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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Exodus 23

Verse 1

Exodus 23:1

Thou shalt not raise a false report.

Slander characterized, prohibited, and punished

I. Slander is characterized.

1. Originating a false report. It may be from--

2. Listening to false reports.

3. Circulating a false report.

II. Slander is prohibited.

1. Affecting antecedents.

2. Affecting character.

3. Affecting family or social relations.

4. Affecting goods.

III. Slander is punished. The slanderer is--

1. Excluded from religious fellowship (Psalms 15:3).

2. Exposed to contempt of mankind (Proverbs 10:18).

3. Object of Divine vengeance (Psalms 10:5).

4. Excluded from kingdom of heaven (Revelation 22:15). (J. W. Burn.)

Description of slander

The tongue of the slanderer is a devouring fire, which tarnishes whatever it touches; which exercises its fury on the good grain equally as on the chaff, on the profane as on the sacred: which, wherever it passes, leaves only desolation and ruin; digs even into the bowels of the earth, and fixes itself on things the most hidden; turns into vile ashes what only a moment before had appeared to us so precious and brilliant; acts with more violence and danger than ever in the time when it was apparently smothered up and almost extinct; which blackens what it cannot consume, and sometimes sparkles and delights before it destroys. (Massillon.)

Envious slander

The worthiest persons are frequently attacked by slanders, as we generally find that to be the best fruit which the birds have been pecking at. (Bacon.)

How to avoid slander

The celebrated Boerhaave, who had many enemies, used to say that he never thought it necessary to repeat their calumnies. “They are sparks,” said he, “which, if you do not blow them, will go out of themselves. The surest method against scandal is to live it down by perseverance in well-doing, and by prayer to God, that He would cure the distempered minds of those who traduce and injure us.” It was a good remark of another, that “the malice of ill tongues cast upon a good man is only like a mouthful of smoke blown upon a diamond, which, though it clouds its beauty for the present, yet it is easily rubbed off, and the gem restored, with little trouble to its owner.”

Slander reproved

When any one was speaking ill of another in the presence of Peter the Great, he would shortly interrupt him, and say, “Well now; but has he not a bright side? Come, tell me what have you noticed as excellent in him! It is easy to splash mud; but I would rather help a man to keep his coat clean.”

Listening to slander

Calumny would soon starve and die of itself, if nobody took it in, and gave it lodging. (Leighton.)

There would not be so many open mouths if there were not so many open ears. (Bishop Hall.)

The progress of slander

It is AElian’s observation, how that men being in danger to be stung by scorpions, use to place their beds in water, yet the politic serpents have a device to reach them: they get up to the top of the house, where one takes hold, the next hangs at the end of him, a third upon the second, a fourth upon the third, and so making a kind of serpentine rope, they at last wound the man. And thus it is, that amongst scandalizers and slanderers, one begins to whisper, another makes it a report, a third enlargeth it to a dangerous calumny, a fourth divulgeth it for a truth. So the innocent man’s good name, which, like a merchant’s wealth, got in many years, and lost in an hour, is maimed, and so secretly traduced, that it is somewhat hard to find out the villain that did it. (J. Spencer.)

False reports

The Rev. C.H. Spurgeon has given publicity to the following letter: “Dear Mr. Spurgeon,--As I see that you are still occasionally put to the trouble of answering inquiries as to the truth of various anecdotes, etc., concerning yourself, I thought the following brief statement might interest you, or some of your numerous readers, if you think it well to publish it. About seventeen years ago I was for some time at a well-known health resort on the south coast. At the table d’hote I sat next to a young married lady, who was, alas! consumptive, and of that temperament which is so common in such cases, tres spirituelle, and very learned and accomplished. You may be sure she never lacked auditors for her lively conversation. At dessert one day she was ‘telling stories’ (in the literal and juvenile sense of the phrase) about yourself. I let her go on for some time, until I thought the fun was getting a little too fast; and then I said, ‘I hope Mrs., you do not believe the stories you are detailing, because I assure you, I heard nearly all of them in my boyhood, before Mr. Spurgeon was born, and that most of them were then attributed to Rowland Hill--doubtless with equal lack of authenticity.’ She looked me calmly in the face, with a comical expression, and replied, ‘Oh, Mr.

, we never ask whether such stories are true; it is quite sufficient if we find them amusing.’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘so long as that is understood all round, by all means keep on.’ The poor, brilliant, thoughtless woman and her husband also have many years since passed away; but she has many, many successors, who are without her wit, and not quite so goodhumouredly candid as to their practice. If only you can get it ‘understood all round ‘ that such folk really do not consider whether their ‘anecdotes‘ are true or not, it might save you some trouble. Yours faithfully.” Mr. Spurgeon himself adds: “This is quite true, but it is a pity that people should lie in jest. The lady was let off very easily. Our friend has touched the root of the matter, It is not malice, but the passion for amusement, which creates the trade in falsehood, which never seems to decline.”

Description of calumny

Apelles painted her thus: There sits a man with great and open ears, inviting Calumny, with his hand held out, to come to him; and two women, Ignorance and Suspicion, stand near him. Calumny breaks out in a fury; her countenance is comely and beautiful, her eyes sparkle like fire, and her face is inflamed with anger; she holds a lighted torch in her left hand, and with her right twists a young man’s neck, who holds up his hands in prayer to the gods. Before her goes Envy, pale and nasty; on her side are Fraud and Conspiracy; behind her follows Repentance, clad in mourning, and her clothes torn, with her head turned backwards, as if she looked for Truth, who comes slowly after. (A. Tooke.)

False insinuations

Often are the most painful wrongs inflicted through the medium of covert inuendoes and malignant insinuations. Half of a fact is a whole falsehood. He who gives the truth a false colouring by a false manner of telling it is the worst of liars. Such was Doeg in his testimony against the priests. He stated the facts in the case, but gave them such an artful interpretation as to impart to them the aspect and influence of the most flagrant falsehoods. It was through the same mode of procedure that our Lord was condemned.

An unrighteous witness.--

The duties of witnesses

I. Not to co-operate in an unrighteous cause (verse 1). This “commandment is exceeding broad,” and conveys a lesson--

1. To judicial witnesses.

2. To all partisans, controversialists, politicians.

3. To trades unionists, etc.

II. Not to co-operate in any unrighteous cause because it is popular (verse 2).

1. Because majorities are no test of truth. Multitudes may be roused by passion, prejudice, or self-interest.

2. Because men should be weighed as well as counted.

3. Because righteousness, from the constitution of human nature, is often unpopular and in the minority.

III. Not to co-operate in an unrighteous cause Because it is apparently benevolent (verse 3; Leviticus 19:15).

1. Because we may be putting a premium on vice which is the source of all misery.

2. Because justice is above mere sentiment, and for the well-being of the whole community, and not for the exclusive benefit of a class.

3. Because of its influence on the object himself. Let a man feel that you do this or that for him simply because he is poor, and he will see no advantage in helping himself.

Learn then--

1. To entertain none but righteous considerations.

2. To pursue them at all cost. (J. W. Burn.)

Verses 1-19


THE LESSER LAW (continued).

Exodus 23:1-19.

The twenty-third chapter begins with a series of commands bearing upon the course of justice; but among these there is interjected very curiously a command to bring back the stray ox or ass of an enemy, and to help under a burden the over-weighted ass of him that hateth thee, even "if thou wouldest forbear to help him." It is just possible that the lawgiver, urging justice in the bearing of testimony, interrupts himself to speak of a very different manner in which the action may be warped by prejudice, but in which (unlike the other) it is lawful to show not only impartiality but kindness. The help of the cattle of one's enemy shows that in the bearing of testimony we should not merely abstain from downright wrong. And it is a fine example of the spirit of the New Testament, in the Old.

"Thou shalt not take up a false report" (Exodus 23:1) is a precept which reaches far. How many heedless whispers, conjectures lightly spoken because they were amusing, yet influencing the course of lives, and inferences uncharitably drawn, would have been still-born if this had been remembered!

But when the scandal is already abroad, the temptation to aid its progress is still greater. Therefore it is added, "Put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness." Whatever be the menace or the bribe, however the course of opinion seem to be decided, and the assent of an individual to be harmless because the result is sure, or blameless because the responsibility lies elsewhere, still each man is a unit, not an "item," and must act for himself, as hereafter he must give account. Hence it results inevitably that "Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil, neither shalt thou speak in a cause to turn aside after a multitude to wrest judgment" (Exodus 23:2). The blind impulses of a multitude are often as misleading as the solicitations of the bad, and to aspiring temperaments much more seductive. There is indeed a strange magnetism in the voice of the public. Every orator knows that a great assembly acts upon the speaker as really as he acts upon it: its emotions are like a rush of waters to sweep him away, beyond his intentions or his ordinary powers. Yet he is the strongest individual there; no other has at all the same opportunity for self-assertion, and therefore its power over others must be more complete than over him.

This is one reason for the institution of public worship. Men neglect the house of God because they can pray as well at home, and encourage wanton subdivisions of the Church because they think there is no very palpable difference between competing denominations, or even because competition may be as useful in religion as in trade, as if our competition with the world and the devil for souls would not sufficiently animate us, without competing with one another. But in acting thus they weaken the effect for good of one of the mightiest influences which work evil among us, the influence of association. Men are always persuading themselves that they need not be better than their neighbours, nor ashamed of doing what every one does. And yet no voice joins in a cry without deepening it: every one who rushes with a crowd makes its impulse more difficult to stem; his individuality is not lost by its partnership with a thousand more; and he is accountable for what he contributes to the result. He has parted with his self-control, but not with the inner forces which he ought to have controlled.

Against this dangerous influence of the world, Christ has set the contagion of godliness within His Church, and every avoidable subdivision enfeebles this salutary counter-influence.

Moses warns us, therefore, of the danger of being drawn away by a multitude to do evil; but he is thinking especially of the peril of being tempted to "speak" amiss. Who does not know it? From the statesman who outruns his convictions rather than break with his party, and who cannot, amid deafening cheers, any longer hear his conscience speak, down to the humblest who fails to confess Christ before hostile men, and therefore by-and-by denies Him, there is not one whose speech and silence have never been in danger of being set to the sympathies of his own little public like a song to music.

That Moses was really thinking of this tendency to court popularity, is plain from the next clause--"Neither shalt thou favour a poor man in his cause" (Exodus 23:3).

It is an admirable caution. Men there are who would scorn the opposite injustice, and from whom no rich man could buy a wrongful decision with gold or favour, but who are habitually unjust, because they load the other scale. The beam ought to hang straight. When justice is concerned, the poor man's friend is almost as contemptible as his foe, and he has taken a bribe, if not in the mean enjoyment of democratic popularity, yet in his own pride--the fancy that he has done a magnanimous act, the attitude in which he poses.

As in law so in literature. There once was a tendency to describe magnanimous persons of quality, and repulsive clodhoppers and villagers. Times have changed, and now we think it much more ingenious and high-toned to be quite as partial and disingenuous, reversing the cases. Neither is true, and therefore neither is artistic. No class in society is deficient in noble qualities, or in base ones. Nor is the man of letters at all more independent, who flatters the democracy in a democratic age, than he who flattered the aristocracy when they had all the prizes to bestow.

Other precepts forbid bribery, command that the soil shall rest in the seventh year, when its spontaneous produce shall be for the poor, and further recognise and consecrate relaxation, by instituting (or more probably adopting into the code) the three feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. The section closes with the words "Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk" (Exodus 23:19). Upon this clause much ingenuity has been expended. It makes occult reference to some superstitious rite. It is the name for some unduly stimulating compound. But when we remember that, just before, the sabbatical fruit which the poor left ungleaned was expressly reserved for the beasts of the field, that men were bidden to help the overladen ass of their enemies, and that care is taken elsewhere that the ox should not be muzzled when treading out grain, that the bird-nester should not take the dam with the young, and that neither cow nor ewe should be slain on the same day with its young (Deuteronomy 25:4, Deuteronomy 22:6; Leviticus 22:28), the simplest meaning seems also the most probable. Men, who have been taught respect for their fellow-men, are also to learn a fine sensibility even in respect to the inferior animals. Throughout all this code there is an exquisite tendency to form a considerate, humane, delicate and high-minded nation.

It remained, to stamp upon the human conscience a deep sense of responsibility.

Verses 1-33



Exodus 20:18 - Exodus 23:33.

With the close of the Decalogue and its universal obligations, we approach a brief code of laws, purely Hebrew, but of the deepest moral interest, confessed by hostile criticism to bear every mark of a remote antiquity, and distinctly severed from what precedes and follows by a marked difference in the circumstances.

This is evidently the book of the Covenant to which the nation gave its formal assent (Exodus 24:7), and is therefore the germ and the centre of the system afterwards so much expanded.

And since the adhesion of the people was required, and the final covenant was ratified as soon as it was given, before any of the more formal details were elaborated, and before the tabernacle and the priesthood were established, it may fairly claim the highest and most unique position among the component parts of the Pentateuch, excepting only the Ten Commandments.

Before examining it in detail, the impressive circumstances of its utterance have to be observed.

It is written that when the law was given, the voice of the trumpet waxed louder and louder still. And as the multitude became aware that in this tempestuous and growing crash there was a living centre, and a voice of intelligible words, their awe became insufferable: and instead of needing the barriers which excluded them from the mountain, they recoiled from their appointed place, trembling and standing afar off. "And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us and we will hear, but let not God speak with us lest we die." It is the same instinct that we have already so often recognised, the dread of holiness in the hearts of the impure, the sense of unworthiness, which makes a prophet cry, "Woe is me, for I am undone!" and an apostle, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man."

Now, the New Testament quotes a confession of Moses himself, well-nigh overwhelmed, "I do exceedingly fear and quake" (Hebrews 12:21). And yet we read that he "said unto the people, Fear not, for God is come to prove you, and that His fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not" (Exodus 20:20). Thus we have the double paradox,--that he exceedingly feared, yet bade them fear not, and yet again declared that the very object of God was that they might fear Him.

Like every paradox, which is not a mere contradiction, this is instructive.

There is an abject fear, the dread of cowards and of the guilty, which masters and destroys the will--the fear which shrank away from the mount and cried out to Moses for relief. Such fear has torment, and none ought to admit it who understands that God wishes him well and is merciful.

There is also a natural agitation, at times inevitable though not unconquerable, and often strongest in the highest natures because they are the most finely strung. We are sometimes taught that there is sin in that instinctive recoil from death, and from whatever brings it close, which indeed is implanted by God to prevent foolhardiness, and to preserve the race. Our duty, however, does not require the absence of sensitive nerves, but only their subjugation and control. Marshal Saxe was truly brave when he looked at his own trembling frame, as the cannon opened fire, and said, "Aha! tremblest thou? thou wouldest tremble much more if thou knewest whither I mean to carry thee today." Despite his fever-shaken nerves, he was perfectly entitled to say to any waverer, "Fear not."

And so Moses, while he himself quaked, was entitled to encourage his people, because he could encourage them, because he saw and announced the kindly meaning of that tremendous scene, because he dared presently to draw near unto the thick darkness where God was.

And therefore the day would come when, with his noble heart aflame for a yet more splendid vision, he would cry, "O Lord, I beseech Thee show me Thy glory"--some purer and clearer irradiation, which would neither baffle the moral sense, nor conceal itself in cloud.

Meanwhile, there was a fear which should endure, and which God desires: not panic, but awe; not the terror which stood afar off, but the reverence which dares not to transgress. "Fear not, for God is come to prove you" (to see whether the nobler emotion or the baser will survive), "and that His fear may be before your faces" (so as to guide you, instead of pressing upon you to crush), "that ye sin not."

How needful was the lesson, may be seen by what followed when they were taken at their word, and the pressure of physical dread was lifted off them. "They soon forgat God their Saviour ... they made a calf in Horeb, and worshipped the work of their own hands." Perhaps other pressures which we feel and lament today, the uncertainties and fears of modern life, are equally required to prevent us from forgetting God.

Of the nobler fear, which is a safeguard of the soul and not a danger, it is a serious question whether enough is alive among us.

Much sensational teaching, many popular books and hymns, suggest rather an irreverent use of the Holy Name, which is profanation, than a filial approach to a Father equally revered and loved. It is true that we are bidden to come with boldness to the throne of Grace. Yet the same Epistle teaches us again that our approach is even more solemn and awful than to the Mount which might be touched, and the profaning of which was death; and it exhorts us to have grace whereby we may offer service well-pleasing to God with reverence and awe, "for our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 4:16, Hebrews 12:28). That is the very last grace which some Christians ever seem to seek.

When the people recoiled, and Moses, trusting in God, was brave and entered the cloud, they ceased to have direct communion, and he was brought nearer to Jehovah than before.

What is now conveyed to Israel through him is an expansion and application of the Decalogue, and in turn it becomes the nucleus of the developed law. Its great antiquity is admitted by the severest critics; and it is a wonderful example of spirituality and searching depth, and also of such germinal and fruitful principles as cannot rest in themselves, literally applied, but must lead the obedient student on to still better things.

It is not the function of law to inspire men to obey it; this is precisely what the law could not do, being weak through the flesh. But it could arrest the attention and educate the conscience. Simple though it was in the letter, David could meditate upon it day and night. In the New Testament we know of two persons who had scrupulously respected its precepts, but they both, far from being satisfied, were filled with a divine discontent. One had kept all these things from his youth, yet felt the need of doing some good thing, and anxiously demanded what it was that he lacked yet. The other, as touching the righteousness of the law, was blameless, yet when the law entered, sin revived and slew him. For the law was spiritual, and reached beyond itself, while he was carnal, and thwarted by the flesh, sold under sin, even while externally beyond reproach.

This subtle characteristic of all noble law will be very apparent in studying the kernel of the law, the code within the code, which now lies before us.

Men sometimes judge the Hebrew legislation harshly, thinking that they are testing it, as a Divine institution, by the light of this century. They are really doing nothing of the sort. If there are two principles of legislation dearer than all others to modern Englishmen, they are the two which these flippant judgments most ignore, and by which they are most perfectly refuted.

One is that institutions educate communities. It is not too much to say that we have staked the future of our nation, and therefore the hopes of humanity, upon our conviction that men can be elevated by ennobling institutions,--that the franchise, for example, is an education as well as a trust.

The other, which seems to contradict the first, and does actually modify it, is that legislation must not move too far in advance of public opinion. Laws may be highly desirable in the abstract, for which communities are not yet ripe. A constitution like our own would be simply ruinous in Hindostan. Many good friends of temperance are the reluctant opponents of legislation which they desire in theory but which would only be trampled upon in practice, because public opinion would rebel against the law. Legislation is indeed educational, but the danger is that the practical outcome of such legislation would be disobedience and anarchy.

Now, these principles are the ample justification of all that startles us in the Pentateuch.

Slavery and polygamy, for instance, are not abolished. To forbid them utterly would have substituted far worse evils, as the Jews then were. But laws were introduced which vastly ameliorated the condition of the slave, and elevated the status of woman--laws which were far in advance of the best Gentile culture, and which so educated and softened the Jewish character, that men soon came to feel the letter of these very laws too harsh.

That is a nobler vindication of the Mosaic legislation than if this century agreed with every letter of it. To be vital and progressive is a better thing than to be correct. The law waged a far more effectual war upon certain evils than by formal prohibition, sound in theory but premature by centuries. Other good things besides liberty are not for the nursery or the school. And "we also, when we were children, were held in bondage" (Galatians 4:3).

It is pretty well agreed that this code may be divided into five parts. To the end of the twentieth chapter it deals directly with the worship of God. Then follow thirty-two verses treating of the personal rights of man as distinguished from his rights of property. From the thirty-third verse of the twenty-first chapter to the fifteenth verse of the twenty-second, the rights of property are protected. Thence to the nineteenth verse of the twenty-third chapter is a miscellaneous group of laws, chiefly moral, but deeply connected with the civil organisation of the state. And thence to the end of the chapter is an earnest exhortation from God, introduced by a clearer statement than before of the manner in which He means to lead them, even by that mysterious Angel in Whom "is My Name."

Verse 2

Exodus 23:2

Thou shalt not fellow a multitude to do evil.

Following the multitude prohibited

I. Explain the nature of this precept.

1. It is here assumed that the multitude do evil. This may be inferred--

2. Secondly, the precept in the text supposes that we are in danger of copying the example of the multitude. We may infer this--

3. From a variety of melancholy facts. The multitude who now do evil were not always such adepts in depravity; when they first entered into the broad way their feet were not swift to do evil; they proceeded with hesitating steps, but by practice became hardened in crime.

II. Urge reasons to induce us to observe it. The multitude doing evil should not be imitated, because they are--

1. Unlawful and unconstituted guides.

2. Bad guides.

3. Dishonourable guides.

4. Unprofitable guides.

5. Dangerous guides.

III. Impart advice for the direction of those who wish to escape the ensnaring wiles of the multitude.

1. Get your minds deeply and thoroughly impressed with the awfulness of your situation. Dangers unseen will be unavoided.

2. Seek the regenerating grace of God.

3. Be on your guard against the seductive wiles and insinuating influence of the multitude. Sinners will entice you; but come out from among them; have no communion with the unfruitful works of darkness (Psalms 1:1).

4. Follow the happy few who strive to do good. Show that you are with Christ by being with His people. Oh, say, “This people shall be my people, and their God my God.” Inferences--

Individual responsibility

There is, I suppose, no doctrine more clearly set forth in Scripture than the doctrine of personal responsibility. There is no doctrine more readily owned, no doctrine more insisted upon by men. Yet I think I can show you that, in its application to a great number of particular cases, you would not only act as though you disbelieved it, but you would unconsciously maintain in words doctrines directly opposed to it. The words which I have just read to you suggest one of the most universally employed modes of denying this universally received doctrine of individual responsibility. “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil,” was said long ago by the Jewish law. I think you will find that the present condition of things, in whatever place or class we are thinking of, grew up from something very small, and that by degrees the sin acquired strength from the power and position, and then from the mere number of its perpetrators, until in time it acquired positive dignity and became correct, or according to the absurd modern phraseology, became “good form,” from the multitude of transgressors. I will begin with the sex which since the creation of the world has almost uniformly carried its point against the opposite sex, and which, nevertheless, is still facetiously called the weaker. They will, I believe, if you ask them, readily own themselves responsible for their use of time and of money. Well, they certainly spend an excessive amount of the latter, money, as I daresay their husbands know, in purchasing; and of the former, time, as everybody knows, in adjusting those ever-changing and most cumbrous absurdities which they pile upon themselves, and with which they surround themselves to the general inconvenience of everybody and everywhere. They do this until I should think they must feel uncomfortable, and I know that they look deformed. Why do they do it? Ask any one, and you will hear it all condemned at once, solemnly, perhaps piously condemned at once, the responsibility being shifted immediately from the individual to fashion, and that is to everybody. What does all that mean? Their conscience is relieved by the multitude whom they follow. Let us go a little further and take another view of the matter. Public bodies, I believe, parliaments, ministries, corporations, town commissioners, Poor Law guardians, boards of all kinds, and committees of all kinds, are known--every one of you knows it as well as I do--to be guilty of neglect of duties and violations of honour of which none of their members singly, in private transactions, would for one moment be capable. Take another set of instances. Look at the recognized dishonesties of different trades and businesses. The man who keeps light weights for selling, and heavy weights for buying, as I once knew a most “pious” man do; the man who adulterates food; the man who puts bad work or bad material where it is not to be detected; the servant who robs his master “in the usual way”; “the workman who to no greater extent than others of his craft plunders his employer”; none of these desire by any means, I fancy, to have their children taught at school that the Eighth Commandment has no meaning. They like to hear it every Sunday. Why? Because they have an unwritten tradition in the craft or trade, by which it is dispensed with. But I am going into more dangerous ground now. In the present day, the multitude has come to be considered something more than an excuser of deviations from strict principles in the ordinary affairs of life. It is beginning to assume the functions of the highest authority on religious matters. To call in question its decision, or refuse submission to its commands, no matter how uninstructed it may be, is coming to be viewed in the light of standing up against an inspired prophet. It does not occur to the thoughtless throng, who will rush anywhere to hear anybody, or to see anything, that when the multitude appears to have taken a “pious” turn it can be wrong to follow it whithersoever it leads. It does not seem to occur to them that when the multitude is longing to take Jesus by force and make Him a king, it may have just as little perception of His mission as when it clamorously demands His crucifixion. No, they are afraid to gainsay what the multitude asserts; they are afraid to do anything but echo its assertions, and thus each one among a multitude perpetuates the delusion of the others as to his real opinion, by being afraid to say it out, and act in conformity with it. This is the very spirit by which multitudes are created, by which they are enabled to assume formidable proportions, to become powerful for evil. The silence of cowardice is regarded as satisfactory consent, and everybody’s echo of what everybody else says is vaunted as the concurrence of numerous independent testimonies. Persons of this kind are the genuine followers of the multitude who are condemned in the text. (J. C. Coghlan, D. D.)

The sin of following the multitude to do evil

I. It implies that the majority or great mass of mankind are uniformly and constantly engaged in doing evil.

II. The prohibition which we are considering implies that every person is naturally disposed to follow a multitude to do evil.

III. The prohibition in the text implies that those are altogether criminal who, follow the evil examples of evil-doers, though they are the great majority of mankind. For--

1. They are free and voluntary in following the examples of those who do evil.

2. Every person acts contrary to his reason and conscience in following a multitude to do evil, which renders him altogether criminal and inexcusable.


1. If men are apt to follow bad examples, as has been said, then there is reason to think that bad examples are the great source of moral corruption in every part of the world.

2. If men are naturally disposed to follow the multitude to do evil, then the truly godly have much more concern in spreading moral corruption, and obstructing the cause of religion than they are apt to imagine.

3. Since men are naturally disposed to follow the bad examples of the multitude, it is easy to see why a people, declining in religion, are so apt to be insensible of their religious declensions. The minority are blended with the majority, and they are all imperceptibly declining together.

4. If all men are naturally disposed to follow the multitude to do evil, then the rising generation are always in a peculiarly dangerous situation.

5. If it be criminal to follow bad examples, it must be far more criminal to set bad examples.

6. If men are naturally disposed to follow the multitude to do evil, then every one in a state of nature has a great reason to fear that he shall live and die in his present unsanctified and impenitent state. Your belonging to the majority will not help you to turn about, but powerfully tend to hinder you. What will you say when He punishes you? (N. Emmons, D. D.)

Multirude no prevailing argument

The Lord that made us knoweth our mould and how easily we are persuaded to taste of the forbidden fruit, and how prone to be carried headlong to error, and therefore gives us a caveat, and sets a bar and stop in our way, that we run not to evil because we see others run or lead the way before us. And we shall do well by the way to take notice of our own corruption, as the Lord doth, that in the same we may see the necessity of this precept; for first, nature corrupt is as attractive of evil as the adamant naturally draws iron; just as a spark to tinder or gunpowder. Secondly, evil is diffusive of itself, and such an acquaintance there is between it and us, as the plague cannot so easily infect our bodies as sin doth poison and suddenly infect our souls. Thirdly, our nature is social, and not as the brutes; we readily thrust into company, and therefore being naturally enemies to solitariness, we are ready to follow if any one lead us the way; but if many or a multitude (as here) then we run, and for haste never stay to reason the case, neither in what way nor upon what errand. And, therefore, the Lord would have His people to fence themselves with a rule of prudence, that they be not misled by the crooked steps of others and their own perverse inclinations.

1. One reason is in the text: because a multitude may err and run to evil, and may decline to overthrow truth.

2. Multitudes cannot make that to be good which is evil in itself, neither in doctrine nor manners; well they may make an evil worse, but none better.

3. Multitudes cannot keep off the revenge of evil; one evil mate may help his fellow into sin, but cannot help him out of punishment,

4. Multitudes and most men are commonly the worst. The way to hell is broad and the gate wide that leads to destruction, and many go in thereat (Matthew 7:13). “Hell enlargeth itself (Isaiah 5:14).” Tophet is large and wide (Exodus 30:33). And therefore it cannot be the safest way which the most walk in. Contrarily, the fewest are commonly the best; pearls are rare; many hundred false prophets to one poor Micaiah; God’s part in the world was ever but a gleaning and a small remnant; and the apostle (1 John 5:19) pronounceth in the name of believers, “We know we are of God, and the whole world lieth in unrighteousness.”

5. It is better to walk the right way alone than to wander out of the way with company; better go to heaven alone, or with a few, than with multitudes to hell.

Come we now to application of this point.

1. If it be so dangerous to follow a multitude to evil, what a fearful thing it is to lead a multitude to evil! as the magistrate that enacts and commands evil; like Jeroboam that made all Israel to sin. Or the minister that shall be weak as another man by whose example many are corrupted, through loose speeches, unseemly behaviours, libertine courses, fellowship with the abject, opposing the persons and strict courses of such as fear God.

2. See how desperately many men frame their courses while they live as if to do as the most do, were a good and warrantable plea. Because the most are irreligious, without the fear of God, and without conscience: so are they. The most scorn to attend God’s ordinance: so do they. Commit a felony, riot, robbery, or rebellion with a multitude, and try if in thy trial before the judge it will be a good plea to say, “I was led, and followed the multitude.” What then would you have us to do? In matters of faith build upon a surer foundation than upon numbers and multitudes, whom it was never safe to follow; nor was it ever a good argument either of the truth or true Church. In Christ’s time the multitude followed the Scribes and Pharisees, but not Christ nor His apostles; and all the multitude cried, “Crucify Him.” And how uncertain a rule this is the father tells us who observed, that in synods and councils the greater side doth oftentimes overcome the better; and another who saith, that in all Divine cases we must not number voices, but weigh them. What sure ground can be expected from the rude multitude, than which nothing is more fickle and uncertain? But we have a surer word, “Being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner-stone” (Ephesians 2:20; 1 Corinthians 3:11). And we say as Hushai to Absolom (2 Samuel 16:18) “Nay, but whom the Lord and this people, and all the men of Israel chose, his will I be, and with him will I abide.” (T. Taylor, D. D.)

Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil

I. Imitation is one of the great characteristics of the human species. The same passion that impels us to society, impels us to take part with our companions in their interests and inclinations. Insensibly and without thought we fall into their customs and their manners; we adopt their sentiments, their passions, and even their foibles, and follow the same course as if we were actuated by the same spirit.

II. By what means we are to keep ourselves from following a multitude to do evil.

1. Let us be early and firmly established in the principles of an holy faith. It is education chiefly that forms the human character; and it is a virtuous and religious education that forms the character.

2. Let us beware with what company we associate.

3. Let us acquire firmness and fortitude of mind. (James Logan.)

The multitude an unsafe guide

It is said of the roes and hinds that they are most tender and fearful of all beasts, affrighted with any noise, checked with the least foil, turned out of course with the snapping of a stick, presently make head another way, and when they are once out of their wonted walk they run they know not whither, even to their own death. Such is the natural disposition of the multitude or common people, soon stirred up, quickly awry, sometimes running full head one way, on a sudden turned as much another, easily set agog, delighted with novelties. (J. Spencer.)

The multitude not to be followed

Said Horace Bushnell to his younger brother, who had been to a cheap show and came home crestfallen, “The next time that you see the whole world doing something, be sure not to go with them unless you have some better reason.” That was the germ of manly independence out of which the sturdy manhood of that remarkable thinker grew. The sooner a young man learns that there are in this world more silly people than wise, more weak than strong, the better his chances of being a man.

Custom not the standard of right

“Know that the Lord has set apart him that is godly for Himself.” Therefore it is no excuse for him to say, “I do but as others do.” He is to reckon his hours by the sun, not the town clock; to take God’s direction, not the vice of the multitudes, as one of their stamp and at liberty to comply with their fashions. (T. Mantan, D. D.)

Verses 4-5

Exodus 23:4-5

Thine enemy’s ox.

On duties to enemies

I. That duties to enemies are enjoined (Proverbs 24:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:15).

1. It is our duty to protect the interests of our enemy.

2. It is our duty to help the difficulties of our enemy.

II. That duties to enemies are difficult: “and wouldest forbear to help him.”

1. Such duties are against the grain of human nature.

2. Such duties are apparently against self-interest.

3. Such duties require self-denials and sacrifices.

III. That duties to enemies are rewarded (Proverbs 25:21-22; Matthew 5:44-45; Romans 12:20).

IV. That neglect of duties to enemies is punished (Job 31:29; Proverbs 24:18). In conclusion--

1. Our text applies to all enmity, whether polemical, political, or national.

2. Its precepts should be obeyed, because we may be in the wrong and our enemy in the right.

3. Because God has Himself set us the sublime example. “When we were enemies, we were reconciled by the death of His Son.” (J. W. Burn.)

Neighbourly conduct

The horse of a pious man living in Massachusetts, North America, happening to stray into the road, a neighbour of the man who owned the horse put him into the pound. Meeting the owner soon after, he told him what he had done; “And if I catch him in the road again,” said he, “I’ll do it again.” “Neighbour,” replied the other, “not long since I looked out of my window in the night and saw your cattle in my meadow, and I drove them out and shut them in your yard; and I’ll do it again.” Struck with the reply, the man liberated the horse from the pound, and paid the charges himself. “A soft answer turneth away wrath.”

A humane disposition

In one of my temperance pilgrimages through Illinois I met a gentleman who was the companion of a dreary ride which Mr. Lincoln made in a light waggon, going the rounds of a circuit court where he had clients to look after. The weather was rainy, the road “heavy” with mud. Lincoln enlivened the way with anecdotes and recital, for few indeed were the incidents that relieved the tedium of the trip. At last, in wallowing through a slough, they came upon a poor hog, which was literally fast in the mud. The lawyers commented on the poor creature’s pitiful condition and drove on. About half a mile was laboriously gone over, when Lincoln suddenly exclaimed, “I don’t know how you feel about it, but I’ve got to go back and pull that pig out of the slough.” His comrade laughed, thinking it merely a joke; but what was his surprise when Lincoln dismounted, left him to his reflections, and striding slowly back, like a man on stilts picking his way as his long walking implements permitted, he grappled with the drowning swine, dragged him out of the ditch, left him on its edge to recover his strength, slowly measured off the distance back to his waggon, and the two men drove on as if nothing had happened. The grand and brotherly nature which could not consent to see the lowest of animals suffer without coming to its rescue at great personal discomfort was nurtured by years of self-abnegation for the great struggle, when he should be strong enough to “put a shoulder to the wheel,” that should lift the chariot of State out of the mire and set a subject race upon its feet. (Frances E. Willard.)

Verses 6-8

Exodus 23:6-8

Thou shalt not wrest the judgment.

Duties of judges

I. That judges should be impartial.

1. In particular towards the poor (Exodus 23:6).

2. In general towards the right (Exodus 23:7, first clause). Not to aid or abet a wrong cause.

II. That judges should be cautious, particularly with regard to matters relating to capital punishment. “The innocent and righteous slay thou not.”

1. The case must be clearly proved.

2. The accused to have the benefit of the doubt.

3. Because justice would be done. If the criminal escaped an earthly doom, God would “not justify the wicked” (Proverbs 11:21).

III. That judges should be incorrupt (Exodus 23:8), either in the shape of direct bribe or indirect present.

1. Because the bribe may blind him to the true merit of the case; and--

2. Because the bribe may weigh down and pervert his judgment on the wrong side.

IV. That judges should be considerate (Exodus 23:9), particularly in regard to foreigners. Because--

1. They had been foreigners themselves, and had suffered for the want of consideration.

2. They therefore knew something of the sufferings of foreigners.

The administration of justice

There was a close connection between the civil and the military constitution of the Hebrews. The same men who were captains of thousands and captains of hundreds in war were magistrates in time of peace. In every Oriental state the point of greatest weakness is the administration of justice. Those who have lived long in the East testify that there is no such thing as justice; that no cadi, sitting in the place of judgment, ever pretends to such exceptional virtue as to be above receiving bribes. The utmost that can be expected is the hypocrisy which is the homage of vice to virtue; and even this is seldom rendered, for where bribery is universal no one is constrained by shame to conceal it. Against this terrible demoralization no rock can stand but that of the Divine authority. In the administration of justice a theocracy is an ideal government, for it is Divinity enthroned on earth as in heaven; and no other form of government enforces justice in a manner so absolute and peremptory. In the eyes of the Hebrew lawgiver, the civil tribunal was as sacred as the Holy of Holies. The office of the judge was as truly authorized and his duty as solemnly enjoined as that of the priest. “The judgment is God’s,” said Moses; and he who gave a false judgment disregarded the authority of Him whose nature is justice and truth. The judgment-seat was a holy place, which no private malice might profane. Evidence was received with religious care. Oaths were administered to give solemnity to the testimony (Leviticus 5:1). Then the judge, standing in the place of God, was to pronounce equitably, whatever might be the rank of the contending parties (Deuteronomy 1:17). He recognized no distinctions; all were alike to him. The judge was to know no difference. He was not to be biased even by sympathy for the poor (Exodus 23:3; Leviticus 19:15). Magistrates were not allowed to accept a gift, for fear of bribery. (H. M. Field, D. D.)

Bribery resisted

Persuaded that Marvell would be theirs (the Administration’s) for properly asking, they sent his old schoolfellow, the Lord Treasurer Danby, to renew acquaintance with him in his garret. At parting, the Lord Treasurer, out of pure affection, slipped into his hand an order upon the Treasury for £1,000, and then went to his chariot. Marvell, looking at the paper, called after the Treasurer, “My lord, I request another moment.” They went up again to the garret, and Jack, the servant-boy, was called. “Jack, child, what had I for dinner yesterday?” “Don’t you remember, sir? You had the little shoulder of mutton that you ordered me to bring from the woman in the market.” “Very right, child. What have I for dinner to-day?” “Don’t you know, sir, that you bade me lay by the blade-bone to broil?” “’Tis so; very right, child; go away. My lord, do you hear that? Andrew Marvell’s dinner is provided. There’s your piece of paper--I want it not. I know the sort of kindness you intended. I live here to serve my constituents. The Ministry may seek men for their purpose. I am not one.” (Coleridge.)

Bribes declined

“Why,” asked one of the English Tortes of the Tory Governor of Massachusetts--“why hath not Mr. Adams been taken off from his opposition by an office?” To which the Governor replied, “Such is the obstinacy and inflexible disposition of the man, that he never would be conciliated by any office whatever.” His daughter used to say that her father refused a pension from the British Government of f2,000 a year. Once, when a secret messenger from General Gage threatened him with a trial for treason if he persisted in his opposition to the Government and promised him honours and wealth if he would desist, Adams rose to his feet and replied, “Sir, I trust I have long since made my peace with the King of kings. No personal consideration shall induce me to abandon the righteous cause of my country.”

A judge to refuse bribes

I dare say many of you may have heard of the celebrated Sir Matthew Hale, that he was in the habit of receiving a present from a person annually; and it happened once, that about the usual time when this friend made him the present, that he was accused of some offence, and was to appear as an accused person before Sir Matthew Hale. On this occasion Sir Matthew Hale returned him the present, lest it should afford even the shadow of a suspicion that the purity of judicial impartiality should be disturbed, or seem to be disturbed, by a gift from one who was to appear before the court accused of an offence, and demanding a fair trial. And I believe still it would be thought the most scandalous outrage upon our constitution, and every judge would repudiate it with scorn and disdain, were any one, expecting to have his cause tried by that judge, to attempt to propitiate his favour by gifts. Now, this beautiful rule--so just, so reasonable, so proper--was anticipated and was known, you observe, three thousand years ago, and was first revealed by Him who is the Fountain of all wisdom and justice. (J. Cumming, D. D.)

Bribery resisted

A speculator heard that an amalgamation between two joint-stock companies was projected, which would afford an opportunity to make a large sum of money by prompt purchases of shares. He was acquainted with an official holding a subordinate and poorly paid position in one of the companies, and went to him to obtain reliable information. But the official was a Christian and a man of honour, and knowing the information would operate to the disadvantage of his employers, refused to say whether the amalgamation was contemplated or not. “I can make £60,000 by my speculation if you will tell me,” said the tempter, “and I will give you half.” “I cannot betray my trust,” was the reply. “You need not speak,” said the speculator; “just wink your eye and I shall know, and you shall have £30,000.” The temptation was fierce, but the Christian conquered it. A few days afterwards, when the amalgamation was completed, the speculator reproached his acquaintance for not giving the information, but he was told that an approving conscience was above price. It is satisfactory to learn that the faithful official prospered in his subsequent career, and is now receiving a salary of £5,000 a year.

Verse 9

Exodus 23:9

Thou shalt not oppress a stranger, for ye knew the heart of a stranger.

The logic of law

The argument is that our conduct is to spring out of our experience; we are to go back upon our own history and consciousness for the law that shall guide us in the treatment of our fellow-men. Why, could we do so, no more should we hear the rasping voice of rancour, hostile criticism, mean remark, or severe demand.

1. Thou shalt not oppress the struggling man, for thou thyself hast had thy struggle. Do not be hard upon those who are going up-hill.

2. Thou shall not oppress a doubting man, for thou thyself hast had thy doubts, if thou art more than half a man.

3. The text has a meaning in reference to ourselves, as well as to others. Thou shalt not renew old fears, for all thy fears have been round, black, blatant liars. Six fears have been with you, have lied to you, have made you play the fool in all the higher relations and issues of life, and yet I detect you this morning talking in the corner to a member of the same false family! Why do you not throw it from you, or order it behind you, or mock it with the jibing of perfect rest in God!

4. “Thou shalt not--, because--.” That is the logic of the text. Now, what must He be who gave such laws? In the character of the laws, find the character of the legislator. God must be tender; He takes care of strangers. Not only so; He must be aware of human history in all its changes and processes. He knows about the strangers who were in the land of Egypt; He knows about their deliverance; He knows that strangers are a tribe that must be on the earth from age to age; He knows us altogether. He speaks a word for the stranger. Oh, man, friendless, lonely man, you should love God. Oh, woman, mother, sister, sinning woman, you should love Christ. Oh, little children, frail flowers that may wither in a moment, you should put out your little hands, if in but dumb prayer, and long to touch the Son of God. Oh, working man, led away by the demagogue, made to scoff where you ought to pray, the Bible has done more for you than any other book ever attempted to do; this is a human book, a book for the nursery, the family, the market-place, the parliament, the universe! (J. Parker, D. D.)

Kindly qualities developed by adversity

I suppose it is adversity that develops the kindly qualities of our nature. I believe the sense of common degradation has a tendency to make the degraded amiable--at least among themselves. I am told it is found so in the plantations in slave-gangs. (Lord Beaconsfield.)

Verse 9

Exodus 23:9

Thou shalt not oppress a stranger, for ye knew the heart of a stranger.

The logic of law

The argument is that our conduct is to spring out of our experience; we are to go back upon our own history and consciousness for the law that shall guide us in the treatment of our fellow-men. Why, could we do so, no more should we hear the rasping voice of rancour, hostile criticism, mean remark, or severe demand.

1. Thou shalt not oppress the struggling man, for thou thyself hast had thy struggle. Do not be hard upon those who are going up-hill.

2. Thou shall not oppress a doubting man, for thou thyself hast had thy doubts, if thou art more than half a man.

3. The text has a meaning in reference to ourselves, as well as to others. Thou shalt not renew old fears, for all thy fears have been round, black, blatant liars. Six fears have been with you, have lied to you, have made you play the fool in all the higher relations and issues of life, and yet I detect you this morning talking in the corner to a member of the same false family! Why do you not throw it from you, or order it behind you, or mock it with the jibing of perfect rest in God!

4. “Thou shalt not--, because--.” That is the logic of the text. Now, what must He be who gave such laws? In the character of the laws, find the character of the legislator. God must be tender; He takes care of strangers. Not only so; He must be aware of human history in all its changes and processes. He knows about the strangers who were in the land of Egypt; He knows about their deliverance; He knows that strangers are a tribe that must be on the earth from age to age; He knows us altogether. He speaks a word for the stranger. Oh, man, friendless, lonely man, you should love God. Oh, woman, mother, sister, sinning woman, you should love Christ. Oh, little children, frail flowers that may wither in a moment, you should put out your little hands, if in but dumb prayer, and long to touch the Son of God. Oh, working man, led away by the demagogue, made to scoff where you ought to pray, the Bible has done more for you than any other book ever attempted to do; this is a human book, a book for the nursery, the family, the market-place, the parliament, the universe! (J. Parker, D. D.)

Kindly qualities developed by adversity

I suppose it is adversity that develops the kindly qualities of our nature. I believe the sense of common degradation has a tendency to make the degraded amiable--at least among themselves. I am told it is found so in the plantations in slave-gangs. (Lord Beaconsfield.)

Verses 10-11

Exodus 23:10-11

The seventh year thou shalt let it rest.

The Sabbatic year

This law was intended--

1. To show the fertility of the land of promise. Every seventh year, without skill or toil, the land would produce of itself sufficient for the poor and the beasts of the field.

2. To encourage habits of thrift and forethought, so that they might provide for the year of rest.

3. To test

I. That periods may arrive by the order or permission of God when work must re laid aside. Commercial depression, sickness, old age.

II. That the prospect of such periods should lead us to provide for them. We are not like “fowls of the air,” or “grass of the field,” which have to be literally fed and clothed by the providence of God, and are utterly unable to forecast and provide for contingencies.

III. That the prospect of such periods should teach us resignation to the will of God and faith in His goodness (Matthew 6:25-34).

1. There remaineth “a rest” for the people of God.

2. Prepare for that rest by faith and obedience. (J. W. Burn.)

Verse 12

Exodus 23:12

On the seventh day thou shalt rest.

Labour and rest

I. That rest is needful--“May be refreshed.”

1. Rest is needful that the exhausted faculties may repose after past work.

2. Rest is needful that those faculties may be invigorated for future service.

3. Rest is needful that work may not become irksome; for if so

4. Rest is needful that work may be free and joyous.

II. That rest is mercifully provided.

1. This rest is provided by God, lest man should overlook its necessity.

2. This rest is provided by God lest the servant, the foreigner, or the beast should be defrauded of their right to it.

III. That rest should be diligently earned. “Six days shalt thou do thy work.”

1. Not lounge over it;

2. Not neglect it; but

3. Do it earnestly, conscientiously, and well.


1. A lesson to employers. God has provided this rest; beware how you steal what God has given to man.

2. A lesson to working-men. This rest is yours by right. Then

3. A lesson to the world at large. Sabbath-breaking is the direct cause of

Need of rest

We know well enough that if trains are run at fifty miles an hour over roads built to endure only a speed of thirty miles an hour, everything in a short time begins to give way, and to wear out, and the whole road and all the rolling stock gets into a dangerous condition. Every rail, every tie, every joint, every nail, every wheel and bit of machinery feels the strain and wear. The human mechanism is not less sensitive than are railroads and locomotives. The tendency of the time is to increase the speed of individual movement and progress. The over-driven human being needs constant rest and repairs, as do railroads and locomotives, and a thousand-fold more, for his mechanism is infinitely more complicated and delicate. Instead of adding more fuel to a disordered engine to make it go, we would send it to the repair shop, and let it be restored by skilled workmen to soundness. So when the mind and body are worn and weary, send them to the repair shop for rest. Sleep, quiet, nutritious food, the absence of all stimulants and whips, and goads--these skilled positive and negative workmen of nature will restore (if anything can) the wasted vitality, and bring back health and strength and soundness. (Christian Advocate.)

Verse 13

Exodus 23:13

Be circumspect.


I. In general. “In all things.” Moses is drawing to the close of these precepts, and looking back upon them, he says--“Be circumspect.” The original suggests--

1. That we should be fully awake to the importance of the Divine commands.

2. That we should be on our guard against temptations to break the Divine commands. Temptations are

3. That we should be careful “to remember His commandments to do them.”

II. In particular, “make no mention,” etc. Because--

1. That would be uncircumspect in the first and greatest commandment.

2. That would be to forfeit the help promised to the circumspect.

3. That would be to yield to a tendency to be uncircumspect in everything. Christians--

1. “Watch and pray, lest ye enter rote, temptation.”

2. Live so as “to adorn the doctrine of God your Saviour m all things. (J. W. Burn.)

Circumspection needed

The mysterious perturbation of a ship’s compass is reported in a scientific journal. It appears that the compass of the ship Penguin, recently anchored off Australia, was deflected fifty-five degrees, and had a dip of eighty-three degrees. After the ship left the anchorage and proceeded on her voyage the disturbance ceased. At two miles from the point the variation was quite normal. The captain spent a day in investigating the phenomenon. He passed two or three times over the point where he had anchored, and found that whenever the ship crossed it, the compass was disturbed as before, and recovered when at a distance of two miles in any direction. This satisfied him that the centre of the submarine disturbance was limited to a circle of less than two miles magnetic minerals at the sea bottom. The journal reporting his observation says: “Great as is the gain to the navigator to be thus warned of a formidable danger in certain places, it lays upon him the imperative duty of being always on his guard against such sources of disaster elsewhere, and of promptly reporting any new magnetic disturbance, as he would a rock or shoal.!” Similar vigilance is necessary on the part of every voyager through life.

Verse 16

Exodus 23:16

The feast of harvest.

The feast of harvest

I. The instruction it communicates

1. It exhibits the wonderful power of God.

2. We have an establishment of the faithfulness and truth of God.

3. We have a manifestation of the goodness and bounty of God.

4. It displays the mercy and forbearance of God.

5. It shows us the connection between means and the end.

II. What feelings it should produce. It should produce feelings--

1. Of deep humiliation.

2. Of heartfelt gratitude.

3. Our constant dependence upon God.

4. A constant desire to please Him.

III. What practical influence the subject should exert upon us.

1. To labour for the provision suited to our souls.

2. To do good in our respective spheres and stations in life.

3. Prepare for the final harvest.


1. Let us gratefully enjoy the bounties of Providence. Many are abusing, many forgetting, etc.

2. Let us be especially anxious about the blessings of eternal life.

3. Let us always act in reference to the final harvest of the world. (J. Burns, D. D.)

Pilgrimage feasts

I. Religious feasts are memorials.

1. Of God’s past dealings.

2. Of our dependence on God’s care.

3. Of our present condition. Pilgrims. This earth is not our rest.

II. Religious feasts are not to interfere with the duties of life.

III. stated religious feasts are helpful to a religious spirit.

IV. Religious feasts must promote the social and benevolent instincts of our nature.

V. The offerings at religious feasts must be--

1. Pure,

2. Of the best. (W. Burrows, B. A.)

The feast of harvest

This was their Pentecost; so called from a Greek word signifying “fifty”--because it occurred on the fiftieth day from the feast of unleavened bread. It was, properly, a harvest festival, in which the Jew offered thanksgiving unto God for the ripened fruits of the earth. To understand the peculiar interest the Jew took in this holiday, you must remember that the Israelites, after their establishment in Canaan, were almost entirely a nation of farmers. The peasant and the noble, in their respective spheres, were alike husbandmen. And the whole land of Israel was in the highest state of cultivation. Now, to such a people, inhabiting such a country, the feast of harvest was necessarily a grand festival.

1. We, too, want great national and religious holidays, to keep in mind great national providences.

2. We need them, moreover, as verily as the Jews, for their conservative political influence--to counteract the sectional and unsocial tendencies of our great tribal divisions. If we could come up nationally to such Pentecosts, then no living man would ever again dare breathe of discord and disunion--for chords, tender as our loves and stronger than our lives woven of religion and holy with old memories, as the memorial festivals uniting Judah and Ephraim, would bind us together and bind us to God!

3. Meanwhile we need such pentecostal holidays for those personal advantages which they brought to the Hebrews. They furnish that harmless relaxation so constitutionally necessary to our highest well-being. Real pleasure, as well physical as moral, is always the true law of life. True virtue is genial and joyous, walking earth in bright raiment, and with bounding footsteps. And the nervous, restless, unreposing, devouring intensity of purpose wherewith our men follow their business, is as disastrous to the nobler moral bloom and aroma of the heart, as a roaring hurricane to a garden of roses. Above all, our religious nature needs them. The true joy of the Lord is the Christian’s strength. Cheerfulness is a very element of godliness.

4. This is our Pentecost--our feast of harvest. And even in its lowest aspect, as a grateful acknowledgment of God’s goodness, in preserving for our use the kindly fruits of the earth, it is a fitting occasion of thankfulness. It is scarcely possible to over-estimate the importance of agriculture. It surpasses commerce and manufacture, as a cause is superior to its effects--as an inner life is of more moment than its various outward functions. Meanwhile, the reflex influences of industrial agriculture on our physical and social well-being are as well incalculable. After all, the finest products of our farm-lands are found in our farm-houses. Things better than corn and cabbages are grown on plough-ground--bone, muscle, sinew, nerve, brain, heart; these all thrive and strengthen by agriculture. The specimens of strong, hale, common-sense manhood seen at our annual fairs are a finer show than all the fat cattle and sheep, and noble horses, and the brave array of farm-fruits and implements. Agriculture purifies morals, chastens taste, deepens the religious element, develops the individual man.

5. Our thanksgiving is partly in view of the ripened fruits of the earth; but mainly in view of other and higher blessings. And in this regard as well, it is properly--a feast of harvest. In respect of all things--not merely the natural fruits of the earth, but all great human interests, political, intellectual, religious--we may be said to live in the world’s great harvest time. We have reaped, and are reaping, the ripened and ripening fruits of all earth’s past generations. Consider this a little.

6. In respects, then, like these, political, intellectual, religious, we live in times of unexampled blessedness. We have come up to Zion from hills purple with vintage, and valleys golden with corn, in the rapturous harvest-home of the mortal! And it becomes us to keep festival before God as the old Jew kept his Pentecost. As men, as patriots, as philanthropists, as Christians, our cup of joy mantles brightly. What more could God have done for us that He hath not done? What people can be happy before God, if we are not happy? Living here, in this nineteenth century, free men--free Christians--we seem to stand on the very mount of God, flung up in the waste of ages, for the enthronement of His great man-child! We look backward, and lo! all the past has been working together for our national and individual beatitude. Patriarchs, prophets, bards, sages, mighty men, conquerors, have all been our servants. Generation after generation, that have lived and died--great empires, that have risen and flourished, and trod imperial paths, and passed away for ever--seem to rise from their old death-dust, and march in vision before us, laying down all their accumulated thoughts, and arts, and honours--all the trophies of their mighty triumphs, in homage, at our feet! We look forward, and the eye is dazzled with the vision of the glory about to be accorded to God’s kingly creature, man! when standing upon this redeemed world, he shall assert his birthright--a child of God here! an heir of God for ever! Verily, we have cause for thanksgiving. “The Lord hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad.” Let us give, then, free course to our grateful emotions! Thankful for the present, trustful for the future, let us rejoice before God “with the joy of harvest.” (C. Wadsworth.)

Verse 19

Exodus 23:19

Thou shalt not seethe a kid.

Cherish the finer instinct

The prohibition suggests the duty of cherishing the finer instincts of our nature. The act here forbidden could hardly be called cruelty, the kid being dead, but it was unnatural. It is beautiful to see the ancient Law inculcating this rare and delicate fineness of feeling. The lesson is that everything is to be avoided which would tend to blunt our moral sensibilities. (J. Orr.)

Verse 20

Exodus 23:20

To bring thee into the place which I have prepared.

Life’s pilgrimage

The angel, the way, the prepared place. It is the Divine key to the mystery of life. Life is emphatically a way. Not by the way of the sea--a prompt and easy path--but by the way of the wilderness, of old God led His pilgrims. The vision of the angel in the way lights up the wilderness. Consider the suggestion of the text as to--

I. The pilgrim’s condition. God’s children must be pilgrims, because this world is not good enough, not bright enough, not capable of being blessed enough, for the pilgrim in his home. For--

1. The instructed soul sees the touch of essential imperfection and the bounds of close limitation in everything here.

2. There is a constant aching of the heart through memory and hope.

3. Life is a pilgrimage because it is far away from the Friend whom we supremely love.

II. The pilgrim’s guide.

1. God has sent His angel before us in the person of His Son.

2. He sends His angel with us in the person of the Holy Ghost.

III. The pilgrim’s way to the pilgrim’s home.

1. It is a way of purposed toil and difficulty, of wilderness, peril, and night. Suffer we must in the wilderness; the one question is, Shall it be with or without the angel of the Lord?

2. It is a way of stern, uncompromising duty. God asks us now simply to do and to bear, and to wait to see the whole reason and reap the whole fruit on high. We must train ourselves to the habit of righteous action, and leave the results to God and eternity.

3. It is a way of death. God promises to none of us an immunity from death. The shadow hangs round life as a drear monitor to all of us. He only who can eye it steadily and fix its form will see that it is angelic and lustrous with the glory beyond. The grave is but the last step of the way by which the angel leads us to the place which He has prepared. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)

Divine guidance

I. There is a Divine way.

1. Through the wilderness.

2. Beset with enemies.

3. Many privations.

4. Contrary to mere human liking.

God’s way is not our way! Ours may be pleasant at first but bitter at last, but God’s way is the reverse; and yet not exactly, for sweets are graciously mingled with the bitters. There is hunger, but there is manna. There is thirst, but there is clear water from the smitten rock. There is perplexity, but there is an angel to guide and protect.

II. This way leads to Divinely-prepared places. Heaven is a specially prepared place. “I go to prepare a place for you.” A place in the best of all places. A home in the best of homes. A dwelling-place where all the abodes are mansions. A seat where all the seats are thrones. A city where all the citizens are kings. What matters it though the way be long and sometimes dreary, so long as the place is so attractive; and we cannot fail to reach it if we obey Divine directions.

III. The travellers on this way are favoured with a Divine guide. Jesus Christ, the Angel of the new covenant, is fully competent to direct and protect. He has trodden every inch of the way.

IV. Divine promises are contingent on the faithful pursuit of Divine methods (Exodus 23:21). The Divine methods are--Caution, obedience, self-restraint, and the entire destruction of all that has the remotest tendency to damage the moral nature. (W. Burrows, B. A.)

The angel of the covenant

I. His nature was Divine.

1. Equal with God.

2. Distinct from the personality of the speaker, “I send,” so New Testament, “The Father which sent Me.”

II. His office was to conduct the covenant people to the fulfilment of God’s covenant engagement.

1. Providence. “To keep thee in the way.” So Christ “upholds all things by the word of His power.” “In Him all things consist.” Generally and particularly He preserves those who trust in Him (John 10:28).

2. Redemption. “To bring thee into the place which I have prepared.” Israel’s redemption is only half accomplished as yet. So Christ’s eternal redemption is not complete till the last enemy is destroyed (John 14:2-3).

III. The proper attitude towards Him.

1. Fear. Carefulness not to displease Him. Christ is the Saviour of those only who believe in Him. To others He is a “savour of death unto death.”

2. Obedience. “Obey His voice.” So says the Father in the New Testament (Matthew 17:5); and Himself (Matthew 28:20). This implies

IV. The reward of obedience to Him (Exodus 23:22-23).

1. Identification and sympathy with us in our cause. “I will be an enemy,” etc.

2. Victory over our foes (1 Corinthians 15:57), world, flesh, devil, death, etc.

3. Inheritance in the promised land.


1. (2 Timothy 1:9), That God’s grace has been manifested in Jesus Christ from the beginning of the world.

2. That God’s grace has been, through Jesus Christ, with His people up to the present moment.

3. And will be till the end of the world. (J. W. Burn.)

Christ at the head of the column

It is said when the Duke of Wellington, on one occasion, rode up to his retreating army, a soldier happened to see him first and cried out: “Yonder is the Duke of Wellington; God bless him!” and the retreating army had courage to nerve itself afresh and went forward and drove the enemy away. One has said that the Duke of Wellington was worth more at any time than five thousand men. So it would be if we had the Captain of our salvation in front, we would go forward. How gloriously would this Church contend if Christ were visibly in front of them! But the army was sometimes without the Duke of Wellington. There was a place where he could not be. And if Christ were visibly present, He would be present at the same time, only at one church in one locality; it might be in Philadelphia, but what of the thousand other cities? But an unseen Saviour is at the head of the column everywhere. We know He is there. The Captain of our salvation is where two or three are gathered in His Name to inspire us; and to-day, in every city on the face of this globe, where the columns meet to march, His voice sounds “Onward!” in their ears. (M. Simpson, D. D.)

The angel in life

Laws without angels would turn life into weary drudgery. Life has never been left without some touch of the Divine presence and love. From the very first this has been characteristic of our history. The solemn--the grand, fact is, that in our life there is an angel, a spirit, a presence; a ministry without definite name and altogether without measurableness! a gracious ministry, a most tender and comforting service, always operating upon our life’s necessity and our heart’s pain. Let us rest in that conviction for a moment or two until we see how we can establish it by references to facts, experiences, consciousness against which there can be no witness. See how our life is redeemed from baseness by the assumption that an angel is leading it. Who can believe that an angel has been appointed to conduct a life which must end in the grave? The anticlimax is shocking; the suggestion is charged with the very spirit of profanity. If an angel is leading, us, is he leading us to the grave? What is it within us that detests the grave, that turns away from it with aversion, that will not be sent into so low and mean a prison? It is “the Divinity that stirs within us.” Then again, who could ask an angel to be a guest in a heart given up to evil thoughts and purposes? Given the consciousness that an angel is leading us, and instantly a series of preparations must be set up corresponding with the quality and title of the leading angel of our pilgrimage. We prepare for some guests. According to the quality of the guest is the range and costliness of our preparation. Whom our love expects our love provides for. When we are longing for the coming one, saying, “The presence will make the house the sweeter and the brighter, and the speech will fill our life with new poetry and new hope. Oh, why tarry the chariot wheels?” then we make adequate--that is to say, proportionate--preparation. The touch of love is dainty, the invention of love is fertile, the expenditure of love is without a grudge or a murmur,--another touch must be given to the most delicate arrangement; some addition must be made to the most plentiful accommodation; love must run over the programme just once more to see that every line is worthily written. Then the front door must be opened widely, and the arms and the heart, and the whole being to receive the guest of love. And that is so in the higher regions. If an angel is going to lead me, the angel must have a chamber in my heart prepared worthy of myself. Chamber!--nay, the whole heart must be the guest-room; he must occupy every corner of it, and I must array it with robes of purity and brightness that he may feel himself at home, even though he may have come from heaven to do some service for my poor life. Any appeal that so works upon every kind of faculty, upon imagination, conscience, will, force, must be an appeal that will do the life good. It calls us to perfectness, to preparedness, to a nobility corresponding in some degree with the nobility of the guest whom we entertain. The Divine presence in life, by whatever name we may distinguish it, is pledged to two effects, supposing our spirit and our conduct to be right. God undertakes our cause as against our enemies. Would we could leave our enemies in His hands! I do not now speak altogether of merely human enemies--because where there is enmity between man and man, though it never can be justified, yet it admits of such modification in the system of words as to throw responsibility upon both sides--but I speak of other enemies,--the enmity expressed by evil desire, by the pressure of temptation, by all the array against the soul’s health and weal of the principalities of the power of the air, the princes of darkness, the spirits of evil. Send the angel to fight the angel; let the angel of light fight the angel of darkness. The second effect to which the Divine presence in our life is pledged is that we shall be blessed with the contentment which is riches. Thus we have mysteries amongst us which the common or carnal mind cannot understand. Men asking God’s blessing upon what appears to be unblest poverty--men saying it is enough when we can discover next to nothing in the hand uplifted in recognition of Divine goodness. Thus we hear voices coming from the bed of affliction that have in them the subdued tones of absolute triumph; thus the sick-chamber is turned into the church of the house, and if we would recover from dejection, and repining, and sorrow, we must go to the bedside of affliction and learn there how wondrous is the ministry of God’s angel, how perfecting and ennobling the influence of God’s grace. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Verses 20-33


Exodus 23:20-33.

This summary of Judaism being now complete, the people have to learn what mighty issues are at stake upon their obedience. And the transition is very striking from the simplest duty to the loftiest privilege: "Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk. Behold, I send an Angel before thee.... Beware of him: for My Name is in him" (Exodus 23:19-21).

We have now to ask how much this mysterious phrase involves; who was the Angel of whom it speaks?

The question is not, How much did Israel at that moment comprehend? For we are distinctly told that prophets were conscious of speaking more than they understood, and searched diligently but in vain what the spirit that was in them did signify (1 Peter 1:11).

It would, in fact, be absurd to seek the New Testament doctrine of the Logos full-blown in the Pentateuch. But it is mere prejudice, unphilosophical and presumptuous, to shut one's eyes against any evidence which may be forthcoming that the earliest books of Scripture were tending towards the last conclusions of theology; that the slender overture to the Divine oratorio indicates already the same theme which thunders from all the chorus at the close.

It is scarcely necessary to refute the position that a mere "messenger" is intended, because angels have not yet "appeared as personal agents separate from God." Kalisch himself has amply refuted his own theory. For, he says, "we are compelled ... to refer it to Moses and his successor Joshua" (in loco). So then He Who will not forgive their transgressions is he who prayed that if God would not pardon them, his own name might be blotted from the book of life. He, to whom afterwards God said "I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee" (Exodus 33:19), is the same of Whom God said "My name is in Him." This position needs no examination; but the perplexities of those who reject the deeper interpretation is a strong confirmation of its soundness. We have still to choose between the promise of a created angel, and some manifestation and interposition of God, distinguished from Jehovah and yet one with Him. This latter view is an evident preparation for clearer knowledge yet to come. It is enough to stamp the dispensation which puts it forth as but provisional, and therefore bears witness to that other dispensation which has the key to it. And it is exactly what a Christian would expect to find somewhere in this summary of the law.

What, then, do we read elsewhere about the Angel of Jehovah? What do we find, especially, in these early books?

A difficulty has to be met at the very outset. The issue would be decided offhand, if it could be shown that the Angel of this verse is the same who is offered, as a poor substitute for their Divine protector, in the thirty-third chapter. But no contrast can be clearer than between the encouraging promise before us, and the sharp menace which then plunged Israel into mourning. Here is an Angel who must not be provoked, who will not pardon you, because "My Name is in Him." There is an angel who will be sent because God will not go up, ... lest He consume them (Exodus 23:2-3). He is not the Angel of God's presence, but of His absence. When the intercession of Moses won from God a reversal of the sentence, He then said "My Presence (My Face) shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest,"(38) but Moses answers, not yet reassured, "If Thy Presence (Thy Face) go not up with us, carry us not up hence. For wherein shall it be known that I have found grace in Thy sight?... Is it not that Thou goest with us? And the Lord said, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken" (Exodus 23:14-17).

Moreover, Isaiah, speaking of this time, says that "In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His Presence (His Face) saved them" (Isaiah 63:9).

Thus we find that some angel is to be sent because God will not go up: that thereupon the nation mourns, although in this twenty-third chapter they had received as a gladdening promise, the assurance of an Angel escort in Whom is the name of God; that in response to prayer God promises that His Face shall accompany them, so that it may be known that He Himself goes with them; and finally that His Face in Exodus is the Angel of His Face in Isaiah. The prophet at least had no doubt whether the gracious promise in the twenty-third chapter answered, in the thirty-third chapter, to the third verse or the fourteenth--to the menace, or to the restored favour.

This difficulty being now converted into an evidence, we turn back to examine other passages.

When the Angel of the Lord spoke to Hagar, "she called the name of Jehovah that spake unto her El Roi" (Genesis 16:11, Genesis 16:13). When God tempted Abraham, "the Angel of Jehovah called unto him out of heaven, and said, ... I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son ... from Me" (Genesis 22:11-12). When a man wrestled with Jacob, he thereupon claimed to have seen God face to face, and called the place Peniel, the Face (Presence) of God (Genesis 32:4, Genesis 32:30). But Hosea tells us that "He had power with God: yea, he had power over the Angel, ... and there He spake with us, even Jehovah, the God of hosts" (Hosea 12:3, Hosea 12:5). Even earlier, in his exile, the Angel of the Lord had appeared unto him and said, "I am the God of Bethel ... where thou vowedst a vow unto Me." But the vow was distinctly made to God Himself: "I will surely give the tenth to Thee" (Genesis 31:1-55 : Genesis 31:11, Genesis 31:13; Genesis 28:20, Genesis 28:22). Is it any wonder that when this patriarch blessed Joseph, he said, "The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which hath fed me all my life long unto this day, the Angel which hath redeemed me from all evil, (may He) bless the lads" (Genesis 48:15-16)?

In Exodus 3:2 the Angel of the Lord appeared out of the bush. But presently He changes into Jehovah Himself, and announces Himself to be Jehovah the God of their fathers (Exodus 3:2, Exodus 3:4, Exodus 3:15). In Exodus 13:21 Jehovah went before Israel, but the next chapter tells how "the Angel of the Lord which went before Israel removed and went behind" (Exodus 14:19); while Numbers (Numbers 20:16) says expressly that "He sent an Angel and brought us out of Egypt."

By the comparison of these and many later passages (which is nothing but the scientific process of induction, leaning not on the weight of any single verse, but on the drift and tendency of all the phenomena) we learn that God was already revealing Himself through a Medium, a distinct personality whom He could send, yet not so distinct but that His name was in Him, and He Himself was the Author of what He did.

If Israel obeyed Him, He would bring them into the promised land (Exodus 23:23); and if there they continued unseduced by false worships, He would bless their provisions, their bodily frame, their children; He would bring terror and a hornet against their foes; He would clear the land before them as fast as their population could enjoy it; He would extend their boundaries yet farther, from the Red Sea, where Solomon held Ezion Geber (1 Kings 9:26), to the Mediterranean, and from the desert where they stood to the Euphrates, where Solomon actually possessed Palmyra and Thiphsah (2 Chronicles 8:4; 1 Kings 4:24).


Verse 30

Exodus 23:30

By little and little I will drive them out before thee.

The gradual processes of God

It is important, not only to see, but to love, the gradual processes of God. There is more love in doing the little thing than in doing the great thing. A great mind is never so great as when it is throwing itself into something exceedingly minute. The special subject to which the text spiritually and allegorically refers is the conquest of sin. For such as the old inhabitants of the land of Canaan were to Israel, such the old inhabitants of our hearts are to us. But now here let me draw what appears to me to be a very important distinction before I proceed. If the processes of sanctification are exceedingly small, the work of justification is template--perfectly complete--in its one defined isolated act. Never confound this--the advancement of your holiness with the perfection of your pardon. There are no degrees of pardon. Nevertheless, though, the Lord Jesus Christ being set up in his heart, sin has gone down, and grace is in the ascendancy--the sin is there--and there it is in tremendous rebellion and awful conflict. Make the distinction of the sin dominant, and the sin subservient, but rebellious against the grace dominant. Yet still, though the sin be thus so far subdued, it lives. Only “little by little,” after it is put down from its throne, is it expelled. It goes on to that expulsion--till at last, as the condemnation of sin was exchanged for the rebellion of sin, the rebellion of sin is exchanged for the removal of the presence of sin, and sin is no longer there. Now I want to lead you to see the benefits of this “little by little.” It is in infinite mercy. It is the discipline of life. And not only in the external event, but in the internal experiences, to a believer, it is all discipline. And that very gradual overcoming of sin is a great part of the discipline of life--to exercise many graces, patience, faith, waiting upon God, prayer, humiliation. And not only so, but remember in this discipline of life, God has His punishments. And do you know what God’s heaviest punishment is? Sin. He makes sins scourge sins!--often a sin we hate to scourge a sin we love--often a sin of action to chasten a sin of feeling--often a sin of conscience to humble us in the dust and make us discover a sin of emotion. Sins punish sins. Therefore, as the old Canaanites were kept in the land of Canaan for this very end--that they might be thorns in the side of the Israelites, and whenever the Israelites fell into idolatry--for their grievous sin some were allowed to rise up and overcome them for awhile, till God raised up some judge to overcome that nation, so it is in your heart. And not only is it thus discipline and punishment--but remember it is for the manifestation of the glory of the Holy Ghost who exhibits His power and grace in the process of converting sinners into saints. Or look at it again thus. I do not believe that we could bear now to be perfectly holy. That inward light, if so unclouded, would be of such a brightness as would wither us and scorch us. The body would not be capable of it--the mind would not be capable of it. But when we have the disembodied spirit, or when we have the “spirit clothed upon with the new body,” then, and then only, we shall be capable of perfect saintliness. And till that, it must be “little by little,”--a gradual approaching to that state which we could not bear if introduced to at once. Now, just in conclusion, observe the expression “I will drive them out.” It is one of God’s high works; it requires the power of Omnipotence to eradicate sin from the human soul. (J. Vaughan M. A.)

The power of little things

I. It is through little things that a man destroys his soul; he fails to take note of little things, and they accumulate into great; he relaxes in little things, and thus in time loosens every bond.

II. It is by little and little that men become great in piety. We become great in holiness through avoiding little faults, and being exact in little duties.

III. There is great difficulty in little things. In daily dangers and duties, in the petty anxieties of common life, in the exercise of righteous principles, in trifles--in these we must seek and find the opportunity of ejecting “by little and little” the foes we have sworn to expel from our hearts. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

Little things

I. Great things are made up of little things. Highest mountain of grains of dust. Atlantic of drops of water. Year of 31,536,000 seconds. Deepest snow-fall came down one flake at a time.

II. Great things depend on little ones. Falling of apple from tree insignificant enough; yet led to discovery of law of gravitation.

III. Great things spring from little ones. Oak once an acorn. Greatest hero once an infant. Explosion in coal-pit which destroyed life and property was caused by spark from match. Tract sent by child to India fell into hands of a chief, who was brought to Christ through reading it; missionary was sent out and hundreds converted.

IV. Great works are accomplished by little and little. Pyramids raised one stone at a time. Greatest paintings done stroke by stroke. Michael Angelo, when pointing out what progress he had made in a piece of sculpture on which he was engaged, was met with the remark, “But these are trifles.” He replied, “Trifles make perfection; but perfection is no trifle.”

V. Character is formed by little and little. Good characters are built up of little acts of kindness, industry, generosity, obedience, and integrity. One mean or dishonest act may destroy a reputation which it has taken years to acquire. (W. H. Booth.)

The power of moral forces

I. The strength of moral forces.

II. The power of little, backed by moral force.

III. Moral forces move to the production of distant results.

IV. The movements of moral forces are not hurried.

V. Moral forces will continue to move until the purpose is finally accomplished.

VI. Moral forces are ever on the side of right doers. (W. Burrows, B. A.)

The conquering life

The upward road to success must always be over difficulties, and these are only overcome “little by little.” The man who would conquer must not expect to do so at once, by one headlong charge. Yes, a man to succeed must be self-reliant, he must trust to God and his own right arm. When Stephen Colonna was taken prisoner by his enemies, and they sneeringly asked him, “Where is now your stronghold?” he laid his hand upon his heart, and answered, “Here.” A man must dare to stand alone. If Clive had leaned upon others instead of himself, he would not have matched his few European and native troops against the overwhelming masses of Bengal, and have won the Battle of Plassey. If Columbus had been discouraged by delays, and obstacles and disappointments, he would never have found America. We have seen, then, that success means the overcoming of difficulties, by determination, by self-reliance, by patience, “little by little.” This is equally true of the noblest of all pursuits, the pursuit of holiness, of the grandest and purest work, work for God; of the hardest and most splendid of victories, victory over self. The victories which have been gained over ourselves will be remembered when the triumphs of Caesar and Hannibal are uncared for. “He conquered himself” is a better epitaph than “He conquered the world.” Well, then, in this daily life of ours we all have a Canaan to conquer; and God promises that if we do our part, He will drive out our foes “little by little.” No one becomes bad all at once, nor good all at once. Our life, if it be the true life, will be a gradual growth in grace, a daily dying to sin, and rising again unto righteousness, a daily mortifying of our evil and corrupt affections, and a daily proceeding in all virtue and godliness of living. (H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, M. A.)

Destructive power of “little” things

How does it commonly come to pass, that a man who had been thoroughly alive to his moral responsibility, and who had acted under a manifest consciousness of the account which must one day be rendered at the judgment seat of Christ, falls away from the striving for salvation, and mingles with the multitude that walks the broad road? Is it ordinarily through one powerful and undisguised assault, that he is turned from the path--the enemies of his soul combining their strength in one united attack, and coming down on him with every weapon which their malice could suggest and their power obtain? Nay, not so; it is invariably through “little” things, that such a man destroys his soul. Like the heavenly bodies, the man of piety moves in a resisting medium, as he revolves about the Sun of righteousness, which is, and must be, the centre of our system. It may be only a very minute fraction of velocity, that this resisting medium is able at any one time to destroy; but its operation is constant, and therefore if the destroyed fraction remain unobserved and unrepaired, the waste will go on, till the whole motion is lost, and the star recedes from its pathway of light. As Christians we profess ourselves strangers and pilgrims upon earth; we are not at home, and the atmosphere of the earth is one which tends to retard our movements, and diminish the speed with which we might otherwise run the race set before us; and although, beyond doubt, the world may occasionally put huge impediments in the way, which may tend to block up the path, and force us, on a sudden either to stand still or turn aside, yet our chief danger lies in the almost imperceptible influence exerted by the world, like that of the resisting medium on the planets--a hindrance which offers no violent opposition to our principles, but which, confining itself to trifles, is perhaps allowed to act undisturbed, as though either there could be trifles when the soul’s good is in debate, or as though, if there were, trifles upon trifles would not make up large amounts. There is a sort of continued attraction, resulting from our necessary intercourse with the world, which of itself deadens the attainments of the soul. There is, moreover, a continued temptation to yield in little points under the impression of conciliating, to indulge in little things, to forego little strictnesses, to omit little duties, and all owing to the idea, that what looks so slight cannot be of real moment. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

Gradual sanctification

We here have--

I. A gracious promise, on God’s part, to those who are now His true Israel, and who look for a better possession than the earthly Canaan.

II. An admirable criterion by which to discover the sincerity of our Profession; and our progress in it.

III. A warning that the work of sanctification must be gradual. God does not give us a rapid victory over our sins.

1. In order to keep us humble;

2. To incite us to prayer, watchfulness and exertion;

3. To increase our desires after that land where peace and purity reign for ever.

IV. A guarantee of future victory, though it may be progressive. (P. Maitland, B. A.)

The difficulty of little things

“By little and little.” My brethren, think often of the mode in which God thus declares that He will drive out before Israel the Hivite, the Perizzite, and the Jebusite: it is the very mode by which His grace will enable you to drive out from your hearts those principles of evil which oppose the complete setting up of the kingdom of His Son. The difficulty in religion is the taking up the cross daily, rather than the taking it up on some set occasion, and under extraordinary circumstances. The serving God in little things, the carrying religious principle into all the minutiae of life, the discipline of our tempers, the regulation of our speech, the domestic Christianity, the momentary sacrifices, the secret and unobserved self-denials--who that knows anything of the difficulties of piety does not know that there is greater danger of his falling in these, than in trials which apparently call for higher and sterner endurance? If on no other account than from the very absence of what looks important, are trifles likely to throw him off his guard, make him careless or confident, and thereby almost ensure defeat. It is not comparatively hard to put the armour on, when the trumpet sounds, but it is to keep the armour on when there is no alarm of battle; and our warfare with our spiritual enemies is not warfare in a series of pitched battles, with intervals for rest and recruiting--it is rather daily, hourly, momentary fighting. This is the “driving out by little and little,” to which the Almighty promises “the reward of the inheritance.” Understand, therefore, and remember, that there is great difficulty in little things. Be assured that daily dangers and duties, the little unevennesses which may ruffle the temper, the petty anxieties of common life, the exercise of righteous principle in trifles--in these must you seek, and in these will you find the opportunity of ejecting “by little and little” the foes which you have sworn to expel from the heart, but which still, like the Canaanites against Israel, dispute the territory with the Lord God of hosts. And if the warfare be tedious, forget not that you fight for an incorruptible crown. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

Importance of little things

Giotto, a distinguished Roman painter, was desired by one of the Popes to paint a panel in the Vatican. Some doubt of his ability, however, being entertained, the Pope’s messenger first asked him for an example of his art. Giotto’s study was adorned with his paintings, but instead of offering any of these, he took a sheet of white paper, and with a single stroke of his pencil drew a perfect circle, and handed it to his visitor. The latter, in surprise, reminded him that he had asked for a design. “Go,” said Giotto; “I tell you, his Holiness asks nothing else of me.” He was right, for the evidence of his command of the pencil was accepted as conclusive, and his eccentric though reasonable reply gave rise to the proverb, “Round as Giotto’s O.” To do a small thing well is the best proof of ability to do what is great.

Progressive sanctification

Those persons must have a very inadequate knowledge of the scheme of salvation, who suppose that the work of sanctification is sudden and rapid in its effects. And why? Because we find a consistency maintained between God’s natural government of the world, and the plan of salvation as displayed in the gospel. And hence we are led to argue, that both must proceed from the same Divine hand. Now, when persons first resign this world as their portion, and give themselves up to the service of God, they frequently set out with highly raised expectations and, not fully conscious of the difficulties which lie in their path, suppose that the victory over sin will be easily accomplished, and a rapid progress made in the ways of godliness. It is with the inexperienced Christian, as it is with the young in the spring-tide of their existence. Then all is bright and glittering; and, exulting in the present, and buoyed up with joyous hopes for the future, they know not of the cloud gathering in the horizon. And this expectation is, in a measure, aided by the fact, that in the earlier stages of a Christian course, a much more rapid advance is frequently made than is found to be the case in after years. Moreover, the Christian, in the earlier stages of his course, is not fully aware of the extent of obedience which the law of God demands, and is not sufficiently conscious of the deep depravity of his own heart. Hence the terms of the gospel, which demand an irreconcileable war with every lust and passion, and call for a continued and persevering struggle with every known sin, cannot be fully appreciated, because these are not discovered. But it is the office of the Holy Spirit, gradually to make this discovery to the mind of the Christian. But has God ever undertaken that Satan and the world and the flesh shall at once be beaten down beneath your feet? No! What says my text? “By little and little.” But, whilst it is only right, Christians, that I should thus set before you the difficulties which beset your path, at the same time that you take warning from the text not to expect a more rapid victory over sin than God has prescribed, take also to yourselves the encouragement which it affords. Here is the promise of Him who cannot lie, that He will eventually make us more than conquerers, though it will be by little and little, and not so rapidly as we could desire. “Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you, will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ.” It will be gradual, but effectual--it will be progressive, but abiding; if left to yourselves, indeed, your strength must fail; and vain would be the attempt to contend successfully with your sins and infirmities. “The Lord is my strength and my song, and is become my salvation,” says the Psalmist; and what he here speaks of--God’s loving-kindness--is only that which is the portion of every true believer. “He giveth power to the faint,” says the prophet, “and to them that have no might He increaseth strength.” How cheering are such assurances to those who feel the burden of their sin, and how calculated to set at rest all doubts and misgivings with respect to our future perseverance! But, for this, let it ever be remembered that continued and fervent supplication must be made. “For all these things” are the words of God, “will I be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them.” And never let us complain that our enemies are mighty, and that we make so slow a progress against them, whilst we neglect to plead in prayer with the Almighty for the fulfilment of His own promises. And here let me turn to the well-tried Christian--to such as are firmly established and grounded in the faith; and I would ask, whether you cannot bear testimony to the faithfulness with which the promise of the text is verified? You, as well as others, need the encouragement which it affords, because, the more you grow in holiness, the more you will perceive how infinitely short you come of the standard at which you aim. But have you not reason from the past, to trust God for the future? With St. Paul, thank God, and take courage; and, whenever it shall happen (as it sometimes will with the holiest and best of men) that you entertain doubts and misgivings with respect to your ultimate safety, owing to your unworthiness, recall to your minds the promise of my text, and others of a similar character. Let these reassure and animate you: God is still the same unfailing Protector of those who trust in Him as He ever was, and will never forsake the true sheep of His pasture, but gradually drive out their enemies from before them, until they are established in their promised possession. (P. Maitland, B. A.)

Verses 31-33

Exodus 23:31-33

They shall not dwell in thy land.


1. God is the sovereign boundmaker to all nations on the earth.

2. Among all God hath promised to set the bounds of His Church on earth.

3. God’s suppression of His adversaries is a token of His settling His Church’s habitation (Exodus 23:31).

4. No covenant with idolatrous adversaries must be made by the Church against God’s will.

5. No covenant can be made with idolaters, but it will be with their idols, viz., devils (Exodus 23:32).

6. Converse with idolaters is very dangerous to make men such sinners against God.

7. Such sinning with idolaters is a snare, which will keep souls to destruction.

8. All such sins must be avoided, that God’s promise of good may be obtained (Exodus 23:33). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Associating with the ungodly

Those who willingly associate with the sinful are like the river Thames, which is a sweet and pretty river enough near its source; but in the great metropolis it has kept company with drains and sewers under the belief that its current was too powerful and too pure to be injured by them. It was meant that the river should purify the sewer; but, instead of that, the sewer has corrupted the river. (Union Magazine.)

The snare of worldliness

Serious people often complain of the snares they meet with from worldly people, and yet they must mix with them to get a livelihood. I advise them, if they can, to do their business with the world as they do it in the rain. If their business calls them abroad, they will not leave it undone for fear of being a little wet; but then, when it is done, they presently seek shelter, and will not stand in the rain for pleasure. So, providential and necessary calls of duty, that lead us into the world, will not hurt us, if we find the spirit of the world unpleasant, and are glad to retire from it, and keep out of it, as much as our relative duties will permit. That which is our cross is not so likely to be our snare; but if that spirit which we should always watch and pray against, infects and assimilates our minds to itself, then we are sure to suffer loss, and act below the dignity of our profession. (Newton’s Letters to a Nobleman.)

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Exodus 23". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.