Exodus 23

The Word Made Fresh

1“Do not spread rumors. Don’t partner with the wicked and be a false witness. 2Don’t go along with the crowd in acting badly. And when you are called to be a witness don’t take the popular stand and give false testimony. 3Neither should you be partial to a poor person in a lawsuit.

4“If you happen to find an escaped ox or donkey that belongs to an enemy, take it back to him.

5“If you see a donkey that belongs to an enemy lying beside the way under a heavy load, you must do what you can to relieve its burden.

6“Don’t refuse to give justice to a poor person in a lawsuit. 7Stay far away from making false charges and do no harm to the innocent or the party who is in the right. I will not set the guilty party free. 8Do not accept a bribe. A bribe makes the judge look the other way and treats the cause of those who are in the right with injustice.

9“Don’t badly treat a foreigner who has settled in the land. You know what it’s like to be a foreigner because that’s what you were in Egypt.

10“You may plant your crops and gather in the harvest for six years, 11but let the land be at rest in the seventh year and let the poor gather what grows voluntarily. What they leave behind the wild animals can have. Do the same with your vineyards and your olive trees. 12You have six days in which to do your work. On the seventh day you are to rest. Give your ox and donkey relief. Let your slaves have a break.

13“Pay attention to everything I have told you. Do not call on other gods. Do not let their names come from your mouth.

14“During the course of a year you must have three celebrations for me. 15Keep the feast of unleavened bread just as I instructed you, with no yeast in the bread for seven days in the month of Abib. That is the month in which you escaped Egypt. None of you should ever appear before me empty-handed.

16“The second celebration is the festival of the first fruits of the harvest that you gather from what you have sown. And then you must observe the festival of gathering at the end of the harvest. 17These three are occasions on which all the men must appear before me in celebration.

18“Do not offer the blood of any animal sacrifice to me with anything containing yeast, and don’t keep the fat of any festival to me overnight.

19“You must bring only the best of the first of the harvest into my presence. And you must never boil a kid in its mother’s milk.

20“I will send a messenger ahead of you to guard you and bring you safely to the place I have set apart for you. 21Listen to him and don’t disobey him because he will not forgive your rebelliousness; he is acting in my name. 22But if you pay attention to him and do what I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies.

23 “When my messenger leads you to the lands of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, and I conquer them for you, 24you must not try to obey their gods or worship them or engage in their religious rituals. You must completely get rid of them; tear down their places of worship and break their altars in pieces. 25You shall worship only the LORD your God, and I will bless your food and water and will keep illness away from you. 26The women will not miscarry or be barren in your new land. You will have a long and full life.

27 “I will spread fear before you and all the people who are against you will be thrown into confusion and run from you. 28I will go ahead of you to drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites before you. 29This will not happen in the course of a single year lest the land become a desert and the wild animals become too numerous for you. 30But I will drive them out little by little until you have grown into a multitude and can take possession of the land. 31I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the sea of the Philistines and from the wilderness to the Euphrates. I will give the people who live there into your hands, and you will push them out before you.

32“Make no agreements with them or with their gods, 33because they are not to live in your land. If they live in your land, they will turn you against me because you would begin to worship their gods, and that will entrap you for certain.”’

Commentary

1-3: These verses put some flesh on the 9th Commandment about bearing false witness (20:16). The addition about not being partial to the poor, however, is puzzling: one wonders when such a stipulation has ever been necessary.

4: You are to return a stray animal to its owner, even if it’s someone you consider your enemy.

5: You are to give relief to a pack animal that belongs to someone who hates you.

6-8: More rules about justice in the courts.

9: Treat resident aliens the way you wish you had been treated in Egypt.

10-11: Fields and vineyards and orchards are to be left alone in the seventh year for the benefit of the poor, but what about the poor the other six years?

12-13: The Sabbath law is reiterated. The mention of other gods in this context indicates an understanding that the Sabbath was to be given over to worship.

14-15: Three festivals are ordered; one is named here: Unleavened Bread, or Passover, the rules for which were given in 12:43-49.

16-17: The two other festivals named here are Harvest and Ingathering. They will be dealt with much later in more detail. After all, at the moment they are in no position to worry about planting crops, and vines, and trees.

18: Yuck.

19: Recalling the offering of Abel, perhaps, only the best is to be brought. As for the second part of the verse, who would want to boil a kid in its mother’s milk anyway?

20-21: God will appoint an angel to guide them to the Promised Land.

22: The angel, it would appear, is essentially the same presence as the LORD.

23-33: They are warned against getting caught up in the religious practices of the Canaanite people. God will protect them, specifically promising to protect pregnant women – perhaps a counter to the promises made by the Canaanite cults which were fertility oriented. The reasoning behind the conquest of the land is to prevent the religions of the tribes in Canaan from corrupting the Israelites.

Takeaway

Most of the rules here have little specific application to us today, other than the clear instructions to treat your enemies fairly and to provide, at least to some extent, for the poor among us.