Exodus 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.
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(5) If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee . . . —The sense is clear, but the words are greatly disputed. If a man sees his enemy’s ass prostrate under its burthen, he is to help to raise it up. In this case he owes a double duty—(1) to his enemy, and (2) to the suffering animal. Geddes’ emendation of ’azar for ’azab, in all the three places where the verb occurs, is the simplest and best of those suggested. The passage would then run: “If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burthen, and wouldest forbear to help it, thou shalt surely help with him”—i.e., the owner.

Exodus 23:5. And wouldest forbear to help him — The duty inculcated in this verse is inculcated also Deuteronomy 22:4, although not in the same words in the original. And the intention of both verses is plain, but the marginal reading here shows that there is some difficulty in the Hebrew text in this place. The precept, however, evidently means, whatever controversy thou hast with him that hates thee, it shall not hinder thee from succouring him or his in any distress.

23:1-9 In the law of Moses are very plain marks of sound moral feeling, and of true political wisdom. Every thing in it is suited to the desired and avowed object, the worship of one only God, and the separation of Israel from the pagan world. Neither parties, friends, witnesses, nor common opinions, must move us to lessen great faults, to aggravate small ones, excuse offenders, accuse the innocent, or misrepresent any thing.The sense appears to be: "If thou see the ass of thine enemy lying down under his burden, thou shalt forbear to pass by him; thou shalt help him in loosening the girths of the ass." 3. countenance—adorn, embellish—thou shalt not varnish the cause even of a poor man to give it a better coloring than it merits. This translation depends upon this supposition, that the Hebrew verb azab, which is thrice used in this verse, signifies not only to leave, but also to help, or erect, or lift up, or strengthen, or restore; which signification of the verb may be proved,

1. From that use of it, Nehemiah 3:8 4:2.

2. From the parallel place, Deu 22:4, where instead of this verb azab is hakim, which is properly to erect or lift up. But if the verb did signify only to leave, it may be thus rendered according to the Hebrew words, then, or therefore, or surely (for all these ways the Hebrew particle vau is used) thou shalt forbear to leave it, to wit, the ass groaning under his burden, or the lifting up of the ass and burden, to him alone; but if thou wilt be leaving, I will appoint thee a better object for it, thou shalt surely leave or lay aside what thou hast against him, i.e. whatsoever controversy thou hast with him, that shall not hinder thee from succouring him or his in any distress.

The Hebrew preposition in, doth oft signify against, as Genesis 26:20 Psalm 85:4 94:16 Hosea 9:8. And it is a concise or short way of speaking, which is very common in the Hebrew language, against him, for what thou hast against him. Or thus, and wouldest forbear to leave, to wit, thy business which thou art going about, for him, i.e. for the sake of him who is thy enemy, as the Hebrew preposition tamed is oft used, as Exodus 14:25 Numbers 25:13 Joshua 10:14, &c.; thou shalt repress those malicious desires, and thou shalt surely leave it to be, or to tarry, or to help with him to lift up the ass. So there is only an ellipsis of the verb, which is most common in the Hebrew tongue.

If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden,.... Fallen down, and such a burden upon him that he cannot rise up again, but lies under it, and the owner of it is not able of himself to raise it up again:

and wouldst forbear to help him; show an inclination to pass on without giving him any assistance to get up his beast again; or "wouldst thou forbear to help him?" (w) as Jarchi, and others, read with an interrogation, could it be in thine heart to forbear helping him? couldest thou go on, and take no notice of him and his case, and not join him in endeavouring to get up his beast again, that he may proceed its his journey? canst thou be so cruel and hardhearted, though he is thine enemy? but if thou art, know this:

thou shalt surely help with him; to get up his ass again: hence the Jewish canon runs thus (x),"if an ass is unloaded and loaded four or five times, a man is bound, i.e. to help, as it is said, "in helping thou shalt help"; if he (the owner) goes away, and sets himself down, seeing the command is upon thee, if it is thy will and pleasure to unload, unload, he is free; for it is said, with him; if he is an old man, or sick, he is bound, the command of the law is to unload, but not to load.''The words may be rendered, "in leaving thou shalt leave with him" (y); either leave or forsake thine enmity to help him, as Onkelos; or leave thy business, thou art about, to lend him an hand to raise up his beast again.

(w) "num desines sublevare eum?" some in Vatablus; "cessabis auxitiari ei?" Drusius; "desines auxiliari ei?" Pagninus. (x) Misn. Bava Metzia, c. 2. sect. 10. (y) "Deserendo deseres cum eo", Montanus; so Ainsworth.

If thou see the {c} ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him.

(c) If God commands us to help our enemy's donkey under his burden, will he suffer us to cast down our brethren with heavy burdens?

5. and wouldest forbear, &c.] This rend. (= AV.) of the existing text is quite impossible: ‘âzab means to leave, forsake, &c., but never to ‘help.’ That of the marg. is much preferable: for the uncommon sense let loose or release, cf. Deuteronomy 32:36, Job 10:1. Ges., Di., Keil under, thou shalt forbear to leave (it) to him (alone); thou shalt surely release (it) with him; the objection to this is that ‘âzab is taken in a efferent sense in the two parts of the verse; Ges., however, supposed e play to be intentional. The difficulty could be removed by reading in the last clause, with Bochart, Bä., thou shalt surely help with him (עזר תעזר for עזב תעזב). The rend. thou shalt forbear is perfectly grammatical: but it is in favour of RVm. that nearly everywhere else in these laws (e.g. v. 4) the apodosis after ki is introduced by a bare impf. Deuteronomy 22:4 has, ‘thou shalt surely lift (them) up with him.’

Verse 5. - If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee, etc. The general meaning of the passage is clear - assistance is to be given to the fallen ass of an enemy - but the exact sense of both the second and third clauses is doubtful. Many renderings have been suggested; but it is not clear that any one of them is an improvement on the Authorised Version. Thou shalt surely help with him. The joint participation in an act of mercy towards a fallen beast would bring the enemies into friendly contact, and soften their feelings towards each other. Exodus 23:5Not only was their conduct not to be determined by public opinion, the direction taken by the multitude, or by weak compassion for a poor man; but personal antipathy, enmity, and hatred were not to lead them to injustice or churlish behaviour. On the contrary, if the Israelite saw his enemy's beast straying, he was to bring it back again; and if he saw it lying down under the weight of its burden, he was to help it up again (cf. Deuteronomy 22:1-4). The words וגו מעזב וחדלתּ, "cease (desist) to leave it to him (thine enemy); thou shalt loosen it (let it loose) with him," which have been so variously explained, cannot have any other signification than this: "beware of leaving an ass which has sunk down beneath its burden in a helpless condition, even to thine enemy, to try whether he can help it up alone; rather help him to set it loose from its burden, that it may get up again." This is evident from Deuteronomy 22:4, where התעלּמתּ לא, "withdraw not thyself," is substituted for מעזב חדלתּ, and עמּו תּקים הקם, "set up with him," for עמּו תּעזב עזב. From this it is obvious that עזב is used in the first instance in the sense of leaving it alone, leaving it in a helpless condition, and immediately afterwards in the sense of undoing or letting loose. The peculiar turn given to the expression, "thou shalt cease from leaving," is chosen because the ordinary course, which the natural man adopts, is to leave an enemy to take care of his own affairs, without troubling about either him or his difficulties. Such conduct as this the Israelite was to give up, if he ever found his enemy in need of help.
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