(1-19) The “miscellaneous laws” are here continued. From Exodus 23:1 to Exodus 23:9 no kind of sequence in the laws can be traced; from Exodus 23:10 to the first clause of Exodus 23:19 there is, on the contrary, a certain connection, since the laws enunciated are concerned with ceremonial observance. The closing law, however, is not ceremonial, but the prohibition of a practice considered to be cruel. On the whole, it may be said that The Book of the Covenant maintains its unsystematic character to the close. (See Note on Exodus 20:22-26.)
(1) Thou shalt not raise a false report.—The LXX. and Vulg. Translate, “Thou shalt not receive a false report”—i.e., give it credit, accept it as true, and act upon it. This meaning accords well with the succeeding clause, which forbids our giving support to the false testimony of others. In both clauses the principle of the ninth commandment is extended from principals to accessories.
Exodus 23:10And six years thou shalt sow thy land, and shalt gather in the fruits thereof:CEREMONIAL LAWS.
(10, 11) Six years . . . the seventh year.—The Sabbatical year which is here commanded was an institution wholly unknown to any nation but the Hebrews. It is most extraordinary that any legislator should have been able to induce a people to accept such a law. Prima facie, it seemed, by forbidding productive industry during one year in seven, to diminish the wealth of the nation by one-seventh. But it is questionable whether, under a primitive agricultural system, when rotation of crops was unknown, the lying of the land fallow during one year in seven would not have been an economical benefit. There was no prohibition on labour other than in cultivation. The clearing away of weeds and thorns and stones was allowed, and may have been practised. After an early harvest of the self-sown crop, the greater part of the year may have been spent in this kind of industry. Still the enactment was no doubt unpopular: it checked the regular course of agriculture, and seemed to rob landowners of one-seventh of their natural gains. Accordingly, we find that it was very irregularly observed. Between the Exodus and the Captivity it had apparently been neglected seventy times (2 Chronicles 36:21), or more often than it had been kept. After the Captivity, however, the observance became regular, and classical writers notice the custom as one existing in their day (Tacit. Hist. v. 4). Julius Cæsar permitted it, and excused the Jews from paying tribute in the seventh year on its account (Joseph., Ant Jud. xiv. 10, § 6). The object of the law was threefold—(1) to test obedience; (2) to give an advantage to the poor and needy, to whom the crop of the seventh year belonged (Exodus 23:11); and (3) to allow an opportunity, once in seven years, for prolonged communion with God and increased religious observances. (See Deuteronomy 31:10-13.)
Thy vineyard . . . Thy oliveyard.—These would bear a full average produce, and the boon to the poor man would in these respects have been very considerable. Corn, wine, and oil were the staple commodities of Palestine (Deuteronomy 8:8; 2 Kings 18:32, &c.).
Make no mention of the name of other gods.—The Jewish commentators understand swearing by the name of other gods to be the thing here forbidden, and so the Vulg., “per nomen exterorum deorum non jurabitis.” But the words used reach far beyond this. Contempt for the “gods of the nations” was to be shown by ignoring their very names. They were not to be spoken of, unless by preachers in the way of warning, or by historians when the facts of history could not be otherwise set forth. Moses himself mentions Baal (Numbers 22:41), Baal-peor (Numbers 25:3; Numbers 25:5), Chemosh (Numbers 21:29), and Moloch (Leviticus 20:2-5; Leviticus 23:21).
In the time appointed of the month Abib.—From the 14th day of the month Abib (or Nisan) to the 21st day. (See Exo. Xii. 18, 13:4-7.)
None shall appear before me empty.—Viewed religiously, the festivals were annual national thanks-givings for mercies received, both natural and miraculous—the first for the commencement of harvest and the deliverance out of Egypt; the second for the completion of the grain-harvest and the passage of the Red Sea; the third for the final gathering in of the fruits and the many mercies of the wilderness. At such seasons we must not “appear before God empty,” we must give Him not only “the salves of our lips,” but some substantial acknowledgment of His goodness towards us. The law here laid down with respect to the first feast is afterwards extended to the other two (Deuteronomy 16:16).
The feast of ingathering.—Elsewhere commonly called “the feast of tabernacles” (Leviticus 23:34; Deuteronomy 16:13; Deuteronomy 16:16; Deuteronomy 31:10; 2 Chronicles 8:13; Ezra 3:4; Zechariah 14:16-19, &c.). Like the feast of unleavened bread, this lasted for a week. It corresponded to a certain extent with modern “harvest-homes,” but was more prolonged and of a more distinctly religious character. The time fixed for it was the week commencing with the fifteenth and terminating with the twenty-first of the month Tisri, corresponding to our October. The vintage and the olive-harvest had by that time been completed, and thanks were given for God’s bounties through the whole year. At the same time the sojourn in the wilderness was commemorated; and as a memorial of that time those who attended the feast dwelt during its continuance in booths made of branches of trees. (See Leviticus 23:40; Nehemiah 8:14-17.)
The fat of my sacrifice.—Rather (as in the Margin), the fat of my feast. The fat of the Paschal lambs was burnt on the altar with incense the same evening. Thus the whole lamb was consumed before the morning. As the Paschal lamb is καὶ ἐξοχήν, “my sacrifice,” so the Passover is “my feast.”
The house of the Lord. Comp. Exodus 34:26 and Deuteronomy 23:18. It is known to Moses that the “place which God will choose to put his name there” is to be a “house,” or “temple.”
Thou shalt not seethe a kid.—A fanciful exegesis connects the four precepts of Exodus 23:18-19 with the three feasts—the two of Exodus 23:18 with the Paschal festival, that concerning firstfruits in Exodus 23:19 with the feast of ingathering, and this concerning kids with the feast of tabernacles. To support this theory it is suggested that the command has reference to a superstitious practice customary at the close of the harvest—a kid being then boiled in its mother’s milk with magic rites, and the milk used to sprinkle plantations, fields, and gardens, in order to render them more productive the next year. But Deuteronomy 14:21, which attaches the precept to a list of unclean meats, is sufficient to show that the kid spoken of was boiled to be eaten. The best explanation of the passage is that of Bochart (Hierozoic. pt. 1, bk. 2, Exo. 52), that there was a sort of cruelty in making the milk of the mother, intended for the kid’s sustenance, the means of its destruction.
Exodus 23:20Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.THE PROMISES OF GOD TO ISRAEL, IF THE COVENANT IS KEPT.
(20-33) The Book of the Covenant terminates, very appropriately, with a series of promises. God is “the rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” He chooses to “reward men after their works,” and to set before them “the recompense of the reward.” He “knows whereof we are made,” and by what motives we are influenced. Self-interest, the desire of our own good, is one of the strongest of them. If Israel will keep His covenant, they will enjoy the following blessings :—(1) The guidance and protection of His angel till Canaan is reached; (2) God’s help against their adversaries, who will, little by little, be driven out; (3) the ultimate possession of the entire country between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea on the one hand, the Desert and the Euphrates on the other; (4) a blessing upon their flocks and herds, which shall neither be barren nor cast their young; and (5) a blessing upon themselves, whereby they will escape sickness and enjoy a long term of life. All these advantages, however, are conditional upon obedience, and may be forfeited.
(20) I send an Angel before thee.—Kalisch considers Moses to have been the “angel” or “messenger;” others understand one of the created angelic host. But most commentators see in the promise the first mention of the “Angel of the Covenant,” who is reasonably identified with the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Eternal Son and Word of God. When the promise is retracted on account of the sin of the golden calf, it is in the words, “I will not go up with thee” (Exodus 33:3).
Thou shalt . . . quite break down their images.—Conquerors generally preserved the idols of the conquered nations as trophies of victory; to do so was forbidden to the Israelites. Idolatry had such a powerful and subtle attraction for them, that there was danger of their being seduced into it unless the entire apparatus of the idol-worship were destroyed and made away with. Hence the present injunctions, and others similar to them. (Comp. Exodus 34:13; Deuteronomy 7:5; &c.)
Take sickness away.—Half the sicknesses from which men suffer are directly caused by sin, and would disappear if men led godly, righteous, and sober lives. Others, as plague and pestilence, are scourges sent by God to punish those who have offended Him. If Israel had walked in God’s ways, He would have preserved them from sicknesses of all kinds by a miraculous interposition. (Comp. Deuteronomy 7:15.)
The number of thy days I will fulfil.—Comp. Exodus 20:12. Long life is always regarded in Scripture as a blessing. (Comp. Psalm 55:23; Psalm 90:10; Job 5:26; Job 42:16-17; 1 Kings 3:11; Isaiah 65:20; Ephesians 6:3, &c.)
Nor with their gods.