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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 23

Clarke's CommentaryClarke Commentary

Verse 1


Laws against evil-speaking, 1.

Against bad company, 2.

Against partiality, 3.

Laws commanding acts of kindness and humanity, 4, 5.

Against oppression, 6.

Against unrighteous decisions, 7.

Against bribery and corruption, 8.

Against unkindness to strangers, 9.

The ordinance concerning the Sabbatical year, 10, 11.

The Sabbath a day of rest, 12.

General directions concerning circumcision, c., 13.

The three annual festivals, 14.

The feast of unleavened bread, 15.

The feast of harvest, and the feast of ingathering, 16.

All the males to appear before God thrice in a year, 17.

Different ordinances-no blood to be offered with leavened

bread-no fat to be left till the next day-the first fruits

to be brought to the house of God-and a kid not to be seethed

in its mother's milk, 18, 19.

Description of the Angel of God, who was to lead the people into

the promised land, and drive out the Amorites, c., 20-23.

Idolatry to be avoided, and the images of idols destroyed, 24.

Different promises to obedience, 25-27.

Hornets shall be sent to drive out the Canaanites, &c., 28.

The ancient inhabitants to be driven out by little and little,

and the reason why, 29, 30.

The boundaries of the promised land, 31.

No league or covenant to be made with the ancient inhabitants,

who are all to be utterly expelled, 32, 33.


Verse Exodus 23:1. Thou shalt not raise a false report — Acting contrary to this precept is a sin against the ninth commandment. And the inventor and receiver of false and slanderous reports, are almost equally criminal. The word seems to refer to either, and our translators have very properly retained both senses, putting raise in the text, and receive in the margin. The original לא תשא lo tissa has been translated, thou shalt not publish. Were there no publishers of slander and calumny, there would be no receivers and were there none to receive them, there would be none to raise them and were there no raisers, receivers, nor propagators of calumny, lies, &c., society would be in peace.

Verse 2

Verse Exodus 23:2. Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil — Be singular. Singularity, if in the right, can never be criminal. So completely disgraceful is the way of sin, that if there were not a multitude walking in that way, who help to keep each other in countenance, every solitary sinner would be obliged to hide his head. But רבים rabbim, which we translate multitude, sometimes signifies the great, chiefs, or mighty ones; and is so understood by some eminent critics in this place: "Thou shalt not follow the example of the great or rich, who may so far disgrace their own character as to live without God in the world, and trample under foot his laws." It is supposed that these directions refer principally to matters which come under the eye of the civil magistrate; as if he had said, "Do not join with great men in condemning an innocent or righteous person, against whom they have conceived a prejudice on the account of his religion," &c.

Verse 3

Verse Exodus 23:3. Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause. — The word דל dal, which we translate poor man, is probably put here in opposition to רבים rabbim, the great, or noble men, in the preceding verse: if so, the meaning is, Thou shalt neither be influenced by the great to make an unrighteous decision, nor by the poverty or distress of the poor to give thy voice against the dictates of justice and truth. Hence the ancient maxim, FIAT JUSTITIA, RUAT COELUM. "Let justice be done, though the heavens should be dissolved."

Verse 4

Verse Exodus 23:4. If thou meet thine enemy's ox - going astray — From the humane and heavenly maxim in this and the following verse, our blessed Lord has formed the following precept: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you;" Matthew 5:44. A precept so plain, wise, benevolent, and useful, can receive no other comment than that which its influence on the heart of a kind and merciful man produces in his life.

Verse 6

Verse Exodus 23:6. Thou shalt not wrest the judgment of thy poor — Thou shalt neither countenance him in his crimes, nor condemn him in his righteousness. See Exodus 23:5; Exodus 23:7.

Verse 8

Verse Exodus 23:8. Thou shalt take no gift — A strong ordinance against selling justice, which has been the disgrace and ruin of every state where it has been practised. In the excellent charter of British liberties called Magna Charta, there is one article expressly on this head: Nulli vendemus, nulli negabimus aut differemus, rectum aut justitiam. - Art. xxxiii. "To none will we sell, to none will we deny or defer, right or justice." This was the more necessary in those early and corrupt times, as he who had most money, and gave the largest presents (called then oblata) to the king or queen, was sure to gain his cause in the king's court; whether he had right and justice on his side or not.

Verse 9

Verse Exodus 23:9. Ye know the heart of a stranger — Having been strangers yourselves, under severe, long continued, and cruel oppression, ye know the fears, cares, anxieties, and dismal forebodings which the heart of a stranger feels. What a forcible appeal to humanity and compassion!

Verse 11

Verse Exodus 23:11. The seventh year thou shalt let it rest — As, every seventh day was a Sabbath day, so every seventh year was to be a Sabbath year. The reasons for this ordinance Calmet gives thus: -

"1. To maintain as far as possible an equality of condition among the people, in setting the slaves at liberty, and in permitting all, as children of one family, to have the free and indiscriminate use of whatever the earth produced.

"2. To inspire the people with sentiments of humanity, by making it their duty to give rest, and proper and sufficient nourishment, to the poor, the slave, and the stranger, and even to the cattle.

"3. To accustom the people to submit to and depend on the Divine providence, and expect their support from that in the seventh year, by an extraordinary provision on the sixth.

"4. To detach their affections from earthly and perishable things, and to make them disinterested and heavenly-minded.

"5. To show them God's dominion over the country, and that HE, not they, was lord of the soil and that they held it merely from his bounty." See this ordinance at length, Lev. xxv.

That God intended to teach them the doctrine of providence by this ordinance, there can be no doubt; and this is marked very distinctly, Leviticus 25:20-21: "And if ye shall say, What shall we eat the seventh year? behold, we shall not sow, nor gather in our increase: then I will command my blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for three years." That is, There shall be, not three crops in one year, but one crop equal in its abundance to three, because it must supply the wants of three years.

1. For the sixth year, supplying fruit for its own consumption;

2. For the seventh year, in which they were neither to sow nor reap; and

3. For the eighth year, for though they ploughed, sowed, c., that year, yet a whole course of its seasons was requisite to bring all these fruits to perfection, so that they could not have the fruits of the eighth year till the ninth, (see Leviticus 25:22), till which time God promised that they should eat of the old store.

What an astonishing proof did this give of the being, power, providence, mercy, and goodness of God! Could there be an infidel in such a land, or a sinner against God and his own soul, with such proofs before his eyes of God and his attributes as one sabbatical year afforded?

It is very remarkable that the observance of this ordinance is nowhere expressly mentioned in the sacred writings though some suppose, but without sufficient reason, that there is a reference to it in Jeremiah 34:8-9. Perhaps the major part of the people could not trust God, and therefore continued to sow and reap on the seventh year, as on the preceding. This greatly displeased the Lord, and therefore he sent them into captivity; so that the land enjoyed those Sabbaths, through lack of inhabitants, of which their ungodliness had deprived it. See Leviticus 18:24-25, Leviticus 18:28; Leviticus 26:34-35, Leviticus 26:43; 2 Chronicles 36:20-21. Commentators have been much puzzled to ascertain the time in which the sabbatical year began; because, if it began in Abib or March, they must have lost two harvests; for they could neither reap nor plant that year, and of course they could have no crop the year following; but if it began with what was called the civil year, or in Tisri or Marcheshvan, which answers to the beginning of our autumn, they would then have had that year's produce reaped and gathered in.

Verse 12

Verse Exodus 23:12. Six days thou shalt do thy work — Though they were thus bound to keep the sabbatical year, yet they must not neglect the seventh day's rest or weekly Sabbath; for that was of perpetual obligation, and was paramount to all others. That the sanctification of the Sabbath was of great consequence in the sight of God, we may learn from the various repetitions of this law; and we may observe that it has still for its object, not only the benefit of the soul, but the health and comfort of the body also. Doth God care for oxen? Yes; and he mentions them with tenderness, that thine ox and thine ass may rest. How criminal to employ the labouring cattle on the Sabbath, as well as upon the other days of the week! More cattle are destroyed in England than in any other part of the world, in proportion, by excessive and continued labour. The noble horse in general has no Sabbath! Does God look on this with an indifferent eye? Surely he does not. "England," said a foreigner, "is the paradise of women, the purgatory of servants, and the hell of horses.

The son of thy handmaid, and the stranger - be refreshed. — ינפש yinnaphesh may be respirited or new-souled; have a complete renewal both of bodily and spiritual strength. The expression used by Moses here is very like that used by St. Paul, Acts 3:19: "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing (καιροι αναψυξεως, the times of re-souling) shall come from the presence of the Lord;" alluding, probably, to those times of refreshing and rest for body and soul originally instituted under the law.

Verse 14

Verse Exodus 23:14. Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto me in the year. — The three feasts here referred to were,

1. The feast of the PASSOVER;

2. The feast of PENTECOST;

3. The feast of TABERNACLES.

1. The feast of the Passover was celebrated to keep in remembrance the wonderful deliverance of the Hebrews from Egypt.

2. The feast of Pentecost, called also the feast of harvest and the feast of weeks, Exodus 34:22, was celebrated fifty days after the Passover to commemorate the giving of the law on Mount Sinai, which took place fifty days after, and hence called by the Greeks Pentecost.

3. The feast of Tabernacles, called also the feast of the ingathering, was celebrated about the 15th of the month Tisri to commemorate the Israelites' dwelling in tents for forty years, during their stay in the wilderness. Leviticus 23:34.

"God, out of his great wisdom," says Calmet, "appointed several festivals among the Jews for many reasons:

1. To perpetuate the memory of those great events, and the wonders he had wrought for the people; for example, the Sabbath brought to remembrance the creation of the world; the Passover, the departure out of Egypt; the Pentecost, the giving of the law; the feast of Tabernacles, the sojourning of their fathers in the wilderness, c.

2. To keep them faithful to their religion by appropriate ceremonies, and the splendour of Divine service.

3. To procure them lawful pleasures, and necessary rest.

4. To give them instruction for in their religious assemblies the law of God was always read and explained.

5. To consolidate their social union, by renewing the acquaintance of their tribes and families; for on these occasions they come together from different parts of the land to the holy city."

Besides the feasts mentioned above, the Jews had,

1. The feast of the Sabbath, which was a weekly feast.

2. The feast of the Sabbatical Year, which was a septennial feast.

3. The feast of Trumpets, which was celebrated on the first day of what was called their civil year, which was ushered in by the blowing of a trumpet; Leviticus 23:24, &c.

4. The feast of the New Moon, which was celebrated on the first day the moon appeared after her change.

5. The feast of Expiation, which was celebrated annually on the tenth day of Tisri or September, on which a general atonement was made for all the sins, negligences, and ignorances, throughout the year.

6. The feast of Lots or Purim, to commemorate the preservation of the Jews from the general massacre projected by Haman. See the book of Esther.

7. The feast of the Dedication, or rather the Restoration of the temple, which had been profaned by Antiochus Epiphanes. This was also called the feast of Lights.

Besides these, the Jews have had several other feasts, such as the feast of Branches, to commemorate the taking of Jericho.

The feast of Collections, on the 10th of September, on which they make contributions for the service of the temple and synagogue.

The feast for the death of Nicanor. 1Mac 7:48, &c.

The feast for the discovery of the sacred fire, 2Mac 1:18, &c.

The feast of the carrying of wood to the temple, called Xylophoria, mentioned by Josephus. - WAR, b. ii. c. 17.

Verse 17

Verse Exodus 23:17. All thy malesOld men, sick men, male idiots, and male children under thirteen years of age, excepted; for so the Jewish doctors understand this command.

Verse 18

Verse Exodus 23:18. The blood of my sacrifice with leavened bread — The sacrifice here mentioned is undoubtedly the Passover; (see Exodus 34:25); this is called by way of eminence MY sacrifice, because God had instituted it for that especial purpose, the redemption of Israel from the Egyptian bondage, and because it typified THE LAMB of GOD, who taketh away the sin of the world. We have already seen how strict the prohibition against leaven was during this festival, and what was signified by it. See on chap. xii. Exodus 12:19.

Verse 19

Verse Exodus 23:19. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk. — This passage has greatly perplexed commentators; but Dr. Cudworth is supposed to have given it its true meaning by quoting a MS. comment of a Karaite Jew, which he met with, on this passage. "It was a custom of the ancient heathens, when they had gathered in all their fruits, to take a kid and boil it in the milk of its dam; and then, in a magical way, to go about and besprinkle with it all their trees and fields, gardens and orchards; thinking by these means to make them fruitful, that they might bring forth more abundantly in the following year." - Cudworth on the Lord's Supper, 4to.

I give this comment as I find it, and add that Spenser has shown that the Zabii used this kind of magical milk to sprinkle their trees and fields, in order to make them fruitful. Others understand it of eating flesh and milk together; others of a lamb or a kid while it is sucking its mother, and that the paschal lamb is here intended, which it was not lawful to offer while sucking.

After all the learned labour which critics have bestowed on this passage, and by which the obscurity in some cases is become more intense, the simple object of the precept seems to be this: "Thou shalt do nothing that may have any tendency to blunt thy moral feelings, or teach thee hardness of heart." Even human nature shudders at the thought of causing the mother to lend her milk to seethe the flesh of her young one! We need go no farther for the delicate, tender, humane, and impressive meaning of this precept.

Verse 20

Verse Exodus 23:20. Behold, I send an Angel before thee — Some have thought that this was Moses, others Joshua, because the word מלאך malach signifies an angel or messenger; but as it is said, Exodus 23:21, My name is in him, (בקרבו bekirbo, intimately, essentially in him,) it is more likely that the great Angel of the Covenant, the Lord Jesus Christ, is meant, in whom dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. We have had already much reason to believe that this glorious personage often appeared in a human form to the patriarchs, c. and of him Joshua was a very expressive type, the names Joshua and Jesus, in Hebrew and Greek, being of exactly the same signification, because radically the same, from ישע yasha, he saved, delivered, preserved, or kept safe. Nor does it appear that the description given of the Angel in the text can belong to any other person.

Calmet has referred to a very wonderful comment on these words given by Philo Judaeus De Agricultura, which I shall produce here at full length as it stands in Dr. Mangey's edition, vol. 1., p. 308: Ὡς ποιμην και βασιλευς ὁ Θεος αγει κατα δικην και νομον, προστησαμενος τον ορθον αυτου λογον πρωτογονον υἱον, ὁς την επιμελειαν της ἱερας ταυτης αγελης, οἱα τις μεγαλου βασιλεως ὑπαρχος, διαδεξεται. Και γαρ ειρηται που· Ιδου εγω ειμι, αποστελω αγγελον μον εις προσωπον σου, του φυλαξαι σε εν τῃ ὁδῳ. "God, as the Shepherd and King, conducts all things according to law and righteousness, having established over them his right WORD, his ONLY-BEGOTTEN SON, who, as the Viceroy of the Great King, takes care of and ministers to this sacred flock. For it is somewhere said, (Exodus 23:20), Behold, I AM, and I will send my ANGEL before thy face, to keep thee in the way."

This is a testimony liable to no suspicion, coming from a person who cannot be supposed to be even friendly to Christianity, nor at all acquainted with that particular doctrine to which his words seem so pointedly to refer.

Verse 21

Verse Exodus 23:21. He will not pardon your transgressions — He is not like a man, with whom ye may think that ye may trifle; were he either man or angel, in the common acceptation of the term, it need not be said, He will not pardon your transgressions, for neither man nor angel could do it.

My name is in him. — The Jehovah dwells in him; in him dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily; and because of this he could either pardon or punish. All power is given unto me in heaven and earth, Matthew 28:18.

Verse 23

Verse Exodus 23:23. Unto the Amorites — There are only six of the seven nations mentioned here, but the Septuagint, Samaritan, Coptic, and one Hebrew MS., add Girgashite, thus making the seven nations.

Verse 24

Verse Exodus 23:24. Break down their images. — מצבתיהם matstsebotheyhem, from נצב natsab, to stand up; pillars, anointed stones, &c., such as the baitulia. Genesis 28:18.

Verse 25

Verse Exodus 23:25. Shall bless thy bread and thy water — That is, all thy provisions, no matter of what sort; the meanest fare shall be sufficiently nutritive when God's blessing is in it.

Verse 26

Verse Exodus 23:26. There shall nothing cast their young, nor be barren — Hence there must be a very great increase both of men and cattle.

The number of thy days I will fulfil. — Ye shall all live to a good old age, and none die before his time. This is the blessing of the righteous, for wicked men live not out half their days; Psalms 55:23.

Verse 28

Verse Exodus 23:28. I will send hornets before thee — הצרעה hatstsirah. The root is not found in Hebrew, but it may be the same with the Arabic [Arabic] saraa, to lay prostrate, to strike down; the hornet, probably so called from the destruction occasioned by the violence of its sting. The hornet, in natural history, belongs to the species crabro, of the genus vespa or wasp; it is a most voracious insect, and is exceedingly strong for its size, which is generally an inch in length, though I have seen some an inch and a half long, and so strong that, having caught one in a small pair of forceps, it repeatedly escaped by using violent contortions, so that at last I was obliged to abandon all hopes of securing it alive, which I wished to have done. How distressing and destructive a multitude of these might be, any person may conjecture; even the bees of one hive would be sufficient to sting a thousand men to madness, but how much worse must wasps and hornets be! No armour, no weapons, could avail against these. A few thousands of them would be quite sufficient to throw the best disciplined army into confusion and rout. From Joshua 24:12, we find that two kings of the Amorites were actually driven out of the land by these hornets, so that the Israelites were not obliged to use either sword or bow in the conquest.

Verse 31

Verse Exodus 23:31. I will set thy bounds from the Red Sea — On the south-east, even unto the sea of the Philistines - the Mediterranean, on the north-west; and from the desert - of Arabia, or the wilderness of Shur, on the west, to the river - the Euphrates, on the north-east. Or in general terms, from the Euphrates on the east, to the Mediterranean Sea on the west; and from Mount Libanus on the north, to the Red Sea and the Nile on the south. This promise was not completely fulfilled till the days of David and Solomon. The general disobedience of the people before this time prevented a more speedy accomplishment; and their disobedience afterwards caused them to lose the possession. So, though all the promises of God are YEA and AMEN, yet they are fulfilled but to a few, because men are slow of heart to believe; and the blessings of providence and grace are taken away from several because of their unfaithfulness.

Verse 32

Verse Exodus 23:32. Thou shalt make no covenant with them — They were incurable idolaters, and the cup of their iniquity was full. And had the Israelites contracted any alliance with them, either sacred or civil, they would have enticed them into their idolatries, to which the Jews were at all times most unhappily prone; and as God intended that they should be the preservers of the true religion till the coming of the Messiah, hence he strictly forbade them to tolerate idolatry.

Verse 33

Verse Exodus 23:33. They shall not dwell in thy land — They must be utterly expelled. The land was the Lord's, and he had given it to the progenitors of this people, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The latter being obliged to leave it because of a famine, God is now conducting back his posterity, who alone had a Divine and natural right to it, and therefore their seeking to possess the inheritance of their fathers can be only criminal in the sight of those who are systematically opposed to the thing, because it is a part of Divine revelation.

WHAT a pity that the Mosaic Law should be so little studied! What a number of just and equal laws, pious and humane institutions, useful and instructive ordinances, does it contain! Everywhere we see the purity and benevolence of God always working to prevent crimes and make the people happy! But what else can be expected from that God who is love, whose tender mercies are over all his works, and who hateth nothing that he has made? Reader, thou art not straitened in him, be not straitened in thy own bowels. Learn from him to be just, humane, kind, and merciful. Love thy enemy, and do good to him that hates thee. Jesus is with thee; hear and obey his voice; provoke him not, and he will be an enemy to thine enemies, and an adversary to thine adversaries. Believe, love, obey; and the road to the kingdom of God is plain before thee. Thou shalt inherit the good land, and be established in it for ever and ever.

Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Exodus 23". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/acc/exodus-23.html. 1832.
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