Moses stands upon Mount Sinai, having received many case laws to apply the ten commandments. Before he goes back down to the people, however, Moses must hear one last thing, an epilogue to the case laws.
Observation of Exodus 23:20-33
Most repeated words: land (5 times), not (5x), out (5), drive (4), all (3), enemy (3), gods (3), make (3), send (3), serve (3)
- This section has mostly to do with what will happen when the people enter their new land.
- The case laws now look forward to the fulfillment of God’s promise to settle them in the land promised to Abraham.
Verse 20 makes a sudden shift from what the people ought to do (case laws) to what God is doing (“I send an angel before you…”).
- This section includes instructions for the people:
- Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice – Ex 23:21
- Carefully obey his voice and do all that I say – Ex 23:21
- You shall not bow down – Ex 23:24
- You shall serve Yahweh – Ex 23:25
- You shall make no covenant – Ex 23:32
- But it gives even more space to what God will do if they obey
- I will be an enemy to your enemies – Ex 23:22
- I blot them out – Ex 23:23
- He will bless your bread and water – Ex 23:25
- I will take sickness away – Ex 23:25
- And 9 more actions in Ex 23:26-31
Though the passage begins with God’s angel (Ex 23:20), and mentions the angel again in Ex 23:23, there is an awkward alternation of pronouns between “he” (Ex 23:21, 22, 25) and “I” (Ex 23:23, 25, 26, etc.).
- A prime example of the awkward alternation is right in verse 25: “You shall serve Yahweh your God, and he will bless your bread and your water, and I will take sickness away from among you.”
- Another example is verse 22: “But if you carefully obey his voice and do all that I say…”
Clearly all the actions of God in Ex 23:25-31 hinge on the obedience of the people to the angel of God (Ex 23:22).
Interpretation of Exodus 23:20-33
Some possible questions:
- Who is this angel sent by Yahweh?
- Why is the activity of God in the land dependent on the people’s obedience to the angel?
- Why do the case laws end with this epilogue?
My answers (numbers correspond to the questions):
- There is much overlap in identity between the angel and God himself. “My name is in him” (Ex 23:21). This angel has authority to pardon transgression (Ex 23:21). Obeying the angel’s voice (Ex 23:22) is practically the same as serving Yahweh (Ex 23:25). So this angel is simultaneously distinct from God (because God “sends” him) and the same as God (“obey his voice and do all that I say”). This angel plays a critical role as a manifestation of God’s presence among the people.
- The argument of the passage goes like this: “If you obey my angel, you obey me. And if you obey me, I will give you prosperity and success in the land of Canaan.” Great blessings come with obedience to God’s appointed representative. The way you treat God’s angel (the manifestation of his own presence) determines how God will treat you.
- This section deeply personalizes the body of instruction in Exodus 20-23. The point is not so much about following a set of principles, or about trying to keep God happy by doing the right things. The point of the laws is to bring the people of Israel closer to a person, the angel of Yahweh. The laws are meant to guide and shepherd the people into a closer relationship with God himself. Those who are close with God experience unspeakable blessing. Here is life: Life comes not from your performance or activity, but as a result of your steadfast trust in the one God sent to give you life.
Train of thought: See answer to question 2.
Main point: How you trust God’s angel determines how God treats you.
Connection to Christ: I have no problem saying this angel is Jesus, the second person of the Trinity. But, because the original audience had no concept of “the second person of the Trinity,” it might be more precise to say that this angel shows them exactly the role Jesus Christ would eventually have to play. He is the messenger sent by God, pardoning our transgression. How God treats us hinges on whether we give Jesus our allegiance. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son does not have life (1 John 5:12).
My Application of Exodus 23:20-33
The path of blessing will never come through obedience to a code of ethics or body of rules; it comes only through fiery allegiance to the one God has sent to pardon transgression. This truth should more deeply penetrate my leadership and parenting.
If I live according to this truth, I won’t merely multiply rules for my children; I will draw them close in relationship to Jesus Christ (and thus to me). I won’t be so disappointed when my will is crossed. I won’t be so quick to scold when expectations go unmet.
And, even when we study God’s law together, my church and small group ought not come away with only a list of things to do better (though this is not a bad thing). We will come away with inflamed passion and commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ, the one sent by God to take away the sin of the world. We never grow out of our need to work on this one relationship.
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