Exodus 21-23
(Success Comes in Small Increments)
January 22nd

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verses

For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat. You shall do the same with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard.

- Exodus 23:10-11 (NRSV)

Summary of Chapters

In these chapters God explains practical applications of his law and reveals his plans for gradual possession of the Promised Land.

Most of the material in these chapters can be considered as case studies for application of the Ten Commandments. For example, God distinguishes between accidental death and pre-meditated murder and also defines the punishments for different levels of transgressions.

Among the most serious crimes is worship of other gods because the love and respect for the one God is the foundation of all of the other commandments and laws.

Note that a significant portion of the cases address the treatment of neighbors and foreigners. God tells the people to be equally fair and merciful to everyone and to not favor rich or poor. The same rules should be applied to strangers and to enemies. With these explicit examples it would be harder for people to make excuses such as, “Oh! I didn’t think a commandment would have applied when my neighbor’s goat fell in my uncovered pit.”

At the end of chapter 23, God outlines three annual festivals to be celebrated, including the Feast of the Unleavened Bread (Passover). He also explains how he will send an angel ahead of the Israelites to lead them to the Promised Land. If they listen to the angels then God will defeat their enemies:

Reflection and Application

The details provided by God in this and other sections are helpful so that can we more fully understand the commandments and so that we can have orderly societies.

If we fully accept the commandments in our hearts than we don’t need to look up specific case studies. If our actions hurt someone else, then we should seek to make restitution. If we lose valuables by natural causes, then we should not look to pin the blame on someone else. But the problem, as noted by C.S. Lewis, is that we often do understand the rules, but try to get around them.

In his Sermon on the Mount, our Savior Jesus Christ reminds his audience that he did not come to abolish these instructions but to fulfill them. He provides further explanation of the words and raises the bar regarding the meaning of abiding by them. For instance, as described in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 5, verses 21-26, Jesus equates any type of anger with murder and encourages us to make a priority of reconciliation and settlement with other parties, an act that should be given even more urgency than the act of worship. Jesus subsequently provided elaboration on other commandments and then addresses the verses on retaliation that we read today in Exodus:

This instruction from Jesus is consistent with his points about anger. He emphasizes for us that reconciliation is more important than retribution. Harder to do perhaps, but more important in the end. Imagine how many tiffs, skirmishes, battles, and wars could be avoided if this path to peace was followed by the whole world.

What about the verses in today's readying regarding slaves? I imagine that, like me, you may have struggled with all of the talk in these chapters describing fair treatment of slaves. After all, it would seem fairer to not enslave them in the first place. However, the slaves in these examples may have been people who pledged themselves to their masters to get out of debt, therefore they entered slave hood somewhat voluntarily. This practice is not unknown in our time, but it often goes by other names and is more subtle.

It’s also important for us to remember that the punishments described by God are intended to be carried out by an objective party after a fair trial, and should fit the action – not too lenient or too harsh. He did not intend for each of us to personally seek an eye for an eye or other immediate retributions.

Finally, we can be reminded by the narrative in the last chapter that success may come in small increments, as with the plan explained by God.

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. When did you most feel like a foreigner in a foreign land?
    2. What situations can you think of where you were treated more fairly than the law required?
    3. What incremental steps have you observed in God’s plan to bring you to the Promised Land?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father, please help us to abide by your laws and treat others even more fairly than the law requires.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    Foreigners who desire to feel welcome in their new land

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading is Exodus 24-27 (First House of Worship)

    Comments and Questions
    If you have comments or questions, please add them to our Comments page, email to the author at ted@listeningforGod.org, or share your comments or questions via the Listening for God Twitter account www.twitter.com/listeningforgod