1#sn People who claim to worship and serve the righteous judge of the universe must preserve equity and justice in their dealings with others. These verses teach that God’s people must be honest witnesses (1-3); God’s people must be righteous even with enemies (4-5); and God’s people must be fair in dispensing justice (6-9). “You must not give#tn Heb “take up, lift, carry” (נָשָׂא, nasa’). This verb was also used in the prohibition against taking “the name of Yahweh in vain.” Sometimes the object of this verb is physical, as in Jonah 1:12 and 15. Used in this prohibition involving speech, it covers both originating and repeating a lie. a false report.#tn Or “a groundless report” (see Exod 20:7 for the word שָׁוְא, shav’). Do not make common cause#tn Heb “do not put your hand” (cf. KJV, ASV); NASB “join your hand.” with the wicked#tn The word “wicked” (רָשָׁע, rasha’) refers to the guilty criminal, the person who is doing something wrong. In the religious setting it describes the person who is not a member of the covenant and may be involved in all kinds of sin, even though there is the appearance of moral and spiritual stability. to be a malicious#tn The word חָמָס (khamas) often means “violence” in the sense of social injustices done to other people, usually the poor and needy. A “malicious” witness would do great harm to others. See J. W. McKay, “Exodus 23:1-43, 6-8: A Decalogue for Administration of Justice in the City Gate,” VT 21 (1971): 311-25. witness.
2 “You must not follow a crowd#tn The word רָבִּים (rabbim), here rendered “crowd,” is also used infrequently to refer to the “mighty,” people of importance in society (Job 35:9; cf. Lev 19:15). in doing evil things;#tn For any individual to join a group that is bent on acting wickedly would be a violation of the Law and would incur personal responsibility. in a lawsuit you must not offer testimony that agrees with a crowd so as to pervert justice,#tn Heb “you will not answer in a lawsuit to turn after the crowd to turn.” The form translated “agrees with” (Heb “to turn after”) is a Qal infinitive construct from נָטָה (natah); the same root is used at the end of the verse but as a Hiphil infinitive construct, “to pervert [justice].” 3 and you must not show partiality#tn The point here is one of false sympathy and honor, the bad sense of the word הָדַר (hadar; see S. R. Driver, Exodus, 237). to a poor man in his lawsuit.
4 “If you encounter#tn Heb “meet” (so KJV, ASV, NASB). your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, you must by all means return#tn The construction uses the imperfect tense (taken here as an obligatory imperfect) and the infinitive absolute for emphasis. it to him. 5 If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen under its load, you must not ignore him,#tn The line reads “you will cease to forsake him” – refrain from leaving your enemy without help. but be sure to help#tn The law is emphatic here as well, using the infinitive absolute and the imperfect of instruction (or possibly obligation). There is also a wordplay here: two words עָזַב (’azav) are used, one meaning “forsake” and the other possibly meaning “arrange” based on Arabic and Ugaritic evidence (see U. Cassuto, Exodus, 297-98). him with it.#sn See H. B. Huffmon, “Exodus 23:4-5: A Comparative Study,” A Light Unto My Path, 271-78.
6 “You must not turn away justice for your poor people in their lawsuits. 7 Keep your distance#tn Or “stay away from,” or “have nothing to do with.” from a false charge#tn Heb “a false matter,” this expression in this context would have to be a case in law that was false or that could only be won by falsehood. – do not kill the innocent and the righteous,#tn The two clauses probably should be related: the getting involved in the false charge could lead to the death of an innocent person (so, e.g., Naboth in 1 Kgs 21:10-13). for I will not justify the wicked.#sn God will not declare right the one who is in the wrong. Society should also be consistent, but it cannot see the intents and motives, as God can.
8 “You must not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see#tn Heb “blinds the open-eyed.” and subverts the words of the righteous.
9 “You must not oppress#tn The verb means “to crush.” S. R. Driver notes that in this context this would probably mean with an unfair judgment in the courts (Exodus, 239). a foreigner, since you know the life#tn Heb “soul, life” – “you know what it feels like.” of a foreigner, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.
Sabbaths and Feasts
10#sn This section concerns religious duties of the people of God as they worship by giving thanks to God for their blessings. The principles here are: God requires his people to allow the poor to share in their bounty (10-11); God requires his people to provide times of rest and refreshment for those who labor for them (12); God requires allegiance to himself (13); God requires his people to come before him in gratitude and share their bounty (14-17); God requires that his people safeguard proper worship forms (18-19). “For six years#tn Heb “and six years”; this is an adverbial accusative telling how long they can work their land. The following references to years and days in vv. 10-12 function similarly. you are to sow your land and gather in its produce. 11 But in the seventh year#tn Heb “and the seventh year”; an adverbial accusative with a disjunctive vav (ו). you must let it lie fallow and leave it alone so that the poor of your people may eat, and what they leave any animal in the field#tn Heb “living thing/creature/beast of the field.” A general term for animals, usually wild animals, including predators (cf. v. 29; Gen 2:19-20; Lev 26:22; Deut 7:22; 1 Sam 17:46; Job 5:22-23; Ezek 29:5; 34:5). may eat; you must do likewise with your vineyard and your olive grove. 12 For six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you must cease, in order that your ox and your donkey may rest and that your female servant’s son and any hired help#tn Heb “alien,” or “resident foreigner.” Such an individual would have traveled out of need and depended on the goodwill of the people around him. The rendering “hired help” assumes that the foreigner is mentioned in this context because he is working for an Israelite and will benefit from the Sabbath rest, along with his employer. may refresh themselves.#tn The verb is וְיִּנָּפֵשׁ (vÿyyinnafesh); it is related to the word usually translated “soul” or “life.”
13 “Pay attention to do#tn The phrase “to do” is added; in Hebrew word order the line says, “In all that I have said to you you will watch yourselves.” The verb for paying attention is a Niphal imperfect with an imperatival force. everything I have told you, and do not even mention#tn Or “honor,” Hiphil of זָכַר (zakhar). See also Exod 20:25; Josh 23:7; Isa 26:13. the names of other gods – do not let them be heard on your lips.#tn Heb “mouth.”sn See also Ps 16:4, where David affirms his loyalty to God with this expression.
14 “Three times#tn The expression rendered “three times” is really “three feet,” or “three foot-beats.” The expression occurs only a few times in the Law. The expressing is an adverbial accusative. in the year you must make a pilgrim feast#tn This is the word תָּחֹג (takhog) from the root חָגַג (khagag); it describes a feast that was accompanied by a pilgrimage. It was first used by Moses in his appeal that Israel go three days into the desert to hold such a feast. to me. 15 You are to observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread; seven days#tn This is an adverbial accusative of time. you must eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you, at the appointed time of the month of Abib, for at that time#tn Heb “in it.” you came out of Egypt. No one may appear before#tn The verb is a Niphal imperfect; the nuance of permission works well here – no one is permitted to appear before God empty (Heb “and they will not appear before me empty”). me empty-handed.
16 “You are also to observe#tn The words “you are also to observe” are not in the Hebrew text, but are supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons. the Feast of Harvest, the firstfruits of your labors that you have sown in the field, and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year#tn An infinitive construct with a preposition and a pronominal suffix is used to make a temporal clause: “in the going in of the year.” The word “year” is the subjective genitive, the subject of the clause. when you have gathered in#tn An infinitive construct with a preposition and a pronominal suffix is used to make a temporal clause: “in the ingathering of you.” your harvest#tn Heb “gathered in your labors.” This is a metonymy of cause put for the effect. “Labors” are not gathered in, but what the labors produced – the harvest. out of the field. 17 At#tn Adverbial accusative of time: “three times” becomes “at three times.” three times in the year all your males will appear before the Lord God.#tn Here the divine Name reads in Hebrew הָאָדֹן יְהוָה (ha’adon yÿhvah), which if rendered according to the traditional scheme of “Lord” for “Yahweh” would result in “Lord Lord.” A number of English versions therefore render this phrase “Lord God,” and that convention has been followed here.
18 “You must not offer#tn The verb is תִּזְבַּח (tizbbakh), an imperfect tense from the same root as the genitive that qualifies the accusative “blood”: “you will not sacrifice the blood of my sacrifice.” The verb means “to slaughter”; since one cannot slaughter blood, a more general translation is required here. But if the genitive is explained as “my blood-sacrifice” (a genitive of specification; like “the evil of your doings” in Isa 1:16), then a translation of sacrifice would work (U. Cassuto, Exodus, 304). the blood of my sacrifice with bread containing yeast; the fat of my festal sacrifice must not remain until morning.#sn See N. Snaith, “Exodus 23:18 and 34:25,” JTS 20 (1969): 533-34; see also M. Haran, “The Passover Sacrifice,” Studies in the Religion of Ancient Israel (VTSup), 86-116. 19 The first of the firstfruits of your soil you must bring to the house of the Lord your God.
“You must not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.#sn On this verse, see C. M. Carmichael, “On Separating Life and Death: An Explanation of Some Biblical Laws,” HTR 69 (1976): 1-7; J. Milgrom, “You Shall Not Boil a Kid in Its Mother’s Milk,” BRev 1 (1985): 48-55; R. J. Ratner and B. Zuckerman, “In Rereading the ‘Kid in Milk’ Inscriptions,” BRev 1 (1985): 56-58; and M. Haran, “Seething a Kid in Its Mother’s Milk,” JJS 30 (1979): 23-35. Here and at 34:26, where this command is repeated, it ends a series of instructions about procedures for worship.
The Angel of the Presence
20#sn This passage has some of the most interesting and perplexing expressions and constructions in the book. It is largely promise, but it is part of the Law and so demands compliance by faith. Its points are: God promises to send his angel to prepare the way before his obedient servants (20-23); God promises blessing for his loyal servants (24-33). So in the section one learns that God promises his protection (victory) and blessing (through his angel) for his obedient and loyal worshipers. “I am going to send#tn The particle הִנֵּה (hinneh) with the active participle indicates imminent future, something God is about to do. an angel#sn The word is מַלְאָךְ (mal’akh, “messenger, angel”). This angel is to be treated with the same fear and respect as Yahweh, for Yahweh will be speaking in him. U. Cassuto (Exodus, 305-6) says that the words of the first clause do not imply a being distinct from God, for in the ancient world the line of demarcation between the sender and the sent is liable easily to be blurred. He then shows how the “Angel of Yahweh” in Genesis is Yahweh. He concludes that the words here mean “I will guide you.” Christian commentators tend to identify the Angel of Yahweh as the second person of the Trinity (W. C. Kaiser, Jr., “Exodus,” EBC 2:446). However, in addition to being a preincarnate appearance, the word could refer to Yahweh – some manifestation of Yahweh himself. before you to protect you as you journey#tn Heb “protect you in the way.” and to bring you into the place that I have prepared.#tn The form is the Hiphil perfect of the verb כּוּן (kun, “to establish, prepare”). 21 Take heed because of him, and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgressions, for my name#sn This means “the manifestation of my being” is in him (S. R. Driver, Exodus, 247). Driver quotes McNeile as saying, “The ‘angel’ is Jehovah Himself ‘in a temporary descent to visibility for a special purpose.’” Others take the “name” to represent Yahweh’s “power” (NCV) or “authority” (NAB, CEV). is in him. 22 But if you diligently obey him#tn The infinitive absolute here does not add as great an emphasis as normal, but emphasizes the condition that is being set forth (see GKC 342-43 §113.o). and do all that I command, then I will be an enemy to your enemies, and I will be an adversary to your adversaries. 23 For my angel will go before you and bring you to the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, and I will destroy them completely.#tn Heb “will cut them off” (so KJV, ASV).
24 “You must not bow down to their gods; you must not serve them or do according to their practices. Instead you must completely overthrow them and smash their standing stones#tn The Hebrew is מַצֵּבֹתֵיהֶם (matsevotehem, “their standing stones”); these long stones were erected to represent the abode of the numen or deity. They were usually set up near the altar or the high place. To destroy these would be to destroy the centers of Canaanite worship in the land. to pieces.#tn Both verbs are joined with their infinitive absolutes to provide the strongest sense to these instructions. The images of the false gods in Canaan were to be completely and utterly destroyed. This could not be said any more strongly. 25 You must serve#tn The perfect tense, masculine plural, with vav (ו) consecutive is in sequence with the preceding: do not bow down to them, but serve Yahweh. It is then the equivalent of an imperfect of instruction or injunction. the Lord your God, and he#tn The LXX reads “and I will bless” to make the verb conform with the speaker, Yahweh. will bless your bread and your water,#sn On this unusual clause B. Jacob says that it is the reversal of the curse in Genesis, because the “bread and water” represent the field work and ground suitability for abundant blessing of provisions (Exodus, 734). and I will remove sickness from your midst. 26 No woman will miscarry her young#tn Or “abort”; Heb “cast.” or be barren in your land. I will fulfill#sn No one will die prematurely; this applies to the individual or the nation. The plan of God to bless was extensive, if only the people would obey. the number of your days.
27 “I will send my terror#tn The word for “terror” is אֵימָתִי (’emati); the word has the thought of “panic” or “dread.” God would make the nations panic as they heard of the exploits and knew the Israelites were drawing near. U. Cassuto thinks the reference to “hornets” in v. 28 may be a reference to this fear, an unreasoning dread, rather than to another insect invasion (Exodus, 308). Others suggest it is symbolic of an invading army or a country like Egypt or literal insects (see E. Neufeld, “Insects as Warfare Agents in the Ancient Near East,” Or 49 : 30-57). before you, and I will destroy#tn Heb “kill.” all the people whom you encounter; I will make all your enemies turn their backs#tn The text has “and I will give all your enemies to you [as] a back.” The verb of making takes two accusatives, the second being the adverbial accusative of product (see GKC 371-72 §117.ii, n. 1). to you. 28 I will send#tn Heb “and I will send.” hornets before you that will drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite before you. 29 I will not drive them out before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild animals#tn Heb “the beast of the field.” multiply against you. 30 Little by little#tn The repetition expresses an exceptional or super-fine quality (see GKC 396 §123.e). I will drive them out before you, until you become fruitful and inherit the land. 31 I will set#tn The form is a perfect tense with vav consecutive. your boundaries from the Red Sea to the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert to the River,#tn In the Hebrew Bible “the River” usually refers to the Euphrates (cf. NASB, NCV, NRSV, TEV, CEV, NLT). There is some thought that it refers to a river Nahr el Kebir between Lebanon and Syria. See further W. C. Kaiser, Jr., “Exodus,” EBC 2:447; and G. W. Buchanan, The Consequences of the Covenant (NovTSup), 91-100. for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you will drive them out before you.
32 “You must make no covenant with them or with their gods. 33 They must not live in your land, lest they make you sin against me, for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare#tn The idea of the “snare” is to lure them to judgment; God is apparently warning about contact with the Canaanites, either in worship or in business. They were very syncretistic, and so it would be dangerous to settle among them. to you.”