If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it. (Exodus 23:4-5)
Kindness Toward The Unkind
An enemy is someone antagonistic to another, seeking to injure, overthrow, or bring harm to another. To have enemies is to know that relationships are strained to the breaking point of anger and hatred. Since the beginning of time, the world has been filled with individuals that seek harm to others and nations that go to war against perceived enemies. Jealousy, envy, strife, and selfishness have led to families becoming enemies of one another, nations dividing into a civil war where brother fights against brother, and among the people of God, friendships deteriorating to hostility (King Saul and David). Among the many commands of the Law of Moses, God required His people to treat their enemies with compassion.
The natural response when a man finds the animal of his enemy going astray is to help it go in the wrong direction or to make sure the animal never returns to its master. That would bring satisfaction of revenge against the one who seeks to injure the person. A man walks down the road and finds the donkey of his enemy collapsed under a heavy load crying out in pain, unable to gain its footing. It would be easy to laugh at the plight of the stricken animal and allow it to die because it belonged to an enemy. That would teach the enemy a lesson and bring pain to him. God forbids the act of vengeance against an enemy. Moses is not writing about good suggestions for learning how to get along with an enemy. What he writes down in the law are commands, judgments, and statutes requiring the individual not to have feelings of hatred toward their enemies.
Using animals as an illustration of compassion shows the depth of love and concern a child of God must have for their enemies. An animal can be abused at the enemy’s expense, but God forbids the child of God to allow such abuse. Two things happen when the law is followed. The animal is relieved, and the enemy is shown compassion. Then animal does not learn any lesson, but the enemy does. This is a character-building and humbling experience. Imagine the surprise on a man’s face when he looks out over the field and sees his enemy leading his ox back to the corral. In an agrarian society, animals are the lifeblood of survival. They are not pets. These animals are necessary for life itself. As a beast of burden, a donkey is a machine to move vital goods to market. Finding a donkey of an enemy lying under a burden could be financial ruin for him. God commands holy people to help the enemy and bring a blessing to the enemy.
Jesus instructs His disciples to love their enemies and do good to them. This is not a new command, but now the example of love for enemies is found in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Humanity had gone astray in a rebellious spirit of defiance against God and became burdened with the weight of sin. Like the donkey, which could not lift the burden, sin oppressed the soul of man with no relief. There was no help. God did not look upon humanity with hatred and malice. Mankind was the enemy of God. Make no mistake about the putridity of man’s condition before a righteous Lord. Only through the benevolent love of a gracious God was the burden of sin lifted and man restored to the sheepfold of God. What God did for man is what God demands men do for one another.
The world has a view of enemies that is based on revenge. Anyone who is an enemy deserves all the harm that can be done to be brought upon them with full force. No quarter and no relief. If that were the view of God, the world would have been destroyed long ago. An example of God’s love is how holy people view their enemies. When we were enemies of a righteousness God, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son. Because God loved humanity (enemies), in Christ, we have been reconciled and saved by His life. In this world, there will be those who seek the harm of God’s people. Let no animosity or hatred spring up in the hearts of those devoted to the love of God. Be kind to the unkind, and you will find the forgiving grace of God.