Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Lastly, no one was to violate another's rights. - Exo 23:1. "Thou shalt not raise (bring out) an empty report." שׁוא שׁמע, a report that has no foundation, and, as the context shows, does injury to another, charges him with wrongdoing, and involves him in legal proceedings. "Put not thine hand with a wicked man (do not offer him thy hand, or render him assistance), to be a witness of violence." This clause is unquestionably connected with the preceding one, and implies that raising a false report furnishes the wicked man with a pretext for bringing the man, who is suspected of crime on account of this false report, before a court of law; in consequence of which the originator or propagator of the empty report becomes a witness of injustice and violence.
Just as little should a man follow a multitude to pervert justice. "Thou shalt not be behind many (follow the multitude) to evil things, nor answer concerning a dispute to incline thyself after many (i.e., thou shalt not give such testimony in connection with any dispute, in which thou takest part with the great majority), so as to pervert" (להטּות), sc., justice. But, on the other hand, "neither shalt thou adorn the poor man in his dispute" (Exo 23:3), i.e., show partiality to the poor or weak man in an unjust cause, out of weak compassion for him. (Compare Lev 19:15, a passage which, notwithstanding the fact that הדר is applied to favour shown to the great or mighty, overthrows Knobel's conjecture, that גּדל should be read for ודל, inasmuch as it prohibits the showing of favour to the one as much as to the other.)
Not only was their conduct not to be determined by public opinion, the direction taken by the multitude, or by weak compassion for a poor man; but personal antipathy, enmity, and hatred were not to lead them to injustice or churlish behaviour. On the contrary, if the Israelite saw his enemy's beast straying, he was to bring it back again; and if he saw it lying down under the weight of its burden, he was to help it up again (cf. Deu 22:1-4). The words וגו מעזב וחדלתּ, "cease (desist) to leave it to him (thine enemy); thou shalt loosen it (let it loose) with him," which have been so variously explained, cannot have any other signification than this: "beware of leaving an ass which has sunk down beneath its burden in a helpless condition, even to thine enemy, to try whether he can help it up alone; rather help him to set it loose from its burden, that it may get up again." This is evident from Deu 22:4, where התעלּמתּ לא, "withdraw not thyself," is substituted for מעזב חדלתּ, and עמּו תּקים הקם, "set up with him," for עמּו תּעזב עזב. From this it is obvious that עזב is used in the first instance in the sense of leaving it alone, leaving it in a helpless condition, and immediately afterwards in the sense of undoing or letting loose. The peculiar turn given to the expression, "thou shalt cease from leaving," is chosen because the ordinary course, which the natural man adopts, is to leave an enemy to take care of his own affairs, without troubling about either him or his difficulties. Such conduct as this the Israelite was to give up, if he ever found his enemy in need of help.
The warning against unkindness towards an enemy is followed by still further prohibitions of injustice in questions of right: viz., in Exo 23:6, a warning against perverting the right of the poor in his cause; in Exo 23:7, a general command to keep far away from a false matter, and not to slay the innocent and righteous, i.e., not to be guilty of judicial murder, together with the threat that God would not justify the sinner; and in Exo 23:8, the command not to accept presents, i.e., to be bribed by gifts, because "the gift makes seeing men (פּקחים open eyes) blind, and perverts the causes of the just." The rendering "words of the righteous" is not correct; for even if we are to understand the expression "seeing men" as referring to judges, the "righteous" can only refer to those who stand at the bar, and have right on their side, which judges who accept of bribes may turn into wrong.
The warning against oppressing the foreigner, which is repeated from Exo 22:20, is not tautological, as Bertheau affirms for the purpose of throwing suspicion upon this verse, but refers to the oppression of a stranger in judicial matters by the refusal of justice, or by harsh and unjust treatment in court (Deu 24:17; Deu 27:19). "For ye know the soul (animus, the soul as the seat of feeling) of the stranger," i.e., ye know from your own experience in Egypt how a foreigner feels.
Here follow directions respecting the year of rest and day of rest, the first of which lays the foundation for the keeping of the sabbatical and jubilee years, which are afterwards instituted in Lev 25, whilst the latter gives prominence to the element of rest and refreshment involved in the Sabbath, which had been already instituted (Exo 20:9-11), and presses it in favour of beasts of burden, slaves, and foreigners. Neither of these instructions is to be regarded as laying down laws for the feasts; so that they are not to be included among the rights of Israel, which commence at Exo 23:14. On the contrary, as they are separated from these by Exo 23:13, they are to be reckoned as forming part of the laws relating to their mutual obligations one towards another. This is evident from the fact, that in both of them the care of the poor stands in the foreground. From this characteristic and design, which are common to both, we may explain the fact, that there is no allusion to the keeping of a Sabbath unto the Lord, as in Exo 20:10 and Lev 25:2, in connection with either the seventh year or seventh day: all that is mentioned being their sowing and reaping for six years, and working for six days, and then letting the land lie fallow in the seventh year, and their ceasing or resting from labour on the seventh day. "The seventh year thou shalt let (thy land) loose (שׁמט to leave unemployed), and let it lie; and the poor of thy people shall eat (the produce which grows of itself), and their remainder (what they leave) shall the beast of the field eat." הנּפשׁ: lit., to breathe one's self, to draw breath, i.e., to refresh one's self (cf. Exo 31:17; Sa2 16:14). - With Exo 23:13 the laws relating to the rights of the people, in their relations to one another, are concluded with the formula enforcing their observance, "And in all that I say to you, take heed," viz., that ye carefully maintain all the rights which I have given you. There is then attached to this, in Exo 23:14, a warning, which forms the transition to the relation of Israel to Jehovah: "Make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth." This forms a very fitting boundary line between the two series of mishpatim, inasmuch as the observance and maintenance of both of them depended upon the attitude in which Israel stood towards Jehovah.
The Fundamental Rights of Israel in its Religious and Theocratical Relation to Jehovah. - As the observance of the Sabbath and sabbatical year is not instituted in Exo 23:10-12, so Exo 23:14-19 do not contain either the original or earliest appointment of the feasts, or a complete law concerning the yearly feasts. They simply command the observance of three feasts during the year, and the appearance of the people three times in the year before the Lord; that is to say, the holding of three national assemblies to keep a feast before the Lord, or three annual pilgrimages to the sanctuary of Jehovah. The leading points are clearly set forth in Exo 23:14 and Exo 23:17, to which the other verses are subordinate. These leading points are משׁפּטים or rights, conferred upon the people of Israel in their relation to Jehovah; for keeping a feast to the Lord, and appearing before Him, were both of them privileges bestowed by Jehovah upon His covenant people. Even in itself the festal rejoicing was a blessing in the midst of this life of labour, toil, and trouble; but when accompanied with the right of appearing before the Lord their God and Redeemer, to whom they were indebted for everything they had and were, it was one that no other nation enjoyed. For though they had their joyous festivals, these festivals bore the same relation to those of Israel, as the dead and worthless gods of the heathen to the living and almighty God of Israel.
Of the three feasts at which Israel was to appear before Jehovah, the feast of Mazzoth, or unleavened bread, is referred to as already instituted, by the words "as I have commanded thee," and "at the appointed time of the earing month," which point back to chs. 12 and 13; and all that is added here is, "ye shall not appear before My face empty." "Not empty:" i.e., not with empty hands, but with sacrificial gifts, answering to the blessing given by the Lord (Deu 16:16-17). These gifts were devoted partly to the general sacrifices of the feast, and partly to the burnt and peace-offerings which were brought by different individuals to the feasts, and applied to the sacrificial meals (Num 28 and 29). This command, which related to all the feasts, and therefore is mentioned at the very outset in connection with the feast of unleavened bread, did indeed impose a duty upon Israel, but such a duty as became a source of blessing to all who performed it. The gifts demanded by God were the tribute, it is true, which the Israelites paid to their God-King, just as all Eastern nations are required to bring presents when appearing in the presence of their kings; but they were only gifts from God's own blessing, a portion of that which He had bestowed in rich abundance, and they were offered to God in such a way that the offerer was thereby more and more confirmed in the rights of covenant fellowship. The other two festivals are mentioned here for the first time, and the details are more particularly determined afterwards in Lev 23:15., and Num 28:26. One was called the feast of Harvest, "of the first-fruits of thy labours which thou hast sown in the field," i.e., of thy field-labour. According to the subsequent arrangements, the first of the field-produce was to be offered to God, not the first grains of the ripe corn, but the first loaves of bread of white or wheaten flour made from the new corn (Lev 23:17.). In Exo 34:22 it is called the "feast of Weeks," because, according to Lev 23:15-16; Deu 16:9, it was to be kept seven weeks after the feast of Mazzoth; and the "feast of the first-fruits of wheat harvest," because the loaves of first-fruits to be offered were to be made of wheaten flour. The other of these feasts, i.e., the third in the year, is called "the feast of Ingathering, at the end of the year, in the gathering in of thy labours out of the field." This general and indefinite allusion to time was quite sufficient for the preliminary institution of the feast. In the more minute directions respecting the feasts given in Lev 23:34; Num 29:12, it is fixed for the fifteenth day of the seventh month, and placed on an equality with the feast of Mazzoth as a seven days' festival. השּׁנה בּצאת does not mean after the close of the year, finito anno, any more than the corresponding expression in Exo 34:22, השּׁנה תּקוּפת, signifies at the turning of the year. The year referred to here was the so-called civil year, which began with the preparation of the ground for the harvest-sowing, and ended when all the fruits of the field and garden had been gathered in. No particular day was fixed for its commencement, nor was there any new year's festival; and even after the beginning of the earing month had been fixed upon for the commencement of the year (Exo 12:2), this still remained in force, so far as all civil matters connected with the sowing and harvest were concerned; though there is no evidence that a double reckoning was carried on at the same time, or that a civil reckoning existed side by side with the religious. בּאספּך does not mean, "when thou hast gathered," postquam collegisti; for בּ does not stand for אחר, nor has the infinitive the force of the preterite. On the contrary, the expression "at thy gathering in," i.e., when thou gatherest in, is kept indefinite both here and in Lev 23:39, where the month and days in which this feast was to be kept are distinctly pointed out; and also in Deu 16:13, in order that the time for the feast might not be made absolutely dependent upon the complete termination of the gathering in, although as a rule it would be almost over. The gathering in of "thy labours out of the field" is not to be restricted to the vintage and gathering of fruits: this is evident not only from the expression "out of the field," which points to field-produce, but also from the clause in Deu 16:13, "gathering of the floor and wine-press," which shows clearly that the words refer to the gathering in of the whole of the year's produce of corn, fruit, oil, and wine.
"Three times in the year" (i.e., according to Exo 23:14 and Deu 16:16, at the three feasts just mentioned) "all thy males shall appear before the face of the Lord Jehovah." The command to appear, i.e., to make a pilgrimage to the sanctuary, was restricted to the male members of the nation, probably to those above 20 years of age, who had been included in the census (Num 1:3). But this did not prohibit the inclusion of women and boys (cf. Sa1 1:3., and Luk 2:31.).
The blessing attending their appearing before the Lord was dependent upon the feasts being kept in the proper way, by the observance of the three rules laid down in Exo 23:18 and Exo 23:19. "Thou shalt not offer the blood of My sacrifice upon leavened bread." על upon, as in Exo 12:8, denoting the basis upon which the sacrifice was offered. The meaning has been correctly given by the early commentators, viz., "as long as there is any leavened bread in your houses," or "until the leaven has been entirely removed from your houses." The reference made here to the removal of leaven, and the expression "blood of My sacrifice," both point to the paschal lamb, which was regarded as the sacrifice of Jehovah κατ̓ ἐξοχήν, on account of its great importance. Onkelos gives this explanation: "My Passover" for "My sacrifice." - "Neither shall the fat of My feast remain (ילין to pass the night) until the morning." "The fat of My feast" does not mean the fat of My festal sacrifice, for חג, a feast, is not used for the sacrifice offered at the feast; it signifies rather the best of My feast, i.e., the paschal sacrifice, as we may see from Exo 34:25, where "the sacrifice of the feast of the Passover" is given as the explanation of "the fat of My feast." As the paschal sacrifice was the sacrifice of Jehovah par excellence, so the feast of the Passover was the feast of Jehovah par excellence. The expression "fat of My feast" is not to be understood as referring at all to the fat of the lamb, which was burned upon the altar in the case of the expiatory and whole offerings; for there could have been no necessity for the injunction not to keep this till the morning, inasmuch as those parts of every sacrifice which were set apart for the altar were burned immediately after the sprinkling of the blood. The allusion is to the flesh of the paschal lamb, which was eaten in the night before daybreak, after which anything that remained was to be burned. עד־בּקר (without the article) till morning, has the same meaning as לבּקר "for the (following) morning" in Exo 34:25.
The next command in Exo 23:19 has reference to the feast of Harvest, or feast of Weeks. In "the first-fruits of thy land" there is an unmistakeable allusion to "the first-fruits of thy labours" in Exo 23:16. It is true the words, "the first of the first-fruits of thy land thou shalt bring into the house of the Lord thy God," are so general in their character, that we can hardly restrict them to the wave-loaves to be offered as first-fruits at the feast of Weeks, but must interpret them as referring to all the first-fruits, which they had already been commanded not to delay to offer (Exo 22:29), and the presentation of which is minutely prescribed in Num 18:12-13, and Deu 26:2-11, - including therefore the sheaf of barley to be offered in the second day of the feast of unleavened bread (Lev 23:9.). At the same time the reference to the feast of Weeks is certainly to be retained, inasmuch as this feast was an express admonition to Israel, to offer the first of the fruits of the Lord. In the expression בּכּוּרי ראשׁית, the latter might be understood as explanatory of the former and in apposition to it, since they are both of them applied to the first-fruits of the soil (vid., Deu 26:2, Deu 26:10, and Num 18:13). But as ראשׁית could hardly need any explanation in this connection, the partitive sense is to be preferred; though it is difficult to decide whether "the first of the first-fruits" signifies the first selection from the fruits that had grown, ripened, and been gathered first-that is to say, not merely of the entire harvest, but of every separate production of the field and soil, according to the rendering of the lxx ἀπαρχηὰς τῶν πρωτογεννημάτων τῆς γῆς, - or whether the word ראשׁית is used figuratively, and signifies the best of the first-fruits. There is no force in the objection offered to the former view, that "in no other case in which the offering of first-fruits generally is spoken of, is one particular portion represented as holy to Jehovah, but the first-fruits themselves are that portion of the entire harvest which was holy to Jehovah." For, apart from Num 18:12, where a different rendering is sometimes given to ראשׁית, the expression מראשׁית in Deu 26:2 shows unmistakeably that only a portion of the first of all the fruit of the ground had to be offered to the Lord. On the other hand, this view is considerably strengthened by the fact, that whilst בּכּוּר, בּכּוּרים signify those fruits which ripened first, i.e., earliest, ראשׁית is used to denote the ἀπαρχή, the first portion or first selection from the whole, not only in Deu 26:2, Deu 26:10, but also in Lev 23:10, and most probably in Num 18:12 as well. - Now if these directions do not refer either exclusively or specially to the loaves of first-fruits of the feast of Weeks, the opinion which has prevailed from the time of Abarbanel to that of Knobel, that the following command, "Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk," refers to the feast of Ingathering, is deprived of its principal support. And any such allusion is rendered very questionable by the fact, that in Deu 14:21, where this command is repeated, it is appended to the prohibition against eating the flesh of an animal that had been torn to pieces. Very different explanations have been given to the command. In the Targum, Mishnah, etc., it is regarded as a general prohibition against eating flesh prepared with milk. Luther and others suppose it to refer to the cooking of the kid, before it has been weaned from its mother's milk. But the actual reference is to the cooking of a kid in the milk of its own mother, as indicating a contempt of the relation which God has established and sanctified between parent and young, and thus subverting the divine ordinances. As kids were a very favourite food (Gen 27:9, Gen 27:14; Jdg 6:19; Jdg 13:15; Sa1 16:20), it is very likely that by way of improving the flavour they were sometimes cooked in milk. According to Aben Ezra and Abarbanel, this was a custom adopted by the Ishmaelites; and at the present day the Arabs are in the habit of cooking lamb in sour milk. A restriction is placed upon this custom in the prohibition before us, but there is no intention to prevent the introduction of a superstitious usage customary at the sacrificial meals of other nations, which Spencer and Knobel have sought to establish as at all events probable, though without any definite historical proofs, and for the most part on the strength of far-fetched analogies.
Relation of Jehovah to Israel. - The declaration of the rights conferred by Jehovah upon His people is closed by promises, through which, on the one hand, God insured to the nation the gifts and benefits involved in their rights, and, on the other hand, sought to promote that willingness and love which were indispensable to the fulfilment of the duties incumbent upon every individual in consequence of the rights conferred upon them. These promises secured to the people not only the protection and help of God during their journey through the desert, and in the conquest of Canaan, but also preservation and prosperity when they had taken possession of the land.
Jehovah would send an angel before them, who should guard them on the way from injury and destruction, and bring them to the place prepared for them, i.e., to Canaan. The name of Jehovah was in this angel (Exo 23:21), that is to say, Jehovah revealed Himself in him; and hence he is called in Exo 33:15-16, the face of Jehovah, because the essential nature of Jehovah was manifested in him. This angel was not a created spirit, therefore, but the manifestation of Jehovah Himself, who went before them in the pillar of cloud and fire, to guide and to defend them (Exo 13:21). But because it was Jehovah who was guiding His people in the person of the angel, He demanded unconditional obedience (Exo 23:21), and if they provoked Him (תּמּר for תּמר, see Exo 13:18) by disobedience, He would not pardon their transgression; but if they followed Him and hearkened to His voice, He would be an enemy to their enemies, and an adversary to their adversaries (Exo 23:22). And when the angel of the Lord had brought them to the Canaanites and exterminated the latter, Israel was still to yield the same obedience, by not serving the gods of the Canaanites, or doing after their works, i.e., by not making any idolatrous images, but destroying them (these works), and smiting to pieces the pillars of their idolatrous worship (מצבת does not mean statues erected as idols, but memorial stones or columns dedicated to idols: see my Comm. on Kg1 14:23), and serving Jehovah alone. Then would He bless them in the land with bountiful provision, health, fruitfulness, and length of life (Exo 23:23-26). "Bread and water" are named, as being the provisions which are indispensable to the maintenance of life, as in Isa 3:1; Isa 30:20; Isa 33:16. The taking away of "sickness" (cf. Exo 15:26) implied the removal of everything that could endanger life. The absence of anything that miscarried, or was barren, insured the continuance and increase of the nation; and the promise that their days should be fulfilled, i.e., that they should not be liable to a premature death (cf. Isa 65:20), was a pledge of their well-being.
But the most important thing of all for Israel was the previous conquest of the promised land. And in this God gave it a special promise of His almighty aid. "I will send My fear before thee." This fear was to be the result of the terrible acts of God performed on behalf of Israel, the rumour of which would spread before them and fill their enemies with fear and trembling (cf. Exo 15:14.; Deu 2:26; and Jos 2:11, where the beginning of the fulfilment is described), throwing into confusion and putting to flight every people against whom (בּהם - אשׁר) Israel came. ערף את־איב נתן to give the enemy to the neck, i.e., to cause him to turn his back, or flee (cf. Psa 18:41; Psa 21:13; Jos 7:8, Jos 7:12). אליך: in the direction towards thee.
In addition to the fear of God, hornets (הצּרעה construed as a generic word with the collective article), a very large species of wasp, that was greatly dreaded both by man and beast on account of the acuteness of its sting, should come and drive out the Canaanites, of whom three tribes are mentioned instar omnium, from before the Israelites. Although it is true that Aelian (hist. anim. 11, 28) relates that the Phaselians, who dwelt near the Solymites, and therefore probably belonged to the Canaanites, were driven out of their country by wasps, and Bochart (Hieroz. iii. pp. 409ff.) has collected together accounts of different tribes that have been frightened away from their possessions by frogs, mice, and other vermin, "the sending of hornets before the Israelites" is hardly to be taken literally, not only because there is not a word in the book of Joshua about the Canaanites being overcome and exterminated in any such way, but chiefly on account of Jos 24:12, where Joshua says that God sent the hornet before them, and drove out the two kings of the Amorites, referring thereby to their defeat and destruction by the Israelites through the miraculous interposition of God, and thus placing the figurative use of the term hornet beyond the possibility of doubt. These hornets, however, which are very aptly described in Wis. 12:8, on the basis of this passage, as προδρόμους, the pioneers of the army of Jehovah, do not denote merely varii generis mala, as Rosenmller supposes, but acerrimos timoris aculeos, quibus quodammodo volantibus rumoribus pungebantur, ut fugerent (Augustine, quaest. 27 in Jos.). If the fear of God which fell upon the Canaanites threw them into such confusion and helpless despair, that they could not stand before Israel, but turned their backs towards them, the stings of alarm which followed this fear would completely drive them away. Nevertheless God would not drive them away at once, "in one year," lest the land should become a desert for want of men to cultivate it, and the wild beasts should multiply against Israel; in other words, lest the beasts of prey should gain the upper hand and endanger the lives of man and beast (Lev 26:22; Eze 14:15, Eze 14:21), which actually was the case after the carrying away of the ten tribes (Kg2 17:25-26). He would drive them out by degrees (מעט מעט, only used here and in Deu 7:22), until Israel was sufficiently increased to take possession of the land, i.e., to occupy the whole of the country. This promise was so far fulfilled, according to the books of Joshua and Judges, that after the subjugation of the Canaanites in the south and north of the land, when all the kings who fought against Israel had been smitten and slain and their cities captured, the entire land was divided among the tribes of Israel, in order that they might exterminate the remaining Canaanites, and take possession of those portions of the land that had not yet been conquered (Jos 13:1-7). But the different tribes soon became weary of the task of exterminating the Canaanites, and began to enter into alliance with them, and were led astray by them to the worship of idols; whereupon God punished them by withdrawing His assistance, and they were oppressed and humiliated by the Canaanites because of their apostasy from the Lord (Judg 1 and 2).
The divine promise closes with a general indication of the boundaries of the land, whose inhabitants Jehovah would give up to the Israelites to drive them out, and with a warning against forming alliances with them and their gods, lest they should lead Israel astray to sin, and thus become a snare to it. On the basis of the promise in Gen 15:18, certain grand and prominent points are mentioned, as constituting the boundaries towards both the east and west. On the west the boundary extended from the Red Sea (see Exo 13:18) to the sea of the Philistines, or Mediterranean Sea, the south-eastern shore of which was inhabited by the Philistines; and on the east from the desert, i.e., according to Deu 11:24, the desert of Arabia, to the river (Euphrates). The poetic suffix מו affixed to גּרשׁתּ answers to the elevated oratorical style. Making a covenant with them and their gods would imply the recognition and toleration of them, and, with the sinful tendencies of Israel, would be inevitably followed by the worship of idols. The first כּי in Exo 23:33 signifies if; the second, imo, verily, and serves as an energetic introduction to the apodosis. מוקשׁ, a snare (vid., Exo 10:7); here a clause of destruction, inasmuch as apostasy from God is invariably followed by punishment (Jdg 2:3).