Friday, September 23, 2022

2022.09.23 Hopewell @Home ▫ Exodus 23:10–19

Read Exodus 23:10–19

Questions from the Scripture text: How long shall they do what two things (Exodus 23:10)? What are they to do in which year, in Exodus 23:11? For the feeding of what two entities? With what other agriculture are they to follow this pattern? How long are they to do what in Exodus 23:12? And then what are they to do? For what benefits two which four entities? To what speech does Exodus 23:13 now refer? What does God command, regarding all of this instruction? What two things should this carefulness keep them from doing? How often are they to do what unto Whom (Exodus 23:14)? Which feast does He mention first (Exodus 23:15)? What are they to do when? Why? What mustn’t they do? What feast does He mention second (Exodus 23:16a)? When (and with what) are they to assemble for this feast?  What feast does He mention third (verse 16b)? When does this occur? with what? What frequency is repeated in Exodus 23:17? Who, specifically is commanded to appear? Before Whom? What two caveats apply to the sacrifice in Exodus 23:18? What feast/offering does Exodus 23:19 repeat (cf. Exodus 23:16)? What additional prohibition concludes Exodus 23:19?

How does God’s society reflect that He is the Sabbath-giving God? Exodus 23:10–19 looks forward to the evening sermon on the coming Lord’s Day. In these ten verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that the society of the Sabbath-giving God responds to Him by devoting the whole of life to enjoying Him and by reflecting His generosity to others. 

The Sabbath, the Lord’s Day of Christ, and the sabbaths of Moses. The Sabbath has been holy and blessed ever since it was created (cf. Genesis 2:3; Exodus 20:11). From the early hours of man’s existence, it was a reminder that although we are given the world to enjoy, it is the Lord Himself Who is our joy—even in the world; and, although we are given the world in which to work, it is the Lord Himself Who is the object of our work—even in the world. So, it is consecrated unto the Lord, and it is blessed by the Lord and in the Lord.

Now that the Lord has redeemed for Himself a people, the perpetual and moral use of the Sabbath among all of humanity receives special expression in the church/nation that the Lord has constituted for Himself at Sinai. This section concludes what is often called “The Book of the Covenant” that began in Exodus 20:22, and has at its bookends the reminder that the Lord has specially identified Himself with them, and they must exclusively identify themselves with Him (v13, cf. Exodus 20:23). 

With the nature of the Sabbath as that which is hallowed unto the Lord and blessed by the Lord and in the Lord, it is not surprising that the fourth commandment is mentioned more often in Scripture than any of the other nine. Even the remaining Sabbath-keeping (sabbatismon, Hebrews 4:9) is the primary way by which the Lord preserves us until we have finished out work in this world and entered His rest (katapausis, Hebrews 4:10). It is the high and holy day of the church under Christ as a Son instead of under Moses as a servant (cf. Hebrews 3:1–4:16). 

Here however, at the end of the Book of the Covenant, the Lord has not yet come in the flesh and is not sitting as a Human Mediator upon the throne of heaven. Not yet is the nation and church of Christ, gathered in their “katapausis,” being joined weekly by assemblies on earth, gathered in their “sabbatismons” (cf. Hebrews 12:18–29).

In Exodus 23, the church is still under Moses, still in the time of shadow. This church doesn’t have just one high, holy, heavenly day, the Lord’s Day. It has various multi-annual, weekly, and annual expressions as summarized in this passage (and expanded upon in Leviticus 23, 25). These are the sabbaths (note the plural in Colossians 2:17–20) that have found their substance in Christ the Lord, as He Himself leads us now in celebrating only His day.

Sabbath yearsExodus 23:10-11. One application of belonging to the generous Lord is that Israel must recognize that the Lord gives them enough in six years to cover seven. He is still the God of Joseph, and the God of Adam, the God of great abundance. So, they are to appreciate this abundance by letting the ground lie fallow every seventh year (Exodus 23:10-11a). As recipients of His generosity, they were also to mirror His generosity toward others—not only toward the poor of their people (Exodus 23:11b), but even toward the beasts of the field (verse 11c)! He would show them this generosity, and they were to mirror this generosity, even with the grapevine and the olive tree (verse 11d)

The Lord still tells us to do this. Although the ceremonial requirement for letting fields lie fallow has expired with the Levitical priesthood (cf. Hebrews 7:12), the Lord still expects us to live by the principle that the abundance of His giving to us should be reflected in abundant generosity toward man and service to God (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:6–15). 

The benefits of belonging to a weekly-Sabbath-keeping peopleExodus 23:12. Even Israel’s observance of the universal holy day for humanity had an unique aspect of mercy to it. Oxen and donkeys among the rest of the children of Adam did not enjoy the rest that they should have. Better to be an ox, donkey, lowly servant, or foreigner in Israel than in any other nation, for among this nation, one would actually receive and enjoy the prescribed rest. 

Still today, the lowliest ones in a thoroughly Christian culture should obtain the benefits of belonging to a people who set all else aside but worship on the Lord’s Day. A people who find merciful attendance to others necessities an especial way of facilitating others’ worship as well as their own. A people whose beasts of burden (if they have them) even enjoy a day of rest.

Sabbath seasonsExodus 23:14-17. The church under Christ now observes “the most wonderful time of the year” fifty-two times a year. But in the shadow-age under Moses, that number was reduced by a factor of almost 18. The Lord says that these three feasts are “to Me” in Exodus 23:14, and that it is “before the Lord Yahweh” that all of their males must appear three times a year (Exodus 23:17). They did not yet have the logistical advantage of having a Mediator enthroned in glory, through Whom they could “appear before Yahweh” every week in their local assembly.

Here, the feasts are called Unleavened Bread (Exodus 23:15, i.e., Passover), Harvest (Exodus 23:16a, i.e., Weeks/Pentecost), and Ingathering (verse 16b, i.e., Tabernacles/Booths). 

Years/Days/Seasons of Holiness unto the LordExodus 23:13Exodus 23:18-19. The point of all of these variations upon the Sabbath theme is the exclusivity and devotion of their corporate relationship with the Lord. In a word, “holiness.” 

Therefore, they are not even to name other gods (Exodus 23:13, cf. Exodus 20:23). Those particular stipulations in Exodus 23:18 that had belonged thus far only to the Passover are now applied to the other feasts, reminding them that they are a blood-atoned, blood-bought people. And practices belonging to the worship of other gods, such as that at the end of Exodus 23:19, were not to take place among them. 

Thus concludes the “Book of the Covenant” in which the Lord gives them some preliminary case law to drive home that this nation-church that He has just constituted will be one in which His character is reflected in all of life. Though not by these specific statutes, how much more ought Christ’s people seek to be holy, for whose sake He consecrated Himself (cf. John 17:19)!

Who is over the church now? Where is He? What holy day has He given us, until we get there, and to connect us to there in the meantime? What has been His greatest generosity toward you? What other generosity has He shown toward you? How should you respond to this generosity on His day? How should you mirror this generosity toward others? And how, especially, on His day? How should His identifying Himself with us motivate our view of holiness and pursuit of holiness?

Sample prayer: Lord, we bless Your Name for taking us to be Your very own people—for constituting us a royal priesthood and a holy nation. Be exalted among those who have finished their works in this world and entered Your rest! And help us, on Your weekly holy day, to consecrate it unto You in worship, and to reflect Your generosity in doing what we can to enable others to come and enjoy Your worship too. Thus, preserve us in  our time of wandering, that we might not wander in our hearts, but safely enter Immanuel’s land. By our weekly gathering unto heavenly Zion, preserve us for our unshakeable inheritance, we ask in Your own Name, Lord Jesus, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP118D “Now Open Wide” or TPH151 “Lord of the Sabbath”, TPH152 “Safely Through Another Week”

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