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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Exodus 23

Verses 1-3

Do Not Bear a False Report

In these verses we have an elaboration of the ninth commandment (Exo 20:16). Speaking words is not an innocent activity: “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Mt 12:36-37).

Speaking nonsense is already bad, bearing a false report is even worse. Lie is used to conceal the truth. This allows evil to continue to exist and to do its depraved work. For the believer now it is true: “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one [of you] with his neighbor, for we are members of one another” (Eph 4:25).

The majority of the people around us are motivated by evil and are looking for evil, they want evil and exclude God. What the majority wants is made the norm. That is the essence of democracy. God does not want the members of His people to participate in it. Justice should not be perverted, as is often the case now. The law is adjusted in accordance with what the majority thinks is correct. Because the majority does not take God into account, justice is twisted. We can think of things like abortion, euthanasia, unmarried cohabitation and same-sex marriage.

Justice must have its course. Lowering the level of punishment out of compassion for an insignificant person is just as wrong as giving preferential treatment to someone who is in esteem.

Verse 4

Objects Found from an Enemy

It needs a good mindset to give something back to your enemy that he has lost and that you have found. But with this action you can “heap burning coals on his head” (Rom 12:20).

Verse 5

Help to an Enemy

Helping your enemy is also proof of a good mindset. Indifference is not appropriate for one of God’s people who is called to show Who God is. God has not been indifferent to our problems either. He has helped us to unload (spiritual) burdens. In spiritual terms, God also expects us to help people to “unload” their burdens (cf. Gal 6:2; Phil 2:4).

Verses 6-8

Fair Case-Law

The warning to be fair is recurring again and again. The person who has to judge – in fact everyone has to do it, not only judges appointed for that purpose – is always in danger of being influenced or of being deceived. Those who allow themselves to be influenced, are open to the prestige of the individual or the acceptance of bribes.

Personal gain should not play a role in the case-law or in the overall consideration of what is right. Anyone who lets themselves be deceived and dragged along in a fraudulent case is too accommodating in the story that is presented. In both cases one comes to an incorrect judgement, while God does not justify the guilty party, but condemns.

God says: “I will not acquit the guilty.” The cross of Christ has given this statement an unimagined and unprecedented twist. Anyone who acknowledges his guilt toward the holy and righteous God, who confesses his sins and accepts Christ as Savior, and who believes that God raised Him up from the dead, is justified (Rom 4:24-25). “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Rom 4:5).

Verse 9

Attitude Toward the Stranger

Here we have the same prescription as in Exodus 22 (Exo 22:21). Only here more explicit reference is made to the feelings, the state of mind, of the stranger. They know these feelings so well from their own experience because of their stay in Egypt as a stranger. We can think back to the situation we found ourselves in when we were in the slavery of sin, but it is something else to remember how we felt then. If we remember how we felt, we will not oppress the stranger, that is, we will not burden him with what he cannot bear.

Verses 10-12

Sabbath for Land, Man and Animal

God prescribes here that the land must have a sabbatical year. Then it should not be worked on. What then grows naturally is for the poor and the rest is for the animals of the field. This sabbatical year is a test for the people with regard to their obedience and their faith. It seems that they have nothing for themselves and what the land will produce is also for another. Obedience to this commandment will show their trust in God. Faith is needed to act like this. Obedience is always rewarded by God.

The Israelite himself must rest every seventh day of the week. And not only he himself, but also all that is at his service as slaves and working animals. At a time when production rates determine life – something that has always been in the nature of man – it is important not to be carried away by the desire for more. Greed and unbelief reign. God desires to let people share in His peace and to have fellowship with them. It is good to put daily business aside for a moment.

Verse 13

Attitude to Other Gods

Serving the Lord is evident from the extent to which His desires are taken into account. To know them we need to learn them. The heart that lives with Him will want to put them into practice. When other gods receive our interest, the Lord and His service disappear from our interest. Interest in other gods starts already with naming their names. Do not utter the names, do not consider them worthy of uttering them (Psa 16:4).

Verses 14-17

Three Annual Feasts

Other gods will lose their attractiveness to God’s people and will not be worth their interest if their lives revolve around the feasts that the LORD would like them to celebrate to Him. Then He becomes the center of their lives. To stimulate this, He wants all their males to appear “three times a year … before the Lord GOD” (Exo 23:17). This means that they come consciously in His presence.

The purpose is to celebrate a feast to Him, to express their joy in Him and for what He has given. When He sees their joy, His heart is pleased. It is a joy in which He is central. Therefore they will not come with empty hands, but with sacrifices that are pleasing to Him.

The times when all men of Israel have to go to Jerusalem are related to “the Feast of Unleavened Bread”, “the Feast of the Harvest” or the feast of the first fruits and “the Feast of the Ingathering” or the Feast of Booths. For us it means to lead a life in which sin has no space (Feast of Unleavened Bread), in which the first and best as a symbol of our whole life is for the Lord (Feast of the first fruits), while we honor Him for all the blessings He has given us (Feast of the Ingathering). We may celebrate these ‘feasts’ every time we come together to Him. Then we will not come with empty hearts, but with hearts full of thanks and worship for everything He has given and above all for Who He is.

Verse 18

Blood and Fat of the Sacrifice

The LORD speaks of “My” sacrifice. What we bring Him comes from Him (1Chr 29:14b). Blood and fat are the central parts of the sacrifice. Blood is life and is for reconciliation. It should therefore in no way be sacrificed together with anything of leaven. How can anything of sin still be present in the work done by the Lord Jesus precisely for the purpose of eliminating sin?

The fat also gets a special mention. The fat speaks of the power of sacrifice. It is reminiscent of the power with which the Lord Jesus made the sacrifice. The fact that it shall not be remain until the next morning means that it must not become ‘outdated’. We will have to be impressed again and again by the power that led the Lord Jesus to sacrifice Himself to God. It is the power of love.

Verse 19

First Fruits and Boiling a Young Goat

The first fruits of the proceeds of the land belong to the LORD. This expresses the right of the LORD to the entire produce of the land. Here is even talk of “the choice first fruits”. They are to be brought “into the house of the LORD your God”. It is unnatural to appropriate these “first fruits of the first fruits” for their own consumption.

The instruction not to boil a young goat in its mother’s milk seems to be a lost text, but that is of course only appearance. Everything in God’s Word is in the right place. It is in line with the above. Milk is used to feed and keep the young goat alive, not to connect it to death. It is unnatural to use milk in connection with the death of the young goat.

Those who do something like this show a lack of natural feelings. God has given His prescriptions so that man might live by them: ‘Do this and you shall live’ (Lev 18:5). That the commandment, which is to result in life, turns out to result in death (Rom 7:10), is not because of the commandment, but because of man himself. Because man is a sinner, he is not able to keep the whole law.

Verses 20-23

Listening to the Angel of the LORD

After all the precepts that the people must put into practice when they have arrived in the promised land, God gives a great encouragement here. He gives His Angel to guard them and guide them. He also points to the goal, to “the place which I have prepared”. If He prepares that place, what a good place that will be! And if He guards His people there on the way, and guides them, how certain is the arrival.

The people are responsible for listening to the Angel (cf. Mt 17:5). Only when they listen to Him the blessing is guaranteed. Then God Himself will take upon Himself the protection of His people, and will stand up for them when enemies distress them. He will completely destroy their enemies.

The words “since My name is in Him”, make it clear that “My Angel” is the Lord Jesus. The appearance of the Lord Jesus in the Old Testament, i.e. before He becomes Man, is that of an angel, usually referred to as the “Angel of the LORD”. The fact that this is about the Lord Jesus is also evident from the mention of “pardon” (Exo 23:21). To pardon or not to pardon is the right of God alone, and the Lord Jesus is God (cf. Mk 2:7-8; 10).

Verses 24-33

God Promises Blessing and Help

Warning has been issued not to mention the names of other gods (Exo 23:13). Here is a warning not to bow to the gods of peoples who live in the promised land (Exo 23:24). They must destroy those gods completely. These gods are a danger for their service to the LORD their God. They should serve Only Him. He does not tolerate another god beside Him.

Service to Him assures them of food, health, prosperity and safety. He shall bless their bread and their water, and shall ward off disease from them; miscarriage, barrenness, and premature death shall not be there. They will live long in the enjoyment of the blessing, without fear of their enemies.

For us it is written in 1 Thessalonians 1 that we have turned from idols, that we have destroyed them, “to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven” (1Thes 1:9-10). Serving God is also our calling. We may know that our work for the Lord is not in vain, or without result (1Cor 15:58).

The LORD takes it upon Himself to rid the land of their enemies. He does not do that quickly, but gradually. That is His wisdom. If He does it quickly, the people will never be able to work the whole area at once. Then it will become a wasteland. If they take possession of the land step by step, they can work it calmly. Their work will then keep pace with their numerical growth. That way they will be able to do the work.

This is also the case spiritually. Getting to know God’s thoughts happens gradually. God does not suddenly open our mind in such a way that we know the whole truth at once. Taking possession of the spiritual blessings is a process, it keeps pace with our spiritual growth. If we have come to know a piece of the truth, we must first put it into practice. Then the Lord gives us to see a new aspect of it, then we discover something again in the Word. Often this happens after we have removed something from our lives, a certain sin or a wrong habit, which has hindered our growth.

That is why, at the end of this chapter, it is pointed out once again that no connection whatsoever is made with the inhabitants of the land or their gods. They are not allowed to let them live there, they are not allowed to give them space. To deal casually with this commandment will turn into a trap for them. We too must not give space in our lives to the world and its idols. It is significant in this context that John concludes his first letter with the call: “Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1Jn 5:21).

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Exodus 23". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.