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The Book of the Covenant
This section comprises a number of laws designed to regulate the life of an agricultural community living under comparatively simple conditions. The laws are mainly of a civil order with a small admixture of rudimentary religious enactment (see e.g. Exodus 20:23-26; Exodus 23:10-19;). The principle of their arrangement is not clear, but the three sections Exodus 21:23-36; Exodus 22:1-27; Exodus 23:1-8 seem to be amplifications of the sixth, eighth, and ninth commandments of the Decalogue respectively. The Book of the Covenant occupies an intermediate position between the brief and general principles enunciated in the Decalogue and the minute and detailed legislation set forth elsewhere in the Pentateuch. For the relationship between the legislation of Moses and that of earlier civilisations, see Intro. § 2, and art. ’Laws of Hammurabi.’
23. RV is preferable, ’Ye shall not make other gods with me; gods of silver, or gods of gold, ye shall not make unto you.’ This is a repetition of the first and second commandments.
24. An altar of earth] i.e. of the simplest form and material, as a precaution against idolatrous representations: cp. Exodus 20:25 Deuteronomy 27:5, Deuteronomy 27:6. On the different kinds of sacrifice see Leviticus 1-7, and on Leviticus 18:12. Record my name] lit. ’cause my name to be remembered,’ by some special manifestation of power or grace. A plurality of sacrificial places is here expressly sanctioned, and the historical books of OT. record numerous instances of altars being erected and sacrifice offered in many different places down to the reformation of king Josiah, which took place in the year 621 b.c. In the book of Deuteronomy a plurality of sacrificial places is condemned, and worship restricted to a central sanctuary: see on Deuteronomy 12:4, Deuteronomy 12:13.;
25. See on Exodus 20:24.
26. With the same object, to prevent exposure of the person, it is afterwards prescribed that the priests be provided with linen drawers while officiating at the altar: see Exodus 28:42, Exodus 28:43. The top of the altar of burnt offering, which was four and a half ft. high, was reached, according to tradition, by means of a sloping ramp of earth: cp. Exodus 27:5, and see on Leviticus 9:22.
The Book of the Covenant (concluded)
1-19. Miscellaneous Laws.
1. Raise] RV ’take up,’ i.e. give ear to. This is an extension of the ninth commandment: cp. the Arabic proverb, ’In wickedness the listener is the ally of the speaker.’
2. To decline after] RV ’to turn aside after.’
3. Countenance] Give undue favour to. As judgment is to be without fear (Exodus 23:2), so is it to be without favour, whether of rich or poor: cp. Exodus 23:6.
4, 5. Thine enemy’s ox] The Mosaic Law inculcates the duty of kindness to animals: see e.g. Exodus 20:10; Leviticus 22:27-28; Deuteronomy 22:6-7; Deuteronomy 25:4. In Deuteronomy 22:1-4 it is a friend’s beast that is to be relieved. Here it is the beast of an enemy: cp. Matthew 5:43, Matthew 5:44.
8. Gift] A bribe in any form: see on Exodus 18:21.
10, 11. On the law of the Sabbatical Year, see on Leviticus 25:1-7.
12. On the reason annexed to the fourth commandment, see on Exodus 20:10, Exodus 20:11.
14-17. The Three Great Annual Feasts are Passover and Unleavened Bread in the month of Abib, Feast of Weeks or Pentecost fifty days afterwards, and Feast of Booths or Tabernacles, here called Feast of Ingathering, at the end of the agricultural year: see on Leviticus 23:4-22, Leviticus 23:33-43.
15. None shall appear before me empty] As these festivals are all commemorative of God’s goodness they are to be celebrated with thankfulness and rejoicing. And in token of their gratitude the people are to present gifts and entertain the poor: cp. Deuteronomy 16:16-17; Nehemiah 8:10. The same principle underlies the custom of making offerings of money as a part of Christian worship. It is expressive of the worshipper’s thankfulness for all the divine mercies, temporal and spiritual, of which he is the recipient, and must never be omitted.
17. Three times in the year] These annual pilgrimages served to maintain a conscious unity of race and worship.
18. Leavened bread] see on Exodus 12:8. Fat, like blood, must not be eaten, but burnt upon the altar: see on Exodus 29:13.
19. Thou shalt not seethe, etc.] This prohibition may be intended to preserve the natural instinct of humanity: cp. Deuteronomy 22:6, Deuteronomy 22:7. But it more probably refers to a superstitious practice of using milk prepared in this way to sprinkle fields, as a charm against unfruitfulness: see Deuteronomy 14:21, where the prohibition is connected with the law of unclean meats. On account of this law, the Jews to this day abstain from mixing meat and milk in the same dish; nor will they partake of the one, except at a considerable interval after the other.
20-33. The Book of the Covenant closes with an exhortation in which a promise is made of God’s presence, guidance, and help in overcoming their enemies, of wide dominion, and of material prosperity, on condition that they serve Jehovah alone and make no covenant with the heathen nations or their gods.
20. On the Angel of Jehovah, see on Exodus 3:2.
25. See on Exodus 20:12.
28. Hornets] The hornet is a large and fierce kind of wasp. It is doubtful whether the promise here is to be understood literally or figuratively (cp. also Deuteronomy 7:20; Joshua 24:12). It seems to be taken literally in Wisdom of Solomon 12:8. But it is more probably a figurative way of describing the terror which would fall upon the nations on hearing of the victorious march of Jehovah’s people: see the previous v. and Deuteronomy 2:25, and cp. Deuteronomy 1:44; Psalms 118:12; Isaiah 7:18. Or the ’hornets’ may be intended to describe the Egyptians, who were frequently at war with the inhabitants of Canaan. Rameses III is known to have broken the power of the ancient kingdom of the Hittites, which would be about the time of the Israelites’ sojourn in the wilderness, supposing the exodus to have taken place towards the end of the nineteenth dynasty.
29, 30. The book of Judges shows that the conquest of Canaan was effected gradually.
31. The sea of the Philistines] the Mediterranean; the river is the Euphrates. These bounds were reached in the reign of Solomon: see 1 Kings 4:21, and cp. Genesis 15:18; Deuteronomy 11:24.
32, 33. The commandment to expel the Canaanites and to destroy their idols and places of worship was only partially fulfilled, with the result that the evil influence of Canaanitish idolatry and immorality made itself felt over and over again in the history of Israel and was the cause of its final overthrow: see Joshua 16:10; Joshua 17:12-13; Judges 1:19, Judges 1:27-36; 1 Kings 11:1-10; 1 Kings 14:22-24; 2 Kings 12:3; 2 Kings 17:6-28. With this passage cp. Exodus 34:12-17; Numbers 33:50-56; Deuteronomy 7 and see on Numbers 25:16-18.
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Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Exodus 23". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany