For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2005 James Melough

23:1.  “Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness.”


“Thou shalt not raise a false report” is also rendered don’t countenance an idle report: never repeat a baseless rumor: don’t take up a false cry: present no hearsay unsupported by evidence; and the second half of the sentence is also translated don’t cooperate with an evil-minded person: don’t make common cause with a wicked man: don’t support a guilty man: don’t conspire with unrighteousness.  The command is simply another form of the commandment: Do not bear false witness.


23:2.  “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment:”


The first half of the sentence is also translated don’t be moved to do wrong by the general opinion: don’t join mobs intent on evil: don’t accept the example of the majority as an excuse to do wrong: don’t side with the powerful to do wrong.


The second half of the sentence is also rendered don’t follow the multitude to pervert justice: don’t take sides with an unjust majority: don’t pervert justice just to please the rich or powerful.


23:3.  “Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause.”


This is also translated: Don’t testify in favor of a man just because he is poor.  Your testimony must be impartial.


23:4.  “If thou meet thine enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again.”


In such a case the attitude is not to be: “It’s not my affair; it’s his problem.”  The wandering animal is to be brought back to its owner even if he is your enemy.  The NT declaration of the situation is recorded in Romans 12:20, “Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.”


23:5.  “If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him.”


Where an enemy’s ass has fallen under its load we are to help him get the animal on its feet again.


23:6.  “Thou shalt not wrest the judgment of thy poor in his cause.”


This may also be rendered, Do not give false judgment when the cause of the poor is being tried.  Don’t tamper with a poor man’s rights in court.


23:7.  “Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and righteous slay thou not: for I will not justify the wicked.”


Other translations of this are: Keep far away from anything dishonest or unjust.  Avoid making or supporting false charges.  Keep out of trumped up cases.  Don’t bring death on an innocent man who has justice on his side.  To do so would be wicked, and God will punish wickedness.


23:8.  “And thou shalt take no gift: for the gift blindeth the wise, and perverteth the words of the righteous.”


“Gift” here means “bribe,” and it is not to be accepted, since in the present context it is obviously designed to secure an unjust judgment.


23:9.  “Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.”


The stranger here is an alien.  He was not to be mistreated, the memory of their own mistreatment while slaves in Egypt impelling the Israelites to be kind to the foreigners in their midst.


23:10.  “And six years thou shalt sow thy land, and shalt gather in the fruits thereof:”


For six years the Israelites were to cultivate the land, and enjoy its produce.


23:11.  “But the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie still, that the poor of thy people may eat: and what they leave the beasts of the field shall eat.  In like manner thou shalt deal with thy vineyard, and with thy oliveyard.”


As the people were to rest each seventh day, so were they to allow the land to rest each seventh year, what it produced spontaneously in that year being for the poor and for the wild animals, the same rule applying also to their vineyards and oliveyards.


23:12.  “Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest: that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid.”


This reiteration of the instruction already given emphasizes the importance God attaches to it, that importance being related to the fact that the weekly sabbath foreshadows the eternal rest into which God would have all men enter, the Lord Jesus Christ, by His vicarious death, having secured that rest for all who will trust Him as Savior and Lord.


23:13.  “And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect: and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth.”


Circumspect, in the present context, means to take heed, to pay strict attention to, that command being as relevant to us as to those of that distant day, see Psalm 1:1-2, “Blessed is the man (whose) delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.  And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither: and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”  God’s people were not even to utter the names of the gods so-called of their heathen neighbors.


As discussed already, the gods of the modern world are money, fame, pleasure, etc.  We are not to worship them, i.e., desire them, but we are rather to be “content with such things as you have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,” Hebrews 13:5.


23:14.  “Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto me in the year.”


23:15.  “Thou shalt keep the feast of unleavened bread: (thou shalt eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded thee, in the time appointed of the month Abib; for in it thou camest out from Egypt: and none shall appear before me empty:)”


Since three is the biblical number of resurrection, the lesson here is that only those on resurrection ground, i.e., believers, can worship the Lord, and since Abib means green ear of corn - another symbol of resurrection - the emphasis continues to be on resurrection life, possessed only by believers.  Their having come out of Egypt (type of the world) reminds us that we too have come out of that same evil world, for though we are still in it physically, we are no longer of it: our citizenship is in heaven.


The seven days (number of perfection or completeness) represent the believer’s whole life; and since leaven represents sin, the unleavened bread symbolizes the written Word, the pure bread which nourishes the Christian’s life during all his days on earth.


Since a feast is a time of rejoicing and satisfaction, their keeping a feast three times a year is the symbolic reminder that we who stand on resurrection ground are to live in the happy enjoyment of our salvation.


“... and none shall appear before me empty,” teaches the truth that when we enter God’s presence in prayer, we are to come with hearts filled with thanksgiving, praise, and worship, as commanded in Philippians 4:6-7, “Be careful (anxious) for nothing: but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.  And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”


There were other religious festivals, but these three were the most important.


23:16.  “And the feast of harvest, the firstfruits of thy labors, which thou hast sown in the field: and the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labors out of the field.”

                                                                 The three agriculture festivals were first Abib (March-April) the Feast of Unleavened Bread; second, later in the Spring, the Feast of Harvest or Pentecost, or the grain harvest, also called the Feast of Weeks (it speaks of the giving of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, see Acts 2:1-4); and third, at the end of the year September-October, the Feast of Ingathering, the fruit harvest, also called Feast of Booths or Tabernacles.  It is generally considered to prefigure Israel’s millennial peace and glory.


23:17.  “Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord God.”


The three times are obviously the three feasts mentioned in verse 16; and the command includes all the people, for the woman is represented by the man.  Her exclusion here is the OT foreshadowing of the NT truth that women are to be silent in the meetings of the Church, see 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.  And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home, for it is a shame for women to speak in the church,” and again 1 Timothy 2:11-12, “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.  But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”


23:18.  “Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leavened bread; neither shall the fat of my sacrifice remain until the morning.”


See comments on verse 15 for the significance of leavened bread. Since it represents error, the teaching here is that worship is to be impelled by the Holy Spirit, not by mere human intelligence.  That the product of the latter can be very attractive to the natural mind, and appealing to emotion, is unquestioned, and while emotion is involved in worship (it is the expression of love for the Lord), it must be indited by the Holy Spirit, not by mere human intelligence.


The warning against leaving unburned the fat of the sacrifice until the morning, teaches the further lesson that worship is to be spontaneous, and presented as the Holy Spirit impels it.  This doesn’t preclude the preparation of worship by reading the Scriptures and by meditation, but it does prohibit such things as memorizing a prayer to be offered at the Lord’s Supper, or the preparation of a little sermonette to be read there.


The need of the warning is demonstrated by the frequency with which it is ignored.


23:19.  “The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring into the house of the Lord thy God.  Thou shalt not seethe (boil) a kid in his mother’s milk.”


Because we live mainly in a nonagrarian society we tend to dismiss this command as being irrelevant; but it isn’t: in acknowledgement of Him as the Giver, the Lord is to be given a portion of our income; and since a tenth was the minimum mandated by law, surely in this age of grace we dare not offer Him less in view of what He has first given us: His Son given to die in our guilty stead for the expiation of our countless sins.  We can’t rob God without robbing ourselves, for He will not bless disobedience.


The kid seems to be a type of Christ; the mother a type of Israel; and the milk is a type of the written Word, see 1 Peter 2:2, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby,” but milk typifies the Word in its simplest form, that which the spiritual “infant,” the newborn believer can understand; but it is  God’s desire that there be progress, growth, see Hebrews 5:11-14, “Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.  For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.  But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”


Metaphorically speaking, Israel was guilty of this sin: she failed to progress beyond the teaching of the OT, not realizing that the NT is the record of the fulfillment of what was foreshadowed in the OT.


23:20.  “Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.”


The reference here is to the cloudy pillar which guided Israel through the wilderness by day; and the pillar of fire which guided them by night, both pillars being a type of the Holy Spirit, His guidance of them being typological of His guidance of us today.  And as with Israel, so also with us: they could reject that Divine guidance, and so can we.  God will never compel our obedience.  It must be yielded voluntarily.


While Canaan may be viewed as a figure of heaven, it is more correctly a type of the sphere of spiritual blessing into which the Holy Spirit desires to lead us here on earth; and as Israel must follow the guiding pillars if she would enjoy Canaan’s blessings, so must we submit to the Holy Spirit’s leading if we would enjoy fullness of spiritual blessing day by day.


23:21.  “Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him.”


The NT counterpart of this command is recorded in Ephesians 4:30, “And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption,” the further command being given in 1 Thessalonians 5:19, “Quench not the Spirit.”  He is quenched when we refuse to do what He commands, and He is grieved when we do what He forbids.


“... provoke him not” means “do not vex, offend, disobey, defy, neglect him.”


“... for my name is in him” is also rendered, “He is my representative.  He bears my name.  My authority resides in him. I will manifest myself in him.”


“... he will not pardon” is not to be understood in the absolute sense of never forgiving.  It means that he will not withhold chastisement that is designed to secure obedience.


23:22.  “But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries.”


“... be an enemy to” here means to hate, oppose, be hostile to; and to be an adversary is to afflict, besiege, bind, cramp, distress, oppress, shut up, vex, cause to be in a strait, pierce, puncture.  What folly then it is, by disobedience, to make God our adversary rather than our advocate!


23:23.  “For mine Angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in unto the Amorites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites: and I will cut them off.”


Israel’s literal enemies represent the spiritual foes who wage continual warfare against us in an attempt to keep us out of the enjoyment of our spiritual inheritance, as Paul warns us in Ephesians 6:12, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.  Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints ....”


The Amorite, meaning a sayer, may represent the person who professes to be a believer, but whose words are not endorsed by his conduct.  He is the enemy of God and His people, and we are to be careful that we ourselves are not simply spiritual Amorites.  We should be absolutely certain as to the reality of our profession, knowing how, when, and where our conversion occurred.


Hittite means terror.  He represents the fear of man, which seals our lips against confession of Christ as Savior and Lord lest men should ridicule and laugh us to scorn.  How often we fail to exterminate the “Hittite”!


Perizzite means rustic, squatter; a rustic being an uncouth individual incapable of anything except digging the soil; and a squatter being one who lives on land to which he has no legal right.  He represents the false professor.  There is need to ensure that we aren’t spiritual Perizzites: men who claim to be believers, but who “mind earthly things,” and have no desire either to study Scripture, or to hear it being expounded.


Canaanite means a trafficker, and it is significant that the name was a general term for any inhabitant of Canaan.  He represents all those who comprise the great harlot travesty that masquerades as the true Church.  It is professing but apostate Christendom, that which is described in 2 Timothy 3:5 as “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof,” and relative to which God commands His own, “from which turn away.”


Hivite means shower of life: liver; and he represents yet another characteristic of the great false church: it too undertakes to teach men how to live so as to fit themselves for heaven by good works and moral living, teaching that contradicts Scripture which warns, “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast,” Ephesians 2:8-9.


Jebusite, the sixth and last on the list, means he will be trodden down.  It is instructive to remember that six is the biblical number of man, incompleteness, weakness, failure, in contrast with seven which is the number of completeness and perfection.  And it is noteworthy that the last great evil world ruler, the beast, is unnamed but simply designated by the number 666, see Revelation 13:18, “Here is wisdom.  Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.”


As Jebusite means he will be trodden down, so also will the beast whose end is described in Revelation 19:20, “And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet .... These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone,” where they and the devil, together with all who die unsaved, will suffer eternal torment,” see Revelation 20:10, “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”


23:24.  “Thou shalt not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do after their works: but thou shalt utterly overthrow them, and quite break down their images.”


The first part of this verse prescribes Israel’s negative attitude towards the gods of their heathen neighbors: they were to have absolutely nothing to do with the worship of them.  On the contrary, they were to be zealous in destroying them.  Images is also rendered statues: standing-stones: pillars: obelisks.


23:25.  “And ye shall serve the Lord your God, and he shall bless thy bread, and thy water; and I will take sickness away from the midst of thee.”


He would recompense their obedience by giving them abundance of food and water, and good health; and while His reward of obedience today is rarely in temporal things, it is in the spiritual equivalents of bread, water, and health.  Literal bread represents the written Word for our spiritual upbuilding; and water, that same Word for our refreshment and cleansing; and since believers are not exempt from sickness, physical good health is here symbolic of spiritual wellbeing: the obedient believer will “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,”


23:26.  “There shall nothing cast their young, nor be barren, in thy land: the number of thy days I will fulfill.”


To “cast their young” means to miscarry; and “to be barren” means to be incapable of bearing offspring.  The spiritual equivalent of a literal miscarriage is a profession of faith that eventually proves false, while the spiritual counterpart of literal barrenness is failure to lead even one sinner to Christ.  No spiritual mind will refuse to acknowledge that the spiritual ills portrayed here are endemic today.


The fulfilled number of days is metaphoric, not necessarily of a very long life, but of one marked by abundant spiritual blessing. Such is the exception rather than the rule today.


23:27.  “I will send my fear before thee, and will destroy all the people to whom thou shalt come, and I will make all thine enemies turn their backs unto thee.”


God fulfilled this promise to Israel by filling the hearts of the Canaanites with terror, and by destroying those who opposed her as she took possession of the land.  Their turning their backs means that they fled from before Israel.


We are warned that “The fear of man bringeth a snare,” Proverbs 29:25, but encouraged by the conclusion of that verse, “... whoso putteth is trust in the Lord shall be safe.”  How little that warning and encouragement are heeded is attested by our failure to present the Gospel to others.  The fear of man’s laughter has all too often sealed our lips.


23:28.  “And I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee.”


See verse 23 for the spiritual significance of the Canaanite tribes mentioned here.


One has well said that, “God works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform,” and here is an example of that working: He used insects, not swords, to expel the Canaanites from the land He wished Israel to enjoy.  In man’s eyes the Gospel is as insignificant as were those insects, but God would have us remember the power inherent in that same Word, “For the word of God is quick (living), and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of the soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart,” Hebrews 4:12.  The Gospel believed transforms the antagonist into an ally.


23:29.  “I will not drive them out from before thee in one year; lest the land become desolate, and the beast of the field multiply against thee.”


23:30.  “By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land.”


The expulsion of the Canaanites was to be gradual so that the land would remain cultivated, and the wild animal population controlled, until the Israelites had established themselves.  This may foreshadow the spiritual education of a believer.  What the unbeliever views as unwelcome difficulties and misfortunes the spiritual believer sees as the discipline of a loving Father for the development and blessing of His child, as it is written, “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby,” Hebrews 12:11.


23:31.  “And I will set thy bounds from the Red sea even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert unto the river: for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand; and thou shalt drive them out before thee.”


All the vast area bounded by the Red and Mediterranean seas and the Euphrates river was what God wanted Israel to enjoy, but the small area actually possessed testifies to her disobedience; and we are misreading the type if we fail to see in the paucity of what she actually made her own, the measure of our own failure to appropriate the fullness of blessing God has made available to obedient faith.


It was only in the reign of Solomon that Israel actually ruled over all this territory, see 1 Kings 4:21.


23:32.  “Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor with their gods.”


In the present context “covenant” means agreement, pact, treaty. Israel was to make no contract with them whatsoever, nor was she to join in the worship of their idols.  The NT counterpart of this command is recorded in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?  And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?  And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.


23:33.  “They shall not dwell in thy land, lest they make thee sin against me: for if thou serve their gods, it will surely be a snare unto thee.”


“They shall not dwell in thy land” translates into the truth that unbelievers are not to be received into the fellowship of the local church.  The “mixed multitude” of believers and unbelievers which constitutes Christendom however, testifies to the fact that this command is honored today more in the breach than in the observance; and that those unbelievers have subverted God’s order in the churches is self-evident.

[Exodus 24]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough