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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 23

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness.

Thou shalt not raise a false report, [ lo' (H3808) tisaa' (H5375)] - Thou shalt not take up, entertain, or spread; and, in accordance with this view of the import of the word, the Septuagint renders it as: ou paradexee-Thou shalt not receive from another.

Put not thine hand - or join hand (Proverbs 11:21); i:e., agree or combine with the wicked.

To be an unrighteous witness, [ `eed (H5707) chaamaac (H2555)] - a witness of wrong; i:e., a false witness.

Verse 2

Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment:

Thou shalt not follow a multitude, [ rabiym (H7227)] - many. This makes a very good sense; because the caution against being misled into evil by the influence of prevailing example is necessary and seasonable at all times. But the Hebrew word signifies also great men (Job 31:9; Isaiah 53:12; Jeremiah 41:1), and in the opinion of some it should be so translated both in this and the following clause.

To decline - i:e., to depart or deviate from the straight path of rectitude. The import of the clause may be thus expressed: Neither shalt thou answer (in a forensic sense) in a suit, espousing the side of a party who try to pervert justice.

Verse 3

Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause.

Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause, [ lo' (H3808) tehdar (H1921)] - Thou shalt not honour a poor man; or, Thou shalt not embellish or varnish the cause of a poor man, to give it a better colouring than it merits: metaphor., Thou shalt not favour; or show undue partiality, even in the case of the poor, to the detriment of his richer opponent. Even-handed justice must be done both to poor and rich.

Verses 4-5

If thou meet thine enemy's ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again.

If thou meet thine enemy's ox ... going astray. The ox and the donkey are specified as samples of the stock which constituted the staple property of the Israelites. The object of these counsels obviously is to encourage a humane and kindly spirit of willingness to protect the interests even of an enemy (cf. Matthew 5:43), when they are seen, in his absence, to be in jeopardy. They enjoin it as a duty to render good for evil (cf. Romans 12:17-21), and instead of taking revenge for his injuries, to confer upon him a seasonable and important benefit, by rescuing his cattle from being damaged or lost. This is the purport of the precept in both verses, though the meaning is somewhat obscured in the latter-by the form of our translation.

If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee, [ sona'ªkaa (H8130)] - participle used as a substantive-thine enemy, synonymous with 'oyibkaa (H341), in Exodus 23:4 ].

And wouldest forbear to help him: thou shalt surely help with him. [The difficulty which lies in this clause arises from the double use of the verb `aazab (H5800) - first in its primary meaning, to leave, to desert; and then in the secondary tense of untying, cutting loose.] The translation proposed by Gesenius is as follows: 'When thou seest the ass of thine enemy lying down (having sunk oppressed) under his burden, beware that thou leave him not, but thou shalt surely loosen the bands (of the donkey) with him'-i.e, thou shalt assist the owner to slacken or undo the fastenings of the load; or rather, to lift up the fallen beast.

A modern illustration of this precept is given by Dr. Thomson ('The Land and the Book,' vol. 1:, p. 89). 'See that donkey; the people lifting it are bitter enemies-Maronites and Druses-quite recently engaged in a bloody social war, and ready to begin again on the very first opportunity; and yet they help to lift the donkey that is lying under his burden, as though they were the best friends in the world. We have in this simple incident the identical occasion for the precept, and its most literal fulfillment.

'Nor is this all. It is fair to infer, from the peculiar specification made by Moses, that the people in his day were divided into inimical parties and clans, just as they now are in these mountains. Moses would not have mentioned the donkey of an enemy, if enemies were not so common that the case was likely to occur. So also we may conclude that the donkeys were half-starved, and then overloaded by their cruel masters; because such are now the conditions in which these poor slaves of all work ordinarily fall under their burdens; and then, as now, it required the united strength of at least two persons lifting, one on either side, to enable the donkey to rise out of his painful and often dangerous predicament. The plan is to lift the beast to its feet without taking off the load, which is a tedious business. And once more, we may infer, with certainty, that the roads were then as rough and slippery as this which has upset the unfortunate donkey. All these deductions I believe to be very near the truth. Manners and customs, men and things, roads and loads, continue very much what they were three thousand years ago' (cf. Deuteronomy 22:4). This version removes all ambiguity, and evolves the duty inculcated in a clear and intelligible manner.

Verses 6-9

Thou shalt not wrest the judgment of thy poor in his cause.

Thou shalt not wrest the judgment of thy poor in his cause. These verses contain a series of cautions to rulers and magistrates to take careful heed that the fountains of justice should not be polluted, through favour and partiality on the one hand, through hasty and careless decisions, or through secret bribery and corruption.

Verse 7. Keep thee far from a false matter - i:e., as the context suggests, from unjust judgments, inflicting capital punishment upon 'the innocent and righteous,' while the real criminals are allowed to escape.

For I will not justify the wicked - or absolve the guilty, although a human tribunal may give a verdict of acquittal.

Verse 8. Thou shalt take no gift - namely, from litigants whose cases are in dependence before you.

For the gift blindeth the wise, [ piqchiym (H6493)] - literally, those seeing, the open-eyed, the acute and penetrating, who, through the dazzling influence of the bribe, cannot see what their sagacity in other circumstances would easily discern.

And perverteth the words of the righteous - i:e., the decisions of upright judges. Septuagint, lumainetai reemata dikaia, destroys righteous words (verdicts). The universal practice in Oriental countries still, of offering presents to magistrates to procure a favourable decision, affords a good commentary on the necessity and importance of the prohibition in this passage.

Verses 10-11

And six years thou shalt sow thy land, and shalt gather in the fruits thereof: Six years thou shalt sow - intermitting the cultivation of the land every seventh year. But it appears that even then there was a spontaneous produce which the poor were permitted freely to gather for their use; and what they did not eat was to be left as a feast to the lower animals, wild beasts, birds, and insects, the owners of fields not being allowed to reap or collect the fruits of the vineyard or oliveyard during the course of this Sabbatical year.

This was a regulation subservient to many excellent purposes; for, besides inculcating the general lesson of dependence on Providence, and of confidence in His faithfulness to His promise respecting the triple increase on the sixth year (Leviticus 25:20-21), it gave the Israelites a practical proof that they held their properties of the Lord as His tenants, and must conform to His rules, on pain of forfeiting the lease of them.

Verse 12

Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest: that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed.

Six days thou shalt do thy work. This law is repeated (see the notes at Exodus 20:9-10), lest any might suppose there was a relaxation of its observance during the Sabbatical year. Since it was necessary that the benefits of such a wise and benevolent an institution might be universally enjoyed, the command respecting its observance was repeated in terms as precise and minute as those in which it was originally given. It secured to all classes-the freeman, the slave, and even the cattle, otherwise in danger of being overborne by incessant labour-a temporary suspension of daily toil - "rest" for the beasts of labour, a release from the yoke, an interval of repose and 'refreshment' for the working man-not to his body only, but to his mind also, by affording him an opportunity for meditation, religious instruction, and devotional purposes (Leviticus 23:3; Deuteronomy 5:15).

The son of thy handmaid, [ ben (H1121) 'ªmaatkaa (H519)]. The offspring of foreign slaves, male and female, who had come into the possession of any master belonged to him (see the note at Exodus 21:4). It was a person of this latter description that is meant by "the son of thy hand-maid" (cf. Psalms 116:16), apparently in distinction from those of the former, who are designated in general terms, 'the sons of the house' (Genesis 15:3; Ecclesiastes 11:7), and 'house-born' (Genesis 14:14; Genesis 17:12; Genesis 17:23). The preceding laws, of which justice, humanity, charity, and a spirit of general kindness form the prominent features, were given at the commencement of the national life of the Israelites, and the promulgation of them at so early a period was intended by the Divine Lawgiver to furnish a solid basis of good principles for the formation of their character as a people.

Those precepts-all of them great moral axioms, the truth and importance of which commended them to the understanding and the hearts of all who heard them-were calculated to refine and elevate the tone of public sentiment, and, by inculcating on all classes, rulers as well as people, a conscientious regard to the relative duties and proprieties of life, to train them to the love and practice of that righteousness which exalteth a nation.

Verse 13

And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect: and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth.

Make no mention ... - i:e., in common conversation, for a familiar use of them would tend to lessen the horror of idolatry (cf. Hos. 11:14-17; Zechariah 13:2).

Verse 14

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

Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto me in the year, [ shaalosh (H7969) rªgaaliym (H7272)] - three beats, or times, which were counted by the beating of the foot. Rabbinical writers say that the Jews were accustomed, in allusion to this special use of the term, to call the sacred seasons familiarly by the name Regalim. This passage does not contain the first, the original institution of all the national festivals, nor does it detail all the legal provisions for their observance. They are merely mentioned here as the most prominent and important of the rights or privileges conferred upon the Israelite people from their special relation to Yahweh-namely, that of celebrating the proper national worship, by the assembling together on stated occasions of the people in their collective capacity, to eat solemnly with Yahweh.

Verse 15

Thou shalt keep the feast of unleavened bread: (thou shalt eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded thee, in the time appointed of the month Abib; for in it thou camest out from Egypt: and none shall appear before me empty:)

Thou shalt keep the feast of unleavened bread, [ ha-Matsowt (H4682)] - or Passover (see the command as given, Exodus 12:3-20; Exodus 13:3; Exodus 13:10). It was instituted as an anniversary memorial of the inauguration of their national existence; and on every return of the sacred season they celebrated the old covenant.

None shall appear before me empty - i:e., without sacrificial offerings (Numbers 28:1-31; Numbers 29:1-40; Deuteronomy 16:16-17), which were requisite at all the yearly feasts, though mentioned only in connection with the first. 'So close and decided was the relation which this and the other great communion feasts had to the national tenure of Canaan, that the people in repairing to them were always accompanied by gifts of the seasonable produce of it-a kind of fee paid to the feudal lord under whom the possession was held' ('Israel after the Flesh,' p. 51).

The following is the account of the actual observance of this feast, given by Josephus ('Antiquities,' b. 3, ch.

x., sec. 5): 'On the fourteenth day of the month Abib (in later times Nisan, Nehemiah 2:1; Esther 3:7), which is the beginning of our year, the law ordained that we should every year slay that sacrifice which was called the Passover. The feast of unleavened bread succeeds that of the Passover, and falls on the fifteenth day of the month, continuing seven days, on which they feed on unleavened bread. On the second day of unleavened bread which is the 16th day of the month, they first partake of the fruits of the earth; for before that day they do not touch them' (see further the notes at Leviticus 23:9-14).

Verse 16

And the feast of harvest, the firstfruits of thy labours, which thou hast sown in the field: and the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labours out of the field.

And the feast of harvest - called also "the Feast of Weeks," or Pentecost, 50 days after the sheaf was waved (See the notes at Exodus 20:1; Leviticus 23:15; Numbers 28:26-31; Deuteronomy 16:9-12: cf. Josephus, 'Antiquities,' b. 3:, ch. 10:, sec. 6, where it is called Asartha - i:e., assembly).

The first-fruits of thy labours, which thou hast sown in thy field - i:e., not the first ripe grains that were reaped, the earliest commencement of the harvest, but bread which was baked of the first-fruits of the field, and which, when offered as two wave loaves of the new grain, were called 'first-fruits of the wheat harvest' (Leviticus 23:17-20). This feast is first instituted here, as also the one about to be mentioned.

And the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year. This third feast, called also the feast of Tabernacles, commencing on the 15th day of the seventh month, and lasting seven days (see the notes at Leviticus 23:34; Numbers 29:12), was appointed as a season of thanksgiving for the bountiful supply of the various and valuable fruits of the earth; and as it was a most joyous season, accompanied with the liveliest demonstrations of hilarity and merriment, it was designated by Rabbinical writers as, par excellence, "the feast." It lasted, like the first, for seven days. "In the end of the year" refers, as Hupfeld remarks, 'to an old agrarian measurement of time, which was in use before the age of Moses, when the civil year was reckoned as beginning with the preparation of the soil for seed-sowing, and ended when all the produce of the ground had been completely gathered. In this passage the time of observing this feast is stated in a very general and indefinite manner, the month and days being specified with minute particularity (Leviticus 23:39).

Verse 17

Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord GOD.

All thy males shall appear before the Lord God. All the males who were purified, including indigenous or home-born servants (persons circumcised), were enjoined to repair to the tabernacle, and afterwards the temple, and the women frequently went. The institution of this national custom was of the greatest importance in many ways-by keeping up a national sense of religion and a public uniformity in worship; by creating a bond of unity, and also promoting internal commerce among the people. Though the absence of all the males at these three festivals left the country defenseless, a special promise was given of divine protection, and no incursion of enemies was ever permitted to happen on those occasions.

Verse 18

Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leavened bread; neither shall the fat of my sacrifice remain until the morning.

Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leavened bread - literally, upon leavened bread; i:e., until all leaven has been completely removed from your houses. Many refer this to the Passover, which was pre-eminently the Lord's sacrifice. Leaven being regarded as an emblem of impurity or corruption, was, in preparing for this national feast of communion with Yahweh, to be carefully removed; unleavened bread only was to be eaten during the continuance of the feast; and this typified the necessity of sanctification to the people of God in the prospect of sacred communion with Him in the feast of the Christian Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).

Neither shall the fat of my sacrifice remain until the morning - (see the note at Exodus 12:10.) This, as well as the preceding clause, is commonly understood, from a comparison with Exodus 34:25, as referring to the sacrificial lamb of the Passover. There is no mention, however, of fat in that parallel passage; and hence, as not the fat only, but the whole carcass of the paschal lamb, even the purtenance thereof, was to be eaten, without any portion being left until morning, Keil interprets the words [ cheeleb (H2459) chagiy (H2282)], not the fat of my sacrifice, but the best and richest of my feast-namely, the Passover. This, however, seems to be a forced interpretation; and a more natural one seems to be to consider the general terms which are employed in both clauses susceptible of a wider application to all the three great feasts spoken of in the preceding context. For every sacrifice was accompanied by a minchaah, a meat offering or cake of flour, into the composition of which it was expressly forbidden that leaven should be introduced (Leviticus 2:11). And the occurrence in the second clause of [ chag (H2282)] the common word for a feast, seems to furnish an additional warrant for giving this extended import to the verse. 'Neither shall the fat of my festive offering (Psalms 118:27; Malachi 2:3) remain until morning;' for the fat of every sacrifice was consecrated to God by being wholly consumed on the altar (Leviticus 3:16).

Verse 19

The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring into the house of the LORD thy God. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.

The first of the first-fruits of thy land thou shalt bring into the house of the Lord thy God (see the notes at Exodus 23:15; Numbers 18:12-13; Deuteronomy 26:2-11) [ ree'shiyt (H7225) bikuwriym (H1061)] - not the highest, the best, and most excellent, as the word frequently signifies, but the beginning, the earliest, the very first of all the fruits which the earth yielded-the first-fruits of every species, animal as well as vegetable, although it is land-produce that is principally meant here. [The Septuagint has: tas aparchas toon prootogenieematoon tees gees-`the first of the products of the land.']

Josephus describes the manner of offering the first-fruits of their barley, the grain which was earliest ripe ('Antiquities,' b. 3:, ch. 10:, sec. 5). 'they take an handful of the ears and dry them, then beat them small, and purge the barley from the bran; they then bring one-tenth deal to the altar to God, and, casting one handful of it upon the fire, they leave the rest a perquisite to the priest. And after this it is that they publicly or privately reap their harvest'

The objection of Davidson ('Introduction'), that the mention of the first-fruits being brought into the house of the Lord affords a proof of the tabernacle having been in existence, ere these commands were issued or this record was made, is quite futile, since the entire context refers to national festivals, which, though mentioned by anticipation, were not to be celebrated until the settlement in Canaan.

Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk. This precept has been frequently represented as an excess of legislative refinement on the part of Moses, whose leading object was to lead the people to avoid even the appearance of unfeeling barbarity. If it was designed merely to discourage an act of thoughtless cruelty, it would rank in the same class with other humane regulations which are embodied in the Mosaic code (see Leviticus 22:28; Deuteronomy 22:16; Deuteronomy 25:4). Michaelis considers it as bearing only on a point of domestic economy-namely, to teach the rude people the right way of cooking their food not with milk or amid butter, but with olive-oil, as more savoury; and other writers have assigned other reasons. Calmet (Taylor's 'Fragments'), suggests a different translation of the clause. Thou shalt not cook a kid while it is on its mother's milk' - i:e., during the period necessary for its own nutrition, as well as for the ease of the dam; because it is well known that the females of all creatures, after parturition, are oppressed with their milk.

But the repetition of this interdict (Exodus 34:26) immediately after the direction about offering the first-fruits in harvest, shows (though Deuteronomy 14:21 does not appear to support this view) that the prohibition had a specific reference to a pagan custom; and accordingly there is reason to believe that it was designed to prevent an imitation of the superstitious rites of idolaters, who at the end of the harvest seethed a kid in its mother's milk, and sprinkled the broth as a magical charm on their gardens and fields, to render them more productive the following season (Maimon., 'More Nevoch,' 3:, 48; Cudworth, Discourse on the Lord's Supper').

Spencer ('De Legibus Hebraeorum,' 2:, 8) has shown that this pagan practice was observed with the same view among the ancient Zabii. The practice is still prevalent among the Aruba. Dr. Thomson ('The Land and the Book,' vol. 1:,p. 135) says-`They select a young kid, fat and tender, dress it carefully, and then stew it in milk, generally mixed with onions and hot spices, such as they relish. They call it Lebu immu - "kid in its mother's milk." It is a gross and unwholesome dish, calculated to kindle up animal and ferocious passions; and on this account, as well as its barbarity, Moses may have forbidden it. Besides, it is even yet associated with immoderate feasting, and originally was connected with idolatrous sacrifices. After seeing the dish actually prepared, and hearing the very name given to it which Moses employs, we have the whole mystery explained. It is a dish cooked in blood; and the reason assigned (Genesis 9:4) for the original prohibition continues in full force to this day.'

Verses 20-25

Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.

Behold, I send an Angel before thee. The word "Behold" introduces a new paragraph or division. The communication of these ordinances and judgments, made to him in private, and by him publicly rehearsed to the people, was concluded by the addition of an animating promise of the presence and protection of Yahweh during their journey to the promised land, intermingled with several solemn warnings, that lapses into sin and idolatry would not be tolerated or passed with impunity. The angel promised was, in the judgment of some commentators following Tertullian, Joshua; in that of others, the column of smoke and fire; and of a third class, a mere figure of speech, in accommodation to the gross conceptions of a rude and ignorant people: but according to the vast majority of ancient, as well as modern interpreters, it was He who brought the Israelites out of Egypt (Numbers 20:16), who preceded and accompanied that people in the wilderness by a symbolic cloud, and who appeared on their first entrance into Canaan (Joshua 5:14). And hence, He is called (Exodus 33:14-15) the "presence" or face of God (cf. Isaiah 63:9), and (Exodus 23:18: cf. Exodus 34:6) His "glory" - being no other than "the Angel of the Covenant" (Malachi 3:1), the Messiah, the Christ (cf. John 1:14; John 14:9; 1 Corinthians 10:4; Hebrews 1:3).

These expressions are applicable only to a Divine Being; and yet, as He is promised by God to be sent as an angel in His name, and to do His work, there is no conceivable mode of reconciling such statements, except on the ground that He is a Person of the Godhead, who, from gracious and benevolent motives, undertook this delegated mission, and was in the character of the Angel revealed to the Church. This view is further confirmed by the whole tenor of the language here employed regarding Him, which shows very clearly that 'the angel' promised was not a material visible symbol, the cloud, nor an inferior messenger, an exalted creature, but a real living Agent, who possessed inherent in himself the attributes and powers of Deity.

Verse 21. Beware of him, [ hishaamer (H8104) mipaanaayw (H6440), in the Niphal, Reflex-Take heed to yourselves] - a frequent caution addressed to the Israelites, to remind them of the reverence and awe due to the holiness and majesty of a present Deity.

And obey his voice - whether conveyed in sounds uttered from the summit of Sinai, or through the medium of his commissioned servant Moses.

Provoke him not, [ 'al (H408) tameer (H4843) bow (H871a)] - thou shalt not rebel against him. It is the term commonly used to express a transgression or violation of the covenant. It is a strong expression, implying not only disobedience, but rebellion such as can be committed against God alone.

For he will not pardon your transgressions. This is subjoined as the reason for the preceding cautions. It is founded on the sovereign prerogative, and the immutable character of the Angel, as a holy Being jealous of His honour.

"He will not pardon your transgressions" [ pesha` (H6588)] - trangression, rebellion against God. It is, as Gesenius remarks, a stronger word than [haTaa't] sin (Job 34:37). It signifies rebellion that would trample upon and disannul the covenant. Who has the power to forgive sins and transgressions but God only?

For my name is in him. This is an additional reason for their reverent and docile obedience. Not that 'the name of God' would be given to him, or that he would do great and mighty things as acting in the name and by the power of God (for this was done even by the prophets and apostles), but that the whole nature or essence of Divinity was in Him. Accordingly in the following verse He is identified with God. He is frequently called Yahweh (H3068) and 'Elohiym (H430) - a name more excellent than belonged to the most exalted of angelic creatures (Hebrews 1:4). It denotes the fullness of the Godhead" (Colossians 2:9), for 'the name' signifies the nature of the Divine Being-a metonymy commonly used throughout the whole of the Old Testament.

Verse 22. But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak - i:e., to you directly, or by Moses. His voice is my voice. In His speaking, I speak.-The bright history opening upon them as a people was contingent on their obedience. On condition of their faithful and continued compliance with the terms of the national covenant, all the promises it held out to them would be redeemed-all the rich blessings it guaranteed would be realized. (The Septuagint here re-inserts Exodus 19:5-6.)

Then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries, [ tsorªreykaa (H6887)] - those distressing, harassing, persecuting you. It is a stronger word than "enemies."

Verse 24,25. Thou shalt not bow down to their gods ... The connection is, that when the Canaanites should be dispossessed, and the people of Israel established in the possession of Canaan, which would be accomplished by the unmistakeable interposition of divine power, the latter, as a covenanted people, would still have to obey.

Thou shalt utterly overthrow them, and quite break down their images (cf. Exodus 34:12-16; Deuteronomy 5:7). This prohibition was particularly directed against the pagan superstition which regarded the gods as closely bound to the land, and the land as belonging to them; and so, in cases of any public calamity, or of invasion, the protection of the gods of the country was propitiated. Thus, in later times, the invading pagans, the progenitors of the Samaritans, honoured Yahweh, together with their own deities (2 Kings 17:24) (Gerlach).

There was no room for tolerance as to the cruel and obscene paganism of the idolatry in that land. They would have to extirpate every vestige of it; and by consecrating themselves to the service of Yahweh as their Cod, they would secure both a long-continued tenure of the land, and an uninterrupted course of prosperity and peace (cf. Exodus 15:26; Psalms 144:12-15; Isaiah 16:1; Isaiah 65:20).

Verse 26

There shall nothing cast their young, nor be barren, in thy land: the number of thy days I will fulfil.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 27

I will send my fear before thee, and will destroy all the people to whom thou shalt come, and I will make all thine enemies turn their backs unto thee.

I will send my fear before thee, and will destroy all the people, [ 'et (H854) 'eeymaatiy (H367)] - my terror (cf. Genesis 35:5); the consternation I shall produce. And such was the panic struck by the appalling miracles of the exodus into the neighbouring nations, particularly the Canaanites, that they were completely paralyzed-incapable of making any vigorous resistance to the occupation of their land by the Israelites (cf. Exodus 15:14-16; Deuteronomy 2:25; Joshua 2:11). This renewed promise of Yahweh was warrant sufficient to justify the Israelites in taking forcible possession of Canaan, and to show that the expulsion of the then existing inhabitants, whose hopeless degradation outraged humanity, was an act accordant with the justice as well as the goodness of God (see further the note at Joshua 21:43).

Verse 28

And I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee.

And I will send hornets before thee (cf. Deuteronomy 7:20) [ 'et (H854) hatsir`aah (H6880)] - hornet, with the article prefixed, used collectively and metaphorically as a symbol of the terror inspired by God into the enemy. Junius suggests this translation-`I will send before thee fear or pestilence as a hornet.' But the particle of likeness, as, is not in the text, and must not be interpolated at the will of translators. Bochart, who considers literal hornets to be meant, quotes several remarkable instances of Oriental people being compelled, by overwhelming swarms of these malignant insects, to abandon their dwellings and seek habitations elsewhere ('Hierozicon,' lib. 4:, pp 540, 541). With these examples on record, he thinks it far from being incredible that many of the Canaanites were by this formidable enemy driven from their homes, and forced to remove beyond the reach of their attack.

Most modern writers are inclined to take the word as used figuratively, understanding, with Augustine, an extraordinary dejection of spirits; or regarding it, with Rosenm˜ller, as a symbol of divine judgments-various kinds of evils which might be very aptly described under the metaphorical name of insects whose stings cause exquisite pain, and which, from their immense numbers, are capable of harassing and distressing man exceedingly. Accordingly, it has been remarked that Joshua, though he recorded the fulfillment of this promise (Joshua 24:12), does not mention a single case of Canaanites being expelled from their towns or villages by any extraordinary swarms of these noxious creatures.

Verses 29-30

I will not drive them out from before thee in one year; lest the land become desolate, and the beast of the field multiply against thee.

I will not drive them out from before thee in one year, ... Many reasons recommended a gradual extirpation of the pagan inhabitants of Canaan. But one only is here specified-the danger lest in the unoccupied grounds wild beasts should inconveniently multiply-a clear proof that the promised land was more than sufficient to contain the actual population of the Israelites. It is observable, however, that the particular parts of the land most liable, if neglected or left waste, to be endangered by the multiplication of wild beasts are specified. These were the territories of the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites; and hence, as these deserted localities would have been pre-eminently exposed to the incursion of various predatory animals, it was distinctly intimated that the original occupiers would not be at once, but gradually, expelled (see the note at Genesis 15:19-21). In addition to the account there given of the territorial domains of the aboriginal tribes of Canaan, it may be interesting to subjoin the following remarks (Micaiah Hill, 'Christ or Cotenso,' p. 79) as to the regions respectively occupied by the three tribes mentioned in this passage: 'The Hivites lived in the north, northeast, and northwest extremity of Palestine-the region subsequently assigned to the tribes of Asher, Dan, and Naphtali. The Hittites lived in and about Hebron (Genesis 23:3-7; Genesis 23:10; Genesis 23:19), that is, south of Jerusalem. Canaanites is a name used in a wider sense, to denote the whole land of Canaan; but when, as here, in distinction with any of the other tribes, it comprehends only one of the seven Canaanite races. The territory of this tribe is vaguely defined as by "the sea, and by the coast of Jordan" (Numbers 13:29). We can make nothing out of this description, unless by sea is meant the Dead Sea, into which the Jordan empties itself.

On this view the Canaanite inhabited the southeastern extremity of Palestine west of the Jordan. Apart from this, it is but natural to suppose that the reason of the association of these three tribes is, that the part inhabited by the Canaanite was also wild and dangerous region. Now, look at the northern extremity of Palestine, with its mountains forming the southern ridges of the Lebanon range, which are even at the present day full of the haunts of the buffalo, jackal, wolf, hyena, the snow leopard, lion, bear, tiger, leopard, lynx, and serpents, vipers, scorpions, centipedes, the tarantula, the hornet, and the wasp. Look again at the southern part of Palestine, with its road from Jerusalem to Jericho-a road which travelers unite in depicting in the most gloomy hues, as a "wild and melancholy region." The aspect of the whole of it is said to be "peculiarly savage and dreary, vieing in this respect with the wilds of Sinai." The wilderness of Judea is full of extensive caverns, in which David wandered about. It is the region of which, so late as in the time of Christ, "wild beasts" are spoken of as inhabitants (Mark 1:13).

'Further to the south is Idumea, with the great Eastern desert, to name which is enough for present purposes. Now, in the historical account of the occupation of these localities there is no instance detailed of overrunning by wild beasts having really occurred; and it must be considered, therefore, that the prearrangement described in this passage, as to the gradual dispossession of the native tribes, is a beautiful illustration of the minute care Yahweh took of His chosen people.'

Verse 31

And I will set thy bounds from the Red sea even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert unto the river: for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand; and thou shalt drive them out before thee.

I will set thy bounds from the Red Sea even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert unto the river. "The sea of the Philistines" denotes the Mediterranean, so called from the territory of the Philistines lying along nearly the whole extent of the western shores of Palestine. "The river" is the name given, parexcellence, to the Euphrates (see the notes at Genesis 15:18; Genesis 31:21). Within these specified boundaries was comprehended the whole land promised by Yahweh to Israel, embracing an extent of territory estimated in length, from north to south, about 330 miles, and in average breadth between 80 and 100 miles. The attainment of this destined domain, however, was not realized until the reigns of David and Solomon.

I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand; and thou shalt drive them out before thee. Of course, in the manner previously stated-not 'in one year, but gradually,' lest the land become desolate, and the beasts of the field multiply against thee." Colenso alleges that there was no occasion for any such apprehension, if the number of the people was really as great as the Scripture represents-namely, upwards of 2,000,000; and in support of his allegation he pictures Canaan at the time of its first occupation-as filled with the Israelites and the people of the seven native tribes-to have been as densely populated as the midland counties in England, and therefore the risk of all increase of wild beasts as unlikely as in our own country at the present. The comparison is absurd, as there is no analogy whatever between the two cases-the one an unsettled and pagan country, the other long in a well-ordered and highly civilized condition.

This objection is applied to Canaan, which in the time of Joshua was divided among the tribes; and yet that territory, extending from Dan to Beersheba, in length 220 miles, and in breadth from 80 to 90, was sufficiently large, as appeared at a later period, for a population three or four times larger than the number of the Israelites at the invasion. The passage under review, however, in this verse, does not refer to the land in the time of Joshua, but to the extended boundaries comprised in the terms of the promise as originally made to Abraham; and it must be evident that if the native tribes had been dispossessed of that vast region "in one year," the 2,000,000 of Israel would not have been in circumstances to occupy, either by the erection of towns and villages, or by regular encampments, the deserted lands, which, lying in a state of desolation, must have become infested with multitudes of wild beasts.

The probability, or rather the certainty of this foretold contingency arose from the position of Canaan, covered with immense forests, and surrounded by extensive deserts. Accordingly the very numerous references to wild beasts in the course of the sacred history afford indisputable evidence that not even in the best and highest condition of the country was it ever free from the presence of predatory animals (cf. Judges 14:8; 1 Samuel 17:34; 2 Samuel 23:20; 1 Kings 13:24; 2 Kings 2:24); and the state of the country, when devastated by the Assyrian conqueror, who sent some few of his own subjects to colonize the depopulated lands of Samaria, shows the necessity of the arrangement indicated by Yahweh for the gradual expulsion of the Canaanites. The Assyrian colonists found the wild beasts becoming so formidable in numbers and in daring that they were compelled to apply for the means of protection (2 Kings 17:27-28); and their experience at so advanced a period in the history of Canaan of an evil to which that country has been at all times exposed, furnishes the strongest proof of the divine wisdom and goodness regarding the progress of the first occupation.

'The population of Palestine,' says Porter, 'at the present moment is about 2,000,000, or about equal to the number of the Israelites at the exodus; and I can testify that more than three-fourths of the richest and the best of the country lies completely desolate.' (Letter in the 'Athenaeum,' January 1, 1863).-Colenso,' says Dr. McCaul, 'seems to suppose that the desolation spoken of (Exodus 23:9) would be caused by the multiplication of wild beasts. But this is not the meaning. God promises not to drive out the Canaanites in one year, for two reasons-first, lest the land should be desolate; and, secondly, lest the beasts of the field should multiply against them. Now, if whole population of Canaan had been destroyed "in one year," which implies continued fighting, disorder, and neglect of agricultural pursuits, was there not a danger that the following year there would be no crops? In such a state of things, in a country like Canaan, when there were wild beasts in the land, and abundance in the neighbourhood-when the fields, and roads, and cities would all be full of the corpses of slain and unburied Canaanites-there would be the greatest possible danger of the wild beasts multiplying against the new-comers, and even disputing possession with them. Even in France, with its immense population, wolves increased during the revolutionary troubles and confusion, from 1793 on, to such a degree as to cause serious alarm; and high rewards were offered by the National Convention for their destruction. In 1797 no less than 5,351 wolves were destroyed, and the alarm had not subsided even in the year 1800.'

Colenso's objection, though elaborately stated, is altogether groundless; and in asserting that the Israelites at their entrance into Canaan would have been as able to ward off the attacks of wild beasts as the inhabitants of modern Britain, he not only shuts his eyes to the entire difference in the circumstances of the two peoples, but forgets the altered relations between man and the predatory beasts, the extirpation of which can now be much more rapidly effected by gunpowder and the rifle than anciently by the sword, the arrow, or the sling. (See Drs. McCaul, Benisch, and Porter; Messrs., Micaiah Hill, J.B. McCaul, Page, Hirschfelder, Stephen, Hoare, and Judge Marshall's 'Answers to Colenso.')

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Exodus 23". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/exodus-23.html. 1871-8.
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