Exodus 34:13
But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves:
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(13) Ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves.—In the “Book of the Covenant” the command had been simply to “quite break down their images” (Exodus 23:24). Now, after the Israelites had displayed their idolatrous leanings, it is added that they are likewise to destroy the “altars” and the “groves.” Altars were common among all the idolatrous nations, sometimes attached to temples (1Kings 16:32; 2Kings 21:4-5), sometimes separate from them (Numbers 23:1; Numbers 23:29; 2Kings 16:10-11), and were used for much the same purposes as the Hebrew altars: i.e., for sacrifices, bloody and unbloody, and for burning incense. “Groves”—here mentioned for the first time—were peculiar to a limited number of nations, as the Assyrians, Babylonians, Phœnicians, Syrians, and a few others. They appear to have been artificial constructions, either of wood or stone, or both, imitative of vegetable forms, and probably emblematic of the productive powers of nature. The worship connected with the “groves” was of a peculiarly gross and licentious character. The very name, ashêrah, was a modification of Ashtoreth, or Astarte. It is remarkable that nothing is said of destroying Canaannite temples—an indication that as yet they did not exist, and a mark of the high antiquity of the book.

34:10-17 The Israelites are commanded to destroy every monument of idolatry, however curious or costly; to refuse all alliance, friendship, or marriage with idolaters, and all idolatrous feasts; and they were reminded not with idolaters, and all idolatrous feats; and they were reminded not to repeat the crime of making molten images. Jealously is called the rage of a man, Pr 6:34; but in God it is holy and just displeasure. Those cannot worship God aright, who do not worship him only.Cut down their groves - This is the first reference to what is commonly known as grove-worship. The original word for "grove" in this connection אשׁרה 'ăshêrāh is different from that so rendered in Genesis 21:33. Our translators supposed that what the law commands is the destruction of groves dedicated to the worship of false deities Judges 6:25; 2 Kings 18:4; but inasmuch as the worship of asherah is found associated with that of Astarte, or Ashtoreth Judges 2:13; Judges 10:6; 1 Samuel 7:4, it seems probable that while Astarte was the personal name of the goddess, the asherah was a symbol of her, probably in some one of her characters, made in wood in some conventional form.9, 10. he said, If now I have found grace in thy sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray thee, go among us—On this proclamation, he, in the overflowing benevolence of s heart, founded an earnest petition for the Divine Presence being continued with the people; and God was pleased to give His favorable answer to Moses' intercession by a renewal of His promise under the form of a covenant, repeating the leading points that formed the conditions of the former national compact. Which at first were used by good men for their devotion, as Genesis 21:33; but afterwards being horribly abused to superstition and idolatry, were by God, s command to be destroyed.

But ye shall destroy their altars,.... On which they had sacrificed to their idols; since, if they were allowed to continue, they might be temptations to offer sacrifice thereon, contrary to the command of God:

break their images: of gold or silver, wood or stone, which they made for themselves, and worshipped as deities; seeing if these continued, the sight of them might lead to the worship of them, and so bring under the divine displeasure, as a breach of the command of God given them:

and cut down their groves; which were clusters of trees, where they had their temples and their idols, and did service to them, and where, besides idolatry, many impurities were committed. Such places were originally used by good men for devotion, being shady and solitary, but when abused to superstitious and idolatrous uses, were forbidden. It is said (n), the word for "grove" is general, and includes every tree they serve, or plant, for an idol.

(n) R. Sol. Urbin. Ohel Moed, fol. 72. 1.

But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their {d} groves:

(d) Which pleasant places they chose for their idols.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
13. The altars and religious emblems of the Canaanites to be utterly destroyed. Cf. Exodus 23:24, with the references; and the almost verbal repetitions in Deuteronomy 7:5; Deuteronomy 12:3.

pillars] or standing-stones: see on Exodus 23:24.

Ashçrim] The plur. of Ashçrâh, the sacred wooden (see Deuteronomy 16:21, Jdg 6:26) post or column, which stood by the altar in Canaanite places of worship (cf. Jdg 6:25-30, by an altar of Baal), and was often by the unspiritual Israelites set up (2 Kings 17:10), or (Deuteronomy 16:21) ‘planted,’ beside the altar of Jehovah. It is often supposed to have been a conventional substitute for a sacred tree; but this is not certain. We have no particulars about the precise size or shape of an Ashçrâh: the two posts, of the form of tree-trunks, resting on a wide base, and surmounted by representations of the full and crescent moon, carved upon a stone from Carthage (Nowack, Arch. ii. 19; Benzinger, Arch. 1p. 381, 2p. 326), might indeed be Ashçrâhs; but we have no evidence that they were. The name Abd-ashirta (‘servant of Ashirta’) in the Tell el-Amarna letters, and the expression ‘finger (oracle) of Ashirta,’ on a cuneiform tablet of c. 1350 found at Taanach (see the writer’s Schweich Lectures, p. 82), seem to indicate that there was an old Semitic goddess Ashçrâh; and if this was the case, the ‘Ashçrâh’ of the OT. was probably her emblem: but the great difference in the Heb. (אשרה and עשתרת) makes it unlikely that she was the same as the Phoen. ‘Ashtôreth, or the Ass. Ishtar (Benz. Arch.2[220] 326 f.). On account of their heathen associations, the Ashçrîm, like the maẓẓçbâhs (see on Exodus 23:24), were proscribed by the more spiritual Israelites. For other allusions to Ashçrâhs, see Deuteronomy 7:5; Deuteronomy 12:3 (repetitions of the present prohibition), 1 Kings 14:15; 1 Kings 14:23; 1 Kings 15:13; 1 Kings 16:33, 2 Kings 13:6; 2 Kings 18:4; 2 Kings 21:3; 2 Kings 21:7; 2 Kings 23:4; 2 Kings 23:6-7; 2 Kings 23:14-15; and comp. Moore’s art. in EB. s.v.

[220] I. Benzinger, Hebr. Archäologie, 1894, ed. 2 (enlarged), 1907.

Verse 13. - Ye shall destroy their altars, etc. This command is more sweeping than the corresponding one in the "Book of the Covenant" (Exodus 23:24), which expressly mentions only the "images." Here the destruction of idol-altars and idol-groves is further commanded. On idol-altars, see Numbers 23:1, 29; Judges 2:2; 1 Kings 16:32; 1 Kings 18:26, etc. Groves are here for the first time mentioned. They appear to have been artificial constructions, either of wood or metal, or both, more or less imitative of trees, and regarded as emblems of the Oriental nature-deities, especially Baal and Astarte or Ashtoreth. The word translated "grove" (asherah) is a modification of the name Ashtoreth. The well-known "sacred tree" of the Assyrians is probably an asherah. Exodus 34:13To recall the duties of the covenant once more to the minds of the people, the Lord repeats from among the rights of Israel, upon the basis of which the covenant had been established (ch. 21-23), two of the leading points which determined the attitude of the nation towards Him, and which constituted, as it were, the main pillars that were to support the covenant about to be renewed. These were, first, the warning against every kind of league with the Canaanites, who were to be driven out before the Israelites (Exodus 34:11-16); and, secondly, the instructions concerning the true worship of Jehovah (Exodus 34:17-26). The warning against friendship with the idolatrous Canaanites (Exodus 34:11-16) is more fully developed and more strongly enforced than in Exodus 23:23. The Israelites, when received into the covenant with Jehovah, were not only to beware of forming any covenant with the inhabitants of Canaan (cf. Exodus 23:32-33), but were to destroy all the signs of their idolatrous worship, such as altars, monuments (see Exodus 23:24), and asherim, the idols of Astarte, the Canaanitish goddess of nature, which consisted for the most part of wooden pillars (see my Comm. on 1 Kings 14:23), and to worship no other god, because Jehovah was called jealous, i.e., had revealed Himself as jealous (see at Exodus 20:5), and was a jealous God. This was commanded, that the Israelites might not suffer themselves to be led astray by such an alliance; to go a whoring after their gods, and sacrifice to them, to take part in their sacrificial festivals, or to marry their sons to the daughters of the Canaanites, by whom they would be persuaded to join in the worship of idols. The use of the expression "go a whoring" in a spiritual sense, in relation to idolatry, is to be accounted for on the ground, that the religious fellowship of Israel with Jehovah was a covenant resembling the marriage tie; and we meet with it for the first time, here, immediately after the formation of this covenant between Israel and Jehovah. The phrase is all the more expressive on account of the literal prostitution that was frequently associated with the worship of Baal and Astarte (cf. Leviticus 17:7; Leviticus 20:5-6; Numbers 14:33, etc.). We may see from Numbers 25:1. how Israel was led astray by this temptation in the wilderness.
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