Judgments: Exodus 21-23

Exodus 21‑23  •  42 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Exodus 21-23
In this section are contained the various “judgments” or statutes which God gave to govern His people in their various relationships. It will scarcely be necessary to expound these minutely, though the significance and bearing of each class may be indicated. They afford a striking view of the care of God for all that concerned the walk and ways of His people; and if penalties are attached to the breach of these different laws, it is only in accord with the dispensation which had now been established.
The first relates to the Hebrew servant.
“If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing. If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself. And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the doorpost; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him forever” (vss. 2-6).
We have in this Hebrew servant a beautiful and expressive type of Christ. The point to be observed is, that having served six years, he should “go out free for nothing” (vs. 2). But if his master should have given him a wife during the time of his servitude, and sons and daughters were born to him, then his wife and children should belong to his master, but he should go out by himself; and the only way by which he could retain his wife and family was by becoming a servant forever. The typical application of this to Christ is most interesting. He took the form of a servant (Phil. 2); He came to do God’s will (Heb. 10); not to do His own will, but the will of Him that sent Him (John 6:3838For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. (John 6:38)). He served perfectly His full allotted period, and might therefore have gone out free. As He said to Peter, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” (Matt. 26:53-5453Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? 54But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? (Matthew 26:53‑54)). (Matt. 26:53-5453Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? 54But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? (Matthew 26:53‑54)). There was no necessity, as far as He was concerned, that He should go to the cross; no necessity whatever, excepting from the constraint of His own heart, and from His desire to accomplish the glory of God, and to obtain His bride, the pearl of great price. Why, then, did He permit Himself to be nailed to that shameful cross? to be led as a lamb to the slaughter? He was free before God and man. None could convince Him of sin. He stood absolutely free; and hence we ask again, Why did He “not go out free” (vs. 5)? Because, we reply, He loved His Master, His wife, and His children, and therefore would become a servant forever. His “Master” had the supreme place in His soul, and He served with a holy desire to glorify Him on the earth, and to finish the work which He gave Him to do; He loved His wife—the Church—and gave Himself for it; and He was bound by the same ties of immutable affection to His children—His own, considered individually—and therefore He would not go out free, but presented Himself to His Master that He might serve Him forever. His ear was thus bored—sign of service (compare Psa. 6 with Heb. 10:55Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: (Hebrews 10:5))—in token of His abiding position. He will consequently never cease to be the Servant. He serves His people now at the right hand of God (see John 13); and He will serve them in the glory itself. He Himself says, “Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord, when He comes, shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that He shall gird Himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them” (Luke 12:3737Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them. (Luke 12:37)). This picture therefore combines the lowly service of Christ on earth with the service He carries on, now that He is glorified, at the right hand of God, and will forever carry on for His people throughout eternity. It reveals at the same time the matchless grace and the unfathomable love of His heart, which thus led Him to take and to retain this position. And how wondrous it is that His affection should associate the Church with His “Master.” “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free” (vs. 5). Blessed Lord, Thou host thus linked Thine own, through the might of Thy love, with Thy God and Thyself forever!
The next paragraph contains directions as to a maidservant that has been sold by her father.
“And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do. If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her. And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters. If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish. And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money” (vss. 7-11).
Though she might “not go out as the menservants do,” yet God in His tenderness carefully guarded her rights in the position occupied. The tendency is only too often apparent to treat those who are entirely subject and dependent according to changing moods and caprice. This was not to be. If her master changed his mind, and she became evil in his eyes (see margin), she should have the option of redemption. She must not be degraded in her service, nor could he sell her to a strange nation. By his deceitful dealing he had forfeited rights which otherwise he would have possessed. Whether betrothed to his son, or to himself, her rights were carefully maintained; and if these were neglected, in case he took another wife, then she should be absolutely free. Thus, in His compassionate love, the Lord surrounds His weak and defenseless ones with laws to secure for them equitable and considerate treatment.
Offenses, to which the penalty of death is attached, are next introduced. “He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death. And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee. But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbor, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from Mine altar, that he may die. And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death. And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death. And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death” (vss. 12-17).
The case of murder is first dealt with. This is no new enactment. To Noah God had said, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made He man” (Gen. 9:66Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man. (Genesis 9:6)). At the hand of every man’s brother would He require the life of man. Man therefore was made his brother’s keeper, and God protected him whom He had made in His own image by the most solemn penalty which He could exact; for life belongs to Him, and hence he could not suffer another to trench upon His prerogative. Thus when Cain slew his brother Abel, the Lord said unto him, “What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground” (Gen. 4:1010And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground. (Genesis 4:10)). For willful murder there was no release from the penalty, even though the murderer might have fled for protection to God’s altar. (See 1 Kings 2:28-3228Then tidings came to Joab: for Joab had turned after Adonijah, though he turned not after Absalom. And Joab fled unto the tabernacle of the Lord, and caught hold on the horns of the altar. 29And it was told king Solomon that Joab was fled unto the tabernacle of the Lord; and, behold, he is by the altar. Then Solomon sent Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, saying, Go, fall upon him. 30And Benaiah came to the tabernacle of the Lord, and said unto him, Thus saith the king, Come forth. And he said, Nay; but I will die here. And Benaiah brought the king word again, saying, Thus said Joab, and thus he answered me. 31And the king said unto him, Do as he hath said, and fall upon him, and bury him; that thou mayest take away the innocent blood, which Joab shed, from me, and from the house of my father. 32And the Lord shall return his blood upon his own head, who fell upon two men more righteous and better than he, and slew them with the sword, my father David not knowing thereof, to wit, Abner the son of Ner, captain of the host of Israel, and Amasa the son of Jether, captain of the host of Judah. (1 Kings 2:28‑32).) He must die. There is no countenance in the Word of God for the modern philanthropic movement for the abolition of capital punishment. It substitutes indeed human ideas in the place of God’s primeval law. In fact, it exalts man over God. The directions given by our Lord, in the “sermon on the mount” (Matt. 5:38-4838Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: 39But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. 41And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. 42Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. 43Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. 44But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 45That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. 46For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? 47And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? 48Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:38‑48)), apply only to the relationships of the fellow subjects of His kingdom, and not to those existing between man and man, and in no way therefore set aside the precept given to Noah.
An exception is made. “If a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee” (vs. 13) (Compare Deut. 19:4-54And this is the case of the slayer, which shall flee thither, that he may live: Whoso killeth his neighbor ignorantly, whom he hated not in time past; 5As when a man goeth into the wood with his neighbor to hew wood, and his hand fetcheth a stroke with the axe to cut down the tree, and the head slippeth from the helve, and lighteth upon his neighbor, that he die; he shall flee unto one of those cities, and live: (Deuteronomy 19:4‑5); indeed the whole chapter.) If we apply these statutes to the action of the Jewish nation against Christ, remembering how they did “lie in wait,” and that they at length succeeded by bribery and artifice in securing His apprehension and condemnation, it might seem as if there were for them no possible escape. But our Lord Himself prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:3434Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots. (Luke 23:34)); so that God in grace, if they repent, on the ground of this intercession, will impute ignorance to them, and appoint them a city of refuge for escape and safety. Hence Peter, when preaching to them, said, “I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers” (Acts 3:1717And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers. (Acts 3:17)). Grace thus can relieve from the penalty of the law, on the ground of the atonement for sin that was wrought out by the death of Christ.
Both smiting and cursing father or mother (vss. 15, 17) incurred the same penalty. Thus God established by the holy sanctions of His law parental authority; and demanded for it the reverential regard of children. Disobedience to parents is given as one sign of the perilous times of the last days (2 Tim. 3:22For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, (2 Timothy 3:2)), fully showing the value in the eyes of God of the subjection of children to their parents. For, indeed, it is God’s authority they represent., and hence is absolute in its character when used for God, demanding implicit and unconditional obedience. (See Deut. 21:18-2118If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: 19Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; 20And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. 21And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear. (Deuteronomy 21:18‑21); Eph. 6:11Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. (Ephesians 6:1); Col. 3:2020Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. (Colossians 3:20).) Hence the gravity of the sins here specified. But if smiting and cursing earthly parents deserve death, how much greater the sin of open-handed rebellion against God!
Man-stealing, and man-selling, slavery in fact, as still practiced in many parts of the world, had also the penalty of death (vs. 16). Man may be a sinner, and yet, notwithstanding God’s claims upon him, claims too which must be met ere he can be delivered, he is of such value in the sight of God, that his liberty must be sacredly respected by his fellow man. How marvelous that, with such a scripture, slavery in its worse forms—stealing, selling, and holding; men as mere chattels—could be upheld, even within the recollection of the present generation, by professed followers of Christ!
In the next paragraph are found offenses against the person with their specified penalties.
“And if men strive together, and one smite another with a stone, or with his fist, and he die not, but keepeth his bed: if he rise again, and walk abroad upon his staff, then shall he that smote him be quit: only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall cause him to be thoroughly healed. And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money. If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye’s sake. And if he smite out his manservant’s tooth, or his maidservant’s tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth’s sake” (vss. 18-27).
Two things only need be noted, leaving the details for the reader himself. The first is, that all these enactments reveal the tenderness of God in protecting the bodies of His people—and specially of those occupying a subject position. The second is, that we find here the true character of law. Grace is absent. It is eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth. Our blessed Lord especially cites these provisions to point out their contrast with grace.
He says, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt. 5:38-3938Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: 39But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:38‑39)) (Matt. 5:38-3938Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: 39But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:38‑39)). On the ground of law an exact equivalent is demanded—no more, and no less; but grace can remit every claim; for dealt with in grace ourselves, our whole debt remitted, we must act on the same principle in our relationships with one another. Be it, however, never forgotten, that the foundation of grace itself is laid deep in righteousness, and hence it reigns through righteousness (Rom. 5:2121That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:21)), having thus been established upon an everlasting and immutable basis.
The responsibility of the owner for the acts of his cattle is then laid down. “If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be quit. But if the ox were wont to push with his horn in time past, and it hath been testified to his owner, and he hath not kept him in, but that he hath killed a man or a woman; the ox shall be stoned, and his owner also shall be put to death. If there be laid on him a sum of money, then he shall give for the ransom of his life whatsoever is laid upon him. Whether he have gored a son, or have gored a daughter, according to this judgment shall it be done unto him. If the ox shall push a manservant or a maidservant; he shall give unto their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned. And if a man shall open a pit, or if a man shall dig a pit, and not cover it, and an ox or an ass fall therein; the owner of the pit shall make it good, and give money unto the owner of them; and the dead beast shall be his. And if one man’s ox hurt another’s, that he die; then they shall sell the live ox, and divide the money of it; and the dead ox also they shall divide. Or if it be known that the ox hath used to push in time past, and his owner hath not kept him in; he shall surely pay ox for ox; and the dead shall be his own” (vss. 28-36).
It will suffice again to indicate that the same principle of righteous equivalent also obtains in these directions. Even the death of the owner, as well as the ox, is enjoined if there had been a guilty knowledge of the propensity of the animal, and he had made no provision to guard against it (vs. 29). How vividly it brings before our minds the truth taught by our blessed Lord, that even the hairs of our heads are all numbered. Everything is provided for, and every relationship, with their various breaches, adjusted in harmony with the righteous government under which Israel was now placed. There is one particular that should not be unnoticed. The manservant, or the maidservant, was priced at thirty shekels of silver. It is to this the prophet Zechariah refers: “And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver” (Zech. 11:1212And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. (Zechariah 11:12)). It is Christ who is thus set forth who was betrayed for thirty pieces of silver (Matt. 26:1515And said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver. (Matthew 26:15)). Such was man’s estimate of the value of God manifest in flesh, of the only begotten of the Father!
In the next place (Ex. 22), we have the law of restitution in cases of theft. “If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. If a thief be found breaking up, and he smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him. If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be bloodshed for him; for he should make full restitution: if he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. If the theft be certainly found in his hand alive, whether it be ox, or ass, or sheep; he shall restore double. If a man shall cause a field or vineyard to be eaten, and shall put in his beast, and shall feed in another man’s field; of the best of his own field, and of the best of his own vineyard, shall he make restitution. If fire break out, and catch in thorns, so that the stacks of corn, or the standing corn, or the field be consumed therewith, he that kindled the fire shall surely make restitution. If a man shall deliver unto his neighbor money or stuff to keep, and it be stolen out of the man’s house; if the thief be found, let him pay double. If the thief be not found, then the master of the house shall be brought unto the judges, to see whether he have put his hand unto his neighbor’s goods. For all manner of trespass, whether it be for ox, for ass, for sheep, for raiment, or for any manner of lost thing, which another challengeth to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges; and whom the judges shall condemn, he shall pay double unto his neighbor. If a man deliver unto his neighbor an ass, or an ox, or a sheep, or any beast, to keep; and it die, or he hurt, or driven away, no man seeing it: then shall an oath of the Lord be between them both, that he hath not put his hand unto his neighbor’s goods; and the owner of it shall accept thereof, and he shall not make it good. And if it be stolen from him, he shall make restitution unto the owner thereof. If it be torn in pieces, than let him bring it for witness, and he shall not make good that which was torn. And if a man borrow ought of his neighbor, and it be hurt, or die, the owner thereof being not with it, he shall surely make it good. But if the owner thereof be with it, he shall not make it good: if it be an hired thing, it came for his hire” (Ex. 1-15).
Zacchaeus refers, without doubt, to this provision of the law (vs. 1) when he said to the Lord, “If I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold” (Luke 19:88And Zaccheus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. (Luke 19:8)). As in the previous chapter we saw how God guarded the life and the persons of His people, we perceive in this how He protected their property, and made all who disregarded His law answerable to Himself. But the question for our souls is, If robbing a fellow man is thus condemned, how can the sin be met of robbing God? How can those who are already sinners make restitution to Him? It is impossible; and if left to ourselves we must forever have remained under the consequences of our trespasses. But we read in the Psalms of One who said, “Then I restored that which I took not away” (Psa. 69:44They that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of mine head: they that would destroy me, being mine enemies wrongfully, are mighty: then I restored that which I took not away. (Psalm 69:4)). He was the trespass-offering as well as the sin and burnt-offerings. He has therefore made full and adequate restitution (we can say, if we believe) for all our trespasses. There is not a single breach which could be laid to our charge which He, in His wondrous grace and mercy, has not repaired. This brings before us a very blessed aspect of His death. In the chapter the offender had himself to make restitution. We could not do this, and had there been no substitute for us—no one to restore to God that which He had not, but which we had, taken away, we must have forever been answerable to His claims—forever answerable, but having nothing to pay. The more therefore we remember this, the more shall we magnify the grace of Him who of His own will answered to God for us, so that He can righteously acquit us from every claim, yea, and as righteously bring us into the unclouded light and joy of His own presence. Blessed be forever His most holy name!
We now pass to injunctions of another kind. The first of these refers to carnal desire (vs. 16). The guilt is supposed here to attach mainly to the man—not, however, excepting the woman from her share. But man cannot lightly sin, and act as if he had not sinned, especially in the way here mentioned. Hence he incurred the obligation of endowing her to be his wife. The principle is laid down by Paul. “Know ye not,” he says, “that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith He, shall be one flesh” (1 Cor. 6:1616What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh. (1 Corinthians 6:16)). For the same reason our blessed Lord taught, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Matt. 19:99And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. (Matthew 19:9)). What a comment upon human laws which permit divorces upon other grounds—to the utter neglect of the wisdom of God, and which at the same time betray the most complete ignorance of the fundamental relationships between man and woman. While therefore we are bound to obey the powers that be, when they are not in conflict with the authority of God, the law of the land cannot be the guide of the conscience of the believer or of the church.
“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” (vs. 18). The essential idea of a witch was commerce with spirits, which finds its counterpart in the spiritualism of the present day. Hence in Leviticus she is described as “a woman that hath a familiar spirit” (Lev. 20:2727A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them. (Leviticus 20:27)). The witch of Endor is the exemplification of her kind; for we read that Saul went to her and said, “I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring him up whom I shall name unto thee” (1 Sam. 28:88And Saul disguised himself, and put on other raiment, and he went, and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night: and he said, I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee. (1 Samuel 28:8)). This is the very thing that spiritualists profess to do—to bring the inquirer into communion with departed spirits. Like Saul, unable to obtain communications from God, they seek information concerning things unknown and unseen through the agency of spirits. It is in fact a turning from God to Satan. The whole system, whether in Israel or our own day, is Satanic. A witch therefore was to be destroyed; and this shows the utter antagonism of her vocation to God; and the spiritualism now in vogue is no less hateful, and, if persisted in, no less destructive to souls.
Two sins are then named to which is attached the penalty of death. The first is that of the flesh—and of the flesh in its most horrible and revolting form. The second is idolatry. God could not suffer the acknowledgment among His own people of any god beside Himself. It would be a denial of His own claims and authority, and the subversion of the very foundations of His relationship with His people; and on their part it would be the denial of His true character, and the rejection of His absolute sway. The worship of the true God, and of false gods, could not therefore coexist. The apostle thus says, “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils” (1 Cor. 10:20-2120But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. 21Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils. (1 Corinthians 10:20‑21)). The acceptance of false gods amounts to a rejection of the true God. Hence, on the other side, when the Thessalonians were converted, it is said of them, “Ye turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God,” (1 Thess. 1:99For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; (1 Thessalonians 1:9)) and so forth (1 Thess. 1:99For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; (1 Thessalonians 1:9)).
Tenderness and compassion are then inculcated in several cases. “Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless. If thou lend money to any of My people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury. If thou at all take thy neighbor’s raiment to pledge, thou shalt deliver it unto him by that the sun goeth down: for that is his covering only, it is his raiment for his skin: wherein shall he sleep? and it shall come to pass, when he crieth unto Me, that I will hear; for I am gracious” (vss. 21-27).
The stranger comes first, and the remembrance of what they had been in the land of Egypt was to govern their conduct toward such. They had been in bitterness of soul through hard bondage when under the iron yoke of Pharaoh, and they could therefore enter into the feelings of those who were strangers in a strange land. The helpless are next commended to their hearth; and of all the helpless ones that appeal to our compassion, surely the widow and the fatherless have the first claim. God thus surrounds them here with the powerful defense of His own arm. If any should afflict them, they should be killed and their wives and children should become widows and orphans. Throughout the whole of Scripture these two classes are ever indicated as the special object of God’s care, and hence should be objects of our compassionate concern. James accordingly says, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father, is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:2727Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. (James 1:27)). The two following directions concern the poor—the first, to save him from extortion as well as to prevent the rich from making gain of his poverty; and the second, to secure him from destitution and nakedness. These laws, spite of the fact that the children of Israel were now governed from Sinai, permit us to see into the depths of the heart of God. What inexpressible tenderness in the provision that a pledged garment should be given up “by that the sun goeth down: for that is his covering only, it is his raiment for his skin: wherein shall he sleep? and it shall come to pass, when he crieth unto Me, that I will hear; for I am gracious” (vss. 26-27). The heart of God must be expressed by His people, and He is touched by the sight of one who has nothing to cover his body when he lies down to sleep!
Respect for constituted authorities is also enjoined: “Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people” (vs. 28). The term “gods” evidently is here used of authorities, or judges, as in margin. (See John 10:34-3534Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? 35If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; (John 10:34‑35).) The Apostle Paul cites this scripture when before Ananias and the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:55Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people. (Acts 23:5)). It corresponds with the exhortations in various epistles (Rom. 13; 1 Tim. 2:22For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. (1 Timothy 2:2); 1 Peter 2:13-1713Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; 14Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. 15For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: 16As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. 17Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king. (1 Peter 2:13‑17)). The path of God’s people is thus, as far as regards kings, governors, and magistrates, extremely simple. To all authority, of whatever form, they owe respect and obedience as long as it does not clash with what is due to God. They are put in this place of subjection by the Lord Himself.
The firstfruits and the firstborn are to be offered to God (vss. 29-30; see chap. 13:12-13). They were thus to acknowledge both their dependence and the source of their blessing, and to avow that they themselves belonged to the Lord. It was God who would give the ripe fruits and the “liquors,” and in token of this He required an offering to Himself. The firstborn of their children He likewise claimed, but on the ground, as explained in chapter 13, of the destruction of the firstborn of Egypt on the night of the Passover, and their own redemption through the blood of the Paschal lamb.
In fine, they were to “be holy men unto” (vs. 31) the Lord, apart from evil, and separated unto God; for He who had made them His own was holy, and He would have them suited to Himself. On this account they were not to defile themselves with unclean food, flesh polluted by unclean animals, and fit only for dogs. A holy people must be holy in their ways, as beseems a holy God. Subjects of another kind are introduced in the next chapter, Exodus 23.
“Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment: neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause. If thou meet thine enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again. If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him. Thou shalt not wrest the judgment of thy poor in his cause. Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and righteous slay thou not: for I will not justify the wicked. And thou shalt take no gift: for the gift blindeth the wise, and perverteth the words of the righteous” (Ex. 23:1-81Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. 2Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment: 3Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause. 4If thou meet thine enemy's ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again. 5If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him. 6Thou shalt not wrest the judgment of thy poor in his cause. 7Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and righteous slay thou not: for I will not justify the wicked. 8And thou shalt take no gift: for the gift blindeth the wise, and perverteth the words of the righteous. (Exodus 23:1‑8)).
Sins of the tongue begin this section. The first relates to raising or receiving (see margin) a false report. How much mischief has been thus perpetrated, and even in the church of God! There are few who would not be horrified at the thought of raising a false report. Such a sin would be condemned by all upright minds; not even a man of the world would extenuate its guilt. But, as the margin indicates, the word has a wider meaning, and will include also the receiving of a false report. Many who would shun the first sin fall into the snare of the second. A report is heard, and is apparently true, and is circulated, whereas had any trouble been taken to verify it, its falsehood might have been detected. Christians, above all, should be careful as to this, refusing every report to another’s discredit, unless vouched for by unimpeachable testimony. The responsibility is thus cast upon the hearer, as well as the repeater, of reports. If this were remembered many a slander would be nipped in the bud, many a talebearer unveiled, and many a breach of fellowship avoided. The antidote is found in that charity which “thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (1 Cor. 13:5-75Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 6Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. (1 Corinthians 13:5‑7)) (1 Cor. 13:5-75Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 6Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. (1 Corinthians 13:5‑7)). Then false testimony is condemned—a sin known by the modern name of perjury. This injunction, as well as that in the next verse, and in verses 3 and 5, would seem connected with the administration of justice. Nothing escapes the eyes of a righteous God, no evil tendency or influence, and hence He makes provision for the conduct of His people in every circumstance of their lives. It is difficult to be alone in opposition to a multitude, though the cause may be just. With the Lord before the soul it becomes simple. On the other hand, a poor man is not to be countenanced in his cause; that is, when it is unjust, nor when it is just shall his judgment be “wrested” (vs. 6). Some are liable to influences from the rich, and some from the poor, especially in a day of democracy and contempt of lawful authority. But the heart must be free from both, and it will be free if in obedience to the word of God. Interspersed with these commands, a special direction is given concerning the ox or the ass of an enemy. The anger of the heart must not be exhibited against an enemy’s cattle, nor must help be refused to the cattle of another on account of their owner’s enmity; “but if thou see his ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again; and wilt thou not, in so doing, heap coals of fire upon his head?” So, too, if an ass overburdened be met with, “though his owner hate thee, thou shalt surely help him.” The compassions of God flow out to His dumb creatures, and His people should in all things be a reflex of Himself,
Truth and righteousness are also enjoined, (vs. 7). The ground given is most noteworthy—“For I will not justify the wicked” (vs. 7). God is righteous in all His ways in government, of unerring discrimination, and does not permit man to “find anything after Him.” But, as the Psalmist confesses, He will be justified when He speaks, and clear when He judges. The wicked therefore can never escape His condemnation. But in grace He has revealed a way by which he can justify the ungodly (Rom. 5). Under law this was impossible. “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ, unto all and upon all them that believe” (Rom. 3:21-2221But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; 22Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: (Romans 3:21‑22)). On this ground He can be just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus (vs. 26). A warning is added against the acceptance of gifts. The question, be it remembered, is still one of judgment between man and man, or the discernment of truth from falsehood. To receive a gift in such a case would blind the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous. It might shut out God from the soul, and thereby prevent a single eye. The ninth verse is a repetition of the injunction contained in chapter 23:21. This shows its importance in the eyes of God, and it is added here with emphasis,
“Ye know the heart of a stranger” (vs. 9). The children of Israel were thus qualified by their own experience to sympathize with strangers (compare Heb. 4:1515For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15); also Heb. 2:1818For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted. (Hebrews 2:18)); and the recollection of their own past sorrow was to mold their conduct towards those who were in the same circumstances.
Divers ordinances follow concerning the land and the feasts. “And six years thou shalt sow thy land, and shalt gather in the fruits thereof: but the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie still; that the poor of thy people may eat: and what they leave the beasts of the field shall eat. In like manner thou shalt deal with thy vineyard, and with thy oliveyard. Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest: that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed. And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect: and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth.
“Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto Me in the year. Thou shalt keep the feast of unleavened bread: (thou shalt eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded thee, in the time appointed of the month Abib; for in it thou camest out from Egypt; and none shall appear before Me empty:) and the feast of harvest, the firstfruits of thy labors, which thou hast sown in the field: and the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labors out of the field. Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord God. Thou shalt not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leavened bread; neither shall the fat of My sacrifice remain until the morning. The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring into the house of the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk” (23:10-19).
The land was to enjoy her sabbaths, in perpetual token that it belonged to the Lord. Hence it, as well as man, must share God’s rest. Here, however, the poor and the beasts of the field are prominent. There was consideration both for the one and the other—both alike, whatever the distance between, being creatures of God. The children of Israel were thus reminded that they were but tenants, and that, as holding their land as well as their vineyards and olive yards from the Lord, even the poor and the beasts of the field must be considered, since they were the objects of His care.
The sabbath for man comes next. The feasts in full are found in Leviticus 23; and there, as here, the sabbath comes first. But in this chapter three only are mentioned in addition to the sabbath—the feast of unleavened bread, the feast of harvest, and the feast of ingathering, that is, the passover, Pentecost, and the feast of tabernacles. The feasts in full, as given in Leviticus, symbolize the whole cycle of God’s ways with Israel. On this account the sabbath takes precedence, because the end and results of all God’s ways with them (as indeed with believers of this dispensation) is to bring them into the enjoyment of His rest. Having, then, revealed His object, the methods by which this is to be accomplished, or His successive means to this end, are typically unfolded. But though only three are found in this chapter, they are very significant. Unleavened bread is the first;1 next we have that of the firstfruits, symbolical of Christ in resurrection, as is seen more fully in Leviticus; then the feast of in-gathering, type of the harvest of souls, of which the resurrection of Christ was the pledge, and of which Pentecost was the blessed commencement. We thus read, “Christ the first-fruits; afterward they that are Christ’s, at His coming” (1 Cor. 15:2323But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. (1 Corinthians 15:23)). Primarily, the application in this scripture would be to Israel, but, interpreted broadly, the ingathering here spoken of will include the saints of this, as well as of the millennial dispensation—in a word, the vast multitude of the redeemed of every age and dispensation. Three times in the year they were thus to keep a feast unto the Lord, and on these occasions all their males were to appear before the Lord God. This was the central thought of the feast, the gathering of the people around Himself on the foundation which He Himself had established—on the foundation, in fact, of redemption. They were accordingly, as a redeemed people gathered around Jehovah, to be circumspect concerning all that He had said unto them; and they were not even to mention the name of other gods, nor let it be heard out of their mouth (vs. 13). They belonged, as a redeemed and a sanctified people, alone and entirely to the Lord.
Leavened bread is once again forbidden in connection with the blood of the sacrifice; for inasmuch as the sacrifices pointed to Christ, leaven, as an emblem of evil, would have falsified their typical teaching. Christ cannot be associated with evil. Hence the leaven was absolutely prohibited. Nor was the fat of the sacrifice to remain until the morning. (Compare chap. 12:10). The full explanation of this will be found in the directions concerning the peace-offering (Lev. 3). “The fat that covereth the inwards, and all the fat that is upon the inwards, and the two kidneys, and the fat that is on them, which is by the flanks, and the caul above the liver, with the kidneys, it shall he take away. And Aaron’s sons shall burn it on the altar upon the burnt sacrifice, which is upon the wood that is on the fire: it is an offering made by fire, of a sweet savor unto the Lord” (vss. 3-5). The fat therefore was God’s portion. (See also Lev. 4:8-108And he shall take off from it all the fat of the bullock for the sin offering; the fat that covereth the inwards, and all the fat that is upon the inwards, 9And the two kidneys, and the fat that is upon them, which is by the flanks, and the caul above the liver, with the kidneys, it shall he take away, 10As it was taken off from the bullock of the sacrifice of peace offerings: and the priest shall burn them upon the altar of the burnt offering. (Leviticus 4:8‑10)). It must, on this account, not be neglected—be left over until the morning, but offered immediately. God must have His part before His people had theirs. This is the secret of all blessing—giving the Lord the supreme place, thinking first of what is due to Him, and losing sight of all else until this is rendered.
The first of the firstfruits of their land was to be brought into the house of the Lord their God. In Deuteronomy 26 will be found a beautiful description of this obligation, together with the manner in which it was to be discharged. It is an inspired exposition of this injunction. Lastly, we have a most remarkable prohibition (vs. 19). Three times it is found in the Scriptures (Chapter 34:26; Deut. 14:2121Ye shall not eat of any thing that dieth of itself: thou shalt give it unto the stranger that is in thy gates, that he may eat it; or thou mayest sell it unto an alien: for thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk. (Deuteronomy 14:21)). God will have His people tenderly careful, guarding them from the violation of any single instinct of nature. The milk of the mother was the food, the sustenance of the kid, and hence this must not be used to seethe it as food for others. Some have seen a spiritual teaching in this enactment. That analogies might be profitably drawn is undoubtedly true; but this would be more suited to private study than for public exposition.
This section concludes with the provision God had made for their guidance to the place He had prepared, together with warnings as to their conduct, and a statement of the manner in which they should be put into complete possession of the land.
“Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of Him, and obey His voice, provoke Him not; for He will not pardon your transgressions; for my name is in Him. But if thou shalt indeed obey His voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries. For Mine Angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in unto the Amorites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and I will cut them off. Thou shalt not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do after their works: but thou shalt utterly overthrow them, and quite break down their images. And ye shall serve the Lord your God, and He shall bless thy bread, and thy water; and I will take sickness away from the midst of thee.
“There shall nothing cast their young, nor be barren, in thy land: the number of thy days I will fulfill. I will send My fear before thee, and will destroy all the people to whom thou shalt come; and I will make all thine enemies turn their backs unto thee. And I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee. I will not drive them out from before thee in one year; lest the land become desolate, and the beast of the field multiply against thee. By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land. And I will set thy bounds from the Red Sea even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert unto the river: for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand; and thou shalt drive them out before thee. Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor with their gods. They shall not dwell in thy land, lest they make thee sin against Me: for if thou serve their gods, it will surely he a snare unto thee” (vss. 20-33).
An angel was to go before them for guidance and safe conduct. He is often referred to in this connection (14:19; 33:2; Num. 20:1616And when we cried unto the Lord, he heard our voice, and sent an angel, and hath brought us forth out of Egypt: and, behold, we are in Kadesh, a city in the uttermost of thy border: (Numbers 20:16)). The prophet Isaiah terms Him the angel of His (Jehovah’s) presence (Isa. 63:99In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old. (Isaiah 63:9)). Who then was this angel? It is evident, both from this scripture and chapter 14, as well as from others, that divine attributes are attributed to Him. It is said for example here, “My name is in Him” (vs. 21). So in chapter 14, after being spoken of as an angel, He is identified with Jehovah (24th verse with 19th). It is the case also in Genesis 22, in connection with the sacrifice of Isaac (vss. 15-16). That He is divine is therefore clear; and the inference is thus justifiable (one that has been drawn by godly students of the Word in all ages) that in this angel we have no other than the Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son, Jehovah, and that as such, in His manifold appearings, we may perceive foreshadowings of His incarnation. It is He who has ever been the leader of His people; and it is He who here takes His place at the head of the children of Israel to keep them in the way, and to bring them unto the place which God had prepared. As Isaiah speaks, “The angel of His presence saved them: in His love and His pity He redeemed them: and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old” (Isa. 63:99In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old. (Isaiah 63:9)).
Hence the solemn warning addressed to Israel. They were to beware of Him, obey His voice, and provoke Him not, He was holy, and inasmuch as His people had placed themselves under law, He could not pardon their transgressions. “My name”—expression of all that God was in His relationship with Israel—“is in Him,” and hence He would act in righteousness, on the basis of the law which had been given as the standard of their conduct. On the other hand, obedience was made the condition of His complete identification with their cause. Their enemies would in that case be His enemies, and He would cut them off.
It will be seen that all these instructions contemplate the land rather than the wilderness. This must be borne in mind. Two things are added in this connection on which all their blessing would depend—separation from evil, and serving the Lord their God (vss. 24-25). These conditions of blessing are unalterable. They are as true now as they were with Israel. The Thessalonians are thus described as having turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God (1 Thess. 1:99For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; (1 Thessalonians 1:9)). Where God indeed is in question, there can be no complicity with evil. He claims all that we are and have, and when this claim is recognized, He can bless us according to the desires of His own heart. So here the blessings follow—earthly blessings because they were an earthly people, but blessings of this character without stint or limit. Mark, moreover, that God loses sight of nothing that affects His people. He tells them that He will not expel their enemies in one year, “lest the land become desolate, and the beast of the field multiply against thee” (vs. 29). He would lead them on—and bless them as they might be able to bear it. But in due time they should possess the full extent of their territory—“from the Red Sea even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert unto the river” (vs. 31)—a promise, alas! which was lost and never realized, excepting for a brief period during the reigns of David and Solomon (1 Chron. 18; 2 Chron. 9:2626And he reigned over all the kings from the river even unto the land of the Philistines, and to the border of Egypt. (2 Chronicles 9:26)), owing to the unfaithfulness of Israel. Even in Solomon’s reign, indeed, it was only partially accomplished; for there were still left of the Hittites, the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites (2 Chron. 8:7-87As for all the people that were left of the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which were not of Israel, 8But of their children, who were left after them in the land, whom the children of Israel consumed not, them did Solomon make to pay tribute until this day. (2 Chronicles 8:7‑8)) who had not been expelled. It remains, therefore, to be fulfilled in all its extent and blessing under the sway of Him of whom David and Solomon were but shadows and types. What Israel lost under responsibility will then be fulfilled in grace and power.
Finally, absolute separation is once more enjoined. There must be no covenant with the people of the land or their gods; nor should they suffer them to dwell in the land. If so, they would be surely made to sin against the Lord. There can be no alliance between the people of God and His enemies. “The friendship of the world is enmity with God” (James 4:44Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. (James 4:4)). Would that this truth in all its power were graven upon the hearts and memories of all who bear the name of Christ!
 
1. The meaning of this has been expounded in connection with Exodus 13.