At the end of chapter 22, we saw how the Lord calls His people to be holy and separate from the wicked world in which they live. This was why He gave the law and its detailed explanations that we have been studying. He desired that His people should worship Him alone as the true God, and that they should be a distinct people from their pagan neighbors.
The introductory verses of this chapter make it clear that neither friends nor witnesses nor common opinions should make us inclined to lessen great faults, exaggerate small ones, excuse transgressors, accuse the innocent, or misrepresent anything. To do so is very displeasing to the Lord.
God commanded that every seventh year, the Israelites’ land was to have rest. They must not plow nor plant it; and anything that the earth produced naturally was allowed to be eaten, but not stored up. It seems that this law was intended to teach them to depend upon the Lord’s Providence and faithfulness in sending larger harvests to them in the sixth year, while they kept His commandment of giving the land rest in the seventh year. This was also a foreshadowing of the heavenly rest, where all earthly labors and cares shall cease forever.
All respect to the idols of the heathen was strictly forbidden. Since idolatry was a sin to which the Israelites had a natural inclination, they were to blot out the remembrance of the false gods of their pagan neighbors; and solemn worship of Jehovah, in the place which He would choose, was strictly required. Three times a year, they were to come together for special assemblies of worship and celebration before the Lord. These assemblies were called feasts: the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Firstfruits, and the Feast of Ingathering. What a kind Master we serve! He has actually made it our duty to rejoice before Him! Let us take pleasure in devoting that portion of our time which He requires for us – one day in seven – to His service. His worship and ordinances are a feast for our souls. And just as the Israelites were not to come empty-handed before the Lord, we must not come to worship Him empty-hearted. Our souls must be filled with holy desires toward Him, and with dedications of ourselves to Him; for with such sacrifices, He is well-pleased.
The Lord promised that He would guide and keep His people in their way through the wilderness to the land of promise. The precept joined with this promise was that they were to be obedient to His “Angel” whom He would send before them (verse 23). In 1 Corinthians 10:9, Paul makes it clear that this “Angel” was Christ Himself. But how reasonable were the conditions of this promise of their comfortable settlement in the land of Canaan! They must serve the true God alone, and not the idols of the heathen. And how rich were the particulars of this promise! They included a blessing on their food, the continuance of their health, the increase of their wealth, and the prolonging of their lives. In addition, it was promised that they would also subdue their enemies. Hosts of hornets would make way for the people of Israel, for God can even use such lowly creatures for the chastisement of His people’s enemies. It is in kindness to the Church that her enemies are subdued by little and little; for thereby, we are kept on our guard and in continual dependence upon our God.
As we have already stated, the reason why the Lord gave the people of Israel so many laws and forbade them to do so many things was so that they might be a holy nation. “But just what is holiness?” you may ask. It is simply loving God and one another – our God first and best, with all our hearts; and each other like ourselves, for His sake. That is perfect holiness, but it belongs to no man except our Lord Jesus. However, when we believe in Jesus as our own Savior, His perfect goodness (that is, the holy obedience to God’s law which He rendered when He was a Man, living among men) is imputed to us and reckoned to be ours, as completely as if we had done it ourselves! In the Bible, that spotless obedience is called “the righteousness of God.” It is the pure white robe that is given to the Lord’s children in heaven, to show that they are justified and without fault in His sight. But while we get Christ’s righteousness and perfect goodness as our title to heaven, we need His Holy Spirit to make us holy on earth – teaching us to love God and our neighbor down here; or in other words, to keep the commandments.
The Son of God came down from heaven, lived obediently, suffered, died, rose from the dead, went back to heaven, and sent down the Holy Spirit; and He did all these things so that He might gather around Him a family from among the people of the world – a family of His own sons and daughters who are different and separate from the heathen. That is what true Christians are called to be, and that is what the Holy Spirit makes us!
Lord Jesus, we rejoice in the sweet assurance that You will, by little and little, drive out the corruptions of our hearts. You will subdue them all by the conquests of Your grace, and You will safely conduct us through the entirety of the wilderness of this world. And then at last, under Your power, we shall arrive in the heavenly Canaan, where we shall be blessed to see Your face and dwell with You forever. Amen.
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