Thoughts on Ex 23:4-5 – Grace in the Old Testament

I came across the following verses this morning as I was doing my RttBiaY reading:

Ex 23:4(D) “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him.
5 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.

This struck me as very interesting – an example of extending grace towards one’s enemy in the middle of the Law! The law is not all “an eye for an eye”, etc. The OT does foretell the grace of the cross, obviously – and there’s a lot of mercy and grace extended to the people of Israel by God. Furthermore, even in the OT, God sought “circumcision of the heart”, and obedience over sacrifice, etc. But I don’t recall seeing the law address grace formally. It may well be that there are other examples which I’m either forgetting or haven’t ever come across – we’ll see!

Of course, the OT economy didn’t provide, generally speaking, for the infusion of the Holy Spirit into one’s life – and even those instances where the Spirit of God was upon someone, those instances were short-lived. All this to say that it was more difficult to extend grace in the OT economy… not that it is always easy to do so now. My sinful heart often gets in the way of that!

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2 Comments

  1. You seem surprised to have found Grace in the Old Testament? It’s interesting because everything that Jesus and Paul speak of comes from the Old Testament, and particularly from the Law. I don’t mean to sound condescending…please don’t hear that. It’s hard to type words that can be easier spoken in the correct tone.

    Since I’ve spent many years studying the Old Testament, in particular the books of Moses, I am surprised to hear anyone say that they are surprised to find grace there, particularly in the Laws, since they in their very essence exude grace and mercy. But then I remember how I once viewed them, and I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. So after thinking for a while (I bookmarked this page a while ago) I came to realize that it isn’t the Law that hides its grace, but rather the interpretation of the Law. For even the Laws on slavery, seen in the correct light of truth, are filled with grace and restoration for both the slave “owner” and slave himself.

    Here are some samples of obvious grace in the Law off the top of my head: Love your neighbor as yourself; Do not cut the corners of your fields; leave gleanings in your fields for the poor, widow, and foreigner; care for the needy; you must have two credible witnesses; all cases must be judged by a credible house of judgment; do not take the mother bird and the eggs, do not take the mother with the young; put a fence on your roof so no one falls off; do not take a man’s livelihood as security for a debt; etc….

    In light of these, it’s helpful to remember that the Law was given as a marriage covenant between Israel and God AFTER God saved them and brought them out of Egypt, not through anything Israel did, but through what God did. And, forty days after Israel accepted the covenant to “do everything the LORD has said” they broke that covenant knowing full well the consequence. Yet God does not destroy them, nor even leave them, but renews the covenant with them. It is in these passages surrounding the Golden Calf incident where God most clearly reveals His character of grace and mercy and compassion.

    And, all of this is culminated at the end of the books of Moses which show a God consistently revealing Himself to be a gracious God.

    If you are interested, a very good study is called the Torah Club found at First Fruits of Zion. I’ve joined in that study awhile back, and found it to be most insightful, even if you do not always stand in agreement with their conclusions. I hope you do find the time to study the Old Testament, because I truly have come to believe that it is literally impossible to understand the New Testament apart from an accurate understanding of the Old, and in particular the first five books of Moses which is the foundation of everything else.

    Deut. 12:23 “See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it.”

    God Bless,
    Sean Daily

  2. Sean – I appreciate your comment! I’ve been traveling since last Wednesday (and mostly without internet access), and won’t be home until later this week – I’ll add some more thoughts after then.


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