Exodus 23 is divided into four parts: I. Expanding on the commandments regarding one’s neighbor II. Sabbath laws III. Three Annual Festivals IV. Promise of protection The first section, from verses 1-9 is really simply giving examples of loving one’s neighbor as oneself. They include honesty in legal matters, care for another’s property, and the treatment of aliens. When one considers the words of Jesus regarding loving one’s neighbor as oneself, it is quite easy to see that this second great commandment is the foundation for everything in these nine verses. The second section is regarding extending the Sabbath from a day a week to a year in every seven. But the reason for this is also in loving one’s neighbor as oneself, for in verse 11, we read, “…Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.” Verse 12 repeats the necessity of the weekly Sabbath “so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed.” Verse 13 extends the meaning of the first three commands regarding man’s relationship with God to ”Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips.” Loving the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength then also involves staying completely away from anything taking away from that in the slightest! In part III, verses 14-19, we see for the first time God ordaining yearly festivals. So far only the Passover has been commanded, and that was to commence once they reached the Promised Land. The first, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, was to commemorate the Exodus. This festival culminated in the Passover feast. The second, was the Feast of the Harvest, also known as the Feast of Weeks, since it was to be held seven weeks after the Passover. This was the presentation of the first fruits of the harvests to the Lord. In New Testament times this was known as Pentecost due to the timing of the festival. It is interesting that at this time the ‘firstfruits’ of the Israelite community were presented to the Lord as, after Peter’s speech, several thousand believed and were baptized. The third was the Feast of Ingathering, also called the Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Booths. This was the end of the AGRICULTURAL year and thus the beginning of a new one. The beginning of the redemptive or religious year, commemorating the saving of the Jewish people from Israel, was and is in the spring. Interspersed with the orders for these festivals are some other comments from the Lord: v. 15b: No one is to appear before me empty-handed. In other words, just as every man had the means to pay back what he owed, if only through his own personal labor, so every man also had the means, one way or another, to present something to the Lord. v. 18a: Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast. Strange and whimsical? Not at all – blood poured out would always be a picture of the Final Sacrifice of Christ. Yeast was representative of sin. The two pictures were not to be mixed or confused. v. 18b: The fat of my festival offerings must not be kept until morning. Why not? Remember manna? It could not be kept until morning either. Would the fat go rancid overnight? Probably not, although it would not be unheard of. So what was going on? Here is a suggestion: both the manna and the fat represented the provision of the Lord. Fat is the excess. In the case of internal organs it is also protection. All of this is always provided by the Lord. “Give us this day our daily bread.” Today is what we have. Today may be all we have. Today He supplies all we need. This command by God may be in relation to the need for our total daily dependence on God rather than on ourselves. v. 19a: Bring the best of the firstfruits of our soil to the house of the Lord your God. Not much needs to be said about that one. God has given us HIS best – Himself. Who are we to withhold anything from Him? v. 19b: Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk. I have no idea why this was commanded. NIV notes state it may have been a protest against a Canaanite ritual of some kind. But that does not satisfy me. God’s laws and ordinances generally have a positive aspect regarding something to the benefit of people or showing a spiritual truth, or both. If anyone knows anything about this, I would appreciate learning. Section IV of this chapter has to do with God’s preparation and protection promised to the Israelite people. This will be covered with chapter 24, when God confirms the covenant with Moses.