Laws against falsehood and injustice. (1-9) The year of rest, The sabbath, The three festivals. (10-19) God promises to conduct the Israelites to Canaan. (20-33)
Verses 1-9 In the law of Moses are very plain marks of sound moral feeling, and of true political wisdom. Every thing in it is suited to the desired and avowed object, the worship of one only God, and the separation of Israel from the pagan world. Neither parties, friends, witnesses, nor common opinions, must move us to lessen great faults, to aggravate small ones, excuse offenders, accuse the innocent, or misrepresent any thing.
Verses 10-19 Every seventh year the land was to rest. They must not plough or sow it; what the earth produced of itself, should be eaten, and not laid up. This law seems to have been intended to teach dependence on Providence, and God's faithfulness in sending the larger increase while they kept his appointments. It was also typical of the heavenly rest, when all earthly labours, cares, and interests shall cease for ever. All respect to the gods of the heathen is strictly forbidden. Since idolatry was a sin to which the Israelites leaned, they must blot out the remembrance of the gods of the heathen. Solemn religious attendance on God, in the place which he should choose, is strictly required. They must come together before the Lord. What a good Master do we serve, who has made it our duty to rejoice before him! Let us devote with pleasure to the service of God that portion of our time which he requires, and count his sabbaths and ordinances to be a feast unto our souls. They were not to come empty-handed; so now, we must not come to worship God empty-hearted; our souls must be filled with holy desires toward him, and dedications of ourselves to him; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.
Verses 20-33 It is here promised that they should be guided and kept in their way through the wilderness to the land of promise, Behold, I send an angel before thee, mine angel. The precept joined with this promise is, that they be obedient to this angel whom God would send before them. Christ is the Angel of Jehovah; ( 1 Corinthians. 10:9 ) a comfortable settlement in the land of Canaan. How reasonable are the conditions of this promise; that they should serve the only true God; not the gods of the nations, which are no gods at all. How rich are the particulars of this promise! The comfort of their food, the continuance of their health, the increase of their wealth, the prolonging their lives to old age. Thus hath godliness the promise of the life that now is. It is promised that they should subdue their enemies. Hosts of hornets made way for the hosts of Israel; such mean creatures can God use for chastising his people's enemies. In real kindness to the church, its enemies are subdued by little and little; thus we are kept on our guard, and in continual dependence on God. Corruptions are driven out of the hearts of God's people, not all at once, but by little and little. The precept with this promise is, that they should not make friendship with idolaters. Those that would keep from bad courses, must keep from bad company. It is dangerous to live in a bad neighbourhood; others' sins will be our snares. Our greatest danger is from those who would make us sin against God.
Exodus 23:1-33 . LAWS CONCERNING SLANDER, &c.
1. put not thine hand--join not hands.
2. decline--depart, deviate from the straight path of rectitude.
3. countenance--adorn, embellish--thou shalt not varnish the cause even of a poor man to give it a better coloring than it merits.
10. six years thou shalt sow thy land--intermitting the cultivation of the land every seventh year. But it appears that even then there was a spontaneous produce which the poor were permitted freely to gather for their use, and the beasts driven out fed on the remainder, the owners of fields not being allowed to reap or collect the fruits of the vineyard or oliveyard during the course of this sabbatical year. This was a regulation subservient to many excellent purposes; for, besides inculcating the general lesson of dependence on Providence, and of confidence in His faithfulness to His promise respecting the triple increase on the sixth year ( Leviticus 25:20 Leviticus 25:21 ), it gave the Israelites a practical proof that they held their properties of the Lord as His tenants, and must conform to His rules on pain of forfeiting the lease of them.
12. Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest--This law is repeated ( Exodus 20:9 ) lest any might suppose there was a relaxation of its observance during the sabbatical year.
13. make no mention of the name of other gods, &c.--that is, in common conversation, for a familiar use of them would tend to lessen horror of idolatry.
14-18. Three times . . . keep a feast . . . in the year--This was the institution of the great religious festivals--"The feast of unleavened bread," or the passover--"the feast of harvest," or pentecost--"the feast of ingathering," or the feast of tabernacles, which was a memorial of the dwelling in booths in the wilderness, and which was observed in the seventh month ( Exodus 12:2 ). All the males were enjoined to repair to the tabernacle and afterwards the temple, and the women frequently went. The institution of this national custom was of the greatest importance in many ways: by keeping up a national sense of religion and a public uniformity in worship, by creating a bond of unity, and also by promoting internal commerce among the people. Though the absence of all the males at these three festivals left the country defenseless, a special promise was given of divine protection, and no incursion of enemies was ever permitted to happen on those occasions.
19. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk--A prohibition against imitating the superstitious rites of the idolaters in Egypt, who, at the end of their harvest, seethed a kid in its mother's milk and sprinkled the broth as a magical charm on their gardens and fields, to render them more productive the following season.
20-25. Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way--The communication of these laws, made to Moses and by him rehearsed to the people, was concluded by the addition of many animating promises, intermingled with several solemn warnings that lapses into sin and idolatry would not be tolerated or passed with impunity.
21. my name is in him--This angel is frequently called Jehovah and Elohim, that is, God.
28. I will send hornets before thee, &c. instrument of divine judgment, but variously interpreted: as hornets in a literal sense [BOCHART]; as a pestilential disease [ROSENMULLER]; as a terror of the Lord, an extraordinary dejection [JUNIUS].
29, 30. I will not drive . . . out . . . in one year; lest the land become desolate--Many reasons recommend a gradual extirpation of the former inhabitants of Canaan. But only one is here specified--the danger lest, in the unoccupied grounds, wild beasts should inconveniently multiply; a clear proof that the promised land was more than sufficient to contain the actual population of the Israelites.