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Scripture reading – Exodus 23

The instructions that gave practical applications of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) continued in Exodus 23. As noted in the prior devotion (Exodus 21-22), you will recognize in today’s Scripture the foundational principles of civil society.

A Demand for Judicial Integrity: Justice for All (Exodus 23:1-3)

The ninth commandment stated, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (20:16). For justice to be fair and impartial, God’s Law demanded that Israel’s judges be above reproach and intolerant of any who would pervert justice (23:1-9). Therefore, a witness was commanded to state the truth and not bring a false accusation against an innocent man in a judicial matter, nor should a witness’ lie spare the guilty their due punishment (23:1-2). There was one law and one standard, and neither the poor nor the rich were granted a charitable judgment or spared the weight of the Law (23:3).

Blind, Compassionate Justice: “Love thy enemy.”  (Exodus 23:4-5; Matthew 5:43-44; Romans 12:20)

Exodus 23:4-5 challenged man’s natural bent for vengeance when wronged and commanded God’s people to show kindness and grace even to an enemy. Understanding Israel was chiefly an agricultural nation throughout its history, the illustration of returning an ox or ass to its owner (even if he was an enemy) is practical and easily applied in our modern day. Essentially, God’s people are to offer aid and not sit by idly when they know an enemy is struggling or has suffered a loss.

Justice for All (Exodus 23:6-9)

Exodus 23:6-9 returned to judicial matters and the demand for impartial judgment. Under God’s Law, the poor were not to be denied representation or justice (23:6), and judges were to see that righteous judgment prevailed (23:7). Judges were not to be bribed (23:8), and non-Hebrews (“strangers”), were to be judged fairly (23:9).

The Sabbath Year (Exodus 23:10-12)

Emphasizing the significance of “Sabbath Rest” (20:8-11), Israel was commanded to observe a “Sabbath Year.” Every seventh year the land was to remain fallow (not to be plowed), and crops were not to be planted (23:10). The land was to rest, and if seeds volunteered and grew to bear fruit, the poor and the “beast of the field” were given liberty to eat (23:11). For both man and beast, the Sabbath was to be observed as a day to rest and “be refreshed” (23:12).

Three Feasts (or Festivals) were Observed by Israel (Exodus 23:14-19)

Israel was commanded to observe three annual festivals (23:14-19). First, there was the “feast of unleavened bread” and the Passover (23:15, 18), commemorating the Passover in Egypt when the LORD spared the firstborn of Israel. The “feast of the harvest,” known as Firstfruits and later celebrated as Pentecost, was observed at the beginning of harvest (23:16a). At that time, the first fruits of the harvest were offered to the LORD (23:19a). Finally, there was also the “feast of the ingathering,” that was observed at the end of the harvest season (23:16b), and was a time of thanksgiving.

Three Promises (Exodus 23:20-28)

The LORD made three promises to Israel, whose fulfillment was conditioned upon the people hearing and obeying His Law and Commandments (23:20-28). First, He promised to “send an Angel” before the nation to “keep [Israel] in the way, and to bring [the nation] into the place which [God had] prepared” (23:20). (I think that this “Angel” was a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ.) The LORD promised that if Israel obeyed the “voice” of the Angel, He would fulfill His covenant and “be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries” (23:22).

Secondly, the LORD promised His “Angel” would protect Israel, and “go before” the nation and cut off those nations that occupied the land of Canaan (23:23). The Angel would give Israel protection (23:23), provisions (23:25), and posterity (i.e., future generations; 23:26).  Unlike other nations that adopted and sacrificed to the gods of the land they conquered; Israel was to destroy the idols of the Canaanite people (23:24).

Finally, God promised to set the boundaries of the land He covenanted with Abraham (23:31). He warned Israel that the people were not to befriend or make any covenant with the Canaanites they conquered or worship their gods. Furthermore, the LORD admonished that the heathen “shall not dwell in thy land, lest they make thee sin against me: for if thou serve their gods, it will surely be a snare unto thee (23:33).

Closing thoughts:

Although it is rarely preached in the pulpit nor practiced in the pew, the principle of radical separation is found throughout the Scriptures,

Israel was admonished to drive the heathen out of the land. Should they fail, the children of Israel would invariably adopt the sins of their neighbors (23:33). Tragically, that same truth is all too evident in today’s churches. In his first letter to believers in ancient Corinth, Paul exhorted, “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Corinthians 15:33). In his second letter to the same church, Paul admonished, “Wherefore come out from among them [the unsaved], and be ye separate” (2 Corinthians 6:17a).

Israel was called to separate from the heathen they conquered and to destroy their gods. So, too are believers to separate and distance themselves from the ungodly, lest we become like them! We are commanded and exhorted, “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2).

Questions to consider:

1) How did the Law illustrate God’s demand that His people have compassion for an enemy? (Exodus 23:4-5)

2) What were the Israelites not to do during the Sabbath year? (Exodus 23:10-12)

3) What were the three feasts Israel was commanded to observe yearly? (Exodus 23:14-19)

Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith

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