Exodus 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.
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(20-33) The Book of the Covenant terminates, very appropriately, with a series of promises. God is “the rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” He chooses to “reward men after their works,” and to set before them “the recompense of the reward.” He “knows whereof we are made,” and by what motives we are influenced. Self-interest, the desire of our own good, is one of the strongest of them. If Israel will keep His covenant, they will enjoy the following blessings :—(1) The guidance and protection of His angel till Canaan is reached; (2) God’s help against their adversaries, who will, little by little, be driven out; (3) the ultimate possession of the entire country between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea on the one hand, the Desert and the Euphrates on the other; (4) a blessing upon their flocks and herds, which shall neither be barren nor cast their young; and (5) a blessing upon themselves, whereby they will escape sickness and enjoy a long term of life. All these advantages, however, are conditional upon obedience, and may be forfeited.

(20) I send an Angel before thee.—Kalisch considers Moses to have been the “angel” or “messenger;” others understand one of the created angelic host. But most commentators see in the promise the first mention of the “Angel of the Covenant,” who is reasonably identified with the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Eternal Son and Word of God. When the promise is retracted on account of the sin of the golden calf, it is in the words, “I will not go up with thee” (Exodus 33:3).

Exodus 23:20-21. Behold, I send an Angel before thee — The Angel of the covenant: accordingly, the Israelites, in the wilderness, are said to tempt Christ. It is promised that this blessed Angel should keep them in the way, though it lay through a wilderness first, and afterward through their enemies’ country; and thus Christ has prepared a place for his followers. Beware of him, and obey his voice; provoke him not — It is at your peril if you do; for my name — My nature, my authority; is in him.

23:20-33 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, mine angel. The precept joined with this promise is, that they be obedient to this angel whom God would send before them. Christ is the Angel of Jehovah; this is plainly taught by St. Paul, 1Co 10:9. They should have a comfortable settlement in the land of Canaan. How reasonable are the conditions of this promise; that they should serve the only true God; not the gods of the nations, which are no gods at all. How rich are the particulars of this promise! The comfort of their food, the continuance of their health, the increase of their wealth, the prolonging their lives to old age. Thus hath godliness the promise of the life that now is. It is promised that they should subdue their enemies. Hosts of hornets made way for the hosts of Israel; such mean creatures can God use for chastising his people's enemies. In real kindness to the church, its enemies are subdued by little and little; thus we are kept on our guard, and in continual dependence on God. Corruptions are driven out of the hearts of God's people, not all at once, but by little and little. The precept with this promise is, that they should not make friendship with idolaters. Those that would keep from bad courses, must keep from bad company. It is dangerous to live in a bad neighbourhood; others' sins will be our snares. Our greatest danger is from those who would make us sin against God.An Angel - See Exodus 3:2, Exodus 3:8; Joshua 5:13; Isaiah 63:9. 20-25. Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way—The communication of these laws, made to Moses and by him rehearsed to the people, was concluded by the addition of many animating promises, intermingled with several solemn warnings that lapses into sin and idolatry would not be tolerated or passed with impunity. To wit, Christ, the Angel of the covenant, as may be gathered both from the following words, because pardon of sin, which is God’s prerogative, Mark 2:7, is here ascribed to him, and God’s name is in him, and by comparing other scriptures, as Exodus 32:34 Acts 7:38,39 1 Corinthians 10:9. See Exodus 13:21 14:19.

Behold, I send an angel before thee,.... Not a created angel, but the uncreated one, the Angel of God's presence, that was with the Israelites at Sinai, and in the wilderness; who saved, redeemed, bore, and carried them all the days of old, whom they rebelled against and tempted in the wilderness; as appears by all the characters after given of him, which by no means agree with a created angel: Aben Ezra observes, that some say this is the book of the law, because it is said, "my name is in him", or "in the midst of it"; others say, the ark of the covenant; but he says this angel is Michael; and if indeed by Michael is intended the uncreated angel, as he always is in Scripture, he is right: Jarchi remarks, that their Rabbins say, this is Metatron, whose name is as the name of his master; Metatron, by gematry, is Shaddai, which signifies almighty or all-sufficient, and is an epithet of the divine Being; and Metatron seems to be a corruption of the word "mediator": some of the ancient Jewish writers say (k), this is the Angel that is the Redeemer of the world, and the keeper of the children of men: and Philo the Jew (l) applies the word unto the divine Logos, and says,"he (God) uses the divine Word as the guide of the way; for the oracle is, "behold, I send my Angel", &c.''which agrees with what follows:

to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared; to preserve the Israelites in their journey through the wilderness, from all their enemies that should set upon them, and to bring them safe at last to the land of Canaan, which he had appointed for them, and promised to them, and had prepared both in his purpose and gift for them, and would make way for their settlement in it by driving out the nations before them.

(k) In Zohar in Gen. fol. 124. 4. (l) "De migratione" Abraham, p. 415.

Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.
20. an angel] such as guided and protected the patriarchs (Genesis 24:7; Genesis 31:11; Genesis 48:16); cf. Exodus 14:19 (on Exodus 32:34, Exodus 33:2, see the notes), Numbers 20:16. It is true, the expression here used is ‘an angel’ (so Numbers 20:16 : contrast ch. Exodus 3:2); but he appears in v. 21 as Jehovah’s full representative (see on Exodus 3:2). Elsewhere in JE the pillar of cloud (see on Exodus 13:21), Hobab (Numbers 10:31), and the ark (Numbers 10:33), are severally described as guiding Israel in the wilderness.

20, 21. An angel is to guide Israel on its journey to Canaan: his instructions must be received with the same respect and fear as those of Jehovah Himself; for Jehovah will Himself be speaking in him.

20–33. Hortatory epilogue. The laws which Israel is to observe have been defined: and now Jehovah declares what He will do for His people if it is obedient to His voice (v. 22): He will give it prosperity, freedom from sickness and long life, success in its contests with the nations of Canaan, and extension of territory afterwards. Comp. the similar, but longer and more elaborated, hortatory discourses (including curses on disobedience), concluding the codes of H (Leviticus 26:3-45) and Dt. (Deuteronomy 28). It is remarkable that the commands which Israel is to obey are not those embodied in ch. Exodus 20:22 to Exodus 23:19, but (v. 22) those to be given it in the future by the angel on the way to Canaan. Perhaps (Bä.) the passage was written originally for a different context: but even if that were the case, it must be intended, where it now stands, to suggest motives for the observance of the preceding laws.

Verses 20-31. - THE REWARDS OF OBEDIENCE. God always places before men" the recompense of the reward." He does not require of them that they should serve him for nought. The "Book of the Covenant" appropriately ends with a number of promises, which God undertakes to perform, if Israel keeps the terms of the covenant. The promises are: -

1. That he will send an angel before them to be their guide, director, and helper (vers. 20 - 23).

2. That he will be the enemy of their enemies (ver. 22), striking terror into them miraculously (ver. 27), and subjecting them to other scourges also (ver. 28).

3. That he will drive out their enemies "by little and little" (ver. 30), not ceasing until he has destroyed them (ver. 23).

4. That he will give them the entire country between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean on the one hand, the Desert and the Euphrates on the other (ver. 31). And

5. That he will bless their sustenance, avert sickness from them, cause them to multiply, and prolong their days upon earth (vers. 25, 26). At the same time, all these promises - except the first - are made conditional. If they will "beware" of the angel and "obey his voice," then he will drive their enemies out (vers. 22, 23): if they will serve Jehovah, and destroy the idols of the nations, then he will multiply them, and give them health and long life (vers. 24-26), and "set their bounds from the Red Sea even unto the Sea of the Philistines, and from the desert unto the river" (ver. 31). So far as they fall short of their duties, is he entitled to fall short of his promises. A reciprocity is established. Unless they keep their engagements, he is not bound to keep his. Though the negative side is not entered upon, this is sufficiently clear. None of the promises, except the promise to send the angel, is absolute. Their realisation depends on a strict and hearty obedience. Verse 20. - Behold, I send a messenger before thee. Jewish commentators regard the messenger as Moses, who, no doubt, was a specially commissioned ambassador for God, and who might, therefore, well be termed God's messenger. But the expressions - "He will not pardon your transgressions," and "My name is in him," are too high for Moses. An angel must be intended - probably "the Angel of the Covenant," - whom the best expositors identify with the Second Person of the Trinity, the Ever-Blessed Son of God. To keep thee in the way is not simply "to guide thee through the wilderness, and prevent thee from geographical error," but to keep thee altogether in the right path. s, to guard thy going out and thy coming m, to prevent thee from falling into any kind of wrong conduct. The place which I have prepared is not merely Palestine, but that place of which Palestine is the type - viz., Heaven. Compare John 14:2: - "I go to prepare a place for you." Exodus 23:20Relation of Jehovah to Israel. - The declaration of the rights conferred by Jehovah upon His people is closed by promises, through which, on the one hand, God insured to the nation the gifts and benefits involved in their rights, and, on the other hand, sought to promote that willingness and love which were indispensable to the fulfilment of the duties incumbent upon every individual in consequence of the rights conferred upon them. These promises secured to the people not only the protection and help of God during their journey through the desert, and in the conquest of Canaan, but also preservation and prosperity when they had taken possession of the land.

Exodus 23:20-27

Jehovah would send an angel before them, who should guard them on the way from injury and destruction, and bring them to the place prepared for them, i.e., to Canaan. The name of Jehovah was in this angel (Exodus 23:21), that is to say, Jehovah revealed Himself in him; and hence he is called in Exodus 33:15-16, the face of Jehovah, because the essential nature of Jehovah was manifested in him. This angel was not a created spirit, therefore, but the manifestation of Jehovah Himself, who went before them in the pillar of cloud and fire, to guide and to defend them (Exodus 13:21). But because it was Jehovah who was guiding His people in the person of the angel, He demanded unconditional obedience (Exodus 23:21), and if they provoked Him (תּמּר for תּמר, see Exodus 13:18) by disobedience, He would not pardon their transgression; but if they followed Him and hearkened to His voice, He would be an enemy to their enemies, and an adversary to their adversaries (Exodus 23:22). And when the angel of the Lord had brought them to the Canaanites and exterminated the latter, Israel was still to yield the same obedience, by not serving the gods of the Canaanites, or doing after their works, i.e., by not making any idolatrous images, but destroying them (these works), and smiting to pieces the pillars of their idolatrous worship (מצבת does not mean statues erected as idols, but memorial stones or columns dedicated to idols: see my Comm. on 1 Kings 14:23), and serving Jehovah alone. Then would He bless them in the land with bountiful provision, health, fruitfulness, and length of life (Exodus 23:23-26). "Bread and water" are named, as being the provisions which are indispensable to the maintenance of life, as in Isaiah 3:1; Isaiah 30:20; Isaiah 33:16. The taking away of "sickness" (cf. Exodus 15:26) implied the removal of everything that could endanger life. The absence of anything that miscarried, or was barren, insured the continuance and increase of the nation; and the promise that their days should be fulfilled, i.e., that they should not be liable to a premature death (cf. Isaiah 65:20), was a pledge of their well-being.

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