Exodus 23 – Right Makes Might
This post is part of an on-going series meant to compliment the wonderful commentary provided in D.A. Carson’s For the Love of God, Vol 1, which tracks along with the M’Cheyne reading plan. The links to both the reading plan and a free PDF of Carson’s book are available here.
We live in a society that is increasingly taken up with the idea that democracy is not only a good (nay – morally necessary) form of government, but provides a moral compass for people. What is culturally popular is “right.” What is unpopular is “wrong.” While many have heard lectures about lemurs and their difficulty managing cliffs, others are weened on the ideal of being on the “right side of history,” and the thought that popular ascent provides “mandates” for actions, sidestepping altogether discussions of whether those actions will be morally right or wrong.
But justice is not deemed right by power in the world, whether that power comes in the form of popular ascent to an idea or by the rich interfering in justice through the influence their money can buy. Neither is a safe path towards true justice.
Scripture realizes that power often lies in the hands of the rich, and therefore its warnings against preferential treatment of the rich and privileged are legion. It is quite interesting, then, that in Exodus 23 Moses specifies the possibility of perverting justice not by the minority of the wealthy, but by the great numbers of the mob:
You must not spread a false report. Do not join the wicked to be a malicious witness. You must not follow a crowd in wrongdoing. Do not testify in a lawsuit and go along with a crowd to pervert justice. Do not show favoritism to a poor person in his lawsuit. If you come across your enemy’s stray ox or donkey, you must return it to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you lying helpless under its load, and you want to refrain from helping it, you must help with it. You must not deny justice to a poor person among you in his lawsuit. Stay far away from a false accusation. Do not kill the innocent and the just, because I will not justify the guilty. You must not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and corrupts the words of the righteous. (Exodus 23:1-8; HCSB)
Justice is neither for favoring the rich or the poor, siding with the power of the world or making the world as one thinks it should be. Favoritism, either toward the rich or the poor, to the national or the foreigner, always misplaces justice. Justice is siding with what God has declared as good and holy, everything outside of that is sin.
In other words, seeking justice is not about you. You cannot be led by the money of the rich nor the voice of the mob. Justice isn’t a matter of hurting your enemies. Rather, Exodus 23 paints a clear picture: justice, in its most basic essence, is a matter of love. We seek justice in this world, because it is a clear way to demonstrate love for our neighbors, whether they be rich or poor.
When favoritism runs rampant, we simply declare that might, in whatever form it has come to us, is right. But we know better:
Write to the angel of the church in Sardis: “The One who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars says: I know your works; you have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead. Be alert and strengthen what remains, which is about to die, for I have not found your works complete before My God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; keep it, and repent. But if you are not alert, I will come like a thief, and you have no idea at what hour I will come against you. But you have a few people in Sardis who have not defiled their clothes, and they will walk with Me in white, because they are worthy. In the same way, the victor will be dressed in white clothes, and I will never erase his name from the book of life but will acknowledge his name before My Father and before His angels.” Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches (Revelation 3:1-6; HCSB)
Remember this, and think of Calvin above: dirty and soiled, attempting to make his own power in the world. But those who maintain their good works (read: love for others) have not soiled their clothes, and they are victorious, conquerors. For Christians, right makes might. Conquering comes from faithfulness before the Lord and love even for your enemies, not from horses and chariots.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God (Psalm 20:7, ESV)