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Sundry Laws Justice for All Miscellaneous Social and Cultic Laws (22:18-23:9) Justice and Fairness Justice: Duties toward Enemies
23:1-3 23:1-3 23:1-3 23:1-3 23:1-3
23:4-5 23:4-5 23:4 23:4-5 23:4-5
23:6-7 23:6-9 23:6-8 23:6-8 23:6-8
23:9 23:9 23:9 23:9
The Sabbath and Land The Law of Sabbaths A Cultic Calendar The Seventh Year and the Seventh Day The Sabbatical Year and the Sabbath
23:10-11 23:10-13 23:10-11 23:10-11 23:10-11
23:12-13 23:12-13 23:12 23:12
23:13 23:13
Three National Feasts Three Annual Feasts The Three Great Festivals The Great Feasts
23:14-17 23:14-19 23:14-15a 23:14-15 23:14-17
23:16-17 23:16a
23:18 23:18 23:18 23:18
23:19a 23:19a 23:19a 23:19a
23:19b 23:19b 23:19b 23:19b
Conquest of the Land The Angel and the Promises The Conclusion of the Covenant Code Promises and Instructions Promises and Instructions for the Entry into Canaan
23:20-33 23:20-26 23:20-21 23:20-26 23:20-26
23:27-33 23:27-33 23:27-33

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.
  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Etc.


  1. This chapter, like 21 and 22, has several emphatic grammatical features (i.e., INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and IMPERATIVE VERB). See full list in Contextual Insights at Exodus 21.

  2. Exod 23:1-9 deals with societal duties toward covenant partners who one may be in conflict with.

  3. Exodus 23:10-13 deals with the "rest" of both land and people based on the "rest" of God in Gen. 2:2 and the Sabbath law of Exod. 20:8-11.
    It is interesting that the stated reason for a weekly rest in Exodus (i.e., rest for humans and animals) is altered in Deuteronomy 5 (i.e., YHWH's deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage).

  4. Exodus 23:14-19 deals with the three major annual feast days.
    1. Passover
    2. Pentecost
    3. Booths

  5. Exodus. 23:20-33 deals with YHWH's special angelic representative in the conquest.


1"You shall not bear a false report; do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. 2You shall not follow the masses in doing evil, nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice; 3nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his dispute."

23:1-3 This paragraph deals with testimony in a court. Notice the different legal terms used referring to testimony (cf. Exod. 20:16; Deut. 19:15-21).

  1. false report, Exod. 23:1 - BDB 1034 CONSTRUCT BDB 996
  2. malicious witness, Exod. 23:1 - BDB 729 CONSTRUCT BDB 329 (cf. Deut. 19:15-21)
  3. testify (lit. "answer"), Exod. 23:2 - BDB 772 I, KB 851, Qal IMPERFECT
  4. in a dispute, Exod. 23:2 - BDB 936
  5. in order to pervert (lit. "to bend") justice, Exod. 23:2 - BDB 639, #3, B 692, Hiphil INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT
  6. be partial (lit. "honor"), Exod. 23:3 - BDB 213, KB 239, Qal IMPERFECT
  7. in his dispute, Exod. 23:3 - BDB 936
Of the five VERBS, the second is a Qal JUSSIVE, which implies that the four Qal IMPERFECTS are used in a JUSSIVE sense.
Israel was to be a just and fair society for all. Most ANE law codes benefit the rich and powerful but not Israel's. Both were to be dealt with fairly (cf. Lev. 19:15).

23:1 "shall not bear" This VERB (BDB 669, KB 724, Qal IMPERFECT) means "to take up" or "to carry." It is used in Exod. 20:7 for not taking the Lord's name in vain. The setting of Exod. 23:1-9 is a court and this is legal terminology.

▣ "false report" This involves malicious gossiping to purposefully damage another person. What we speak in private about others has consequences (cf. Deut. 19:16-21).

23:2 "You shall not follow the masses in doing evil" This verse addresses "mob mentality" or possibly showing favoritism to the wealthy and powerful (i.e., JPSOA, cf. Lev. 19:15). This is the false assumption that because others are doing something wrong, then I can too.
Notice again there is a specific reference to false testimony against another based on "popular opinion."

▣ "in a dispute" This is the Hebrew word "rib" (BDB 936), which means "law suit."

▣ "dispute" This term (BDB 936, cf. Exod. 23:2,3,6) refers to a legal dispute to be decided before judges or priests (cf. Deut. 19:17; 21:5; 25:1).

▣ "turn aside. . .pervert" These are both INFINITIVE CONSTRUCTS from the same root (BDB 639, KB 692).

23:3 "nor shall you be partial" The issue of "impartiality" was crucial to Israel's legal system (cf. Lev. 19:15; Deut. 1:17; 10:17-18). As YHWH is impartial (cf. Deut. 10:17-18; 2 Chr. 19:6-7), so too, must Israel's judges (cf. Deut. 1:17; 16:19; 24:17; Lev. 19:15).
In this verse "impartial" (BDB 213, KB 239) is literally "honor" or "pay honor to someone for some reason." Normally this legal concept uses "lift the face" as the idiom of not showing partiality.
This same theme is continued in Exod. 23:6-8.

▣ "poor man" This is דל (BDB 195) but this seems to be repeated in Exod. 23:6, where the common word for a poor man is used (BDB 2). Some scholars suggest it be emended to דלג (BDB 152), which would be "the strong man" or "powerful man," which seems to make more sense of human tendencies (see R. Alan Cole, Tyndale OT Commentaries, p. 177; Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus, p. 450).
Surely "reverse discrimination" is the possible subject (cf. Lev. 19:15; Deut. 1:17).

4"If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him. 5If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release it with him."

23:4-5 This is an illustration of how a fair society should work. One covenant partner should help another, even if they are personally at odds with each other (Exod. 23:4).
Exodus 23:5 expands the concern from the enemy to his animals. God cares for fairness among His people and compassion for animals (cf. Jon. 4:11). Animals will be a part of the new age (cf. Isa. 11:6-9), as they were of initial creation (Genesis 1).
Notice God's apparent care for animals (i.e., Babylonian Talmud, Tractate, Bava Metzia, 32 a-b; cf. Jonah 3:8; 4:11).
Contextually, Exod. 23:4-5 seems to break into a context on court procedures. Possibly "the enemy" is a legal adversary. Possibly this occurs on the way to or from court.

23:4 "you shall surely return it to him" This is one of several emphatic forms (i.e., INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and IMPERFECT VERB) found in Exodus 21-23 (cf. Exod. 23:2,4,5,22,24). See list in Contextual Insights of Exodus 21.

23:5 "you shall surely release it with him" This is an INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE with an IMPERFECT VERB of the same root (BDB 736, KB 806), which denotes emphasis.
The UBS Text Project (p. 122) has a helpful note about the word "release" (BDB 736, KB 806), which has two possible meanings.

  1. Exod. 23:5b, "to abandon," "to leave"
  2. Exod. 23:5c, "to fortify," "to strengthen" (cf. Neh. 3:8,34)
Also note that you were to loose the animal with the help of its owner, and your enemy. Hopefully after this he would no longer be your enemy!

6"You shall not pervert the justice due to your needy brother in his dispute. 7Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or the righteous, for I will not acquit the guilty."

23:6-8 This section, like Exod. 23:1-3, deals with a fair legal system. Bribery is singled out as a major cause of injustice (cf. Deut. 16:19; Pro. 17:23). In Isa. 5:22-23 injustice is linked to both bribery and drunkenness.

23:6 This is related to Exod. 23:3. Exodus 23:6-9 may be directed towards Israel's judges.
The VERB (BDB 639, KB 692, Hiphil IMPERFECT), "do not pervert" or "turn aside" justice is a repeated theme (cf. Deut. 16:19; 24:17; 27:19; 1 Sam. 8:3; Pro. 17:23; Lam. 3:35; Amos 2:7)! YHWH is just; His people must be also!

23:7 False charges could, and often did, result in the death penalty. Judges must take special care so that the

  1. innocent person
  2. righteous person
was not punished (i.e., Deut. 25:1).
God will deal harshly with evil judges! Exodus 23:8 deals specifically with judicial bribery (cf. Deut. 16:18-19; 27:25).
Bribes (BDB 1005) (1) blind clear eyes and (2) twist, distort, and subvert justice.

▣ "for I will not acquit the guilty" YHWH is a holy and righteous God, so too, must be His people (cf. Exod. 34:7). Sin always has consequences, both in time and eternity!
In this context "the guilty" would be either

  1. a false witness
  2. those who tried to influence the witness
  3. a judge who knew and still accepted a false witness
  4. those involved in bribery

8"You shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just.

23:8 "bribe" For a good brief discussion, see Hard Sayings of the Bible, pp. 286-287.

9"You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt."

23:9 Israel is to have compassion on sojourners because they were once sojourners in Egypt (cf. Exod. 22:21; Lev. 19:33-34). YHWH had mercy on Israel; she should have mercy on the weak and powerless in society (cf. Deut. 1:16-17; 27:19). Israel is meant to model and display YHWH's character. See SPECIAL TOPIC: CHARACTERISTICS OF ISRAEL'S GOD (OT).

▣ "strangers" Israel's beginning as a slave people made them uniquely aware of the plight of "strangers" (BDB 158, used three times). Israel must remember and treat others in the same condition with fairness (cf. Exod. 22:21; Lev. 19:33-34; Deut. 16:19; 24:18,22).
The term "strangers" (BDB 158) was used of

  1. Abraham - Gen. 23:4
  2. Moses - Exod. 2:22; 18:3
  3. Ruth's family - Ruth 1:1
  4. Israelites in Egypt - Exod. 22:20; 23:9; Deut. 10:19
In this context this verse probably relates to a legal case or law suit ("rib," BDB 936, cf. Exod. 23:2).

10"You shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, 11but on the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the needy of your people may eat; and whatever they leave the beast of the field may eat. You are to do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove."

23:10-11 These verses deal with an agricultural concept which increased fertility. The land needed to rest. In that seventh year whatever came up on its own was to be left for the area poor and needy.
Also notice God again cares for the animals (cf. Exod. 23:11,12).

  1. makes a covenant with them - Gen. 9:10; Hos. 2:18
  2. hears their cry - Job 38:41 (cf. Luke 12:24); Ps. 104:21
  3. gives food - Ps. 104:21; 136:25; 147:7; Joel 1:20; Matt. 10:29
  4. remembers in mercy - Gen. 8:1; Jon. 4:11
  5. will be part of the eschaton - Isa. 11:6-9; 65:25

23:10 This was a general principle in Israel, one in seven. Here it is related to land; in Exod. 23:12 to weekly work schedules.

23:11 One wonders if this schedule related to different fields/vineyards at different times (cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 229). The seventh year was a way to provide food for the poor, but if all fields were chronologically synchronized, then there would be too much food one year and none the other six years.
This showed God's ownership of the land and His concern for the poor and the animals (cf. Exod. 23:5).

12"Six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female slave, as well as your stranger, may refresh themselves. 13Now concerning everything which I have said to you, be on your guard; and do not mention the name of other gods, nor let them be heard from your mouth."

23:12 The same way the land needed rest in order to be productive, so too, human beings and animals. This became the practical aspect of a Sabbath's rest, which was religious and to set a pattern of regular worship (cf. Exod. 20:9-11; 31:12-17).
This reflects the pattern of Gen. 2:2. God rested and so should His creation.

  1. owners
  2. their children
  3. their servants
  4. their livestock (Exod. 23:5)
  5. also the stranger in their midst (cf. Exod. 20:8-11)
The NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 613, has an interesting list that shows God's concern with animals.
  1. made a covenant with them - Gen. 9:10; Hos. 2:18
  2. cares for animals on the Sabbath - Exod. 23:12
  3. animals in distress cry to God - Job 38:41; Ps. 104:21
  4. He feeds them - Ps. 147:9; 136:25
  5. animals receive mercy along with human beings - Gen. 8:1; Jon. 3:8; 4:11
NASB, REB  "refresh themselves"
NKJV, NRSV, JPSOA, LXX  "may be refreshed"
TEV  "can rest"
NJB  "have a breathing space"
This is a rare word (BDB 661, KB 711). It is found only here and Exod. 31:17; 2 Sam. 16:14.
The NJB translation shows its relationship to nephesh (BDB 659), referring to animals (cf. Gen. 1:24; 2:19) and humans (cf. Gen. 2:7) who breathe air.
This term (BDB 661) refers to "air breathing" animals, but when referring to humans is usually translated "soul" (cf. Gen. 2:7). In this context "refresh" is best (cf. Exod. 31:17; 2 Sam. 16:14).

23:13 This is a summary verse (cf. TEV, NJB) which relates to the prohibition to idolatry in Exod. 20:3- 5,23. It is an IMPERFECT stem but used in an IMPERITIVAL sense. Idolatry is strictly forbidden and Israel must remember (cf. Deut. 4:9,23; 8:11-20). God's blessings and presence were conditional on Israel's faith and obedience (i.e., Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 27-30; Joshua 23:6-13).

23:13a "Now concerning everything which I have said to you" One wonders how far back this summary extends.

  1. all of the book of the covenant - Exod. 21:1-23:13
  2. part of it - Exod. 22:17-23:12 (Jewish Study Bible, p. 159)
  3. just Exod. 23:1-12
  4. the ten words plus the book of the covenant - Exodus 20:1-23:13
Notice the words of YHWH provide blessings but they also are a warning. Disobedience has severe consequences (cf. Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 27-30)!

23:13b This is a repeated warning going back to Exod. 20:3-5. Idolatry is a recurrent temptation to fallen mankind (cf. Rom. 1:21-25). Fertility worship was the ANE standard model. See SPECIAL TOPIC: FERTILITY WORSHIP OF THE ANE.
Israel is warned (lit. "be on guard," BDB 1030, KB 1581, Niphal IMPERFECT) often to avoid making and worshiping idols (cf. Exod. 23:24,32; 34:13-16; Deut. 7:4-5,25; 12:1-3,30-31; 20:17-18).

▣ "do not mention the name of other gods" The negated VERB (BDB 269, KB 269, Hiphil IMPERFECT) is literally "remember," but in the Hiphil stem it can mean "to mention in speech" (i.e., worship acts). It refers to the worship of false gods; their names could imply their reality.

14"Three times a year you shall celebrate a feast to Me. 15You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread; for seven days you are to eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the appointed time in the month Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. And none shall appear before Me empty-handed. 16Also you shall observe the Feast of the Harvest of the first fruits of your labors from what you sow in the field; also the Feast of the Ingathering at the end of the year when you gather in the fruit of your labors from the field. 17Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord God."

23:14-17 This paragraph discusses the three major annual feast days.

  1. the Feast of Unleavened Bread, also designated as Passover, see SPECIAL TOPIC: THE FEASTS OF ISRAEL, I. D. 1. It is mentioned in Exod. 12:1-14,21-28; Lev. 23:4-14; Num. 28:16-25; Deut. 16:1-8,16
  2. the Feast of the Harvest; this feast goes by several names (i.e., Feasts of Weeks and Pentecost, cf. Exod. 31:16; 34:22; Lev. 23:15-21; Num. 28:26-31); see SPECIAL TOPIC: THE FEASTS OF ISRAEL, I. D. 2. The first fruits would have become ripe at different times.
    1. grapes - Num. 13:20
    2. grain - Exod. 23:16
    3. wheat - Exod. 34:22
    4. figs - Nah. 3:12
    As these later became food for the priest and his family (cf. Deut. 18:4; Neh. 10:38), this varied availability provided a source of food over a period of time. This same concept might be true for a variety in the ways different fields were allowed to be fallow each six years.
  3. the Feast of the Ingathering; this feast also has several designations (i.e., Tabernacles, Booths). #2 was for the first fruits of the wheat harvest; this one is for the general harvest (cf. Exod. 23:16; 34:22; Lev. 23:34-44; Deut. 16:13-17). See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE FEASTS OF ISRAEL, I. D. 3.
Each of the major annual corporate worship events (i.e., three feasts plus Day of Atonement, Leviticus 16) were meant to highlight an aspect of God's merciful character, especially toward His covenant people. These annual events, like the weekly Sabbath (also other events related to "seven": Year of Release, Year of Jubilee) were designed to be teaching moments, as well as worship events. They were to keep God's mercy, provision, and care before the people.

23:14 "three times" This is a NOUN CONSTRUCT from

  1. three - BDB 1625
  2. foot/feet - BDB 919
It denotes a place one must travel to (i.e., a live metaphor for the central sanctuary). In Num. 22:28,32,33, it just means "three times" (i.e., a dead metaphor).

23:15 "unleavened bread" Israel left Egypt quickly. Later leaven became

  1. a symbol of sin and corruption (cf. Exod. 23:18; 34:25; Lev. 6:16-17; Matt. 16:6,12; Mark 8:15; Luke 12:1)
  2. but not always (cf. Lev. 2:11)
  3. an idiom of permeation (cf. Matt. 13:33; Luke 13:21; in a negative sense in 1 Cor. 5:6-8; Gal. 5:9) See SPECIAL TOPIC: LEAVEN.


▣ "none shall appear before Me empty-handed" This is mentioned seven times (cf. Exod. 22:29-30; 34:20). It refers to bringing offerings of the field and herds to God as a sacrifice of thanksgiving and recognition of His ownership of all things.
God was gracious and Israel was to be grateful. See Special Topic: Sacrifices in Mesopotamia and Israel and Their Significance.
The MT scholars were nervous about the anthropomorphism in the OT. It is possible that this phrase should be "see my face" (cf. Exod 23:17; 34:20,23,24; Deut. 16:16; 31:1; 1 Sam. 1:22; Ps. 42:2; Isa. 1:12; there is an Akkadian parallel). The MT makes it a Niphal stem but it is better a Qal stem VERB (cf. Rotherham's Emphasized Bible, p. 107; Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus, p. 451; G. B. Caird, The Language and Imagery of the Bible, pp. 73-75; even Jewish Study Bible, p. 160 suggest this).

23:17 "the Lord God" This is a combination of names.

  1. here, Adon (BDB 10) and YHWH (BDB 217)
  2. often, Elohim YHWH, as in Gen. 2:4

18"You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leavened bread; nor is the fat of My feast to remain overnight until morning."

19a"You shall bring the choice first fruits of your soil into the house of the Lord your God."

19b"You are not to boil a young goat in the milk of its mother."

23:18-19 This is a series of loosely related laws about sacrifice.

  1. no leaven with a blood sacrifice, cf. Exod. 34:25
  2. no fat of a sacrificial animal can remain overnight; the fat was a symbol of the health and vitality of the offered animal; it uniquely belonged to God (i.e., as did the blood)
  3. the choice first-fruits were given to God at the central sanctuary to show God's ownership of all the crop (cf. Exod. 29:12-13; Lev. 3:16-17; 7:23-25)
  4. do not boil a kid in the milk of its mother
The Ras Shamra (see Cyrus H. Gordon, Ugaritic Handbook, p. 174) texts show that this was done in other cultures as a symbol of fertility. Judaism developed strict dietary rules (separate cooking vessels and plates for meat and dairy products) based on this verse. However, the thrust seems to relate to Canaanites' sacrificial worship (cf. Exod. 34:26; Deut. 14:21). It has little or nothing to do with disease or hygiene.

23:18 "leaven" See SPECIAL TOPIC: LEAVEN.

20"Behold, I am going to send an angel before you to guard you along the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. 21Be on your guard before him and obey his voice; do not be rebellious toward him, for he will not pardon your transgression, since My name is in him. 22But if you truly obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries. 23For My angel will go before you and bring you in to the land of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will completely destroy them. 24You shall not worship their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their deeds; but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their sacred pillars in pieces. 25But you shall serve the Lord your God, and He will bless your bread and your water; and I will remove sickness from your midst. 26There shall be no one miscarrying or barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days. 27I will send My terror ahead of you, and throw into confusion all the people among whom you come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. 28 I will send hornets ahead of you so that they will drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites before you. 29I will not drive them out before you in a single year, that the land may not become desolate and the beasts of the field become too numerous for you. 30I will drive them out before you little by little, until you become fruitful and take possession of the land. 31I will fix your boundary from the Red Sea to the sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the River Euphrates; for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you will drive them out before you. 32You shall make no covenant with them or with their gods. 33They shall not live in your land, because they will make you sin against Me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you."

23:20-23 These verses deal with "the Angel" who led the children of Israel (cf. Exod. 14:19; 32:34; 33:2). I assume He is the same as "the Angel of YHWH." See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE ANGEL OF THE LORD.
Notice His function.

  1. He guards them
  2. He will guide them to Canaan
  3. He will direct them (also warning against disobedience)
  4. He has YHWH's own name (see SPECIAL TOPIC: "THE NAME" OF YHWH)
  5. If they are obedient, He will defeat their enemies
This is like an alternate ego for God Himself (compare Exod. 23:22, "I" with Exod. 23:23, "My Angel"). See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE ANGEL OF THE LORD. Possibly this is the pre-incarnate Christ (cf. Isa. 63:7-10, where YHWH, the Angel, and the Spirit appear in a unified context; see SPECIAL TOPIC: THE TRINITY). Also notice the conditional nature of the promises (i.e., Exod. 23:21-22). See SPECIAL TOPIC: COVENANT.

23:20 "the place which I have prepared" This is an allusion to Canaan (cf. Exod. 23:23) and relates to the unconditional prophecy of Gen. 15:12-21.

NASB  "do not be rebellious"
NKJV  "do not provoke"
NRSV, TEV  "do not rebel"
NJB, JPSOA, REB  "do not defy"
LXX  "do not disobey"
There are two possible Hebrew roots.
  1. מרר - MT, "bitter" (BDB 600, KB 633, cf. Exod. 12:8)
  2. מרה - LXX, "rebel" (KB 632, cf. Num. 20:10,24; 27:14)
As the angel "guards" (BDB 1036, KB 1581, Qal ACTIVE INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT) Israel, so too, must Israel "guard" (BDB 1036, KB 1581, Niphal IMPERATIVE) herself. The covenant has reciprocal responsibilities; that is what makes it a covenant (see SPECIAL TOPIC: COVENANT).

23:22 "if you truly obey his voice" This is another emphatic form in this chapter (cf. Exod. 23:2,4,5,22,24 [twice]). Obedience is crucial! See SPECIAL TOPIC: KEEP. "Truly obey" is an INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and IMPERFECT VERB from the same root (BDB 1033, KB 1570, lit. "hear") for emphasis. Obedience is crucial (cf. Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 27-30).

The aspects of covenant obedience.

  1. positive, Exod. 23:25-26
  2. Holy War, Exod. 23:27-28,31
  3. time factor of victory, Exod. 23:29-30

▣ "I will bring you into the land" This clearly reflects YHWH's promise to Abraham in Gen. 15:12-21.

▣ "I will completely destroy them" This VERB (BDB 470, KB 469) normally means "to hide," but here a Hiphil stem means "destroy" (2 Chr. 32:21; Ps. 83:4; possibly Zech. 11:8).
It is interesting that here YHWH's angel will completely destroy the Canaanites but, in reality, the Israelites had to do it themselves. God's will was thwarted by human disobedience, with terrible consequences (i.e., two exiles of Abraham's descendants from Canaan).

23:24 "utterly overthrow. . .break in pieces" These are both INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and IMPERFECT VERBS of the same root for emphasis.
If Israel did not completely destroy the Canaanites and totally reject their fertility worship, she would be polluted by them (and it). The same command is in Num. 33:50-56!

This verse reiterates the emphasis of Exod. 20:3-5,23. Idolatry was a major prohibition (cf. Exod. 23:13,33). It must be "destroyed," 23:23; "utterly overthrow," 23:24; "utterly destroy," Deut. 7:2; "obliterate their name," Deut. 12:3. This is serious!

▣ "you shall utterly overthrow them" The Canaan tribes were to be placed under YHWH's ban (i.e., herem) and completely destroyed (cf. Exod. 23:32-33; 34:12; Deut. 7:2,16; 13:8; Jos. 23:13). This is "holy war"! As Jericho was under the ban (herem, cf. Lev. 27:28-29) and every breathing thing/person was killed (Joshua 6).
The Jewish Study Bible, p. 161, mentions that Maimonides, Hilkhot Melakhim 6.5, says the Israelites gave the Canaanites three choices:

  1. fight
  2. emigrate
  3. become forced laborers
providing they agreed to the seven Noahide laws of Gen. 9:8-17.
This is one of the intensified grammatical forms. See list in Contextual Insights at Exodus 21.


23:25-26 Notice the specific promises.

  1. good crops (i.e., bread, cf. Lev. 26:4-6,26; Deut. 28:5-6)
  2. rain (i.e., water, cf. Lev. 26:4)
  3. no plagues like Egypt (i.e., remove sickness, cf. Exod. 15:26; lev. 26:16)
  4. healthy population of humans and herds (i.e., no miscarriages or barrenness, cf. Deut. 28:4,8)
  5. long life span (i.e., full number of days)
These agricultural and health promises are related to their obedience (cf. Deut. 7:12-15); no obedience, no blessing and even the presence of curses! The Mosaic Covenant was a performance-based covenant!

23:25 There is a textual option in this verse (see UBS Text Project, p. 125) between

  1. He will bless (i.e., the angel of Exod. 23:20-23)
  2. I will bless (i.e., YHWH)
The UBS Text Project gives option #1 a "B" rating (some doubt). See my discussion at Exod. 23:20-23.

This verse relates to the blessings for covenant obedience (cf. Lev. 26:3-10; Deut. 28:1-13). It later became known as "the two ways" (cf. Deut. 30:15,19; Psalm 1).

▣ "He will bless your bread and your water" The UBS Handbook, p. 559, has two possible meanings.

  1. YHWH will provide food and water (TEV)
  2. YHWH will make these things healthy (NJB)
The LXX adds "wine" to the list. The UBS Handbook supports option #2 because it fits the next phrase better.

▣ "I will remove sickness from your midst" This is often used as a proof-text for those who claim "no illness" is God's will for believers (see SPECIAL TOPIC: HEALING; and Gordon Fee's book, The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospels).
This phrase relates to Exod. 15:26 and Deut. 7:15, which refer to the plagues on Egypt. But also notice Lev. 26:16.

23:26 This verse, like Exod. 23:25, relates to YHWH's covenant blessings (cf. Deut. 7:14; 28:4). But the second part of the verse acknowledges that people will die at some point (i.e., in their old age).

23:27-28 This is Holy War terminology. YHWH will fight for His people.

  1. He will make Israel's enemies afraid (cf. Exod. 15:16; 23:27; Jos. 2:9)
  2. He will use natural means to defeat Israel's enemies (hornets, hail, floods)
  3. He will cause confusion (cf. Exod. 14:24; Deut. 7:23; Jos. 10:10 Jdgs. 4:15; 1 Sam. 7:10; 2 Chr. 15:6)

23:27 The victory was YHWH's, not Israel's military (i.e., the plagues, the Red Sea, the conquest). "Terror" (BDB 33) refers to the fear of YHWH, brought on by His great acts (cf. Gen. 35:5; Exod. 15:16; Jos. 2:9-11; 1 Sam. 14:15). YHWH uses

  1. rumor - 2 Kgs. 7:6; 19:7; Isa. 37:7; Ezek. 7:26
  2. sounds - Isa. 30:31
  3. hail - Isa. 28:2,17
  4. hornets (BDB 864, NRSV, "pestilence"; JPSOA, "plagues") - Exod. 23:28; Deut. 7:20; Jos. 24:12
  5. panic/confusion - Exod. 14:24; Deut. 7:23; Jos. 10:10; Jdgs. 4:15; 1 Sam. 7:10; 2 Chr. 15:6; Esther 9:24
It could refer to His majesty (cf. Isa. 2:10,19,21).

▣ "turn their backs to you" This military idiom of retreat also occurs in Jos. 7:8,12; 2 Sam. 22:41; Ps. 18:40; Jer. 48:39. It is even used of Israel turning her back on YHWH in 2 Chr. 29:6. It denotes a complete rout.

23:29-31 These verses discuss how Israel will possess the land of Canaan slowly (cf. Deut. 7:22). From Joshua we know that God defeated the main military powers of Canaan (i.e., city state kings and their armies), but that each tribe must possess their own land and remove the remaining Canaanite population (which they did not).
Notice how Divine sovereignty is linked to individual actions. Human obedience and human choices have consequences!

23:30 "little by little" The conquest will take a long time (cf. Deut. 7:27). Each tribe must clear its own land of Canaanites.

23:31 The geographical extent of the land is described.

  1. from Yam Suph (Sea of Reeds/Weeds; see SPECIAL TOPIC: THE RED SEA); most commentators assume this refers to the Gulf of Aqaba and not the Nile
  2. the sea of the Philistines (of the Mediterranean)
  3. the wilderness to the River Euphrates (i.e., the head waters of the Euphrates in Syria to the Arabah)
The only time this full geography was realized was the reign of Solomon (cf. 1 Kgs. 5:1).
For this promise to be realized, Israel must be obedient to the Mosaic Covenant! These promises do not/cannot apply to a non-obedient, secular, modern Israeli state!

▣ "the Philistines" There are parts of the book of Exodus that reflect a later editor. This may be one of them. However, Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, pp. 94-96) offers an educated opinion that it is not anachronistic.

23:32-33 The warning is reaffirmed! Israel must drive out the Canaanites! If they do not, they will be corrupted (cf. Deut. 7:4; 20:18). They did not and they were! The exile of disobedient Israel was prophesied in Lev. 26:33; Deut. 4:27; 28:36-37,64; 29:28; Ps. 106:27.
But there is always hope of repentance and obedience (cf. Jer. 31:10-20)!
YHWH's covenant with Israel involved several aspects.

  1. fear Him - Deut. 10:12; 13:3-4
  2. honor Him by not worshiping idols - Exod. 20:2-6; 22:20; 23:32-33; 34:11-17; Deut. 4:19-24
  3. walking in His ways - Deut. 10:12; 11:22; 19:9; 30:16; Jos. 22:5; 1 Kgs. 3:3
  4. keeping His laws - Exod. 20:6; Deut. 6:2-9; 7:9; 10:12-13; 11:1,13; 30:10,16; Jos. 22:5; 23:6
  5. love Him with a whole heart - Deut. 4:29; 6:5; 10:12; 11:13; 13:3; 30:6
  6. cleave to Him - Deut. 10:20; 11:22; 13:3; 30:20; Jos. 22:5; 23:8; 2 Kgs. 18:6


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. Why was lying such a heinous sin?
  2. How does Exodus 23 show God's care for animals?
  3. Does the "sixth year" of Exod. 23:10-13 occur all in the same year?
  4. How is the reason for the Sabbath different in Exodus than in Deuteronomy?
  5. What purpose do the Sabbath and annual feasts serve?
  6. How has Exod. 23:19 been misapplied?
  7. Who is "the Angel of the Lord"?
  8. Why did a gracious God mandate the complete destruction of the Canaanite population?
  9. Explain Exod. 23:29-30 in light of the book of Joshua.

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