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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 23

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary



Laws respecting slander and false-witness; the poor; the sabbath of the land; idolatry; the yearly feasts. Blessings promised to obedience.

Before Christ 1491.

Verse 1

Exodus 23:1. Thou shalt not raise a false report, &c.— There is an ambiguity in the word תשׂא tissa, which signifies no less to spread false reports, than to give credit to them when spread. Houbigant prefers the latter sense (thou shalt not give ear to a false report); and for this reason, says he, that the meaning of the two clauses of this verse may be different: the first, providing that false reports may not be credited; the latter, that they may not be spread by an unrighteous testimony. The margin of our Bibles renders the word, receive a false report, which serves to shew the ambiguity of the original word. Perhaps the first clause may refer to the raising or countenancing private calumny; the latter, to the public attestation of such calumny in courts of justice; which appears the more probable, as the union here forbidden seems to imply a formal design for public injury: thou shalt not put thine hand with the wicked, i.e. thou shalt not associate and confederate with such.

Verse 2

Exodus 23:2. Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil As the former verse, no less than the latter part of this and the third, refers to testimony and judgment, one would imagine, that this also must have a more limited sense than the words bear in our version. Houbigant renders the whole verse thus: thou shalt not be a follower of great men to do evil: neither shalt thou so answer in a cause, as to decline to sin, after great men; (Exodus 23:3.) but neither shalt thou honour or countenance a poor man in his cause. רבים rabim, which we render multitude and many, undoubtedly signifies, as Houbigant renders it, great ones, or great men, and is clearly opposed to דל dal, a poor man, in the third verse. So that, upon this version, the meaning of the law is this: that no person, in legal suits, and especially as witnesses in such suits, were to be influenced, either by the favour of the great, or by false compassion for the poor. In the 6th and following verses, laws to the same purpose are laid down for judges, as in these for witnesses and private persons.

Verse 4

Exodus 23:4. If thou meet thine enemy's ox, &c.— Here the noble precept of doing good for evil, of assisting enemies, those who hate us, Exo 23:5 is strongly inculcated. Nothing can excuse us from discharging the offices of kindness and humanity, when they are wanted, and we are able to perform them, towards any of our fellow-creatures. Concerning this law, see Deuteronomy 22:1; Deuteronomy 22:30.

Verse 5

Exodus 23:5. And wouldest forbear to help him The meaning of this verse is evident enough from the parallel passage, Deuteronomy 22:4. But it is difficult to make out the literal construction of the Hebrew, as the marginal version of our Bibles may serve to shew. Parkhurst, in his Lexicon, renders it thus, "When thou shalt see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, לו מעזב וחדלת, then thou shalt forbear to leave it to him, (i.e. thou shalt not leave the beast under his burden, but shalt assist him in raising it up again, and then) עמו תעזב עזב thou shalt surely leave it with him. Notwithstanding this, if עזב ozob will bear the sense of helping, as Stockius affirms, I see no great difficulty in understanding the passage according to our version: If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee, &c. and wouldest forbear, or delay, to help him, (influenced by the narrow principles of enmity: I command thee to do far otherwise) thou shalt surely help with him. And this seems very conformable to the mode of expression, Deuteronomy 22:4. Thou shalt not see thy brother's ass or ox fall down, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt surely help him to lift them up. In Phocylides we read,

"Should'st thou thine adversary's beast espy Fall'n in the road, pass not unheeding by; But help it."—— HARTE.

Verse 6

Exodus 23:6. Thou shalt not wrest the judgment of thy poor in his cause— The poor, is emphatic; and designed to enforce the observation of this law, which enjoins the impartial administration of justice to the poor, as well as to the rich; to the stranger, as well as to the native Israelite, Exodus 23:9. See Deuteronomy 16:18-19; Deuteronomy 24:17-18; Deuteronomy 27:19.

Verse 8

Exodus 23:8. A gift blindeth the wise See Ecclesiastes 7:7. The margin of our Bibles renders, very properly, the Hebrew word, translated the wise in the text, the seeing. Houbigant, from the Samaritan and others, adds the word eyes; a gift blindeth the open, or seeing eyes. The law of the twelve tables made the transgressors in this instance guilty of death; "the judge, who shall be convicted of receiving money in any cause, shall be punished with death."

REFLECTIONS.—Observe here, 1. False accusation is forbidden: not only by perjury, but, in the secondary sense, by every scandal propagated in common conversation. Note; To speak evil of any man behind his back, or to hear it without vindicating the injured and the absent, is to be guilty of a great act of injustice, as well as uncharitableness. 2. Every judge must act from conscience, and not be influenced by any consideration of the might or multitude of those who may be against him. It is generally bad following the multitude: they who go with the crowd infallibly perish. 3. No pity for a poor man must prevent the due execution of justice against him. 4. Kindness must be shewn to enemies, in helping their beast when fallen, or bringing it back, if gone astray. Note; To love, and be kind to those who hate us, is no new commandment. 5. The poor must have justice done them. It is bad enough to be poor, they ought not to be oppressed too. 6. All approach to injustice must be guarded against. They who would keep from evil must abstain from the appearance of it. 7. No bribe must be taken; justice must be administered freely as well as impartially. 8. The stranger must not be oppressed: this is enforced upon them, from having experienced themselves in Egypt the disadvantages which strangers labour under. Similarity of distresses should teach us compassion.

Verses 10-11

Exodus 23:10-11. And six years See Leviticus 25:0 for the particulars respecting the sabbatical year: see also Deuteronomy 31:10; Deuteronomy 31:30.

Note: 1. Every seventh year the land was neither plowed nor sown, nor their vineyards or olive-yards gathered: the poor had a right to the increase. A tender concern for the needy will still be in every true Israelite. 2. The sabbath-day, as before, is strictly to be observed, Exodus 23:12. Exodus 23:3. A caution is given against the very mention of idol-gods, Exodus 23:13. How many, who profess themselves Christians, by their invocations, oaths, &c. in the name of these idols, shew the heathenism of their hearts!

Verse 14

Exodus 23:14. Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto me in the year It is very evident, from the appointment of these three solemn festivals, when all the males were to appear before the Lord in that place where he peculiarly manifested himself to them, that the Jewish religion was never designed to be an universal religion; which this single appointment rendered impossible. And, no doubt, the command was given no less with this view, than to strengthen the national union and harmony, by this frequent assemblage of the people together. This law, it is most probable, was not to take place till they were in possession of the land of Canaan. See ch. Exodus 34:23-24.

Verse 15

Exodus 23:15. Thou shalt keep the feast of unleavened bread Concerning this feast of passover, see ch. 12: and Deuteronomy 16:1-8. It is enjoined, at the close of this verse, that none should appear empty before God; i.e. without the appointed offering; a command, which refers to all the three festivals, Deuteronomy 16:16. What those offerings were to be, is specified elsewhere. See Sir 35:4.

Verse 16

Exodus 23:16. And the feast of harvest Concerning this feast, otherwise called the feast of weeks, or of pentecost; see Deu 16:9-12 and Leviticus 23:15; Leviticus 23:44.

And the feast of in-gathering Concerning this feast, commonly called the feast of tabernacles; see Deuteronomy 16:13-15.Leviticus 23:34; Leviticus 23:34; Leviticus 23:44.

Verse 18

Exodus 23:18. Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice It has been concluded, from ch. Exo 34:25 that the blood of the sacrifice here meant, was that of the paschal lamb; and accordingly the Chaldee paraphrast, in that place, renders it, thou shalt not offer the blood of my passover with leaven (see ch. Exodus 12:15.): and from the next clause in this verse, one would conclude that the passover was meant; concerning which, in the 10th verse of the 12th chapter, it is enjoined, that nothing of it be left remaining until the morning. See Leviticus 3:15; Leviticus 3:17. The passover is called my sacrifice, by way of eminence.

Verse 19

Exodus 23:19. The first of the first-fruits, &c— See ch. Exodus 22:29. This command refers to the first-fruits to be offered at the several festivals, when they were settled in the land of Canaan.

Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk This extraordinary command is repeated, ch. Exo 34:26 and Deu 14:21 and in the same connexion as here, with the payment of first-fruits; which would naturally lead one to suppose, that it has some reference to the payment of those fruits, and to some superstitious practices which the pagans might have used on these occasions. Agreeably to this conjecture, Dr. Cudworth, in his treatise on the Lord's Supper, informs us, that he learnt, from the comment of an ancient Karaite upon the Pentateuch, that a superstitious rite prevailed among the ancient idolaters, of seething a kid in its mother's milk, when they had gathered in all their fruits; and sprinkling the trees, and fields, and gardens, with the broth, after a magical manner, to make them more fruitful for the following year. Spenser observes on this passage, that "the Zabii use this kind of magical milk, to sprinkle their trees and fields, in hopes of plenty." Some are, moreover, of opinion, that this is a precept of humanity, and, like many other of the divine laws, intended to prevent all cruelty, and to inculcate a mild and tender disposition. See Leviticus 22:28. Deu 22:6-7 which last law, respecting a bird and her young, is evidently a law of humanity, as well as many others in that same chapter.

REFLECTIONS.—Three solemn feasts are enjoined, the passover, pentecost, and the feast of tabernacles. They must at these seasons all appear, not empty-handed, but with their oblations, and rejoice together before the Lord. Note; 1. God will have his people happy. 2. Grateful acknowledgments of God's mercies are our bounden duty. 3. All superstitious usages, such as that mentioned, Exo 23:19 must be banished.

Verse 20

Exodus 23:20. Behold, I send an Angel This might as well be rendered, the Angel or Messenger. Houbigant, after the Samaritan, the LXX, and the Vulgate, reads my Angel, as in Exodus 23:23. Who he was, appears from the whole subsequent history; namely, that same Divine Person who appeared to Moses in the bush, and who has been already so often spoken of. The phrase, Exo 23:21 for my Name is in him, signifies, he is invested with my power and authority; or rather, my power and authority is inherent in him: for the Hebrew is emphatical: because my Name, בקרבו bekirbo, in interiori ejus, is in the inmost part of him: a phrase, which could be applied to no created angel; as all which is here said of him, clearly proves. See John 10:38. None could pardon sins (Exodus 23:21.) but God alone: see Mark 2:7.

Verses 25-27

Exodus 23:25-27. And ye shall serve the Lord your God In consequence of their utter extirpation of idols and idolatry, and their obedience to God, he promises every sort of temporal blessings: Plenty of meat and drink; implied in the words bread and water; see 1 Samuel 25:11. Health; I will take sickness away, &c. Fruitfulness and increase, Exo 23:26 and long life; the number of thy days I will fulfil. See Psalms 90:10; Psa 55:23 besides which, the Lord promises to send a panic fear upon their enemies; which we find verified, Jos 2:9-11 and confirmed by an old inscription in Procopius, (lib. 2: De Reb. Vandal.) found not far from Tangier, which imported, that the ancient inhabitants of that country had fled from the face of Joshua, the son of Nun.

Verse 28

Exodus 23:28. And I will send hornets before thee See this fulfilled, Joshua 24:12. The author of the Book of Wisdom, ch. Exo 12:8 calls these wasps; and didst find wasps, forerunners of thine host, to destroy them by little and little. The hornet, whose sting is more venomous with us than that of the wasp, is far more venomous in the hot Eastern countries than in our colder climates: there it is often deadly. Pliny and Bochart have both remarked its pernicious and fatal nature; and the latter author, in his Hieroz. p. 534, produces many instances of nations that have been obliged to relinquish their country, by means of insects apparently so contemptible as bees, warps, and hornets. The reader is by all means referred to his ingenious work.

Verse 29

Exodus 23:29. I will not drive them out from before thee in one year The reasons for this are subjoined: to which may be added others, deduced from Judges 3:1-4.

Verse 31

Exodus 23:31. And I will set thy bounds The bounds of the land which they were to inherit, (Exodus 23:30.) are here set down: they were to be from the Red Sea on the south-east, unto the sea of the Philistines or the Mediterranean sea on the north-west; and from the desert of Arabia, or the wilderness of Shur on the west, to the river of Euphrates, called the river by way of eminence, on the north-east. See Gen 15:18 and Shaw's Travels, book 2 Chronicles 1:0; 2 Chronicles 2:0; 2 Chronicles 2:0.

Verse 32

Exodus 23:32. Thou shalt make no covenant, &c.— From this place, and ch. Exodus 34:11-16, one cannot help remarking the absurdity of Voltaire's position, that the Jewish religion was a religion of toleration: indeed it would have been strange, that a religion calculated for the preservation of the knowledge and worship of the true God, and for the utter subversion of idolatry, should have tolerated, in any degree, liberties promoting the latter, and prejudicing the former.

Verse 33

Exodus 23:33. They shall not dwell in thy land i.e. "They shall on no account be suffered to dwell within thy land, while continuing in the practice of idolatry;" the reason of which is subjoined; and it is added, If, seduced by them, thou shalt serve their gods, it will surely be a snare unto thee. It will entangle thee in evil, and prove destructive to thee; and such was the event: see Joshua 23:13.Numbers 25:1; Numbers 25:1; Numbers 25:18. Judges 2:1; Judges 2:23. Houbigant observes, that the Samaritan reading, which all the ancient versions, except the Arabic, follow, is preferable in this place: and they, (i.e. the people,) will be a snare unto thee: upon which authority he renders the verse, they shall not dwell in thy land, lest they induce thee to sin against me; and thou serve their gods, after they have enticed thee.

REFLECTIONS.—God having explained his judgments, concludes with most encouraging promises and solemn warnings.

1. He promises, that the Angel of the covenant, the great Head of his church, shall go before them. Under his conduct their enemies should fear and fall before them, till they were consumed; yet not all at once, but by little and little, till they were able to occupy the whole land. Mean time, every earthly blessing is assured to them: God's people have even here sometimes a peculiar portion. Note; (1.) It is the comfort of every true faithful Israelite, that he is under the guidance of the great Redeemer, and shall be conducted safe to the promised possession of eternal rest. (2.) Though corruption, like these Canaanites, continues for a time, yet its power is broken in the justified soul, and shall soon be rooted out.

2. We have the injunctions given them to be obedient, and hear his voice. Christ must not only be trusted as a Saviour, but served as our Lord and Master; and how reasonable to yield to him a grateful return for all we are and have, since to his love we are indebted for all!
3. The care to be taken in destroying all monuments of idolatry, and avoiding all connexion with idolaters. Removal of all temptations to sin is necessary, in order to be preserved from it. Nothing is more dangerous than evil companions, and we must shun their company, if we would escape their wickedness.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Exodus 23". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/exodus-23.html. 1801-1803.
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