Unfortunately, our adventure into the ordinances continues. I’m really hoping we get back into stories soon, although I have to admit that these posts are quite a bit easier to write.

  • No bearing false witness. Nor shall you ally yourself with a “wicked man, to be a malicious witness” (Exod. 23:1).
  • “You shall not follow a multitude to do evil” (Exod. 23:2). How awful that a prohibition against creating art merits highlighting in the ten commandments, but this, this absolutely essential lesson, is buried in the third chapter of ordinances.
  • If you happen to encounter an enemy’s cattle going astray, you must return it to them. Another excellent lesson.
  • Do not make a false charge in the justice system, and don’t kill the innocent and righteous.
  • Don’t accept bribes.
  • The prohibition against mistreating foreigners is repeated.

The Cultic Calendar

  • Fields should be sowed for six years, then laid fallow for the seventh year.

exodus-23While I can understand the necessity of giving fields a rest, laying a field fallow every seven years seems very impractical. Rather, it seems that it would make more sense to rotate the types of crops so that the field is continually in use without ever depleting it. This system was in widespread use in Medieval Europe. Shouldn’t God be able to figure it out?

It seems that the field is laid fallow “that the poor of your people may eat” (Exod. 23:11). It seems that stuff is left out in the fields for the poor to come and collect? What the poor leave, the wild beasts may eat. I really don’t understand this rule, although it’s apparently a Sabbath writ large.

  • Keep the Sabbath by not working on every seventh day. It emphasises once again that the entire household must be given a rest, including the slaves and cattle.
  • Don’t mention the names of other gods, “nor let such be heard out of your mouth” (Exod. 23:13).
  • Special feasts are held three times a year, and all Hebrew males must make a pilgrimage to a central altar: 1) The feast of the unleavened bread. None should come without a sacrifice. 2) The harvest feast, held when the wheat is harvested in June. 3) The feast of ingathering, held at the end of the Hebrew year, in autumn, when other crops are harvested.
  • When sacrificing an animal, the blood from the sacrifice should not be served with leavened bread, and the fat should be finished before morning. As we found out in Exodus 12, leavening is a fermentation process. So both of these rules have to do with preventing any kind of corruption from mingling with the holy sacrifice.
  • Much like the sacrifice of first-born children and cattle, Hebrews must also offer their first crops.
  • “You shall not oil a kid in its mother’s milk” (Exod. 23:19). According to my study bible, this is “a protest against a Canaanite method of preparing a sacrifice.”

Behold, I send an angel before you

We’re finally done with the ordinances!

So God sends an angel who is also himself down to guard the Hebrews on their way. If they show proper submission to this angel, then God “will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries” (Exod. 23:22). We had a couple really good ordinances there, but it looks like we’re back in violent mode now.

God warns the Hebrews that this angel will lead them through the territories of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites, and the Jebusites, and God “will blot them out” (Exod. 23:23). The Hebrews will “utterly overthrow them and break their pillars in pieces” (Exod. 23:24).

Further, God “will send my terror before you, and will throw into confusion all the people against who you shall come” (Exod. 23:27). And so forth goes the language of warmongering, violence, and hate.

But at least God won’t kill these people all at once. No, this would leave the land too empty so that it becomes desolate and populated by wild beasts. Instead, he’ll drive them out little by little until the Hebrews have a chance to breed enough to fill the land.

Just in case it wasn’t quite hateful enough already, God also forbids making any covenants with non-Hebrews (Exod. 23:32).

According to David Plotz, this kind of hatred enshrined in scripture has far-reaching consequences: “There are too many reasons to count why Arabs and Jews distrust each other, some good, some bad. I am beginning to see some of the biblical roots for the Jewish suspicion.”