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Exodus 23:1-9

Context
Justice

23:1 1 “You must not give 2  a false report. 3  Do not make common cause 4  with the wicked 5  to be a malicious 6  witness.

23:2 “You must not follow a crowd 7  in doing evil things; 8  in a lawsuit you must not offer testimony that agrees with a crowd so as to pervert justice, 9  23:3 and you must not show partiality 10  to a poor man in his lawsuit.

23:4 “If you encounter 11  your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, you must by all means return 12  it to him. 23:5 If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen under its load, you must not ignore him, 13  but be sure to help 14  him with it. 15 

23:6 “You must not turn away justice for your poor people in their lawsuits. 23:7 Keep your distance 16  from a false charge 17  – do not kill the innocent and the righteous, 18  for I will not justify the wicked. 19 

23:8 “You must not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see 20  and subverts the words of the righteous.

23:9 “You must not oppress 21  a foreigner, since you know the life 22  of a foreigner, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.

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).

2 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.

3 tn Or “a groundless report” (see Exod 20:7 for the word שָׁוְא, shav’).

4 tn Heb “do not put your hand” (cf. KJV, ASV); NASB “join your hand.”

5 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.

6 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.

7 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).

8 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.

9 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].”

10 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).

11 tn Heb “meet” (so KJV, ASV, NASB).

12 tn The construction uses the imperfect tense (taken here as an obligatory imperfect) and the infinitive absolute for emphasis.

13 tn The line reads “you will cease to forsake him” – refrain from leaving your enemy without help.

14 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).

15 sn See H. B. Huffmon, “Exodus 23:4-5: A Comparative Study,” A Light Unto My Path, 271-78.

16 tn Or “stay away from,” or “have nothing to do with.”

17 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.

18 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).

19 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.

20 tn Heb “blinds the open-eyed.”

21 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).

22 tn Heb “soul, life” – “you know what it feels like.”



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