Exodus 23 – Sundry Laws Against Sundry Gods (or: Israel, Take Heed)

Exodus 23 Bible with Theo Orange 70 percent Dark Chocolate

Today’s ChocolateTheo Orange 70% Dark Chocolate

Today’s PassageExodus 23

I’ll be frank: the last half of Exodus 22 and the first half of Exodus 23 read like God suddenly gave up on organizing his laws into categories and just started declaring norms. The NASB gives the section the header “Sundry Laws,” which sound like laws pertaining to your sundry. But no, “sundry” is an adjective, not a noun. And if you look through this legal grab-bag, you can find some recurring themes, like gods.

That’s right: God has something to say about Gods. First, in between laws about Sabbath-keeping and feasts, he commands: “Do not mention the name of other gods,” and then, saying the same thing with almost entirely new words, “nor let them be heard from your mouth” (13). And sure enough, during the plagues of Egypt, did you see the names of any gods whose impotence each plague highlighted? Nope. The writer of Exodus has practiced what God preaches.

Moving forward, God begins talking about how he’ll return the children of Israel to Canaan. He tells them that as they enter the Promised Land, they are to refrain from serving the gods of the land’s inhabitants: “You shall not worship their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their deeds” (24). Peculiarly, God in a fashion seems to take these other deities seriously. He specifically forbids physically prostrating oneself before them (Heb. shachah, “to bow down”), and he says not to act according to their deeds. How do you do according to the deeds of a non-entity? God’s choice of words suggests that there may be a bit more to these gods than mere imaginary mythical superhumans or the material idols that represent them.

But God isn’t threatened by them. He promises to destroy the inhabitants of Canaan (23); their gods will prove as impotent as the gods of Egypt. No, the threat is to Israel. God warns them: “You shall make no covenant with them or with their gods. They shall not live in your land, because they will make you sin against Me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you” (32-33). These gods, whether mere ideas or actual beings, may not be able to overpower God himself, but they can overpower humans. Israel, take heed.

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