New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary


Exo 23:1 You shall not spread a false report. Don’t join your hand with the wicked to be a malicious witness.

Exo 23:2 You shall not follow a crowd to do evil; neither shall you testify in court to side with a multitude to pervert justice-

We go astray “like sheep” (Is. 53:6)- we tend to sin because of others’ influence, because we’re not as strongly individualistic and independent as we like to think we are.

Exo 23:3 neither shall you show partiality to a poor man in his legal case-
As noted on :4, this could be a command not to show partiality in the heart, when we are called upon to give an opinion or judgment upon another.

Exo 23:4 If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again-

These are further examples of how God’s law differs from human laws in that it criminalizes internal attitudes. It was impossible to prove the sin of omitting to help your enemy’s animal, nor enforce the law against it- because it would’ve been invisible to others. Yet the God who sees all stands in judgment upon our innermost thoughts and desires. Note too that sins of omission are just as bad as sins of commission; the man who refused to help the animal could’ve returned to his home that day feeling he hadn’t actually committed anything wrong. But his sin of omission would’ve been noticed by God.

Exo 23:5 If you see the donkey of him who hates you fallen down under his burden, don’t leave him, you shall surely help him with it-

The psychological intensity of our inner battles is recognized throughout Scripture. Take Ex. 23:5: “If you see the ass of him that hates you lying under his burden, and would forbear to help him, you shall surely release it”. This Divine law perceived that in such a case, there would be the inner temptation to “forbear” assisting; but no, “you shall surely release it”. The very structure of Biblical Hebrew as a language is often instructive as to how God wishes us to perceive things. There is actually no literal word in Biblical Hebrew for ‘to think’ – instead there is a word meaning ‘to say in one’s heart’. And there are times when the word is wrongly translated simply “say” (e.g. 1 Sam. 16:6 – NEB correctly renders as “thought”). This provides a window into understanding how the Greek logos means both ‘speech’ and ‘reason’; and sets the backdrop for the repeated teaching of Jesus that God counts human thoughts as if they are the spoken word or acted deed. But my point in this context is that the Hebrew Bible continually focuses our attention upon the internal thought processes – for here is the real ‘Satan’, the real enemy to true spirituality.


Exo 23:6 You shall not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits.
Exo 23:7 Keep far from a false charge, and don’t kill the innocent and righteous: for I will not justify the wicked-
The Septuagint uses the word translated “imputed” in the NT with regard to sacrifices [symbolic of Christ’s death on the cross] being “reckoned” to a person (Lev. 7:18; Num. 18:27,30); and of Shimei asking David not to “reckon” his guilt to him, to judge him not according to the obvious facts of the case (2 Sam. 19:20). The Old Testament is at pains to stress that Yahweh will not justify the guilty (Ex. 23:7; Is. 5:23; Prov. 17:15). This is where the unique significance of Jesus comes in. Because of Him, His death and our faith in it, our being in Him, God can justify the wicked in that they have died with Christ in baptism (Rom. 6:3-5), they are no longer, they are only “in Christ”, for them “to live is Christ”. They are counted as in Him, and in this way sinners end up justified.

Exo 23:8 You shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds those who have sight and perverts the words of the righteous.
Exo 23:9 You shall not oppress an alien, for you know the heart of an alien, since you were aliens in the land of Egypt-

Try to see the historical events which occurred to Israel as relevant to you personally. They were "types of us". Note how 1 Cor. 10:1 speaks of "our fathers"- even when Paul is writing to Gentiles. He intended them to see in the Jewish fathers a type of themselves. Israel's keeping of the Passover implied that each subsequent Israelite had personally been redeemed that night. All down the years, they were to treat the stranger fairly: " for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Ex. 23:9). The body of believers, the body of Christ, is not only world-wide geographically at this point in time; it stretches back over time as well as distance, to include all those who have truly believed. This is why David found such inspiration from the history of Israel in his own crises (e.g. Ps. 77).

Exo 23:10 For six years you shall sow your land, and shall gather in its increase,
Exo 23:11 but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the animals of the field shall eat. In the same way, you shall deal with your vineyard and with your olive grove-

It’s true that often, although not always, poverty is partly due to poor decisions and mismanagement, and any aid given is often misused. And it’s true that the materially poor are partly poor [in many cases] exactly because of that. And yet the Bible teaches generosity to “the poor”. There is no attempt in the Bible teaching about “the poor” to subdivide them into the genuinely poor, and those who are poor because of their own fault or laziness, or who are asking for support when they don’t actually need it. A person who comes to you claiming need is “the poor”. Thus Israel were not to farm their land in the seventh year, “that the poor of your people may eat” (Ex. 23:11). This immediately raised the issue that all manner of people could eat the fruit which grew naturally on the land that year- but there is no legislation to try to limit who had access to it. Those who had food in their barns might eat what grew- but there was no mechanism within the law which controlled that. The point is, in our spiritual poverty we are just the same. We are in that position partly because of our human situation and other factors over which we have no control; but also partly and largely because we choose to be in it. We cry to God for the riches of His forgiveness- and we waste it, by doing the same sin over and again. Our hold on spiritual things is weak, we don’t respond with the grace and appreciation we ought to. We’re spiritually lazy. We’re no better than those who are materially poor through nothing but their own fault. Our generosity to them is a reflection of our recognition of this.

Exo 23:12 Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest, that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your handmaid, and the alien may be refreshed-

The fear amongst the Canaanites prior to Israel's approach and the weakness of those nations was due to "the hornet" being sent before Israel (Dt. 7:20; Josh. 24:12); it would seem that this is a reference to the Angels softening up the Canaanite tribes, perhaps through inciting the Egyptians to raid them and ruin the economy. And specifically, the two kings of the Amorites attacking the other Canaanites (Josh. 24:12). "The hornet" could also refer to the Phoenician raiders, who had hornets as totems; they too weakened Canaan before the Israelites arrived, and would have been manipulated to do so by an Angel. In Ex. 23:27 God says He will "send My fear before you, and will destroy all the people to whom you shall come". Jacob likens his guardian Angel to "the God before whom my fathers walked" (Gen. 48:16), who is called "the fear of Isaac" (Gen. 31:42,53) when Jacob describes the personal presence of God in his life. So the "fear of God" is associated with an Angel; God sent His fear, an Angel, before Israel into Canaan, as promised explicitly in Ex. 23. "The hornet" could have referred to literal hornets, used by God to destroy the nations of Canaan. For they were indeed a problem in the land; "Zorah" in Judah means "place of hornets". But I prefer the idea that the Angel manipulated Gentile nations to soften up the Canaanites before Israel's arrival. The same figure is found in Is. 7:18, where God whistled for the "fly that is in Egypt and the bee that is in Assyria". We note that this was all built in to God's wider plan; for had Israel entered Canaan 40 years before they did, they would've found the Canaanites that much stronger than they were after "the hornet" had weakened them for 40 years. It's as if God recalculated the program according to the great weakness of Israel. They didn't enter when they could have done, and so He used the period of their wilderness wanderings to make their entrance to the land that much easier than it would otherwise have been. 

God’s sensitivity to animals shines through the Law- the fact even animals are living beings and not mere machines should be felt by us too. God’s intention was to inculcate an all round spirit of sensitivity and culture of kindness to others in human life, and that included animals.

Exo 23:13 Be careful to do all things that I have said to you; and don’t invoke the name of other gods, neither let them be heard out of your mouth-
We need to let passages like Eph. 5:3–5 have their full weight with us. Fornication, covetousness, all uncleanness should not be “named amongst us”, in the same way Israel were not to take even the names of the Gentile idols onto their lips (Ex. 23:13) – “but rather giving of thanks”, knowing that those who do such things will not be in the Kingdom of God. A thankful attitude, thinking and speaking of those things with which we will eternally have to do, is to replace thinking and talking about all the things which shall not be our eternal sphere of thought in the Kingdom age. And yet our generation faces the temptation like none before it – to privately watch and read of those things, vicariously involved in them, whilst being under the illusion that we’re not actually doing them ourselves. For this is what the entertainment industry is based around.

Exo 23:14 You shall observe a feast to Me three times a year.
Exo 23:15 You shall observe the feast of unleavened bread. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month Abib (for in it you came out from Egypt), and no one shall appear before me empty.
Exo 23:16 And the feast of harvest, the first fruits of your labours, which you sow in the field: and the feast of harvest, at the end of the year, when you gather in your labours out of the field-
The Pentateuch uses the term 'to see the face of God', usually translated as 'to come into God's presence' (Ex. 23:16); this was a pagan term used at the time to describe seeing an image of a god (R.E. Clements, Exodus (Cambridge: C.U.P., 1972) p. 152). But Israel were being taught that their God had no image, but all the same, they could come into His presence.

Exo 23:17 Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord Yahweh.
Exo 23:18 You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leavened bread, neither shall the fat of My feast remain all night until the morning.
Exo 23:19 The first of the first fruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of Yahweh your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.

Exo 23:20 Behold, I send an angel before you, to keep you by the way, and to bring you into the place which I have prepared-
See on Hos. 12:13. “I go to prepare a place for you” (Jn. 14:1-3) is based upon the idea of Moses and the Angel bringing Israel “into the place which I have prepared” (Ex. 23:30).

 "I send an Angel before thee" (Israel at Sinai). It seems that great stress is placed in Scripture on the Angels physically moving through space, both on the earth and between Heaven and earth, in order to fulfil their tasks, rather than being static in Heaven or earth and bringing things about by just willing them to happen. See on Gen. 18:10.

Israel’s guardian Angel was to “keep” them in the way (Ex. 23:20), clearly echoing how the Angels kept the way to the tree of life in Eden. The same Hebrew word for “keep” occurs very often in Exodus in the context of Israel being told to keep God’s commands; but their freewill effort was to be confirmed by the Angel keeping them in the way of obedience. They were to “keep” themselves in the way (Dt. 4:9 and many others; s.w. “take heed”, “observe” etc.), but the Angel would keep them in it. This mutuality is developed in Ex. 23:21, where having said the Angel will keep them, Israel are told “Beware of him, and obey his voice”. “Beware” translates the same Hebrew word as “keep”. The Angel would keep them., but they were to keep to the Angel. This is an example of how we are intended to have a mutual relationship with our guardian Angel, leading to Him strengthening us in the one way. This word translated “keep” is also translated “spies” in Jud. 1:24; the spies were the keepers in the way of Israel, to bring them in to the land. And yet the Angel at the exodus was their ‘keeper’ to bring them into the land. The spies were working in harmony with their Angels; and thus they succeeded.

The idea of Angels being sent out from this council to operationalize Divine commissions opens up so many Scriptures. An Angel was sent before Israel to keep them in the way (Ex. 23:30)- an evident allusion to the Angel-cherubim keeping the way to the tree of life. But did all Israel remain “in the way” whilst in the wilderness? Evidently not. Did the Angel fail? No. The Angel was given power and strength in order to potentially enable Israel to remain “in the way”, just as our Angels are given that same power. But Israel refused to work with the Angel; they didn’t make use of the Angel’s efforts to keep them in the way.

The command to prepare a way along which to flee to the cities of refuge (Dt. 19:3) is expressed with the very same words used about God through the Angels preparing a way for Israel to flee along, out of Egypt to the promised land (Ex. 23:20). This was obviously done purely at God’s initiative. But now, Israel were asked to do the same- to prepare a way for their and others’ salvation. When we reflect upon our own way of escape from this world, it’s clear enough that it was by grace. By God’s sole initiative we came into contact with the Gospel, or were born into such a family at such a time as enabled us to hear it. Our response to that grace must be like Israel’s- to prepare a way for others to flee, when they like us find themselves in a situation that is spiritually against them, although not of their conscious choice.

The parable of the pounds describes the reward of the faithful in terms of being given ten or five cities (Lk. 19:17). This idea of dividing up groups of cities was surely meant to send the mind back to the way Israel in their wilderness years were each promised their own individual cities and villages, which they later inherited. The idea of inheriting "ten cities" occurs in Josh. 15:57; 21:5,26; 1 Chron. 6:61 (all of which are in the context of the priests receiving their cities), and " five cities" in 1 Chron. 4:32. As each Israelite was promised some personal inheritance in the land, rather than some blanket reward which the while nation received, so we too have a personal reward prepared. The language of inheritance (e.g. 1 Pet. 1:4) and preparation of reward (Mt. 25:34; Jn. 14:1) in the NT is alluding to this OT background of the land being prepared by the Angels for Israel to inherit (Ex. 15:17 Heb.; 23:20; Ps. 68:9,10 Heb.) . We must be careful not to think that our promised inheritance is only eternal life; it is something being personally prepared for each of us. The language of preparation seems inappropriate if our reward is only eternal life.


Exo 23:21 Pay attention to him, and listen to his voice. Don’t provoke him, for he will not pardon your disobedience, for My name is in him-
God’s Name being carried by the Angel explains how Moses later is recorded as talking with Yahweh face to face, even though we are also told that He cannot ever be seen by humans. Moses spoke with the Angel who carried the Yahweh Name, and who was therefore functionally as God to men. The same principle explains how men, and especially Christ, can be spoken of as God because they carried His Name, without this making them God Himself in person.

Moses encouraged Joshua (and all uncertain journeyers through the wilderness) by commenting on the great work of the Angels in preparing the way to enter the promised land. There is a connection made between the fear of God among the Canaanite nations, the "hornet", and the Angel: "I send an Angel before thee... I will send my fear before thee... and I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee" (Ex. 23:21,27,28).


In Exodus 23:21 the Angel is  described as not forgiving their sins, but in Ex. 32:30-32 Moses goes up to the 'LORD' (Angel) in the mount  and asks for forgiveness for the people's sin with the golden calf- see on 34:9. The 'Lord' in the mount must have been an Angel because Moses saw his back parts- and there is no way this is possible of God Himself in person, "whom no man hath seen ,nor can see" (1 Tim. 6:16). "No man hath seen God at any time" (John 1:18). This 'Lord' on the mount gave Moses the Law- and elsewhere we are told that the Law was ministered by Angels. The Angel on the mount then says He has sent "Mine Angel before thee" (to Canaan), Ex. 32:34. So we have one Angel sending another here. And it seems one Angel was prepared to forgive, the other wasn’t. What implications does this have for us, if we are to be made like unto the Angels (Lk. 20:35,36)?

23:21- see on Josh. 24:17.


Exo 23:22 But if you indeed listen to his voice, and do all that I speak, then I will be an enemy to your enemies, and an adversary to your adversaries-
- see on Dan. 9:14.

Exo 23:23 For My angel shall go before you, and bring you in to the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Canaanite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite; and I will cut them off-

This happened invisibly, with the Angel working through circumstances to weaken those tribes. But the Israelites failed to believe this verse, feeling that those tribes were far too strong for them (Num. 13:30-33).

Exo 23:24 You shall not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor follow their practices, but you shall utterly overthrow them and demolish their pillars.
Exo 23:25 You shall serve Yahweh your God, and He will bless your bread and your water, and I will take sickness away from your midst.
Exo 23:26 No one will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will fulfil the number of your days.
Exo 23:27 I will send My terror before you, and will confuse all the people to whom you come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you-
God says He will "send My fear before thee, and will destroy all the people to whom thou shalt come". Jacob likens his guardian Angel to "the God before whom my fathers walked" (Gen. 48:16), who  is called "the fear of  Isaac" (Gen. 31:42,53) when Jacob describes the personal presence of God in his life. So the "fear of God" is associated with an Angel; God sent His fear, an Angel, before Israel into Canaan, as promised explicitly in Ex. 23.

Exo 23:28 I will send the hornet before you, which will drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before you-

The sending of hornets ahead of Israel parallels the sending of the Angel ahead of them (:23). The reference may be to literal hornets devastating and weakening the Canaanites; or it could refer instead to Egyptian tribes or the Philistines, some of whom had hornets on their armour, attacking and weakening the Canaanite tribes just before the Israelites arrived. This situation was providentially arranged by the Angel who went before Israel. The obstacles to our possessing the Kingdom seem huge and strong, but in fact they have been significantly weakened by God’s providence. Invisible to us, the Angels likewise are potentially preparing our way to enter the Kingdom.

Exo 23:29 I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate, and the animals of the field multiply against you-

The God who is so far away from this earth foresees the situations we will face in life, and like a true Father, arranges things so that they will not be too great for us to overcome. His sensitivity to us is amazing.

Exo 23:30 Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and inherit the land.
Exo 23:31 I will set your border from the Red Sea even to the sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the River; for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you-

Just as all the animals and everything in the eretz promised to Abraham was 'delivered into the hands' of Noah (s.w. Gen. 9:2), so the nations of that eretz were delivered into the hands of Israel (s.w. Ex. 6:8; 23:31; Dt. 2:24; 3:2,3; 7:24; 21:10; Josh. 2:24; Jud. 1:2). Tragically, like Adam in Eden [perhaps the same eretz promised to Abraham] and Noah in the new, cleansed eretz, Israel didn't realize this potential. What was delivered into the hand of Joshua (Josh. 2:24) actually wasn't delivered into their hand, because they disbelieved (Jud. 2:23); and this looks ahead to the disbelief of so many in the work of the Lord Jesus, who has indeed conquered the Kingdom for us. They considered the promise of the nations being delivered into their hand as somehow open to question, and only a possibility and not at all certain (Jud. 8:7; Num. 21:2 cp. Num. 21:34). Some like Jephthah (s.w. Jud. 11:32; 12:3), Ehud (Jud. 3:10,28), Deborah (Jud. 4:14), Gideon (Jud. 7:15) did, for a brief historical moment; but as individuals, and their victories were not followed up on. Instead they were dominated by the territory. And so instead, they were delivered into the hands of their enemies within the eretz (s.w. Lev. 26:25; Jud. 13:1).   

Exo 23:32 You shall make no covenant with them, nor with their gods.
Exo 23:33 They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against Me-
We can make others sin (Ex. 23:33; 1 Sam. 2:24; 1 Kings 16:19). There is an urgent imperative here, to really watch our behaviour; e.g. to not drink alcohol in the presence of a brother whose conscience is weak.

For if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you-
Twice in 1 Timothy, Paul speaks about a snare; the snare of the devil (1 Tim. 3:7), and the snare of wanting wealth (1 Tim. 6:9). The desire for wealth in whatever form is the very epitome of the devil, our inherent sin which we must struggle against. The idea of a snare is that it results in a sudden and unexpected destruction. The unexpectedness of the destruction should set us thinking: surely the implication is that those who are materialistic don't realize that in fact this is their besetting sin, and therefore their rejection in the end because of it will be so tragically unexpected. It's rather like pride; if you're proud and you don't know it, then you really are proud. And if we're materialistic and don't know it, we likewise really have a problem. The idea of riches being a snare connects with copious OT references to idols as Israel's perpetual snare (Ex. 23:33; Dt. 7:16; Jud. 2:3; 8:27; Ps. 106:36; Hos. 5:1). Paul's point is surely that the desire of wealth is the equivalent of OT idolatry.