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Exodus 23:2 “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd

This is a fair warning because it could be the wrong crowd.

3 and do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit.

This warning sounds strange. Did the judges have a tendency to favor a poor person in the court of law?

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The injunction in Ex 23:2, "do not show favoritism to a poor", should be balanced by another instruction in V6, "You shall not deny justice to the poor".

Ellicott summarizes the situation well -

(3) Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause.—We must not “pervert judgment” either in favour of the rich or of the poor. Justice must hold her scales even, and be proof equally against a paltry fear of the rich and a weak compassion for the indigent. The cause alone is to be considered, not the persons. (Comp. Leviticus 19:15.)

Similarly, the Pulpit commentary says this -

Verse 3. - Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause. After the many precepts in favour of the poor, this injunction produces a sort of shock. But it is to be understood as simply forbidding any undue favouring of the poor because they are poor, and so as equivalent to the precept in Leviticus 19:15, "Thou shalt not respect the person of the poor." In courts of justice, strict justice is to be rendered, without any leaning either towards the rich, or towards the poor. To lean either way is to pervert judgment. Exodus 23:3

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Exodus 23:3 and do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit.

Psalm 140:12 I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.

The judges need to consider both verses together to be impartial, not going one extreme or the other.

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