Here, we read the end of the first group of laws the people of Israel were given by God. And it is more of the same. This is what it looks like to like to live a good life – a moral and ethical life. This is how God wanted his people to live.
They were never to be deceitful or to give false or malicious witness. They were not to fall in line with the “many” in bringing false charges. They were to be people of justice. A person’s social status had no bearing on the carrying out of that justice. Fairness was required. Bribery was prohibited.
God’s people were to care for their enemies. They weren’t to leave an enemy’s donkey on its knees under its burden. Jesus taught something similar (Matthew 5:44).
And God’s people were to take care of “sojourners” – people who were visitors and travelers among them. These were people who were far from home and in need of support. Sojourners were people who did not control their own lives because they were in the land of other people. God’s people were to take care of the vulnerable.
This is what it means to be a moral person. Anyone from any culture would agree. A moral person is honest and boldly independent of the crowd. A moral person looks past things like social status in administering justice. A moral person isn’t vindictive against one’s enemies. A moral person helps the weak and vulnerable.
And these laws are 3,500 years old! Nothing has changed in all that time.
God gave his people some things to motivate their morality. For instance, they were to recall, when being kind to sojourners, that God’s people were also sojourners at one point in Egypt. They were to treat people with compassion because they had been in the same position at one point. They could relate.
And God’s people were to pay attention to the promises of God – that if they obeyed God’s laws, God would bless them. God would give the people a land. He would prosper them. He would make Israel’s enemies run from them.
The promised blessings of God, however, were based on the people’s obedience to his commands. God wanted his people to be different than the world – to be noticeably righteous. He wanted them to live as his image-bearers in the world, carrying his character among the nations.
God’s people, of course, did not do this. They didn’t follow the Law, and they didn’t obtain the blessing. We all could look at the commandments in this chapter alone and recognize that we, too, have missed the mark. And we probably didn’t miss it by only a little.
And so the people squandered away their birthright – like Esau grabbing for a bowl of stew.
Fortunately, God made a way. He sent Jesus, whom we know came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).
Jesus did not go along with the many (John 8:1-11). Jesus cared for his enemies (Luke 22:51; Luke 23:34). And Jesus took care of those who were living far from home and who were in need (Mark 8:3).
Jesus had every right to claim the promises of God. He had obeyed every bit of the Law.
And yet, Jesus gave up that right and died the death that sinners deserve. He did this so that any of us who have faith in him – and believe his sinless life, his death on the cross, and his resurrection – can have eternal life. We can have the blessing through Christ because he fulfilled the Law.
And so we see how these promises in Exodus 23 come to fruition in an ultimate sense in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This chapter points us to the gospel message. When Jesus walked out of that tomb, every enemy had been defeated (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).
And we can live in the promises of God through Christ. “You shall serve the Lord your God, and he will bless your bread and your water, and I will take sickness away from among you. None shall miscarry or be barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days.” (See also Revelation 21:3-4.)
That’s eternal life, when the number of our days is “fulfilled.”