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Little delights in Scripture, for the superior modern mind

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Oct 16, 2020

Every once in a while, when reading Scripture just to see what’s new, I stumble across a chapter of a book which captures my attention in a different way than before. That’s one important reason to keep reading the Bible, of course. When I say “to see what’s new”, I mean “to see what the Holy Spirit might call to my attention during this particular reading.”

So it was in reading over the laws God gave to Moses in chapter 23 of Exodus. Six points caught my attention very rapidly in this one chapter. Three of them relate to the way, as a matter of law, the Israelites were to deal with different groups of people:

  • Enemies: If you see your enemy’s ox or donkey going astray, you must return it to him. And if you see your enemy’s donkey collapsed under a burden, you must help to lift it up. (23:4-5)
  • The Poor: You shall not pervert the justice due to the poor. You may not make false charges, harm the innocent (or acquit the wicked), and you may not take a bribe. (23:6-7)
  • Strangers: You may not oppress a stranger. (The Jews were reminded that they had been strangers in Egypt, so they “know the heart of a stranger”—in other words, that strangers are not worse than others.) (23:9)

The Sabbath

Another point deals with the powerful notion of “sabbath” for the Jews. They were to sow their land and gather their produce for six years, but in the seventh they were to “let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat”. This included also their vineyards and orchards.

The Sabbath, of course, was first and foremost a day of rest each week. But the concept of a sabbatical year stamped Jewish society with limits that helped the needy. Later, in Deuteronomy, the sabbath year was the occasion for remitting any debts the Jews had to each other, including release from servitude for those who had fallen into it because of poverty.

On Following the Crowd

The first two verses of Exodus 23 struck me as particularly important for us today. Despite the supposed “enlightenment” of modern Western societies, it would seem that people today are just as likely to follow the misguided or even evil instincts of the crowd (or, more often, the “in crowd”) as were Jews over three thousand years ago. Consider verses 1 and 2:

You shall not utter a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man, to be a malicious witness. You shall not follow a multitude to do evil; nor shall you bear witness in a suit, turning aside after a multitude, so as to pervert justice. [emphasis added]

Understanding Providence

Finally, I gleaned a fresh insight into Divine Providence. So often we do not understand why God seems to delay in responding to our prayers and desires. Of course, our Faith tells us that God’s “schedule” is always for our good. But there is a very specific instance in Exodus 23 of God predicting that he is going to allow the Jews to roll back their enemies only slowly, because if it is done too quickly, they will not be able to manage the success. Thus:

I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you are increased and possess the land. [23:29-30]

All this comes from the account of Jewish life some 3,300 years ago, though it may have been put in its final written form “only” about 2,500 years ago, according to some scholars. In any case, we tend to dismiss much of the Old Testament as coming from a very primitive time. And yet here we are: At list six highly significant insights from which all of us, including our whole culture, could benefit enormously today. And all are within the space of a thousand words in a single chapter of the second oldest book of the Bible.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: ILM - Oct. 18, 2020 9:35 AM ET USA

    I have often thought that most of us will discover things in scriptures for the first time when we get to eternity. And, we will think WOW I wish I had reflected more on scriptures when I was still on earth.

  • Posted by: Jeff Mirus - Oct. 18, 2020 8:33 AM ET USA

    patsette1269: That was irony. We moderns think we are so smart compared with everyone who came before, but in reality we miss many of the most obvious things of all, that those attentive to God knew thousands of years ago.

  • Posted by: patsette1269 - Oct. 16, 2020 6:36 PM ET USA

    I'm confused - what did you mean by "the superior modern mind"?