A Choice to Make
“If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it” (Exo 23:4-5).
When is the last time you came across your enemy’s donkey or ox wandering off or fallen down under a heavy load? Given that the vast majority of us live in modern urban settings, it would be tempting to pass over the above Mosaic Law as antiquated, quaint, and for practical purposes obsolete and irrelevant to contemporary concerns and times. But to yield to such temptation would be premature as it is plain wrong.
The Apostle Paul tells us that “. . . Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom 15:4). So what is the encouragement and hope to be derived for us today from the scriptures that call on us to assist our enemy’s beasts of burden?
Let us consider that oxen and donkeys in the time of Moses are vital beasts of burden for the survival of Israelites living in an agricultural society. An ox or a donkey represents the means of livelihood by which an Israelite would provide for the immediate family.
Now if an Israelite in the time of Moses comes across an enemy’s ox or donkey in distress or lost, the human impulse of sinful nature would likely think: (1) good riddance, (2) serves my enemy right, (3) could not have happened to a better person, (4) revenge is sweet, and (5) perhaps now I might gain an advantage over my adversary.
For an Israelite the ox and/or donkey of their fellow Israelite who hates them, and is their enemy represents the means by which such hatred and animosity is supported and sustained. If the enemy’s means of survival is weakened, or seriously threatened, then their focus will likely be toward their own survival, and not toward harming others.
Yet, God calls on His followers to help and serve even the ones who hate and are enemies (Exo 23:4-5). Jesus beckons us to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, and “go the extra mile” in service for those who even oppress us (Matt 5:41-44). Proverbs instructs us to feed our enemy and quench their thirst with drink (Prov 25:21-22). Why would God ask such sacrifices of his people?
God asks such sacrificial service of His people because (1) we are all made in the image of God (Gen 1:26; 9:6; Job 34:18-19); (2) we are to imitate God’s holiness (Exo 22:31; Lev 19:1-2); (3) we demonstrate we are God’s children (Matt 5:45); (4) we are to seek to be perfect in this regard as God is perfect (Matt 5:48); and lastly, we are to follow the example of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who suffered evil for righteousness sake (1 Pet 2:21-25).
No doubt, loving our enemies and those who hate us is a heavy burden to bear. Nevertheless, God bore our hatred and sin and died on the cross while we were yet his enemies so that we might be reconciled to Him (Rom 5:6-11). By the grace of God, we are compelled to do no less for one another, whether good or evil. The encouragement and hope we derive in lovingly and even sacrificially serving our enemy and those who hate us is to see them reconciled and transformed into friends.
You may not come across your enemy’s ox or the donkey of one who hates you. But you will come across opportunities where you can choose whether to take advantage of an enemy or sacrificially serve them in hopes of making a friend. The question is: What will you choose?
A Tale of Two Altars
“King Ahaz then gave these orders to Uriah the priest: ‘On a large new altar, offer the morning burnt offering and the evening grain offering, the king’s burnt offering and his grain offering, and the burnt offering of all the people of the land, and their grain offering and their drink offering. Sprinkle on the altar all the blood of the burnt offerings and sacrifices. But I will use the bronze altar for seeking guidance’” (2 Kings 16:15).
The bronze altar that Ahaz, the king of Israel, uses for guidance is an altar made after the pattern of a pagan altar Ahaz saw while in Damascus. Ahaz was seeking the military protection of Tiglath-Pileser, king of Assyria. When the king of Assyria obliges to protect Ahaz, Ahaz goes to Damascus to make a political covenant with the nation of Assyria. While in Damascus Ahaz sees the altar used by the most powerful king of Assyria and decides to make a copy for himself. King Ahaz has a sketch of the altar made and sends the pattern back to Israel for his craftsmen to replicate.
Upon Ahaz’s return from Damascus, he bows down and offers up sacrifices on this new pagan bronze altar. What is intriguing is that Ahaz does not do away with the true Israelite religion, but rather incorporates this pagan alter into Israel’s religion. What I would like us to note is how Ahaz divides the one and only true religion of Israel. Ahaz informs Uriah the priest to continue offering sacrifices on the true alter, “but I [Ahaz] will use the bronze altar for seeking guidance.”
Why do you think Ahaz chose to use two altars the way he did? It seems that Ahaz witnessed the power of Assyria and saw Israel pale by comparison. Ahaz might have thought to himself, “Israel’s religion may be good for worship and song, but when it comes to sword and war, Assyria’s religion seems best.” In other words, when it comes to the “spiritual” use the God of Israel’s altar, but when it comes to everyday life of politics and war, use the altar of Assyria.
The two altars Ahaz uses ought to be an obvious lesson for us today. Many of us are worshipping at two altars. We are “spiritual” at church, but “worldly” in day to day life. We may think church is grand for worship, but then we need to live in the “real world.” Where do we seek guidance for our everyday life? Do we actively pursue the Lord in our so-called worldly matters as much as we do our supposedly spiritual matters? Are we enticed by an alter of commonsensical thinking according to the world? Are we sometimes afraid to seek the Lord’s guidance at His altar? How many altars, brothers and sisters, are we worshipping at in our lives? Do we have one altar for worship and another separate altar for guidance?
Remember Jesus’ warning: “You cannot serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matt 6:24). We must not worship at one alter and seek guidance at another altar. We must only have one altar for both worship and guidance. There ought to be no room in our congregation or personal lives for the altar of Ahaz. The only question that remains is: How many altars do have we in our lives, or our congregation?