Exodus 23


Laws against evil-speaking, 1.

Against bad company, 2.

Against partiality, 3.

Laws commanding acts of kindness and humanity, 4, 5.

Against oppression, 6.

Against unrighteous decisions, 7.

Against bribery and corruption, 8.

Against unkindness to strangers, 9.

The ordinance concerning the Sabbatical year, 10, 11.

The Sabbath a day of rest, 12.

General directions concerning circumcision, &c., 13.

The three annual festivals, 14.

The feast of unleavened bread, 15.

The feast of harvest, and the feast of ingathering, 16.

All the males to appear before God thrice in a year, 17.

Different ordinances-no blood to be offered with leavened

bread-no fat to be left till the next day-the first fruits

to be brought to the house of God-and a kid not to be seethed

in its mother's milk, 18, 19.

Description of the Angel of God, who was to lead the people into

the promised land, and drive out the Amorites, &c., 20-23.

Idolatry to be avoided, and the images of idols destroyed, 24.

Different promises to obedience, 25-27.

Hornets shall be sent to drive out the Canaanites, &c., 28.

The ancient inhabitants to be driven out by little and little,

and the reason why, 29, 30.

The boundaries of the promised land, 31.

No league or covenant to be made with the ancient inhabitants,

who are all to be utterly expelled, 32, 33.


Verse 1. Thou shalt not raise a false report] Acting contrary

to this precept is a sin against the ninth commandment. And the

inventor and receiver of false and slanderous reports, are

almost equally criminal. The word seems to refer to either, and

our translators have very properly retained both senses, putting

raise in the text, and receive in the margin. The original

lo tissa has been translated, thou shalt not publish. Were

there no publishers of slander and calumny, there would be no

receivers; and were there none to receive them, there would be

none to raise them; and were there no raisers, receivers, nor

propagators of calumny, lies, &c., society would be in peace.

Verse 2. Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil] Be

singular. Singularity, if in the right, can never be criminal.

So completely disgraceful is the way of sin, that if there were

not a multitude walking in that way, who help to keep each other

in countenance, every solitary sinner would be obliged to hide his

head. But rabbim, which we translate multitude, sometimes

signifies the great, chiefs, or mighty ones; and is so

understood by some eminent critics in this place: "Thou shalt not

follow the example of the great or rich, who may so far disgrace

their own character as to live without God in the world, and

trample under foot his laws." It is supposed that these

directions refer principally to matters which come under the eye

of the civil magistrate; as if he had said, "Do not join with

great men in condemning an innocent or righteous person, against

whom they have conceived a prejudice on the account of his

religion," &c.

Verse 3. Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his

cause.] The word dal, which we translate poor man, is

probably put here in opposition to rabbim, the great, or

noble men, in the preceding verse: if so, the meaning is, Thou

shalt neither be influenced by the great to make an unrighteous

decision, nor by the poverty or distress of the poor to give thy

voice against the dictates of justice and truth. Hence the

ancient maxim, FIAT JUSTITIA, RUAT COELUM. "Let justice be done,

though the heavens should be dissolved."

Verse 4. If thou meet thine enemy's ox-going astray] From the

humane and heavenly maxim in this and the following verse, our

blessed Lord has formed the following precept: "Love your enemies,

bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you,

and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you;"

Mt 5:44. A precept so plain, wise, benevolent, and useful, can

receive no other comment than that which its influence on the

heart of a kind and merciful man produces in his life.

Verse 6. Thou shalt not wrest the judgment of thy poor] Thou

shalt neither countenance him in his crimes, nor condemn him in

his righteousness. See Ex 23:5, 7.

Verse 8. Thou shalt take no gift] A strong ordinance against

selling justice, which has been the disgrace and ruin of every

state where it has been practised. In the excellent charter of

British liberties called Magna Charta, there is one article

expressly on this head: Nulli vendemus, nulli negabimus aut

differemus, rectum aut justitiam.-Art. xxxiii. "To none will we

sell, to none will we deny or defer, right or justice." This was

the more necessary in those early and corrupt times, as he who had

most money, and gave the largest presents (called then oblata) to

the king or queen, was sure to gain his cause in the king's court;

whether he had right and justice on his side or not.

Verse 9. Ye know the heart of a stranger] Having been strangers

yourselves, under severe, long continued, and cruel oppression, ye

know the fears, cares, anxieties, and dismal forebodings which the

heart of a stranger feels. What a forcible appeal to humanity and


Verse 11. The seventh year thou shalt let it rest] As, every

seventh day was a Sabbath day, so every seventh year was to be a

Sabbath year. The reasons for this ordinance Calmet gives thus:-

"1. To maintain as far as possible an equality of condition

among the people, in setting the slaves at liberty, and in

permitting all, as children of one family, to have the free and

indiscriminate use of whatever the earth produced.

"2. To inspire the people with sentiments of humanity, by making

it their duty to give rest, and proper and sufficient nourishment,

to the poor, the slave, and the stranger, and even to the


"3. To accustom the people to submit to and depend on the Divine

providence, and expect their support from that in the seventh

year, by an extraordinary provision on the sixth.

"4. To detach their affections from earthly and perishable

things, and to make them disinterested and heavenly-minded.

"5. To show them God's dominion over the country, and that HE,

not they, was lord of the soil and that they held it merely from

his bounty." See this ordinance at length, Lev. xxv.

That God intended to teach them the doctrine of providence by

this ordinance, there can be no doubt; and this is marked very

distinctly, Le 25:20,21: "And if ye shall say, What shall we eat

the seventh year? behold, we shall not sow, nor gather in our

increase: then I will command my blessing upon you in the sixth

year, and it shall bring forth fruit for three years." That is,

There shall be, not three crops in one year, but one crop equal

in its abundance to three, because it must supply the wants of

three years. 1. For the sixth year, supplying fruit for its own

consumption; 2. For the seventh year, in which they were neither

to sow nor reap; and 3. For the eighth year, for though they

ploughed, sowed, &c., that year, yet a whole course of its seasons

was requisite to bring all these fruits to perfection, so that

they could not have the fruits of the eighth year till the ninth,

(see Le 25:22,) till which time God promised that they should

eat of the old store. What an astonishing proof did this give

of the being, power, providence, mercy, and goodness of God!

Could there be an infidel in such a land, or a sinner against God

and his own soul, with such proofs before his eyes of God and his

attributes as one sabbatical year afforded?

It is very remarkable that the observance of this ordinance is

nowhere expressly mentioned in the sacred writings; though some

suppose, but without sufficient reason, that there is a reference

to it in Jer 34:8, 9. Perhaps the major part of the people could

not trust God, and therefore continued to sow and reap on the

seventh year, as on the preceding. This greatly displeased the

Lord, and therefore he sent them into captivity; so that the land

enjoyed those Sabbaths, through lack of inhabitants, of which

their ungodliness had deprived it. See

Le 18:24, 25, 28; 26:34, 35, 43; 2Ch 36:20, 21. Commentators have

been much puzzled to ascertain the time in which the sabbatical

year began; because, if it began in Abib or March, they must have

lost two harvests; for they could neither reap nor plant that

year, and of course they could have no crop the year following;

but if it began with what was called the civil year, or in Tisri

or Marcheshvan, which answers to the beginning of our autumn, they

would then have had that year's produce reaped and gathered in.

Verse 12. Six days thou shalt do thy work] Though they were thus

bound to keep the sabbatical year, yet they must not neglect the

seventh day's rest or weekly Sabbath; for that was of perpetual

obligation, and was paramount to all others. That the

sanctification of the Sabbath was of great consequence in the

sight of God, we may learn from the various repetitions of this

law; and we may observe that it has still for its object, not only

the benefit of the soul, but the health and comfort of the body

also. Doth God care for oxen? Yes; and he mentions them with

tenderness, that thine ox and thine ass may rest. How criminal to

employ the labouring cattle on the Sabbath, as well as upon the

other days of the week! More cattle are destroyed in England than

in any other part of the world, in proportion, by excessive and

continued labour. The noble horse in general has no Sabbath!

Does God look on this with an indifferent eye? Surely he does

not. "England," said a foreigner, "is the paradise of women, the

purgatory of servants, and the hell of horses.

The son of thy handmaid, and the stranger-be refreshed.]

yinnaphesh may be respirited or new-souled; have a complete

renewal both of bodily and spiritual strength. The expression

used by Moses here is very like that used by St. Paul, Ac 3:19:

"Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be

blotted out, when the times of refreshing (καιροιαναψυξεως, the

times of re-souling) shall come from the presence of the Lord;"

alluding, probably, to those times of refreshing and rest for body

and soul originally instituted under the law.

Verse 14. Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto me in the

year.] The three feasts here referred to were, 1. The feast of

the PASSOVER; 2. The feast of PENTECOST; 3. The feast of


1. The feast of the Passover was celebrated to keep in

remembrance the wonderful deliverance of the Hebrews from Egypt.

2. The feast of Pentecost, called also the feast of harvest and

the feast of weeks, Ex 34:22, was celebrated

fifty days after the Passover to commemorate the giving of the

law on Mount Sinai, which took place fifty days after, and hence

called by the Greeks Pentecost. 3. The feast of Tabernacles,

called also the feast of the ingathering, was celebrated about the

15th of the month Tisri to commemorate the Israelites' dwelling in

tents for forty years, during their stay in the wilderness.

See Clarke on Le 23:34.

"God, out of his great wisdom," says Calmet, "appointed several

festivals among the Jews for many reasons: 1. To perpetuate the

memory of those great events, and the wonders he had wrought for

the people; for example, the Sabbath brought to remembrance the

creation of the world; the Passover, the departure out of Egypt;

the Pentecost, the giving of the law; the feast of Tabernacles,

the sojourning of their fathers in the wilderness, &c. 2. To keep

them faithful to their religion by appropriate ceremonies, and the

splendour of Divine service. 3. To procure them lawful pleasures,

and necessary rest. 4. To give them instruction; for in their

religious assemblies the law of God was always read and explained.

5. To consolidate their social union, by renewing the

acquaintance of their tribes and families; for on these occasions

they come together from different parts of the land to the holy


Besides the feasts mentioned above, the Jews had,

1. The feast of the Sabbath, which was a weekly


2. The feast of the Sabbatical Year, which was a

septennial feast.

3. The feast of Trumpets, which was celebrated

on the first day of what was called their

civil year, which was ushered in by the

blowing of a trumpet; Le 23:24, &c.

4. The feast of the New Moon, which was

celebrated on the first day the moon appeared

after her change.

5. The feast of Expiation, which was celebrated

annually on the tenth day of Tisri or

September, on which a general atonement was

made for all the sins, negligences, and

ignorances, throughout the year.

6. The feast of Lots or Purim, to commemorate

the preservation of the Jews from the general

massacre projected by Haman. See the book of


7. The feast of the Dedication, or rather the

Restoration of the temple, which had been

profaned by Antiochus Epiphanes. This was

also called the feast of Lights.

Besides these, the Jews have had several other feasts, such as

the feast of Branches, to commemorate the taking of Jericho.

The feast of Collections, on the 10th of September, on which

they make contributions for the service of the temple and


The feast for the death of Nicanor. 1Mac 7:48, &c.

The feast for the discovery of the sacred fire, 2Mac 1:18, &c.

The feast of the carrying of wood to the temple, called

Xylophoria, mentioned by Josephus.-WAR, b. ii. c. 17.

Verse 17. All thy males] Old men, sick men, male idiots,

and male children under thirteen years of age, excepted; for so

the Jewish doctors understand this command.

Verse 18. The blood of my sacrifice with leavened bread] The

sacrifice here mentioned is undoubtedly the Passover; (see

Ex 34:25;) this is called by way of eminence MY

sacrifice, because God had instituted it for that especial

purpose, the redemption of Israel from the Egyptian bondage, and

because it typified THE LAMB of GOD, who taketh away the sin of

the world. We have already seen how strict the prohibition

against leaven was during this festival, and what was signified by

it. See on chap. xii. See Clarke on Ex 12:19.

Verse 19. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.]

This passage has greatly perplexed commentators; but Dr. Cudworth

is supposed to have given it its true meaning by quoting a MS.

comment of a Karaite Jew, which he met with, on this passage. "It

was a custom of the ancient heathens, when they had gathered in

all their fruits, to take a kid and boil it in the milk of its

dam; and then, in a magical way, to go about and besprinkle with

it all their trees and fields, gardens and orchards; thinking by

these means to make them fruitful, that they might bring forth

more abundantly in the following year."-Cudworth on the Lord's

Supper, 4to.

I give this comment as I find it, and add that Spenser has shown

that the Zabii used this kind of magical milk to sprinkle their

trees and fields, in order to make them fruitful. Others

understand it of eating flesh and milk together; others of a lamb

or a kid while it is sucking its mother, and that the paschal lamb

is here intended, which it was not lawful to offer while sucking.

After all the learned labour which critics have bestowed on this

passage, and by which the obscurity in some cases is become more

intense, the simple object of the precept seems to be this: "Thou

shalt do nothing that may have any tendency to blunt thy moral

feelings, or teach thee hardness of heart." Even human nature

shudders at the thought of causing the mother to lend her milk to

seethe the flesh of her young one! We need go no farther for the

delicate, tender, humane, and impressive meaning of this precept.

Verse 20. Behold, I send an Angel before thee] Some have thought

that this was Moses, others Joshua, because the word

malach signifies an angel or messenger; but as it is said,

Ex 23:21,

My name is in him, ( bekirbo, intimately, essentially in

him,) it is more likely that the great Angel of the Covenant, the

Lord Jesus Christ, is meant, in whom dwelt all the fulness of the

Godhead bodily. We have had already much reason to believe that

this glorious personage often appeared in a human form to the

patriarchs, &c.; and of him Joshua was a very expressive type, the

names Joshua and Jesus, in Hebrew and Greek, being of exactly the

same signification, because radically the same, from yasha, he

saved, delivered, preserved, or kept safe. Nor does it appear

that the description given of the Angel in the text can belong to

any other person.

Calmet has referred to a very wonderful comment on these words

given by Philo Judaeus De Agricultura, which I shall produce here

at full length as it stands in Dr. Mangey's edition, vol. 1., p.

308: ωςποιμηνκαιβασιλευςοθεοςαγεικαταδικηνκαινομον





"God, as the Shepherd and King, conducts all things according to

law and righteousness, having established over them his right

WORD, his ONLY-BEGOTTEN SON, who, as the Viceroy of the Great

King, takes care of and ministers to this sacred flock. For it is

somewhere said, (Ex 23:20,)

Behold, I AM, and I will send my ANGEL before thy face, to

keep thee in the way."

This is a testimony liable to no suspicion, coming from a person

who cannot be supposed to be even friendly to Christianity, nor at

all acquainted with that particular doctrine to which his words

seem so pointedly to refer.

Verse 21. He will not pardon your transgressions] He is not

like a man, with whom ye may think that ye may trifle; were he

either man or angel, in the common acceptation of the term, it

need not be said, He will not pardon your transgressions, for

neither man nor angel could do it.

My name is in him.] The Jehovah dwells in him; in him dwelt

all the fulness of the Godhead bodily; and because of this he

could either pardon or punish. All power is given unto me in

heaven and earth, Mt 28:18.

Verse 23. Unto the Amorites] There are only six of the seven

nations mentioned here, but the Septuagint, Samaritan, Coptic, and

one Hebrew MS., add Girgashite, thus making the seven nations.

Verse 24. Break down their images.] matstsebotheyhem,

from natsab, to stand up; pillars, anointed stones, &c.,

such as the baitulia. See Clarke on Ge 28:18.

Verse 25. Shall bless thy bread and thy water] That is, all thy

provisions, no matter of what sort; the meanest fare shall be

sufficiently nutritive when God's blessing is in it.

Verse 26. There shall nothing cast their young, nor be barren]

Hence there must be a very great increase both of men and cattle.

The number of thy days I will fulfil.] Ye shall all live to a

good old age, and none die before his time. This is the blessing

of the righteous, for wicked men live not out half their days;

Ps 55:23.

Verse 28. I will send hornets before thee] hatstsirah.

The root is not found in Hebrew, but it may be the same with the

Arabic [Arabic] saraa, to lay prostrate, to strike down; the

hornet, probably so called from the destruction occasioned by

the violence of its sting. The hornet, in natural history,

belongs to the species crabro, of the genus vespa or wasp; it is

a most voracious insect, and is exceedingly strong for its size,

which is generally an inch in length, though I have seen some an

inch and a half long, and so strong that, having caught one in a

small pair of forceps, it repeatedly escaped by using violent

contortions, so that at last I was obliged to abandon all hopes of

securing it alive, which I wished to have done. How distressing

and destructive a multitude of these might be, any person may

conjecture; even the bees of one hive would be sufficient to sting

a thousand men to madness, but how much worse must wasps and

hornets be! No armour, no weapons, could avail against these. A

few thousands of them would be quite sufficient to throw the best

disciplined army into confusion and rout. From Jos 24:12, we

find that two kings of the Amorites were actually driven out of

the land by these hornets, so that the Israelites were not obliged

to use either sword or bow in the conquest.

Verse 31. I will set thy bounds from the Red Sea] On the

south-east, even unto the sea of the Philistines-the

Mediterranean, on the north-west; and from the desert-of Arabia,

or the wilderness of Shur, on the west, to the river-the

Euphrates, on the north-east. Or in general terms, from the

Euphrates on the east, to the Mediterranean Sea on the west; and

from Mount Libanus on the north, to the Red Sea and the Nile on

the south. This promise was not completely fulfilled till the

days of David and Solomon. The general disobedience of the people

before this time prevented a more speedy accomplishment; and their

disobedience afterwards caused them to lose the possession. So,

though all the promises of God are YEA and AMEN, yet they are

fulfilled but to a few, because men are slow of heart to believe;

and the blessings of providence and grace are taken away from

several because of their unfaithfulness.

Verse 32. Thou shalt make no covenant with them] They were

incurable idolaters, and the cup of their iniquity was full. And

had the Israelites contracted any alliance with them, either

sacred or civil, they would have enticed them into their

idolatries, to which the Jews were at all times most unhappily

prone; and as God intended that they should be the preservers of

the true religion till the coming of the Messiah, hence he

strictly forbade them to tolerate idolatry.

Verse 33. They shall not dwell in thy land] They must be utterly

expelled. The land was the Lord's, and he had given it to the

progenitors of this people, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The

latter being obliged to leave it because of a famine, God is now

conducting back his posterity, who alone had a Divine and natural

right to it, and therefore their seeking to possess the

inheritance of their fathers can be only criminal in the sight of

those who are systematically opposed to the thing, because it is a

part of Divine revelation.

WHAT a pity that the Mosaic Law should be so little studied!

What a number of just and equal laws, pious and humane

institutions, useful and instructive ordinances, does it contain!

Everywhere we see the purity and benevolence of God always working

to prevent crimes and make the people happy! But what else can be

expected from that God who is love, whose tender mercies are over

all his works, and who hateth nothing that he has made? Reader,

thou art not straitened in him, be not straitened in thy own

bowels. Learn from him to be just, humane, kind, and merciful.

Love thy enemy, and do good to him that hates thee. Jesus is with

thee; hear and obey his voice; provoke him not, and he will be an

enemy to thine enemies, and an adversary to thine adversaries.

Believe, love, obey; and the road to the kingdom of God is plain

before thee. Thou shalt inherit the good land, and be established

in it for ever and ever.

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