Exodus 23:20-33 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. In Exodus 23:20 the Lord tells Israel, “I am sending an angel ahead of you.” What will this angel do? What is unique about this angel (see Exodus 23:21 printed below?)

Pay attention to him and obey him; do not provoke him, for he will not pardon your transgression, because my Name is in him. (Exodus 23:21)

In Exodus 23:20 the Lord declares, “I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.” This angel would serve to guide the people of Israel through their wilderness journey until He had finally brought them into the Promised Land of Canaan. This angel was no mere angel, He was the Angel of the Lord, an Old Testament manifestation of Christ Himself—note that the Lord declares, “My Name is in Him” (verse 21).

2. How are the people of Israel to respond to this angel and why? See Exodus 23:21 (printed above under question #1)

Because this angel has been sent by God, and is in fact Christ the Lord, the people are instructed and warned, “Pay attention to him.” They must not disregard the Word of God as it was communicated by the Angel of the Lord nor may they treated Him with contempt. Furthermore, the people are instructed to obey Him. In other words, not only must they reverently listen to Him, they must respond to His instructions and commandments with faith and obedience. Finally, they are warned, “Do not provoke him.” That is to say, the people must not rebel against Him, rejecting His divine lordship over their lives. The reason the people are warned to obey Christ and not provoke Him is due to the fact that “he will not pardon your transgression” (verse 21).

3. What does the Lord mean when He informs the people that His angel “will not pardon your transgression?”

“Transgression” has the meaning of willful, stubborn, determined and defiant disobedience without repentance—it is refusal to yield to Christ’s lordship. This is something that Christ will not tolerate. Note Luke 19:27, “…those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.” In this passage, by means of a parable, the Lord Jesus expresses His attitude towards defiance against His divine lordship and the adamant refusal to submit to that lordship.

4. The Lord warns His people that when they enter the land of Canaan they must not conform to the practices of the Canaanites. Describe the practices of those pagan people as they are recorded in 2 Kings 21:2-6 (printed below).

Manasseh did evil in the eyes of Jehovah, following the detestable practices of the nations Jehovah had driven out before the Israelites. (3) He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had destroyed; he also erected altars to Baal and made an Asherah pole, as Ahab king of Israel had done. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. (4) He built altars in the temple of Jehovah, of which Jehovah had said, In Jerusalem I will put my Name. (5) In both courts of the temple of Jehovah, he built altars to all the starry hosts. (6) He sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced sorcery and divination, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of Jehovah, provoking him to anger. (2 Kings 21:2-6)

We gain some understanding of what the pagan Canaanite worship entailed when we consider 2 Kings 21:1-9, 16-17, a passage that describes how the ungodly Israelite king, Manasseh, followed “the detestable practices of the nations” (who occupied the land of Canaan). Baal and Asherah were the chief god and goddess of a pagan fertility cult. Baal worship apparently had its origin in the belief that every tract of ground owed its productivity to a supernatural being, or baal, that dwelt there (Westminster Dictionary of the Bible, p.53). The pagan view was that nature was inhabited by spirits that had to be appeased (sometimes by infant sacrifices) and pleased (by sexual orgies) in order for it to yield its fruit. We are further informed that Manasseh “bowed down to all the starry host and worshiped them”—a reference to astrology, the belief that the life and circumstances of men are governed by the heavens, and the secrets of the future can be ascertained by the use of astrologers. There was also the practice of consulting mediums and wizards and the use of enchantments (incantations, charms, spells, etc.), all for the purpose of tapping into the supernatural and seeking to harness its power. Note: the passage goes on to say that the reign of Manasseh was also a time of great violence and bloodshed throughout the land (2 Kings 21:16): departure from devotion to the God of heaven inevitably results in a society given over to violence and oppression.

5. How many promises does the Lord make to His people if they are faithful to Him? See Exodus 23:22-23,25-28,30-31 (printed below)

But if you will obey him and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries, (23) for my angel will go ahead of you and bring you in to the land of the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, and I will wipe them out…(25) You shall serve Jehovah your God, and he will bless your bread and your water; and I will remove sickness from your midst. (26) None shall miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span. (27) I will send my terror ahead of you and will throw into confusion all the people you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their backs and run from you. (28) I will send “the hornet” ahead of you to drive the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites out of your way…(30) Little by little I will drive them out of your way, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land. (31) I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates River; for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out of your way (Exodus 23:22-23,25-28,30-31)

In this passage the Lord makes a dozen promises to His people (12 times the Lord declares, “I will do such and such for you.”) The dozen promises can be broken down into three great promises: 1) I will guide and lead you to the promised land of Canaan; 2) I will guard you from your enemies and drive them out from before you; 3) I will cause you to enter the land and there enjoy My blessing. All the promises can be summarized as parts of the Lord’s one great promise: I will be your God and you shall be My people.