Guidance on how to practice honesty and goodness continues in Exodus 23. Practicing evil is condemned as is standing in the way of justice. The Lord continues to establish rules, practices, and guidelines that are appropriate for the people and their living conditions. Note that even though the examples used to illustrate the principles are of a non-technological age, the principles themselves are timeless, wholesome, and still applicable to our modern age. Ideas such as respect, fairness, kindness, honesty, and practicing righteousness in all dealings are coming to life in the application of these rules established by God:
- Practice honesty
- Evil, and being in proximity to it, is condemned
- Avoid showing partiality
- Demonstrate respect for others and their property
- Be a wise and honest source of advice
- Do not torment the messenger of bad news
- Be kind and giving to strangers
- Help the needy with excess food
The Israelites are also told to keep the Sabbath as a holy and restful day.
Verses 14-16 establish three different feasts that they are to have:
- Feast of the Unleavened Bread
- To help commemorate their being saved as slaves from Egypt
- Feast of Harvest
- To celebrate the first gatherings from a ripened field
- Feast of Ingathering
- To celebrate the totality of production from the fields
These feasts are to point the children of Israel toward God by helping them understand and recognize what a huge role He plays in their lives. The salvation from Egypt is a memorable event, with its own holiday, the Passover, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread augments that celebration. The other two feasts are there to remind the Israelites that God is providing for them continuously by providing their food. The admonitions in verse 18 and 19 steer the people away from some of the pagan practices that took place in idol-worshipping of the time.
In the closing verses of this chapter, God promises the Israelites many things. He promises them protection, health, long lives, to vanquish their enemies, and deliverance to the land that He has long promised them. But these promises are conditional. In order to receive these things, the people had to obey the laws and commands that God was giving them. The Angel will go before the people and conquer the warring tribes that were all around the Israelites. But the people would be required to take up arms confidently against these people and also have patience for God said that He would remove these people from the land gradually. This gradual removal was necessary to allow for the Israelite nation to grow large enough to inhabit all that land and so that wild beasts would not overtake it if all of the other tribes were to suddenly leave.
Lessons for us this week are plentiful. The main one that I see is that every single one of God’s laws, rules, guidelines, and commandments has a greater truth and righteousness standing behind it. It would do us well to know God better by study and prayer so that we can see the greater import that his commandments have in our lives. The Israelites at the time may have struggled with why they needed to hear and obey, but once they followed the pattern (although they never did it for long), they found themselves living in a prosperity overflowing with happiness, righteousness, mutual respect and relative peace. Are children not this way?
As adults, we are better off obeying God than questioning Him. He has created the game, written the rules, and determined the players. What good does it do us to question the rules?