This chapter continues and concludes the acts that passed in the first
session (if I may so call it) upon mount Sinai. Here are,
I. Some laws of universal obligation, relating especially to the ninth
commandment, against bearing false witness
and giving false judgment,
Also a law of doing good to our enemies
and not oppressing strangers,
II. Some laws peculiar to the Jews. The sabbatical year
the three annual feasts
with some laws pertaining thereto.
III. Gracious promises of the completing of the mercy God had begun for
them, upon condition of their obedience. That God would conduct them
through the wilderness
that he would prosper all they had
that he would put them in possession of Canaan,
But they must not mingle themselves with the nations,
||B. C. 1491.|
1 Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with
the wicked to be an unrighteous witness.
2 Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt
thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment:
3 Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause.
4 If thou meet thine enemy's ox or his ass going astray, thou
shalt surely bring it back to him again.
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
6 Thou shalt not wrest the judgment of thy poor in his cause.
7 Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and
righteous slay thou not: for I will not justify the wicked.
8 And thou shalt take no gift: for the gift blindeth the wise,
and perverteth the words of the righteous.
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.
I. Cautions concerning judicial proceedings; it was not enough that
they had good laws, better than ever any nation had, but care must be
taken for the due administration of justice according to those
1. The witnesses are here cautioned that they neither occasion an
innocent man to be indicted, by raising a false report of him and
setting common fame against him, nor assist in the prosecution of an
innocent man, or one whom they do not know to be guilty, by putting
their hand in swearing as witnesses against him,
Bearing false witness against a man, in a matter that touches his life,
has in it all the guilty of lying, perjury, malice, theft, murder, with
the additional stains of colouring all with a pretence of justice and
involving many others in the same guilt. There is scarcely any one act
of wickedness that a man can possibly be guilty of which has in it a
greater complication of villanies than this has. Yet the former part of
this caution is to be extended, not only to judicial proceedings, but
to common conversation; so that slandering and backbiting are a species
of falsewitness-bearing. A man's reputation lies as much at the mercy
of every company as his estate or life does at the mercy of a judge or
jury; so that he who raises, or knowingly spreads, a false report
against his neighbour, especially if the report be made to wise and
good men whose esteem one would desire to enjoy, sins as much against
the laws of truth, justice, and charity, as a false witness does--with
this further mischief, that he leaves it not in the power of the person
injured to obtain redress. That which we translate, Thou shalt not
raise, the margin reads, Thou shalt not receive a false
report; for sometimes the receiver, in this case, is as bad as the
thief; and a backbiting tongue would not do so much mischief as it does
if it were not countenanced. Sometimes we cannot avoid hearing a false
report, but we must not receive it, that is, we must not hear it with
pleasure and delight as those that rejoice in iniquity, nor give credit
to it as long as there remains any cause to question the truth of it.
This is charity to our neighbour's good name, and doing as we would be
2. The judges are here cautioned not to pervert judgment.
(1.) They must not be overruled, either by might or multitude, to go
against their consciences in giving judgment,
With the Jews causes were tried by a bench of justices, and judgment
given according to the majority of votes, in which cause every
particular justice must go according to truth, as it appeared to him
upon the strictest and most impartial enquiry, though the multitude of
the people, and their outcries, or, the sentence of the rabbim
(we translate it many), the more ancient and honourable of the
justices, went the other way. Therefore (as with us), among the Jews,
the junior upon the bench voted first, that he might not be swayed nor
overruled by the authority of the senior. Judges must not respect the
persons either of the parties or of their fellow-judges. The former
part of this verse also gives a general rule for all, as well as
judges, not to follow a multitude to do evil. General usage will
never excuse us in a bad practice; nor is the broad way ever the better
or safer for its being tracked and crowded. We must enquire what we
ought to do, not what the majority do; because we must be judged by our
Master, not by our fellow-servants, and it is too great a compliment to
be willing to go to hell for company.
(2.) They must not pervert judgment, no, not in favour of a poor man,
Right must in all cases take place and wrong must be punished, and
justice never biassed nor injury connived at under pretence of charity
and compassion. If a poor man be a bad man, and do a bad thing, it is
foolish pity to let him fare the better for his poverty,
(3.) Neither must they pervert judgment in prejudice to a poor man, nor
suffer him to be wronged because he had not wherewithal to right
himself; in such cases the judges themselves must become advocates for
the poor, as far as their cause was good and honest
"Thou shalt not wrest the judgment of the poor; remember they
are thy poor, bone of thy bone, thy poor neighbours, thy poor brethren;
let them not therefore fare the worse for being poor."
(4.) They must dread the thoughts of assisting or abetting a bad cause
"Keep thyself far from a false matter; do not only keep thyself
free from it, nor think it enough to say thou art unconcerned in it,
but keep far from it, dread it as a dangerous snare. The innocent and
righteous thou wouldest not, for all the world, slay with thy own
hands; keep far therefore from a false matter, for thou knowest not but
it may end in that, and the righteous God will not leave such
wickedness unpunished: I will not justify the wicked," that is,
"I will condemn him that unjustly condemns others." Judges themselves
are accountable to the great judge.
(5.) They must not take bribes,
They must not only not be swayed by a gift to give an unjust judgment,
to condemn the innocent, or acquit the guilty, or adjudge a man's right
from him, but they must not so much as take a gift, lest it should have
a bad influence upon them, and overrule them, contrary to their
intentions; for it has a strange tendency to blind those that otherwise
would do well.
(6.) They must not oppress a stranger,
Though aliens might not inherit lands among them, yet they must have
justice done them, must peaceably enjoy their own, and be redressed if
they were wronged, though they were strangers to the commonwealth of
Israel. It is an instance of the equity and goodness of our law, that,
if an alien be tried for any crime except treason, the one half of his
jury, if he desire it, shall be foreigners; they call it a trial per
mediatatem linguae, a kind provision that strangers may not be
oppressed. The reason here given is the same with that in
You were strangers, which is here elegantly enforced, You
know the heart of a stranger; you know something of the griefs and
fears of a stranger by sad experience, and therefore, being delivered,
can the more easily put your souls into their souls' stead.
II. Commands concerning neighbourly kindnesses. We must be ready to do
all good offices, as there is occasion, for any body, yea even for
those that have done us ill offices,
The command of loving our enemies, and doing good to those that hate
us, is not only a new, but an old commandment,
1. If we must do this kindness for an enemy, much more for a friend,
though an enemy only is mentioned, because it is supposed that a man
would not be unneighbourly to any unless such as he had a particular
2. If it be wrong not to prevent our enemy's loss and damage, how much
worse is it to occasion harm and loss to him, or any thing he has.
3. If we must bring back our neighbours' cattle when they go astray,
much more must we endeavour, by prudent admonitions and instructions,
to bring back our neighbours themselves, when they go astray in any
sinful path, see
And, if we must endeavour to help up a fallen ass, much more should we
endeavour, by comforts and encouragements, to help up a sinking spirit,
saying to those that are of a fearful heart, Be strong. We must
seek the relief and welfare of others as our own,
If thou sayest, Behold, we know it not, doth not he that pondereth
the heart consider it? See
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10 And six years thou shalt sow thy land, and shalt gather in
the fruits thereof:
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.
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, and the stranger, may be refreshed.
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.
14 Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto me in the year.
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:)
16 And the feast of harvest, the firstfruits of thy labours,
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
labours out of the field.
17 Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before
the Lord GOD.
18 Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leavened
bread; neither shall the fat of my sacrifice remain until the
19 The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring
into the house of the LORD thy God. Thou shalt not seethe a kid
in his mother's milk.
I. The institution of the sabbatical year,
Every seventh year the land was to rest; they must not plough nor sow
it at the beginning of the year, and then they could not expect any
great harvest at the end of the year: but what the earth did produce of
itself should be eaten from hand to mouth, and not laid up. Now this
1. To show what a plentiful land that was into which God was bringing
them--that so numerous a people could have rich maintenance out of the
produce of so small a country, without foreign trade, and yet could
spare the increase of every seventh year.
2. To remind them of their dependence upon God their great landlord,
and their obligation to use the fruit of their land as he should
direct. Thus he would try their obedience in a matter that nearly
touched their interest. Afterwards we find that their disobedience to
this command was a forfeiture of the promises,
2 Chronicles 36:21.
3. To teach them a confidence in the divine Providence, while they did
their duty--that, as the sixth day's manna served for two day's meat,
so the sixth year's increase should serve for two years' subsistence.
Thus they must learn not to take thought for their life,
If we are prudent and diligent in our affairs, we may trust Providence
to furnish us with the bread of the day in its day.
II. The repetition of the law of the fourth commandment concerning the
Even in the year of rest they must not think that the sabbath day was
laid in common with the other days, but, even that year, it must be
religiously observed; yet thus some have endeavoured to take away the
observance of the sabbath, by pretending that every day must be a
III. All manner of respect to the gods of the heathen is here strictly
A general caution is prefixed to this, which has reference to all these
precepts: In all things that I have said unto you, be
circumspect. We are in danger of missing our way on the right hand
and on the left, and it is at our peril if we do; therefore we have
need to look about us. A man may ruin himself through mere
carelessness, but he cannot save himself without great care and
circumspection: particularly, since idolatry was a sin which they were
much addicted to, and would be greatly tempted to, they must endeavour
to blot out the remembrance of the gods of the heathen, and must disuse
and forget all their superstitious forms of speech, and never mention
them but with detestation. In Christian schools and academies (for it
is in vain to think of reforming the play-houses), it were to be wished
that the names and stories of the heathen deities, or demons rather,
were not so commonly and familiarly used as they are, even with
intimations of respect, and sometimes with forms of invocation. Surely
we have not so learned Christ.
IV. Their solemn religious attendance on God in the place which he
should choose is here strictly required,
1. Thrice a year all their males must come together in a holy
convocation, that they might the better know and love one another, and
keep up their communion as a dignified and peculiar people.
2. They must come together before the Lord
to present themselves before him, looking towards the place where his
honour dwelt, and to pay their homage to him as their great Lord, from
and under whom they held all their enjoyments.
3. They must feast together before the Lord, eating and drinking
together, in token of their joy in God and their grateful sense of his
goodness to them; for a feast is made for laughter,
O what a good Master do we serve, who has made it our duty to
rejoice before him, who feasts his servants when they are in
waiting! Never let religion be called a melancholy thing, when its
solemn services are solemn feasts.
4. They must not appear before God empty,
Some free-will offering or other they must bring, in token of their
respect and gratitude to their great benefactor; and, as they were not
allowed to come empty-handed, so we must not come to worship God
empty-hearted; our souls must be filled with grace, with pious and
devout affections, holy desires towards him, and dedications of
ourselves to him, for with such sacrifices God is well-pleased.
5. The passover, pentecost, and feast of tabernacles, in spring,
summer, and autumn, were the three times appointed for their
attendance: not in winter, because travelling was then uncomfortable;
not in the midst of their harvest, because then they were otherwise
employed; so that they had no reason to say that he made them to
serve with an offering, or wearied them with incense.
V. Some particular directions are here given about the three feasts,
though not so fully as afterwards.
1. As to the passover, it was not to be offered with leavened bread,
for at that feast all leaven was to be cast out, nor was the fat of it
to remain until the morning, lest it should become offensive,
2. At the feast of pentecost, when they were to begin their harvest,
they must bring the first of their first-fruits to God, by the
pious presenting of which the whole harvest was sanctified,
3. At the feast of ingathering, as it is called
they must give God thanks for the harvest-mercies they had received,
and must depend upon him for the next harvest, and must not think to
receive benefit by that superstitious usage of some of the Gentiles,
who, it is said, at the end of their harvest, seethed a kid in its
dam's milk, and sprinkled that milk-pottage, in a magical way, upon
their gardens and fields, to make them more fruitful next year. But
Israel must abhor such foolish customs.
|Precepts and Promises.
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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.
21 Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he
will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him.
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.
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
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.
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.
26 There shall nothing cast their young, nor be barren, in thy
land: the number of thy days I will fulfil.
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.
28 And I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out
the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee.
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
30 By little and little I will drive them out from before thee,
until thou be increased, and inherit the land.
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.
32 Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor with their gods.
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.
Three gracious promises are here made to Israel, to engage them to
their duty and encourage them in it; and each of the promises has some
needful precepts and cautions joined to it.
I. 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
a created angel, say some, a minister of God's providence, employed in
conducting and protecting the camp of Israel; that it might appear that
God took a particular care of them, he appointed one of his chief
servants to make it his business to attend them, and see that they
wanted for nothing. Others suppose it to be the Son of God, the angel
of the covenant; for the Israelites in the wilderness are said to
tempt Christ; and we may as well suppose him God's messenger,
and the church's Redeemer, before his incarnation, as the Lamb slain
from the foundation of the world. And we may the rather think he
was pleased to undertake the deliverance and guidance of Israel because
they were typical of his great undertaking. It is promised that this
blessed angel should keep them in the way, though it lay through
a wilderness first, and afterwards through their enemies' country; thus
God's spiritual Israel shall be kept through the wilderness of this
earth, and from the insults of the gates of hell. It is also promised
that he should bring them into the place which God had not only
designed but prepared for them: and thus Christ has prepared a place
for his followers, and will preserve them to it, for he is faithful to
him that appointed him. The precept joined with this promise is that
they be observant of, and obedient to, this angel whom God would send
"Beware of him, and obey his voice in every thing; provoke
him not in any thing, for it is at your peril if you do, he will
visit your iniquity." Note,
1. Christ is the author of salvation to those only that obey him. The
word of command is Hear you him,
Observe what he hath commanded,
2. Our necessary dependence upon the divine power and goodness should
awe us into obedience. We do well to take heed of provoking our
protector and benefactor, because if our defence depart from us, and
the streams of his goodness be cut off, we are undone. Therefore,
"Beware of him, and carry it towards him with all possible
reverence and caution. Fear the Lord, and his goodness."
3. Christ will be faithful to those who are faithful to him, and will
espouse their cause who adhere to his: I will be an adversary to
The league shall be offensive and defensive, like that with Abraham,
I will bless him that blesseth thee, and curse him that curseth
thee. Thus is God pleased to twist his interests and friendships
with his people's.
II. It is promised that they should have a comfortable settlement in
the land of Canaan, which they hoped now (though it proved otherwise)
within a few months to be in the possession of,
1. How reasonable the conditions of this promise are--only that they
should serve their own God, who was indeed the only true God, and not
the gods of the nations, which were no gods at all, and which they had
no reason at all to have any respect for. They must not only not
worship their gods, but they must utterly overthrow them, in token of
their great abhorrence of idolatry, their resolution never to worship
idols themselves, and their care to prevent any other from worshipping
them; as the converted conjurors burnt their books,
2. How rich the particulars of this promise are.
(1.) The comfort of their food. He shall bless thy bread and thy
water; and God's blessing will make bread and water more refreshing
and nourishing than a feast of fat things and wines on the lees without
(2.) The continuance of their health: "I will take sickness
away, either prevent it or remove it. Thy land shall not be visited
with epidemical diseases, which are very dreadful, and sometimes have
laid countries waste."
(3.) The increase of their wealth. Their cattle should not be barren,
nor cast their young, which is mentioned as an instance of prosperity,
(4.) The prolonging of their lives to old age: "The number of thy
days I will fulfil, and they shall not be cut off in the midst by
untimely deaths." Thus hath godliness the promise of the life that
III. It is promised that they should conquer and subdue their enemies,
the present occupants of the land of Canaan, who must be driven out to
make room for them. This God would do,
1. Effectually by his power
not so much by the sword and bow of Israel as by the terrors which he
would strike into the Canaanites. Though they were so obstinate as not
to be willing to submit to Israel, resign their country, and retire
elsewhere, which they might have done, yet they were so dispirited that
they were not able to stand before them. This completed their ruin;
such power had the devil in them that they would resist, but such power
had God over them that they could not. I will send my fear before
thee; and those that fear will soon flee. Hosts of hornets made
way for the hosts of Israel; such mean creatures can God make use of
for the chastising of his people's enemies, as in the plagues of Egypt.
When God pleases, hornets can drive out Canaanites, as well as lions
2. He would do it gradually, in wisdom
not all at once, but by little and little. As the Canaanites had kept
possession till Israel had grown into a people, so there should still
be some remains of them till Israel should grow so numerous as to
replenish the whole. Note, The wisdom of God is to be observed in the
gradual advances of the church's interests. It is in real kindness to
the church that its enemies are subdued by little and little; for thus
we are kept upon our guard, and in a continual dependence upon God.
Corruptions are thus driven out of the hearts of God's people; not all
at once, but by little and little; the old man is crucified, and
therefore dies slowly. God, in his providence, often delays mercies,
because we are not ready for them. Canaan has room enough to receive
Israel, but Israel is not numerous enough to occupy Canaan. We are not
straitened in God; if we are straitened, it is in ourselves. The land
of Canaan is promised them
in its utmost extent, which yet they were not possessed of till the
days of David; and by their sins they soon lost possession. The precept
annexed to this promise is that they should not make any friendship,
nor have any familiarity, with idolaters,
Idolaters must not so much as sojourn in their land, unless they
renounced their idolatry. Thus they must avoid the reproach of
intimacy with the worshippers of false gods and the danger of being
drawn to worship with them. By familiar converse with idolaters, their
dread and detestation of the sin would wear off; they would think it no
harm, in compliment to their friends, to pay some respect to their
gods, and so by degrees would be drawn into the fatal snare. Note,
Those that would be kept from bad courses must keep from bad company;
it is dangerous living in a bad neighbourhood; others' sins will be our
snares, if we look not well to ourselves. We must always look upon our
greatest danger to be from those that would cause us to sin against
God. Whatever friendship is pretended, that is really our worst enemy
that draws us from our duty.