PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Exodus 23:1-9; Love the Truth

http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20111106_exodus23_1-9.mp3

11/06 Exodus 23:1-9 Love the Truth

As we study God’s law, we gain a greater appreciation for who God, the great Lawgiver is. As we see what he is passionate about, we get a taste of his character and nature. Understanding what God commands is a way of getting back to the heart of God, to see what he is like. We see that clearly in this section of the Book of the Covenant, itself an expansion of the ninth command:

Exodus 20:16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Let’s look a the text together:

Exodus 23:1 “You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. 2 You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, 3 nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit. 4 “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. 5 If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him. 6 “You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit. 7 Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked. 8 And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear–sighted and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. 9 “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.

Absolute Truth in a Relative World

We see that God is passionate about truth. Truth matters to God. God demands that the people who are in relationship with him be truth loving people. This presupposes that truth exists. God created a world in which true and false are real, valid categories. Our culture attempts to dismiss these absolute categories. Our society is all about tolerance and respect. You have a right to believe whatever you want to believe, and I have no right to tell you what you believe is wrong. I have no business pushing my beliefs on anyone else. If you believe in God, that’s good for you. Just don’t push your truth on me. I have the right to believe that there is no God, or that my way to get to God is just as legitimate as your way to get to God. Don’t tell me that Jesus dying on the cross as a substitute for my sins is the only way to God. In our society the only thing that is absolutely not tolerated is the idea that there are absolutes. The bible doesn’t go along with our culture of relativism. The bible calls the person who says in his heart that there is no God a fool (Ps.14:1; 53:1). The bible says ‘there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death’ (Pr.14:12; 16:25). Jesus says:

John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Jesus claims to be truth. He is absolutely, exclusively the only way to God. You have every right to choose to be a fool. Just know that following your heart and denying God’s truth leads to eternal death in an objectively real place called hell, where God’s wrath will be poured out eternally. God is passionate about truth – objective, hard, factual, real, absolute, unchanging truth – because he

John 3:16 …so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish….

2 Peter 3:9 … not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

The stakes of truth are high. We as his people are called to be witnesses. We are his witnesses. We testify to the reality of God. If our testimony is to be trusted and believed, we must be truthful, truth-loving people. We must be known and characterized as those who always tell the truth. There are several categories of truth-telling spelled out in this passage.

Notice, this passage is more similar to the ten commandments than it is to much of the rest of the Book of the Covenant. Much of the covenant code is framed in the if – then ‘if you break this law, then these are the appropriate consequences.’ This section is stated absolutely – ‘thou shalt not.’

Exodus 23:1 “You shall not spread a false report.

Let’s turn this into a positive. Speak only what you know to be true. ‘But I heard it from so-and-so’ Do you know it to be true? ‘But they wrote this’ or ‘I heard them say this.’ Do you know that you are interpreting their words in the way that they meant them? ‘But I saw them do this with my own eyes!’ Do you know the full context and background of the situation and why they did what they did? Do you know that you are interpreting what you saw correctly? You shall not spread a false report. Seek to see others in the best possible light, assume the best, view their actions and words the way you would like your actions and words to be viewed. Speak only what you know to be true.

You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.

‘I would never do that! My friend is not wicked, she’s just frustrated with this person, and I am too. We are not being malicious, we were just sharing our experiences so we know how to pray for this person.’ Will your conversation about that other person serve that person in love, to build them up and care for them, or will it serve to enhance resentment and frustration?

2 You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice,

We naturally have a strong desire to be part of the group. Few people like to be the one dissenting voice in a crowd. ‘If everybody else thinks this way, maybe I’m the one that’s wrong. I don’t have to say I agree or disagree, I can just keep quiet.’ To blend in with the crowd is to go along with the crowd. The majority is not always right. We must be willing to stand for truth, even if we find ourselves standing alone. Think of the many Israelites in the crowd around Nebuchadnezzar’s image (Dan.3). ‘I would never worship anyone or anything but the one true God. I have no respect for the king or his image. I will just bend down and adjust my sandals at the appropriate time. After all, God knows my heart.’ But three young men, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah had such a robust belief in their God and the truth that the king and his fiery furnace could do them no permanent harm, that they refused to compromise the truth or their consciences. They stood tall when the whole crowd bowed down, and they stood out like sore thumbs. They refused to fall in with the many and imply that there is more than one true God, even at great personal cost. They were confident God would deliver them, either by bringing them instantly into his presence to receive the martyr’s crown – which would be far better, or by preserving them miraculously through the flames as a testimony to those around. We must be those who love the truth more than our own skin.

3 nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit.

It is a common temptation to favor the powerful who can pay us back. There is another equally dangerous temptation on the opposite extreme that also undermines truth by always siding with the weak and assuming that the powerful are automatically in the wrong. We must not allow sympathy to outstrip truth. We want to help those that are the underdog, and that is good. But the bible does not call us to steal justice from the rich in order to give to the poor. The bible calls us to be no respecter of persons, to be blind to status and always do what is just. To favor the poor and to rule in their favor simply because they are poor is to deny them justice and to fail to truly love them in a way that is redemptive and transformational. We must love truth more than what seems on the surface to be nice.

Love your Enemy

4 “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. 5 If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him.

When Jesus told us to love even our enemies, he was not teaching something radically different from what we are taught in the law of God. Here in Exodus we are taught that the same kindness and care that is due to a neighbor must be extended even to enemies. An enemy in this context would primarily be a legal adversary, someone you have a dispute with or who has a dispute with you. If you see potential harm or loss coming to your enemy, natural human inclination would cause you to stand back and watch with a sense of satisfaction. ‘He’s getting what’s coming to him. Serves him right for treating me that way.’ No, God requires that we take action to prevent loss to our enemy, even inconvenience yourself greatly to do what is right. ‘You shall bring it back to him.’ And this is not mere kindness to animals without care for the neighbor. The first scenario is a lost unattended animal. In the second scenario your enemy is with his animal. He can unload the donkey, get the donkey back on its feet, and reload the animal so that the load is more balanced all by himself. Again, we would be tempted to pull up a chair and watch with satisfaction the struggle of our enemy. No, God requires that we come alongside our enemy and help them, which would require a significant investment of time and energy, and probably greatly inconvenience ourselves. Notice, this is one who hates you – possibly one who has attacked you without cause. They have made themselves your enemies. Certainly, if I have a problem with someone, I need to get over it and help them. But if someone has a problem with me, do I really need to reach out to them? Isn’t that their problem that they need to deal with? ‘You shall rescue it with him. You shall refrain from leaving him with it.’ God says ‘go, help the one who hates you.’ This deals with heart attitude. I cannot allow myself to take pleasure in another man’s misfortune. I must extend love at great personal cost, even to my enemy.

Truth and Love

6 “You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit. 7 Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked. 8 And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear–sighted and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. 9 “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.

Truth and love must go hand in hand. Justice and mercy must come together. Truth is to be honored, and God is the ultimate defender of truth. God says ‘I will not acquit the wicked.’ If you violate justice, that is wicked, and God will hold you accountable. We must love the truth more than money. Justice must not be put up for auction. Truth must not bend under financial pressure.

Here again, care is to be extended to the sojourner.

Exodus 22:21 “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.

Exodus 23:9 “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.

You know the heart of a sojourner. You know what it’s like to be at the bottom, on the outside, without rights. Care deeply. You know their soul, their life. You know what goes on in their heart. Treat them the way you wish you had been treated.

God who Acquits the Wicked

I want to come back to one issue that is brought up in this text. This passage holds up the importance and value of truth, and God himself says “I will not acquit the wicked.” But isn’t that exactly what God says he does in the gospel? Romans 4:5 tells us that God is the one who “justifies the ungodly.” God tells us not to ‘kill the innocent and righteous,’ but isn’t that exactly what God did when he “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom.8:32)?

2 Corinthians 5:21 For our sake he(God) made him(Christ) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

In the gospel message we have Jesus, without any sin of his own, taking our sin and himself paying the ultimate price that justice demands. Isn’t this the kind of perversion of justice that God hates?

Proverbs 17:15 He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD.

But this is the consistent message of good news preached throughout the bible, from the sacrificial system, from prophesies like Isaiah 53, that point to the death of a substitute, from Christ’s own words in the gospels and the understanding of his disciples as recorded in the writings of the New Testament, the message of good news for sinners is forgiveness of sins by transferring guilt to an innocent victim. “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn.1:29) Jesus “bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1Pet.2:24). “It was the will of the LORD to crush him” and “He was crushed for our iniquities.” (Is.53:10,5) How is it right for God to justify the ungodly but wrong for us to acquit the wicked? One way to answer this question is to see that my sin was really and truly transferred to Jesus. He became sin for me. And his righteousness is imputed, or credited to my account. There is a real transfer of guilt so that God is punishing my sin in Jesus and rewarding Jesus’ righteousness in me.

Another way to answer this question is to ask how God’s justifying the ungodly and punishing his perfect Son is different from us acquitting the wicked. A guilty person has failed to honor his neighbor, he has failed to honor the law, and he has failed to honor the law-giver. He owes a debt of honor to the one he has wronged, to the law, and to God. If we let the wicked go free without paying the appropriate penalty, we fail to uphold the value of the law and we dishonor the law-giver. If we let the wicked go free, we release into society a person that is likely to repeat the same crime or worse, so we endanger the community. If we punish an innocent person, we wrongly strip them of honor and we again dishonor the law and the law-giver by condemning a person the law says should be esteemed. We injure society by removing their good influence from the community.

But when Jesus took our sin on the cross, he upheld the value of the law and honored the law-giver by graphically illustrating the seriousness of sin. He paid our debt in full! Jesus suffered no permanent loss of honor by being punished in our place; rather he brought glory to himself and his Father by his sacrifice: looking toward the cross, Jesus prayed:

John 17:1 …“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,

When God justifies the ungodly, he does not release into society someone likely to repeat the same offense. God begins the work of inward transformation. God regenerates the sinner, he gives us new life and a new nature so we will now love God and bring glory to him, and love neighbor even to the point of laying down our life for our enemies. Jesus releases us into society to bless those around us.

And Jesus’ death did not deprive society of his own righteous influence, because Jesus did not stay dead! Jesus is alive!

(I have been helped in my thinking on this topic by John Piper’s article “Why Is God Not An Abomination To Himself”, March 23, 1992; found in A Godward Life, p.199)

Praise God that he is both:

Romans 3:26 …just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

Advertisements

November 6, 2011 - Posted by | Exodus, podcast | , , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: