaking may lead to an easy recognition of these things (v.13).
It was imperative that Israel keep a feast to the Lord three times in the year. There were more feasts (or set times) than these ordered for Israel (Leviticus 23:1-44), but the feast of unleavened bread (or the Passover) which was in the Spring, the feast of firstfruits, in the summer, and the feast of ingathering, in the fall, were times when all the males in Israel were required to appear before God (vs.14-17). Chapter 34:24 assured Israel that at those times, when the men were obedient to the Word of God, no one would desire their land, so that their wives and children would be in no danger. These feasts were kept at Jerusalem, the place the Lord chose to place His name (Deuteronomy 16:5-16).
This section ends with some serious stipulations. The blood of God's sacrifice was not to be offered with leavened bread, for leaven speaks of sin, and the sacrifice of Christ allows not the least toleration of sin, but is itself the total condemnation of sin (Romans 8:3). Also the fat of the sacrifice must not be left overnight: it must be burned as devoted entirely to God, for Christ's sacrifice is decisive: no question must be left as to its perfection and finality.
The first of their firstfruits were to be brought to the house of God, in acknowledgment that all was rightly His. Interestingly, however, when God's rights are first established, then our attitude toward others is immediately inferred in the injunction not to boil a kid in its mother's milk. For the spiritual significance of this is the most important. Mother's milk is intended to nourish the kid, not to boil it. Thus the milk of the Word of God (1 Peter 2:2) is to be used to nourish young believers not to boil them, or punish them. Let us be careful to use God's Word rightly, in kind concern for others, not as a whip for them.
IN VIEW OF FUTURE BLESSING IN THE LAW
The goodness of God is again seen in His promise in verse 20. He would send an angel before them, both to guard them and to guide them to the place He had ordained for them, the land of promise. For the Lord does not leave us to make our own way to heaven as best we can!
Yet Israel is warned that it would be no light matter for them to provoke the angel: they must have a spirit of submission and obedience, for they could not expect any pardon for their transgressions. This is of course the language of law, for they had promised to keep the law. If they did obey, then the Lord would be an enemy to their enemies and an adversary to their adversaries. Satan will not gain any advantage over us while we obey the Word of the Lord. The six nations mentioned in verse 23 are symbolical of different forms of spiritual evil that seek to seduce the saints of God from a path of true obedience to the Lord. If obedient, Israel could expect God's angel to cut off their enemies.
Israel was to give absolutely no recognition to the idols of these nations, nor compromise by following their example in anything (v.24), but rather reject and break down the pillars they considered sacred. This was essential if they were to really serve the Lord, and He would bless them in their daily life, preserving them too from sickness. Their women would not suffer miscarriages, nor be barren (v.26).
These conditional promises were given to Israel under law, not to the church of God today, for our blessings are spiritual, and connected with heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3). Godly people today may suffer illness and other afflictions such as this, as Epaphroditus was "sick almost unto death," not for disobedience, but for the sake of the work of Christ (Philippians 2:25-30). One reason for this is that the knowledge of Christ brings with it the living power to endure such things in a spirit of genuine faith and cheerfulness.
As Israel advanced toward their land, the fear of God would be imprinted on the hearts of their enemies, to cause them to retreat in confusion (v.27). Figuratively God would send hornets before them, small, insignificant things which yet cause people consternation. The Lord can use the smallest thing to scatter His enemies, just as He did in the case of defiant atheist who challenged God to meet him at a certain time and place to have a fight. When God did not appear, he went home to boast that he had proven God did not exist. But a tiny insect had bitten him at the place: he was poisoned and died soon after in acute pain.
Yet God would not drive out the enemies of Israel rapidly, for the land would become desolate if Israel took too long to take possession, and wild animals would increase in number (v.29). Wisely therefore God would gradually drive the enemies out until Israel was able to take full possession of their land. This reminds us that we do not learn all the truth of God suddenly. Rather, gradually, little by little, we enter into the value of the great blessings we inherit "in Christ." Though "all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" are the property of all true believers (Ephesians 1:3), yet it takes time to "possess our possessions."
The boundaries of Israel's land mentioned in verse 31 have never yet been possessed by Israel, but will be in the millennium. However, even though some of the enemies had not been driven out, Israel was not to make any covenant with those remaining, and was not to allow any to remain living in the land. The danger of adopting their customs was strongly warned against (v.33).
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Exodus 23". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany