You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with the wicked to act as a malicious witness. 2 You shall not follow a majority in wrongdoing; when you bear witness in a lawsuit, you shall not side with the majority so as to pervert justice; 3 nor shall you be partial to the poor in a lawsuit. 4 When you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey going astray, you shall bring it back. 5 When you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden and you would hold back from setting it free, you must help to set it free. (Exodus 23:1-5 NIV)
Vs. 1 re-states one of the commandments and then expands on how this demand for truth applies. We are not to join with an evil person nor are we to yield to the pressure of a group that seeks to do wrong.
The requirement to act justly extends even to those we consider enemies – to those who hate us. The standard of justice and right has nothing to do with the character of the recipient – nor our feelings toward him or her.
The verses here also move from the negative (“You shall not..”) to the positive (“you shall”), from prohibition of wrong to a need to do right.
These verses – and so many others – in the Old Testament bear witness to the Bible’s witness being a whole one, a consistent one. While some things in the Old Testament seem repugnant, even wrong to us (destroying entire villages and even groups of people to “cleanse” the land), much more of the Old Testament lays a foundation upon which the New Testament is easily laid. What Moses taught in no way contradicts what Jesus taught and did – quite the contrary.
I hear Jesus telling his disciples to love their enemies when I read vss. 4 -5, to resist the urge to do good to those who do good to me, to love as God loves rather than to act as human emotion and self-interest would urge.
I realize that this repetition is necessary for me… I struggle to act as these few verses require. I need reminding that the way of life, the way of God, the way of Christ is one of truth. And that truth is true even when the crowd says otherwise… that justice often demands not the expedient but the difficult. The path is narrow and uphill much more than it is wide and sloping gently downward!
God of the Law and Justice… God of Moses and Righteousness and Love… continue to work in me the transformation from restraining evil to doing good. Work in me that change of character, that difficult re-training and re-visiting of the way of love and the way of justice. May I more and more be like the Christ whom I see in these ancient words of Moses to your people, like the one who came to fulfill and make alive the Law and the Prophets. Amen.