Further Ordinances Regarding Social Relations
v. 1. Thou shalt not raise a false report, undertake to testify of a promise or agreement which was not heard with your own ears. Put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness, to charge your neighbor with any form of wickedness, to involve him in quarrels before court. Testimony should never be given in favor of some criminal act.
v. 2. Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment. The thought of the first half of the sentence is emphasized in the second part; for to yield to the hasty judgment of the multitude merely because of the great numbers that hold an opinion, if this means deviating from the way of truth and of justice, is sharply condemned by the Lord. A witness in any case should speak the full truth to the best of his knowledge.
v. 3. Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause. To pretend to be moved by sympathy for the poor in favoring them in each and every suit is an affectation; God wanted His people to stand on the side of justice, regardless of consequences.
v. 4. If thou meet thine enemy's ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again; for difficulties and differences with any person should not set aside the love for him as a neighbor, and for this reason the command is made emphatic.
v. 5. If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, borne down to the ground by the greatness of the load upon him, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him, literally: "Wouldest thou hold back from helping?" Surely no man's feeling of revenge would reach the point of permitting a dumb beast to suffer. There is only one thing to do in such an extremity: relieve the beast of its load, help him to arise, assist his master in saving the burden. That such conduct requires self-denial is implied, but the Lord wants such self-denial to be practiced.
v. 6. Thou shalt not wrest the Judgment of thy poor, of the poor dependent upon thee, in his cause. This ordinance supplements v. 3, bidding the mighty beware of violating their position and the rights of those that are defenseless before them, since the Lord is their Protector.
v. 7. Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and the righteous slay thou not; for I will not justify the wicked. This is said to the selfish, unrighteous judge, whose perversion of justice may, under circumstances, bring death to an innocent, righteous man. The form of the threat is particularly effective in setting forth the certain condemnation of the wicked judge.
v. 8. And thou shalt take no gift, no judge should ever accept a bribe, even in the form of an innocent-looking present; for the gift blindeth the wise, acts as a hood before the eyes of him who otherwise may see well in any case brought to his attention, and perverteth the words of the righteous, making right wrong and causing the judge to render false decisions.
v. 9. Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger, an injunction which in this connection refers chiefly to court cases; for ye know the heart of a stranger, just how he feels in the midst of humiliation and oppression, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. So much the Christians will also heed, especially such as are in positions of authority, where they must judge, render decisions, set forth the truth, that they be strictly impartial, not permitting themselves to be influenced by the social status of any persons with whom they have dealings, but frankly reproving the evil and acknowledging the good.
The Holy Periods and Feasts
v. 10. And six years thou shalt sow thy land, and shalt gather in the fruits thereof, whatever it yields under careful cultivation;
v. 11. but the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie still, let it remain unused, make no attempt to cultivate it, that the poor of thy people may eat, namely, that produced by the land without cultivation, the so-called volunteer grain; and what they leave the beasts of the field shall eat. This fallowing of the land would give it an opportunity to recuperate. In like manner thou shalt deal with thy vineyard and with thy oliveyard. There also the fruits were not to be gathered, but left for the poor and needy, for the beasts of the field, and for the fowls of the air. This was the so-called Sabbath of Years, analogous to the Sabbath of the Week.
v. 12. Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest, mainly by desisting from work, that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid and the stranger may be refreshed. So the slaves and the strangers, as well as the domestic animals, were to be given a breathing spell once a week, the Sabbath thus serving not only religious, but also humanitarian ends.
v. 13. And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect, be on your guard, watch most carefully; and make no mention of the name of other gods, the very reference to them being prohibited, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth. Jehovah was to be adored exclusively in the midst of Israel.
v. 14. Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto Me in the year. This is the enumeration of the great Jewish festivals, as it is repeatedly found in the ordinances given through Moses in the wilderness.
v. 15. Thou shalt keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread, in connection with the Passover; (thou shalt eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded thee, Exodus 12, in the time appointed of the month Abib, from the fourteenth to the twenty-first; for in it thou camest out from Egypt, it was the festival in commemoration of the deliverance from the bondage of Egypt; and none shall appear before Me empty, that is, with empty hands, everyone being expected to bring sacrificial gifts to the Lord;)
v. 16. and the Feast of Harvest, afterwards known as the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost, the first-fruits of thy labors, which thou hast sown in the field, the festival of the grain harvest; and the Feast of Ingathering, afterwards known as the Feast of Tabernacles, which is in the end of the year, in the fall of the year, in October, when thou hast gathered in thy labors out of the field, not only the grain, but also the fruits, the three great products being usually mentioned as corn, wine, and oil.
v. 17. Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord God. So it was specifically ordered that on the above-mentioned feasts the men of the congregation were obliged to appear before the Lord, a fact which excludes neither women, 1Sa_1:3, nor children, Luk_2:41 ff.
v. 18. Thou shalt not offer the blood of My sacrifice, that of the Passover, which, in a most particular sense, belonged to the Lord, with leavened bread; neither shall the fat of My sacrifice (or feast) remain until the morning. This is a reference to the institution of the Passover and of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for the Lord had decreed that leaven and leavened bread should not be found in the houses of the Israelites when this great sacrifice was made, and also that no part of the Passover lamb was to remain till the morning.
v. 19. The first of the first-fruits of thy land thou shalt bring into the house of the Lord, thy God. This refers to the festivals in general, for not only were the firstlings of the barley sheaves offered at Passover and two pentecostal loaves during the Feast of Weeks, but the people were expected in general to bring gifts of first-fruits to the Lord. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk, this practice being prohibited as unnatural and tending to make the feasting the central feature, especially in connection with the great festivals. The Old Testament Sabbath and festivals with their ordinances are no longer binding upon the Christians of the New Testament; yet God expects also us to thank and to praise, to serve and obey Him in true faith and love.
Concerning the Continuation of the Journey
v. 20. Behold, I send an Angel before thee to keep thee in the way and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. This special guiding and protecting Angel was the Son of God Himself, for in Him Jehovah was revealed; in Him, as the Angel of the face of God, the innermost essence of God was manifested. Under His almighty guidance their journey would prosper.
v. 21. Beware of Him, and obey His voice, provoke Him not, do not embitter Him; for He will not pardon your transgressions; for My name is in Him. The salvation of the children of Israel would depend upon their obedience, implicit, cheerful obedience.
v. 22. But if thou shalt indeed obey His voice, and do all that I speak, as the Lord's word and His word would be identical, then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies and an adversary unto thine adversaries; all those that bore or showed ill will to the children of Israel the Lord would requite in kind.
v. 23. For Mine Angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in unto the Amorites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and I will cut them off, destroy, annihilate, extirpate them.
v. 24. Thou shalt not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do after their works, in no manner become guilty of false worship, of idolatry; but thou shalt utterly overthrow them, the destruction of the heathen tribes of Canaan being expressly commanded here, and quite break down their images, break in pieces, smash the carved pillars used for idolatrous purposes.
v. 25. And ye shall serve the Lord, your God, and He shall bless thy bread and thy water; and I will take sickness away from the midst of thee. Bread and water are symbols of welfare, and well-being and health were to be the reward of faithfulness.
v. 26. There shall nothing cast their young nor be barren in thy land; the population of men as well as of domestic animals was not to be diminished by epidemics of miscarriages and by barrenness. The number of thy days I will fulfill; for a long life, under the blessing of God, is a reward of His goodness and mercy.
v. 27. I will send My fear before thee, causing all the heathen to be filled with apprehension and dread, and I will destroy all the people to whom thou shalt come, and I will make all thine enemies turn their backs upon thee, in flight, without having so much as begun a battle.
v. 28. And I will send hornets before thee, a figurative expression to denote the utmost terror, caused probably by some severe epidemic which the Lord sent to frighten the Canaanites, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite from before thee.
v. 29. I will not drive them out from before thee in one year, as the Lord could very easily have done, lest the land become desolate, and the beast of the field multiply against thee, their numbers as yet not being great enough to occupy the entire country. Cf Deu_7:22; Lev_26:22; Jos_13:1-7.
v. 30. By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased and inherit the land; while the heathen nations as such would be destroyed, individuals would still be found throughout the country until such a time as the growing number of the Israelites would crowd them out.
v. 31. And I will set thy bounds from the Red Sea, on the south, even unto the sea of the Philistines, the Mediterranean, on the west, and from the desert of Arabia, on the southeast, unto the river, the Euphrates, on the north, these being the ideal boundaries of the Promised Land; for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and thou shalt drive them out before thee.
v. 32. Thou shalt make no covenant with them, be inveigled into forming an alliance with them, nor with their gods, the idols which they had made for themselves.
v. 33. They shall not dwell in thy land, lest they make thee sin against Me; if they would remain in the land, their presence and their idolatrous customs would be a continual temptation to Israel, as the Lord well knew; for if thou serve their gods, it will surely be a snare unto thee. Even so, the intercourse of Christians with the children of this world all too often proves a snare to them, and they are lured into the idolatrous customs of the unbelievers. It is to our greatest advantage not to provoke the Lord at any time, lest He take His gracious presence from us. It is only by staying with Him that we are safe forever.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Exodus 23". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany