Book of Exodus Chapter Twenty-Three Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Worship The Lord In Truth
God's laws for Israel were tailor-made for that nation of 3,500 years ago and they continue into this chapter. Verses 1-2: "You shall not bear a false report; do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. 2 You shall not follow the masses in doing evil, nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice;" and these verses apply to you and me right now. We are to tell the truth, in court and in all of life. We are to follow God; not follow the "masses in doing evil." And note that when the masses believe something, they all too often believe in a lie. Many college professors teach that chance produced God's Creation. And out of that system of unbelief, millions incredibly think it's OK to kill unborn innocent children on the ground they are just "tissue," not human like the rest of us. We believe in the Lord, but not because it's popular to do so. Note Verse 3: "nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his dispute." We are not to back a rich man because of his money and we don't lie for a "poor man" either. As Jesus said, "let your 'Yes' be 'Yes' and your 'No,' 'No' (Matthew 5:37). In your words, in your life, tell the truth.
A lot of people think the Old Testament is "old" and has been replaced by the "new," which is untrue. The Old Testament contains the New within these ancient, historical pages. When the Book of Exodus was written, revenge was the norm. If somebody did you wrong, you got them back, as much as possible. Centuries later, Jesus taught: "love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you..." (Matthew 5:44). The basis of His words were right here in Exodus 23:4-5: "If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him. 5 If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release it with him." God has always overcome evil with good, and He expects us to do it, too.
Most people think that if someone dresses well in the current style and is popular, they are likely to be a better person (more likely to tell the truth), but God does not agree. Verse 6: "You shall not pervert the justice due to your needy brother in his dispute." The issue here is truth, which is not merely about our opinion of what someone looks like, to us or the majority of others. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." He is the truth, and He continued, "No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6). It is expected that we will go to the Lord and pray about our decisions, actions and statements, and not pervert justice, as in Verse 7: "Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or the righteous, for I will not acquit the guilty." You may think someone is at fault to the point where you might alter the truth about them, but beware if you do, for God will not "acquit" those who bring a "false charge" against others.
God's laws for the nation continue, and many of these laws pertain to a place they did not yet occupy, providing rules for a way of life most of these listeners would never experience, for they would not survive this wilderness journey. Verse 8: "You shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just." Many politicians and judges make the news for misusing public funds. Then was like now and we should all read these laws with great interest, particularly if we're in a position of authority. And how do you feel about "foreigners" living in your land? Verse 9 reveals God's thoughts about them: "You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt." The alien, the homeless...God loves them and He expects you and I wll treat them with kindness whenever possible. We are not different races—we are the human race, and as such, we are to regard everyone we meet as close relatives, which they actually are.
And now as to the land this people did not yet occupy in Verses 10-12: "You shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, 11 but on the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the needy of your people may eat; and whatever they leave the beast of the field may eat. You are to do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove. 12 Six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female slave, as well as your stranger, may refresh themselves." The idea of letting farm and grazing land lie fallow every few years was introduced through God's laws to the nation Israel. It would have seemed uneconomical to them and many would have been concerned about this law. The whole concept of "rest" is alien to many because we want to accomplish as much as possible while we can. But do you see why these laws are necessary? They help us recognize that God is our Creator who deliberately made us to be weak enough to need food and rest, accompanied by beings around us that need rest as well. As we go to God with our lack of understanding and our weaknesses, He reveals our greatest need: to have faith in the Lord and demonstrate His love.
Israel was surrounded by nations and tribes that worshipped a variety of so-called "gods" which were not "godly" in any way. The true God knows that individuals among His people are gullible and He continued to warn us all in Verse 13: "Now concerning everything which I have said to you, be on your guard; and do not mention the name of other gods, nor let them be heard from your mouth." God intends to protect you, just like He did this people in the wilderness, and it's amazing how often we resist Him and His purposes for our lives.
In Verse 14: God said, "Three times a year you shall celebrate a feast to Me." Three feasts were to be mandatory for all adult men of Israel, initially at the Tabernacle in the wilderness and subsequently in the Temple after the conquest of Jerusalem. The first requirement is here in Verse 15: "You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread; for seven days you are to eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the appointed time in the month Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. And none shall appear before Me empty-handed." The "Feast of Unleavened Bread," already revealed in Exodus 13:3-10, was to be at the beginning of the barley harvest in the month of Abib (Nisan), commemerating the Exodus from Egypt. Everyone had to bring a free will offering to this feast.
The second mandatory event is in Verse 16, and it is the "Feast of the Harvest," also called the "Festival of Weeks," set in the beginning of summer after the wheat harvest, later defined as commemorating the giving of the Law: "Also you shall observe the Feast of the Harvest of the first fruits of your labors from what you sow in the field; also the Feast of the Ingathering at the end of the year when you gather in the fruit of your labors from the field." The third feast is also in that verse, called the "Feast of the Ingathering," later called "Pentecost," set in the month of Tisri, when all the crops would be gathered. And note that these laws were presented at a time when Israel did not yet have fields, crops or harvests. From God's vantage point, the past and the future are today. Verse 17 is a reminder that attendance was mandatory: "Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord God." ALL with no exceptions.
Much like wearing a cross reminds us that God sacrificed His Son for our sins, these feasts were a reminder to Israel that God Himself delivered them miraculously from the slavery of Egypt, as continued in Verse 18: “You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leavened bread; nor is the fat of My feast to remain overnight until morning." The Exodus from Egypt and the meal eaten in haste, were to be reminders that it isn't our clever handling of things that will save us, but instead it's God who brings us through. That's what all our ceremonies and rituals are all about—we are to remember what the Lord has done and TRUST in Him, today and forever.
Verse 19: "You shall bring the choice first fruits of your soil into the house of the Lord your God. You are not to boil a young goat in the milk of its mother." God saved Israel through the nation's faithful response to His command to substitute an unflawed animal in the place of their firstborn. This verse commemorates His salvation and their faith. They were to give the "first fruits" of the crops they would grow in Canaan, out of "soil" they did not yet possess. And all this looks ahead to the Messiah, to Jesus Christ, who "appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (Hebrews 9:26). The "young goat" in Verse 19 was the firstborn of its mother and is a reminder that the first of everything we have belongs to God.
The "angel" (messenger) of Verses 20-23, would lead Israel through the wilderness before them and beyond, into the land of Canaan. Here are God's words in those verses: "Behold, I am going to send an angel before you to guard you along the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. 21 Be on your guard before him and obey his voice; do not be rebellious toward him, for he will not pardon your transgression, since My name is in him. 22 But if you truly obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries. 23 For My angel will go before you and bring you in to the land of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will completely destroy them." Note that the promise of God's help was based on the obedient faith of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, along with Moses who was now imparting these verses to the people. And faith is what will save you and me: "Without faith it is impossible to please (God), for he (or she) who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:9). Do you have faith in the Lord? If so, there is "an angel before you" who is guarding you and bringing you to safety, right now and at all times.
Verse 24 is clear: "You shall not worship their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their deeds; but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their sacred pillars in pieces." We are not to worship money, or power, some person, a drug or a cause. Our focus is the Lord. He will be with us forever. The things of this world are a distraction.
To serve the Lord is to have faith that His intentions and abilities are greater than ours. The next verses are outward blessings for the nation Israel, but ALL who have faith in the Lord receive His incredible mercy, now and in eternity. Verses 25-27 were God's sure prophesy for that wilderness nation: "But you shall serve the Lord your God, and He will bless your bread and your water; and I will remove sickness from your midst. 26 There shall be no one miscarrying or barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days. 27 I will send My terror ahead of you, and throw into confusion all the people among whom you come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you." They would have all the provisions of life, "sickness" was to be gone for them—they would live long, healthy lives. And God would fight for them. If you have ever been in a fight, Verse 28 will be appreciated: "I will send hornets ahead of you so that they will drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites before you." When you are up against a person or people too great for you, it will be helpful if a swarm of bees suddenly attacks them—and that's what God did for Israel.
God sees subtleties in our future that we wouldn't expect. Verses 29-30 report, "I will not drive them out before you in a single year, that the land may not become desolate and the beasts of the field become too numerous for you. 30 I will drive them out before you little by little, until you become fruitful and take possession of the land." The delays in God's answers to our needs and prayers has a point—solving one problem can lead to another and His delays spare us more than we know.
If your Bible contains maps, take a look at the nation Israel. God's intention for that nation is to extend from deep in Egypt to deep into Iraq. That certainly is much more land than Israel has today or anything they ever had. But God will make it so, as seen in Verse 31—"I will fix your boundary from the Red Sea to the sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the River Euphrates; for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you will drive them out before you." To the "Red Sea," includes the Sinai Penninsula in Egypt. The "sea of the Philistines" is the Mediterranean Sea and the "River Euphrates" places their intended eastern border across Iraq to Iran. God has bigger and better intentions for His faithful ones than anything we expect.
Here's a bigger problem than the enemies to come seen in Verse 28: We tend to copy and adopt the customs and ways of the people around us, and verses 32-33 explain why Israel was to have sole possession of the land—"You shall make no covenant with them or with their gods. 33 They shall not live in your land, because they will make you sin against Me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you." Idolatry was banned in the Laws of Exodus 20 and it is seen right here: We should look at our associations, for we can easily be swayed by them. We are to faithfully worship the Lord and Him alone.
Father, restrictions on our lives confuse us. Yet we have seen Your deliverance. I recognize that the difference between what I see and what I don't see reveals my need for faith. I place my faith in You. Thank You for receiving—even me. In Jesus Name. Amen.