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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 23

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verse 1

1. Raise a false report This law guards against slander, and all circulating of slanderous utterances . It is supplemented by the admonition of Exodus 23:7, and is comprehended in the ninth commandment, (Exodus 20:16,) where see note.

Verses 1-33

THE BOOK OF THE COVENANT, Exodus 20:22 to Exodus 23:33.

Here follows a collection of sundry laws which were compiled by Moses, and doubtless represent the oldest written legislation of the Pentateuch. This compilation probably constituted “the book of the covenant” which is mentioned in Exodus 24:7. Kalisch classifies the laws under three heads: (1 . ) Those touching the rights of persons, Exodus 21:1-32; (2 . ) Those touching the rights of property, Exodus 21:33 to Exodus 23:14; and (3 . ) General moral laws . Exodus 22:15 to Exodus 23:19. These are followed by sundry exhortations. Exodus 23:20-33. The various precepts, however, are scarcely susceptible of such a classification, or of any systematic arrangement . They take a wide range, and deal with some twenty-eight distinct subjects . Beginning with a prohibition of idolatrous images, (23,) we have laws touching the construction of altars, (24-26,) the relations of servants and masters, (Exodus 21:1-11,) personal assaults and injuries, (12-27,) goring oxen, (28-32,) losses of cattle, (33-36,) cattle-stealing, (Exodus 22:1-4,) cattle feeding in others’ fields, (5,) kindling destructive fires, (6,) stolen or damaged trusts, (7-15,) seduction, (16-17,) witchcraft, (18,) lying with beasts, (19,) idolatrous sacrifices, (20,) treatment of foreigners, (21,) treatment of widows and the fatherless, (22-24,) loaning money, (25,) pledges, (26-27,) reviling God and rulers, (28,) devotion of firstlings, (29, 30,) abstinence from torn flesh, (31,) perversions of honour and justice, (Exodus 23:1-3,) favour toward enemies, (4-5,) judgment of the poor, (6,) maintaining justice, (7, 8,) oppression of strangers, (9,) sabbath laws, (10-12,) other gods, (13,) three annual feasts, (14-17,) sacrifice and offerings, (18, 19 . ) This body of legislation is followed in Exodus 23:20-33, by a number of prophetic promises, designed to encourage and strengthen the hearts of the people . Many of the laws and precepts here collected together were doubtless older than the time of Moses, but as Israel was now becoming a body politic, and about to occupy a prominent place among the nations, such a body of laws as was contained in this book of the covenant required formal codification .

Verse 2

2. Speak in a cause Literally, answer in a controversy (suit at law) to turn away after many, to pervert . This law, like that of the preceding and the following verse is mainly directed against giving false testimony in judicial proceedings, and so perverting justice and truth .

Verses 4-5

4, 5. Enemy’s ox… bring it back This statute embodies the essence of our Lord’s command to “do good to them that hate you,” (Matthew 5:44,) and furnishes a most admirable illustration of it.

Verse 7

7. Righteous slay thou not By false testimony against them . If an innocent and righteous man is convicted and suffers the death penalty on account of the testimony of a lying witness, that witness is guilty of his death .

Verse 8

8. Take no gift That is, as a bribe . The marginal references show how repeatedly this sin is condemned in the Scriptures .

Verse 9

9. Not oppress a stranger This command is repeated from Exodus 22:21, with some addition, and shows that the foreigner was entitled to protection from judicial wrongs as well as other forms of oppression. Israel should not forget how the heart of a stranger feels.

Verse 11

11. The seventh year… rest This provision for a sabbatic year is one of the most remarkable enactments of the Mosaic legislation, but we have no evidence that it was ever observed by the nation . It is repeated in fuller form in Leviticus 25:1-7, and is there associated with the law for the fiftieth year jubilee . The far-reaching and ennobling influences upon a people of the faithful observance of this law must needs be very great . It would (1 . ) teach that the land was God’s rather than the people’s . (2 . ) It would afford a rest to the soil, which would be materially helped by remaining fallow one year in seven . (3 . ) Inasmuch as it has been repeatedly proven that a man will do more and better work by resting one day in seven, it is at least presumable that, by proper care in cultivation, and one year’s rest in seven, the soil will yield as much or more than when no sabbatic year is observed. (4.) It would help to bring all classes of the people into closer sympathy, and remove some of the incitements to anarchical socialism. (5.) It would tend to cultivate the best sentiments of humanity and regard, alike for man and beast. (6.) It would afford extraordinary advantages for mental and moral culture. (7.) It would beget a most beautiful confidence in the providence of God. No people’s faith in God, not even ancient Israel’s, seems ever to have been sufficient to attempt the observance of this law. Hence the judgment of seventy years’ exile and desolation, “until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths.” 2 Chronicles 36:21. Even the resolution to observe the seventh year, after the exile, (Nehemiah 10:31,) does not appear to have been kept . Here is a decisive argument against critics who dispute the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch on the ground that the laws therein recorded were not observed before the exile . We have no historical evidence that this law was ever observed .

Rest and lie still The parallel passage in Leviticus 25:4, shows that this was intended to stop all sowing and cultivation for the year; not, as some have supposed, that the tilling should go on as usual, but the crops be left to the poor. The thought, rather, is, that the poor of thy people may be allowed free appropriation of such products as grew without sowing and cultivation. No land-owner should that year claim the natural products of the soil for himself.

Verse 12

12. The seventh day See note on Exodus 20:8.

Verse 13

13. No mention of the name of other gods “In order to eradicate idolatry, with all its far-spreading roots, the idols shall not only be banished from the hearts, but also from the lips; they should not even be alluded to or mentioned, much less worshipped . And as it was forbidden to use the name of God falsely or disrespectfully, (Exodus 20:7; Exodus 22:28,) thus the heathen deities should entirely disappear from the language.” Kalisch.

Verses 14-16

14-16. Three times… a feast unto me in the year These three great annual festivals, ordained for Israel, are here called the feast of unleavened bread, the feast of harvest, and the feast of ingathering. They are more fully described in other passages, but when the entire arrangement for the three is considered as a whole, it exhibits a magnificent scheme of national festivity, naturally and beautifully connected, and wisely adapted to serve as a great national bond. “Whoever has a thorough knowledge of these festivals,” says the learned Ewald, “will be persuaded that they have not arisen by slow degrees from the blind impulse of external nature, nor from the history of the people, but are the product of a lofty genius.” These festivals were arranged on a system of sevens, as if growing out of sabbatic ideas. The feast of unleavened bread is more commonly known as the passover, instituted at the Exodus, and described in Exodus 12:1-28; Exodus 12:43-51; Exodus 13:3-10, where see notes . It was to be a feast of seven days’ duration, and to commence on the fifteenth day of the first month, (Abib,) that is, after twice seven days from the beginning of the year. This occurred at the time when the firstfruits of the barley harvest could be waved as an offering before Jehovah. Leviticus 23:10-12.

The feast of harvest was observed seven weeks after the offering of the wave-sheaf of the passover, that is, on the fiftieth day thereafter, (Leviticus 23:15-21,) whence it obtained also the names of “Pentecost,” (Acts 2:1,) and “the feast of weeks . ” Exodus 34:22; Deuteronomy 16:10. This was the time of the wheat harvest, so that passover and Pentecost enclosed the harvest season, which in Palestine extends from March-April into June-July. The feast of in-gathering is more commonly known as “the feast of tabernacles,” (Leviticus xxiii, 34-41; Deuteronomy 16:13-15,) and occurred in the end of the year, that is, of the agrarian year, “after thou hast gathered in thy corn and thy wine.” Deuteronomy 16:13. This end, or going forth, ( צאת ,) of the year, (in Exodus 34:22, called the תקופה , circle of the year,) occurred in the seventh month, (September-October,) which was observed as the sabbatic month . Its first day was signalled by the blowing of trumpets, (Leviticus 23:24; Numbers 29:1;) the tenth, was the great day of atonement, (Leviticus 16:29-34; Leviticus 23:27-32;) after which, on the fifteenth, (the day following the twice seventh from the feast of trumpets, which opened the sabbatic month,) the feast of tabernacles commenced and continued seven days, and the eighth was also consecrated as a sabbath. Leviticus 23:39. The sounding of the trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month of the fiftieth year (the one following seven times seven years) was the proclamation of the year of jubilee, and of “liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” Leviticus 25:10. Thus all the great Hebrew festivals were linked by a system of sevens, and form one complete plan .

Verse 17

17. Three times in the year That is, at the three festivals just mentioned in Exodus 23:14-16.

Verse 18

18. Not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leavened bread Literally, upon leavened bread . This refers especially to the sacrifice of the passover, as is seen by comparison of Exodus 12:15; Exodus 12:18-20. So also the fat of my sacrifice is best understood as the fat and choice portions of the paschal lamb, nothing of which was allowed to remain until the morning. Comp . Exodus 12:10, and Exodus 34:25.

Verse 19

19. House of the Lord thy God Observe that here, in this oldest Sinaitic legislation, one common sanctuary is contemplated for all the people .

Seethe a kid in his mother’s milk Compare chap . 34:26, and Deuteronomy 14:21. The boiling of a young kid in the milk of its own mother would seem an outrage upon the laws of nature, in violating the sacred relationship of parent and offspring. Some writers have, not without reason, supposed that a contemporary superstitious practice of this kind existed among the heathen, and led to the enactment of this law. Thomson says that the Arabs are nowgiven to the practice of stewing a young kid in milk, mixed with onions and hot spices, and they call it “kid in his mother’s milk.” He observes, as the opinion of the Jews, “that it is unnatural and barbarous to cook a poor kid in that from which it derives its life. Many of the Mosaic precepts are evidently designed to cultivate gentle and humane feelings; but the ‘kid in his mother’s milk’ is a gross, unwholesome dish, calculated also to kindle up animal and ferocious passions.” The Land and the Book, vol. i, p. 135.

Verses 20-22

20-22. I send an Angel before thee On the nature of this Angel see note at Genesis 16:7. An angel who had in him Jehovah’s name, and could pardon transgressions; who was not to be provoked, but observed with reverence and obeyed; who was to go before Israel, keep them in the way, and bring them into the blessed land of promise He must assuredly be a personal manifestation of Jehovah himself . The same divine Being was symbolized in the pillar of cloud and fire, (Exodus 13:21-22.)

Verse 23

23. The Amorites On the names and location of these tribes see notes and map at Joshua 3:10.

Verse 24

24. Utterly overthrow them Not only are the first and second commandments of the decalogue here virtually repeated, but the further command is given to destroy idolatry by iconoclastic violence .

Verse 25

25. Take sickness away This promise to give health and blessing is in accord with Exodus 15:26, where Jehovah calls himself Israel’s healer . Great temporal abundance and a long life passed in divine favour are held up as ideals of excellence .

Verse 27

27. My fear Such awe and terror as resulted from the report of God’s terrible doings among the nations . Comp . Deuteronomy 2:25; Joshua 2:9-11.

Verse 28

28. I will send hornets before thee There is no necessity to explain this literally, and there is no evidence that any such miracle as the driving out of the Canaanites by swarms of hornets occurred during the entire history of the conquest of Palestine . There are, indeed, divers accounts of certain ancient tribes being driven out of their lands by armies of wasps and other noxious creatures; and the armies of locusts which occasionally sweep through those countries are a most destructive plague . But a comparison of Deuteronomy 1:44, Joshua 24:12, Psalms 118:12, and Isaiah 7:18-19, will show that this expression was employed metaphorically to denote any marked interposition of God to discomfit the enemies of his people .

Verse 29

29. Lest the land become desolate And so the promised Canaan be turned into a howling wilderness instead of being a land flowing with milk and honey .

Beast of the field multiply As was actually the case long afterward by depopulating the cities of Samaria after the deportation of the northern tribes of Israel . 2 Kings 17:25-26.

Verse 30

30. Until thou be increased Here it is assumed that the Israelitish people at the time of the exodus were not sufficiently numerous to occupy the whole of Palestine . For the results which followed the failure to exterminate the heathen tribes, see Judges 2:20 to Judges 3:6, notes .

Verse 31

31. Thy bounds These boundaries indicate the entire extent of territory which any people supposed to be in complete possession of Canaan would naturally control. The Red sea they had left behind them; the sea of the Philistines, that is, the Mediterranean, which bordered on the Philistine territory, formed the western boundary, the Arabian desert lay on the south and south-east, and the river Euphrates formed the eastern limit. This extent of territory actually came under the dominion of Solomon. 1 Kings 4:20-25; comp . Joshua 1:4.

Thou shalt drive them out Israel’s conquest of Canaan was a mission of judgment as well as a fulfilment of promise and prophecy . They were sent into the land to destroy peoples ripe for judgment, rather than to convert those looking and waiting for redemption . See Genesis 15:16, note .

Verse 32

32. No covenant with them To enter into any treaty with a hopelessly depraved and heaven-doomed people, or with their gods, was to trample under foot their own covenant with Jehovah, and treat with contempt these Sinaitic laws .

Verse 33

33. They shall not dwell in thy land The reason given is apparent . Israel’s mission and the Mosaic dispensation were not a ministry of evangelization, but of conservation of fundamental principles of divine truth . The idolatries of the world and the hardness of human hearts made it necessary first to call a select people out from the nations, and train that peculiar people so that in fulness of time there might go out from them into all the world the saving light and truth of God’s holy revelation.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Exodus 23". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/exodus-23.html. 1874-1909.
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