Exodus 23:1-25:9

Chapter 23 continues, and carries to a conclusion, these "judgments" that Moses was to set before the children of Israel. It appears to divide quite naturally into four sections.

The first—verses 1-9—prohibits those perversions of righteous judgment which are so common amongst men. They were not to be practised in Israel, and there is much instruction here for ourselves. It is to be noted that the first thing to be prohibited is "a false report." Against the word, "raise," the word "receive" is put in the margin as an alternative translation, and other versions rather confirm this. What great harm has been wrought amongst Christians by false reports! That it is wrong to raise them we all admit. Do we all realize the wrong of receiving them? When a matter of argument or dispute arises among Christians and an evil or disparaging report is brought as to one's opponent in the matter, how tempting it is to receive it at once as certain to be true, when it is after all a false report. Any evil report should be scrutinized with care and verified before it is accepted. We do well to note the care Paul took as to reports of evil at Corinth—see, 1 Corinthians 1: 11 and 11: 18.

The injunction against following a multitude in wrongdoing is to be noted. All too often have Christians gone off on a wrong course, assuring themselves that it must be right because many of their friends are travelling on that road. A multitude of real saints may pursue a course that is wrong, but that does not make it right. Our responsibility is to be governed by the Word of God, even if that means diverging from a multitude.

It is noticeable how human feelings are eliminated in these matters of judgment. Not only is all unrighteous witness prohibited but one's feelings of dislike for an enemy must not be allowed to withhold assistance in a time of need, as we see in verses 4 and 5. And further, one's feelings in regard to the poor must not sway the judgment, either for him (verse 3) nor against him (verse 6).

Verse 8 prohibits all forms of bribery, which is an appeal to the feelings of the one who is bribed. Where bribery is rampant, justice is practically unknown. "The bribe blindeth those whose eyes are open" (New Trans.). Let us read this verse in the spirit of it as well as in the letter, for it is possible for self-interest to blind the eyes of a sincere Christian, who would not for one moment entertain the idea of accepting a bribe.

This first section ends with throwing the protection of the law over one who might be a stranger in Israel, and therefore likely to be treated differently. In this we see the compassionate interest of our God for those outside "the commonwealth of Israel" (Eph. 2: 12).

In the second section—verses 10-13—we have rest enjoined, not only for man and beast but even for the land. The natural tendency undoubtedly would be to say, "But if we follow out verse 11 as to one year s rest in seven, how are we to live the seventh year?" The answer surely would have been, "As to that you must trust in God." This accounts, we think, for the closing injunction to be "circumspect," or, "on their guard;" and not to name other gods. No false god could give them any such assurance. They would only destroy the assurance that would enable them to obey. As a matter of fact Israel did not obey this law, as is intimated in 2 Chronicles 36: 21.

The third section—verses 14-19—gives in brief form regulations as to the three great feasts of the year. They were to be observed, and in them all the males were to appear before God. When Deuteronomy 16: 16 is reached we learn that they were to appear in the place that the Lord would choose; so the place as well as the times was settled by God and not by them. Brief details are also given as to the manner of their offerings—leaven utterly excluded and the fat treated as wholly belonging to God, and all firstfruits of their land duly rendered up.

The closing sentence of verse 19 is certainly remarkable. One may wonder why it comes in here, and why repeated in Deuteronomy 14: 21. May it not be to show us that while God demands that His rights and the rights of His house be scrupulously honoured, it is His will that what is seemly be observed as to even the lowliest of His creatures? The goat gives her milk, as ordained of God, to sustain the life of her kid. It is not seemly therefore to use what God has ordained for life as an instrument connected with its death. Let us all ponder whether the principle involved in this may not have some spiritual application for us today.

The fourth section extends from verse 20 to the end of the chapter, and introduces us to the Angel, who was to be their Protector and Guide. The word for Angel is sometimes translated "messenger." It is so in Malachi 3: 1 where it occurs twice. In its first occurrence there John the Baptist is indicated, as we know. But "the Messenger [or, Angel] of the covenant, whom ye delight in," is evidently to be identified with, "the Lord, whom ye seek," mentioned earlier in the verse, and therefore refers to the Lord Jesus Christ. In our chapter therefore we believe that the "Angel" is to be identified with Him. Hence full obedience to Him in all things was essential if they were to experience the power of God acting on their behalf.

Obedience to Him would ensure that none of the nations then in the land would be able to stand before them, but would be utterly dispossessed. They were to be most careful not to touch their idolatries but completely to destroy them. Then they would be blessed with health and plenty; that is, with fulness of earthly good.

But in all this God would so act as not to create a vacuum. He would drive out these nations, "by little and little," just as the Israelites increased in number and were able to fill up the land. One can see the wisdom of this, and also note that God acts after this fashion in His dealings with our souls. We have to grow in grace, and as we do we enter into the fulness of the blessing that is ours in Christ, and the old things are dispossessed in our hearts and lives. Hence we progress spiritually "by little and little."

While thus the process went on by stages there was the danger ever present of Israel being entangled in the ancient idolatries of the land. They are once more warned as to this, and we must accept the warning for ourselves. Seeing that we have within us the flesh with all its evil tendencies, we cannot but feel the pull of the world and its sinful attractions. Hence we too continually need the word, "Keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5: 21).

In the closing verse of Exodus 19 we read how Moses went down to the people, and through him the words of Exodus 20—23 were given. He was now called to go up the mount to the Lord. He was to take others with him who could worship afar off. Moses alone might come near. The people could not approach at all. This we learn as we commence Exodus 24. Before we come to details we have an important parenthesis, extending from verse 3 to verse 8.

In this parenthesis we learn firstly, how faithfully Moses carried out the task with which he was entrusted. Again the people promised complete obedience. All the people promised, and they promised all. They promised this in Exodus 19: 8, before the law was given. Now that it had been given they repeat their promise. Thereby they reveal to us that they were quite ignorant of their own sinfulness and weakness. But the law was given that these painful facts might be made manifest, as is indicated in such Scriptures as Romans 4: 15; Galatians 3: 19; 1 Timothy 1: 9.

Secondly, he committed to writing the words that had been uttered. Unbelievers used to assert that he did nothing of the kind, inasmuch as the art of writing was unknown in the age in which he lived. It is now proved that the art existed long before his day. God intended His law to be authoritatively recorded for all time. Putting the law thus on record, Moses instinctively felt that the condemnation it inevitably brought could only be expiated by sacrifice, hence next is recorded the building of an altar, and the twelve pillars as a memorial of the tribes. Young men acted as the priests, while as yet Aaron and his sons had not been formally inducted to the priest's office.

Then thirdly, Moses applied the blood that had been shed, first upon the altar and then upon the people. The sprinkling on the altar came first, then the reading of the law that had been written, hearing which the people for the third time promised obedience, and then came the sprinkling of the people. It is of interest to note that when this is referred to in Hebrews we are furnished with details not given to us in Exodus. He took, "water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop," and further he sprinkled not only the people but also the book that he had written.

There had not as yet been time for the people to have broken the law, to which they had just listened, so this blood-shedding was not so much an act of atonement, but rather penal in its bearing; that is, a solemn reminder that on the law-breaker the death sentence rested. The book was sprinkled with blood, inasmuch as every infraction of its holy demands or prohibitions meant death to the sinner.

Verses 9-11, record what was seen by Moses and the privileged company that began the ascent of Sinai. They "saw the God of Israel" and this is not contradicted by 1 Timothy 6: 16, which refers to God in His essential being and glory. As Ezekiel saw, "the likeness of the glory of the Lord" (Ezek. 1: 28), and as John in Patmos saw One who sat on the throne, who was "like a jasper and a sardine stone" (Rev. 4: 3) so these saw a manifestation of God. We note that no attempt to describe Him is made. We are only told that what was beneath His feet had the appearance of " paved," or "transparent" sapphire and the "clearness" of heaven. To this extent they "saw God," and were sufficiently sustained in their spirits to eat and drink before Him.

It is noticeable that of the sons of Aaron only Nadab and Abihu are mentioned. The two who died under judgment, almost as soon as they were consecrated as priests, had no excuse for their sin. They fell in spite of this great privilege; whereas Eleazar and Ithamar, who carried on as priests, did not apparently have this unique experience. It is often the way that failure is most pronounced in those who are most highly privileged.

Then Moses alone was called up into the mount of God, though it would appear that Joshua accompanied him for some little way. On the top of Sinai there was the cloud of the Divine presence and the glory of the Lord like a devouring fire. Into the midst Moses went and there abode for forty days and nights. We must remember that, though we now know God as revealed in Christ in the fulness of grace, it is still true that, "Our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12: 29). He is unchanging in nature and attributes, though under the law one feature may specially be emphasized, and another emphasized under grace.

How striking the contrast between the sojourn of Moses in the mount with God and the forty days and forty nights, spent by our Lord fasting and tempted of Satan in the wilderness. Moses was shut up with God and His holy things, totally separated from the failure and evil that transpired below. Jesus, on the contrary, was cut off from all human sustenance, and subjected to the attacks and wiles of the adversary; but it was as true then as later that "the prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in Me" (John 14: 30). On the mount Moses received the "shadow of good things to come" (Heb. 10: 1). In the wilderness Jesus proved Himself to be impregnable and therefore the Redeemer, accomplishing the work that made these "good things to come" an assured reality.

We may also note a contrast between the prolonged sojourn of Moses in the mount and the brief sojourn of Paul, whether in the body or out of the body, in the third heaven. Moses heard and saw things that he was expressly commanded to give to the people. Paul heard, "unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter" (2 Cor. 12: 4). The shadows of the law revealed through Moses are indeed wonderful, and we do well to study them. But the Gospel will ultimately put us into touch with wonders that cannot be revealed to us while we are in our mortal bodies. Our very language has no words in which they could be expressed.

We now arrive at seven chapters (Exodus 25—31) in which are recorded the details of the tabernacle system and the priesthood, which served as a shadow of the good things that were to arrive in due season. As we start to consider them we emphasize afresh that here we have "not the very image of the things," but only the "shadow." As we observe the evening shadows, we can say with confidence that this is the shadow of a house and that of a tree. But we cannot from the house-shadow deduce the position of the front door nor how many windows there are. We shall not therefore attempt to discover minute details, but consider these shadows in their broad outline.

The first nine verses show that when a sanctuary was to be constructed, that God might dwell in the midst of Israel the people were privileged to furnish the materials of which it was to be made. The New Testament contrast to this is found in Ephesians 2: 22. We often observe, when reading the Epistle to the Hebrews, that there is a strong contrast between the shadow arid the substance. So it is here. The saints today are, so to speak the material out of which God's present habitation is constructed. We are that by reason of the quickening work of God in us (see Eph. 2: 1), and it is far more wonderful than just bringing gold, silver, precious stones and other things.

Verse 9 emphasizes the importance of observing the word of the Lord. God Himself furnished the pattern of the tabernacle and all its details. The business of Moses and the people was to adhere to God's pattern and not deviate from it according to ideas of their own. Here is a broad principle of action, which is valid today, in regard to all that God has revealed, as much as it was then. The thoughts of God embodied in His instructions, are perfect and cannot be improved. The thoughts and ways of men can only spoil them.

The detailed instructions begin at verse 10, and the first word is as to that which was to be the centre-piece of the whole typical system. Here at the start we see that God's thoughts are not ours. We should have begun with the tabernacle in which all was to be housed, working from the circumference to the centre. God begins with the centre, and works outward from that. The shadow definitely declares that the centre of all God's thoughts is—CHRIST.