God wraps up His list of rules in the first section of Chapter 23, which is divided into three sections in my NLT version. He addresses social justice in the beginning 13 verses, then establishes festivals, which I adore. He then seals the discussion with a promise to guide the Israelites to the Promised Land. Let’s break down each of them because they all have some important things to say.
Section 1 (A Call for Justice): I gotta tell you, these verses hit my heart, as I am guilty of a good lot of them. I’ve gossiped. I’ve lied. I’ve even taken bribes and oppressed foreigners. And I certainly don’t honor the Sabbath as I should, or encourage others to honor it as we should, either.
Section 2 (Three Annual Festivals): despite my own (and others’) shortcomings in the first section, God still allows us to celebrate with Him. Now, I know verses 14 to 19 don’t sound like your typical Fourth of July or Songkran celebrations, but don’t doubt that they had some similar aspects. Verse 15 commands the Israelites to “Celebrate … the anniversary” of their departure from Egypt every spring. He then commands them to celebrate the harvesting of the first crops (summer) and the final crops (fall) of each season. Can you imagine all the good breads and fruits and wines served at this “fall” festival? I compared these to more recognized global festivals, but in actuality, these harvest festivals happened three times a year (v. 16) as crops grew in and out of different seasons. The first comparison reminded me of summer and winter harvests in Oklahoma. The summer wheat harvest usually opens up toward the end of May or in early June, and what a time it is! Our little town used to fill up with wheat trucks and farmers hauling their grain to local coops from miles and miles around. When I was little, my mom was afraid to let me ride my bicycle uptown when all the “wheaties” were around, but when I got older and worked at the local bar during college, oh, what a time harvest was! So many new faces would come in every night, and I got to know people from all across the US, Canada and even a few from other countries, like Norway, England and Australia. We didn’t have a formal harvest celebration in Alfalfa County, but harvest, especially in fruitful years, always was a time for celebration. I love how God not only allows us to celebrate together but commands us to do so – even when we totally flub up all the rules from the previous sections.
Section 3 (A Promise of the Lord’s Presence): God sends an angel (*happy hug emoji) to protect the Israelites on their journey and promises to lead them to the lands they will call their own. Verse 29 is a good reminder as to why God takes the long road in keeping His promise: He will not drive out the Israelites’ enemies all at once because He wants the Israelites to be able to walk in, set up shop and live happily ever after. God is preserving the land so that the Israelites will be living on easy street once they arrive. Sure, God can blow away the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites in one breath, but by the time the Israelites arrive, the crops will be ruined, and the wild animals will have settled in. And after the long journey they are getting ready to take, the Israelites ain’t gonna be in no mood to mess with all that when they arrive to their final destination. Sometimes God goes slow for a reason. If we take nothing away from today’s reading, let’s at least try to remember that. I also had to highlight the promised lands laid out in this section. It’s so interesting to pull up a Google map and see exactly what lands were promised to the Israelites. One glance tells you why present-day nations remain in almost constant conflict. The boundaries of the Promised Land stretched from parts of present-day Egypt, Jordan and Israel all the way through the desert lands of Saudi Arabia and Jordan to Iraq and lower Syria. Just something to ponder – and always a good topic for prayer.
Writing prompt: pick-a-mix
Of the three sections in our reading today, which one stood out to you most? Or maybe, like for me, a few things in each chapter sparked some thoughts (and guilt). Focus your writing on what stood out most to you, or divide your writing into three sections like I did today.