Exodus 23:1-9 (ESV)
“You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit. “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him. “You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit. Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked. And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”
How are we to respond to God’s love and salvation? That was the question the Hebrews needed to answer after they had been saved from Pharaoh “with the mighty hand and outstretched arm” of God. They had lived as slaves for 400 years, and now they were free and marching toward a land I’m sure they had heard about as they gathered around fires dreaming of a future they may have doubted would ever come. They are no longer slaves; they are free.
In Exodus 20, we read the account of Moses receiving and distributing the 10 Commandments, and the chapters that follow outline in greater detail how those regulations are to be lived out. But Exodus 23 throws in a wrinkle: if the 10 Commandments can be boiled down to the twin principles of loving God and loving neighbor as self, what are these provisions about a person’s enemies? Are they my neighbor too? Moses is so detailed in his description about not only keeping the law fair regardless of someone’s social or economic standing, he also talks about saving the life of a donkey of an enemy. The donkey of an enemy? If the Israelites were supposed to save the donkey, then what of the treatment of the enemy itself?
This is one of those annoying aspects of the Christian faith. We are called to not only love our friends, but to love and reach out to those who hate us. Jesus said, “Love your enemies and bless those who persecute you.” In the same manner, the apostle Paul, in outlining the Christian ethic says that if we find our enemy hungry or thirsty we are to care for them. This is a very different idea than the “carpet-bombing them to oblivion” mentality that we carry around for our enemies. We want harsh and brutal justice for our enemies.
Truthfully, this is all unnerving to me, because I certainly do not have ANY desire to show kindness to my enemies. We all have people or organizations, former friends or even estranged family members we would consider enemies… how can we muster the strength to love them in any sort of practical way?
For me, the key (and why this ties in with Lent so well) is remembering that I was an enemy of God. It comes in remembering that at times I still act like an enemy of God now. Sin is not merely a moral failure; it is an affront to the God who Created us. It is saying, “I know best, and I am going to act on it.” Sin makes us enemies of God. Yet, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for [me].” – Romans 5:8 God does not wait for us to “get right” and join his team to save us. He saved us through Christ because of his love for us – we could not earn that and too often, we throw it back in his face.
One important reminder of this Lenten season is that through the death of Christ, not only am I saved from death, but my position to God changes. In Jesus, I have been transformed from an enemy deserving of God’s hate to a child worthy of God’s love.