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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 23

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

Verses 1-3

These four commands, addressed to the conscience, are illustrations of the ninth commandment, mainly in reference to the giving of evidence in legal causes. Compare 1 Kings 21:10; Acts 6:11.

Exodus 23:2

This verse might be more strictly rendered, “Thou shalt not follow the many to evil; neither shalt thou bear witness in a cause so as to incline after the many to pervert justice.”

Exodus 23:3

Countenance - Rather, show partiality to a man’s cause because he is poor (compare Leviticus 19:15).

These four commands, addressed to the conscience, are illustrations of the ninth commandment, mainly in reference to the giving of evidence in legal causes. Compare 1 Kings 21:10; Acts 6:11.

Verses 4-5

So far was the spirit of the law from encouraging personal revenge that it would not allow a man to neglect an opportunity of saving his enemy from loss.

Exodus 23:5

The sense appears to be: “If thou see the ass of thine enemy lying down under his burden, thou shalt forbear to pass by him; thou shalt help him in loosening the girths of the ass.”

Verses 6-9

Four precepts evidently addressed to those in authority as judges:

(a) To do justice to the poor. ComparingExodus 23:6; Exodus 23:6 with Exodus 23:3, it was the part of the judge to defend the poor against the oppression of the rich, and the part of the witness to take care lest his feelings of natural pity should tempt him to falsify evidence.

(b) To be cautious of inflicting capital punishment on one whose guilt was not clearly proved. A doubtful case was rather to be left to God Himself, who would “not justify the wicked,” nor suffer him to go unpunished though he might be acquitted by an earthly tribunal. Exodus 23:7.

(c) To take no bribe or present which might in any way pervert judgment Exodus 23:8; compare Num 16:15; 1 Samuel 12:3; Acts 26:26.

(d) To vindicate the rights of the stranger Exodus 23:9 - rather, the foreigner. (Exodus 20:10 note.) This verse is a repetition of Exodus 22:21, but the precept is there addressed to the people at large, while it is here addressed to the judges in reference to their official duties. The caution was perpetually necessary. Compare Ezekiel 22:7; Malachi 3:5. The word rendered “heart” is more strictly “soul,” and would be better represented here by feelings.

Verses 10-12

This is the first mention of the Sabbatical year; the law for it is given at length in Leviticus 25:2. Both the Sabbatical year and the weekly Sabbath are here spoken of exclusively in their relation to the poor, as bearing testimony to the equality of the people in their covenant with Yahweh. In the first of these institutions, the proprietor of the soil gave up his rights for the year to the whole community of living creatures, not excepting the beasts: in the latter, the master gave up his claim for the day to the services of his servants and cattle.

Exodus 23:12

May be refreshed - Literally, “may take breath.”

Verse 13

Compare Deuteronomy 4:9; Joshua 22:5; Ephesians 5:15.

Verses 14-17

This is the first mention of the three great Yearly Festivals. The feast of Unleavened bread, in its connection with the Paschal Lamb, is spoken of in Exodus 12:0; Exodus 13:0: but the two others are here first named. The whole three are spoken of as if they were familiarly known to the people. The points that are especially enjoined are that every male Israelite should attend them at the sanctuary (compare Exodus 34:23), and that he should take with him an offering for Yahweh, presenting himself before his King with his tribute in his hand. That this condition belonged to all the feasts, though it is here stated only in regard to the Passover, cannot be doubted. See Deuteronomy 16:16.

Exodus 23:15-16

On the Feast of Unleavened Bread, or the Passover, see Exodus 12:1-20, Exodus 12:43-50; Exodus 13:3-16; Exodus 34:18-20; Leviticus 23:4-14. On the Feast of the Firstfruits of Harvest, called also the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Pentecost, see Exodus 34:22; Leviticus 23:15-21. On the Feast of Ingathering, called also the Feast of Tabernacles, see Leviticus 23:34-36, Leviticus 23:39-43.

Exodus 23:16

In the end of the year - Compare Exodus 34:22. The year here spoken of must have been the civil or agrarian year, which began after harvest, when the ground was prepared for sowing. Compare Leviticus 23:39; Deuteronomy 16:13-15. The sacred year began in spring, with the month Abib, or Nisan. See Exodus 12:2 note, and Leviticus 25:9.

When thou hast gathered - Rather, when thou gatherest in.

Verse 18

The blood of my sacrifice - It is generally considered that this must refer to the Paschal Lamb. See Exodus 12:7, Exodus 12:11, Exodus 12:13, Exodus 12:22-23, Exodus 12:27.

The fat of my sacrifice - Strictly, the fat of my feast; the “best part” of the feast, that is, the Paschal lamb itself. Compare Exodus 34:25.

Verse 19

The first of the firstfruits of thy land - The “best,” or “chief” of the firstfruits, that is, the two wave loaves described Leviticus 23:17. As the preceding precept appears to refer to the Passover, so it is likely that this refers to Pentecost. They are called in Leviticus, “the firstfruits unto the Load;” and it is reasonable that they should here be designated the “chief” of the firstfruits. If, with some, we suppose the precept to relate to the offerings of firstfruits in general, the command is a repetition of Exodus 22:29.

Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk - This precept is repeated. See the marginal references. If we connect the first of the two preceding precepts with the Passover, and the second with Pentecost, it seems reasonable to connect this with the Feast of Tabernacles. The only explanation which accords with this connection is one which refers to a superstitious custom connected with the harvest; in which a kid was seethed in its mother’s milk to propitiate in some way the deities, and the milk was sprinkled on the fruit trees, fields and gardens, as a charm to improve the crops of the coming year. Others take it to be a prohibition of a custom of great antiquity among the Arabs, of preparing a gross sort of food by stewing a kid in milk, with the addition of certain ingredients of a stimulating nature: and others take it in connection with the prohibitions to slaughter a cow and a calf, or a ewe and her lamb, on the same day Leviticus 22:28, or to take a bird along with her young in the nest Deuteronomy 22:6. It is thus understood as a protest against cruelty and outraging the order of nature.

Verse 20

An Angel - See Exodus 3:2, Exodus 3:8; Joshua 5:13; Isaiah 63:9.

Verse 22

The rendering in the margin is better. Cf. Deuteronomy 20:4.

Verse 23

I will cut them off - The national existence of the Canaanites was indeed to be “utterly” destroyed, every trace of their idolatries was to be blotted out, no social contact was to be held with them while they served other gods, nor were alliances of any kind to be formed with them. (See Deuteronomy 7:0; Deuteronomy 12:1-4, Deuteronomy 12:29-31.) But it is alike contrary to the spirit of the divine law, and to the facts bearing on the subject scattered in the history, to suppose that any obstacle was put in the way of well disposed individuals of the denounced nations who left their sins and were willing to join the service of Yahweh. The spiritual blessings of the covenant were always open to those who sincerely and earnestly desired to possess them. See Exodus 20:10; Leviticus 19:34; Leviticus 24:22.

Verse 27

Destroy - Rather, overthrow. See Exodus 23:23.

Verse 28

Hornets - Compare the marginal references. The word is used figuratively for a cause of terror and discouragement. Bees are spoken of in the like sense, Deuteronomy 1:44; Psalms 118:12.

Verse 29

Beast of the field - i. e. destructive animals.

Verse 31

In Exodus 23:23, the limits of the Land of Canaan, strictly so called, are indicated; to this, when the Israelites were about to take possession of it, were added the regions of Gilead and Bashan on the left side of the Jordan Numbers 32:33-42; Joshua 13:29-32. These two portions made up the holy land, of which the limits were recognized, with inconsiderable variations, until the final overthrow of the Jewish polity. But in this verse the utmost extent of Hebrew dominion, as it existed in the time of David and Solomon, is set forth. The kingdom then reached to Eloth and Ezion-geber on the AElanitic Gulf of the Red Sea 1 Kings 9:26, and to Tiphsah on the “River,” that is, the River Euphrates 1 Kings 4:24, having for its western boundary “the Sea of the Philistines,” that is, the Mediterranean, and for its southern boundary “the desert,” that is, the wildernesses of Shur and Paran (compare Genesis 15:18; Deuteronomy 1:7; Deuteronomy 11:24; Joshua 1:4).

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Exodus 23". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/exodus-23.html. 1870.
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