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Justice, Judgment, Mercy & Truth — Exodus Chapter 23

This blog post will cover the devotionals #131-142 for Exodus Chapter 23.

**Pictures will be added at a later date.

Please note that this devotional book WILL SOON be for sale as a physical (paperback) &/or digital (PDF) book on my website.

[#131] Exodus 23:1

In devotional #128, we learned about the proper way to act towards a judge/ruler. Now, we’ll see how the witnesses were instructed to act. Verse 1 says that you must not raise a false report, which Strong’s Concordance defines as a ‘rumor’. It also says not to put your hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. In devotionals #105 and 115, we discussed slander, which blankets more than we realize. Commandment #9 says “You must not bear false witness.” Yet, it’s done repeatedly in thoughtless conversation about even God’s workers. Envy, evil thoughts, and evil speech are all seeds that germinate to produce a like-harvest to be gathered by their planters. That’s why I see Galatians 6:7 with new eyes. It says, “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked: because whatever a man sows, he will also reap.” In other words, sowing lies (slander) about God (mocking Him) will only result in a harvest of iniquity and wickedness for oneself (see Job 4:8). Psalm 35:11-16 discusses a man being accused by false witnesses about things he knew nothing of, rewarding his good with evil, and spoiling his soul. He’d been in sackcloth—fasting and praying for them when they were sick—mourning as a friend or brother. Yet, in his adversity, they rejoiced and gathered against him to tear and gnash at him with their teeth. This sounds an awful lot like Jesus, doesn’t it? Verse 26 goes on to say, “Let them that rejoice at my hurt be ashamed and brought to confusion together: let them that magnify themselves against me be clothed with shame and dishonor.” God still uses the laws of the land to restrain the rulers and people. Much greater suffering would occur under Satan’s control without laws. There are laws to hold the corrupt responsible for their actions. Many have no trouble lying to men but understand that it’s unwise to lie to God. Like Ananias and Sapphira—there were many people in Scriptures who were allowed to die, even while still speaking their false oath—to show others how fearful a sin it is. Thus, lying to others (especially while swearing on God) is lying to God, who knows all. That's why our laws make lying under oath a major criminal offense. Even atheists must place their right hand on the Bible in court and swear and are held legally accountable for lying under oath. When you’re lying (especially in cohort with others), it’s almost impossible to keep your story straight (recall the false witnesses in Jesus’ trial). If there’s anyone that can testify under oath with consistency, it’s a [true] Christian. We discussed, in devotional #92, how the third commandment is commonly seen as just using God’s name in a profane way, but that’s not all that it meant. The Jews felt that way, but believed they could use other oaths freely—and did it commonly. Moses forbade false swearing, but they had their ways of excusing themselves from an oath’s obligations, using technicalities to evade the law. They had no problem gratifying themselves in profanity, and they didn’t shy away from lying under oath if they could cover it up with a technical loophole. This form of oath-taking is what Jesus condemned. He didn’t forbid using judicial oaths, where God is solemnly named a witness. We may swear, using God as our witness, that we're speaking nothing but the truth—when called on to testify lawfully, if truly necessary. Even Christ submitted to testify under oath in His own trial (Matthew 26:63, 64): “I adjure You, by the living God, to tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” He said, “You have said.” This proves that what Jesus condemned in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:33-37) concerning oath-taking wasn't related to judicial oaths. Otherwise, He would’ve rebuked the high priest for doing so to reinforce His teaching to His followers.

[#132] Exodus 23:2,3,6-8

Verse 3 says not to countenance a poor man in his cause. ‘Countenance’ is defined by Strong’s Concordance as ‘be high / proud’ and is used here as a verb. Yet, we most often see it used as a noun ('face or facial expression'). Consider the beggar at the ‘Beautiful’ gate of the temple who was approached by Peter and John. Imagine, when they called upon him to look at them, how his countenance must’ve lifted as he fastened his eyes on them, believing they’d give him alms—and just as quickly fallen when they revealed their own poverty. Yet it must have lifted higher than ever before when they offered him something only Someone above them could’ve provided. Now imagine a judge in the position to grant justice to a poor man—and how he could either lift the man’s countenance, or make it fall, based on how he exercised justice. Verse 6 says, “You must not wrest the judgment of your poor in his cause.” Verse 2 says not to speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment. ‘Cause’ here is defined as ‘controversy’, and ‘decline’ and ‘wrest’ are both defined by Strong’s Concordance as ‘stretch’, ‘bend (including moral deflection)’, etc. It seems the point being made is that one shouldn’t take part in controversy, especially to stretch / bend the truth. We can understand this better by looking at the same thing done with Scriptures. We wrest (distort) a text from its true meaning and force it to support preconceived ideas. Combining unrelated texts doesn’t prove one’s stance at all because they’re taken out of context—yet it’s a method used to deceive people, exalting error and diminishing truth. People who distort Scriptures to sustain error dishonor God greatly and will be held responsible for the disobedience of those they deceived. This must fall under the umbrella of the false witness discussed in devotional #131. Furthermore, verse 7 says to distance yourself from a false matter, and not to slay the innocent and righteous—because God won’t justify the wicked. People look to them for justice and judgment, but they use their power to afflict them. By pursuing selfish desires, they misrepresent the truth, oppress their people, and make their life harder. Yet, sin has its consequences, even for church members. Verse 8 says not to take a gift (‘bribe’), as it blinds the wise, and perverts the words of the righteous. Strong’s Concordance defines ‘pervert’ here as ‘subvert’, meaning ‘to undermine the power and authority of (an established system or institution)’. Synonyms include ‘destabilize’, ‘overthrow’, ‘bring down’, ‘destroy’, etc. Judges are bound to do justice, but corrupt judges cause the system to work against itself. Matthew 12:25, Mark 3:25, and Luke 11:17 state that ‘a house divided against itself cannot stand (falls), and every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation’. The judges and the judged were all part of the same tribe / nation. Unjust judgment would be the division of the nation against itself. Thus, in Exodus 23:8, God was showing what the results would be if they accepted bribes. Christ declared woe to all who transgress God’s law. Deuteronomy 16:18-20 summarizes these concepts well. In devotional #131, we discussed witnesses testifying under oath. This is the oath of a judge (at least today, in the USA): “I do solemnly swear that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me…”

[#133] Exodus 23:2

Verse 2 says not to follow a multitude to do evil. What does that mean? While choosing to be singular (‘odd’, ‘unique’, etc.) just for the sake of being so does not make you dignified, there’s no reason to be afraid of singularity if duty to God requires it. If worshiping God alone—and avoiding sinning / dishonoring Him—makes us singular (and thus, divinely dignified), then it’s simply what distinguishes the pure / righteous from the impure / unrighteous. Just because God’s law is made void today by men, and the multitude prefers the sinful path, doesn’t mean breaking His law is virtuous, or that we should do it too (just to avoid being ‘singular’). Don’t worry about the multitude against you—even if they call you singular. Do what’s right in God’s eyes. Joshua 24:15 says, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” And Proverbs 10:9 says, “He that walks uprightly walks surely.” There are seven verses in the Bible that discuss God’s ‘peculiar’ people (often relating to them as a ‘peculiar treasure’), including 1 Peter 2:9. “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” We often hear the comparison between the large crowd that sang praises to Christ as He rode the donkey, and how the same people became a large crowd that cried for Jesus to be crucified. It seemed that the people would just follow the crowd, regardless of their actions and principles. Even Peter acted a different way to avoid looking peculiar during Jesus’ hour of trial. Strong’s Concordance defines ‘follow’ (in verse 2) differently than we might’ve thought—to ‘breathe’, ‘exist’, or ‘be[come]’. Psalm 27:12 says that ‘false witnesses have risen up against me, and those that breathe out cruelty.’ 2 Corinthians 3:18 tells us that by beholding, we become changed. You may start out following just to blend in, but pretty soon you’ll find you’ve become the same.

[#134] Exodus 23:4,5,9

We can see that God urged acts of kindness, even towards strangers and personal enemies. Heaven wishes to cooperate with men to relieve the oppression and suffering of others. Verse 9 says not to oppress a stranger because they know the stranger’s heart since they themselves were strangers in Egypt. God’s providence brought both the priest and Levite on the road where the wounded Jew laid suffering. He wanted them to see and help him. Would they pity the woes of humanity? God’s directions through Moses instructed that even beasts of burden should be shown mercy in their lack of ability to express their needs and sufferings. Verses 4, 5 say that if you find your enemy’s ox or ass straying, you should bring it back to him. Likewise, if you see the ass of the person that hates you lying beneath his burden, and you’d refrain from helping him, you must help him anyway (see also Deuteronomy 22:1-4). Yet, the wounded man was not a mere animal—but a brother. ‘How much better / more valuable are you than the fowl and the grass?’ (see Luke 12:24-28). The men should’ve been that much more inclined to pity and help him than they would an animal. They were familiar with the stories of Job welcoming the stranger into his home, and Lot urging the angels to stay in his house. However, these principles were not a practical aspect of their lives. The bigoted lessons they learned from the priests and teachers were very different from the lessons the Hebrews learned from Christ Himself in the pillar of cloud and fire. Thus, they were selfish and exclusive. Because they couldn’t tell what nation the wounded man was from, they decided not to help in case he might be a Samaritan. The lawyer with whom Jesus shared this story claimed that the two men still hadn’t gone against the laws’ requirements, as they had laws about touching the unclean, etc. Like we saw in devotional #131, they used technicalities from Scriptures and their own laws that excused them from their duties as Christians. As we saw in devotional #125, God loved the fatherless, widow, and stranger, and commanded that His people should do the same, and ‘love him as yourself’. Many people who claim Christ’s name have lost sight of their duty to represent that name. Without practical self-sacrifice for the sake of others in all areas of our community and travels, we’re not Christians—regardless of what we profess. Christ continued by presenting the third man to come across the sufferer. A Samaritan saw and had compassion on him. He didn’t hesitate at the idea that (#1) the man could be a Jew or that if their roles were reversed, the Jew would spit in his face and pass him by, or (#2) he might be in danger himself by lingering in that area. All he knew was that a man was suffering and in need, and he removed his own clothing to cover him, used his own oil and wine to heal and strengthen him, and gave up his spot on his own beast to carry the man at a slow and steady rate to prevent further suffering. He brought him to a safe place and tenderly watched and cared for him through the night, and when he was better enough in the morning, he went on his way—but not without first ensuring the innkeeper would care for him—covering the costs, and leaving a deposit, as well as a promise to make good on any extra expenses the wounded man incurred. Thus, the man—who was both a stranger and a national enemy to the Samaritan—was still treated as a neighbor (one of his own people). Jesus’ question to the lawyer about who was a neighbor to the man in need proved that kindness isn’t just due to someone within our church, faith, race, class, etc.—but to anyone who needs our help—anyone who has been hurt by our common enemy—anyone who belongs to God.

[#135] Exodus 23:10-12

Verses 10-12 discuss not only the weekly Sabbath, but a Sabbath of years. “You will sow your land for six years, and will gather in the fruits of it: but the seventh year, you will let it rest and lie still; so the poor of your people may eat: and what they leave, the beasts of the field will eat. In like manner, you will deal with your vineyard, and with your olive yard. You shall do your work for six days, and on the seventh day, you must rest: so your ox and ass may rest, and the son of your handmaid and the stranger may be refreshed.” We’ve looked at the Sabbath a lot throughout our devotionals, but specifically at the fourth commandment concerning the Sabbath in devotionals #93-95. We saw the purpose of the weekly Sabbath rest, but we can now see the principle being applied to the soil. Considering how we’re instructed not to labor (do any income-generating or spending business) on the weekly Sabbath, we can also see the same principle on the Sabbath of years—where the gains of the seventh year (the fruit that came up on its own) are not meant to benefit ourselves—but others (the poor, the fatherless, the widows, the strangers, and the animals). There’s no need to be concerned—with running out of provision or missing out on gains—by keeping the Sabbath. It’s backed by a promise, just as with tithing. Malachi 3:10, 11 says, “‘Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, so there may be meat in My house, and prove Me now with it’, says the Lord of hosts, ‘if I will not open you the windows of Heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there will not be enough room to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he will not destroy the fruits of your ground, nor will your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field’, says the Lord of hosts.” If there was not to be expected any harvest or vintage—and each year they did sow, the land produced just enough to supply their needs—then how would they get by the seventh year? Leviticus 25:19-22 shows the ample provision God would make for them in their seventh year—just as He did with the manna on the sixth day to provide for the seventh day each week. God would bless their land the sixth year, so that it’d produce enough fruit for three years. Thus, they’d sow the eighth year (the first year of the new seven-year cycle) and have enough to eat until the ninth year, when the land’s fruit would come in. Not only was the sabbatical year a blessing for the poor and animals, but also for the land and people. The land would be untilled for a year to produce more plentifully the following year. The people wouldn’t have to till and toil, and would have time to regain strength, enjoy leisure, focus on teaching and training their households, and draw closer to God through prayer, meditation, and study. This was the same year the slaves were to be set free, which we learned about in devotional #111. Thus, they, too, would find rest after years of labor. The poor would also be released from debt (and the stress of it) in that same year (see Deuteronomy 15:9). They called it ‘the year of release’ (which Deuteronomy 31:10 refers to as ‘solemn’). So, as we just saw with Sabbath-keeping, they shouldn’t fear coming to want by giving liberally to those in need. Deuteronomy 15:6 says, “You will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow…”

[#136] Exodus 23:14-19 (Part 1)

God appointed yearly feasts in which all the nation’s men were to gather before Him at the Sanctuary with their thank offerings and the first fruits of His bounties. Shiloh was where they first gathered for the feasts, but when Jerusalem became the worship center for Israel, the tribes gathered there for their solemn feasts. They were to keep three feasts every year: (#1) ‘The feast of unleavened bread’ or ‘the Passover’ / (#2) ‘The feast of harvest’, or ‘the feast of weeks’, or ‘the Pentecost’ / (#3) ‘The feast of ingathering’, or ‘the feast of tabernacles’, or ‘the feast of booths’. The different names can be found throughout Scriptures, including Deuteronomy 16:16, 17 and 2 Chronicles 8:13. We’ll discuss the three feasts in greater detail in devotionals #137 and 138, but let’s get an overview here. In two passages, God said that none should appear before Him empty. Every man was to give what he was able, according to what God had blessed him with. As we mentioned in devotional #129, the first of their lands’ first fruits were to be brought into the house of the Lord. Furthermore, instruction was given that a kid (young goat) was not to be seethed (boiled) in his mother’s milk (also stated in Exodus 34:26 and Deuteronomy 14:21). There’s a lot of speculation about the reason for this instruction. It’s the verse the Jews cite as their foundation for not eating meat and milk (dairy) together—and thus, one standard interpretation of the verse (though I won’t go into their different reasonings and guidelines for this here). One Jewish philosopher believes it may have something to do with the mixing of the two in idolatrous feasts. What’s really interesting about this instruction though—as mysterious as it may be on its own—is its placement within the topic of harvesting first fruits. Further speculation—combined with later archaeological discoveries—suggests a likely reason for the instruction. There was a pagan practice in which a kid was cooked in curds (milk), and the substance was ‘magically’ sprinkled upon the fields and trees to secure a fertile harvest the next year. It was related to a heathenistic ritual performed by one of their gods and his two wives (that had something to do with ‘the field, the field of the gods, the field of Athrt and Rhm’—in other words, it was related to the harvest). Since Israel had just come out from among countless heathen practices in Egypt—and this was either something they saw, or would see elsewhere—it was likely one more thing that God was trying to show them was falsehood. They weren’t to depend upon ridiculous pagan rituals to ensure bountiful harvests, but upon God Himself. Likewise, they were to depend upon Him for protection. Israel was surrounded by fierce, warlike tribes that were keen on taking possession of their land—but God called all able-bodied men to leave their home and gather somewhere else for their three annual feasts—leaving Israel vulnerable to (and almost blatantly inviting) attack, seizure, and captivity. Yet, they could go in faith of God’s promise to protect them. Psalm 34:7 says, “The angel of Jehovah encamps around them that fear Him, and delivers them.” Thus, while they went to worship, their enemies would be divinely restrained. As we’ll see in Exodus 34:24, God specifically promised them, “I will cast out the nations before you, and enlarge your borders: nor will any man desire your land, when you go to appear before the Lord your God three times a year.”

[#137] Exodus 23:14-19 (Part 2)

(Feast #1) ‘The feast of unleavened bread’, which we learned was also called ‘the Passover’ (see also Luke 22:1), is where they’d eat unleavened bread for a week in the month, Abib (late March, early April). We discussed this at length in devotionals #47, 49, and 58. He reminded them that the blood of His sacrifice was not to be offered with leavened bread, and the fat (or ‘feast’, as Exodus 34:25 calls it) of His sacrifice was not to remain until the morning. This was to be done as a memorial of their deliverance and exodus from Egypt, and as a reminder of their greater deliverance from sin to come at the cross. The trips were made in short sections on foot, and small groups of travelers would grow to large parties. By that time, the winter chill was past, the latter rain was over, and nature was fresh, beautiful, green, and bright with spring grass and wildflowers. As they neared the full moon, the evenings were lovely. They had much to feel grateful for as they journeyed to praise God for their deliverance from bondage, and they sang great choruses as they marched along. The first and seventh days were a holy convocation, in which no work was done, and the second day is when the first fruits of the year’s harvest were presented before God. Palestine’s earliest grain was barley, which would begin to ripen at the start of the feast. The priest would wave a sheaf of this grain (the first fruits) before God’s altar to acknowledge that everything belonged to Him. The harvest wasn’t to be gathered until this ceremony took place. Fifty days later (seven weeks), they celebrated (Feast #2) The feast of harvest’—the first fruits of their labors—which they’d sown in the field. Exodus 34:22 clarifies that it was the first fruits of the wheat harvest. It was also called ‘the Pentecost’ or ‘the feast of weeks’, and Deuteronomy 16:9-12 tells us more about it. They were to count seven weeks (fifty days) from the day that they started putting the sickle to the corn (at ‘the feast of unleavened bread’). They would keep the feast with a tribute of a freewill offering of their hand, which they’d give to God, according to how much He had blessed them. And they’d rejoice with their households and the neighbors, strangers, and poor among them—and remember that they were bondmen in Egypt. This feast was done out of gratitude for the grain they used to make their food—thus, they baked two loaves with leaven and presented them before God. Though called ‘the feast of weeks’ (likely for the seven weeks they had to count up to it), ‘Pentecost’ only lasted a single day, and was dedicated to religious service. In devotional #138, we'll learn about the third and most important feast of the year.

[#138] Exodus 23:14-19 (Part 3)

(Feast #3) The feast of ingathering’ was in the end of the year, when they’d gathered in their labors out of the field. It’s commonly referred to as ‘the feast of tabernacles’, and has quite a few more references in Scriptures. In fact, it was the crowning festival of the year—as the land had yielded its increase, the harvests were gathered, the fruits, oils, and wines were stored, the first fruits were reserved, and the people had come to offer their thank offerings to acknowledge God for richly blessing them. Leviticus 23:34-43 says that it'd start the fifteenth day of the seventh month, and last seven days after their corn and wine were gathered in (Deuteronomy 16:13). The first day was to be a holy convocation (a Sabbath) in which they’d do no servile work. They’d make an offering by fire to God for seven days. Ezra 3:4 mentions that the burnt offerings were made with different animals by certain numbers each day—mingled with specific ingredients, which are detailed precisely in Numbers 29:12-38. The eighth day would be another holy convocation (Sabbath), in which they’d make an offering by fire in a solemn assembly—where they’d do no servile work (see more in Leviticus 23:37, 38). On the first day, they’d fetch beautiful tree boughs (from olive, pine, and myrtle trees), palm tree branches, thick tree boughs, and brook willows from the mountain (see Nehemiah 8:14-18) and rejoice before God. It was called ‘the feast of tabernacles’ or ‘the feast of booths’ because all that were born as Israelites would dwell and sit for seven days in booths / tabernacles (huts, tents, pavilions, etc.) made from the branches. It was commemorative of their past pilgrim, wilderness life, so they’d never forget that they dwelled in booths when God brought them out of Egypt, but also pointed forward to the great day of final ingathering, when the Lord of the harvest will send His reapers to gather the wheat into His garner. The feast was mainly a time to rejoice. It came just after the Day of Atonement, where they’d received assurance that their sins were forgotten, and they could come before God in peace to thank and praise Him for His goodness and mercy. Their work was over for the year, and they were carefree and free to enjoy in the sacred, happy hours. While only the men were required to attend the feasts, all were encouraged to be present—including the servants, Levites, strangers, and poor. All would be invigorated at these feasts to serve God, and associating with people from across the land would strengthen the ties that bound them to God and each other. We should likewise celebrate God’s blessings to us in providing for, and separating us from, the darkness and error of the world. In keeping with this, we can further see that this feast appears to have particularly great importance, as Zechariah 14:16-21 discusses a day when all nations (including those that came against Jerusalem) would go up yearly to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and keep the feast of tabernacles. Those who wouldn’t come up to Jerusalem to represent each family of the earth and worship the King would receive no rain—and thus, would be smitten with a plague. It describes the new condition under which everyone will be an ‘Israelite’—no longer a Canaanite in the house of the Lord—every horse bell and pot will be ‘HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD’—as the bowls before the altar. The rivers of blood that flowed from the large numbers of animals sacrificed each day were designed to teach an important truth. Not only are we indebted to Christ’s offering on the cross for salvation from sin, but also for the blessings of the earth provided to sustain us. Everything we receive from Him is the gift of His redeeming love. Likewise, those who were once against Christ are also included in His redemptive sacrifice, and are now called God's children.

[#139] Exodus 23:20-23,25,26

Verses 20-26 talk about the One who would watch over and guide them in the midst of their enemies, and it gives conditions for this protection. He is referred to as an angel, but the title’s capitalized, so we know this isn’t just any angel (Exodus 32:34 references Him similarly). Exodus 14:19 talks of the angel of God who went before and behind Israel in the pillar of cloud and fire at the Red Sea, etc. We learned, in devotional #72, that this was the Son of God. There are other Scriptures in which this Angel is mentioned. In Genesis 48:16, Jacob mentions the Angel that redeemed him from evil (likely referring back to his wrestle with the man—Whom we learned, in Genesis devotional #144, was Christ Himself). Exodus 23:20, 21 says, “See, I send an Angel 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, because He will not pardon your transgressions: because My name is in Him.” The versions of ‘keep’ and ‘beware’ used here have the exact same meaning, defined by Strong’s Concordance as ‘guard, protect, attend to, take heed to, observe, preserve, regard, watch’ and etc. In other words, if you attend to Christ, He will attend to you. Watch / observe and take heed of Him, and He will watch over, preserve, and regard you. We’ll look closer at the second part of verse 21 in devotional #140, but it continues with the warning not to provoke Him because He won’t pardon your transgressions, because God’s name is in Him. Strong’s Concordance defines ‘provoke’ as ‘make bitter, grieve, vex’. There are other times the Bible uses these types of words in connection with God. Ephesians 4:30 says, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, whereby you are sealed unto the day of redemption.” Similarly, 1 Thessalonians 5:19 says not to ‘quench’ the Holy Spirit. Genesis 6:3 says that His Spirit wouldn’t always strive with man (and their lives would be shortened as a result) because man was so sinful (we learned much about this in Genesis devotional #42). Thus, grieving or quenching has to do with limiting the work that God can do on one’s behalf. Israel was warned not to provoke (grieve) Him, and still, Psalm 78:40, 41 recounts of them, “How often did they provoke Him in the wilderness, and grieve Him in the desert! Yes, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel.” In devotional #142, we’ll touch on what happened when Israel tempted / provoked God (Numbers 14:21-23 says that those men—who saw His glory and miracles in Egypt and the wilderness but didn’t hearken to His voice and provoked / tempted Him ten times—wouldn’t see something they’d long hoped for.). Verse 22 says that if they would obey His voice and do everything God said, then He would be their enemies’ enemy, and their adversaries’ adversary. His Angel would go before them, and bring them in to the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites, and Jebusites, and God would cut them off. As we’ll see in devotional #141, verse 24 addresses how God expected them to relate to their enemies’ gods. Thus, when He goes on to discuss the rest of the conditions and results in verses 25, 26, we can see undoubtedly that not worshipping their gods has a major role in serving God, and having Him bless their bread, water, and health. This included the healing of sicknesses, prevention of miscarriages and barrenness, and the assurance of their longevity. I love that verse 26 says, “I will fulfill the number of your days,” because we saw earlier that man’s sinfulness and disobedience cut their days short—but here, God says that their obedience would lengthen their lives. God’s promises show the physical / mental happiness He would provide along with the spiritual blessings if they’d obey His law.

[#140] Exodus 23:21

God had to continually remind Israel that it wasn’t Moses who was leading them through the wilderness and providing for them—but Christ. In Numbers 20:10-13, the people again murmured against Moses—who’d faithfully pointed the responsibility of their exodus to God, and had long dealt patiently with their murmurings and even assassination attempts. Moses had been instructed to talk to the rock. This was to represent how the living Rock, Christ, was to be smitten once for us—and man must speak to Christ and ask to obtain the living water from him. However, Moses’ impatient response to their complaints this time took God’s glory to himself, “…must we fetch you water out of this rock?” and he smote the rock twice. His words and actions implied that the miracle was done by Moses (man) and not the One who was leading and providing for them. By entertaining that idea, it only reinforced in Israel’s minds that it was him that did it before. These principles forced God to do what had to be done to finally settle the case in the minds of Israel, once and for all, that it was indeed God, and not Moses, that had taken them from Egypt. For their mistake, Moses and Aaron wouldn’t be permitted to enter the Promised Land. While it seems unreasonable to man that Moses’ ‘light sin’ resulted in such a harsh punishment, it was necessary. God had repeatedly forgiven Israel for much graver sins against His name, but He had chosen and exalted Moses as the leader for His people. He’d been permitted to see God’s glory and had an intimate knowledge about Who God was. God spoke to Him as friends do, and He also spoke to Israel through him. Lucifer’s sin was much less forgivable than similar sins committed by man because of His direct, intimate knowledge of God’s character. Likewise, Moses’ sin was much greater because of his own knowledge and nearness to God, and for the responsibility God had laid upon him to point Israel to God. So, God was speaking directly to Moses as well, when He said in Exodus 23:21, “Beware of him, and obey His voice; do not provoke Him; because He will not pardon your transgressions: because My name is in Him.” While Moses represented God’s name (character), only Christ could rightfully claim God’s glory. It also showed them that it wasn’t justifiable for leaders to act out of impatience when greatly provoked (as verse 21 says sin under provocation won’t be pardoned by Him who holds God’s name / title). Moses humbled himself before God, and openly confessed his deep repentance and sorrow for his great sin. Though he was forgiven, his consequence remained—and it was to show the people that God was no respecter of persons—and that prior faithfulness didn’t cover one new sin. When good men sin, it’s especially offensive to God because Satan and unrighteous men lord it over God’s angels and righteous men that His chosen instruments have failed. Moses explained to Israel that his failure to credit the glory to God was the reason for his consequences. Moses then cooperated with God in clarifying His purpose for banning Moses from Canaan. He asked the people to consider how God would respond to them continuing to blame Moses for the consequences of their own sins if he himself (God’s greatly honored servant) had such a great consequence for his own sin.

[#141] Exodus 23:13,24,31-33

In devotional #136, we discussed the seemingly random-placed instruction to not boil a kid in its mother’s milk, and the likely heathen custom connected with that. Now let’s go more into how God expected His people to act concerning their enemies’ gods. As we saw, in devotional #139, God used two apparently unrelated words (‘keep’ and ‘beware’) that have the same meaning. In verse 13, He uses another word that’s also defined exactly same way: ‘circumspect’. He said to be circumspect in everything He had said to them. He connected that with making no mention of the name of other gods—not even letting it be heard from their mouths. I imagine He wanted to avoid them dwelling on the character of the false gods, and thus avoid being changed by ‘beholding’ (2 Corinthians 3:18). Romans 8:29 says that those that love God were foreknown and predestined by Him to be conformed to His Son’s image, so it should come as no surprise that God would instruct them to do the opposite with false gods. Exodus 23:24 says that they weren’t to bow down to, serve, or do the works of the gods of their enemies—but to instead overthrow them and break down their images. God was trying to drive home the importance of His character being reproduced in us. In Genesis 1:26, 27, God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image after Our likeness.’ We saw, in devotional #89, that commandment #2 says not to make any graven images or any likeness of anything in Heaven, on Earth, or in the water, nor to bow down to them. Romans 1:23 says that they changed the glory (which we know is another interchangeable word with ‘name’ and ‘character’ in Scriptures) of the uncorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man, birds, beasts, and creeping things. This is the image that God told them to break down. Refraining from idol worship wasn’t enough. They’d prove their disgust of idolatry (and their allegiance to the truth) by also overthrowing the idols of other nations. God should be the only object of His peoples’ worship, and when they overcome their heathen neighbors—not one of their idolatrous images should be preserved—regardless of how expensive and beautiful they are. Israel had been exposed to idol worship in Egypt, and failing to destroy the meaningless things might tempt them to admire them to some extent. God wanted Israel to know that He would use them to destroy the gods of the heathen nations because their idolatry prompted great wickedness. He would put His people in Canaan to curb the surge of evil from flooding the rest of the world. He would’ve conquered much greater nations than that and would've 'spread their boundaries from the Red Sea all the way to the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert to the river.' However, Israel chose a life of ease and indulgence and missed their opportunity for conquest—and thus, lived long with the remaining heathens as a thorn in their side. The image of God and the image of false gods cannot dwell together, just as we’re told (in James 3:10-12) that blessing and cursing shouldn’t come from the same mouth any more than sweet and bitter waters cannot come from the same fountain—and more importantly, believers and unbelievers aren’t to be [unequally] yoked because righteousness / light have no fellowship or communion with unrighteousness / darkness (as seen in 2 Corinthians 6:14). Thus, He also instructed them not to make any covenants with even their enemies—let alone their false gods. He was very clear that they weren’t to dwell in the land together (which is why He would drive them out), because their influence could cause Israel to sin against God. Serving their gods would become a snare to them. We’ll look closer at this in Exodus 34.

[#142] Exodus 23:27-31

In devotional #139, we saw God’s promise to send His Angel to protect and provide for them if they would keep the conditions laid out. If we look at verses 27-31, we can see what He would do concerning their enemies (which we touched on in devotional #141). God said He would send His fear before them and ‘destroy’ those to whom Israel would come, and make all their enemies turn their backs to them. Destroy seems like a heavy word here, but looking at Strong’s Concordance, we can see that the bulk of the definitions used have more to do with annoyance (‘disturb’, ‘vex’, ‘trouble’, ‘agitate’, ‘drive [out]’ etc.). What I find interesting, though, is that some of the other definitions (such as ‘put in commotion’, ‘make an uproar’, and ‘make a loud sound/hum’) seem to really coincide with the next verses, which says how He would accomplish His task. “I will send hornets before you, which will drive out the Hivite, Canaanite, and Hittite from before you. I will not drive them out from before you in one year, otherwise the land would become desolate, and the beast of the field would multiply against you. I will drive them out from before you little by little, until you have increased, and inherit the land. And I will set your boundaries from the Red Sea all the way to the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert to the river: because I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand; and you will drive them out before you.” So, we can see that God didn’t mean He would actually destroy the people living in the land He promised to Israel, but that He would allow a terrible pest to come and bother them until they couldn’t take it anymore, and they’d all leave gradually. Deuteronomy 7 uses similar wording (‘destroy’, ‘put out’, etc.), but Strong’s Concordance remains consistent in their true meanings, as we saw earlier. Not only would this be more reasonable for them, but it’d also ensure that the land would be maintained good and well for Israel to step in and enjoy—and so the beasts wouldn’t multiply and outnumber them when they arrived (Deuteronomy 7:22). Just as God didn’t plan to destroy the heathens, He didn’t expect Israel to destroy or even try to push them out. Thus, it’s very interesting that Israel decided to send twelve men to spy out the land to see if they’d be able to take it (Numbers 13). Furthermore, when they returned, all but two of them (Joshua and Caleb) gave an ‘evil report’, saying that they couldn’t go up against the people because they were stronger than Israel, and of great stature—and that the land eats up its inhabitants. The first part created a massive murmuring, discouragement, and fear among Israel—despite God’s promise to drive them out with bees, and everything He had done up to that point to help them overcome their enemies. The second part (how the land ‘eats up’ its inhabitants) was completely contradictory, as they’d just spoken to the beauty of the land and the bounty it provided. When God responded that He would no longer take them into the Promised Land, until all over twenty years of age (except the two faithful spies) had died in the wilderness (which would take forty years)—they claimed they’d sinned and were now ready to go in and take the land as God had previously instructed (Numbers 14). Moses warned them not to go because God would no longer go with them and protect them, but many went anyway, and were attacked by the Amalekites and Canaanites there. Yet, even throughout their forty years of wandering in the wilderness, God stayed true to His covenant to bless the obedient of His people.

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