Read Exodus 23
Laws of Justice and Mercy
1 “Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness.
2 “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, 3 and do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit.
4 “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. 5 If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it.
6 “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits.7 Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty.
8 “Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent.
9 “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.
10 “For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, 11 but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what is left. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.
12 “Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and so that the slave born in your household and the foreigner living among you may be refreshed.
13 “Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips.
The Three Annual Festivals
14 “Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me.
15 “Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread; for seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Aviv, for in that month you came out of Egypt.
“No one is to appear before me empty-handed.
16 “Celebrate the Festival of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field.
“Celebrate the Festival of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field.
17 “Three times a year all the men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord.
18 “Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast.
“The fat of my festival offerings must not be kept until morning.
19 “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.
“Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.
God’s Angel to Prepare the Way
20 “See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.21 Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him. 22 If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you. 23 My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out.24 Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. You must demolish them and break their sacred stones to pieces. 25 Worship the Lord your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, 26 and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span.
27 “I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their backs and run. 28 I will send the hornet ahead of you to drive the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites out of your way.29 But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. 30 Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land.
31 “I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the desert to the Euphrates River. I will give into your hands the people who live in the land, and you will drive them out before you. 32 Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods. 33 Do not let them live in your land or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you.”
Another day, another set of instructions for the Israelites to live by. So far, we have seen God outline the expectations for everything from property, to sexuality, to how to properly borrow something from a neighbor. This chapter begins by talking about justice and ends with God essentially re-affirming His commitment to the Israelites. This chapter, along with the few preceding it, give us tremendous insight into Israelite culture as they were trying to navigate life beyond slavery.
There’s an interesting thread that flows throughout this chapter, beginning in verse 2, where it says, “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong.” Later on, there are warnings of what can happen when you worship the gods of others (verses 24 and 32). Clearly, God was concerned that the Israelites would fall victim to peer pressure and turn their backs on Him.
Who we surround ourselves with matters. This is a theme that prevails throughout the story of Scripture. Proverbs 13:20 says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” It’s easy to follow the crowd. It’s easy to do whatever everyone else is doing. It takes boldness and courage to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord.
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that our citizenship here on earth is temporary. When we idolize status or possessions, when we make gods out of money or acclaim, we’ve simply given in and followed the crowd. We have let the world around us dictate success, when instead God has laid out His expectations for us. We need to surround ourselves with people who will help us love God more, spur us on towards love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24), and help us chip away at the parts of us that don’t look like Christ.
What instructions or laws stuck out to you the most when you read this chapter? Why?
Are you more of a leader or a follower? How have you seen that play out in your own life?
What gods do you find yourself following the crowd to worship? How can you remove those false gods from the pedestal on which you have placed them?
Did You Know?
The instructions regarding oxen and donkeys (v. 4-5) read like a precursor to Jesus’ teachings of loving your neighbor as yourself. The expectation is clear: We are to treat those around us with kindness and grace, regardless of how you feel about the person.