Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44), “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27), “Love your enemies, and do good and lend, expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:35a). The Lord spoke through Moses to tell His people Israel that they were to love their enemy and the one who hates them. Now this is easy to say, but hard to do. The people of Israel had good reason to love one another. After all, they had just been saved from being mistreated in Egypt. But they were unable to truly love one another from the heart. They might not try to beat one another to death like the one Hebrew man was doing to another Hebrew man the very next day after Moses had saved a Hebrew man being beaten to death by an Egyptian. But if they saw their enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off their first thought would not be to bring it back to their enemy. Or if they saw someone who hated them having “donkey trouble,” they would not think to immediately go over and help that person. Moses was speaking to a saved people, but they were a people who did not have the Holy Spirit – they did not have new hearts. Thus through these laws they would see that they needed forgiveness of sins and to receive new hearts. You know that you have even greater reason to love one another. After all, it was while you were still sinners that Jesus died for you. But you are actually able to love one another because Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit on Pentecost so that you would be able to love even your enemies from the heart. By faith, not only has the death and resurrection of Jesus been applied to you but you received the Holy Spirit into your heart. Thus you can worship the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength in Spirit and in truth and love your neighbor as yourself. So remember these things as we hear the rest of the Covenant Code today as it alternates between laws about how to love God and laws about how to love one another.
Your loving God wants true worship everywhere.
He forbade the false worship practices of the Canaanites and called Israel to be a kingdom of true priests. The first three verses we heard had to do with the false worship done by Canaanites. Indeed, anyone in Israel who sacrificed to these false gods was to be “devoted to destruction,” which is what Israel was to do to the Canaanites. In contrast with the false religion of the Canaanites with its sorcery, bestiality, and sacrifices to other gods, the people of Israel were to be consecrated to the Lord (v.31). Israel was to be a kingdom of priests. Later Scripture tells us that meat torn by beasts in the field was unclean for the priests and since all Israel was to be a kingdom of priests they are forbidden to eat such meat (v.31). The second batch of worship laws ends with that verse and begins two verses earlier (v.29). They were not to delay to offer from the fullness of their harvest and the overflow of their wine presses and they were to give God their firstborn son. This alludes back to chapter 13, where we are told the regulation much more fully – they were able to redeem their firstborn son. Worship laws begin again at 23:10 with the laws about Sabbath years, keeping the Sabbath, not saying the names of other gods, keeping the three feasts, and then a couple more verses. So your loving God is saying here that He wants true worship.
Indeed, your loving God wants true worship all the time. It is interesting that only one of the laws here concerns worship on the Sabbath day and that one repeats the idea of the fourth commandment about six days of work and the seventh to rest. All the rest of the worship laws here have to do with worship on the other six days and the three annual feasts. Sacrifices would be offered everywhere they had built simple altars all week long, the firstborn animals would be offered or redeemed on the eighth day after birth, one of these laws even applies the Sabbath idea of resting on the seventh day to letting the land rest for an entire year – the seventh year. So the point is that your loving God wants true worship all the time and everywhere and not just in this room for a brief time on Sunday each week. You too are a kingdom of priests and because you have received the Spirit in your hearts by faith in Jesus Christ you can offer worship in Spirit and in truth all the time and everywhere not only by refraining from the religious practices of the world but also by loving God from the heart including when you worship Him in prayer, both spoken and sung, and devotionally reading His word during the week.
Your loving God wants true worship everywhere for it leads you to love everyone.
You will love one another, whether the other is rich or poor, including your enemy. Love for God leads you to love others for He is a compassionate God (v.27). He told Israel that if they mistreated any widow or fatherless child (cf. v.23ff) and that widow or orphan cried out to God then He would hear them and fight for them. Indeed, the description sounds like the experience of Israel – he was being mistreated in Egypt and cried out to God and He heard their cry and His wrath burned and He killed the Egyptians with His sword and made the Egyptian’s wives widows and their children fatherless at the sea. So Israel could expect similar treatment if he became like Egypt. Many of these laws are designed to protect the poor and so it almost comes as a surprise when we read, “nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit” (23:3). Thus we know that God is not on the side of the poor no matter what – He shows no favoritism for the poor – rather He is on the side of justice. He wants His people to do the right thing – to love one another regardless of whether the other person is rich or poor – because He is a just God. It is the very next two verses that describe loving your enemy who has a wandering ox or donkey and loving the one who hates you who is having “donkey trouble.” If they had loved God with all their heart that would have led them to love their enemy. Now since you have the Holy Spirit in your heart you are able to love your enemy and everyone else whether rich or poor – whether they are having “car trouble” or they have lost something and no one will know that you found it or when you borrow or lend or testify in court. You will love all these people, including the least among us, because you are worshiping God everywhere and all the time.
You will also love the foreigner visiting among you. The first section of laws about loving one another in our passage today began saying not to wrong a sojourner or oppress him for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt (v.21), likewise the second section about loving one another ended saying not to oppress a sojourner, “You know the heart of a sojourner for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (23:9). And then in the worship law about the Sabbath we read that the resting on the seventh day was so that the alien or foreigner may be refreshed. God had in mind not the cursed Canaanites but people from other lands who might come visit the Promised Land. But the point that I want to make is that you will not only love one another but you will love those who are different from you. Indeed, how we love one another and how we love the world around us serves as a witness to God. Your loving God wants true worship everywhere throughout the earth for it leads you to love everyone. And we love everyone praying that this witness will lead more and more people to put their faith in Jesus and thus true worship will be happening in more places more of the time. Amen.