Saturday, October 13, 2007

Exodus 23:1-9 -- Our God of Justice and Mercy

Opening thought:
On Saturday, September 29, 2007, Duke University President Richard Brodhead apologized for much of the university's actions during the highly publicized yearlong rape investigation involving the school’s highly ranked lacrosse team.


Speaking at a Duke law school conference, Brodhead made his first public remarks about the case since charges against David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann were dropped. The conference, "The Court of Public Opinion," focused on the ethical obligations of the media, legal system and colleges during high-profile criminal cases.

Brodhead said the entire case – from the accusations in March 2006 to the ongoing aftermath – was tainted by "instant, uncritical certainty that fed on itself." Media reports and statements by legal officials, he said, "confirmed and reconfirmed public certainty that an outrage had occurred."

Evans, Finnerty and Seligmann were charged after an exotic dancer claimed she was raped at a party hosted by three lacrosse players. Even as the case seemed to unfold, then-Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong pursued charges of first-degree rape, kidnapping and sexual assault until December, when he dismissed the rape charge against the three men. Less than a month later, he recused himself from the case, and asked for a special prosecutor to handle it. On April 11, 2007, declaring the indicted former players innocent victims, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper dropped the case after special prosecutors found no evidence to proceed.

In the weeks after the allegations surfaced, however, Brodhead suspended the lacrosse team for the season, and longtime lacrosse coach Mike Presser was forced to resign."Our justice system – the best in the world – is only as good as the men and women who administer it," he said. In this case, "a rogue prosecutor on the loose" undermined the system as he "presented false allegations as true, suppressed contrary evidence, and subverted the process he was sworn to uphold."

Brodhead said "the deepest lesson" he learned during the case: "The scariest thing, to me, is that actual human lives were at the mercy of so much instant moral certainty, before the facts had been established."He cited "the danger of prejudgment" and urged people to remember the case "as a call to caution in a world where certainty and judgment come too far quickly."[1]

Today we will look at a passage in our continuing study of the children of Israel in the wilderness that contrasts God’s character with that for which Richard Brodhead had to apologize: the sinful nature of human beings.

Contextual Notes:
Last week we completed a tour of the Ten Commandments, seeing them as two tables, one set of commands focused on God’s relationship with man and the second set dealing with peoples’ relationships with each other. In the passages after the Ten Commandments, there are three chapters (Exodus 21-23) of the application of the Ten in everyday life for the Hebrews.
Some of these commands might sound a little strange to us, like “do not go up to my altar on steps, lest your nakedness be exposed on it” (Exodus 20:26), or “do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk” (Exodus 23:19), but there are eternal principles that we can derive from the applications of that day. Today we will look at a sample of these Ten-Commandment applications.

Pray and Read: Exodus 23:1-9

Sermon Points:
Characteristics of Justice and Mercy:
Honesty (Exodus 23:1-3)
Kindness (Exodus 23:4-5)
Fairness (Exodus 23:6-7)
Transparency (Exodus 23:8)
Opportunity (Exodus 23:9)

Exposition: Note well,

1. Honesty (Exodus 23:1-3).
a. Don’t spread lies (v. 1). Your life-long reputation rides on your loyalty to truth. If you get branded as a liar, and that can happen in just one important incident, you’ve lost your credibility. People won’t trust you. They will look at you as the local gossip who can’t seem to keep his mouth shut, a mouth that is constantly spewing negativity, always cutting someone down.

b. Don’t be let someone use you to hurt someone else (v. 1). That person is not your friend. Can’t you see you are being used? What they asked you to say as a favor to them is simply you getting their agenda accomplished for them. Then if someone takes the fall for being malicious or telling the truth, it won’t be on them. It will be on you. All the “friend talk” is manipulation. They are using you. Open your eyes. Then when that person is done using you, they will just as likely turn on you themselves.

c. Don’t fall for group-think (v. 2). Think for yourself. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you into all truth in every matter. Do not let someone else with their own agenda tell you what to think. That is called manipulation. They are not talking for your benefit. They are speaking for their own agenda. They are using you for their purposes. Think for yourself. Ask the Lord to lead you into a right way of understanding a situation.

d. Don’t unfairly favor the poor (v. 3). God is so fair that He does not want anyone to receive favoritism, even someone that people would consider the underdog. God says fair is fair. Just because a man has money does not mean he should be favored. Just because a man is poor does not mean he should receive favoritism either.

e. APPLICATION: Do you repeat information that is not true? That’s dishonest. Do you spread misinformation you have not checked out? That’s dishonest.

2. Kindness (Exodus 23:4-5).

a. Be responsible and do the right thing. Here is a practical illustration that exhorts you and me to do the right thing even when our enemy is involved, someone we do not like or who has done us dirty. The text infers that letting your enemy have his just desserts, that we should have mercy, go the extra mile, avoid cruelty, in this case to an animal heading into the desert, and do to another what you would have him do unto you.

b. Look after another man’s livelihood.
In this illustration, a man’s ox or donkey wandering away means two things:
i. (1) Loss of a significant investment for that family, and
ii. (2) Loss of a living for that family. Even more, this man is not just an acquaintance or a neighbor. He is an enemy. God expects us to be merciful and upright even with our enemy’s belongings.
iii. Someone may see the ox or donkey and say, “It’s not my responsibility. He should have kept his livestock put up. Haha. That’s his loss.” God says that attitude is wrong, even with enemies. Why?
iv. Because more is at stake than just letting an enemy take a financial loss.
v. (1) You’ll likely be hurting a family. That enemy of yours may have a family with a spouse and innocent children. You’ll be hurting that family for years, because financial loss sometimes lasts a lifetime or several generations.
vi. (2) You’ll be hurting your community, because your enemy’s financial loss may hurt people he works for and people who work for him, those whom he owes, the church where he gives, even the tax-base where he lives.
vii. (3) You’ll be hurting yourself. People who are watching see how you treat your enemy, letting livelihood go. Do you think Murphy’s Law will never find you? What about the Biblical Law of Reciprocation: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” Do not sow the wind and reap the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7).
viii. Galatians 6:1-2

c. ILLUSTRATION: Jerry Clower to deacon: We need to go see a brother who was in trouble. Deacon: “I want to know what the good-for-nothing sorry thing did before I go help him.” Jerry replied: “Well why don’t let’s go get us some rope and go down there and throw it over a limb and hang him?” He shamed the deacon into a right attitude.

d. APPLICATION: Take the high ground to stifle attitude of vengeance.
i. What do you think would be the reaction when your enemy or someone who hates you sees you coming to their rescue and helping them save what was almost lost? It washes away bad blood. It brings people back together. It reconciles hearts. It restores souls.

3. Fairness (Exodus 23:6-7)
a. Fairness toward those without (v. 6): Those with no money, with no reputation, with no influence, with no ability to scratch your back or pay you back, with no real friends.

b. Fairness in hearsay (v. 7a): “Keep far from a false charge.” When someone comes up to you accusing someone else of things, beware.

i. First thing to do is put up the red flags in your mind and ask, “How reliable is this source, this person doing the accusing?” That may settle the issue right then. The accuser may have no integrity themselves or known to have (albeit innocently) frequently incorrect information.
ii. Second, ask yourself, “Is this any of my business?” Busybodies entertain hearsay because they don’t have enough business of their own.
iii. Third, hold the accusation lightly, i.e., don’t give the information a lot of weight until you hear it three times from differing sources. Then you may need to approach the accused person yourself to verify or dismiss the charge (Matthew 18).
iv. Do not listen to hearsay. You might be listening to a lie. You might be listening to someone with an agenda. You might be listening to the truth. In any case, the best thing to do, if it is any of your business, is to go to the persons involved and find out for yourself.

c. Fairness in punishment
(v. 7b). This passage is legal material to be used as reference in the Hebrew court system, and it is the basis of our common law in the West. Here we are warned with a threat from the Lord that if we hastily punish someone with death who is innocent or righteous, we bear the responsibility as a society.
i. Note that the text does not say that capital punishment is forbidden. It says that lynching is. It says that punishing someone without making triply sure you have the right person is a serious offense. God comes after you.
ii. APPLICATION: On a personal level, the principle is that before make a decision to end a friendship, to punish a child, to fire an employee, to end a relationship, make sure you are not hurting the innocent or the righteous.

4. Transparency (Exodus 23:8)

a. ILLUSTRATION: Once during the Liberian civil war I found myself at the “Iron Gate,” the crossing point between government and rebel forces at Gbarnga, Bong County, Liberia. At the gate were several 14-yr olds high on marijuana, eyes dilated, slurred speech, w/ Kalashkinovs slung over their backs. Did they have bullets? If they shot at us, would they kill us? Would they even remember? They asked for our passports and after an hour of waiting still would not give them back. They wanted a bribe. Instead of cash or supplies, we gave him Gideon Bibles, one for every man at the checkpoint. They were thrilled, and we were too, and we made it to our friends inside rebel lines. On our return we were known at the Iron Gate as the “Bible people” and let through. One of their commanders was a “book man,” meaning he could read, and he had been reading to them at night.

b. Bribes are not all money – favor, influence, membership, tickets, meal (Esau), promotion of agenda, etc.

c. A bribe is anything done in darkness, kept out of the light of transparency, a corrupt evil, that is offered for you to help me fulfill my agenda. Business is rife with it. Government is rife with it. The education system is rife with it. Churches are rife with it.

d. Bribes: blind the clear-sighted and “distorts the words” or “subverts the cause” of the righteous

e. Deuteronomy 16:19; Psalm 26:10

5. Opportunity (Exodus 23:9)
a. Same opportunity in hiring, no oppression in language, etc.

b. We’re all aliens.
1 Peter 2:11; Hebrews 11:13; Malachi 3:5.


c. ILLUSTRATION: Car Dealership: “Do you know any Mexicans we could hire? We’d like to hire some Mexicans. We heard they work hard for not much money.”

d. ILLUSTRATION: Temporary agency: One ethnic group was jealous of the new ethnic group b/c they had always been there working at their own pace and these new people came in and worked harder than they did and had much better production. They older ethnic group would choose the material because they could read English, and bring it to the new ethnic group to “help” them, but they intentionally gave them the wrong colors or materials so that their production would be poor. The new ethnic group caught on in a few days and began to question the first group. The first group got angry and claimed harassment in the workplace and demanded all the second group be fired. Didn’t happen. Exodus 22:21; Leviticus 19:34; Deuteronomy 10:19

Invitation:
God is a God of Justice. He has a standard. He has an unbending loyalty to His own character. That fairness in His character means that if you and I do not measure up to that standard, if we sin, we must pay the penalty. Romans 3:23 says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. All means all. And that penalty is death, eternal death, eternal separation from God in a horrible place the Bible calls Hell. Hell exists because of God’s justice, but Hell is not where God intends for you to go.

God is also a God of Mercy. In Romans 6:23, we find that though the wages of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever would believe in Him would not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). Jesus said that He came that we might have life, life more abundantly (John 10:10).

[1]Reporter: Beau Minnick, http://www.wral.com/news/local/story/1876463/?print_friendly=1