Exodus 23 Study Notes


23:1-9 These verses touch on every economic status or personal feeling that might tempt someone to treat another unjustly. Favoritism either to the poor or to the rich is ruled out (Lv 19:15). Even in private matters involving the need of an enemy, an Israelite must not only return straying livestock but also render aid on the spot (Lv 19:15-18; Mt 5:43-48; Rm 12:17-21).

23:6-9 As in 22:21-26, the Israelites must remember who they were and what it was like as resident aliens, and they must consider who the Lord is in his support of justice. The warning in 23:7 not to execute an innocent person comes with a reason: because I will not justify the guilty. This may refer to God ultimately bringing to justice a guilty person who might slip through the court when judges take care not to execute an innocent person. Or it may refer to God bringing to justice any witness or judge who contributes to the execution of an innocent person. Either way, the Lord declared his concern for maintaining justice (Dt 10:17; 16:18-20; 2Ch 19:6-7; Jr 22:3; 1Pt 1:15-17). With these things in mind, the Israelites must support justice equally for the poor, the rich, and resident aliens.

23:10-19 The section on Sabbaths and festivals has as its unifying thread inclusion of matters with agricultural connections, even the prohibition against invoking other gods. The Israelites would find it easy to mimic surrounding cultures that called on other gods in hopes of improving the fertility of their crops and flocks.

23:10-11 The Lord’s provision for his people from year to year would be like his provision of manna from day to day; there would be sufficient left over for the seventh day and for the seventh year so that everyone could eat without constant labor.

23:12 The two animals and two sorts of people here are illustrative and not an exhaustive list of who would rest and be refreshed (cp. 20:10).


Hebrew pronunciation [KHAG]
CSB translation festival, feast
Uses in Exodus 12
Uses in the OT 62
Focus passage Exodus 23:15-16,18

Chag denotes festival (Ex 32:5) and regularly represents one of the three annual festivals that required all Israelite men to come to Jerusalem: Unleavened Bread, Weeks, and Shelters (Dt 16:16). For many this would involve a trip, and a related Arabic word that has come into English as hajj meaning “pilgrimage.” Chag first signifies a festival that Israel would hold after making a trip (Ex 10:9), but not every chag involved traveling. Chag also connotes feasts (Am 5:21) or festival sacrifices (Mal 2:3). It derives from the verb chagag (16x), which appears eight times with chag as celebrate a festival (Nm 29:12) or something as a festival (Ex 12:14). Chagag alone means hold or celebrate a festival (Ex 5:1; 23:14) and describes non-Israelites celebrating (1Sm 30:16).

23:13 This verse does not mean an Israelite must never pronounce the name of a false god, since the names of some pagan gods are included in Scripture. Rather, it is a prohibition against calling on any other god for guidance, help, thanksgiving, or praise.

23:14-17 The Festival of Unleavened Bread took place near the start of the barley harvest; the Festival of Harvest took place at the time of the wheat harvest; and the Festival of Ingathering celebrated the completion of all the harvesting, including grapes and olives. Bringing firstfruits, the first items harvested, expressed gratitude for the harvest as coming from the Lord and faith that he would supply the remainder of the harvest (Dt 26:1-11). The name Lord God emphasizes his sovereignty and could also be rendered “the Sovereign [or “Master”], Yahweh.” Any ancient king who did not receive the prescribed tribute at the appropriate times would conclude that his vassal was plotting rebellion (1Kg 12:16-19; Ezr 4:8-24). In the ancient Near East, the appearance of all your males would demonstrate the loyalty or rebellion of those with potential for military service.

23:18-19 Based on 34:25, the sacrifice and festival offering is the Passover lamb, which was sacrificed, roasted, and eaten on the eve of the week of the Festival of Unleavened Bread. All leaven was to be dispensed with before the Passover lamb was offered (Dt 16:2-4). Regulations in Leviticus prohibit eating specified portions of fat from sacrificed animals (Lv 3:16-17; 7:25); the fat and anything else left from the Passover lamb was to be burned (Ex 12:10). The prohibition about boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk is repeated in 34:26 and Dt 14:21. It may have been connected with the Festival of Ingathering, since goats gave birth around that time, or it may have referred to a pagan custom of unknown significance.

23:20-23 The Lord’s sending of an angel (cp. 13:21; 14:19) continues the picture of Israel’s relationship with the Lord as that of a vassal with a suzerain. The vassal must understand that the envoy came with the king’s authority behind him (my name is in him).

23:24 Sacred pillars could be set up as monuments for various purposes (24:4; Gn 28:18,22; 31:13,45,51-52; 35:20; Lv 26:1; Is 19:19).

23:25 The Lord had already shown his ability in the areas of bread . . . water, and illnesses (cp. 15:22-26; 16:4-5; 17:1-7).

23:26 The Lord referred to provision and preservation of life at both ends of the spectrum—for infants and the elderly—having already spoken about what was needed in between (vv. 22,25). He was concerned about all aspects of life.

23:27-30 While the military battles of Joshua may be more typical of the era of conquest in Canaan, this passage focuses on what might be called psychological warfare and on the departure of the previous inhabitants. The Lord may have intended to use a plague of hornets to drive . . . out the groups living in the land (Dt 7:20; Jos 24:12). It may also be a figure of speech referring to the image of people running away from a place as if chased by swarming hornets (cp. Dt 1:44; Ps 118:12; Is 7:18-19).

Because of the terror and confusion that the Lord would instigate (Jos 2:9-11; 1Sm 5:6-8,11-12), many people would leave gradually rather than stay to engage in combat. Joshua noted that the Israelites had taken possession of cities, olive groves, and vineyards that they did not build or plant (Dt 6:10-11; Jos 24:11-13). It seems that major portions of the land were intact and not destroyed by protracted warfare. I will cause the people ahead of you to feel terror is literally, “My terror I will send before you.” God may be interpreted as either the source or the object of the terror. In the events that followed, both took place: the Lord caused fear/confusion and was also the object of fear as his reputation spread. Rahab’s report in Jos 2:9 of what was happening among people in Canaan uses the same rare word for “terror” as does Ex 15:16.


Hebrew pronunciation [gah RASH]
CSB translation drive out, banish
Uses in Exodus 12
Uses in the OT 48
Focus passage Exodus 23:28-31

Garash has related words in Ugaritic and Moabite. It means drive (Jdg 9:41), drive out (Gn 3:24), or drive away (Ex 2:17). It connotes banish (Gn 4:14; Jb 30:5) and force out (Mc 2:9). Garash usually involves driving out of a location, but can indicate loss of a ministry position (1Kg 2:27). It suggests rejection and often is accomplished through military force. The passive participle was standard terminology for a divorced woman (Lv 21:14). Three times garash, either as a homonym or a variant of drive out, characterizes water as tossing, churning up, or surging (Is 57:20; Am 8:8).

23:30-31 I will drive them out and you will drive them out assume the involvement of both divine and human effort. Borders from the Red Sea refers to the portion of the Red Sea known as the Gulf of Aqaba (cp. 1Kg 9:26). The Mediterranean Sea, as it is called now, is in Hebrew literally “the sea of the Philistines,” since they lived along the coast (cp. 13:17).

23:32-33 It will be a snare for you uses the word that 10:7 used to express what Pharaoh’s men thought about Moses as they surveyed the damage caused by the plagues. Snares were naturally associated with death (1Sm 18:21; Ps 18:5; Pr 13:14; 14:27; 18:7). Idolatry as a snare to the Israelites pictured serious trouble, not a minor inconvenience (Ex 34:12; Dt 7:16; Jos 23:13; Jdg 2:3; Ps 106:36).