My Own Rules

One night earlier this fall, I was pulling out of a familiar parking lot on a back street tucked behind an old church. It’s the kind of road that barely sees any traffic and peels off the main road, weaving in between parking lots and stretching back into old neighborhoods. I pulled out of the parking lot, turned left, tapped my brakes at the stop sign, and turned left again.


Blue lights.

I pulled over, and when the officer walked over and pointed out that I had rolled through a stop sign, I sighed, disappointed in myself, and blurted out “Oh, I’m sorry”. Immediately I stopped, realizing that this wasn’t an “I’m sorry” kind of situation. I had broken the law, so a verbal apology wouldn’t suffice.

In my mind, my genuine apology should have been enough, as that reactive disappointment in myself and authentic sorrow felt like it outweighed the offense. Rather than accepting my sincere apology, the officer posed another question that felt slightly presumptuous and was likely prompted by my being near the downtown strip of a college town. However, my pride was sliced with this question, and my attitude shifted as I felt like a wrong assumption had been made regarding my character.

So, I grew cold and indifferent, tightening my jaw and tensing my shoulders, giving short responses and offering little respect and no gratitude the rest of the conversation.

For the next month or so, I re-told that story with more frustration and emphasis on myself as the victim of an expensive traffic ticket for a small violation. Following this instance, a few of my friends were pulled over for similar violations in the same location, so I took the opportunity to build alliances against this officer as we complained together.

“How easy it is for me to write my own rules and distribute justice to others according to what I think they deserve!”

How ironic that I was trying to use my harsh, complaining words and cold attitude to somehow feel vindicated for “injustice” done to me when I was the one who had been breaking the law. How easy it is for me to write my own rules and distribute justice to others according to what I think they deserve!

God knows that this is the human tendency, so Exodus 23 outlines a list of instructions for what it looked like for the Israelites to live with integrity when it came to upholding justice.

The key here is that God determines the parameters of true justice. It isn’t about what is “fair” on the Israelites’ terms.

In consistency with the rest of this book, this passage is about the Israelites needing to learn to trust God over themselves. To fully believe in God is to trust His character—that while He is entirely gracious and merciful, He is simultaneously completely just. His very nature demands justice, and as a people who claimed to follow and serve this God of Justice, He charges them to likewise reflect this aspect of His nature and seek unbiased justice in what they are doing.

“To fully believe in God is to trust His character—that while He is entirely gracious and merciful, He is simultaneously completely just.”

“You must not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you are called to testify in a dispute, do not be swayed by the crowd to twist justice.” –Exodus 23:2

Seeking justice on my own terms is about what is convenient, beneficial, or rewarding for me. This passage teaches against specific ways we tend to do this: going along with a crowd to save face (23:2), being partial to certain people (23:3), withholding grace from others (23:4-5), thinking you are superior to anyone, or believing that you have the ultimate say over what is fair and what judgment people deserve (23:6).

This call to justice is actually a call to take myself out of the center of each situation, a call to elevate God—trusting Him so much that I don’t have to write my own rules to feel vindicated in a particular situation. It is a call to recognize that justice for my sin has already been met in Jesus and that His instructions to me are perfect.

This passage ends with a command to rest after six years of working, and allow the land to remain uncultivated during the seventh year. Why does the text move directly to the command to serve only Yahweh and no other gods?

Because it is all related.

Rest and dependency on God, truly having an esteemed view of Him, leads us to value and live out justice in regard to the things we are responsible for and to rest in His promise to rule with ultimate justice over the things we are not.

Audrey Birchfield

Audrey is a Clemson student and big fan of warm weather, fall hikes, and anything sweet. You will most likely find her sipping on coffee, laughing off her awkward moments, and spending time with her family and friends. Audrey attends our Powdersville campus.