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Chapter 85

 

The Stranger’s Heart

 

“Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. And six years thou shalt sow thy land, and shalt gather in the fruits thereof: But the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie still; that the poor of thy people may eat: and what they leave the beasts of the field shall eat. In like manner thou shalt deal with thy vineyard, and with thy olive yard. Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest: that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed. And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect: and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth.” (Exodus 23:9-13)

 

When the Lord God gave his law at Sinai and commanded the children of Israel to honor him in all things, he gave two reasons: (1.) He said, “For I am gracious,” and (2.) “For ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” These two things we must never forget. He who is our God is gracious; and we were strangers in Egypt, when he sought us out and saved us by his grace.

 

            Don’t ever forget who you were, what you were, and where you were when God saved you by his grace. How often the Lord God commands us to remember that we were bondmen in the land of Egypt, urging us to look unto the rock whence we were hewn by the hammer of omnipotent mercy and to the hole of the pit whence we have been dug by his almighty grace (Isaiah 51:1). — There are some things we must never forget.

Š      We must never forget the price of our redemption (Galatians 3:13-14; 1 Peter 1:18-20).

Š      We must never forget what God has done for us (1 John 3:1).

Š      We must never forget what we are by nature and what God has saved us from, by his almighty grace (1 Corinthians 1:26-31; 6:9-11).

 

            Here, in Exodus 23:9-13, the Lord God himself calls us to remember that we were “strangers in the land of Egypt” when he came to us, sought us out, and saved us. The Lord our God commands us neither to vex nor oppress a stranger. He commanded us not to “vex” (22:21), suppress, mistreat, or act violently toward a stranger in our midst. The Lord commands us not to “oppress” a stranger here. The word “oppress” is heavier than the word “vex.” It means “afflict, crush, force down, hold down, or thrust yourself upon.” Look at the reasons he gives in this portion of Holy Scripture for this command, by which he teaches us to treat graciously those people we are naturally apt to treat with cruelty. Mark them. There are three of them:

1.    For ye know the heart of a stranger” (v. 9).

2.    Seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt” (v. 9).

3.    And the stranger may be refreshed” (v. 12)

 

The Stranger’s Heart

 

If we are truly his, the Lord God declares of you and me, “Ye know the heart of a stranger.” Do we? Do you and I know the stranger’s heart? Do we know what it is like to grope about in darkness, as a stranger in Egypt? If so, we above all people ought to pity the stranger.

 

            Oh, yes, I know the heart of a stranger in a strange land; and you do too. You who have tasted that the Lord is gracious know “the heart of a stranger;” and we know it well. It will be profitable to our souls to look back and again call to our remembrance what we are by nature. Lord God, help me never to forget! — Child of God, ever “consider thyself!” Believer, seek grace from God the Holy Ghost that you may ever live in relentless awareness of the plague of your own heart (1 Kings 8:38).

 

            Never was mercy more seasonable, more abundant, more unexpected, unlooked for, and unmerited, than when bestowed upon me, when the Lord Jesus passed by me, spread his skirt over me, and said to me, “Live!” And, here, he says to me, “Ye know the heart of a stranger.

 

            Oh, for grace to rightly apprehend, and always apprehend, that state out of which the Lord God has brought me by his grace! I was living as a stranger to the commonwealth of Israel, “without hope, and without God in the world,” when Christ Jesus reached down for me.

 

“Once my soul was astray from the heavenly way,

And was wretched and vile as could be;

But my Savior in love, gave me peace from above,

When He reached down His hand for me.

 

I was near to despair when He came to me there,

And this sinner, by grace, He made free;

Then He lifted my feet, gave me gladness complete,

When He reached down His hand for me.

 

How my heart does rejoice when I hear His sweet voice

In the tempest to Him now I flee;

There to lean on His arm, where I’m safe from all harm.

Since He reached down His hand for me.

 

When Christ Jesus reached down for me,

When He reached way down for me

I was lost and undone without God or His Son,

When He reached down His hand for me.”

 

            “Ye know the heart of a stranger.” What is the heart of a stranger? The stranger’s heart is a heart of utter enmity against God (Romans 8:7), a heart without the slightest knowledge of the Triune God, a heart utterly ignorant, blind, senseless, unconscious of sin, and unconscious of danger, a heart of sin, base, vile and corrupt (Isaiah 51:1).

 

      We were hewn from the rock of human depravity, by the hammer of omnipotent grace. We did not break ourselves from the rock. God broke us from it. We did not fall from the rock. We were hewn from it. We did not gradually evolve from the rock. We were hewn from it, with the violence of God’s omnipotent hand. We were dug from the pit of human corruption, death, and degradation by the hand of God’s irresistible, immaculate mercy (Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 17:9; Mark 7:21-23).

 

      Your heart and mine is by nature as black as the heart of Judas. Whatever sin there is, has been, or shall be in this world is in your heart and mine by nature. The germ of all evil is in us all. It does not matter who your parents are, that which is born of the flesh is flesh. Corruption brings forth corruption. It can never give birth to purity. The history of our race, when honestly read, is a history of corruption and depravity. War, persecution, ambition, greed, rape, murder, and debauchery of every kind has been the history of humanity.

 

      Things have not changed in our day of enlightenment, education, and reason. If you care to see how far we have advanced above the cannibalistic barbarians of New Guinea, read today’s newspaper. It reads like the chronicles of a barbaric society. Every day, the news is the same. Self-serving politicians and preachers are exposed. Adultery, fornication, and rape are reported. Rioting, murder, and abortion run rampant. Homosexuality, pedophilia, and even cannibalism are the practices of educated, civilized, enlightened reprobates, religious and irreligious! And these reprobate practices, except (thus far) for cannibalism, are protected and promoted by law, while immoral moralists fret about protecting frogs, trees, and worms!

 

      Yes, I know the heart of a stranger, for I know the present corruption of my depraved heart! How I thank God for his forgiveness of my sin and for the righteousness that is mine in Christ. How I thank God for a new nature of grace that he has established in me, causing me to truly love him and love righteousness. But there is a real warfare in my soul between the old man and the new, between the flesh and the spirit, between that in me which of the devil and that in me which is born of God (Romans 7:14-25; Galatians 5:17; 1 John 3:1-10).

 

A Stranger’s Condition

 

Yes, we know the heart of a stranger. That ought to make us merciful to strangers. But the Lord God gives us another reason why we should be merciful to strangers. He says, “Thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” We should never oppress, abuse, hold down, afflict, or thrust ourselves upon a poor sinner, “a stranger,” because we were once strangers in Egypt, this land of darkness and oppression (Ephesians 2:11-13).

 

            We were strangers to the blessed Lord Jesus. We knew him not. We loved him not. We desired him not. His love, his grace, his pity, his mercy were thoughts that never entered our hearts. Neither his person nor his salvation, the merits of his blood nor of his righteousness, were precious in our eyes. There was nothing in us but contempt for the ever-blessed Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us.

 

            “Dead in trespasses and sins,” we were strangers to grace and strangers to God, strangers to Christ and strangers to the Holy Spirit. We were, every second, exposed to the tremendous horrors of “the second death,” where we would have been strangers to God and to Christ to all eternity!

 

      What deep impressions this ought to make upon our hearts! You and I ought to be a broken, humble, and contrite people. Pride ought not exist in us. God hates it; and we ought to hate it. We have nothing about us that is more despicable than pride. Pride of race, pride of place, even pride of grace runs wild within your heart and mine. How shameful! — “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)

 

      Humbling and shameful as these facts are, they ought to encourage us with regard to our own salvation. Only saved sinners truly acknowledge and confess such things about themselves. How hopeful we ought to be with regard to those who are yet without Christ. If God saved me, he can save you. How kind and gracious we ought to be toward one another for Christ’s sake (Ephesians 4:32-5:1). How utterly committed, devoted, and consecrated we ought to be to God our Savior (Romans 12:1-2).

 

      I once read about a young pastor who had dinner with a very wealthy man in his congregation. The man lived with his family, on a large piece of property, in a huge, spacious, beautiful and magnificently furnished house. The young preacher had never been inside such a place. Needless to say, he was both surprised and impressed by everything he saw, and asked permission to walk through the house. When he did, he was very surprised to find, adjacent to the beautifully finished basement, one particular room. When he opened the door, he found a room with a dirt floor, a little rough, crude furniture (just a small table and a couple of odd chairs), and bare, unpainted walls. As he sat with his host, he couldn’t keep from asking why the man had such a room in such a house. The man replied, “Pastor, that’s my remembrance room. The Lord has richly blessed me in countless ways. I am, today, a fairly wealthy man. My business enterprises have been very successful. But I hope never to forget where I came from. So, I keep that remembrance room and go there often.”

 

      The Lord our God graciously reminds us, throughout Holy Scripture, who we are and what we are by nature, and where we were when he sought us out, found us, and saved us by his almighty free grace. He would have us never forget.

 

A Stranger’s Refreshment

 

Yes, “we know the heart of a stranger;” and we were “strangers in the land of Egypt.” But there is a third thing in this passage that is precious beyond words. Read it again and understand that the Lord God specifically tells us that he gave the law of the sabbath that “the stranger may be refreshed.

 

“Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. And six years thou shalt sow thy land, and shalt gather in the fruits thereof: But the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie still; that the poor of thy people may eat: and what they leave the beasts of the field shall eat. In like manner thou shalt deal with thy vineyard, and with thy olive yard. Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest: that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed. And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect: and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth.” (Exodus 23:9-13)

 

      The word “refreshed” in verse 12 means “to breathe passively, to be renewed by a breath of air, to be breathed upon, or to be made to breathe passively.” It is used in Ezekiel 37.

 

“So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them. Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.” (Ezekiel 37:7-10)

 

      The Lord Jesus fulfilled all the law in the room and stead of chosen sinners and died upon the cursed tree as the Surety for strangers, that they might be breathed upon and refreshed by the Spirit of grace in regeneration. Christ was made a stranger when he was made sin for us, that we might live before God and rest forever in him (Psalm 69:8; Proverbs 6:1-5; 27:13-14).

 

            Bless God for his grace! In Christ, at the throne of grace, there is grace and mercy for strangers, “yea, for the rebellious also!

 

“If there be in the land famine, if there be pestilence, blasting, mildew, locust, or if there be caterpillar; if their enemy besiege them in the land of their cities; whatsoever plague, whatsoever sickness there be; What prayer and supplication soever be made by any man, or by all thy people Israel, which shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house: Then hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and forgive, and do, and give to every man according to his ways, whose heart thou knowest; (for thou, even thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men;) That they may fear thee all the days that they live in the land which thou gavest unto our fathers. Moreover concerning a stranger, that is not of thy people Israel, but cometh out of a far country for thy name’s sake; (For they shall hear of thy great name, and of thy strong hand, and of thy stretched out arm;) when he shall come and pray toward this house; Hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and do according to all that the stranger calleth to thee for: that all people of the earth may know thy name, to fear thee, as do thy people Israel; and that they may know that this house, which I have builded, is called by thy name. If thy people go out to battle against their enemy, whithersoever thou shalt send them, and shall pray unto the LORD toward the city which thou hast chosen, and toward the house that I have built for thy name: Then, hear thou in heaven their prayer and their supplication, and maintain their cause” (1 Kings 8:37-45)

 

Let us be humbled in the dust before our God and ascribe all our mercies to his distinguishing grace. Everlastingly cry, my ransomed soul, “Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake!” Let us ever return praise to give God all glory and honor to him alone (Luke 17:17-18).

 

“I once was a stranger to grace and to God,

I knew not my danger, and felt not my load;

Though friends spoke in rapture of Christ on the tree,

Jehovah Tsidkenu was nothing to me.

 

I oft read with pleasure, to sooth or engage,

Isaiah’s wild measure and John’s simple page;

But e’en when they pictured the blood sprinkled tree

Jehovah Tsidkenu seemed nothing to me.

 

Like tears from the daughters of Zion that roll,

I wept when the waters went over His soul;

Yet thought not that my sins had nailed to the tree

Jehovah Tsidkenu—’twas nothing to me.

 

When free grace awoke me, by light from on high,

Then legal fears shook me, I trembled to die;

No refuge, no safety in self could I see—

Jehovah Tsidkenu my Saviour must be.

 

My terrors all vanished before the sweet name;

My guilty fears banished, with boldness I came

To drink at the fountain, life giving and free—

Jehovah Tsidkenu is all things to me.

 

Jehovah Tsidkenu! my treasure and boast,

Jehovah Tsidkenu! I ne’er can be lost;

In thee I shall conquer by flood and by field,

My cable, my anchor, my breast-plate and shield!

 

Even treading the valley, the shadow of death,

This watchword shall rally my faltering breath;

For while from life’s fever my God sets me free,

Jehovah Tsidkenu, my death song shall be!”

                                                                                    — Robert Murray M’Cheyne

 

 

 

 

 

Don Fortner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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