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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 23

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-9


Exodus 23:1 Thou shalt not raise] = tissa, from the inf. napa, in its simple sense, “to carry,” and in its ethical, “to bear about in the heart.” Hence tissa is a pregnant word, and signifies: “Thou shalt neither raise nor carry abroad, nor harbour in your heart, evil report.”

Exodus 23:2. Thou shalt not follow]. Our idiomatic expression, “to be after,” i.e., to preserve a course of parsistent getting at a person or thing answers well to the literal meaning of the words, lo tihyeh, “be not;” achrey. “after;” rabbim, “multitude;” le râoth, “for evil.” In other words, do not get at the multitude with evil designs, and so become an evil unto the multitude. Hence the appositeness of the other clause of the sentence becomes evident, if rightly rendered: “Neither shalt thou speak in a cause to incline (to the multitude) to wrest judgment.” The exhortation means, “not to give way, or bend (lintoth), on account of the pressure of the multitude, and thus suffer the multitude to become an occasion for evil unto thee.

Exodus 23:3. Thou shalt not adorn] (tehdar), i.e., gloss over the cause of a man (though he be) dal = destitute.

6. The poor referred to in this verse is “thy poor ones” (ebyoncha), in the sense of simply being in, or suffering from, want, but not being absolutely destitute.



We see a connection running through the whole of these verses. They may all be said to have a bearing upon judicial proceedings. Rightly received they tend to promote the integrity of the witness, the uprightness of the judge, and the correctness of the judicial conclusion. All must regard themselves under law. Subjects are under law. Lawgivers and law administrators are likewise under law. There can be no escape from law. The highest condition is that of being ruled by the great law of love.

I. Perjury is to be avoided. “Thou shalt not raise or receive a false report; put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness.” If the receiver is as bad as the thief, then the receiver of a false report is as bad as the raiser. If we pass out of the court of justice and say that men are not to raise false reports, which is undoubtedly true, and that the receivers are just as guilty as the raisers of false reports; then we get a very painful view of even Christian (so called) society. Such is the corruption of human nature that we delight in listening to a false report, though we may doubt its accuracy. Laws against perjury are severe, and justly so, for the perjurer is one of the vilest of men.

II. The influence of the multitude is to be repudiated. Too often the multitude is omnipotent. “The voice of the people is the voice of God,” is a proverb which is injurious, which is in great measure false, but which shows how men follow the leading of the crowd. The voice of the sovereign people is too often appealed to as the divinest law. The conclusion of the thinking multitude will very likely be correct; but the movements of the unreflecting multitude are just as likely to be under the direction of folly; and the greater part of large gatherings are unreflecting. The crowd will cut a man’s head off to-day, and canonize him to-morrow. There is no reason why the multitude passes so quickly from crying “Hosannah” to crying “Crucify.” The leaders of the people exercise a responsible function. Too often the leaders are only led. The men are benefactors who work to create a healthy public opinion. Judges, above all men, should be free from the influence of the multitude.

III. False sentiment must find no place. “Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause.” Thou shalt not wrest the judgment of thy poor in his cause. Tenderness for poverty is misplaced when it leads to the perversion of justice. The emotional must not be stifled, but kept in its right position. The emotional must be subordinate to the intellectual and deliberative faculties. In all our judgments let us preserve the true position of our God-given faculties.

IV. Prejudice must be laid upon one side. Regard the directions in Exodus 23:4-5 not merely as enjoining upon men the duty of doing good to those who hate them, but as showing that the judge must not let prejudice influence while seeking to come to a conclusion. Thus we see a purpose in the placing of them in this part of the general legal directions. It is certain that judges ought to be even-handed, as free on the one hand from the sentiment of pity as from the feeling of hatred on the other.

V. The bribe must be at once rejected. How true universally are those words—the gift blindeth the wise. Gold can throw a yellow film over the most keen-sighted of men, that they see not clearly. All things are tinged with the colour of the metal prostituted to a base purpose.

VI. And yet the judge must not be a hard oppressor. He must give the Poor stranger a fair chance. He must make due allowance for his timorousness; for ye know the heart of a stranger. How suggestive from the homiletical point of view!

1. Sorrowful dispensations increase knowledge.
2. Sorrowful dispensations develop refinement.
3. Sorrowful dispensations enlarge sympathy.
4. Sorrowful dispensations promote beneficence.

V. Judges themselves must be judged. “I will not justify the wicked.” Therefore be careful. The innocent and righteous slay not. Fearful will be the doom of unjust judges. Slaughtered innocents will confront them, and fill their souls with unutterable anguish. God is judge, and a great day of trial will come to universal man.—W. Burrows, B.A.


SLANDER.—Exodus 23:1 (first clause)

The word rendered “thou shalt not raise” is from נָשָֹׁא to take away; hence both text “raise,” and margin “receive,” are correct. In this law slander is characterised, prohibited, and punished.

I. Slander is characterised

1. Slander consists in originating a false report.

(1.) It may be from envy.
(2.) It may be from carelessness; judging appearances merely.
(3.) It may be from hasty conclusions, through not taking into consideration the whole of the circumstances of a given case, or not waiting for its full explanation.
2. Slander consists in listening to false reports.

(1.) Because it countenances and encourages the slanderer.
(2.) Because you allow it to be reported to one at least who ought not to have heard it.
(3.) Because repeated encouragement of slander may make you a slanderer.
3. Slander consists in circulating a false report (Leviticus 19:16.)

(1.) It may be circulated confidentially; “I wouldn’t let any one know it for the world! It may not be true, you know.”
(2.) It may be circulated as an ordinary topic of information in gossip.
(3.) It may be circulated by a pretended desire to benefit the individual concerned: “Don’t you think I ought to mention it to him?”
(4.) It may be circulated by implication; shoulders, eyes, lips, hands, may be all eloquent with slanderous insinuations.
(5.) It may be circulated negatively: “I don’t believe it; now, do you?”

II. Slander is prohibited.

1. Affecting antecedents.
(1.) A man’s character does not consist in what he has been, but in what he is.
(2.) What a man has been ought not to be a lever to lift him into it again.
(3.) Even if a man has been very bad in the past, he may be very good in the present.
2. Affecting character. A man’s character is his all; if you take that away, you leave him “poor indeed!”
3. Affecting his family or social relations.
4. Affecting his goods.

III. Slander is punished. This is one of those commandments which are addressed to the conscience, common sense, and good feeling, and is not followed by judicial punishment. But does the slanderer escape? Nay, verily!

1. He is excluded from religious fellowship (Psalms 15:3).

2. He is the object of Divine vengeance (Psalms 10:5).

3. He is exposed to the contempt of mankind (Proverbs 10:18).

4. He is excluded from the kingdom of heaven (Revelation 22:15). See some excellent remarks by Wesley (Sermon xxii. on Matthew 5:5-7).

In conclusion—

1.Exodus 20:16; Exodus 20:16; Exodus 2:0.Matthew 18:15; Matthew 18:15; Matthew ,

3.Galatians 6:1; Galatians 6:1.

J. W. Burn.

THE DUTIES OF WITNESSES (last clause of Exodus 23:1-3)

I. Not to co-operate in an unrighteous cause, Exodus 23:1. This “commandment is exceeding broad,” and conveys a lesson—

1. To judicial witnesses.
(1.) Personal friendships.
(2.) The guilt of the accused on some other point.
(3.) A show of justice must not influence us.

2. To all partisans, controversialists, politicians.
3. To trades unionists, &c.

II. Not to co-operate in any unrighteous cause because it is popular, Exodus 23:2.

1. Because majorities are no test of truth. Multitudes may be roused by passion, prejudice, or self-interest.
2. Because men should be weighed as well as counted.
3. Because righteousness, from the constitution of human nature, is often unpopular, and in the minority.

III. Not to co-operate in an unrighteous cause because it is apparently benevolent, Exodus 23:3; (Leviticus 19:15).

1. Because we may be putting a premium on vice which is the source of all misery.
(1.) By endeavouring to conceal the crime.
(2.) By extolling other virtues, so as to minimise the enormity of guilt. But to what purpose is it if we extol a man’s honesty, if he is lazy, or a drunkard; or his sobriety, if a thief?
2. Because justice is above mere sentiment, and for the wellbeing of the whole community, and not for the exclusive benefit of a class.
3. Because of its influence on the object himself. Let a man feel that you do this or that for him simply because he is poor, and he will see no advantage in helping himself.

Learn then—
i. To entertain none but righteous considerations. ii. To pursue them at all cost.—J. W. Burn.



I. That duties to enemies are enjoined (Proverbs 24:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:15).

1. It is our duty to protect the interests of our enemy.
(1.) If they are damaged, we should endeavour to retrieve them.

(2.) If they are in danger of damage, we should endeavour to prevent them (James 5:19-20).

2. It is our duty to help the difficulties of our enemy.
(1.) His mind may be in difficulties.
(2.) His soul may be in difficulties.
(3.) His material interests may be in difficulties.

II. That duties to enemies are difficult: “and wouldest forbear to help him.”

1. Such duties are against the grain of human nature.
2. Such duties are apparently against self-interest.
3. Such duties require self-denials and sacrifices.

III. That duties to enemies are rewarded (Proverbs 25:21-22; Matthew 5:44-45; Romans 12:20).

IV. That neglect of duties to enemies is punished (Job 31:29; Proverbs 24:18). In conclusion—

i. Our text applies to all enmity, whether polemical, political, or national. ii. Its precepts should be obeyed, because we may be in the wrong and our enemy in the right. iii. Because God has Himself set us the sublime example. “When we were enemies, we were reconciled by the death of His Son.”

J. W. Burn.


Our text enjoins—
I. That judges should be impartial

1. In particular towards the poor, Exodus 23:6.

(1.) Because the poor are most open to the oppression of the powerful.
(2.) Because the poor are often at a disadvantage for the want of technical knowledge, or means to procure legal assistance.
(3.) Because the poor are easily overawed.

2. In general towards the right, Exodus 23:7, first clause. Not to aid or abet a wrong cause.

II. That judges should be cautious, particularly with regard to matters relating to capital punishment. “The innocent and righteous slay thou not.”

1. The case must be clearly proved.
2. The accused to have the benefit of the doubt.

3. Because justice would be done. If the criminal escaped an earthly doom, God would “not justify the wicked” (Proverbs 11:21).

III. That judges should be incorrupt, Exodus 23:8, either in the shape of direct bribe or indirect present.

1. Because the bribe may blind him to the true merit of the case; and
2. Because the bribe may weigh down and pervert his judgment on the wrong side.

IV. That judges should be considerate, Exodus 23:9; particularly in regard to foreigners. Because—

1. They had been foreigners themselves, and had suffered for the want of consideration.
2. They therefore knew something of the sufferings of foreigners.
(1.) Foreigners may be ignorant of the law and unwittingly break it.
(2.) When broken, they may know nothing of legal technicalities, or be unable to pay legal expenses.

Application.—“I will not justify the wicked” applies to the judge as well as to the accused. Judges will have to stand before the judgment-seat of Christ.—J. W. Burn.



Mosaic Morals! Exodus 23:1-19. A modern jurist, Hennequin, says: “Good right had Moses to challenge the Israelites, what nation hath statutes like yours? a worship so exalted—laws so equitable—a code so complex?” A Frenchman and an infidel, he observes that, compared with all the legislations of antiquity, none so thoroughly embodies the principles of everlasting righteousness. Lycurgus wrote, not for a people, but for an army: It was a barrack which he erected, not a commonwealth. Solon, on the other hand, could not resist the surrounding effeminate influences of Athens. It is in Moses alone that we find a regard for the right, austere and incorruptible; a morality distinct from policy, and rising above regard for times and peoples.

“But what could Moses’ law have done

Had it not been divinely sent?
The power was from the Lord alone,
And Moses but the instrument.”


Slander-Scandal! Exodus 23:1-9. It must be universally acknowledged that mankind at large are insatiable reporters of gossip—that gossip heats by friction—and that what today is only an unusual circumstance, is tomorrow a foul crime. If an apprentice runs away from his master, the latter is straightway reported to have killed and concealed him. If a girl is found drowned without any circumstance whatever to warrant such a notion, it is immediately insinuated that she has been murdered. If a husband or wife dies suddenly, the slander is at once broached that the survivor accomplished the death for sinister purposes. If a child is burnt to death, forthwith the calamity floats abroad that the parents behaved cruelly to the child, and at last burnt the body to destroy all traces of their wanton and unuatural brutality. The morbid appetite for horrors and the ordinary appetite for gossip, when combined together, constitute a calumnious power of terrible evil. Hence the Mosaic Law here seeks to dry up the fount of corruption by legal barriers.

“For Slander lives upon succession;
For ever licensed when once it gets possession.”


Slander-Sting! Exodus 23:1. It is fruitful in variety of expedients to satiate as well as disguise itself. But, says Sterne, if these smooth weapons cut so sore, what shall we say of open and unblushing scandal, subjected to no caution, tied down to no restraints? If the one, like an arrow shot in the dark, does nevertheless so much secret mischief, this, like the pestilence which rages at noon-day, sweeps all before it, levelling without distinction the good and bad. The whispered tale

“That, like the falling hill, no foundation knows;—
Fair-faced deceit, whose wily, conscious eye
Ne’er looks direct—the tongue that licks the dust,
But, when it safely dares, as prompt to sting.”


Multitudes. Exodus 23:2. It is here assumed that the multitude do evil; and it is here implied that we are in danger of copying their example. Hence the urgent need to guard against the seductive influence of the multitude. This is best accomplished by seeking the grace of God. Colton remarks that the mob is a monster with the hands of Briareus, but the head of Polyphemus, strong to execute, but blind to perceive. If Dryden is correct, how valuable the command not to follow a multitude: “it is the scum that rises upmost when the nation boils.” Nothing is more easily swayed than the multitude, and that sway is always most easy in the direction of evil.

“And since the rabble now is ours,
Keep the tools hot, preach dangers in their ears,
Till they run headlong into evil discords,
And do our business with their own destruction.”


Judges! Exodus 23:4-7. Aristides being judge between two private persons, one of them declared that his adversary had greatly injured Aristides. Interrupting him at once, the judge said: “Relate rather what wrong he hath done thee; for it is thy cause, not mine, that I now sit judge of.” Corrupt judgment is a familiar evil in Egypt, Syria, and other Eastern lands. Of these, we may say with Massinger, “petitions not sweetened with gold are but unsavoury and oft refused; or, if received, are pocketed, not read.”

“Who painted Justice blind, did not declare
What magistrates should be, but what they are;
Not so much ’cause they rich and poor should weigh
In their just scales alike, but because they,
Now blind with bribes, are grown so weak of sight,
They’ll sooner feel a cause than see it right.”


Falsehood—Folly! Exodus 23:7. There is nothing of so ill consequence, says Lloyd, to the public as falsehood, or—speech being the current coin of converse—the putting false money upon the world; or so dark a blot as dissembling, which, as Montaigne remarks, is only to be brave towards God, and a coward towards man; for a lie faceth God, and shrinketh from man. Therefore a lie should be trampled on and extinguished wherever found. Carlyle says, “I am for fumigating the atmosphere when I suspect that falsehood, like pestilence, breathes around me.” Let those who bear false witness remember Reade when he says, “that every false report, great or small, is the brink of a precipice—the depth of which nothing but Omniscience can fathom.”

“Lying’s a certain mark of cowardice;
And when the tongue forgets its honesty,
The heart and hand may drop their functions too,
And nothing worthy be resolved or done.”


Judicial Venality! Exodus 23:8.

(1.) Sir Thomas More succeeded Cardinal Wolsey as Lord Chancellor of England. Many abuses had multiplied during Wolsey’s chancellorship, more especially in the way of gratuities. Sir Thomas, however, neither in his own person nor in that of any under him, would allow of anything in the shape of a bribe. At this his son-in-law rather complained, saying, “The fingers of my Lord Chancellor Cardinal’s veriest doorkeepers were tipped with gold; but I, since I married your daughter, have got no pickings.” And yet, no matter how immaculately impartial a judge may be, how far wrong may be his judgment! Not so God; His judgment is unerring and unimpeachable. Venal judges cannot bribe the Divine Judgment.
(2) There is a machine in the Bank of England which receives sovereigns as a mill receives grain. This is for the purpose of determining wholesale whether they are of full weight. As they pass through, the machinery—by unerring laws—throws all that are light to the one side. This proceeding affords the most vivid similitude of the judicial functions at the Last Day! Venal judgments will be weighed in the balances and found wanting. The Lord Cardinal’s fingers, as well as those of his veriest doorkeeper, may have been weighted heavily with gold, but this will not avail to pass them from before the Divine Judge as of standard weight.

“Of mortal justice, if thou scorn the rod,
Believe and tremble, thou art judged of God.”


Verses 10-12



It has been said that a life according to nature is the highest good. Now, most certainly, a life conducted on the principles laid down by Him who is the God of nature and of grace is the highest good,—being productive of the largest amount of happiness The wisdom and benevolence of the Almighty are manifested in the appointment of the Sabbath; and those consult their highest good—not only their future, but their present welfare—who observe that appointment, and devote a seventh of their time to rest, and to the cultivation more especially of the spiritual life.

I. The beneficence of the Sabbatic year.

1. It is beneficent to the land. Every seventh year the land must rest and lie still. Even in high farming it is found needful to give the land a rest by a change of crops. The earth is wonderfully productive, and has a marvellous power of renewing its youth from year to year, and from age to age. But this power of productiveness must not be stretched too far. The land, too, must have its Sabbath. A shortsighted policy works the land until it becomes comparatively barren; and thus selfishness, in the long run, is not as profitable as a spirit directed by Divine regulations.

2. It is beneficent to the owner of the land. He learns by this arrangement to husband his resources, and to be provident. One reason of the poverty of uncultured tribes is, that they are not provident. They do not look into the future, and store up seed for the coming harvest. This Sabbatic year will teach the owner to be provident. It will teach him to have a wise management of affairs. He will be taught to take a large view of God’s dealings. He will see that the world is not conducted on the haphazard principle. There is method in the Divine government Thus the farmer’s reflective faculties are developed. He is not to be a mere working machine; but a king in nature moving in subjection to the Divine King, learning lessons of dependence upon God, and admiring the bounty of that God who in six years gives ample supplies for the seventh.

3. It is beneficent to the poor and to the beasts, “that the poor of thy people may eat: and what they leave, the beasts of the field shall eat.” The poor have a divine right to the charities of the rich. There is no law against the plenty obtained by six years’ hard labour; but here is a wise limit to the spirit of acquisition. The poor must not envy the rich their six years’ plenty; and the rich must not deny to the poor the power to glean in the seventh year. God cares even for oxen; and the rich must care for those who are God’s care. If God cares for oxen, how much more for those made in His image. That community must be safe and prosperous where there is this mutual consideration. Communistic violence will not be known in that land where the rich do not oppress the poor. There is plenty for all in God’s vast universe. Let there be no waste, but a wise economy. Surely six years’ produce is enough for the reasonable and benevolent owner of property! Let the poor have the gleanings of the seventh year.

II. The beneficence of the Sabbatic day. The blessed Saviour said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” And in the Old Testament we find that the appointment of the Sabbath was a beneficent arrangement for man’s welfare. But some so read our Saviour’s words that the Sabbath is divested of any binding power. The Sabbath was made for man, and therefore if man does not want to keep a Sabbath he has no need to do so. Put the statement in another form. It is self-evident that food was made for man, and not man for food. No one would ever think that the statement meant that man need not take food. It was made to meet man’s physical necessities, and he cannot do without it. Now, just in the same way as food was made for man, so the Sabbath was made for man’s physical, intellectual, and moral nature. The Sabbath was not made for man as a toy is made for the child, to minister for an hour or two to its amusement, and then to be destroyed. The Sabbath was made for man as the sun was made for man, to give us light, heat, beauty, and productiveness. The Sabbath was made for man as the revolving seasons, as the sweet interchange of day and night were made for man, that this world may be to him a glorious dwelling-place. The Sabbath was made for man, as the Bible was made for man, that he may attain the true conceptions of manhood, that the true royalty of his nature may not be blotted out of existence, that he may rise above mere notions of animality, that he may stand in this world conscious of the dignity of his origin and the greatness of his sublime destiny. The Sabbath was made for man as the Saviour Himself was made a man for men, that the powers of evil may not gain a complete mastery, and that they may sit in heavenly places, clothed in garments of spiritual fashion, and radiant with Divine beauty. The Sabbath was made for man as heaven is made for redeemed man. A refuge from the storms of life. A home of peace after the six days of care and toil. A goal to which we look with glad hearts, and towards which we work with hopeful spirits amid the intense struggles and fervid contests and fierce strifes of existence. There are those who seem to regard the Sabbath as an infringement on their rights, and as a robbery of the time they might otherwise profitably employ in trade or commerce. And they strive to frustrate the purposes of Divine benevolence by putting seven days’ labour into the six, and then taking the seventh day for the purpose of recruiting an over-wrought physical or mental nature. But it will not do. By and by the man will be compelled to pay the penalty of his folly. Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest. To put seven days’ labour into six is like stretching the bow until it snaps and is destroyed. Man needs periods of rest and release from care, from toil, and from business, and this need is met by the appointment of the Sabbath. This is one of the most beneficent of Divine institutions; and it is the one that is the most universally observed. The greater part of civilized humanity, as if by instinctive feeling, seem to appreciate its beneficence. Its infringement is only the result of a narrow selfishness that would soon bring the social fabric to awful ruin. The Sabbath is not for work, is not for pleasure that may be harder toil than our accustomed work, is not for doing little odds and ends for which we have not time in the week, but for rest—rest of body and rest of mind—rest in divine service, rest in peaceful worship, and rest in holy employments. The Sabbath day fosters the spirit of benevolence. The letter of the Old Testament is not binding, but the spirit is. We must do all that lies in our power so that the ox and the ass may rest, and the son of the handmaid and the stranger may be refreshed. In this world of selfishness it will foster a benevolent spirit, and produce restful feelings to strive to minister to the welfare of the lower animals, and the refreshment even of the stranger. The Sabbath throws open the arms of love, and would enfold a wearied universe and impart abiding rest.—W. Burrows, B.A.


THE SABBATIC YEAR.—Exodus 23:9-11

For the whole subject, see Dr. Milligan’s article on “Sacred Seasons” in Cassells’ “Bible Educator.” This law was intended—

1. To show the fertility of the land of promise. Every seventh year, without skill or toil, the land would produce of itself sufficient for the poor and the beasts of the field.
2. To encourage habits of thrift and forethought, so that they might provide for the year of rest.
3. To test
(1.) their faith in the providence, and
(2.) their obedience to the laws of God. The subject suggests—

I. That periods may arrive by the order or permission of God when work must be laid aside. Commercial depression, sickness, old age.
II. That the prospect of such periods should lead us to provide for them. We are not like “fowls of the air,” or “grass of the field,” which have to be literally fed and clothed by the providence of God, and are utterly unable to forecast and provide for contingencies.

III. That the prospect of such periods should teach us resignation to the will of God and faith in His goodness (Matthew 6:25-34).

Application.—i. There remaineth “a rest” for the people of God; ii. Prepare for that rest by faith and obedience.

—J. W. Burn.

LABOUR AND REST.—Exodus 23:12

This verse teaches us—
I. That rest is needful, “May be refreshed.”

1. Rest is needful that the exhausted faculties may repose after past work.
2. Rest is needful that those faculties may be invigorated for future service.
3. Rest is needful that work may not become irksome; for if so
(1.) It will be done slovenly; and
(2.) Done imperfectly.
4. Rest is needful that work may be free and joyous.

II. That rest is mercifully provided.

1. This rest is provided by God, lest man should not overlook its necessity.
2. This rest is provided by God lest the servant, the foreigner, or the beast should be defrauded of their right to it.

III. That rest should be diligently earned. “Six days shalt thou do thy work.”

1. Not lounge over it;
2. Not neglect it; but
3. Do it earnestly, conscientiously, and well.

Application.—i. A lesson to employers. God has provided this rest, beware how you steal what God has given to man. ii. A lesson to working men. This rest is yours by right. Then

(1.) claim it;
(2.) don’t abuse it;
(3.) don’t curtail that of others;
(4.) work during your own time, rest during God’s. iii. A lesson to the world at large. Sabbath-breaking is the direct cause of
(1.) Intellectual evils; overtaxed brains, &c.;
(2.) moral evils; neglect of the rights of God and man;
(3.) physical evils. Science has demonstrated the need of one day’s rest in seven.



Mosaic Morals! Exodus 23:1-19. A modern jurist, Hennequin, says: “Good right had Moses to challenge the Israelites, what nation hath statutes like yours? a worship so exalted—laws so equitable—a code so complex?” A Frenchman and an infidel, he observes that, compared with all the legislations of antiquity, none so thoroughly embodies the principles of everlasting righteousness. Lycurgus wrote, not for a people, but for an army: It was a barrack which he erected, not a commonwealth. Solon, on the other hand, could not resist the surrounding effeminate influences of Athens. It is in Moses alone that we find a regard for the right, austere and incorruptible; a morality distinct from policy, and rising above regard for times and peoples.

“But what could Moses’ law have done

Had it not been divinely sent?
The power was from the Lord alone,
And Moses but the instrument.”


Sacred Seasons! Exodus 23:10. The deeper basins of the African Sahara are frequently of great extent, and sometimes contain valuable deposits of salt. Wherever perennial springs rise from the earth, or wherever it has been possible to collect water in artificial wells, green aoses break the monotony of the desert. They might be compared with the charming islands that stud the vast solitudes of the Southern Seas. A wonderful luxuriance of vegetation characterises these oases of the wilderness. And what is life but a wilderness? What are the sacred seasons but these emerald, living oases! Here the pilgrims halt for refreshment and repose. Here they rest beneath the shadow of the lofty palm-trees, dip their vessels in the waters of the calm, clear fount, feed upon the luscious clusters of grape and pomegranate, orange and apricot. Then with recruited strength they go forth again upon their pilgrimage towards the Land of Rest; singing as they press onward over the sands of time, How sweet

“To hold with heaven communion meet—
Meet for a spirit bound to heaven;
And, in this wilderness beneath,
Pure zephyrs from above to breathe.”


Sabbath Beneficence! Exodus 23:12. Stations on the line of your journey, remarks Pulsford, are not your journey’s end; but each one brings you nearer. A haven is not Home; but it is a place of quiet and rest where the rough waves are stayed. A garden is a piece of common land, yet it has ceased to be common. It is now an effort to regain paradise. Such are the Lord’s days. The true Lord’s Day is the rest that remaineth for the people of God—is the upper Eden of eternity. But its earthly type is the ever-recurring weekly world-Sabbath. By cultivating our earthly Sabbaths, we are making an effort to regain the lost Paradise. That benefit God designed, and that blessing God will confer.

“Sabbaths, like waymarks, cheer the pilgrim’s path,
His progress mark, and keep his rest in view.”
“In life’s bleak winter they are pleasant days,
Short foretastes of the long, long spring to come.”


Verse 13



The man who makes a wise use of his eyes is in so far circumspect. Words that primarily set forth bodily actions are secondarily applied to the description of mental states and actions. Circumspection is descriptive of a mental condition, and denotes intensity and watchfulness of spirit. The man who takes heed to himself and his ways is circumspect. “In all things that I have said unto you be circumspect.” There never was greater need for circumspection. This exhortation is for all time.

I. Circumspection is difficult. It is difficult, from the fact that we are blind, and are unconscious of our sad state. The blind man moves with caution because he feels his defect. Carelessness, which may be taken as the opposite of circumspection, is characteristic of a childish state. It is difficult for the child to command its attention. There is a deal of childishness in full-grown men. It is difficult for the photographer to get a happy expression fixed upon the prepared glass. The sitter cannot bear the necessary fixity of gaze, and the countenance assumes an unnatural aspect. This is typical. It is difficult to keep the mind fixed upon the great problems of life, and the ears ever open to the reception, and the understanding ever on the stretch to the true perception of the voice of God. Circumspection is not a mere listless gaze. It is a looking round about, but it is a looking with an earnest purpose in order to see what dangers are to be avoided, what voice is to be obeyed, and what course is to be pursued. All mental efforts in the initial stages are difficult, and circumspection is a mental effort. It must sometimes be a prolonged mental strain.

II. Circumspection is wise. It is not by ease, but by difficulties, that the world’s great heroes have been created. The smooth pathway is the most attractive, but it is not the one selected by wisdom. “See that ye walk circumspectly; not as fools, but as wise redeeming the time.” The man is unwise who does not constantly employ his powers of mental vision. Circumspection we consider wise in the merchant, the soldier, the sailor, and the statesman. Circumspection is wise on the part of moral beings, or those who have great duties to discharge. There is a right spirit in which feast days and days of rest must be kept, and it is wise to be circumspect.

III. Circumspection is wise, for it is helpful. Helpful to the individual. The exercise of circumspection increases our power of being circumspect. It will become a habit. All difficulty will vanish. And then all his nature will be enlarged. He will march through this world thoroughly alive to its great movements, and its solemn realities. He will not be easily surprised by any foe. He cannot be taken unawares, for He is always on the watch-tower. Every power and faculty of His nature will be brought into play. Helpful to the community. The careless horse in the team hinders all the rest. A great many overlookers would have to be discharged if all workers were circumspect. What a blessed revolution would circumspection produce in civil and ecclesiastical communities! What holy rejoicings on feast days if all feasters were circumspect! What undisturbed and delightful repose on rest days if all were truly circumspect!

IV. This circumspection is required

1. By reason of the condition of our nature. We are materialised. The spiritual essence has been eliminated. Idolatry is alluring and compatible. This was the danger of the Jews. This is still our danger. One of our great literary men lately said he was only interested in what he could “see and touch.” Is not this the idolater’s temper?

2. By reason of the condition of our surroundings. The Jews were the only theocratic nation. They were surrounded by idolaters. It was needful for them to be circumspect There is a revivification of materialistic philosophy. Matter is deified. Idols are being projected from the ingenious minds of scientists. We may not be in danger of bowing down to misshapen idols of the hand; but we are in danger of worshipping misshapen idols of the mind. We must be circumspect.

3. Increased circumspection is required with reference to those evils to which we are specially liable. The Jews were not even to mention the name of heathen gods; for this was their special danger. We know how easy a thing it was for them to lapse into idolatry; therefore the need of increased circumspection. “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset.” Where danger threatens let the forces gather. Let us consider the circumstances of our times, the peculiar dangers to which we are liable; let us be increasingly circumspect.
4. Increased circumspection is required in those things that may seem of little importance. It is a strict charge not to let the name of other gods be heard out of the mouth. The Jew might be disposed to resist this as unreasonable. Words are little things, but in them are great powers. The utterance of our thoughts increases their vitality and their potency. The more we speak about the evil thing, the less is our repugnance to it. Let abhorrence of idolatry be so great that we shall not deign to mention the name of other gods. O God, keep the door of my lips, as well as guide the motions of my heart!—W. Burrows, B.A.



I. In general. “In all things.” Moses is drawing to the close of these precepts, and looking back upon them, he says—“Be circumspect.” The original (שָמַד) suggests—

1. That we should be fully awake to the importance of the Divine commands.
(1.) Give them intelligent and reverent examination.
(2.) Store them up in the memory.
(3.) Study them in their beneficent operation.
2. That we should be on our guard against temptations to break the Divine commands. Temptations are
(1.) sudden;
(2.) insidious;
(3.) deceiving.
3. That we should be careful “to remember His commandments to do them.”
(1.) There is a danger lest an exaggerated estimate of human weakness should lead to despair on the one hand, and recklessness on the other.
(2.) God would not command the impossible.
(3.) There is “grace to help in time of need.”

II. In particular, “make no mention,” &c. Because—

1. That would be uncircumspect in the first and greatest commandment.
2. That would be to forfeit the help promised to the circumspect.
3. That would be to yield to a tendency to be uncircumspect in everything.

Christians—i. “Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.” ii. Live so as “to adorn the doctrine of God your Saviour in all things.”

J. W. Burn.



Mosaic Morals! Exodus 23:1-19. A modern jurist, Hennequin, says: “Good right had Moses to challenge the Israelites, what nation hath statutes like yours? a worship so exalted—laws so equitable—a code so complex?” A Frenchman and an infidel, he observes that, compared with all the legislations of antiquity, none so thoroughly embodies the principles of everlasting righteousness. Lycurgus wrote, not for a people, but for an army: It was a barrack which he erected, not a commonwealth. Solon, on the other hand, could not resist the surrounding effeminate influences of Athens. It is in Moses alone that we find a regard for the right, austere and incorruptible; a morality distinct from policy, and rising above regard for times and peoples.

“But what could Moses’ law have done

Had it not been divinely sent?
The power was from the Lord alone,
And Moses but the instrument.”


Circumspection! Exodus 23:13.

(1) Circumspection is nothing else but the soul running up and down, to and fro, busy everywhere. It is the heart busied and employed with diligent observation of what comes from within us, and of what comes from without us and into us. Ah! souls, says Brookes, you are no longer safe and secure than when you are upon your watch. While Antipater kept the watch, Alexander was safe. A watchful soul is a soul upon the wing, a soul out of gunshot, a soul upon a rock, a soul in a castle, a soul above the cloud, a soul held fast in the Everlasting Arms.
(2) Be circumspect, writes Dyke, over thine heart. It is like a wild horse; if a man once let go the bridle as he is walking on his journey, when it is gone, it is not so easily secured again; and much time may be spent in trying to recover the runaway. Keep thine heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.
(3) Be circumspect, counsels Reynolds, for thou hast many foes. When enemies are around, generals and subalterns and sentinels are all on the alert. The Christian’s foes are more relentless and numerous. They have no desire that thou shouldst reach the object of thy pursuit. And though they cannot shut thee out from the Land of Promise, the stronghold of eternity, yet may they do much to hinder thy march thitherward.

“Oh watch and pray! for thou hast foes to fight,
Foes which alone thou canst not overcome;
Watching and prayer will keep thine armour bright;
Soon will thy toils be o’er—thy victory won.”


Verses 14-19


Exodus 23:19. Thou shalt not seethe, &c.]—This command, taken in connection with the preceding one, justifies the explanation of ancient commentators that it was given to banish a pagan rite, in the offering up as an harvest thanks-offering of a kid seethed in its mothers milk. With the milk of this oblation the fields, gardens, and orchards were sprinkled, in the belief that favour of the deities for a good harvest in the coming year would be thus secured. This commandment may, however, also imply a prohibition against cruelty and outrage of nature. Rabbinism took occasion to adduce from this commandment injunctions of an extensive culinary kind, according to which every Jew was strictly prohibited, not only from using milk, butter, or cheese with meat, but he is obliged to keep separate sets of kitchen utensils for each of those two classes of food.



The three feasts referred to in this passage are—The Feast of the Passover, the Feast of Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles or ingathering; and may be regarded as the pilgrimage feasts. We do not consider them to be of patriarchal origin. They evidently refer not to a pastoral but to an agricultural state of society. The offerings are such as an agricultural people might be expected to present. They are indicative of the fact that the people were not mere keepers of sheep, but tillers of the land. Our religious feasts must be appropriate to our conditions. Our religious offerings must be characteristic of our state, and proportioned to our means. God requires from us only that which we are able to give. Let each give according to that which he has received from the great Giver.

I. Religious feasts are memorials. The feasts of this world very often are made only for empty laughter, and too frequently the laughter is turned into mourning. Many of those who give feasts give them in order to minister to the desire of display, or for the purpose of gaining some advantage. For this reason our blessed Lord tells the givers of feasts to call in the poor, the maimed, the halt, and the blind. But the feasts appointed to be observed by God are memorials. These three feasts are—

1. Memorials of God’s past dealings. The word Passover indicates the nature of the feast of unleavened bread. It is a memorial, not of the fact that the children of Israel passed through the Red Sea; but of the fact that the destroying angel passed over the abodes of the Israelites. It is a memorial of a wonderful Divine deliverance. Of all the feasts of the Jewish economy, this is the one great feast which has been brought into prominence by the observance of the feast of the Lord’s Supper. “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” This great memorial feast of the Jews was typical and prophetical. It pointed onwards through the intervening centuries to the greater feast of the Lord’s Supper. The one feast celebrated the deliverance of the natural Israel, while the other celebrates the deliverance of the spiritual Israel. The one feast has become absorbed and lost in a greater feast; but the other feast will be perpetually celebrated. We shall pass away from drinking the symbolical wine of earth to the glorious privilege of drinking the new wine in our Father’s kingdom. The one feast was local, but the other was intended to be universal. It is a significant fact that the feast of the Lord’s Supper has been so widely observed. Churches that have departed from the faith and lapsed into idolatry have stuck to this Christian ordinance. And we may consider it prophetical of the destined universality of Christ’s kingdom.

2. Memorials of our dependence upon God’s care. While the feast of unleavened bread brings into prominence the lesson that God is a deliverer to His people, the feasts of harvest and of ingathering bring into prominence the lesson that God is a provider and a sustainer. They make impressive, and teach by appropriate symbolism, the utterance of the great singer of the Israelitish Church—“He maketh peace in thy borders, He filleth thee with the finest of the wheat.” They have a manifest tendency to raise the heart in adoring gratitude to “God, who gives rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, and fills our hearts with food and gladness.” Let us never forget that it is God who makes the earth fruitful. While some keep their feasts in honour of “natural causes,” the “uniformity of Nature’s laws,” and a “fortuitous concourse of atoms,” let us keep our feasts to celebrate the goodness of Him who is the first cause of all so-called natural causes, the Giver and Enforcer of Nature’s laws, and the Glorious Designer who causes the atoms to consort together, so as to produce the useful and the beautiful.

3. Memorials of our present condition. Not only and merely in the sense of being dependent creatures, but that while in this world we are but pilgrims. The feast of ingathering was the feast of tabernacles. During this festival, the Jews were to dwell in tents or booths. It was a reminder of their wilderness life. Even in our feasts let there be the chastening thought that here we have no continuing city. Our feasts are but temporary as were the booths in which the Israelites dwelt. The only perpetual feast is that which shall be celebrated in heaven. This earth is not our rest.

II. Religious feasts are not to interfere with the duties of life. The wisdom of Divine arrangements is seen in the appointment of these feasts. The Passover was observed in the month Abib—the month of the ears of corn; the Feast of Pentecost, after the corn had all been safely gathered; and the Feast of Tabernacles, after the vines and fruit-trees had been stripped, so that no feast interfered with those times when work was most pressing. Diligence in business is, or may be, religious worship. God may be honoured by the work of this life. Those are divine who do lowliest acts in a divine spirit. The Jew was religious, not only when he brought the first-fruits of his labours as an offering to God, but when he ploughed, and sowed, and reaped, that he might have first-fruits to place upon God’s altar.

III. Stated religious feasts are helpful to a religious spirit. “Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto Me in the year.” “Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord God.” There are some who object to set times, and say that set times develop mere empty formalism, and that we ought always to be in a religious spirit. The Divine Legislator did not follow this method. And while the gospel sets us free from the trammels of the law, it nevertheless shows the propriety of stated religious observances. And we are “not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together.” The more loyal a man is, the more he will rejoice in stated seasons for the expression of his loyalty. The more spiritual a man is, the more thankful will he be for opportunities of public worship, to break up the course of his earthly life, and to develop his spiritual nature.

IV. Religious feasts must promote the social and benevolent instincts of our nature. All are to appear together before the Lord God. The separateness brought about by daily pursuits is to be broken up. There is to be a commingling of feeling and sentiment. This is an Old Testament provision which is greatly needed in these times. Cold isolation pervades the business, the social, and the religious worlds. We do not appear together before the Lord God. None are to appear empty before the Lord. The grasping spirit of selfishness must not be allowed to move on without being disturbed. The best way to uproot selfishness and to develop benevolence is to give unto God’s cause.

V. The offerings at religious feasts must be—

Exodus 23:1. Pure. No leavened bread is to be eaten. Nothing that savours of corruption. We must seek for purity of motive in our religious feasts. They must be free from heathen luxury, or heathen magical arts. “Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk.” Arabs boil the flesh of kids in sour milk. A delicacy for the feast. Or to scatter the milk on the field for the production of a good harvest.

2. Of the best. The best of the first-fruits. The best in the Old Testament, and surely the best in the New Testament. Such offerings are productive of prosperity. The very effort to secure a surplus will promote care and develop provident habits. Nothing that is given to God can be lost.—W. Burrows, B.A.



We remark—
I. That seasons for rejoicing were commanded. Let those who think that the old dispensation was gloomy remember that there was Divine injunction for joy and feasting three times a year.
II. That these seasons for rejoicing were conveniently appointed. Not in winter, but—

1. In spring, Passover.
2. Summer, first-fruits.
3. Autumn, ingathering.

III. That these seasons for rejoicing had a religious basis.

1. The feasts were “unto God.”
2. Were in remembrance of Divine services which made rejoicing possible.

IV. That these seasons for rejoicing were connected with religious acts, Exodus 23:17 to Exodus 19:1. Personal dedication.

2. Sacrifices.

V. That seasons of rejoicing must not engender slovenliness and uncleanness, Exodus 23:18.

VI. That seasons of rejoicing must not be desecrated by unnatural or superstitious ceremonies, “Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk;” an outrage on nature and connected with witchcraft. In conclusion—

If Judaism was a religion of joy, much more so is Christianity. The latter—i. was inaugurated as “glad tidings of great joy.” ii. Its leading fact and doctrines are grounds of joy (1 John 1:1-4). iii. Its great central and fundamental principle is an occasion of joy (Romans 5:11). iv. The “fruits of the Spirit are joy.” v. It provides an eternity of joy. vi. But remember the joy of the Lord is your strength, and it is only “in the Lord” that we can rejoice evermore (Philippians 4:4).

J. W. Burn.



Mosaic Morals! Exodus 23:1-19. A modern jurist, Hennequin, says: “Good right had Moses to challenge the Israelites, what nation hath statutes like yours? a worship so exalted—laws so equitable—a code so complex?” A Frenchman and an infidel, he observes that, compared with all the legislations of antiquity, none so thoroughly embodies the principles of everlasting righteousness. Lycurgus wrote, not for a people, but for an army: It was a barrack which he erected, not a commonwealth. Solon, on the other hand, could not resist the surrounding effeminate influences of Athens. It is in Moses alone that we find a regard for the right, austere and incorruptible; a morality distinct from policy, and rising above regard for times and peoples.

“But what could Moses’ law have done

Had it not been divinely sent?
The power was from the Lord alone,
And Moses but the instrument.”


Festival Functions! Exodus 23:14-17. The Israelites were to be peculiar people. They existed not for themselves, but they had a function to fulfil towards all mankind. In order to fulfil this function, it was needful that they should be for a time a people separate and self-contained, singular in their usages, and sequestered in their dwellings. In order to fix them down to one spot, they had their local worship. It was a law that all the men amongst them should rendezvous at the central shrine three times a year. Thus foreign settlements and distant journeys were made impossible more or less. The Hebrew home must be within a short and easy radius round the Temple; and if he went abroad, he carried this tether, and was pulled back again by the Passover or some other feast.

“Where’er I roam, whatever realms I see,
My heart untravelled fondly turns to thee;
Still to Mount Sion turns with ceaseless strain,
And drags at each remove a lengthening chain.”


Humanity and Heathenism! Exodus 23:19. Various explanations have been given of this precept. It may have been intended, like Leviticus 22:28, to enforce humane feelings towards animals. But probably the forbidden dish was connected with idolatry. Thomson says that the Arabs are fond of it, highly seasoned with onions and spices. The Arabs call it “Lehn immû.” The Jews will not eat it, because they say that it is an unnatural and barbarous dish. It is also a gross and unwholesome dish, calculated to kindle up animal and ferocious passions. It is associated with immoderate feasting, and was connected with idolatrous sacrifices. As the Abyssinians are fond of slicing the shoulders and hips of living animals, and as other civilised and semi-civilised heathen are addicted to boiling and roasting animals alive, there may have been a similar practice extant among them in the time of Moses of shearing the kid, and seething it alive. M‘Cheyne, when in Poland, offered a Jewish boy some bread-and-butter. Though he looked eagerly at it, he laid it aside for some hours, remarking that he had just eaten flesh, and if he had immediately tasted butter, it would have been a violation of Exodus 23:19.

“Verily, they are all thine; freely mayest thou serve thee of them all;
They are thine by gift for thy needs, to be used in all gratitude and kindness.”


Verses 20-25



I. There is a divine way. There is a divine way for individuals. Joseph, Abraham, Daniel, and David were led in the right way. The saints of the Old and New Testaments were guided in the divine way. And all those who seek divine guidance may hope to be led in the right divine way. There is a divine way for nations, and those nations that seek to walk in the way of national uprightness, and recognition of God’s supremacy, will attain a true national greatness and perpetuity. And there was such a way for the Israelites.

1. This way was through the wilderness. Such are the conditions of our present existence. Every way to greatness, to glory, and to divinely-prepared places is through the wilderness. This is the law of nature as well as of grace.

2. This way was beset with enemies. There are always seen and unseen forces and powers opposing the onward and upward course of those who are striving after nobility and the accomplishment of divine purposes. The march of the Israelites was opposed, and the nearer they came to the realisation of their hopes the more numerous did their foes appear. The greatest struggle takes place just before the final victory. The valley of decision is the valley of stern conflict. The fact that the powers of evil concentrate their skill and their strength may be taken as a sign that we are in the right way.

3. This divine way was one of many privations. Travellers must not expect the pleasures and comforts of home. The march of the Israelites was not a summer’s holiday. We must expect privations, and maintain a quiet faith and a spirit of patient and heroic endurance.

4. This divine way, then, was contrary to mere human liking. Notice the frequent complainings of the children of Israel. And oh, God’s way is not our way! Ours may be pleasant at first but bitter at last, but God’s way is the reverse; and yet not exactly, for sweets are graciously mingled with the bitters. There is hunger, but there is manna. There is thirst, but there is clear water from the smitten rock. There is perplexity, but there is an angel to guide and protect.

II. This way leads to divinely-prepared places. All is well that ends well, and this way is well, for it brings to a prepared place. Many are willing to endure if they are certain of securing rich results. Hopes are blasted in mere human pursuits; but if we faithfully fulfil divine conditions we shall come to divinely-prepared places. The Almighty has prepared all lands. His wisdom planned, and His power built up, the goodly frame of this terrestrial universe. He has made the green earth, and stretched above the blue sky in striking contrast. His Divine hand has shaped every form of loveliness. But the Almighty seemed to come forth in the greatness of His love, in the depth of His wisdom, and in the energy of His power, in order to make Palestine the most fruitful and beautiful of lands, the joy of all climes, the song of all countries, the goodly heritage of the host of nations. How eminently fitting that this lovely land should be selected to be the dwelling-place of His chosen people, and the magnificent stage on which should be enacted the most glorious transactions of all time. Palestine was a specially prepared place, and to it the wilderness way was the course for the Israelites. Heaven is a specially prepared place. “I go to prepare a place for you.” A place in the best of all places. A home in the best of homes. A dwelling-place where all the abodes are mansions. A seat where all the seats are thrones. A city where all the citizens are kings. What matters it though the way be long and sometimes dreary, so long as the place is so attractive; and we cannot fail to reach it if we obey divine directions.

III. The travellers on this way are favoured with a Divine Guide. We cannot tell whether this angel was a created angel, or the second person in the Trinity—the angel that was with the Church in the wilderness. But we learn his greatness. The divine name was in him. The divine name is indicative of the divine character We presume the name was in him as a reflection of the divine glory, as a granted prerogative, as a token of delegated authority, as investing with glorious attributes, and imparting unusual dignity and majesty. This name was in him as a power to inspire religious awe, and to restrain irreverent trifling. “Provoke him not; for My name is in him.” This angel was competent. Unerring wisdom never appoints the incompetent to important offices. And this angel was appointed by infinite wisdom. He knows all the way, understands all its dangers and difficulties, and is competent both to guide and to protect. Jesus Christ, the angel of the new covenant, is a perfect guide, fully competent to direct and protect. He has trodden every inch of the way. He has personally inspected the course. He gives ample directions to those who are to go before us to keep us in the way, and to bring us to the divinely-prepared place.

IV. Divine promises are contingent on the faithful pursuits of divine methods. God promises seed-time and harvest, but we only expect harvest as the result of prepared soil and planted seed. Many of those to whom the promises were given did not enter the promised land because they did not carry out the conditions. “Ye shall serve the Lord your God, and He shall bless thy bread and thy water”—is a law and a promise rightly read for all economies. We must obey the voice of the angel; and then God will be an enemy to our enemies, and afflict those who afflict us. Retribution must fall sooner or later upon the heads of all persecutors.

The divine methods may be thus summarised—Caution, obedience, self-restraint, and the entire destruction of all that has the remotest tendency to damage the moral nature. Caution—“Beware of him.” Watch with intense interest as you would watch a guide in some difficult pass. “Obey his voice.” Listen attentively to the utterance. Interpret as to the spirit. Eagerly catch the solemn whisper of the infinite. Self-restraint. “Provoke him not.” Do not trifle with your guide. He is very merciful, but there is a period when even mercy seems to expire. “He will not pardon your transgressions.” The doom of triflers is sealed. The despisers have only a gloomy prospect. “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.” “Provoke him not.” “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry.”
Thou shalt not only refrain from bowing down to the gods of the heathen; but thou shalt utterly overthrow them, and quite break down their images. The material and the moral are strangely interblended. The very presence of the suggestive material image will surely damage the moral nature. The spiritual requires to be carefully guarded. We cannot be too watchful.
Amid the din of human voices let us have an ear open to the Divine voice. Let us believe in angelic ministry. Amid many seductive ways that present themselves, let us cleave to the one divine way; and through divine grace, and through faith in the Redeemer, we shall come to the prepared place.

W. Burrows, B.A.



The people had prayed for a mediator. (See on Exodus 20:19.) God now appoints a greater than Moses to act in that capacity. The present section reveals the nature and office of the mysterious person, the proper attitude towards, and the reward of obedience to Him.

I. His nature was divine.

1. Equal with God.
(1.) Bearing the divine name; “My name is in Him.” The incommunicable covenant name of Jehovah.
(2.) Performing divine actions; “Mine angel shall go,” &c., “I will cut them off.” So New Testament, “I and My Father are one.”
2. Distinct from the personality of the speaker, “I send,” so New Testament, “The Father which sent Me.”

For an able resume of this argument for the Divinity of Christ, see Liddon’s “Bampton Lectures,” pp. 52–56. (See also Genesis 32:0; Hosea 12:3-4; Joshua 5:14; Judges 2:12; Malachi 3:1, &c.)

II. His office was to conduct the covenant people to the fulfilment of God’s covenant engagement.

1. Providence. “To keep thee in the way.” So Christ “upholds all things by the word of His power.” “In Him all things consist.” Generally and particularly He preserves those who trust in Him (John 10:28).

2. Redemption. “To bring thee into the place which I have prepared.” Israel’s redemption is only half accomplished as yet. So Christ’s eternal redemption is not complete till the last enemy is destroyed (John 14:2-3).

III. The proper attitude towards Him.

1. Fear. Carefulness not to displease Him. Christ is the Saviour of those only who believe in Him. To others He is a “savour of death unto death.”

2. Obedience. “Obey His voice.” So says the Father in the New Testament (Matthew 17:5); and Himself (Matthew 28:20). This implies—

(1.) Trust in His person.
(2.) Subjection to His authority.
(3.) The prosecution of His commands.

IV. The reward of obedience to Him, Exodus 23:22-23.

(1.) Identification and sympathy with us in our cause. “I will be an enemy,” &c.

(2.) Victory over our foes (1 Corinthians 15:57), world, flesh, devil, death, &c.

(3.) Inheritance in the promised land.


i. (2 Timothy 1:9), That God’s grace has been manifested in Jesus Christ from the beginning of the world. ii. That God’s grace has been, through Jesus Christ, with His people up to the present moment. iii. And will be till the end of the world.—J. W. Burn.



Covenant Angel! Exodus 23:20. When the Israelites were delivered from Egypt, how were they guided on their way to Canaan through the trackless desert? “The Lord went before them.” In chapter 14 this glorious One is called “The Angel of God”—Isaiah speaks of him as the “Angel of His Presence.” This verse shows that the only-begotten Son is referred to for four reasons.

(1) “My name is in Him;” whereas we are told that Jehovah is the Lord, and that His glory He will not give to another.
(2) “Obey His voice;” which counsel answers to that on the Mount of Transfiguration, “Hear ye Him.”
(3) “Provoke Him not;” an expression gathering deep and awful meaning when we read the warning of the Apostle, “Let us not tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted.”

(4) “He will not pardon your transgressions;” a monition singularly harmonised by the inquiry, “Who can forgive sin but God only?” Christ was the Angel who was with the Church in the wilderness. This was that Christ of God, who, in all the Church’s wanderings and dangers, has evermore been her Leader and Defender.

“Anywhere with Jesus, says the Christian heart;
Let Him take me where He will, so we do not part.”

Obedience and Observance! Exodus 23:21.

(1) Nothing, says Robertson, can be love to God which does not shape itself into obedience. We remember the anecdote of the Roman commander who forbade an engagement with the enemy, and the first transgressor was his own son. He accepted a challenge from the leader of the other host, slew and spoiled him. He then, in triumphant feeling, carried the spoils to his father’s tent; but the Roman father refused to recognise the instinct which prompted this as deserving of the name of love. Disobedience contradicted it.
(2) Whereas love is the fulfilling of the Law. The other graces shine like the precious stones of nature, with their own peculiar lustre and varied hues; but the diamond is white. In white all the other colours are united; and in love all the other graces and virtues are centred. Love is the only source of true obedience to the commands of God. If Israel only learned to love God with all their heart, they would necessarily love His Law, which is the transcript of His Divine Mind.

“Nay, man’s chief wisdom’s love—the love of God.
The new religion—final, perfect, pure—
Was that of Christ and love. His great command—
His all-sufficing precept—was it not love!”


Pilgrim Path! Exodus 23:23. Goethe, the world’s favourite, confessed, when he was 80 years old, that he could not remember being in a really happy state of mind even for a few weeks together; and that, when he wished to feel comfortable, he had to veil his self-consciousness. The following is the closing sentence of his autobiography: “Child! child! no more. The coursers of time, lashed, as it were, by invisible spirits, hurry on the light car of our destiny; and all that we can do is, in cool self-possession, to hold the reins with a firm hand, and to guide the wheels, now to the left, now to the right, a stone here, a precipice there. Whither it is hurrying, who can tell? And who indeed can remember the point from which it started?” What a contrast to Israel’s position! “Mine Angel shall go before thee.” Happy Christian Israelite, he knows he traverses his pilgrim path under Divine guidance, and that there is no uncertainty as to the “whither.”

“Though in the paths of death I tread,
With gloomy horrors overspread,
My steadfast heart shall fear no ill,
For Thou, O Lord, art with me still.”


Worldliness. Exodus 23:24-25. Pope gives us an affecting account of the death of Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. After having been master of £50,000 per annum, he was reduced to the deepest distress by his vice and extravagance, and breathed his last moments in the mean apartment of an inn. Such is often the end of worldliness. It is said that the Duke of Alva starved his prisoners, after he had given them quarter, saying, “Though I promised your lives, I promised not to find you food.” In the same manner does the world deceive its votaries. The Persians, writes Buck, when they obtained a victory, selected the noblest slave, and made him a king for three days. They clothed him with royal robes, and ministered to him all the pleasures he could choose; but at the end of all he was to die as a sacrifice to mirth and folly. So worldliness is shortlived; and when its feast is ended, the guests are only like those who have partaken of poisoned food, or who “have fed on ashes.”

“Ay, beauteous is the world, and many a joy
Floats through its wide dominion. But, alas!
When we would seize the winged good, it flies,
And step by step, along the path of life,
Allures our yearning spirits to the grave.”


Verses 27-33



In our estimation of the powers of the world we do not always give sufficient prominence to the power of moral forces. Much has been accomplished by material force, but this must be under the direction of intellectual force. And this is shorn of its greatest strength if it be not allied with moral force. The greatest movements of the world have been moral movements. The battles that have done most to shape the destinies of mankind have been those where moral forces have been largely at work. The power which must be exalted above all others is moral and spiritual power. Consider then the grandeur of moral forces.

I. The strength of moral forces. God’s fear is a moral power, is a religious power; and this is to exercise an intimidating influence upon the enemies of Israel. God’s people are to win their onward way to the promised land, not by force of arms, not by skill and heroism and strategy on the battle field; but by the all-subduing force of a Divine fear scattering the opposing hosts. We have heard what an unreasonable panic can do in paralysing an army and causing it to flee. But here is a true cause for panic—even God’s fear. The people of God must seek to be strong by the possession and exercise of moral force.

II. The power of littles backed by moral force. We need not inquire whether the word hornets is used in a literal or a metaphorical sense; for the lesson is equally true that moral force can accomplish great results by means of small instrumentalities. It only requires to send forth the hornets, and they will drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite. If the moral force be there, the feeblest instrumentalities will be sufficiently adequate to the achievement of stupendous and glorious results. Look not to the size and strength of the material forces, but to the vigour and power of the moral force. The world’s true victors are the moral victors. If only locusts constitute their army, yet the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite will flee before their conquering march.

III. Moral forces move to the production of distant results. In all our contests we are impatient of results. But those that work in the moral sphere have need of much patience The enemies are not to be driven out in one year. Regard must be had to the future. Unseen Divine preparations are going on while we are fretting with impatience. If the victory were gained too soon, the land might become desolate, and the beasts of the field might multiply to the destruction of the victors. He who rules in the moral sphere knows best how to guide moral forces.

IV. The movements of moral forces are not hurried. By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land. The best disciplined armies move with precision. There is no hot haste in Divine movements. By little and little is a very general law of Divine procedure both in the kingdoms of nature and of grace. That which is to be lasting, must be by little and little; and therefore moral movements must be according to this law, for they are to produce permanent results.

V. Moral forces will continue to move until the purpose is finally accomplished. The fear will operate, and the hornets must sting, and all forces must be brought into play, until the time has come to set the bounds from the Red Sea on the south even unto the sea of the Philistines, or Mediterranean Sea, on the west; and from the Arabian desert on the east to the river Euphrates on the north. Divine purpose cannot fail. There may be seeming delay, but never defeat. Through the centuries the purpose is ever ripening. Nothing is so certain in the universe as that these moral forces must ultimately prevail.

VI. Moral forces are ever on the side of right doers. There must be no compromises with evil if the moral forces of the universe are to be enlisted on our side and in our cause. Thou shalt make no covenant with false gods. Moral strength departs so soon as we enter into unholy alliance with the wicked. Evil companionship leads to evil conduct. To serve false gods is to set for ourselves a destructive snare. The wicked are weak, and impart weakness. The righteous are bold as a lion. They themselves are irresistible moral forces.

W. Burrows, B.A.


WORLDLINESS.—Exodus 23:24-25; Exodus 32:33

Nothing is more emphatic in the Old and New Testaments than God’s condemnation of worldliness. Theologians have frequently mystified and misrepresented it, but in these clauses, as elsewhere, it is exhibited in an intensely real and personal form. The Israelites were to be placed in the midst of a people who knew not God, and who followed customs that God abhorred. But they were to have no communion with the one, Exodus 23:32, and to keep themselves unspotted from the other. Notice—

I. That worldliness is described. It is—

1. Not asceticism. That was utterly foreign to the whole genius of the Jewish system. No race ever had more facilities for intercourse with other nations, or more extensively used them. The Jews have been, all through their history, a commercial nation (1 Corinthians 5:10).

2. But intimacy and friendship with irreligious men—

(1.) not, however, that which is necessary to the performance of kindly offices (see Exodus 23:4-5), but

(2.) partaking of their spirit; “making a covenant with them,” implying affinity, sympathy of soul, and fellowship.
3. And conformity to irreligious customs, “doing after their works,” “making a covenant with their gods.” Irreligious customs may be broadly characterised as—
(1.) Those which God cannot sanction.
(2.) Those which can do no real and lasting good.

II. That worldliness is dangerous.

1. It brings a snare.
(1.) Fellowship with ungodly men may through fear of ridicule or singularity draw us into ungodly practices.
(2.) Conformity with worldly customs may beget a liking for them which may draw us utterly into the vortex.

2. It leads to sin. “Lest they make thee sin against Me” (1 John 5:19).

(1.) It extinguishes the love of God (1 John 2:15).

(2.) It leads to enmity towards God. “No man can serve two masters,” &c. (James 4:4).

3. It ensures God’s condemnation (Deuteronomy 7:4; 1 Corinthians 11:12).

III. That the duty of unworldliness is enjoined.

1. Nonconformity. “Thou shalt not,” Exodus 23:24-32, abstinence from worldly fellowship and customs, &c., but not abstinence merely, but—

2. Active antagonism. He who is not for God in this matter is against Him. “Thou shalt utterly overthrow them and break down their images.”

3. Positive unworldliness. “Ye shall serve the Lord your God” (John 5:19).

IV. That those who observe the duty of unworldliness are blessed. “And He shall bless,” &c.

1. Often literally. Worldliness brings excess, exhaustion, and disease. Godliness promotes temperance and health.

2. Always spiritually. Even eating and drinking, if to the glory of God, are ministers of blessing, and in addition to that there is moral satisfaction, approbation of conscience, and a sense of the benediction of heaven. In conclusion—i. Christ has overcome the world and destroyed the fear of it (John 16:33). ii. God will keep us from its evil in our necessary contact with it (John 17:15). iii. Faith will be equal to any emergency (1 John 5:4; Romans 12:1-2). iv. Nonconformity to the world is one of the tests of the new birth (1 John 5:4).

J. W. Burn.



I. That there is a bright and extensive prospect before God’s people, Exodus 23:26-31.

1. If the Christian’s prospect is at any time dark, it is because a gloom has settled upon his hope. The promised land in all its fertility and beauty is a fact both in this life and in that which is to come.
2. If the Christian’s prospect is at all contracted, it is because of the narrowness of his faith. The promise is as broad as God can make it, and if the believer is at any time disappointed, it is not because God is straitened, but because he is straitened in himself.
3. Let the Christian be fully alive to his privileges, and feel that this broad and beautiful land is for him. Let nothing blanch his courage or divert his step. But let him “strive to enter in.”

II. That this prospect is to become his inheritance by Divine power and human exertion. These are always linked together (Philippians 2:12. See some excellent remarks in Hooker’s Sermons, i. vol. iii.).

1. God’s energy was exerted—
(1.) in giving them the land,
(2.) in driving out its inhabitants. So God in Christ has effectually weakened the power of our adversaries, bruised the serpent’s head, destroyed his works, and overcome the world,

(3.) in being present with them in all their undertakings, Exodus 23:20-23. So God says to us, “Certainly I will be with thee.” “If God be for us, who can be against us.”

2. But that energy was conditional—upon their exertions.
(1.) Upon their use of means. So we must make use of means. The whole armour of God, steady resistance, courage, activity, zeal.
(2.) Upon the cultivation of their own strength, “Until thou be increased:” so we, by the use of means, must grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Add to your faith,” &c.

III. That this prospect was not to be inherited all at once, but by degrees, Exodus 23:29-30.

1. Because this is God’s usual method of working in the formation of the world, in the course of providence, in the construction of nations, in physical growth. The law of progress is written everywhere.
(1.) Let not the sceptic sneer at the individual Christian because he is not perfect, nor at the Church because it is not universal, because God never wantonly interferes with the course of nature or of grace.
(2.) Let not the Christian be discouraged at his imperfections if he is “going on to perfection,” and “pressing toward the mark.” Let not the Church be discouraged at the limited range of her operations if she is, as far as she can, “preaching the gospel to every creature.”

2. Because a sudden occupation of the land might be dangerous to themselves. They could not cover the whole space, and the uncultivated tracts would be a covert for wild beasts. Let the inhabitants remain, “till thou be increased and inherit the land.”
(1.) A word to the Church—perhaps it is wise that in her past and present condition she has not “covered the whole earth.” God wants the work done properly and perfectly. Is it not fitting then that her own growth in grace, power, and purity, in all moral perfections should be promoted first? It were hardly desirable, since the work will be accomplished properly and perfectly, that the Church, as it has presented itself in any century of its past development (witness its superstitious fears, corruption, &c.) should be universal. Better to let other systems keep their place a little longer, than that the Church, weak by internal discord and lack of faith, should be unequal to fill their place, and perhaps be beaten by worse foes—her own arrogance and pride.

3. A word to the believer. It is wise that some enemies should remain a little longer perhaps. They test your faith and patience, while other departments of spiritual life and grace are preparing for a contest which shall eventuate in their perfect overthrow.

In conclusion, see 1 Corinthians 15:57-58.

J. W. Burn.



Hornet-Harms! Exodus 23:28. The hornet is abundant in the Holy Land. The species are larger than ours. Instances are on record in profane history where these have multiplied to such a degree as to become a pest to the inhabitants. Probably the insect meant is the Abyssinian fly. Its bite produces fatal boils; and at the very buzzing of a swarm the cattle run almost mad with terror. The Septuagint translates the word “wasps.” But Dr. Tristram thinks that the word “hornets” here is metaphorical, and is used of a panic, i.e., of sharp stings of fear, by which flying rumours stung them so that they fled. It is wisely counselled to avoid the pugnacious, poisonous, quarrelsome character of the hornet: such are proverbially called “waspish;” a number of them are rightly designated a hornet’s nest. However, it seems best to regard these hornets as material agencies—types of the moral agencies to which they have given place in subsequent ages of the world.

“Owls, ravens, crickets, seem the watch of death;
Nature’s worst vermin scare her godlike sons.”


Grace-Growth! Exodus 23:30. “The path of the just is as a shining light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” Many a struggle the spiritual Israel have in overcoming inherent leanings to sin; but, by little and little, they shall drive them out. And as a man, looking at a dial, cannot see the shadow move, yet after a while perceives that it has moved; so it is with Christian progress. The surrounding nations could see the result of Israel’s gradual conquest of the Canaanite nationalities, until the land became entirely their own possession. The work of grace, says Salter, if begun, is gradually and continually going on; and it will not be completed till the image of God can be seen perfectly reflected in us. The conquest of self is steadily and expansively progressing; and by and by the triumph will be wholly achieved. Yet, as Bishop Reynolds says, we must not expect a fulness until the time of the restitution of all things—wherein the light, which is here but sown for the righteous, shall grow up into a full harvest of Canaan conquest. There may be slowness in the struggle onwards to absolute possession, but there is also sureness: “Thou shalt inherit the land.”

“No mortal eye the manner sees,
The imperceptible degrees,
By which our Lord conducts His plan,
And brings us to a perfect man.”


Prospect! Exodus 23:20-30. God allures Israel from the present, where all was dark and uncomely, into the future, where all was bright and fair. He, as it were, takes the Hebrew host by the hand, and leads them, as a father his child, out from the gloomy wilderness region, which they were pacing somewhat sadly, into the fertile fields and fruitful glades of Canaan; so that joy, or at least the faint reflection of it, stole into their hearts, and lifted up their heavy eyes. And how cheering the Christian’s prospect of the heavenly Canaan—that rest which remaineth for the people of God. It transfuses the life of heaven through our frame; either, on the one hand, making our languid pulse to beat more swiftly; or, on the other, our feverish pulse to throb more calmly and evenly. It acts as a regulator of the soul in its wild and inconstant movements—neither allowing the spiritual Hebrew to sink too low, nor to soar too high. It fills with energy to face the toils, and with ready courage to brave the dangers, of the night.

“From strength to strength advancing, only he,
His soul well knit and all his battles won,
Mounts, and that hardly, to eternal life.”


World-Snares! Exodus 23:32-33.

(1.) As you love your souls, beware of the world. It has slain its thousands and tens of thousands. What ruined Lots wife, but the world? What ruined Achan, but the world? What ruined Haman, but the world? What ruined Demas, but the world? What ruined Judas, but the world? The gods of this world are indeed a snare.
(2.) The pleasures of the world are not like the waters of the Nile, which leave, when they are gone, the germs of beauty and fertility to bud and blossom, and cheer the heart of man. On the contrary, they are like those streams polluted by the washings of poisonous minerals, depositing the seeds of disease and death to all who drink them.
(3.) The Reubenites, having taken a liking to the country which was first conquered because it was prolific in pasture, renounced the promise of interest in the Holy Land; which “love of the world” proved a snare to them, and subsequently their destruction. So the gods of this world, the pleasures of sin, lure men to delight in the present, and forego all hope of heaven.
(4.) A man residing on the coast of England, and seeing his neighbours grow rich with foreign trade, converted his goods into gold, went to Spain, and bought a cargo of figs. On his way home a great storm compelled him to throw the cargo overboard. When again tempted by the sea, he said: “No; your fair looks shall never deceive me again; they once proved a snare to me: get thee hence, for I’ll have none of them.”

“Is this a friend indeed, that I should sell
My soul to her, give her my life and youth,
Till my feet, cloven too, take hold on hell?”


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Exodus 23". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/exodus-23.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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