Exodus 23:8
And you shall take no gift: for the gift blinds the wise, and perverts the words of the righteous.
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(8) Thou shalt take no gift—i.e., no bribe. Corruption has been always rife in the East, and the pure administration of justice is almost unknown there. Signal punishments by wise rulers have sometimes checked the inveterate evil (Herod. v. 25). But it recurs again and again—“Naturam expellas furca, tarnen usque recurret.” According to Josephus (contr. Ap. ii. 27), the Jewish law punished with death the judge who took a bribe. But Hebrew judges seem practically to have been no better than Oriental judges generally. (See 1Samuel 8:3; Psalm 26:10; Proverbs 17:23; Isaiah 1:23; Isaiah 5:23; Micah 3:9-11, &c.) The corrupt Administration of justice was one of the crying evils which provoked God’s judgments against His people, and led, in the first instance, to the Babylonian captivity, and afterwards to the Roman conquest.

Exodus 23:8. Thou shalt take no gift — From those whose causes are depending before thee; because, if thou dost not sell justice for it, thou wilt both seem and be tempted to do so. The gift blindeth the wise — Bribes and interest cast a mist before the eyes, and bias the judgment and affections even of those who are otherwise wise and discerning. Besides, a habit of taking bribes will, in time, quite extinguish the light of reason, and destroy the sense of right and wrong. See Ecclesiastes 7:7. And perverteth the words of the righteous — The words or sentence of those who would otherwise be righteous: or perverteth the cause of the righteous, and all he can say in his own defence, and and procures a wrong sentence to be given against him.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.Four precepts evidently addressed to those in authority as judges:

(a) To do justice to the poor. Comparing Exodus 23:6 with Exodus 23:3, it was the part of the judge to defend the poor against the oppression of the rich, and the part of the witness to take care lest his feelings of natural pity should tempt him to falsify evidence.

(b) To be cautious of inflicting capital punishment on one whose guilt was not clearly proved. A doubtful case was rather to be left to God Himself, who would "not justify the wicked," nor suffer him to go unpunished though he might be acquitted by an earthly tribunal. Exodus 23:7.

(c) To take no bribe or present which might in any way pervert judgment Exodus 23:8; compare Numbers 16:15; 1 Samuel 12:3; Acts 26:26.

(d) To vindicate the rights of the stranger Exodus 23:9 - rather, the foreigner. (Exodus 20:10 note.) This verse is a repetition of Exodus 22:21, but the precept is there addressed to the people at large, while it is here addressed to the judges in reference to their official duties. The caution was perpetually necessary. Compare Ezekiel 22:7; Malachi 3:5. The word rendered "heart" is more strictly "soul," and would be better represented here by feelings.

3. countenance—adorn, embellish—thou shalt not varnish the cause even of a poor man to give it a better coloring than it merits. Thou shalt take no gift, namely, from such whose causes are depending before thee; because if thou dost not sell justice for it, yet thou wilt both seem to do so, and be tempted to do so. Compare Deu 16:19 1 Samuel 8:3 Proverbs 17:8,23 19:6.

The wise, or, the open-eyed, and quick-sighted, who in this case cannot see, partly because they will not see, and partly because interest and affection do exceedingly corrupt the judgment, and render it very partial.

The words of the righteous, i.e. the judgment of the righteous judges, i.e. of them who before were such, and are inclined to be so, and probably would be so, were they not tempted with bribes; or of them who by their place should be righteous. So they are called righteous, to admonish them of their duty to be so, and to aggravate their sin when they are unrighteous, and consequently to aggravate the mischief of gifts, which make those unrighteous whose office obligeth them to be righteous. Or thus,

the matters or causes of the righteous, which may be understood not of the judges, but of the parties pleading, whose righteous cause is by this means perverted by the judge, and a wrong sentence given. And thou shalt take no gift,.... Of the persons whose cause is to be tried in a court of judicature before judges; neither of those on the one side nor on the other, neither before the trial nor after, neither by words, by a promise, nor by facts, by actually receiving money; and not even to judge truly, as Jarchi observes, neither to clear the innocent nor to condemn the guilty: a gift was not to be taken on any consideration whatever:

for the gift blindeth the wise; or the "seeing" (a); the open ones, who used to have both their eyes and their ears open, and attentive to the cause before them; and yet a gift so blinds them, by casting such a mist before them, that they are inattentive to the true merits of the cause, and their affections and judgments are to be carried away in favour of those that have bribed them, as to pass a wrong sentence:

and perverteth the words of the righteous; either the sentences of righteous judges, as they ought to be, but a gift perverts their judgment, and they give a wrong decree; or the causes of the righteous that are brought before those are perverted by giving the cause to their adversaries, who are wicked men.

(a) "videntes", Pagninus, Vatablus, Cartwright; "apertos", Montanus, Drusius.

And thou shalt take no gift: for the gift blindeth the wise, and perverteth the words of the righteous.
8. gift (twice)] bribe, as the same word is rendered in EVV. of 1 Samuel 8:3, Isaiah 33:15, and in RV. of Ezekiel 22:12. It is true, ‘gift’ had this sense in Old English; but the Heb. word means distinctively a ‘bribe,’ and there are places in which the sense of ‘gift’ is not clear. The same word (shôḥad) is also sometimes rendered ‘reward.’ See for allusions to the practice of taking bribes, Isaiah 1:23; Isaiah 5:23, Micah 3:11, Ezekiel 22:12, Psalm 26:10, Proverbs 17:8; Proverbs 17:23; it is what the righteous man never does, Psalm 15:5, Isaiah 33:15, nor Jehovah, Deuteronomy 10:17; it is forbidden, as here, in Deuteronomy 16:19, and cursed, if its object be to ‘slay an innocent person,’ in Deuteronomy 27:25. The prevalence of bribery in the East is notorious; see a singular case, in which the chief Ḳaḍi of Cairo was implicated, in Lane, Mod. Egyptians, i. 145 ff.

for a bribe blindeth the open-eyed, and subverteth the cause (RVm.) of the righteous] The whole verse is repeated verbatim in Deuteronomy 16:19, except that ‘eyes of the wise’ is substituted for ‘open-eyed.’ For ‘words,’ i.e. statements, arguments, pleas, which in a forensic connexion are tantamount in the aggregate to a ‘case’ or ‘cause,’ see Exodus 24:14, with the note, Joshua 20:4 (lit. ‘his words’), 2 Samuel 15:3 (lit. ‘thy words’). For ‘subverteth,’ cf. Proverbs 19:3; Proverbs 22:12 (‘overthroweth’).Verse 8. - And thou shalt take no gift. The worst sin of a judge, and the commonest in the East, is to accept abribe from one of the parties to a suit, and give sentence accordingly. As such a practice defeats the whole end for which the administration of justice exists, it is, when detected, for the most part, punished capitally. Josephus tells us that it was so among the Jews (Contr. Apion. 2:27); but the Mosaic code, as it has come down to us, omits to fix the penalty. Whatever it was, it was practically set at nought. Eli's sons "turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment" (1 Samuel 8:3). In David's time, men's hands were "full of bribes" (Psalm 26:10). Solomon complains of wicked men" taking gifts out of their bosoms to pervert the ways of judgment" (Proverbs 17:23). Isaiah is never weary of bearing witness against the princes of his day, who" love gifts and follow after rewards" (Isaiah 1:23);who "justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him" (Isaiah 5:23). Micah adds his testimony - "Hear this, I pray you, ye heads of the house of Jacob and princes of the house of Israel, that abhor judgment and pervert all equity. They build up Zion with blood, and Jerusalem with iniquity. The heads thereof judge for reward" (Exodus 3:9-11). The gift blindeth the wise. See Deuteronomy 16:19. Just as little should a man follow a multitude to pervert justice. "Thou shalt not be behind many (follow the multitude) to evil things, nor answer concerning a dispute to incline thyself after many (i.e., thou shalt not give such testimony in connection with any dispute, in which thou takest part with the great majority), so as to pervert" (להטּות), sc., justice. But, on the other hand, "neither shalt thou adorn the poor man in his dispute" (Exodus 23:3), i.e., show partiality to the poor or weak man in an unjust cause, out of weak compassion for him. (Compare Leviticus 19:15, a passage which, notwithstanding the fact that הדר is applied to favour shown to the great or mighty, overthrows Knobel's conjecture, that גּדל should be read for ודל, inasmuch as it prohibits the showing of favour to the one as much as to the other.)
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