Three gracious promises are here made to Israel, to engage them to their duty and encourage them in it; and each of the promises has some needful precepts and cautions joined to it.
I. 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 (Exod. 23:20), my angel (Exod. 23:23), a created angel, say some, a minister of God’s providence, employed in conducting and protecting the camp of Israel; that it might appear that God took a particular care of them, he appointed one of his chief servants to make it his business to attend them, and see that they wanted for nothing. Others suppose it to be the Son of God, the angel of the covenant; for the Israelites in the wilderness are said to tempt Christ; and we may as well suppose him God’s messenger, and the church’s Redeemer, before his incarnation, as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. And we may the rather think he was pleased to undertake the deliverance and guidance of Israel because they were typical of his great undertaking. It is promised that this blessed angel should keep them in the way, though it lay through a wilderness first, and afterwards through their enemies’ country; thus God’s spiritual Israel shall be kept through the wilderness of this earth, and from the insults of the gates of hell. It is also promised that he should bring them into the place which God had not only designed but prepared for them: and thus Christ has prepared a place for his followers, and will preserve them to it, for he is faithful to him that appointed him. The precept joined with this promise is that they be observant of, and obedient to, this angel whom God would send before them (Exod. 23:21): “Beware of him, and obey his voice in every thing; provoke him not in any thing, for it is at your peril if you do, he will visit your iniquity.” Note, 1. Christ is the author of salvation to those only that obey him. The word of command is Hear you him, Matt. 17:5. Observe what he hath commanded, Matt. 28:20. 2. Our necessary dependence upon the divine power and goodness should awe us into obedience. We do well to take heed of provoking our protector and benefactor, because if our defence depart from us, and the streams of his goodness be cut off, we are undone. Therefore, “Beware of him, and carry it towards him with all possible reverence and caution. Fear the Lord, and his goodness.” 3. Christ will be faithful to those who are faithful to him, and will espouse their cause who adhere to his: I will be an adversary to thine adversaries, Exod. 23:22. The league shall be offensive and defensive, like that with Abraham, I will bless him that blesseth thee, and curse him that curseth thee. Thus is God pleased to twist his interests and friendships with his people’s.
II. It is promised that they should have a comfortable settlement in the land of Canaan, which they hoped now (though it proved otherwise) within a few months to be in the possession of, Exod. 23:24-26. Observe, 1. How reasonable the conditions of this promise are—only that they should serve their own God, who was indeed the only true God, and not the gods of the nations, which were no gods at all, and which they had no reason at all to have any respect for. They must not only not worship their gods, but they must utterly overthrow them, in token of their great abhorrence of idolatry, their resolution never to worship idols themselves, and their care to prevent any other from worshipping them; as the converted conjurors burnt their books, Acts 19:19. 2. How rich the particulars of this promise are. (1.) The comfort of their food. He shall bless thy bread and thy water; and God’s blessing will make bread and water more refreshing and nourishing than a feast of fat things and wines on the lees without that blessing. (2.) The continuance of their health: “I will take sickness away, either prevent it or remove it. Thy land shall not be visited with epidemical diseases, which are very dreadful, and sometimes have laid countries waste.” (3.) The increase of their wealth. Their cattle should not be barren, nor cast their young, which is mentioned as an instance of prosperity, Job 21:10. (4.) The prolonging of their lives to old age: “The number of thy days I will fulfil, and they shall not be cut off in the midst by untimely deaths.” Thus hath godliness the promise of the life that now is.
III. It is promised that they should conquer and subdue their enemies, the present occupants of the land of Canaan, who must be driven out to make room for them. This God would do, 1. Effectually by his power (Exod. 23:17, 18); not so much by the sword and bow of Israel as by the terrors which he would strike into the Canaanites. Though they were so obstinate as not to be willing to submit to Israel, resign their country, and retire elsewhere, which they might have done, yet they were so dispirited that they were not able to stand before them. This completed their ruin; such power had the devil in them that they would resist, but such power had God over them that they could not. I will send my fear before thee; and those that fear will soon flee. Hosts of hornets made way for the hosts of Israel; such mean creatures can God make use of for the chastising of his people’s enemies, as in the plagues of Egypt. When God pleases, hornets can drive out Canaanites, as well as lions could, Josh. 24:12. 2. He would do it gradually, in wisdom (Exod. 23:29, 30), not all at once, but by little and little. As the Canaanites had kept possession till Israel had grown into a people, so there should still be some remains of them till Israel should grow so numerous as to replenish the whole. Note, The wisdom of God is to be observed in the gradual advances of the church’s interests. It is in real kindness to the church that its enemies are subdued by little and little; for thus we are kept upon our guard, and in a continual dependence upon God. Corruptions are thus driven out of the hearts of God’s people; not all at once, but by little and little; the old man is crucified, and therefore dies slowly. God, in his providence, often delays mercies, because we are not ready for them. Canaan has room enough to receive Israel, but Israel is not numerous enough to occupy Canaan. We are not straitened in God; if we are straitened, it is in ourselves. The land of Canaan is promised them (Exod. 23:31) in its utmost extent, which yet they were not possessed of till the days of David; and by their sins they soon lost possession. The precept annexed to this promise is that they should not make any friendship, nor have any familiarity, with idolaters, Exod. 23:32, 33. Idolaters must not so much as sojourn in their land, unless they renounced their idolatry. Thus they must avoid the reproach of intimacy with the worshippers of false gods and the danger of being drawn to worship with them. By familiar converse with idolaters, their dread and detestation of the sin would wear off; they would think it no harm, in compliment to their friends, to pay some respect to their gods, and so by degrees would be drawn into the fatal snare. Note, Those that would be kept from bad courses must keep from bad company; it is dangerous living in a bad neighbourhood; others’ sins will be our snares, if we look not well to ourselves. We must always look upon our greatest danger to be from those that would cause us to sin against God. Whatever friendship is pretended, that is really our worst enemy that draws us from our duty.