11 October 2011

A Survey of the Old testament Law--bear your neighbor's burdens; let your land lay fallow; I send My Angel before you


Before we begin looking at Exodus 24 and the Old Covenant God established with Israel through Moses, there are still a few straggling verses I think we should finish up before we start such an important subject, so we’ll get to that next week. Today we’re gonna finish up Exodus 23, starting with Exodus 23:4-5“4 If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. 5 If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it.” Now, at first glance, these commands may seem to be out of place. All of the commands and statutes we've covered over the last few months point to one of two aspects of the Law. They either point to the moral code—the Ten Commandments. Or they point to the ceremonial aspect—the offerings and sacrifices and appointed feasts. But this one doesn’t appear to point to either aspect. It certainly does not involve idolatry or murder or adultery. And it certainly doesn’t have anything to do with feasts or offerings or sacrifices. So what in the world are these commands doing in the middle of the surrounding commands which serve as explanations of God’s moral and ceremonial codes? I'm glad you asked!

The reason is quite simple. What are the two great commandments in the Law? Matthew 22:36-40“36 Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” 37 Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." These commands to help the donkey that belongs to the one who hates you is, in all actuality, just as great as any of the other commands, because it explains one of the two great commandments. Much like when Paul writes 1st Corinthians 9:9It is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” Is it oxen God is concerned about? Under the old covenant, this command concerned oxen. But now, under the new covenant, it refers to taking care of our pastors financially. So the command to help your neighbor’s donkey is not simply to help get stuff from point A to point B. The reason for this command is to show what it means to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Suppose a scenario presented itself where your enemy’s horse was lying under its burden—would you be able to say “Well, those commands don’t say anything about horses.” Does that sound like something you could get away with? No.

I've had the pleasure of listening to Phil Johnson's series on the Ten Commandments. One of the key verses he used when studying the Ten Commandments is Psalm 119:96I have seen the limit of all perfection, but Your commandment is exceedingly broad. The Ten Commandments—as well as all those statutes and ordinances that are rooted in the Ten Commandments—were not meant to be strictly and severely limited. The commandment against murder does not simply prohibit the actual, physical act of murder. Matthew 5:21-22“21 You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.' 22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire.” Adultery is not limited to the actual, physical act of sleeping with someone who is not your spouse. Matthew 5:27-28“27 You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” When Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, He was not adding to or taking away from the Law of God. He was not even, as some people teach, “raising the standard” that we should strive for. Jesus did not come to add more burdens onto this Law that we were already incapable of keeping. The Sermon on the Mount was not Jesus adding to the Law, or taking away from the Law—it was Jesus explaining the Law, and the meaning of the Law.

And that is exactly what He does in Matthew 5:41-45“41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. 43 You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” Time after time Jesus had to correct the thinking of the Pharisees who had restricted the commands of God to simply the “letter of the Law.” But that was not what God intended. God did not build loopholes into His Law. There are no technicalities in the courtroom of God. And this command, to help the donkey of him who hates you, was not about helping donkeys. But that is what the Pharisees were teaching, and if Greg Isaacs or Herb Moncier were trying this case that is what they would plead. And God would have laughed them to scorn. Because these commands are not about donkeys—they are about loving your neighbor as yourself. Jesus even used this principle in His parable about the Good Samaritan. The man who fell among thieves was a Jew, but here comes this Samaritan—Jews and Samaritans being heated enemies—and this Samaritan does what the priest and Levite both failed to do—which is to lift up the burden of their neighbor, even a neighbor who had something against him.

There is another application of these commands. Listen to what Paul says in Romans 15:1 (NASB)Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Galatians 6:1-21 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 2 Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. The bearing of another’s burden—whether that burden is some trial they're going through, a heartache, a temptation, or simply a young Christian who is still growing in the faith—the helping of our neighbor with that burden is connected with fulfilling the Law of Christ. And what is that Law of Christ? James 2:8If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do well. That, of course, stems from John 13:34“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” These commands in the Law are not about helping donkeys. It’s about seeing your neighbor—whether you get along with them or not—seeing that neighbor in need and saying “Here, let me help you with that.” 1st John 3:17But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?

And we don’t help our enemy so that we can get something in return, not even an “attaboy.” But we do it out of a sincere desire to do the will of Him who gave His life for us. Luke 6:34-36“34 And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. 36 Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.”

Now, one last thing before we move on. We know that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law. That He obeyed every jot and tittle of the Law. And He even fulfilled this command, when He said in Matthew 11:28-30“28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” The people had been so burdened—and yes, even the Pharisees were struggling under the heaviest burden and they didn’t even know it—and that burden was trying to keep every single little dot in the Law. But Jesus came to save us from the Law of sin and death. And He sends forth this call for the people to come out from under their self-imposed burdens and come to Him so that He could give them rest. And it is this rest that the writer of Hebrews refers to in Hebrews 4:9-119 There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. 11 Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. Both of these passages are saying “Look, stop trying to work for your salvation and struggle all your life to try and earn God’s favor—you can't do it. Take on Christ’s yoke, for He has fulfilled the Law for you, and rest from all your efforts that will not take away one sin.” We were like donkeys who were laden down with a burden we could not carry. But Jesus has taken that burden Himself, and by faith we enter His rest and we are freed from the works of the Law.

Next, Exodus 23:10-12“10 Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its produce, 11 but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the beasts of the field may eat. In like manner you shall do with your vineyard and your olive grove. 12 Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest, that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female servant and the stranger may be refreshed.” This is of course referring, again, to rest. Every living thing on earth needs rest. Even Christ, having taken on the likeness of sinful flesh, rested and slept from time to time. The fourth of the Ten Commandments ordains that one day out of seven be devoted to the worship of God. But if we keep in mind what Jesus said in the gospels, in Mark 2:27“The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” And the Sabbath was given, by God, for the sake of man, so that man could rest from his labors and have a day devoted to enjoying the worship of His Creator.

But man was not the only living thing that God provided rest for. He intended for even the beasts to have a day of rest and for the ground of the earth to have a whole year of rest. Because if we go back to the Fall of Adam, God told him, Genesis 3:17-19“17 Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat of it': Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. 18 Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. 19 In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground.” Even the ground was cursed because of Adam’s sin, and even the ground is waiting for its redemption. Romans 8:20-2220 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. We’ll look more at Sabbaths down the road some time.

To finish up this chapter, let’s read Exodus 23:20-33“20 Behold, I send an Angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. 21 Beware of Him and obey His voice; do not provoke Him, for He will not pardon your transgressions; for My name is in Him. 22 But if you indeed obey His voice and do all that I speak, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries. 23 For My Angel will go before you and bring you in to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites and the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will cut them off. 24 You shall not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their works; but you shall utterly overthrow them and completely break down their sacred pillars…32 You shall make no covenant with them, nor with their gods. 33 They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against Me. For if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.”

I think we've covered the subject of God commanding His people Israel to not join the worship of the true God with the worship of pagan “gods”, so I don’t think we need to go over that again. But not only were they not to worship the “gods” of the pagans, they were not to bow down to them nor serve them nor even let the worshippers of pagan “gods” dwell in their land. And of course the application for us today is to not bring the worldly and satanic elements into our worship services, like so many churches these days that are basing entire sermon series on popular, ungodly music. Like one church that did a series called “The Gospel According to The Beatles.” Really? A bunch of atheists and eastern mystics—they were really preaching the gospel, huh?

But let’s finish by focusing on the angel that God promises to send before them. 1st Corinthians 10:1-41 Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, 2 all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. Again, we see the NT writers explaining all the shadows and symbols and prophecies of Christ that were given even to the people of the Exodus. And God gives the promise of the angel—again, a shadow of Christ—and gives them a promise. “If you obey My angel, it will all be good for you. Your land will be plentiful, your cattle will multiply, your wives will have many sons, it’ll all be good if you obey. BUT—” Sometimes the word “but” isn't such a good thing. If they obey His angel, it’ll all be good, BUT if they provoke Him, God gives them a promise that things wouldn’t be so good.

And Paul reminds them of what happened when the people of the Exodus ignored the warnings of God, 1st Corinthians 10:6-116 Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. 7 And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play." 8 Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; 9 nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; 10 nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. And it is recorded all through the OT, that when the people obeyed God He fought for them, when they provoked Him to anger He fought against them and even caused them to be taken into captivity. So that finishes up chapter 23, next week, we’ll start on chapter 24, and comparing the Old Covenant with the New Covenant.

Jesus Christ is Lord. Amen.