The Law of Moses is much more than the Ten Commandments; it encompasses a broad range of social, economic, legal, practical, and spiritual issues. It is a way of life; a political system; a constitution for the Israelites. The Law is composed of three main elements: Commandments, Judgments, and Statutes. Chapter 21 is the beginning of the Judgments revealed in the Law of Moses. Chapters 22 and 23 continue with more judgments and commandments. These cannot be understood out of historical or political context. There may be elements that do not apply to us today or judgments which seem harsh. We must remember, it was “a very strict law” for a stiffnecked people (Mosiah 13:29), but the underlying principles are still instructive. Nephi said:
We did observe to keep the judgments, and the statutes, and the commandments of the Lord in all things, according to the law of Moses (2 Ne. 5:11).
Exodus 22:1-20 The Judgments of God under the Law of Moses
In the last chapter, we began to number the judgments of the Law of Moses. We will continue that list in this chapter.
14. If a man steal an ox or sheep (Ex. 22:1)
15. If a thief is caught in the act of stealing (Ex. 22:2-4)
16. If a shepherd allows his flock to graze on another’s property (Ex. 22:5)
17. Judgment in cases of arson (Ex. 22:6)
18. Restitution in cases of stolen goods or livestock (Ex. 22:7-13)
19. Cases of injury or death of borrowed work animals (Ex. 22:14-15)
20. Responsibility of men who lie with a virgin (Ex. 22:16-17)
21. Judgment against witches (JST murderers)
22. Judgment against bestiality (Ex. 22:19)
23. Judgment against sacrificing to false gods (Ex. 22:20—this sin was common near the end of the Jewish nation)
Exodus 22:1 he shall restore five oxen for an ox and four sheep for a sheep
Spencer W. Kimball
Restitution for sin. When one is humble in sorrow, has unconditionally abandoned the evil, and confessed to those assigned by the Lord, he should next restore insofar as possible that which was damaged. If he burglarized, he should return to the rightful owner that which was stolen. Perhaps one reason murder is unforgivable is that having taken a life, the murderer cannot restore it. Restitution in full is not possible. Also, having robbed one of virtue, it is impossible to give it back.
However, the truly repentant soul will usually find things which can be done to restore to some extent. The true spirit of repentance demands this. Ezekiel taught, “If the wicked … give again that he had robbed, walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity; he shall surely live” (Ezek. 33:15).
Moses taught, “If a man shall steal an ox or a sheep, … he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep” (Ex. 22:1).
A pleading sinner must also forgive all people of all offenses committed against himself. The Lord is under no obligation to forgive us unless our hearts are fully purged of all hate, bitterness, and accusations against all others. (Ensign, Nov. 1980, 98)
Exodus 22:6 if fire break out, and catch in thorns… so that the stacks of corn… be consumed
“The plight of the man who lights a pile of rubbish on his own land and sees it fanned by the wind till it spreads in flames toward his neighbor’s property has given heart failure to farmers of all generations.” (The Interpreter’s Bible, ed. by G. A. Buttrick et al [New York, Abingdon Press, 1952] vol. 1, p. 1003)
Exodus 22:9 the cause of both parties shall come before the judges
Upon the advice of his father-in-law Jethro, Moses set up a system of lesser judges (Exodus 18). The judgments from the Book of Exodus served as the “law of the land” in secular matters whereas the commandments and statutes served more as the “Church Handbook” in spiritual matters. It’s always better if the judges have the same rules of moral conduct that you do. Hence, Paul said,
Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? (1 Cor. 6:1-7)
Exodus 22:16-17 If any man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her
Though rarely observed, this idea is still true—that the most honorable thing to do for a man who “humbles” a virgin is to marry her.
“Seduction of an unbetrothed virgin diminishes her chances of marriage and her father may never receive the full bride-price (hence this law’s inclusion with economic damages; if the girl is already betrothed the seduction counts as adultery, Deut. 22:23-27). Her seducer must make good on both losses.” (The Jewish Study Bible, ed. by A Berlin & MZ Brettler [New York, Oxford University Press, 2nd ed., 2014], 148)
Exodus 22:18 Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live
“Sorcery generally consists in superstitious rites connected with earlier forms of religion now discarded. But the religion of Yahweh demanded absolute loyalty and to participate in other cults was regarded as religious high treason, punishable by death.” (The Interpreter’s Bible, ed. by G. A. Buttrick et al [New York, Abingdon Press, 1952] vol. 1, p. 1006)
If God says kill the witches, then the witches should be killed. Note that this law applies only under a strict theocratic government and should not apply if there is a separation of church and state. But even in a theocratic context, how do you know when someone is a witch? It can be hard to know, and the scripture doesn’t say. “The easiest person on whom to blame it is the old woman who is observed engaging in some ancient religious cult, gathering herbs, mumbling spells, and making brews.” (Ibid, 1:1006) Consider the unfortunate application of this law in Salem Massachusetts in the 1690’s; the witch hunts were the devil’s work not God’s work.
“The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693. The trials resulted in the executions of twenty people, fourteen of them women, and all but one by hanging. Five others (including two infant children) died in prison… The episode is one of the Colonial America's most notorious cases of mass hysteria. It has been used in political rhetoric and popular literature as a vivid cautionary tale about the dangers of isolationism, religious extremism, false accusations, and lapses in due process.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salem_witch_trials)
“In January 1692, 9-year-old Elizabeth (Betty) Parris and 11-year-old Abigail Williams (the daughter and niece of Samuel Parris, minister of Salem Village) began having fits, including violent contortions and uncontrollable outbursts of screaming. After a local doctor, William Griggs, diagnosed bewitchment, other young girls in the community began to exhibit similar symptoms, including Ann Putnam Jr., Mercy Lewis, Elizabeth Hubbard, Mary Walcott and Mary Warren. In late February, arrest warrants were issued for the Parris’ Caribbean slave, Tituba, along with two other women–the homeless beggar Sarah Good and the poor, elderly Sarah Osborn–whom the girls accused of bewitching them.
“The three accused witches were brought before the magistrates Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne and questioned, even as their accusers appeared in the courtroom in a grand display of spasms, contortions, screaming and writhing. Though Good and Osborn denied their guilt, Tituba confessed. Likely seeking to save herself from certain conviction by acting as an informer, she claimed there were other witches acting alongside her in service of the devil against the Puritans. As hysteria spread through the community and beyond into the rest of Massachusetts, a number of others were accused, including Martha Corey and Rebecca Nurse–both regarded as upstanding members of church and community–and the four-year-old daughter of Sarah Good.” (http://www.history.com/topics/salem-witch-trials)
Exodus 22:19 Whosoever lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death
In preparing this commentary, I performed an internet search on “bestiality.” I wish I hadn’t. The practice is disgustingly common and frequently legal. One report is sufficient.
“People who literally love their animals have been tied to a series of side crimes. In August, a woman in New Mexico tried to kill her roommates after they witnessed her having sex with a dog and admitting to having sex ‘multiple times’ with both roommates’ dogs. In September, a priest who was convicted of 24 counts of pedophila against Inuit people in Nanavut, Canada, had a bestiality record as well.
“The animal rights group Occupy for Animals, which has a collection of truly disturbing stories and photos about animal rape, is petitioning the European Union to require all European nations to adopt laws against all zoophilic behavior. With the exception of Denmark, Finland, Hungary and Sweden, all European Union countries have some sort of animal protection laws on their books, even if they stipulate that sex with animals is illegal only if there is injury to the animal.” (Barbie Latza Nadeau, 10/14/2014 11:00 AM ET, “Denmark’s Bestiality Problem: It’s Legal”) http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/10/14/denmark-s-bestiality-problem-it-s-legal.html#/articles/2014/10/14/denmark-s-bestiality-problem-it-s-legal.html
Notice that the concern from a legal standpoint is the health of the animal, not the depravity of the person. Some say, “you can’t legislate morality,” but that is precisely what God did on Sinai. There are laws against incest and child abuse. What is the difference?
Exodus 22:20 He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the Lord only, he shall be utterly destroyed
Idolatry was punishable by death, but it was only enforced early on (Numbers 25:1-50). Later, the Lord had to use the Assyrians and the Babylonians to enforce the judgment of capital punishment on idolatrous Israelites.
…the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.
And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods.
And Israel joined himself unto Baal-peor: and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel.
And the Lord said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the Lord against the sun, that the fierce anger of the Lord may be turned away from Israel.
And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, slay ye every one his men that were joined unto Baal-peor. (Numbers 25:1-50)
Exodus 22:21-31 Commandments 12 to 17
The Law of Moses contains more than Ten Commandments. While they are the Big Ten, they are not the only Ten. The 11th commandment is found in Exodus 20 and reads, “An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings.” (Ex. 20:24-26)
11. Thou shalt make unto me an altar of earth and sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings
12. Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him
13. Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child
14. If thou lend money to any of my people… thou shalt not be to him as an userer (charge interest)
15. Thou shalt not revile the gods (judges), nor curse the ruler of thy people
16. Thou shalt not delay to offer the first of thy ripe fruits and of thy liquors (fruit juice)
17. Ye shall be holy men unto me
Exodus 22:21 Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him
Both the strangers and the slaves were to be treated well by the Hebrews. They knew what it was like to be the minority; they knew what it was like to be a slave. As God is with us, He commanded them to be merciful when placed in authority.
Dallin H. Oaks
We should always remember how Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves. He illustrated that great teaching with the example of the Good Samaritan, who crossed the social barriers of his day to perform acts of kindness and mercy. Then the Savior said, “Go, and do thou likewise” (Luke 10:37).
A decade ago President Spencer W. Kimball said, “Let us fellowship the students from all nations as they come to our land, so that we, above all other people, treat them as brothers and sisters in true friendship, whether or not they are interested in the gospel” (Regional Representatives’ seminar, 29 Sept. 1978).
That prophetic instruction should guide our relationships with all of our neighbors. (Ensign, May 1988, 32)
Exodus 22:22 Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child
Widows and orphans have one thing in common—no man to take care of them. While all men didn’t hold the priesthood in Moses’ day, the principle of care for widows and orphans runs throughout all the scriptures. When God’s children lack a provider, he holds his priesthood brethren responsible for taking up the slack. The Law of Moses is actually very impressive in the way it takes care of everyone. Without state assistance to rely on, practices were instituted which provide for the food and clothing of all of God’s people. It is the precursor to the celestial law in which “there is no poor among them.”
“The morality of the Old Testament was equally rare and unique. Although most ancient cultures had minimal laws against theft and other antisocial behaviors, ancient Israel worshipped a God who was completely moral and holy and who commanded his people to be the same.
“Though the gods of most of the other Mediterranean peoples seem petty, indifferent, and amoral, the God of the Old Testament is just the reverse: ‘Whereas the gods of Olympus … pursued beautiful women, the God of Sinai watches over widows and orphans.’ (Huston Smith, The Religions of Man, 351-2)
“The Old Testament introduces morality into its earliest pages.” (Chris Conkling, “The Book That Built a Better World,” Ensign, Jan. 1998, 8)
Thomas S. Monson
The word widow appears to have had a most significant meaning to our Lord. He cautioned his disciples to beware the example of the scribes, who feigned righteousness by their long apparel and their lengthy prayers, but who devoured the houses of widows.
To the Nephites came the direct warning, “I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against … those that oppress … the widow.” (3 Ne. 24:5)
And to the Prophet Joseph Smith, he directed: “The storehouse shall be kept by the consecrations of the church; and widows and orphans shall be provided for, as also the poor.” (D&C 83:6)
The widow’s home is generally not large or ornate. Frequently it is a modest one in size and humble in appearance. Often it is tucked away at the top of the stairs or the back of the hallway and consists of but one room. To such homes he sends you and me.
There may exist an actual need for food, clothing—even shelter. Such can be supplied. Almost always there remains the hope for that special hyacinth to feed the soul.
Go, gladden the lonely, the dreary;
Go, comfort the weeping, the weary;
Go, scatter kind deeds on your way;
Oh, make the world brighter today!
Let us remember that after the funeral flowers fade, the well wishes of friends become memories, and the prayers offered and words spoken dim in the corridors of the mind. Those who grieve frequently find themselves alone. Missed is the laughter of children, the commotion of teenagers, and the tender, loving concern of a departed companion. The clock ticks more loudly, time passes more slowly, and four walls do indeed a prison make.
Hopefully, all of us may again hear the echo of words spoken by the Master, inspiring us to good deeds: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these … ye have done it unto me.” (“The Fatherless and the Widows—Beloved of God,” Ensign, Nov. 1994, 70)
Exodus 22:25 If thou lend money to any of my people… thou shalt not be to him as an userer
We should seek to help the poor, especially among God’s people. We seek financial independence and general self-sufficiency. To that end, it is completely inappropriate for a member of the church to loan money to another member expecting interest in return. All personal loans should follow this rule.
There seems to be a lack of restraint for some members of the church. Not understanding these principles, they seek to make money off the ward members. What a great market! You have all their numbers and e-mail addresses. They all think you are honest and upstanding. Why not market to the ward members? It’s completely inappropriate; these members don’t understand the principles of their own religion.
Marvin J. Ashton
How unfair, unwise, and poor are those who would have us believe a “get rich” investment opportunity is desirable because of the ecclesiastical office the one holds who is making the proposition… In today’s marketplace—yes, in your own neighborhood, town, and cities—scheming, deceiving promoters are making available to gullible purchasers… all kinds of enticing offers. We are sorry to report thousands within our ranks are being duped by the glib tongues of those who offer and solicit in whispers “once in a lifetime opportunities” and “just for you” approaches. (https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/marvin-j-ashton_fun-poor/)
Exodus 22:28 Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people
In 1611, King James II assembled the greatest scholars to make a definitive translation of the Bible in English. In that first edition, in the margin, they wrote an alternate translation for “Thou shalt not revile the gods.” The alternate translation for “gods” is “judges;” i.e. “Thou shalt not revile the judges,” which makes more sense when juxtaposed to the command to respect the ruler of the people. It is in perfect harmony with the 12th article of faith which states, “we believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates…”
Exodus 22:29 Thou shalt not delay to offer the first of thy ripe fruits
Carl B. Pratt
My grandparents paid tithing regardless of the poor condition of their family finances. They knew the Lord’s commandment; they likened the scriptures unto themselves (see 1 Nephi 19:23–24) and obeyed the law. This is what the Lord expects of all His people. He expects us to pay tithing not from our abundance nor from the “leftovers” of the family budget but, as He commanded anciently, from the “firstlings” of our income, be it scarce or abounding. The Lord has commanded, “Thou shalt not delay to offer the first … fruits” (Exodus 22:29) It has been my personal experience that the surest way to pay tithing faithfully is to pay it as soon as I receive any income. In fact, I’ve found it to be the only way.
We learn from my Whetten grandparents that tithing is not a matter of money, really; it is a matter of faith—faith in the Lord. He promises blessings if we obey His commandments. (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2011/04/the-lords-richest-blessings?lang=eng)
Exodus 23:1-19 Commandments 18 – 25
18. Thou shalt not conspire with the wicked to be a false witness
19. Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil
20. Neither shalt thou wrest judgment nor countenance a poor man in his cause
21. Thou shalt return thy neighbor’s stray animal, even if it belongs to thine enemy
22. Avoid false accusations of the innocent and righteous
23. Thou shalt not take a bribe
24. Thou shalt let thy land rest on the seventh year
25. Three times a year, thou shalt appear before the Lord
Exodus 23:1 Thou shalt not raise a false report
At first glance, this seems to be the same as the commandment not to bear false witness (Ex. 20:16). However, this warning is against colluding with an evil person to lie about what happened. What is the difference? The first is dishonesty; the second is conspiracy. Conspiracy suggests an inability to do or say the right thing under pressure.
Exodus 23:2 Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil
Isn’t this peer pressure? As such, it is related to the previous commandment. Some find it much more difficult to do the right thing when peer pressure is involved. It was present then as it is now.
“Working in a company where I am the youngest, the only single male, and the only member of the Church has been difficult at times. The activities and words of my fellow workers are very different from mine. There wasn't a time that they didn't tease me or play jokes on me about my faith and beliefs. They often asked why I have so much dedication to the Church, why I don't drink coffee and tea, smoke, refuse to work extra hours on Sunday and so on and so on. I felt as if I was like a drop of oil in a barrel of water.
“One day one of my office mates brought an adult film into the office and invited us to watch it on break. They teased me again and said that they wouldn't tell my bishop.
“I said nothing because I knew I was standing on their ground. Instead I went into the restroom and asked for strength from my Heavenly Father. I then opened up my scriptures and read again the passage I had read the night before in Exodus. I received the help I needed and I made a promise to myself that I would rather offend man than to offend God. I vowed that I would choose God rather than the multitude who walk in darkness.
As a result it became a victorious day for me. I gained more respect from my fellow workers and was able to work with them with more confidence and without further trouble. I am grateful for the power of these scriptures as my sustaining anchor in every storm.” (Lito Legaspi, LDS Church News, 1995, 03/11/95)
“St. Augustine wrote. ‘Oh wo to thee, thou tide of human custom. Who can resist you?’ When all the people are doing one thing, no one can resist it, even though the Lord told the Jews, ‘Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil.’ Just because everybody's doing it, that's no excuse.” (Teachings of the Book of Mormon, 1988--1990 [Provo: FARMS] 190)
Exodus 23:3, 6 Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause
What does it mean to “countenance a poor man”? The alternate translation is favor—thou shalt not favor “a poor man in his cause.” Aren’t we supposed to be nice and kind to the poor? Later, the same principle is taught a different way, “Thou shalt not wrest the judgment of the poor in his cause.” The scripture means it is just as wrong to let pity alter justice as it is to let wealth and status alter it. It is wrong to give the poor man what he wants just because he is poor and you feel sorry for him. That is not justice. Justice is to treat him the same way as the rich man or the one in between. You should not favor the poor man, nor should you wrest judgment from him. He should be treated like all the rest.
The reader is reminded that these commandments are instructions for the judges and elders of Israel in cases of civil law suits. However, the term civil law suit is a misnomer. Church and state are combined and the elders are to learn to judge their own people in righteousness according to the Law of Moses, regardless of the nature of the charge.
Exodus 23:4 If thou meet thine enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again
The Law of Moses is not all justice without mercy. While not famous for “love thine enemy” doctrines, this surely is the glimpse of the higher law. On a trip to Haiti, we saw donkeys and goats wandering the neighborhoods. They were not confined by fences nor marked by branding. I asked the driver, “To whom do these animals belong?” “What would happen if someone just decided to keep this donkey or that goat?” He replied, “Everyone knows where each animal belongs. To take one of these animals would be looked upon as stealing.”
Exodus 23:7 Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and righteous slay thou not
At first reading, these ideas seem disjointed. Stay away from false issues and don’t kill the innocent. Does that mean it is OK to kill the guilty? Again, we need to think in legal and judicial terms. Those who jump on the bandwagon of rumor and lies might inadvertently contribute to an innocent, righteous man’s death sentence. Another translation renders it, “Keep far from a false charge; do not bring death on the innocent and the righteous.” (The Torah: A Modern Commentary, ed. by W. Gunther Plaut [New York, The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981], 580) In other words, don’t be responsible for sending the innocent to the electric chair.
Exodus 23:8 thou shalt take no gift; for the gift blindeth the wise
We must have enough honesty and integrity to neither give nor receive bribes. That seems obvious enough, but what of politicians who receive campaign funds from large corporations, rich individuals, and special interest groups? Do their gifts “blind the wise”? How could they not?
Exodus 23:12 Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest
This is a recapitulation of the 4th commandment (Ex. 20:8-11).
George A. Smith
“I have felt that it was necessary to call the attention of the Saints—the brethren especially, to this subject, because I believe it affects us in various ways. We should come together on the Sabbath day and partake of the Sacrament, and we should do no work, but what is necessary to prepare food for ourselves, or to feed our animals. We should observe the Sabbath as a day of rest, Ex. 23:12 and if we do it faithfully we shall live longer; for my impression is, saying nothing about the commandment of the Lord, that nature requires one-seventh of our time for rest, and that when a man has worked fifty-two Sundays in a year, he is at least fifty-two days older than he needs to be, and has not done as much work during the year as if he had worked only six days a week and had rested the seventh. I hope our brethren will hereafter make their calculations to observe the Sabbath and thus act in accordance with the law of God.” (Journal of Discourses, 12:197b)
Exodus 23:14-17 Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto me in the year
Not all the commandments were followed very closely by the Jews after they were given. However, this particular commandment, to appear before the Lord three times a year was followed strictly by the devout Jews of Jesus’ time.
Old Testament Name
New Testament Name
The Feast of Unleavened Bread
The Feast of Harvest
The Feast of Ingathering
The Feast of Tabernacles
Both Jesus and Paul were careful to make their appearances at the temple at the appointed times.
Jesus (John 5:1; 7:1-10)
Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover.
And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. (Lu. 2:40-41)
After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him.
Now the Jews’ feast of tabernacles was at hand…
Then Jesus said unto them… Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast; for my time is not yet full come.
When he had said these words unto them, he abode still in Galilee.
But when his brethren were gone up, then went he also up unto the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret. (John 7:1-10)
Paul after this … came to Ephesus, and left them there… When they desired him to tarry longer time with them, he consented not;
But bade them farewell, saying, I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem: but I will return again unto you, if God will. (Acts 18:18-21)
Bible Dictionary: Feasts
The law commanded that three times a year all the males of the covenant people were to appear before the Lord in the place that he should choose, that is, in the Feast of Unleavened Bread, in the Feast of Weeks, and in the Feast of Tabernacles (Ex. 23: 14-17; Deut. 16: 16). This ordinance presupposed a state of settled peace rarely if ever realized in the history of the people in O.T. times. It was not and could not be generally or even frequently observed. Elkanah, a pious Israelite of the times of the later Judges, went up to Shiloh once a year (1 Sam. 1: 3). In N.T. times the case was altered. The Jews came up from all parts of the land with much more regularity to keep their three great feasts.
The Feast of the Passover was instituted to commemorate the passing over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when God smote the firstborn of the Egyptians, and more generally the redemption from Egypt (Ex. 12: 27; Ex. 13: 15)…
Fifty days (Lev. 23: 16) after the Feast of the Passover, the Feast of Pentecost was kept. During those 50 days the harvest of corn was being gathered in. It is called (Ex. 23: 16) “the feast of harvest, the firstfruits of thy labours” and (Deut. 16: 10) “the feast of weeks.” The feast lasted a single day, which was a day of holy convocation (Lev. 23: 21); and the characteristic rite was the new meal offering, that is, two loaves of leavened bread made of fine flour of new wheat. Special animal sacrifices were also made (Lev. 23: 18) and freewill offerings (Deut. 16: 10). The festival was prolonged in later times, and huge numbers of Jews attended it. Of this the narrative in Acts 2 is sufficient proof. It had the same evil reputation as the Feast of the Passover for tumults and massacres. We have no record of the celebration of this feast in the Old Testament.
The Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23: 34) or of Ingathering (Ex. 23: 16), called by later Jews the Feast (John 7: 37), and reckoned by them to be the greatest and most joyful of all, was celebrated on the fifteenth to twenty-first days of the seventh month. To the seven days was added an eighth (“the last day, that great day of the feast” (John 7: 37), a day of holy convocation, which marked the ending not only of this particular feast, but of the whole festival season.
Exodus 23:18-33 The Statutes of the Law of Moses
A statute is a decree or a rule, sometimes given by God. Sometimes the reason for the rule is not revealed. The Lord declared, “Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the Lord your God. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them” (Lev. 18:5).
Latter-days Saints have plenty of statutes:
- Do home teaching and visiting teaching monthly
- Tithing Settlement
- Wear your garments day and night
- Take dinner to families in need
- Men wear white shirts and ties
- No applause after musical performances in church
- Baptismal participants wear white clothing
- The sacrament should be taken with the right hand
- No dating before age 16
The Law of Moses has statutes as well. Sometimes it is hard to decipher between a statute and a commandment. The commandments seem to carry more weight.
1. Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leavened bread
2. Neither shall the fat of my sacrifice remain until morning
3. The first of the firstfruits shall be brought in to the house of the Lord
4. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk
To seethe means to boil, so there must have been a practice of separating a kid from its mother, collecting sufficient milk, then cooking the kid in the mother’s milk. This is a strange practice for sure. “Meat boiled in sour milk (“leben) was probably considered a delicacy, as it is by Arabs, since it is tastier and more tender than meat boiled in water.” (The Jewish Study Bible, ed. by A Berlin & MZ Brettler [New York, Oxford University Press, 2nd ed., 2014], 152) As common with statutes, the reason for the rule is not given. Perhaps the mere cruelty of starving the kid while harvesting the milk was offensive to God. Alternately, the practice may have been associated with idolatrous celebrations of the Canaanites.
Exodus 23:20-25 Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared
Who is this Angel that is to bring them into the promised land? In the Old Testament, the term angel can be used in many ways. In this instance, it means the pre-mortal spirit of Almighty Jehovah. The evidence for this can be found in the Bible.
Joshua saw this same Angel:
…behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, Art thou for us, or for our adversaries?
And he said, Nay; but as captain of the host of the Lord am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto him, What saith my Lord unto his servant?
And the captain of the Lord’s host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so. (Josh. 5:13-18)
Angels who are servants of the Lord don’t allow the prophet they visit to worship them:
I John… fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which shewed me these things.
And he saith unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God. (Rev. 22:8-9)
In the case of Joshua, the Captain of the Lord’s host told him the ground upon which he stood was holy—the same message that Moses received on Sinai from Jehovah himself:
And he said, Draw not nigh hither: but off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.
Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God. (Ex. 3:5-6)
Later, Jehovah promised Moses, that he would personally escort the children of Israel into the promised land:
…I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt unto the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, unto a land flowing with milk and honey. (Ex. 3:17)
Exodus 23:21 He will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him
This passage is more evidence that Elohim is sending the Angel Jehovah to destroy those occupying the promised land. He is demanding obedience and justice, warning that there will be no mercy—a warning that applied to the nation of the Israelites rather than to any particular individual. The Israelites needed to learn how to be God’s people and number one on the list was to learn to obey his commandments.
Exodus 23:25 he shall bless thy bread, and thy water
The priests administering the sacrament bless the bread and the water, acting as in all priesthood ordinances as representatives of Jesus Christ, whose body and blood are represented in the sacrament. In this passage, the pre-mortal Jehovah promises to bless the bread and water, both temporally and spiritually, for the children of Israel if they will be obedient to His commandments. For us the promise is that we will have His Spirit to be with us. For them, the Lord Himself was among them and he promised them additionally that He would “take sickness away from the midst of thee.” What a blessing!
Exodus 23:27 I will send my fear before thee and will destroy all the people to whom thou shalt come
Imagine the Savior teaching the disciples as they travelled. They didn’t quite comprehend the majesty of his identity. What if the Savior read them this passage?
I will send my fear before thee, and will destroy all the people to whom thou shalt come, and I will make all thine enemies turn their backs unto thee.
And I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee.
I will not drive them out from before thee in one year: lest the land become desolate… By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land. (Ex. 23:27-29)
In the synagogue when the Savior read the passage of Isaiah which referred to himself as the Messiah (Lu. 4:16-22), He declared, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” Can we imagine the Savior reading the story of Elijah and the priests of Baal (1 Kgs. 18) as well as Exodus 23 to the Twelve and declaring to them that He was that Angel which drove out the inhabitants of Canaan? In my imagination, the conversation happened right before they went through Samaria:
And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him.
And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem.
And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?
But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.
For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them. And they went to another village. (Lu. 9:51-56)
Knowing only the Old Testament, the disciples didn’t appreciate the merciful mission of the Savior. They understood the justice of God as displayed in the Old Testament which included the destruction of the priests of Baal and the annihilation of the people in the land of promise, but they did not understand that, in their day, the Savior had come to bring life not to end it. Sometimes, it is hard for us who only know the New Testament to believe that such a merciful and loving Jesus could have been the same God who commanded destruction in Old Testament times. However, mercy cannot smother justice. They both have their claim and their characteristics are both found perfectly expressed in God. He has an arm of justice and an arm of mercy. He wields both at his will and pleasure. To truly know him, we have to understand how and why He has taken life when demanding justice.
Yea, and ye also know that Moses, by his word according to the power of God which was in him, smote the rock, and there came forth water, that the children of Israel might quench their thirst.
And notwithstanding they being led, the Lord their God, their Redeemer, going before them, leading them by day and giving light unto them by night, and doing all things for them which were expedient for man to receive, they hardened their hearts and blinded their minds, and reviled against Moses and against the true and living God.
And it came to pass that according to his word he did destroy them; and according to his word he did lead them; and according to his word he did do all things for them; and there was not any thing done save it were by his word.
And after they had crossed the river Jordan he did make them mighty unto the driving out of the children of the land, yea, unto the scattering them to destruction.
And now, do ye suppose that the children of this land, who were in the land of promise, who were driven out by our fathers, do ye suppose that they were righteous? Behold, I say unto you, Nay.
Do ye suppose that our fathers would have been more choice than they if they had been righteous? I say unto you, Nay.
Behold, the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favored of God. But behold, this people had rejected every word of God, and they were ripe in iniquity; and the fulness of the wrath of God was upon them; and the Lord did curse the land against them, and bless it unto our fathers; yea, he did curse it against them unto their destruction, and he did bless it unto our fathers unto their obtaining power over it. (1 Ne. 17:29-35)