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Wednesday, April 17th, 2024
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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 23

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-33



Exodus 23:1-19

MISCELLANEOUS LAWScontinued. The same want of logical arrangement appears in this chapter as in the preceding one. The first nine verses contain some twelve laws, of which not more than two that are consecutive can be said to be on the same subject. There is perhaps in the section a predominant idea of warning against sins and errors connected with the trial of causes before a court, but Exodus 23:4 and Exodus 23:5, at any rate, lie quite outside this idea. From Exodus 23:10 to Exodus 23:19 the laws are connected with ceremonial observance and include

(1) The law of the Sabbath,

(2) of the Sabbatical year,

(3) of the Great Festivals,

(4) of sacrifice, and

(5) of first-fruits.

Exodus 23:1

The ninth commandment is here expanded and developed. Thou shalt not raise a false report, forbids the origination of a calumny; the other clause prohibits the joining with others in spreading one. Both clauses have a special reference to bearing witness in a court, but neither would seem to be confined to it.

Exodus 23:2

Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil. Rather, "Thou shalt not follow a multitude to evil." A law alike for deed, for word, and for thought. The example of the many is to be shunned. "Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat." But "strait is the gate and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life; and few there be that find it" (Matthew 7:13, Matthew 7:14). It is extraordinary that so many, even of professing Christians, are content to go with the many, notwithstanding the warnings against so doing, both of the law and of the Gospel. Neither shalt thou speak, etc. Rather, "Neither shalt thou bear witness in a cause to go aside after a multitude to put aside justice." The general precept is followed by a particular application of it. In judging a cause, if thou art one of the judges, thou shalt not simply go with the majority, if it he bent on injustice, but form thine own opinion and adhere to it.

Exodus 23:3

Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause. After the many precepts in favour of the poor, this injunction produces a sort of shock. But it is to be understood as simply forbidding any undue favouring of the poor because they are poor, and so as equivalent to the precept in Le Exodus 19:15, "Thou shalt not respect the person of the poor." In courts of justice, strict justice is to be rendered, without any leaning either towards the rich, or towards the poor. To lean either way is to pervert judgment.

Exodus 23:4

Thine enemy's ox. A private enemy is here spoken of, not a public one, as in Deuteronomy 23:6. It is remarkable that the law should have so far anticipated Christianity as to have laid it down that men have duties of friendliness even towards their enemies, and are bound under certain circumstances to render them a service. "Hate thine enemies" (Matthew 5:43) was no injunction of the Mosaic taw, but a conclusion which Rabbinical teachers unwarrantably drew from it. Christianity, however, goes far beyond Mosaism in laying down the broad precept—"Love your enemies."

Exodus 23:5

If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee, etc. The general meaning of the passage is clear—assistance is to be given to the fallen ass of an enemy—but the exact sense of both the second and third clauses is doubtful. Many renderings have been suggested; but it is not clear that any one of them is an improvement on the Authorised Version. Thou shalt surely help with him. The joint participation in an act of mercy towards a fallen beast would bring the enemies into friendly contact, and soften their feelings towards each other.

Exodus 23:6

As in Exodus 23:3 men were warned not to favour the poor unduly in courts of justice out of compassion for them, so here there is a warning against the opposite, and far more usual error, of leaning against the poor man in our evidence or in our decisions The scales of justice are to be held even; strict right is to be done; our feelings are not be allowed to influence us, much less our class prejudices.

Exodus 23:7

Keep thee far from a false matter. Hold aloof, i.e; from anything like a false accusation. Neither bring one, nor countenance one, else those mayest cause the death of an innocent and righteous man, and bring down on thyself the vengeance of him, who will not justify the wicked.

Exodus 23:8

And thou shalt take no gift. The worst sin of a judge, and the commonest in the East, is to accept abribe from one of the parties to a suit, and give sentence accordingly. As such a practice defeats the whole end for which the administration of justice exists, it is, when detected, for the most part, punished capitally. Josephus tells us that it was so among the Jews (Contr. Apion. 2.27); but the Mosaic code, as it has come down to us, omits to fix the penalty. Whatever it was, it was practically set at nought. Eli's sons "turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment" (1 Samuel 8:3). In David's time, men's hands were "full of bribes" (Psalms 26:10). Solomon complains of wicked men" taking gifts out of their bosoms to pervert the ways of judgment" (Proverbs 17:23). Isaiah is never weary of bearing witness against the princes of his day, who" love gifts and follow after rewards" (Isaiah 1:23);who "justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him" (Isaiah 5:23). Micah adds his testimony—"Hear this, I pray you, ye heads of the house of Jacob and princes of the house of Israel, that abhor judgment and pervert all equity. They build up Zion with blood, and Jerusalem with iniquity. The heads thereof judge for reward" (Exodus 3:9-11). The gift blindeth the wise. See Deuteronomy 16:19.

Exodus 23:9

Thou shalt not oppress a stranger. This is a repetition of Exodus 22:21, with perhaps a special reference to oppression through courts of justice. For thou knowest the heart of a stranger. Literally, "the mind of a stranger," or, in other words, his thoughts and feelings. Thou shouldest therefore be able to sympathise with him.

Exodus 23:10, Exodus 23:11

CEREMONIAL LAWS (Exodus 23:10-19).

Law of the Sabbatical year. Days of rest, at regular or irregular intervals, were well known to the ancients and some regulations of the kind existed in most countries But entire years of rest were wholly unknown to any nation except the Israelites. and exposed them to the reproach of idleness.. In a primitive condition of agriculture, when rotation of crops was unknown, artificial manure unemployed, and the need of letting even the best land sometimes lie fallow unrecognised, it may not have been an uneconomical arrangement to require an entire suspension of cultivation once in seven years. But great difficulty was probably experienced in enforcing the law. Just as there were persons who wished to gather manna on the seventh day (Exodus 16:27), so there would be many anxious to obtain in the seventh year something more from their fields than Nature would give them if left to herself. If the "seventy years" of the captivity were intended exactly to make up for omissions of the due observance of the sabbatical year, we must suppose that between the time of the exodus and the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, the ordinance had been as often neglected as observed. (See 2 Chronicles 36:21.) The primary object of the requirement was, as stated in Exodus 23:11, that the poor of thy people may eat, what the land brought forth of its own accord in the Sabbatical year being shared by them (Leviticus 25:6.). But no doubt it was also intended that the Sabbatical year should be one of increased religious observance, whereof the solemn reading of the law in the ears of the people at the Feast of Tabernacles "in the year of release" (Deuteronomy 31:10) was an indication and a part. That reading was properly preceded by a time of religious preparation (Nehemiah 8:1-15), and would naturally lead on to further acts of a religious character, which might occupy a considerable period (Nehemiah 9:1-38; Nehemiah 10:1-39.). Altogether, the year was a most solemn period, calling men to religious self-examination, to repentance, to the formation of holy habits, and tending to a general elevation among the people of the standard of holiness. What they leave the beasts of the field shall eat. There was to be no regular ingathering. The proprietor, his servants, the poor, and the stranger were to take what they needed; and the residue was to be for the cattle and for the beasts that were in the land (Deuteronomy 25:6, Deuteronomy 25:7). Thy vineyard—thy oliveyard. Corn, wine, and oil were the only important products of Palestine; and this mention of the vineyard and the oliveyard shows that one and the same law was to hold good of all the lands in the country, however they might be cultivated. The whole land was to rest.

Exodus 23:12

Law of the Sabbath, repeated. Nothing is here added to the teaching of the Fourth Commandment; but its merciful character is especially brought out. Men are called on to observe it, in order that their cattle may obtain rest, and their servants, together with the stranger that is within their gates, may find refreshment. It is to be borne in mind that the foreign population of Palestine was mostly held to hard service. (See 2 Chronicles 2:17, 2 Chronicles 2:18.)

Exodus 23:13 contains two injunctions—one general, one special:—

1. "Be circumspect" (or cautious, careful) "in respect of all that I command you."

2. "Do not so much as utter the name of any false god." Not even to mention their names, was to show them the greatest contempt possible; and, if followed out universally, would soon have produced an absolute oblivion of them. Moses, it may be observed, scarcely ever does mention their names. Later historians and prophets had to do so, either to deliver the true history of the Israelites, or to denounce idolatries to which they were given. There are many words one would wish never to utter; but while wicked men do the things of which they are the names, preachers are obliged to use the words in their sermons and other warnings.

Exodus 23:14-17

Law of Festivals. "The sanctification of days and times," says Richard Hooker, "is a token of that thankfulness and a part of that public honour which we owe to God for admirable benefits, whereof it doth not suffice that we keep a secret calendar, taking thereby our private occasions as we list ourselves to think how much God hath done for all men; but the days which are chosen out to serve as public memorials of such his mercies ought to be clothed with those outward robes of holiness whereby their difference from other days may be made sensible" (Eccles. Pol. 5.70, § 1). All ancient religions had solemn festival seasons, when particular mercies of God were specially commemorated, and when men, meeting together in large numbers, mutually cheered and excited each other to a warmer devotion and a more hearty pouring forth of thanks than human weakness made possible at other times. In Egypt such festivals were frequent, and held a high place in the religion (Herod. 2.58-64:). Abraham's family had probably had observances of the kind in their Mesopotamian home. God's providence saw good now to give supernatural sanction to the natural piety which had been accustomed thus to express itself. Three great feasts were appointed, of which the most remarkable features were—

1. That they were at once agricultural and historical—connected with the regularly recurrent course of the seasons, and connected also with great events in the life of the nation;

2. That they could be kept only at one spot, that namely where the tabernacle was at the time located;

3. That they were to be attended by the whole male population.

The three festivals are here called—

1. The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 23:15), the early spring festival, at the beginning of barley harvest in the month Abib (Nisan), commemorative of the going forth from Egypt;

2. The Feast of Harvest (elsewhere called "of weeks") at the beginning of summer, when the wheat crop had been reaped, commemorative of the giving of the law; and

3. The Feast of Ingathering (Exodus 23:16) in Tisri, at the close of the vintage, when all the crops of every kind had been gathered in, commemorative of the sojourn in the wilderness. The first of the three, the feast of unleavened bread, had been already instituted (Exodus 13:3-10); the two others are now for the first time sketched out, their details being kept back to be fined in subsequently (Le Exodus 23:15-21, and 34-36). Here the legislator is content to lay it down that the great feasts will be three, and that all the males are to attend them.

Exodus 23:15

The feast of unleavened bread. This commenced with the Passover, and continued for the seven days following, with a "holy convocation" on the first of the seven and on the last (Leviticus 23:5-8). Unleavened bread was eaten in commemoration of the hasty exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12:34). A sheaf of new barley—the first-fruits of the harvest—was offered as a wave-offering before the Lord (Leviticus 23:10-14). Every male Israelite of full age was bound to attend, and to bring with him a free-will offering. In the time appointed of the monthi.e; on the fourteenth day (Exodus 12:18). None shall appear before me empty. This rule applies, not to the Passover only, but to all the feasts.

Exodus 23:16

The feast of harvest. Fifty days were to be numbered from the day of offering the barley sheaf, and on the fiftieth the feast of harvest, thence called "Pentecost," was to be celebrated. Different Jewish sects make different calculations; but the majority celebrate Pentecost on the sixth of Sivan. The main ceremony was the offering to God of two leavened loaves of the finest flour made out of the wheat just gathered in, and called the first-fruits of the harvest. The festival lasted only a single day; but it was one of a peculiarly social and joyful character (Deuteronomy 16:9-11). Jewish tradition connects the feast further with the giving of the law, which must certainly have taken place about the time (see Exodus 19:1-16). The firstfruits. Rather, "Of the first-fruits." The word is in apposition with "harvest," not with "feast." Which thou hast sown. The sown harvest was gathered in by Pentecost; what remained to collect afterwards was the produce of plantations.

The feast of ingathering. Called elsewhere, and more commonly, "the feast of tabernacles" (Leviticus 23:34; Deuteronomy 16:13; Deuteronomy 31:10; John 7:2), from the circumstance that the people were commanded to make themselves booths, and dwell in them during the time of the feast. The festival began on the 15th of Tisri, or in the early part of our October, when the olives had been gathered in and the vintage was completed. It lasted seven, or (according to some) eight days, and comprised two holy convocations. In one point of view it was a festival of thanksgiving for the final getting in of the crops; in another, a commemoration of the safe passage through the desert from Egypt to Palestine. The feast seems to have been neglected during the captivity, but was celebrated with much glee in the time of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 8:17). In the end of the yeari.e; the end of the agricultural year—when the harvest was over—as explained in the following clause.

Exodus 23:17

Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord God. This seems to moderns a very burthensome enactment. But we must remember that Palestine is not bigger than Wales, and that great gatherings had great attractions for many in the ancient world, when they were the only means by which information was spread, and almost the only occasions on which friends and relations who lived far apart could expect to see each other. The European Greeks had, in their Olympian and other games, similar great gatherings, which occurred once or twice in each year, and, though under no obligation to do so, attended them in enormous numbers. It may be doubted if the religious Hebrews felt the obligation of attendance to be a burthen. It was assuredly a matter of great importance, as tending to unity, and to the quickening of the national life, that they should be drawn so continually to one centre, and be so frequently united in one common worship. Most students of antiquity regard the Greek games as having exerted a strong unifying influence over the scattered members of the Grecian family. The Hebrew festivals, occurring so much more frequently, and required to be attended by all, must have had a similar, but much greater, effect of the same kind.

Exodus 23:18

Law of the Paschal sacrifice. That the Paschal lamb is here intended by "my sacrifice," seems to be certain, since the two injunctions to put away leavened bread, and to allow none of the victim's flesh to remain till the morning (see Exodus 12:10), are combined in the Paschal sacrifice only. Of all the offerings commanded in the law the Paschal lamb was the most important, since it typified Christ. It may therefore well be termed, in an especial way, "God's sacrifice.'' By the fat of my feast some understand the fat of the lamb, others the best part of the feast (Keil)—i.e; the lamb itself. In Exodus 34:25, which is closely parallel to the present place, we read, for "the fat of my feast," "the sacrifice of the feast of the passover."

Exodus 23:19

Law of first-fruits. The first of the first-fruits may mean either "the best of the first-fruits" (see Numbers 18:12), or "the very first of each kind that is ripe" (ib, Exodus 23:13). On the tendency to delay, and not bring the very first, see the comment on Exodus 22:29. The house of the Lord. Generally, in the Pentateuch we have the periphrasis'' the place which the Lord thy God shall choose to put his name there" (Deuteronomy 12:5, Deuteronomy 12:11, Deuteronomy 12:14; Deuteronomy 16:16; Deuteronomy 26:2, etc.); but here, and in Exodus 34:26, and again in Deuteronomy 23:18, this "place" is plainly declared to be a "house" or "temple."

Law against seething a kid in the mother's milk. The outline of law put before the Israelites in the "Book of the Covenant" terminated with this remarkable prohibition. Its importance is shown—

1. By its place here; and

2. By its being thrice repeated in the law of Moses (see Exodus 34:16; and Deuteronomy 14:21). Various explanations have been given of it; but none is saris-factory, except that which views it as "a protest against cruelty, and outraging the order of nature," more especially that peculiarly sacred portion of nature's order, the tender relation between parent and child, mother and suckling. No doubt the practice existed. Kids were thought to be most palatable when boiled in milk; and the mother's milk was frequently the readiest to obtain. But in this way the mother was made a sort of accomplice in the death of her child, which men were induced to kill on account of the flavour that her milk gave it. Reason has nothing to say against such a mode of preparing food, but feeling revolts from it; and the general sense of civilised mankind reechoes the precept, which is capable of a wide application—Thou shalt not seethe a kind in his mother's milk.


Exodus 23:1-3; 6-9

God's care for the administration of justice.

The well-being of a community depends largely on the right administration of justice within its limits. It has been said that the entire constitution of England with all its artifices, complications, balances, and other delicate arrangements, exists mainly for the purpose of putting twelve honest men into a jury-box. Fiat justitia, ruat coelum. Anything is preferable to the triumphant rule of injustice. The present passage clearly shows that God recognises very decidedly the importance of judicial proceedings. By direct communication with Moses, he lays down rules which affect—

1. The accuser;

2. The witnesses; and

3. The judge.

I. WITH RESPECT TO THE ACCUSER. False accusation is to be avoided, and especially capital charges against the innocent (Exodus 9:7).

II. WITH RESPECT TO WITNESSES. Men are to beware of either inventing an untrue tale or giving any support to it when it has been invented by others (Exodus 9:11).


1. They are not to act like Pilate and "follow a multitude to do evil" (Exodus 9:2).

2. They are not either unduly to favour the poor (Exodus 9:3); or

3. To wrest justice against them (Exodus 9:6).

4. They are not to oppress strangers (Exodus 9:9). And

5. They are, above all things, not to take a bribe.

Accusers, beware! Be sure that your charge is true, or do not make it. A false charge, even though proved false, may injure a man for life—he may never be able to recover from it. Particularly, be careful, if your charge is a serious one, involving risk to life. You may, if successful, "slay the innocent and the righteous" (Exodus 9:7). Nay, you may slay a man by a false charge which does not directly affect his life—you may so harass and annoy him as to drive him to suicide, or "break his heart," and so shorten his days. Even if you have a true charge to bring, it is not always wise or Christian to bring it. St. Paul would have us in some cases "take wrong" and "suffer ourselves to be defrauded" (1 Corinthians 6:7).

Witnesses, beware! Do not give untrue evidence, either in the way of raising false reports yourselves, or of supporting by your evidence the false reports of others. The witnesses who cause an innocent person to be condemned are as much to blame as the false accuser. Be very careful in giving evidence to speak "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." Depose to nothing of which you are not sure. If you are uncertain, say that you are uncertain, however much the adverse counsel may browbeat you. In cases of personal identity, be specially careful. It is exceedingly easy to be mistaken about a man whom you have seen only once or twice.
Judges, beware! On you the final issue depends. Be not swayed by popularity. Yield not to the outcries either of an excited mob, or a partisan press, when they shout, "away with him!" Hold the scales of justice even between the rich man and the poor, neither suffering your prejudice of class to incline you in favour of the former, nor a weak sentimentality to make you lean unduly towards the latter. Be sure not to oppress foreigners, who must plead to disadvantage in a country, and amid proceedings, t hat are strange to them. Above all, do not condescend to take a bribe from either side. A gift is a weight in the scales of justice; and "a false balance is an abomination to the Lord" (Proverbs 11:1).

Exodus 23:5, Exodus 23:6

The duties which men owe to their enemies.

These duties may be considered as they were revealed to men.

1. Under the law: and

2. Under the gospel.

I. UNDER THE LAW. Men were required to protect the interests of their enemies, when they could do so without loss to themselves. For instance—

1. They were not to cut down fruit trees in an enemy's country (Deuteronomy 20:19, Deuteronomy 20:20).

2. They were not to remove a neighbour's landmark, even though he might be an enemy.

3. They were to hasten after an enemy's ox or ass if they saw it going astray, to catch it, and bring it back to him.

4. They were to approach him, if they saw his ass fallen under the weight of its load, and to help him to raise it up.

5. If he were suffering from hunger or thirst, they were to give him bread to eat and water to drink (Proverbs 25:21).

6. They were to refrain from rejoicing over his misadventures (ib, Exodus 24:17).

II. UNDER THE GOSPEL. Men are required under the Gospel to do all this, and much more.

1. They are to "love their enemies" (Matthew 5:44).

2. To do good to them in every way—feed them (Romans 12:20), bless them (Matthew 1:1-25.s.c.), pray for them (ib,), be patient towards them (1 Thessalonians 5:14), seek to convert them from the error of their ways (James 5:20), save them (ib,). Christ set the example of praying for his enemies upon the cross—God set the example of loving his enemies when he gave his Son to suffer death for them—the Holy Spirit sets the example of patience towards his enemies, when he strives with them. We have to forgive our enemies day by day their trespasses against us—to pray and work for their conversion—to seek to overcome their evil with our good. In temporal matters, it is our business to be most careful that we do them no injury, by misrepresentation, by disparagement, by unfair criticism, by lies, even by "faint praise." We are to "love" them; or, if poor human nature finds this too hard, we are to act as if we loved them, and then ultimately love will come.

Exodus 23:10, Exodus 23:11

The Sabbatical year.

The Sabbatical year—an institution peculiar to the Israelites, and quite contrary to anything of which they had had experience in Egypt—is a remarkable proof,

I. OF THE DIVINE WISDOM. Under the ordinary circumstances of tillage, land from time to time requires rest. In Egypt it was otherwise. There, under the exceptional circumstances of a soil continually recruited by the spread over it of a rich alluvium from the great river, not only was the whole arable area capable of producing good crops year after year, without ever lying fallow, but from the same soil several crops were ordinarily taken, in the course of the twelvemonth. The Israelites had had no experience of any other agriculture than this for above four centuries. Yet now, suddenly, a new system is adopted by them. God knew that the system of Egyptian tillage was not suitable for Palestine—that there the soil would not recruit itself—that, cultivated on the Egyptian system, it would rapidly become exhausted; and therefore he devised, in the interests of his people, a new system for Palestine. The whole land should have rest one year in seven. Thus only, in the then existing condition of agriculture, could exhaustion be prevented, productiveness secured, and the land enabled to retain its character of "a good land," "a land flowing with milk and honey," "a land of corn and wine, of bread and vineyards, and oil olive," "a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig-trees, and pomegranates—a land of oil olive, and honey—a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack anything in it" (Deuteronomy 8:8, Deuteronomy 8:9).

II. OF THE DIVINE BENEFICENCE. Under the system thus Divinely imposed upon the Israelites, three beneficent purposes were accomplished.

1. The proprietor was benefited. Not only was he prevented from exhausting his farm by over-cropping, and so sinking into poverty, but he was forced to form habits of forethought and providence. He necessarily laid by something for the seventh year, and hence learnt to calculate his needs, to store his grain, and to keep something in hand against the future. In this way his reason and reflective powers were developed, and he was advanced from a mere labouring hind to a thoughtful cultivator.

2. The poor were benefited. As whatever grew in the seventh year grew spontaneously, without expense or trouble on the part of the owner, it could not be rightfully considered to belong exclusively to him. The Mosaic law placed it on a par with ordinary wild fruits, and granted it to the first comer (Leviticus 25:5, Leviticus 25:6). By this arrangement the poor were enabled to profit, since it was they especially who gathered the store that Nature's bounty provided. In the dry climate of Palestine, where much grain is sure to be shed during the gathering in of the harvest, the spontaneous growth would probably be considerable, and would amply suffice for the sustenance of those who had no other resource.

3. The beasts were benefited. God "careth for cattle." He appoints the Sabbatical year, in part, that "the beasts of the field" may have abundance to eat. When men dole out their food, they have often a scanty allowance. God would have them, for one year in seven at least, eat their fill.

Exodus 23:12

The rest of the Sabbath.

In the fourth commandment it is the main object of the Sabbath that is put prominently forward. It is a day to be "kept holy"—a day which God has "blessed and hallowed." Here, on the contrary, our attention is called to its secondary object—it is for "rest" and "refreshment." Perhaps men of the classes who are in easy circumstances do not sufficiently realise the intense relief that is furnished by the Sunday rest to the classes below them, to the over-taxed artisan, the household drudge, the wearied and stupefied farm-labourer—nay, even to the clerk, the accountant, the shopkeeper, the salesman. Continuous mechanical work of one and the same kind is required of most of those who labour, from morning till night, and from one end of the week to the other. The monotony of their occupations is terrible—is deadening—is sometimes maddening. For them, the treat that the Sunday affords is the single gleam of light in their uniformly murky sky, the single ray of hope that gilds their else miserable existence, the single link that connects them with the living world of thought, and sentiment, and feeling, for which they were born, and in which their spirits long to expatiate. Rest! To the tired brute, forced to slave for his owner up to the full measure of his powers, and beyond them—ready to sink to the earth the moment he is not artificially sustained—who goes through his daily round in a state that is half-sleep, half-waking—what a blessed change is the quietude of the Sunday, when for four-and-twenty hours at least he enjoys absolute and entire repose, recruits his strength, rests all his muscles, is called on to make no exertion! Refreshment! How thrice blessed to the overwrought man, and still more to the overwrought woman, is the relaxation of the dreadful tension of their lives which Sunday brings! "No rest, no pause, no peace," for six long days—days beginning early and ending late—days without change or variety—without relaxation or amusement—wretched, miserable days, during which they wish a hundred times that they had never been born. On such the Sunday rest falls as a refreshing dew. Their drooping spirits rise to it. They inhale at every pore its beneficent influences. They feel it to be "a refuge from the storms of life, a bourne of peace after six days of care and toil, a goal to which they may look with glad hearts, and towards which they may work with hopeful spirits amid the intense struggles, and fervid contests, and fierce strifes of existence." Without the Sunday rest, modern life, at any rate, would be intolerable; and the mass of those who are actively engaged in its various phases would drift into idiocy, or be driven to madness!

Exodus 23:14-17

Festival times.

I. FESTIVALS ARE COMMEMORATIONS. The joyful occurrences of our own lives we by a natural instinct commemorate yearly, as the day comes round when they happened to us. Our birth-day, our wedding-day, are thus made domestic festivals. Similarly, a nation commemorates the Day of its Independence, or the three glorious days of its Revolution, or the day on which its armies gained a great and crowning victory. It is reasonable that the practice thus established should be followed also in the Church of God, and the days on which great spiritual blessings or deliverances were granted to it kept in remembrance by some appropriate and peculiar observance. The Jews kept three great festivals, to which afterwards two others were added, all of them more or less commemorative. The Passover commemorated the passing over of the houses of the Israelites by the destroying angel and the hasty flight out of Egypt; the feast of Pentecost commemorated, according to Jewish tradition, the giving of the law; tabernacles recalled and perpetuated the dwelling in tents in the wilderness; Purim, the deliverance kern the malice of Haman; the Dedication, that from Antiochus Epiphanes. And Christian festivals are of a similar character. Advent commemorates the approach, and Christmas the birth, of Christ, Epiphany his manifestation to the Gentiles, Easter his resurrection from the dead, Ascension-day his ascent into heaven, Whitsuntide the coming of the Holy Ghost. "Saints' days," as they are called, commemorate the entrance into final bliss of those whose names they bear. All the greater, and almost all the lesser, festivals of the Christian Church are commemorations, days appointed for perpetuating the remembrance of events dear to the Christian heart and deeply interwoven with the Christian life. It follows that—

II. FESTIVALS ARE TIMES OF SPIRITUAL JOY'. There are some to whom religion seems altogether a melancholy thing. Religious persons they suppose to be dwellers in perpetual sadness, gloomy, ascetic, dull, cheerless, miserable. But this is altogether a mistake. Holy joy is continually required of men as a duty in the Bible. "Rejoice evermore," says the great apostle of the Gentiles (1 Thessalonians 5:16); and again, "Rejoice with them that do rejoice" (Romans 12:15). "O be joyful in the Lord," is a constant cry of the Psalmist. Our Lord bade us "rejoice and he exceeding glad," even when we are persecuted, and assured us that "our joy no man taketh from us." There may be a sobriety in Christian joy which distinguishes it from the fitful, feverish, and excited joy of the world; but it is joy—true joy—nevertheless. And for this joy no times are so fitting as festival times. "This is the day which the Lord hath made," said holy David; "let us rejoice and be glad in it." "Offices and duties of religious joy," as Hooker notes, "are that wherein the hallowing of festival times consisteth" (Eccl. Pol. 5:70, § 2). The set services of religion on festival days take a tone of gladness beyond the common; and the "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" suited for such occasions are of a still more jubilant type. Then especially do the precepts hold—"Rejoice in the Lord," "Serve the Lord with gladness," "Show yourselves joyful unto the Lord—sing, rejoice, and give thanks."

III. FESTIVALS SHOULD BE TIMES OF THANKSGIVING. Nothing is more remarkable in man than his deadness, and dulness, and apathy in respect to all that God has done for him. Warm gratitude, lively thankfulness, real heartfelt devotion, are rare, even in the best of us. Festivals are designed to stir and quicken our feelings, to rouse us from our deadness, to induce us to shake off our apathy, and both with heart and voice glorify God, who hath done so great things for us. Festivals bring before us vividly the special Divine mercy which they commemorate, and at the same time present to our view the beneficent side, so to speak, of the Divine nature, and lead- us to contemplate it. God is essentially love; "he declares his Almighty power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity" (Collect for Eleventh Sunday after Trinity). Festivals remind us of this. We lose the advantage of them wholly if we do not stir ourselves, on occasion of them, to some real outpouring of love and thanks to him who granted us the blessing of the time, as well as every other blessing, and every "good and perfect gift" of which we have the enjoyment.

IV. FESTIVALS SHOULD BE TIMES OF BOUNTY. When the soul of a man is glad, and penetrated with the sense of God's goodness and mercy towards it, the heart naturally opens itself to a consideration of other men's needs and necessities. Being glad itself, it would fain make others glad. Hence, in the old world, great occasions of joy were always occasions of largess. The Israelites were commanded to remember the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow at the time of their festivals (Deuteronomy 16:14); and the practice was to "send portions" to them (Nehemiah 8:10; Esther 9:22). We shall do well to imitate their liberality, and to make, not Christmas only, but each festival season a time of "sending portions" to the poor and needy.


Exodus 23:1-10

Doing justice and loving mercy.

In pursuance of its great requirement of love to one's neighbour, the law next prohibits the raising of a false report, the bearing of false witness in a court of justice, and the wresting of judgment. Recognising however, that "out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies" (Matthew 15:19), the taw, in addition to forbidding the outward acts, is at pains to warn against the motives and influences which most commonly lead to these acts. This section naturally follows the catalogue of "rights' in previous chapters, as dealing with cases of litigation arising on the basis of these "rights." Notice:—


1. The raising of a false report. This also is a species of false witness, though of a less formal character than the bearing of false witness in a court of justice. The forms it may assume are innumerable. The three principal are:—

(1) Deliberate invention and circulation of falsehoods.

(2) Innuendo, or malicious suggestion.

(3) Distortion or deceitful colouring of actual facts.

In God's sight slander ranks as one of the worst of off, aces. It indicates great malevolence. It is grievously unjust and injurious to the person traduced. It is certain to be taken up, and industriously propagated. For a calumny is never wholly wiped out. There are always some evil-speaking persons disposed to believe and repeat it. It affixes a mark on the injured party which may remain on him through life. Everyone is interested in the suppression of such an offence—the parties immediately concerned, the Church, society at large, the magistracy, God himself—of one of whose commandments (the 9th) it is a daring violation. It is a form of vice which should incur the emphatic reprobation of society, and which, where possible, should be visited with heavy legal penalties.

2. False witness in court. This, as a deliberate attempt to poison the stream of public justice, is a crime which admits of no palliation. It is a form of vice which, so far as we know, has never found a defender. All ages and all societies have united in condemning it as an offence deserving of severe punishment. Yet many a privately-circulated slander may do more harm than a falsehood uttered in the witness-box. God judges of these matters, not by their legal but by their moral turpitude.

3. Wresting of judgment. The corruption of public justice here reaches the fountain head. The judge who gives dishonest decisions betrays the cause of righteousness. He misrepresents the mind of God. He inflicts irremediable injury on the innocent. He opens a floodgate to iniquity. Few men, therefore, are guiltier than he. God will not spare him in the day of his judgment. Even in private life, however, we need to beware of judging rashly, of judging with bias and prejudice, of judging so as to do wrong to individuals, of judging so as to injure truth and retard progress and- improvement. This also is "wresting judgment."


1. The influence of the crowd (Exodus 23:2). There is an infectiousness in the example of a crowd which only a firm back-bone of principle, and some independence of mind, will enable us to resist. The tendency is to follow the multitude, even when it is to do evil.

(1) Men like to be on the side that is popular. They dread the reproach of singularity. There are those who would almost rather die than be out of the fashion.

(2) A crowd can ridicule, and a crowd can intimidate. It may put pressure upon us which we have not the moral courage to resist.

(3) A thing, besides, does not look so evil, when many are engaged in doing it. They do not, of course, call it evil. They put new names upon it, and. laugh at us for our scruples. This may lead us to think that the course in which we are asked to join is not so very bad after all. So we belie or dissemble our real convictions, and do what the crowd bids us. To such influences we are certain to fall a prey, if we are governed by the fear of man more than by the fear of God (Acts 4:19, Acts 4:20), or if we seek the praise of man more than the honour which comes from God (John 5:44; John 12:4 :3). As counteractives to the influence of the crowd we do well to remember that the "vox populi" is not always "vox Dei;" that the fashion of the clay can never make that right which the law of God declares to be wrong; that the voice of the multitude is one thing to-day, and another thing to-morrow, while truth and duty remain one and the same; that whatever others think, it can never be lawful for us to act contrary to our own convictions; that if the multitude are bent on doing evil, it is our duty, not to go with them, but to be witnesses for the truth in opposition to their courses; that great guilt attaches to us if we do wrong simply in deference to popular sentiment; finally, that there is one who judges us, that is, God, and that he will surely call us to account for all such unfaithfulness to conviction (Exodus 23:7).

2. False sympathy. Judgment was not to be wrested, nor false witness given, out of any quasi-benevolent wish to do a good turn to the poor (Exodus 23:3). The poor man is not to be unjustly dealt with (Exodus 23:6), but neither is he to receive favour. A court of law is not the place for sentiment. Equal measure is to be meted out to all. Judgment is to be given impartially as between brother and brother; rich and poor; citizen and foreigner (Exodus 23:9); applying the same principles to each case, and keeping in view the essential merits as the sole thing to be regarded.

3. Enmity. Emnity to another, or the consideration of another's enmity to us, is not to be allowed to sway us in giving judgment in his cause, or in any other matter in which his rights are affected. This seems to be the connection of Exodus 23:4, Exodus 23:5, with what precedes and follows; but the duty is taught somewhat indirectly by laying down the principle that enmity is not to be allowed to influence us at all, in any of our dealings with our neighbours. The illustrations taken are very striking, and fairly anticipate the gospel inculcation of love to enemies (cf. Deuteronomy 22:1, Deuteronomy 22:4). If an enemy's ox or ass was seen going astray, the Israelite was not to hide himself, and let it go, but was "surely" to take it back again. Or if his enemy's ass fell under a burden, he was not to yield to the temptation to forbear help, but was "surely" to help him to lift it up. A fortiori, he was not to allow himself to be in any way influenced by enmity in giving evidence before the judges, or in pronouncing judgment on a cause brought before him.

4. Covetenseness. (Exodus 23:8.) This forbids bribery. It is impossible for a judge to take a bribe, whether given directly or indirectly, and yet retain his integrity. Despite of himself, the gift will blind his eyes, and pervert his words. For the same reason a man can never be an impartial judge in his own cause.—J.O.

Exodus 23:10-20

Sabbaths and feasts.


1. The Sabbatic year (Exodus 23:10, Exodus 23:11). Every seventh year the land was to lie fallow, and what it spontaneously produced was to be a provision for the poor, and for the beasts of the field. There was connected with the ordinance a special promise of unusual fertility in the sixth year—of such plenty as would make the nation independent of a harvest in the seventh (Le Exodus 25:21, Exodus 25:22). The Sabbatic year was

(1) A period of rest for the land. Even nature requires her seasons of rest. Only thus will she yield to man the best of her produce. The seventh year's rest was an agricultural benefit.

(2) A period of rest for the labourer. It gave him time for higher employment. Moses enjoined that the whole law should be read on this year at the feast of Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 31:10, Deuteronomy 31:14). This may have been designed to teach, "that the year, as a whole, should be much devoted to the meditation of the law, and engaging in services of devotion" (Fairbairn).

(3) A merciful provision for the poor. It laid an arrest on man's natural selfishness, and taught beneficence and consideration for the needy. It showed that if man cared not for the poor, God did.

(4) It was a test of obedience. It would test conclusively whether the people were disposed to obey God, or would be ruled only by their own wills. In point of fact, the ordinance was not kept. It proved to be too high and Divine a thing for covetous and selfish dispositions. The neglect of it commenced very early, and lasted till the period of the captivity (2 Chronicles 36:21).

(5) A periodical reminder that the land, and everything that grew upon it, belonged to God. Had the Israelites observed the ordinance, the recurrent plenty of the sixth year would, like the double supply of manna on the sixth day in the wilderness, have been a visible witness to them of the supernatural presence of Jehovah in their midst.

2. The weekly Sabbath (Exodus 23:12). The invaluable seventh day's rest was also to be sacredly observed by the nation. Well-kept Sabbaths have much to do with national prosperity.

II. FEASTS. The stated festivals were three (Exodus 23:14 Exodus 23:17). The design in their appointment was to commemorate mercies, to keep alive the memory of national events, to foster a sense of unity in the people, to quicken religious life, to furnish opportunities of public worship. They afforded a means of strengthening the bond between the people and Jehovah, promoted brotherly intercourse, infused warmth and gladness into religious service, and were connected with a ritual which taught the worshippers solemn and impressive lessons. The feasts were:—

1. The Passover—here called "the feast of unleavened bread" (Exodus 23:15-18). It commemorated the great National Deliverance (see on Exodus 12:1-51.). The use of unleavened bread was a call to spiritual purity (1 Corinthians 5:8). The blood was offered (Exodus 23:18) as an ever-renewed atonement for sin. The "fat" of the sacrifice betokened the consecration of the best.

2. Pentecost—here called "the feast of harvest, the first-fruits of thy labours" (Exodus 23:16). Its primary reference was agricultural. It was a recognition of God in the gift of the harvest. It besought his blessing upon the labours of the field. It consecrated to him the first-fruits (Exodus 23:19) of what he had given (two wave-loaves, Le Exodus 23:17). In the dedication of the wave-loaves, as in the weekly presentation of the shewbread in the tabernacle (Exodus 25:30), there was further symbolised the dedication to God of the life which the bread nourished. Fitly, therefore, was this day chosen for the presentation to God of the first-fruits of his Church (Acts 2:1-47.).

3. The feast of Tabernacles—"the feast of ingathering" (Exodus 23:16). This was the feast of the completed harvest, when the corn, the wine, and the oil, had all been gathered in. During the seven days of the feast the people dwelt in booths, in commemoration of their wanderings in the wilderness. The dwelling in booths was a symbol also of their present pilgrim condition on earth, as "strangers and sojourners" (Psalms 39:12). The precept in Exodus 23:19, which seems related to this feast,—"Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk," had probably reference to some harvest superstition. On its moral lessons, see Deuteronomy 14:21.—J.O.


Exodus 23:1-9

Seeking the things which make for justice.

The illustrations adduced in these nine verses show the various ways in which men may be tempted to injustice in judicial procedure. Those who believe themselves wronged have to appeal to their fellow men to settle the matter so far as human capacity can settle it. Hence the positions indicated in this passage. We see plaintiffs, defendants, witnesses, judges, and supporters and sympathisers, and the great aim set before all of them is the attainment of just conclusions. Men feel nothing more bitterly than unjust treatment; and yet just treatment is one of the most difficult of all things to get. Even he who himself has been unjustly treated cannot be induced to treat others justly. Thus there are put before the individual Israelite here illustrations of all the ways in which it is possible for him either to help or to hinder justice.

I. THE ISRAELITE IS CAUTIONED LEST BY YIELDING TO UNWORTHY MOTIVES, HE SHOULD HELP OTHERS TO GAIN VICTORIES OF UNRIGHTEOUSNESS. It is only too easy to send abroad an empty story which may end in the ruin of an innocent man. We may become afflicted with a spirit of partisanship which, even if it lead not to downright lying, may prompt to exaggerations and distortions, just as valuable for the attainment of malicious purposes, lie who would not deliberately fabricate a lie will nevertheless be well disposed to believe it when fabricated by another, and will then utter it for truth. We easily believe what we want to believe. It is so pleasant to be with the multitude; to go against it requires a great deal of courage, and a deep devotion to what is just, as the paramount thing to be considered in all judicial enquiries. Let us feel that justice is not a matter of majorities, but of great principles honestly and ably applied to particular cases, the nature of these cases being determined by evidence which has been carefully sifted and arranged so as to get at the truth. He who comes into a court of justice comes there in the simple and sufficient claims of his humanity; all considerations of popular applause, all sympathy with a poor man, merely as a poor man, are entirely out of place. We must guard against all cheap sentiment; we must be just before we are generous. Adroit appeals to the feelings of a jury are part of the stock-in-trade of a practised advocate; and witnesses themselves understand how to profit by the prejudices and weaknesses of sensitive minds. The poor, the sick, the maimed only too often think that they may gain by their poverty, their feebleness, their mutilation, what is not to be gained by the righteousness of their cause. Everyone, therefore, who has to do with a court of justice needs great circumspection to keep himself clear of all words and actions such as might lend themselves to injustice. The effort of one may not secure a just judgment, but each individual must do his part. Then the stain of injustice is not on his garments.

II. AN INJURED PERSON MUST KEEP CLEAR OF PERSONAL ANIMOSITY IN THE PURSUIT OF HIS RIGHTS. An illustration is given from the misfortune which may happen to his enemy's ox or ass (Exodus 23:4, Exodus 23:5). We must never forget that our enemy is also our neighbour. If a man wrongs us, it does not cancel that wrong to do him wrong in return. There is a certain appointed way of getting all such wrong put right, and if it cannot be put right in that way there is no other to be found,—no other at least so far as human aid avails. For a man to see his enemy in this position, with ox or ass gone astray or in any way needing help, is a capital chance for showing that no petty grudge actuates him in legal proceedings. He who is treated wrongly must seek for justice, but he will gladly hail the opportunity of showing that it is justice only that he seeks. It is often those who are most unyielding in the matter of right who are also most tender and assiduous in the matter of compassion. It is an easier thing through sentimental weakness to countenance a poor man in his cause than to take the trouble of driving home a lost ox or ass to its owner. The very same considerations of right which make a man feel that he cannot sit down tamely under injustice, should also make him feel that he cannot allow the property of others to go to ruin, when his timely intervention will save it.

III. THERE ARE DIRECTIONS IN PARTICULAR FOR THOSE WHO HAVE TO JUDGE. The instructions in Exodus 23:6-9 seem specially to concern the judge. Plaintiffs, defendants and witnesses are only occasionally in courts of justice, but the judge is always there. It is his daily work to settle right as between man and man. Those who have to come before him are instructed and cautioned to come in a just spirit; but inasmuch as many of them will not attend to the instructions, it is the business of the judge to neutralise as far as he can their unrighteous approaches; and it seems to be particularly implied that he must keep himself from all temptations such as come so fascinatingly through the rich and the powerful. He with whom judicial decisions rest will have many to tempt him if he shows himself at all open to temptation. Let the judge remember that his judgment, though it may gain a cause, does not effect a final settlement. Through prejudice or bribery he may justify the wicked; but that does not hold them justified. He must not say of anyone who comes before him, that he is only a poor man or a foreigner and therefore his interests cannot matter. It should be his joy to feel and his pride to say that no one went away from him with wrongs unredressed, so far as any searching of his could discover the doer of the wrong. A judge has great opportunities. Every upright, discerning and scrupulous judge does much in the circle of his own influence to keep a high standard of right and wrong before the minds of his fellow men.—Y.


Exodus 23:14-17

A threefold cord is not quickly broken.

To forget is far easier than to remember. Festivals are like posts to which we can fasten the cords of memory, so that, securely fastened, we may not drift down the stream of Lethe. To forget facts is to ignore the duties to which facts prompt us. We must leave undone what we ought to do, unless we take measures to keep us in remembrance. The great fact which the Israelites needed to remember was the relation of dependence in which they stood to God. He had freed them from slavery, he had provided them with food, he had given them, besides, the means of enjoyment—wine and oil—above all that they could ask or think. By means of the three great annual festivals threefold security was given against forgetfulness of this fact. To keep the festivals was to realise the relation, and to strengthen it by practical acknowledgment. Consider—

I. THE FEAST OF FREEDOM. In this connection (Exodus 23:15) the unleavened bread is the point emphasised—to be eaten for seven days, a full week, at the commencement of the sacred year. As a reminder it suggested—

1. Past slavery. The tyrannous oppression of Egypt; hopeless condition ere God looked upon them; life but a synonym for bare existence; even sustenance depending upon the caprice of others.

2. Past deliverance. The paschal night; unleavened bread the accompaniment of the first paschal feast; food a very secondary consideration when freedom was in question.

3. Present duties. God had delivered them from slavery that they might serve him as his free people; an inner slavery worse than the outer; a purification needed in the heart even more important than that in the home. The leaven of malice and wickedness must be sought out and put away; so long as they retained that, freedom was but a nominal privilege.

II. THE FEAST OF FIRST-FRUITS. Linked on to the second day of unleavened bread. God would have his children look forward; and so he makes the first blessing a seed in which are enwrapped others. Freed by God, the people could appropriate, as his children, the promise made to children (Genesis 1:29, as modified by the fall, Genesis 3:19). The gift of food was God's gift, but their cooperation was needed for its fruition; it was to be the fruit, not the creation of their labours. Familiarity breeds forgetfulness as often as it breeds contempt. A reminder needed that human labour can, at most, work up God's raw material. [The cerealia, or corn plants, well called "a standing miracle." Apparently a cultivated grass, yet no known grass can be improved into corn by cultivation. Corn can be degraded by artificial means into a worthless perennial; as it is, it is an annual, exhausting itself in seeding, needing man's labour to its perfection and preservation.] To get his food, man is constantly reminded that he must be a fellow-worker with God.

III. THE FEAST OF INGATHERING. As the year rolls on, it exhibits more and more of God's goodness and bounty. It calls for ever fresh acknowledgment of that love which gives "liberally and upbraideth not." Freedom a great gift, the capacity to work for one's own livelihood; so, too, food, the means through which that capacity may find exercise; further, God gives all the fruits of the earth in their season, so that man through his labour may find not merely health but happiness. Naturally this was the most joyful of all the festivals—the blossoms which glorified the stem springing from the root of freedom. To rejoice in the Lord is the final outcome of that faith which enables us to realise our sonship.

Conclusion.—These festivals have more than an historical interest. They teach the same truths as of old, but for Christians their meaning is intensified. Unleavened bread is associated with Calvary, freedom from the tyranny of sin (1 Corinthians 5:7, 1 Corinthians 5:8). Linked to this is our first-fruits festival; Christ, the first-fruits (1 Corinthians 15:20), made our food through the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost. The feast of ingathering is not yet, but we may rejoice in it by anticipation (1 Peter 1:6). The final festival is described for us by St. John in the Revelation (vii. 9-17). Blessed are they who, with robes washed white, shall share the joy of that feast of Ingathering.—G.

Exodus 23:20-31


THE REWARDS OF OBEDIENCE. God always places before men" the recompense of the reward." He does not require of them that they should serve him for nought. The "Book of the Covenant" appropriately ends with a number of promises, which God undertakes to perform, if Israel keeps the terms of the covenant. The promises are:—

1. That he will send an angel before them to be their guide, director, and helper (Exodus 23:20-23).

2. That he will be the enemy of their enemies (Exodus 23:22), striking terror into them miraculously (Exodus 23:27), and subjecting them to other scourges also (Exodus 23:28).

3. That he will drive out their enemies "by little and little" (Exodus 23:30), not ceasing until he has destroyed them (Exodus 23:23).

4. That he will give them the entire country between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean on the one hand, the Desert and the Euphrates on the other (Exodus 23:31). And

5. That he will bless their sustenance, avert sickness from them, cause them to multiply, and prolong their days upon earth (Exodus 23:25, Exodus 23:26). At the same time, all these promises—except the first—are made conditional. If they will "beware" of the angel and "obey his voice," then he will drive their enemies out (Exodus 23:22, Exodus 23:23): if they will serve Jehovah, and destroy the idols of the nations, then he will multiply them, and give them health and long life (Exodus 23:24-26), and "set their bounds from the Red Sea even unto the Sea of the Philistines, and from the desert unto the river" (Exodus 23:31). So far as they fall short of their duties, is he entitled to fall short of his promises. A reciprocity is established. Unless they keep their engagements, he is not bound to keep his. Though the negative side is not entered upon, this is sufficiently clear. None of the promises, except the promise to send the angel, is absolute. Their realisation depends on a strict and hearty obedience.

Exodus 23:20

Behold, I send a messenger before thee. Jewish commentators regard the messenger as Moses, who, no doubt, was a specially commissioned ambassador for God, and who might, therefore, well be termed God's messenger. But the expressions—"He will not pardon your transgressions," and "My name is in him," are too high for Moses. An angel must be intended—probably "the Angel of the Covenant,"—whom the best expositors identify with the Second Person of the Trinity, the Ever-Blessed Son of God. To keep thee in the way is not simply "to guide thee through the wilderness, and prevent thee from geographical error," but to keep thee altogether in the right path. s, to guard thy going out and thy coming m, to prevent thee from falling into any kind of wrong conduct. The place which I have prepared is not merely Palestine, but that place of which Palestine is the type—viz; Heaven. Compare John 14:2 :—"I go to prepare a place for you."

Exodus 23:21

Provoke him not. On the disobedience of the Israelites to this precept, see Numbers 14:11; Psalms 78:17, Psalms 78:40, Psalms 78:56, etc. My name is in him. God's honour he will not give to another. He does not set His Name in a man. The angel, in whom was God's Blame, must have been co-equal with God—one of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity.

Exodus 23:22

If thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak. The change of persons in the latter clause—"all that I speak," instead of "all that he speaks"—implies the doctrine of the perienchoresis or circuminsessio, that God the Father is in the Son and the Spirit, as they are in him. An adversary to thy adversaries. Rather "an affiictor of thy affiictors."

Exodus 23:23

The Amorites, and the Hittites, etc. The nations of Canaan proper, to whom the Gergashites are sometimes added. See the comment on 2 Samuel 3:8. I will cut them off. Or "cut them down," i.e; destroy them from being any longer nations, but not exterminate them, as is generally supposed. David had a "Hittite" among his "mighty men" (2 Samuel 23:39), and was on friendly terms with Araunah the "Jebusite" (2 Samuel 24:18-24).

Exodus 23:24

Thou shalt not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do after their works. It is always to be borne in mind that with the idolatries of the heathen were connected "works of darkness," which it is shameful even to speak of. The rites of Baal and Ashtoreth, of Chemosh, Molech, Rimmon, and the other Canaanite and Syrian deities were at once defiled by the abomination of human sacrifices, and polluted with the still more debasing evil of religious impurity. "The sacrifice offered to Ashtoreth," says Dr. Dollinger, "consisted in the prostitution of women: the women submitted themselves to the visitors of the feast, in the temple of the goddess or the adjoining precinct. A legend told of Astarte (Ashtoreth) having prostituted herself in Tyre for ten years: and in many places matrons, as well as maidens, consecrated themselves for a length of time, or on the festivals of the goddess, with a view of propitiating her, or earning her favour as hieroduli of unchastity … In this way they went so far at last as to contemplate the abominations of unnatural lust as a homage rendered to the deity, and to exalt it into a regular cultus. The worship of the goddess at Aphaca in Lebanon was specially notorious in this respect. The temple in a solitary situation was, as Eusebius tells us, a place of evil-doing for such as chose to ruin their bodies in scandalous ways … Criminal intercourse with women, impurity, shameful and degrading deeds, were practised in the temple, where there was no custom and no law, and no honourable or decent human being could be found." Thou shalt utterly overthrow them. The heathen gods are identified with their images. These were to be torn from their bases, overthrown, and rolled in the dust for greater contempt and ignominy. They were then to be broken up and burnt, till the gold and the silver with which they were overlaid was calcined and could be stamped to powder. Nothing was to be spared that had been degraded by idolatry, either for its beauty or its elaborate workmanship, or its value. All was hateful to God, and was to be destroyed.

Exodus 23:25

He shall bless thy bread and thy water. If the Israelites were exact in their obedience, and destroyed the idols, and served God only, then he promised to bless "their bread and their water"—the food, i.e; whether meat or drink, on which they subsisted, and to give them vigorous health, free from sickness of any kind, which he pledged himself to take away from the midst of them. Though Christians have no such special pledge, there is, no doubt, that virtuous and godly living would greatly conduce to health, and take away half the sicknesses from which men suffer, even at the present day.

Exodus 23:26

There shall nothing out their young, nor be barren in thy land. This blessing could not have followed upon godly living in the way of natural sequence, but only by Divine favor and providential care. It would have rendered them rich in flocks and herds beyond any other nation. The number of thy days I will fulfil. There shall be no premature deaths. All, both men and women, shall reach the term allotted to man, and die in a good old age, having fulfilled their time. Godly living, persisted in for several generations, might, perhaps, produce this result.

Exodus 23:27

I will send my fear before thee. The fear which fell upon the nations is seen first in the case of Balak and the Moabites. "Moab was sore aft-aid of the people, because they were many" (Numbers 22:3). Later it is spoken of by Rahab as general (Joshua 2:9, Joshua 2:11). A very signal indication of the alarm felt is given in the history of the Gibeonites (Joshua 9:3, Joshua 9:27). I will make all thine enemies turn their backs unto thee. For the fulfilment of this promise see Numbers 21:3, Numbers 21:24, Numbers 21:35; Numbers 31:7; Joshua 8:20-24; Joshua 10:10, etc. Had their obedience been more complete, the power of the Canaanitish nations would have been more thoroughly broken, and the sufferings and servitudes related in the Book of Judges would not have had to be endured.

Exodus 23:28

And I will send hornets before thee. This is scarcely to be taken literally, since no actual plague of hornets is mentioned in the historical narrative. "Hornets" here, and in Deuteronomy 7:20; Joshua 24:12, are probably plagues or troubles of any kind, divinely sent to break the power of the heathen nations, and render them an easier prey to the Israelites, when they made their invasion. Possibly, the main "hornets" were the Egyptians, who, under Rameses III; successfully invaded Palestine about the time of Israel's sojourn in the wilderness, and weakened the power of the Hittites (Khita). The Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite. By a common figure of speech, a part is put {or the whole—three nations for seven. The three names seem to be taken at random, but include the two nations of most power—the Canaanites and the Hittites.

Exodus 23:29

I will not drive them out from before thee in one year. The Divine action is for the most part "slack, as men count slackness"—it is not hasty, spasmodic, precipitate, as human action is too often. Men are impatient; God is strangely, wonderfully patient. He would not drive out the Canaanitish nations all at once—

1. Lest the land should become desolate, there being an insufficient population to keep down the weeds and maintain the tillage; and

2. Lest the beast of the field should multiply so as to become a danger to the new-comers. It is related that when the kingdom of Samaria was depopulated by the removal of the Ten Tribes, there was a great increase of lions, which preyed upon the scanty remnant left (2 Kings 17:25). Even in France, after the Franco-German war, it was found that in many districts wolves increased. A third reason why the nations were not subdued all at once, not mentioned here, is touched in Judges 2:21-23—"The Lord left those nations, without driving them out hastily, that through them he might prove Israel, whether they would keep the way of the Lord to walk therein, or not."

Exodus 23:31

And I will set thy bounds from the Red Sea even unto the sea of the Philistines. This passage by itself would be sufficient to confute Dr. Brugsch's notion, that the Yam Suph (or "Red Sea" of our translators) is the Lake Serbonis, which is a part of the Mediterranean or "Sea of the Philistines," and cannot stand in contrast with it. The "Sea of the Philistines" and the "Red Sea" mark the boundaries of the Holy Land East and West, as the "Desert" and the "River" (Euphrates) do its boundaries North and South. That Moses here lays down those wide limits which were only reached 400 years later, in the time of David and Solomon, and were then speedily lost, can surprise no one who believes in the prophetic gift, and regards Moses as one of the greatest of the Prophets. The tract marked out by these limits had been already promised to Abraham (Genesis 15:18). Its possession by Solomon is distinctly recorded in 1 Kings 4:21, 1 Kings 4:24; 2 Chronicles 9:26. As Solomon was "a man of peace," we must ascribe the acquisition of this wide empire to David. (Compare 2 Samuel 8:3-14; 2 Samuel 10:6-19.) The river (han-nahar) is in the Pentateuch always the Euphrates. The Nile is ha-y'or. A powerful kingdom established in Syria is almost sure to extend its influence to the Euphrates. I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand. Compare Joshua 21:44, for the first fulfilment of this prophecy. Its complete fulfilment was reserved for the time of David. Thou shalt drive them out. The mass of the Canaanites were no doubt "driven out" rather than exterminated. They retired northwards, and gave strength to the great Hittite kingdom which was for many centuries a formidable antagomst of the Egyptian and Assyrian empties.


Exodus 23:20-31

God's promises sometimes absolute, but for the most part contingent on obedience.

"Behold, I send an angel before thee." Here was a positive promise. An angel, a guide, a protector, would go before them throughout their wanderings in the wilderness, and lead them into the promised land—lead, at any rate, some remnant of them, out of which God would make a great nation. Thus much was certain. God's word to give his descendants the land of Canaan was pledged to Abraham, and he would not go back from it. They should reach Canaan, and an angel should lead them; but the rest was all more or less uncertain. If they indeed obeyed God, and did as he commanded, then he would be an enemy to their enemies, and give them full possession of the land of promise. If they truly served Jehovah, and not idols, then he would grant them health and long life, and other temporal blessings. And so it is with Christians. God gives absolutely certain blessings to all whom he accepts into covenant with him; but the greater part of the blessings which he has promised are contingent on their behaviour.


1. A Divine guide is promised to all. The Holy Spirit, speaking in men's hearts, directing and enlightening their conscience, tells them continually how they ought to walk, points cut the way, offers his guidance, nay, presses it on them, and seeks to lead them to heaven. The guide is more than an angel—God's holy name is in him. Nor does he guide only. He supports the footsteps, strengthens, sustains, comforts men.

2. Membership in Christ is promised. "I am the vine; ye are the branches." "Abide in me." We are as branches cut out of a wild olive, which have been grafted, contrary to nature, into a good olive-tree, to partake of its root and fatness (Romans 11:17-24). We are "made members of Christ," for the most part, in our infancy, without effort or merit of our own, by God's great mercy.


1. The answer of a good conscience towards God—a great blessing can only, by the very nature of the case, belong to those who have striven always to be obedient, and have served the Lord from their youth.

2. Growth in grace is granted only to such as cherish and follow the grace already vouchsafed them.

3. Spiritual wisdom and understanding are attained by none but those who, having "done the will of God, know of the doctrine" (John 7:17).

4. Assistance against spiritual enemies is contingent on our doing our best to resist them.

5. Length of days is attached as a special blessing to obedience to parents (Ephesians 6:2, Ephesians 6:3). Finally, and above all—

6. The eternal bliss which is promised us in another world is conditional upon our "patient continuance in well-doing" in this. We must" so run that we may obtain." Most of those to whom the promises of Exodus 23:1-33. were addressed, forfeited them by their misconduct, and did not enter Canaan. They "lusted," they became "idolaters," they "tempted God," they "committed fornication," they "murmured"—and the result was that they "were overthrown in the wilderness." And "all these things happened unto them for ensamples, and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:11, 1 Corinthians 10:12).


Exodus 23:20-33

Promises and warnings.

These conclude the Book of the Covenant.


1. An angel guide (Exodus 23:20-23). But this angel was no ordinary or created angel. He is repeatedly identified with Jehovah himself. God's "name"—his essential nature—was in him. He is one with Jehovah, yet distinct from him—no mere personification, but a real hypostasis. See the careful treatment of "the doctrine of the Angel of the Lord," in Oehler's "Old Testament Theology," vol. 1. pp. 188-196 (Eng. trans.). We view the "angel" as the pro-incarnate Logos—Christ in the Old Testament. Israel's guide was the Son of God—the same Divine Person who is now conducting "many sons unto glory," and who is become" the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him" (Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 5:9).

2. Defence against enemies (Exodus 23:22). If Israel obeyed God's voice, and did all that God spake, their enemies would be reckoned his enemies, and their adversaries his adversaries. And "if God be for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31).

3. Aid in the conquest of Canaan (Exodus 23:23, Exodus 23:27-31). Apply throughout to the spiritual warfare of the individual and of the Church.

(1) The way for the conquest would be prepared. God would send his fear before the Israelites (Exodus 23:27)—would, as stated in Deuteronomy, put the dread of them, and the fear of them, upon the nations that were under the whole heaven (Deuteronomy 2:25; Deuteronomy 11:25; cf. Exodus 15:15, Exodus 15:16). There is a presentiment of defeat in the hearts of the enemies of God, especially when the Church is energetic and fearless in her work, which goes far to secure the victory for the latter. Something whispers to them that their "time is short" (1 Corinthians 7:29; Revelation 12:12; cf. Matthew 8:29). Moral forces are all on the side of the kingdom of God. They assist its friends, and operate to enervate and discourage its enemies. The Christian worker may rely on numerous invisible allies in men's own hearts. Workings of conscience, stings of fear, dread of God, etc. God would also send hornets before the Israelites, to drive out the Canaanites from their strong castles (verse 28). To us there seems no good reason for taking this declaration otherwise than literally. If taken symbolically, the "hornets" are equivalent to the stings of fear, etc; above referred to. A veritable hornet warfare this, and one of great value to the Gospel cause. Taken literally, the "hornets" may be regarded as types of secret providential allies—of the co-operation of God in his providence, often by means of things insignificant in themselves, but working, under his secret direction, for the furtherance of his kingdom, and the defeat of those opposed to it. In a million unseen ways—how encouraging the reflection!—Providence is thus aiding the work of those who fight under Christ's captaincy.

(2) They would be prospered in battle (verse 27). The individual, in his warfare with the evil of his own heart—the Church, in her conflict with the evil of the world—enjoy a similar promise. If Christ inspires, if he, the captain of the Lord's host, gives the signal to advance, victories are certain. However numerous and powerful our spiritual enemies, greater is he that is with us than they that are against us (1 John 4:4).

(3) The conquest would be given by degrees. God would drive out their enemies before them, "little by little" (verse 30). The reason given is, "lest the land become desolate, and the beast of the field multiply against thee" (verse 27). The method was a wise one. It doubtless had its dangers. Remaining idolatry would tend to become a snare. The delay in the extirpation of the Canaanites had thus its side of trial—it would act as a moral test. In other respects it was attended with advantage. It would make the conquest more thorough. It would enable the Israelites to consolidate, organise, and secure their possessions as they went along. It would prevent the multiplying of the beasts of the field. And quite analogous to this is God's method of conducting us unto our spiritual inheritance. The law of "little by little" obtains here also. "Little by little" the believer gains the victory over evil in self, and the heart is sanctified. "Little by little" the world is conquered for Christ. In no other way is thorough conquest possible. Suppose, e.g; that, as the result of extraordinary shakings of the nations, a multitude of uninstructed tribes, peoples, communities, were suddenly thrown into the arms of Christendom—even supposing the conversions real, how difficult would it be to prevent mischiefs from arising! Compare the troubles of the Reformation Churches. Make the yet more extravagant supposition that by some supreme moral effort—the evil of our own hearts being suddenly aroused to intense activity—it pleased God to give us the victory over the whole of this evil at once. How little could we do with such a victory when we had it! Thrown at once upon our own hands, how difficult it would be to know what to do with ourselves! Would not new foes—fantastic conceits—speedily arise from the ground of our yet undisciplined natures, to give us new troubles? The surest method is "little by little." It is not good for any man to have more than he needs—to have a greater victory than he can rightly use; e.g; a man who reads more books than he can mentally digest and assimilate; who has a larger estate than he can manage; who has more money than he can make a good use of. And yet the fact of evil still lurking in our hearts, and continuing in the world around us, exposes us to many perils. It acts as a moral test, and so indirectly conduces to the growth of holiness.

4. Material blessings (verses 25, 26). In the land to which he was conducting them, God would give the people of Israel abundance of food and water; would take away all sickness from their midst (cf. "I am the Lord that healeth thee." Exodus 15:26); would greatly bless their flocks and herds; and would lengthen out their days to the full term (cf. Deuteronomy 28:1-14). The blessings of the new covenant are predominantly spiritual (Ephesians 1:3). Yet even under it, "godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come" (1 Timothy 4:8). Godliness has a natural tendency to promote temporal well-being. So ample a measure of prosperity as that promised in the text could, however, only accrue from direct Divine blessing. The absolute form of the expression answers to the absoluteness of the requirement—"Obey my voice, and do all that I speak" (verse 31). Falling short of the ideal obedience, Israel fell short also of the ideal fulness of the blessing.

5. Expansion of bounds (verse 31). Only once or twice was this maximum of possession touched by Israel. Failure in the fulfilment of the condition kept back fulfilment of the promise. The Church's destiny is to possess the whole earth (Psalms 2:8).

II. WARNINGS. If these glorious promises are to be fulfilled to Israel, they must obey the voice of God and of his angel. Let them beware, therefore,—

1. Of provoking the angel (verse 21). God's name was in him, and he would not pardon their transgressions. That is, he would not take a light view of their sins, but would strictly mark them, and severely punish them. He was not a Being to be trifled with. If his wrath against them were kindled but a little, they would perish from the way (Psalms 2:12). He was one with Jehovah in his burning zeal for holiness, and in his determination not to clear the guilty. See below. The Gospel is not wanting in its similar side of sternness. There is a "wrath of the Lamb" (Revelation 6:17). There is a "judgment" which "begins at the house of God" (1 Peter 4:17). There is the stem word—"It shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people" (Acts 3:23). Cf. also Hebrews 2:2, Hebrews 2:3; Hebrews 10:26-39; Hebrews 12:25.

2. They must not serve other gods (Hebrews 12:24). Conversely, they were utterly to overthrow the idol gods, and to break down their images. "Where Jesus comes, he comes to reign." No rival will be tolerated alongside of him. We cannot serve

(1) God and Mammon (Matthew 6:24).

(2) God and fashion (1 John 2:15-18).

(3) God and our own lusts (2 Peter 1:4; 2 Peter 2:20, 2 Peter 2:21).

(4) God and human glory (John 5:44).

The worship of Jehovah and that of any of the world's idols will not amalgamate. See reflected in these commands the principles which are to regulate the relation of God's servants at this hour to the world and to its evil—

(1) No toleration of it (Matthew 5:29, Matthew 5:30).

(2) No communion with it (2 Corinthians 6:14-18; Ephesians 5:3, Ephesians 5:11).

(3) Unceasing war against it (2 Corinthians 10:4; Colossians 3:5).

3. They must make no league with the Canaanites (verse 32). The lesson taught is, that believers are to seek their friendships, their alliances, their consorts, etc; elsewhere than among the ungodly. We are not only to keep out of harm's way, and avoid occasions of sin, but we are to labour to remove from our midst entirely what experience proves to be an incurable snare.—J.O.

Exodus 23:21

The angel provoked.

The language in this passage is very strong, and may occasion difficulty. "Provoke him not, for he will not pardon your transgressions; for my name is in him." If this angel is the Son of God, he who afterwards became incarnate for man's salvation, and who died to procure forgiveness for us, it startles us to hear of him—"he will not pardon your transgressions." When we think, too, on what God's name imports—on the revelation subsequently made of it,—"The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin," etc; it astonishes us to learn that this angel, in whom the name is, will not pardon Israel's sin. The history, also, may be thought to create difficulties. For, undeniably, the Israelites were often pardoned. They were, in truth, continually being pardoned; for, "stiff-necked" as they were, they could not have stood for a day in their covenant, had not God's mercy been constantly extended to them. It is plain, therefore, from the nature of the case, that the expression is not to be taken absolutely; the sense in which it is to be understood well deserves investigation.

I. IN WHAT SENSE TRUE OF ISRAEL. The general meaning is, as stated above, that the angel would not look lightly on their offences, would not pass them over, but would severely punish them. This accorded with the constitution under which they were placed, to which it belonged, that "every transgression and disobedience" should "receive a just recompense of reward" (Hebrews 2:2). The context suggests, or admits of, the following qualifications—

1. The statement refers, it will be observed, to what the angel will do when "provoked"—to what will happen when his wrath is "kindled" against Israel (cf. Psalms 78:21, Psalms 78:49, Psalms 78:50, Psalms 78:59, etc.). But how long did this Divine conductor bear with Israel before permitting his wrath to be thus kindled against them! He was "slow to anger." What pardon was implied in his very long-suffering!

2. The transgressions alluded to are not ordinary offences—not the sins of infirmity and short-coming which mark the lives even of the best—but such outstanding acts of transgression as are mentioned in the context—fundamental breaches of the covenant. These were the sins which would specially provoke the angel (cf. Deuteronomy 32:5, Deuteronomy 32:15-28). They would be "surely" punished.

3. The general assertion that transgressions will not be pardoned does not imply that there is no room left for intercession and repentance; that, e.g; an alteration in the spiritual conditions might not procure, if not remission, at least a sensible alleviation of the penalty; that prayer, proceeding from a contrite heart, might not obtain the removal of affliction, or the restoration of the penitent to Divine favour. Great severity, nevertheless, attaches to this announcement. The history is the best commentary upon it. It is literally true that, after the ratification of the covenant at Sinai, no serious transgression of Israel was allowed to go unpunished. In no case did even repentance avail wholly to avert chastisement. At most, the penalty was lightened, or shortened in duration. Thus, on the occasion of the sin of the golden calf, the earnest intercession of Moses availed to save the people from destruction, and obtained from God the promise that he would still go with them; but it did not save the idolaters from being smitten with the sword of Levi (Exodus 32:28), or prevent the Lord from still "plaguing" the people "because they made the calf, which Aaron made" (Exodus 32:35). Cf. later instances, e.g; Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-8); the murmuring at Taberah (Numbers 11:1-3); the lusting at Kibroth-hattaavah (Numbers 11:4-35); the rebellion at Kadesh, punished by the rejection of that whole generation (Numbers 13:1-33; Numbers 14:1-45.); the revolt of Korah (Numbers 16:1-50; Numbers 17:1-13.); the sin at Meribah, when even Moses forfeited his right to enter the land of promise (Numbers 20:1-13); the later murmuring, when the people were punished by fiery serpents (Numbers 21:7-9); the idolatry and fornication of Baal-peor (Numbers 25:1-18.). This severity is the more remarkable when we remember how leniently God dealt with the people before the ratification of the covenant with Sinai. "All murmurings before they came to Sinai were passed over, or merely rebuked; all murmurings and rebellions after Sinai bring down punishment and death" (Kitto). We trace the same principle of dealing through the whole history of the Old Testament. David, e.g; is personally forgiven for his sin of adultery; but the temporal penalty is not remitted (2 Samuel 12:1-31.). He is punished on a later occasion for numbering the people, and has the choice given him of three evils; and this, notwithstanding his sincere repentance (2 Samuel 24:1-25.). So Manasseh is said to have "filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, which the Lord would not pardon" (2 Kings 24:5). The congruity of this strict dealing with a dispensation of law is sufficiently obvious; and, in the light of the examples quoted, the language of the text will not be felt to be too strong.

II. HOW FAR TRUE UNDER THE GOSPEL. The Gospel, as befits its nature, places in the forefront, not the declaration that God will not pardon sin, but the announcement of the terms on which he will pardon. It is a declaration of mercy to those who are viewed as already under wrath—the law having accomplished its design of convincing men of sin. The terms, however, on which the Gospel proposes to grant forgiveness are of such a nature as fully to establish the truth underlying this text; viz; that God, as a God of holiness, will not clear the guilty (cf. Exodus 34:7).

1. This truth is the presupposition of the Gospel Else whence its demand for atonement? Why is sin not simply condoned—not simply waived aside as something admitting of unconditional pardon? In view of the fact that the Gospel absolutely refuses pardon save on the ground of "the shedding of blood," it certainly cannot be accused of making light of guilt, or of ignoring its relations to justice. God remains the just God, even while he is the Saviour (Romans 3:26). Stated otherwise, it is on the ground of the principle in the text, that a Gospel is needed. "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (Romans 1:18). No clearing of the guilty here. The principle in question is the general principle of God's moral administration (Romans 2:6-12).

2. This truth still applies in its rigour to those who "disobey" the Gospel. For these there is no pardon. There remains for them only judgment and fiery indignation (Hebrews 10:27). So solemn is the truth that "there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

3. Even believers, notwithstanding that they receive spiritual pardon, must not expect to escape temporal chastisements, appropriate to their offences. So far as sin's penalties are bound up with natural law it is certain that they will not escape them. They may be spiritually pardoned, yet, as respects the temporal penalty, may, like Esau, find no place for repentance, though they seek it carefully with tears (Hebrews 12:17). God alone is judge of how far, and with what measure of benefit to the individual, and of glory to himself, he can remit temporal chastisements (Exodus 33:19). Respect will doubtless be had to the circumstances under which the sin was committed, to the depth and sincerity of the repentance, to the publicity of the scandal (cf. 2 Samuel 12:14), to the moral benefit likely to accrue, etc.

4. Hypocritical professors of Christ's name will be dealt with according to this rule. They will be punished with special severity (Matthew 24:51).

III. HOW RECONCILABLE WITH GOD'S REVEALED ATTRIBUTE OF MERCY. Our thoughts revert to the revelation of God's name in ch. 34:6, 7. The attributes of mercy occupy the foreground, yet not to the denial of the sternness of holiness, which, in the latter clauses, finds distinct expression. "Forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers," etc. God's mercy to Israel was exhibited compatibly with what has been seen to be the meaning of the text—

(1) In his great long-suffering in bearing with their provocations.

(2) In his turning aside the fierceness of his anger, in answer to earnest intercession, or when signs were shown of repentance.

(3) In limiting the measure of his wrath—either by exchanging a severer penalty for a lighter one, or by shortening the time of infliction. Cf. Psalms 78:38—"But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not, yea, many a time turned he his anger away and did not stir up all his wrath. For he remembered that they were but flesh," etc.

(4) In granting spiritual pardons, even when temporal penalties were not revoked.

(5) In restoring the penitent to favour, after punishment had taken effect in inducing contrition.

(6) In keeping covenant with the children, even when rejecting the fathers.

(7) The full reconciliation is seen in the Gospel, in the fact of the atonement.—J.O.


Exodus 23:20-23

The angel of the covenant.

Certain of the matters on which Jehovah had been speaking immediately before the promise of the angel, assumed that the people would assuredly come to dwell in a land very different from that in which they were now sojourning. God had done so much to call forth faith that, in spite of all ugly symptoms of unbelief and murmuring, he could only go on speaking as if the faith would become a regular habit steadily finding deeper root in the Israelite heart. Thus we find him giving rules for the cultivation of cornlands, vineyards and oliveyards into which they had not yet come; rules for the harvest feast and a feast of ingathering of all the fruits, when as yet there was no indication of such an ingathering being possible. It was fitting, therefore, that Jehovah should follow up his statement of regulations by speaking confidently of the people's entrance into the land where the regulations were to be observed. That land was not yet in sight. So far, indeed, they had been travelling away from it rather than towards it, and the district in which they now were was suggestive of anything but cornlands, oliveyards and vineyards.

I. THERE IS THE DISTINCT ASSURANCE OF SUffiCIENT GUIDANCE. The reference here is presumably to that glory-cloud in which God was to manifest his presence right onward till Canaan was reached. That cloud was to be unintermitting and unmistakable in its guiding efficiency. Whatever perplexities might come to a devout and attentive Israelite because of other things, no perplexities were possible as to the way in which he should go. He might wonder why God led him in such a way; but that it was really God's way he need not have any doubt whatever. Thus we see how lovingly God ever deals with the ignorance of his people. What is necessary for them to know is made as plain as the necessity demands. They did not need any discussions and counsels among themselves, any balancing of the pros and cons which might determine them to one path rather than another. God perfectly knew the way and the needs and dangers of the way. He himself is never in doubt as to what his people should do. He is no blind leader of the blind. He was taking Israel into the land which he bad prepared, and the way was prepared as much as the destination. Whatever uncertainty and vacillation there may be about the Christian life comes not from him who leads, but from those who follow. Indeed, our very vacillation becomes more conspicuous as we contrast it with the steady undeviating path marked out by our leader. Compare the announcement that is made concerning the angel here with the demand of Jesus upon his disciples—"Follow me."

II. THERE IS THE INDICATED PERIL OF NEGLECTING THAT GUIDANCE, Not to follow the true guide, of course, means all the loss, pain and destruction that come from getting into false ways. But such consequences are not dwelt upon here. The thoughts of the people are rather directed to the sin they would commit by neglecting the intimations of the angel. "My name is in him." It was not a mere creature of Jehovah, which he used for an index. There was in the guiding-cloud a peculiar manifestation of Jehovah himself, whom the people would neglect if in a fit of self-will they were to turn away and follow the superficial intimations of their earthly surroundings. The great peril was that of coming under the wrath of God because of disobedience. It was only too easy to become used even to the presence of a miraculous cloud. The after conduct of the people shows that the tone of warning here adopted was a wise tone. They were likely to forget how much the presence of the angel demanded from them. That angel was there not only in mercy but in authority. To neglect him was to offend him. And because the cloud, in the ordinary circumstances of it, had nothing to terrify, because the penal consequences of neglecting it did not lie on the surface, it was needful to remind the people how much of holy wrath with unbelief and self-reliance lay within this messenger from God. The negligent Israelite needed to be solemnly assured that there was something even worse than mere failure to attain the earthly Canaan. The foreshadowing is here given of that dreadful doom which fell upon Israel shortly after and kept them in the wilderness for forty years. God can turn all the wanderings of the disobedient into a species of imprisomnent and punishment from himself.

III. THERE IS A MOST INSTRUCTIVE INTIMATION AS TO THE RESULTS OF ACCEPTING THAT GUIDANCE. The very results show how indispensable the guidance is. Enemies and adversaries are in front, and God makes no concealment of the fact. If Israel has had already to deal with Amalekites in the comparative barrenness of the Sinaitic peninsula, what may not be expected when the confines of the fertile promised land are reached? That which is to be a good land to Israel, has long been a good land to the nations at present dwelling in it. But though these enemies lie in front,—enemies fighting with all the valour of desperation for their homes and their property,—yet all will prove victorious for Israel, if only Israel acts obediently towards God's angel. The enemies of God's people are not great or little in themselves. That which is great at one time may become little at another, and that which is little, great; and all because of the fluctuations in the spirit of faith. In Exodus 17:1-16. we read of Amalekites discomfited and Jehovah threatening utterly to put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. But turn to Numbers 14:1-45. and a very different story has to be told of how the Amalekites smote and discomfited the children of Israel. If we would be strong for every conflict and assured of every victory, it must be by a calm looking towards the will of God. The will of God tells the way of God; and when we meet our enemies in that way all their preparations avail them nothing.—Y.

Exodus 23:24-33

The prospect in the promised land.


1. The avoidance of their idolatries. God cautions us against those dangers which we are most likely to overlook. When once the Israelites entered the promised land and were fairly settled there, they would show no lack of energy and discrimination in doing their best to guard their temporal possessions. But the most serious dangers are those against which walled cities and great armies are no defence. God could easily cut off the idolaters and put Israel in their place; but what about the idolatries? Whether these should also be expelled would depend upon the guard which God's people kept over their own hearts. It is very noticeable that as God takes the thoughts of his people forward to their future habitation, he begins with a solemn caution against idolatry and closes with the same. There is thus a kind of correspondence with the order occupied in the Ten Commandments by those against polytheism and image-worship. It was not possible to make mention too often of the subtle perils which lay in the Canaanitish gods.

2. Jehovah's complete defeat and expulsion of the former inhabitants. This is indicated in a variety of impressive ways. Only let his people be faithful to him, and Jehovah will go before them as a dread to all who come in contact with them. Evidently God would have his people understand that nothing was to be feared from the very greatest external resources available against them. Let enemies threaten and unite and seek allies far and wide. The greater their efforts, the more signal will be their defeat. We must ever believe that our true strength is in God. It was never intended that Israel should be looked on as a mighty military power. Rather it should be a cause of astonishment among the nations that it was able to stand against all the resources gathered against it. Whenever the Israelites began to trust in themselves and think they were able to awe their enemies, then they were lost. God only can terrify with the terror that lasts. We may confidently leave him to scatter confusion among those whom we, with all our demonstrations, are unable to impress.

3. The injunction to enter into no covenant with the former inhabitants. He who had been expelled by nothing less than an awful Divine force was not to be allowed to return under pretence of a peaceful submission. Peace, concord, mutual help—we may say God would ever have these between man and man, nation and nation—but at the same time we constantly get the warning against crying, peace! peace! when there is no peace. If a foreigner came forsaking his idolatries, there was an appointed way for him into Israel, and a welcome to be cordially given. But by no stretching of charity could it be made attainable for the idolater to settle down side by side with the worshipper and servant of Jehovah.

II. THE LARGE POSITIVE BLESSINGS TO COME UPON ISRAEL. Tile expulsion and permanent exclusion of the former inhabitants, much as they are insisted on, were but the negative condition, the clearing of the ground, so as to bless Israel with something positive. Very fittingly does God blend together the mention of these positive blessings with cautions and warnings as to the treatment of the former occupants. As the blessings were considered, the wisdom of the cautions would appear; and as the cautions were considered, so earnest and express, the greatness of the blessings would appear. God presents himself here as one very solicitous to make the land not only a good land for his people, but one cherished so as to make the best of its advantages. For this purpose he begins with a kind of graduated expulsion of the former inhabitants. Instead of expelling them by a sudden overwhelming blow, he rather does it little by little. The enemies of Israel were not to be multiplied needlessly by exposing their land to wild beasts; and the human enemies, contrary to their own designs and desires, were to leave for Israel the fruit of their own industries. If the Israelites had been asked which would be better,—to cast out their enemies at once or by a gradual process, they would probably have replied, "at once." God will ever adopt the right plan to secure the most of blessing for his people. Thus we may learn a lesson with regard to the expulsion of evil still. God is still driving out evil little by little, and in so doing he is building up good little by little. Thus the Israelites were to get a gradual and secure settlement in the land; and then that settlement was to prove eminently profitable. Four great elements of prosperity are mentioned.

1. The blessing of the bread and the water. All that was connected with the obtaining of food and drink would be under God's watchful providence. What are the bread and the water unless he blesses them? God can turn the most fertile of lands into a very proverb of barrenness. Why, this very Canaan had been afflicted with famine. It was because for some reason the blessing of God had been withheld from the bread and the water that the fathers of Israel had found their way into Egypt.

2. The maintenance of health. This is put in the most expressive way by indicating it in the aspect of banished sickness. Disease is such a common sight to us, and presents itself in such varied forms, that in no way can God's blessing of health be more emphatically revealed than by describing him as the one who healeth all our diseases. To a large extent this health was to be the consequence of blessing the bread and the water, giving by them, thus blessed, abundant and nutritious food.

3. The productiveness of animal life. In a perfectly obedient Israel there were to be no abortions, no barren wombs. It was just because there was disobedience in Israel that such cries as those of Hannah were heard (1 Samuel 1:11). Evidently all this normal generative efficacy largely depended on the blessing of the bread and water and the blessing of health. That any animal whatever, either human, or lower than human, should cast its young or be barren, was in itself a sort of disease.

4. The fulfilling of the days. The hoary head, with its crown of glory is the appointed possession of God's people. That so few obtained it only showed how much there was of imperfection in Israelite national life. These purposed blessings did not find their way into reality. The people were disobedient, unbelieving, self-regarding; and hence the seeds of blessing which assuredly God sowed among them either remained dead or struggled forth into a very imperfect life.—Y.


Exodus 23:20

Mine angel shall go before thee.

A prepared people have to be led into a prepared place (Exodus 23:20). To lead them a guide is necessary, and God provides a guide.


1. His nature and character.

(1) An angel, i.e; a Divine messenger; not merely a messenger of God's appointment, but a messenger from God's presence. Men may be empowered to act as angels; but naturally during his time of probation man is made "lower than the angels." The angel guide is superhuman; he helps to direct affairs in this world, but his home is in another. The history certainly implies so much as this; and no theory save that which assumes the fact of such superhuman guidance can adequately account for the marvellous coincidences through which progress was ensured. The enthusiasm of Moses might fire a people, but it is not enough to fire them; they must be fired at the right moment, and with a definite aim. Some superhuman agent, who could view time from the standpoint of eternity and direct men's actions in accordance with the real necessities of the position, there must have been. [Cf. a game of chess played, as sometimes in India, with living pieces. Success does not depend so much on the strength of the armies on the board as on the skill of the players off the board, who view the whole position from above.] History cannot be explained if we ignore the unseen hand which directs and controls the movements of the actors.

(2) "My name is in him." The Divine guide must share the Divine character. God's deputy must be God-like. As viewing things from the standpoint of eternity, he is able to guide through the maze of time; but to view things from the standpoint of eternity he must be a sharer in the life of eternity, the eternal name must be so written on his heart that his guidance may be free from all suspicion of caprice.

2. His office.

(1) To keep in the way. The guide must be a guardian as well. Guides who forget the dangers of the way, intent only on reaching their destination, may push on to the goal themselves, yet lose their charge before they reach it. God-commissioned guides are empowered also to keep and guard those who are given into their care (John 17:12).

(2) To bring to the prepared place. If the guide must be a guardian, the guardian must also be a guide. He must protect during the advance, but he must not protect at the expense of progress; his charge has to be brought through the wilderness, not to be maintained there behind barricades and bulwarks. The people of Jehovah are led by the minister of Jehovah, who secures their entrance into the place prepared, if only they will accept his guidance. A place is prepared for us, as for Israel (John 14:2). A guide also is given us (John 14:16-18). We must not forget his twofold office, to keep in the way and to insist upon our moving forward.

II. THOSE GUIDED AND THEIR DUTIES. The angel guide has to direct men; that he may direct them, they must acknowledge his authority. Two things necessary:—

1. Reverence. The disposition of the heart which cannot but show itself in the conduct. Assured that the angel bore the Divine name, men must beware of him, assured that he had the right to speak with authority. A command from such a guide needed no reasons to enforce it.

2. Obedience.

(1) Positive. His commands must be obeyed. There must be no delay, no shrinking back.

(2) Negative. There must be no attempt to evade their real fulfilment by a merely apparent and formal compliance. True obedience is obedience of the spirit as well as of the letter; mere literal obedience may consist with actual provocation. Remembering who our guide is, we must remember also that the like duties are required of us in relation to him. To resist the Spirit is to grieve him, and grieving may eventually quench his power with us; one more step seals our destruction—"He that blasphemeth the Spirit of God" sins the unpardonable sin.

III. BLESSINGS CONSEQUENT ON FULFILMENT OF DUTIES. We may call them temporal and eternal; blessings of the pilgrimage and blessings of the home. By the way, guarded by our guide, no enemy has power to hurt us; at the last we reach our home, to find there eternal health and happiness.

Concluding question.—What is our relation towards the guide whom God has given us? (Hebrews 2:2-3.)—G.


Exodus 23:20-33

The Mediatorial Guide.

"Behold I send an angel before thee," etc. (Exodus 23:20). [We omit from homiletic treatment Exodus 20:22-19, containing a large amount of minute legislation; but if any one for special reason wishes to deal with any of these laws, he will find a careful and exhaustive analysis in Lunge on "Exodus." Most of them have strict and sole reference to the Hebrew Commonwealth, and are obsolete for the Christian.] This passage contains a series of promises, which all centre in an august personage, called here an "angel." That this is so will determine the character of our exposition, and the Christian uses of it.

I. THE ANGEL. None other than the "Angel of Jehovah," the Angel-God of the Old Testament, i.e; the Lord Jesus Christ. Reference is here made to those many epiphanies, which preceded the Great Epiphany of the incarnation. That these were appearances of the Lord Jesus may be argued:—

1. It seems reasonable that there should be anticipations of the incarnation. True, we could not prophesy them beforehand; but when they do take place, they commend themselves to our reason. It seems in a sense natural, that He, who was coming to dwell here, should once and again "come town to deliver."

2. The history of the appearance of the angel shows:—

(1) That he was Divine.

(i.) Perfection implied in the authority he wields, and the promises he gives.

(ii.) Swears by himself.

(iii.) The object of worship.

(iv.) Subject of Divine names and attributes.

(2) And yet there is that which differentiates Him from the Eternal Father. All this accords with the doctrine of the Trinity; and that the angel was Christ the Lord.

II. HIS OFFICE. We assume now that the angel was the Lord Jesus; that what he was to the ancient Church he is now. He is ever present—sometimes unseen—often recognised. His office as here set forth is that of:—

1. A Leader. He led Israel, mainly by the pillar of cloud; but not in such a way as to dispense with Israel's action. The Lord acts, but never so as to swamp our individuality. It was for Israel:

(1) To watch the cloud:

(2) To exercise their own judgment on minor matters. See Numbers 10:31. Our danger is to rely exclusively on our own judgment, and not to look for the waving of That Hand.

2. A Sentinel. "To keep in the way" in the double sense;—

(1) To hold us in the path, and

(2) to defend us on that path. The practical truth here is, that Christ's keeping is not absolute or independent of our will and action. He watches, that we may watch. This vital practical truth seems to us to be well illustrated by Swedenborg's doctrine of the "Proprium;" which is well exhibited in "Outlines of the Religion and Philosophy of Swedenborg" by Dr. Parsons. Numbers 8:3. Moral magistracy. "He will not pardon your transgressions, for my name is in Him"—what can this mean? There is reference here to the moral magistracy exercised over us, on our pilgrim way, noting transgression, visiting for it, chastising, Chastening, with a view to ultimate removal. Appeal to life for evidence of the reality of that corrective jurisdiction.


1. Loyalty to God, Numbers 8:25.

2. Recognition of his representative; i.e; the angel; i.e; the Lord Jesus.

3. Obedience; i.e; to the leader, etc. (Numbers 8:21, Numbers 8:22.) N.B. "If thou shalt indeed obey His voice, and do all that I speak." Mark how God identifies himself with the angel.

4. Avoidance of fellowship and complicity with evil (verses 32, 33). Any intercourse for the Jew with the heathen was full of peril. It seems now to be assumed that no companionship for the Christian has any danger. This assumption false, as the tendency to worldliness and open sin shows.

5. Active antagonism to all Anti-theisms (v. 24). It will not do to be content with standing on the defensive. Has not the time now come to carry the war into the enemy's camp?

IV. THE PROMISES. These cover really all the blessings consequent on a life of practical godliness. Thinking rather of our own position than of the literal meaning of the promises in relation to the life of Israel, they may be classified as follow:—

1. God on our side (verses 22, 23).

2. Our daily provision blessed (verse 25). There shall be enough; but whatever there is shall have gladness with it.

3. Health (verse 25).

4. Wealth (verse 26).

5. Long life (verse 26).

6. Influence, before which even adversaries shall bend (verse 27).

7. Enlargement of power and of room for its exercise (v. 31).

8. In the bestowal of these blessings, our Father in heaven will show to us great considerateness (verses 29, 30).

9. Safe conduct to the promised rest (verse 20). Those who know the argument of Binney:—"Is it possible to make the best of Both Worlds?" will well understand how, under what conditions, and with what limitations, blessings of this sort—mainly secular in character—fall to the lot of the Lord's redeemed.—R

Verses 32-33


FINAL WARNING AGAINST IDOLATRY. The "Book of the Covenant" ends as it began, with a solemn warning against idolatry. (See Exodus 20:23.) "Thou shalt make no covenant with them nor with their gods." Thou shalt not even suffer them to dwell side by side with thee in the land, on peaceable terms, with their own laws and religion, lest thou be ensnared thereby, and led to worship their idols and join in their unhallowed rites (Exodus 23:33). The after history of the people of Israel shows the need of the warning. From the exodus to the captivity, every idolatry with which they came into close contact proved a sore temptation to them. As the author of Kings observes of the Ten Tribes''—The children of Israel did secretly those things which were not right against the Lord their God, and they built them high places in all their cities … And they set them up images and groves in every high hill, and under every green tree; and there they burnt incense in all the high places, as did the heathen whom the Lord carried away before them; and wrought wicked things to provoke the Lord to anger; for they served idols, whereof the Lord had said unto them, "Ye shall not do this thing" (2 Kings 17:9-12).

Exodus 23:32

Thou shalt make no covenant with them. See below, Exodus 34:12-15. According to the forms usual at the time, a treaty of peace would have contained an acknowledgment of the gods of either nation, and words in honour of them. This would have been equivalent to "making a covenant with their gods."

Exodus 23:33

They shall not dwell in the land. This law did not, of course, affect proselytes; nor was it considered to preclude the continuance in the land of the enslaved Gibeonites. It forbade any Canaanite communities being suffered to remain within the limits of Palestine on friendly terms with the Hebrews. The precaution was undoubtedly a wise one.


Exodus 23:32, Exodus 23:33

The Peril of Idolatry.

Idolatry is the interposition of any object between man and God, in such sort that the object takes the place of God in the heart and the affections, occupying them to his exclusion, or to his disparagement. Idolatry proper, the interposition between God and the soul of idols or images, seems to have possessed a peculiar fascination for the Israelites, either because their materialistic tendencies made them shrink from approaching in thought a mere pure Spirit, or perhaps from their addiction to the sensual pleasures which accompanied idolatry, as practised by the greater part of the heathen. (See the comment on Exodus 23:24.) In modern times, and in countries where Protestantism is professed by the generality, there is little or no danger of this gross form of the sin. But there is great danger of other forms of it. In order to make any practical use of those large portions of the Old Testament which warn against idolatry, we have to remember—

I. THAT COVETOUSNESS IS IDOLATRY. Wealth is made an idol by thousands in these latter days. All hasten to be rich. Nothing is greatly accounted of which does not lead to opulence. God is shut out from the heart by desires, and plans, and calculations which have money for their object and which so occupy it that there is no room for anything else. The danger has existed at all times, but it has to be specially guarded against at the present day, when Mammon has become the most potent of all the spirits of evil, and men bow down before, not an image of gold, but gold itself, whatever shape it may take.

II. THAT SELFISHNESS IS IDOLATRY. Men make idols of themselves—of their own happiness, quiet, comfort—allowing nothing to interfere with these, and infinitely preferring them to any intrusive thoughts of God, his glory, or his claims upon them. Persons thus wrapped up in themselves are idolaters of a very gross type, since the object of their worship is wholly bad and contemptible.

III. THAT PROFLIGACY IS IDOLATRY. Men idolise a wretched creature,—a girl, or woman, possessed of some transient beauty and personal attractions, but entirely devoid of a single estimable quality. For such a creature they peril all their prospects, both in this life and the next. They make her the queen of their souls, the object of their adoration, the star by which they direct their course. The ordinary consequence is shipwreck, both here and hereafter. When so poor an idol as a weak wanton has stepped in between the soul and God, there is little chance of a real repentance and return of the soul to its Maker.

IV. THAT AMUSEMENT MAY BE IDOLATRY. It is quite possible so to devote oneself to amusement as to make it shut out God from us. Those who live in a whirl of gaiety, with no time set apart for serious duties, for instructing the ignorant, consoling the afflicted, visiting the poor and needy—nay, with scant time for private or family prayer—are idolaters, and will have to give account to a "jealous God," who wills that his creatures should worship him and not make it their highest end to amuse themselves.

V. THAT LOVE OF FASHION MAY BE IDOLATRY. Vast numbers of persons who find no amusement in the pursuit, think it necessary to do whatever it is the fashion to do. Their life is a perpetual round of employments in which they have no pleasure, and which they have not chosen for themselves, but which the voice of fashion forces upon them. They drag themselves through exhibitions which do not interest them; lounge at clubs of which they are utterly weary; dine out when they would much rather be at home; and pass the evening and half the night in showing themselves at balls and assemblies which fatigue and disgust them. And all because Fashion says it is the correct thing. The idol, Fashion, has as many votaries in modern Europe as ever the Dea Syra had in Western Asia, or Isis in Egypt; and her votaries pass through life as real idolaters as the worshippers of the ancient goddesses, albeit unconscious ones.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Exodus 23". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/exodus-23.html. 1897.
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