So often the Old Testament, particularly the legal material, seems so distant. The people to whom God delivered the Law lived in a much different time and place. Despite differences, at heart, their identity remains the same. They stood in need of saving from their own sin. They worshiped the same God as contemporary Christians. When Christians pray and worship, they direct their supplications and songs to the same God as these ancient people. When Christians today rebel, they kick against the same God. The same God watches over them in his goodness, desiring their welfare, not their destruction.
Since the Enlightenment, particularly the American and French revolutions, people in the West make a habit of hating rules and pushing back against them. When the rules exist for their own protection or to increase benefit, Western individuals still find them objectionable. Hence our neglect of the Pentateuch.
One can summarize Exodus 23:10-33 in three words.
Verses 10-13 instructed God’s people in some particulars of resting. These verses established the agricultural sabbath, letting the land itself reset from its production of crops. God also explains to the people his intention for their animals to rest from their work.
Verses 14-19 implement three different festivals for the people to celebrate. God remains the object of celebration, but the people themselves do the celebrating.
Verses 20-33 explain who exactly God intends to do the work of driving the pagans from the Promised Land. He does not intend them to take the land as much as he intends them to receive it.
These commands each have the principle of God as provider standing behind them. In everything, they needed to remember God stands at the center. He would make them different than the nations around them. His provision did not rest on fickle attitudes or whims. Instead, he cared for them so deeply he wanted them to rest. As Creator, he understood, even built in their weaknesses. They needed time to rest, relying on him to keep the crops growing. God created humans as social beings. Likewise, the rare human being thrives on being serious all the time. The command to celebrate God and his provision links the fulfillment of human material needs with the fulfillment of communal needs. Here, in Exodus 23, these revolve around the appropriate center: God. They do not celebrate for celebration’s sake. No, they celebrate who God made them—a people rescued, redeemed, and preserved by God himself. Finally, they received their promise of a land of their own from God. The narrative works out differently, partly owing to their disobedience, but God took the responsibility upon himself to push out the wicked people of the land. They need only watch him work, receiving an abundant promise from his hand.
In the New Covenant, we do not possess such legal material. The Law no longer binds us; we lay dead to the Law in receiving Christ. How do we possibly rest, celebrate, and receive?
Christian, we rest in the finished work of Jesus Christ. We take upon ourselves his easy burden and light yoke. We do not live to prove ourselves to God. Rather, Christ proved himself without transgression before the Law. We do not seek to commit 51% of our lives to good deeds. Instead, we toss 100% of ourselves before the feet of Christ claiming no righteousness of our own.
We celebrate the righteousness credited to us. We rejoice in the payment made by Christ on our behalf on the cross. He came to make himself a ransom for his people, and so he did. Every time the plate and cup come to us, we celebrate the broken body and spilled blood of Jesus in our place. We deserved to be nailed to the tree, but Christ took on our guilt and shame in our place.
We receive a seat in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus. We look forward to the conquest of evil by the hand of God. He waits until it pleases him to strike evil from the face of the earth. All those who oppose him, including the devil and death itself will find themselves cast from his new heavens and new earth. We shall receive his new creation and the right to call it our home.
We see the glimpse of these things in the Old Testament, but in time, our faith shall become sight. We will not glimpse, but we shall behold in full view and forever the fulfilled promises of God.