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“…Restore five oxen for an ox and four sheep for a sheep…Make full restitution…If a thief be found, let him pay double…For I am gracious…The innocent and the righteous slay thou not; for I will not justify the wicked...” (Exodus 21:7-23:8)
In this portion of Holy Scripture we are given a lengthy series of laws, statutes, and judgments by which the Lord God sets before us his wisdom and justice, as well as his mercy, love, and grace. In these laws, the guilty are required, by divine justice, either to make restitution or to suffer punishment. As we read the law, we cannot avoid observing the fact that the law and justice of God does not take anything into consideration except guilt or innocence. God’s law specifically forbids any mercy on the basis of the offender’s circumstances and condition.
“Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment: Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause. … Thou shalt not wrest the judgment of thy poor in his cause.” (Exodus 23:2-3, 6)
The long and short of that is this: — If a person is poor, as far as law is concerned, no sympathy is to be given and no injustice is to be tolerated because of his poverty. As the Scriptures put it elsewhere, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4, 20). Justice is blind and cannot be bribed. By that same justice, the guiltless and innocent are protected. — “Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and righteous slay thou not: for I will not justify the wicked” (Exodus 23:7).
How often the Lord God forbids the slaying, or even the punishment of “the innocent and righteous” (Proverbs 17:15; 24:24; Isaiah 5:22-23). By these divinely given precepts we see that he death of our Lord Jesus Christ was a penal sacrifice. He died y the hand of justice as the sinner’s substitute, because he fully deserved the fury of God’s holy justice and wrath, when he who knew no sin was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Corinthians 5:21). “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!” The God of Glory found a way, in his infinite wisdom, to be both just and the Justifier of chosen sinners in the person of his Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Job 33:24; Isaiah 45:21; Romans 3:25-26). The holy Lord God will not and cannot justify the wicked, except by making the wicked perfectly righteous in Christ.
Exodus 21 enumerates specific laws of restitution. God required that restitution be made to a betrothed maid servant who was dealt with deceitfully. If her master put her away, he was required to redeem her and provide for her (vv. 7-11). Then, throughout the rest of the chapter, the law of God required eye for eye, tooth for tooth, ox for ox, sheep for sheep, and life for life.
Twelve times God says, “restore,” or “make it good,” or “pay double,” or “make restitution.” Those are four different English translations for the same Hebrew word. The word has such wide meaning that our translators give four translations of it in just one chapter. It means “restore,” “make good,” “pay double,” “make restitution,” “make safe,” “make complete,” “make amends,” “recompense,” “make perfect,” “make an end,” “finish full,” and “make peaceable by performing restitution.” Obviously, the passage is talking about reconciliation and atonement.
Then some crimes are listed, so base, so vile, so offensive to God that no restitution could be made for them.
“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. Whosoever lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death. He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the LORD only, he shall be utterly destroyed.” (Exodus 22:18-20)
The very fact that these laws were made gives us a hint at the horrid depravity of the human heart. Witchcraft, bestiality (one of the many evils that always follow homosexuality), and idolatry were common things in Egypt and in Canaan. C. H. Mackintosh rightly observed…
“There are crimes here forbidden which would seem to place man, as regards his habits and tendencies, below the level of a ‘dog;’ yet do those very statutes prove, beyond all question, that the most refined and cultivated member of the human family carries about in his bosom the seeds of the very darkest and most horrifying abominations.”
Next, in verses 21-27, the Lord God demands by law that his people not be oppressive or severe, but merciful, and gives us the reason in verse 27. — “For I am gracious!” In Exodus 22:28 we are explicitly told that we are never to speak evil of our civil magistrates, whom he calls “gods” over us. We are to honor those who are in authority as God’s servants for good.
Shall be Holy
In verses 29 and 30 our God reminds us again that the first fruits and the firstborn are his and they must not be withheld from him. Then, in verse 31, he gives us the reason for the giving of all these laws. — “And ye shall be holy men unto me.” That is to say, “You shall be separated from all other people. You shall be sanctified unto me.”
How are we to be made holy? How can sinners be separated from sinners and sanctified unto the holy Lord God. The answer is in that which we have read. We shall be made holy by a complete restitution made for all our offenses.
I remind you, this long list of laws, laws of restitution, is introduced by the law of the bond slave (Exodus 21:1-6). The Lord God has made us holy by the obedience of Christ, his voluntary bond slave, Jehovah’s Righteous Servant. Our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, because of his love for his Father and his love to us his captive wife and children, cheerfully bowed to be Jehovah’s Servant, to have his ears opened, and would not go out free, until he had accomplished all the work to which he was called and had graciously undertaken as our Surety in the everlasting covenant of grace.
“Oh! Thou precious God of my salvation, thou who, though rich, yet for my sake didst become poor; and though in the form of God, and with whom it was no robbery to be equal with God, yet didst make thyself of no reputation, and didst take upon thee the form of a servant; mercifully grant, that the same mind may be in me which was so strikingly displayed by thyself. May it be the language of my soul, ‘I love my Lord, I love my Master, I love his service, in it I would dwell: I will not go out free, but I will abide in it forever.’” (Robert Hawker)
The righteous obedience of Christ in his life is imputed to us, because his obedience was our obedience. We are not made righteous by imputation. Christ’s righteous obedience is imputed to us because it is ours. But God requires more. His law requires full restitution. He requires that double payment and double restoration be made. He requires atonement for the offence, as well as righteousness. We are made righteous before God by Christ’s obedience (his righteousness) being ours and by his sin-atoning death as our Substitute, here represented in the sacrifice of the first fruits and the firstborn.
“Thou shalt not delay to offer the first of thy ripe fruits, and of thy liquors: the firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give unto me. Likewise shalt thou do with thine oxen, and with thy sheep: seven days it shall be with his dam; on the eighth day thou shalt give it me.” (Exodus 22:29-30)
Read Exodus 23:7 again. The Lord God declares plainly that in order for any sinner to be justified before him, he must be made holy, righteous, and just.
“Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and righteous slay thou not: for I will not justify the wicked.”
Only by the sacrifice of Christ can the wicked be made innocent, righteous, and just before God!
Christ the Key
It is a sad fact, but a fact it is, that most who read the Bible and most who preach and teach from it, see nothing in the Old Testament but historic facts, legal precepts, carnal ceremonies, and moral ethics. To the vast majority of the religious people I meet, the Old Testament is a sealed Book, without meaning or message. They simply cannot unlock it, because they don’t have the key. They are like those whom Isaiah describes in Isaiah 6. Seeing they see not. Hearing they hear not. Understanding, they understand not the things written in the Old Testament Scripture.
The Key to the Old Testament is Christ. What a great blessing it is to have the Key! Yet, there is no room for boasting here. If we see, hear, and understand the Scriptures, it is because God has graciously caused the light of his glory and grace to shine in our hearts by his Spirit. It is because we have been taught of God. It is because the Lord God has opened our understanding that we might understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45). It is written, “Blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear” (Matthew 13:16).
Blessed is that enlightened soul who, by the grace of God, is able to see Christ in the Old Testament as well as in the New. Blessed are those eyes that behold the Lord Jesus Christ in all the promises, precepts, and prophecies of the Old Testament, as well as in the proclamations of the New. Blessed are those hearts that can see the beauty and glory of Christ in the ordinances, types, and shadows of the law, as well as in the shining light of the gospel. Nowhere is man’s spiritual blindness more evident than in the things written by religious men about the Mosaic law.
The law of God requiring restitution for any wrong done by one person to another was not intended merely to teach the moral precept of restitution. Rather, these things were written to teach by precept and by picture that the Lord Jesus Christ would, by his great work of redemption, turn the tables and make a full restitution of all things to the everlasting praise and glory of the triune God. They all testify of that which is written of him in Psalm 69:4. — “Then I restored that which I took not away.” Soon, very soon, our Lord Jesus Christ shall appear in his glory and there shall be a manifest restitution of all things to God by him (Acts 3:18-21; Ephesians 2:4-7). God hasten the day!
Benefit by the Injury
The law of God demanded that anyone wronged by another should not only have the wrong repaired, but also be made to benefit and gain by the injury done. It is God primarily who has been wronged in all his rights by sin. Yet, man too has been wronged. But the Lord God has, in infinite wisdom, fixed it so that both he and his people shall be made the gainers by the injury done. As the fall of Israel has been overruled by our heavenly Father for the riches of the world and the glory of Christ, so the fall of Satan and the entrance of sin into the world by the fall of our father Adam has been, is being, and shall yet be made to redound to the everlasting riches of God’s elect and the glory of his great name.
Yes, the God of Glory works all things together for the good of his people and the everlasting glory of his own great name. Satan will gain nothing by the havoc he has wrought in God’s world. He will achieve absolutely nothing!
Here is the glory of the cross. — “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound!” These laws of restitution declare, “Where sin abounds, grace shall much more abound.” I have chosen my words deliberately. Yes, both God and man have gained more by the forgiveness of sin through the blood of Christ than was lost by the sin and fall of our father Adam.
The Lord God has arranged all things, even the sin and fall of our father Adam, for the everlasting good and happiness of his people. We shall lose nothing, but only gain by what happened in the garden. We are gainers, not by sin, but by redemption! Indeed, the sin and fall of Adam was itself, by divine purpose, a picture of redemption by Christ (Romans 5:12-20). Martin Luther rightly exclaimed, with regard to Adam’s sin in the Garden, “O blessed fall!” Had there been no fall, no sin, no condemnation, we could never have known the wonders of redemption. Had there been no fall, no sin, no condemnation, we could never have known the glories of grace. Grace not only cuts up sin by the roots and ultimately destroys it, grace makes chosen, redeemed sinners to be everlasting beneficiaries of Satan’s work.
Still, there is more. The holy Lord God has gained more by redemption than ever he lost (if I can be permitted to use such language) by the fall. The Lord God reaps a richer harvest of glory in the fields of grace than he could ever have reaped in the garden of innocence (Ephesians 1:3-14; 2:7). The sons of God raise a more lofty song of praise around the empty tomb of the crucified Christ than we could ever have raised in the Garden of Eden. The injury done by sin has not only been perfectly atoned for and remedied by the blood of Christ, but God has gained by the cross the praise of the glory of his grace. As it is written, “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain” (Psalm 76:10).
God’s Glory Seen
This is a stupendous truth. God, the eternal, triune, holy Lord God, has gotten himself great gain by the work accomplished by our all-glorious Christ at Calvary! Who could ever have conceived such a thing? When we see man and the creation over which he was lord laid in a heap of ruins at the feet of Satan, how could we ever imagine that from amid those ruins the great God of Glory would gather a crown for his holy head which could not be gotten in any other way? Yet, it was ever the immutable purpose of the all-wise God to glorify himself and reveal his glory to all creation by the accomplishments of his darling Son at Calvary (Isaiah 40:1-5).
The glory of the Lord is the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate God-man, our Mediator, our Surety, our Substitute, our Savior. Christ is the embodiment of “the glory of the Lord;” but he is more. The Lord Jesus Christ is essentially and emphatically “the glory of the Lord,” for in him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily (Colossians 2:9-10). When Isaiah said, “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,” he spoke prophetically of the incarnation of Christ. He was saying, God the Son shall come in human flesh possessing all the glory of the glorious God; and in him God shall be seen of all men, for this man is God. God’s glory was revealed in his Son when he was sent here on the mission of mercy to redeem and save his people. Yet, the meaning of Isaiah’s words is fuller still.
The glory of the Lord is displayed in the attributes of his being. His glory is that which sets him apart from all his creatures and identifies him as God over all, blessed forever. Isaiah declared that the glory of God, all the glory of all his attributes, would be revealed in the accomplishments of Christ at Calvary.
David said, “The heavens declare the glory of God;” and they do, but only in part. Great as the glory of God revealed in the heavens is, believing sinners see a display of that glory that is so great, so stupendous, and so wonderful that the glory of his wisdom and power in creation pales into insignificance by comparison. The glory of the cross, the glory of the Lord revealed in the crucified Christ, the glory of the Lord revealed in the salvation of poor, fallen, helpless, doomed, damned sinners, that is the glory of the Lord! Sin has blinded us to the glory of God; but grace reveals it far more fully than it could ever have been known otherwise. The glory of God is revealed in the gospel; but it is hidden from them that are lost (2 Corinthians 4:4-6).
Look to Christ, the crucified, risen, exalted, saving Christ, and behold the glory of God. In him and by him restitution has been made, and both God and man have gained more in him than ever was lost by the sin and fall of Adam, for in him the glory of the Lord is revealed.
Wisdom and Knowledge
I see in the cross of Christ the glory of the Lord’s wisdom and knowledge more fully than it could ever have been seen in any other way (Romans 11:33-36). Adam saw the wisdom of God in creation more clearly than any man has seen it or could see it since the fall. But Adam did not and could not see the glory of God’s wisdom in redemption until he experienced it.
I know, caviling will-worshippers cry, “If that is true, if God has ordained all things, then let us sin that grace may abound.” Let none be so foolish. Though it is the wisdom of God that ordained sin, it is the justice of God to punish it. Believing hearts do not challenge God’s wisdom (Jude 4). We adore it!
Here is the glory of God’s wisdom. It is written, “By mercy and truth iniquity is purged” (Proverbs 16:6). But iniquity could never be purged and truth maintained, unless some way, known only to infinite wisdom, is found to do it, unless some infinitely wise arrangement could be made to satisfy the infinite, rigid requirements of truth, while exercising absolute mercy. Righteousness and peace could never have kissed each other had not God in infinite wisdom found a way to make it happen. The glory of God’s wisdom is revealed in that way. It is called “Substitution.” Salvation by a Substitute of infinite worth makes it possible and certain that iniquity shall be purged by mercy and by truth. Behold the cross of Christ and sing the praises of Jehovah!
“Surely his salvation is nigh them that fear him; that glory may dwell in our land. Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven.” (Psalms 85:9-11)
Creation’s open volume stands,
And speaks God’s praise abroad,
And everything, made by His hands,
Declares that He is God.
But in the grace that rescued man
God’s brightest glory shines,
For on the cross (How wise the plan!)
It’s drawn in crimson lines!
Behold, the wonders of the cross,
Where God our Savior died.
My spirit life eternal draws
From Jesus’ bleeding side!
I shall forever praise the name
Of God all-wise alone,
Whose glory’s seen in Christ the Lamb,
Whose blood for sin atoned!”
Mercy, Grace, and Love
I see in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ the glory of God’s mercy, grace, and love revealed. I do not suggest that the love of God is not revealed in other ways, in other acts of his goodness, or in other places. It is. I am certain that Adam, before the fall, knew God’s love in benevolence, goodness, and sweet communion. He knew the love of God as his Creator, his Maker, and his Companion. But Adam did not know and could not know the glory of God’s love. Indeed, it would not have been possible for anyone to know the glory of God’s love had there been no fall. The glory of God’s love is revealed in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We read of God’s everlasting, electing love and rejoice. We give thanks to our God for his eternal, adopting love (Jeremiah 31:3; 1 John 3:1). But the glory of the love of God is revealed at Calvary (John 3:16; Romans 5:6-8; 1 John 3:16; 4:9-10).
“Could we with ink the oceans fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade, --
To write the love of God above
Would drain the oceans dry,
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky!”
Love is known by its deeds; but love is also known by comparison. Those who vainly imagine that they are wiser than God would tell us that God loves all men. Others among them would have us believe that the love of God would have been more greatly revealed had there been no entrance of sin into the world. But it was the wisdom of God that ordained the entrance of sin into the world. That wisdom is displayed here. By ordaining the sin and fall of our father Adam and the ruin of all the human race in him, the Lord God shows the glory of his love in saving some.
If the Lord God had kept all from sinning, or if he had saved all, how could we know the intensity, devotion, and freeness of his love for us? Love is displayed by these two things: self-sacrifice and comparison. I know the love of God because he loved me and gave himself for me; and I know the love of God, the glory of his love, because he loved me and not multitudes far better than me. If God loved all, where is the glory of his love? But once a sinner is made to see that the Lord God has loved him, and loved him immutably from all eternity, passing by many who were more noble, more useful, more appealing than him, then the chosen, redeemed, called sinner sees the surpassing glory of the love of God in the face of Christ, and is conquered by his love.
We see the glory of God’s love in the fact that God’s love is discriminating love. Solomon tells us plainly that man cannot know love or hatred by anything except God’s distinguishing mercy (Ecclesiastes 8:17-9:1) We know the glory of God’s love because he said, to the praise of his glory, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated!” Therefore, “we love him, because he first loved us.”
“O love of God, how strong and true!
Eternal, and yet ever new,
Uncomprehended and unbought,
Beyond all knowledge and all thought!
We read thee best in Him Who came
To bear for us the cross of shame;
Sent by the Father from on high,
Our life to live, our death to die!
O love of God, our shield and stay,
Through all the perils of our way:
Eternal love, in thee we rest,
Forever safe, forever blest!”
— Horatius Bonar
Truth, Justice, and Holiness
As I behold the Son of God hanging upon the cursed tree, made sin for me, bearing all the terror of God’s holy wrath for me, forsaken of God, and slain for me, I see the glory of God’s absolute truth, infinite, inflexible justice, and infinite, immaculate holiness.
In Christ crucified, the glory of God’s justice is revealed as it could not be revealed in any other way. Adam knew the threat of justice before he fell. Sinners in hell know the severity of God’s justice. We see tokens of justice every day. Justice demands punishment, a just and righteous punishment for every offense. Justice demands a victim. No pleadings, no tears, no repentance, no works of restitution can turn away the sword of justice. Mercy may implore leniency, and love beg for pardon, but justice is unaffected and unbending. Justice “will by no means clear the guilty.” But God, in infinite wisdom and love, found a way to both punish the sinner and forgive him.
Behold the glory of God’s justice in the face of his darling Son when he was made sin for us. Believing sinners are justified freely by the grace of God through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus...
“Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” (Romans 3:25-26)
When God Almighty looks on the shed blood of his darling Son, he says, “Enough.” Here is the glory of God’s justice revealed! Oh, how holy, how just, how true the God of glory must be! When the holy Lord God found sin on his own beloved Son, he spared not his own darling Son. When God the Son bear the wrath of God in his own body, in his soul, and in his heart on the cursed tree, he satisfied the justice of God. God, the holy Lord God, will, indeed, he must, punish sin. Justice demands it.
God is Gracious
I see in the cross of Christ the glory of the Lord’s absolute sovereignty and great goodness revealed, and revealed in such full splendor, as it could never have been known otherwise. In the cross, by which the law is finished, we hear the God of glory speak clearly what he said in the dark shadows of the law. — “I am gracious!”
When Moses asked the Lord to show him his glory, he said “I will make all my goodness to pass before thee; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious.” Here is the glory of God’s sovereign goodness, the glory of his grace. God is gracious. God will be gracious to whom he will be gracious. Our great God is so sovereign in his graciousness that he makes even the wrath of man to praise him and work for the good of his chosen. He is so sovereign in his graciousness that he makes Satan, who dared imagine he could thwart the purpose of the Almighty and led a rebellion in heaven and leads the rebellion of men and demons on earth and in hell, to be his servant to accomplish his purpose of grace toward his elect.
His glory is great in salvation, indescribably greater than ever it could have been had Adam not fallen, had sin never entered into the world, had the Lord Jesus Christ not died at Calvary, had he not saved his people from their sins. This is what the laws of restitution tell us. Behold the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and understand, when you hear the Son of God cry, “It is finished,” that restitution has been made and the glory of God is revealed.
Be sure you do not miss the intent of this revelation of God. If the glory of God is most fully and perfectly revealed in the salvation of sinners, how that fact ought to inspire poor, needy sinners with hope. Surely, if God is glorified in saving sinners, he would be glorified in saving me! I will, upon that ground, like David of old, sue for mercy! — “For thy name’s sake, O Lord, pardon mine iniquity; for it is great” (Psalm 25:11).
“Come, humble sinner, in whose breast
A thousand thoughts revolve,
Come with your guilt and fear oppressed,
And make this last resolve.
‘I’ll go to Jesus, though my sin
Hath like a mountain rose;
I know His courts I’ll enter in,
Whatever may oppose.
Prostrate I’ll lie before His throne,
And there my guilt confess;
I’ll tell Him I’m a wretch undone,
Without His sovereign grace.
I’ll to the gracious King approach,
Whose scepter pardon gives;
Perhaps He may command my touch,
And then the suppliant lives!
Perhaps He will admit my plea,
Perhaps will hear my prayer;
But if I perish, I will pray,
And perish only there.
I can but perish if I go,
I am resolved to try;
For if I stay away, I know,
I must forever die.
But, if I die with mercy sought,
When I the King have tried,
This were to die (Delightful thought!)
As sinner never died.’”
— Edmund Jones