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Exodus 23.1-19-Laws On Legal Justice, Sabbaths And Annual Festivals

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Journey Through The Bible Series: Exodus 23:1-19-Laws On Legal Justice, Sabbaths And Annual Festivals-Lesson # 25


Wenstrom Bible Ministries

Pastor-Teacher Bill Wenstrom

Sunday March 4, 2012

Journey Through The Bible Series: Exodus 23:1-19-Laws On Legal Justice, Sabbaths And Annual Festivals

Lesson # 25

Please turn in your Bibles to Exodus 23:1.

Exodus 23:1-9 contains laws with regards to legal justice and answers the question as to how one loves his neighbor as himself since they deal with interpersonal relationships among members of the nation of Israel.

Exodus 23:1 “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; 3 nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his dispute. 4 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. 6 You shall not pervert the justice due to your needy brother in his dispute. 7 Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or the righteous, for I will not acquit the guilty. 8 You shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just. 9 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.” (NASB95)

This pericope and specifically verses 1-2 elaborate upon the ninth commandment contained in Exodus 20:16, which prohibits the Israelites from bearing false witness against their fellow Israelite.

Verses 1-2 prohibit the Israelites from getting involved in character assassination by prohibiting them from spreading a false report about another Israelite, which means that they were not to spread gossip and hearsay.

In every dispute they were to hear testimony from both sides before coming to a judgment.

Even when appearances seem to confirm the charge, the Israelites were to wait until all the facts have been presented before making a decision.

They were not to judge another based on one person’s testimony.

Spreading a false report about someone would be extremely damaging to their community and would be a failure to love one’s neighbor as oneself.

It damages the community because it could influence what people thought about an individual so that they would relate differently to him than otherwise would have been the case.

It also could be damaging in the sense that when it came time for a person to testify in a case against someone, their attitudes toward the person could be prejudiced by the rumors and gossip and hearsay, which are falsely called “common knowledge.”

A false report could serve as the basis for wrongfully arresting someone and bringing them to trial when they were actually innocent.

False reports also would create factions in their community and clicks and divisiveness.

In verse 2, “the masses” would be better rendered “the majority” thus the Israelites were not to get involved in following the majority in doing evil to a person by bearing a false report about them so as to pervert justice.

They were not to be swayed by the majority in mistreating someone.

Unjustified malice or envy could make the defamation of the person’s character plausible for the majority to jump to the conclusion that they are guilty even before the case has been brought to court.

Verse 3 is a prohibition with regards to showing partiality to a person in a case because they are poor.

If the evidence and witnesses demonstrate their guilt, then they are to be judged guilty regardless if they are poor.

In verse 4, the Israelites are taught to love their neighbors by the instruction to return their enemies’ wandering donkey or ox to them and not let it wander away so that their enemy loses the animal.

The word for “enemy” is the participle form of the Hebrew verb ʾā∙yǎḇ (אָיַב) (aw-yab´), which means “enemy” in the sense of someone who is openly hostile toward you.

The natural sinful inclination of people is not to help someone who is hostile toward them.

However, the Lord wants the Israelites to treat their enemies the way they would want to be treated regardless of their enemy’s hostility toward them.

Verse 5 presents another instruction with regards to one’s enemies which if obeyed would manifest loving one’s neighbor as oneself.

If the Israelites saw their enemy’s donkey fallen under its load, they were not to ignore the donkey but to help the donkey.

In contrast to verse 3, which prohibited the Israelites from showing partiality to the poor, here in verse 6, we have the flip side where the Israelites were prohibited from being unjust toward a person because they were poor.

It would be easy and tempting to deny justice to the poor in lawsuits since they lack the resources to insure justice for themselves.

Also, the poor are less likely than the rich to have friends on a jury or to be on good terms with the judge on the case.

Since the poor have so little influence in a society it would be easy to withhold justice from them.

In verse 7, the Israelites are told to keep far from a false charge, which means that they were prohibited from getting involved in any way with a complaint against someone in a court case that is not entirely true.

Also, in verse 7 the Lord prohibits the Israelites from killing an innocent person or the righteous since He will not acquit the guilty.

This makes clear that those individuals who cause the death of an innocent person are guilty themselves by virtue of their unjust action.

This prohibition emphasizes with the Israelites the need to be conscientious in their legal processes and not to rush to judgment so that a person is wrongfully executed whom the majority assumes is guilty but against whom there is no overwhelming evidence of guilt.

The Lord in verse 8 prohibits the Israelites from taking a bribe because it blinds the clear sighted and subverts justice.

The power of the bribe is that it subverts justice and destroys personal integrity.

The Israelites are told by the Lord in verse 9 to not oppress strangers in their land because they themselves were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Thus, the Lord is telling them to remember that they were mistreated in Egypt as strangers and were not to practice the same mistreatment of strangers in their land.

This prohibition echoes the one taught in Exodus 22:21.

Exodus 23:10 “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. 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.” (NASB95)

In verses 10-11, the Lord commands the Israelites to sow their land for six years and gather in its yield.

However, on the seventh year they were to let the land rest so that the poor of the land may eat of it and whatever the poor leaves, their animals could eat.

This was to be practiced with their vineyards and their olives groves.

This sabbatical year reminded the Israelites that God owned the land and that they were merely stewards (cf. Leviticus 25:23) and is also taught in Leviticus 25:1-7.

Now, this sabbatical year command appears to have called for no crop farming every seven years throughout Israel, which would mean that everyone would take a year off farming.

However, Exodus 23:10-11 and Leviticus 25:1-7 do not actually state whether their was to be a nationwide stoppage on all farms for all crops at the same time or a system of staggered seven-year cessations for individual crops in individual fields.

Interestingly, the law on the Year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25:8-55 explicitly demands a nationwide observance at the same time by everyone in Israel.

However, Leviticus 25:1-7 does not explicitly demand universal compliance throughout Israel, which suggests that farmers were given the freedom to decide how to rotate or stagger the resting of their crops among their various fields, groves and vineyards.

Thus, farmers would be active every year whereas their fields, vineyards and groves would not be and also, the same amount of food would be produced every year.

One of the reasons for the Babylonian captivity was that the Israelites failed to observe the sabbatical year since they were deported from the land for seventy years in order to give the land rest (cf. 2 Chronicles 36:20-21; Deuteronomy 15:1-3).

In Exodus 23:12, the Lord reminds the Israelites to observe the Sabbath meaning that they were to work six days of the week but rest on the seventh day, which echoes Exodus 20:8-11.

Exodus 23:13 echoes Exodus 20:3 and also expands upon it in the sense that it adds the prohibition against even mentioning any other gods but Yahweh.

Exodus 23:14 “Three times a year you shall celebrate a feast to Me. 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. 16 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. 17 Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord God. 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. 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.” (NASB95)

In Exodus 23:14-19, we have a discussion with regards to three annual festivals which the Israelites were to observe.

Exodus 23:14 makes clear that no one was exempt from attending these three festivals.

Now, in Exodus 23:15, the Israelites are told to observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the month of Abib (March-April) about the time of the barley harvest (cf. Exodus 12:17).

In verse 16, they were commanded to observe the Feast of Harvest in the spring at the beginning of the wheat harvest when the firstfruits of the crops were to be given to the Lord.

The Feast of Harvest or Weeks or Pentecost was the second national festival in Israel and took place fifty days after the Passover Sabbath (Ex. 23:16; 34:22; Lev. 23:25-21; Num. 28:26-31; Deut. 16:9-12).

Lastly, also in verse 16, they were commanded to observe the Feast of Ingathering in early autumn (September-October), which is also called Tabernacles.

It was designated the Feast of Weeks which celebrated the wheat harvest in Israel and was a one day feast of celebration.

It was originally the festival of the first fruits of the grain harvest (Ex. 23:16; Lev. 23:17-22; Num. 28:26-31).

It was called the Feast of Weeks because it came after a period of seven weeks of harvesting that began with the offering of the first barley sheaf during the Passover celebration and ended with the wheat harvest.

In Exodus 23:17 the Lord teaches the Israelites that all their males should appear three times a year in order to worship at these three feasts.

They were to worship with grain and animal offerings and an offering was to be without yeast on the altar when it was consumed.

Exodus 23:18 prohibits the Israelites from offering the blood of the animal sacrifice with unleavened bread, nor were the fat of the animal to remain overnight until morning, which is related to pagan rituals, which God would not allow the Israelites to practice.

In the ancient world people knew that when the blood was drained from the animal that the animal would die.

They thus concluded and they were right that the life of an animal is in its blood and so these ancient people would drink the blood of the animal in an attempt to prolong or strengthen their lives.

The Lord who gives and prolongs life forbid the Israelites from engaging in such practices (cf. Leviticus 3:17; 7:26; Deuteronomy 15:23).

The following prohibition in Exodus 23:18 prevented the Israelites from letting the fat of the animal remain overnight until morning.

Leviticus 3:16-17 presents a more comprehensive statement with regards to the Lord’s teaching here in Exodus 23:18.

This prohibition is directly related to worshipping God in the manner in which He prescribes.

All the fat of the animal was to be the Lord’s portion forever.

The fat portions of the animal were separated from the meat with muscle and were to be presented as burnt offerings to the Lord on the altar.

If a person tried to keep them for any other purpose than for the Lord, then they were failing to worship Him in a manner prescribed by Him.

Keeping the fat until morning would be withholding from the Lord that which is His and would be making God wait for His portion, which is disrespectful.

Exodus 23:19 teaches them to bring the firstfruits of their crops and give them to the Lord, which teaches the Israelites to give the Lord their best from their crops, which would honor Him.

This command prevented the Israelites from cheating God.

God deserved the best of their crops because He is responsible for giving them their crops and their productivity.

The prohibition in Exodus 23:19 to not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk occurs three times in the Pentateuch (Exodus 34:26; Deuteronomy 14:21), which is also directly related to pagan rituals.

In the Canaanite fertility religion, they believed that cooking a young goat in its mother’s milk would magically stimulate the power of nature to procreate, thus producing a stronger flock or would somehow make the flock more fertile.

To engage in this practice would be dangerous for the Israelites because it could lead them to conclude that the productivity of their flocks was not directly tied to the blessing of the Lord but rather was tied to these magical practices of this fertility religion.

Thus, this prohibition is designed to protect the Israelites from engaging in such pagan practices which would direct thanksgiving away from God and toward the gods of the Canaanite religion.

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