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Bible Commentaries

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

- Exodus

by Albert Barnes

Introduction to Exodus

1. The book of Exodus consists of two distinct portions. The first Exo. 1–19 gives a detailed account of the circumstances under which the deliverance of the Israelites was accomplished. The second Exo. 20–40 describes the giving of the law, and the institutions which completed the organization of the people as “a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” Exodus 19:6.

The name “Exodus” (ἔξοδος exodos), i. e. “the going forth,” assigned to it by the Alexandrian Jews, applies rather to the former portion than to the whole book.

The narrative is closely connected with that of Genesis, and shows not only that it was written by the same author, but that it formed part of one general plan. Still it is a distinct section. The first events which it relates are separated from the last chapter in Genesis by a considerable interval, and it presents the people of Israel under totally different circumstances. Its termination is marked with equal distinctness, winding up with the completion of the tabernacle.

The book is divided into many smaller sections; each of which has the marks which throughout the Pentateuch indicate a subdivision. They are of different lengths, and were probably written on separate parchments or papyri, the longest not exceeding the dimensions of contemporary documents in Egypt. They were apparently thus arranged for the convenience of public reading.

This general view of the structure of the book is what might have been expected.

2. Some of the most convincing evidences of the Mosaic authorship are supplied by the contents of this book.

One argument is drawn from the representation of the personal character and qualifications of Moses, a representation perfectly intelligible as proceeding from Moses himself.

What other men have seen in Moses is - the chief agent in the greatest work ever entrusted to man, an agent whose unique and unparalleled qualifications are admitted alike by those who accept and by those who deny the divine interposition: what the writer himself sees in Moses is - a man whose only qualification is an involuntary and reluctant surrender to the will of God. The only rational account of the matter is, that we have Moses’ own history of himself and of his work.

Another argument rests on external facts. The Book of Exodus could not have been written by any man who had not passed many years in Egypt, and who did not also have a thorough knowledge, such as could only be acquired by personal observation, of the Sinaitic Peninsula.

We have no probable alternative but to admit that the narrative in its substance came from Moses, or from a contemporary; and we can have little hesitation as to our choice between these alternatives, when we consider that none of the contemporaries of Moses had equal opportunities of observation, and that none were likely to have received the education and training which would have enabled them to record the events.

3. A weighty argument is drawn from the accounts of the miracles, by which Moses was expressly commanded to attest his mission, and by which he was enabled to accomplish the deliverance of his people.

We have throughout the miracles the characteristics of local coloring, of adaptation to the circumstances of the Israelites, and of repeated announcements followed by repeated postponements, which enabled and indeed compelled the Israelites to complete that organization of their nation, without which their departure might have been, as it has been often represented, a mere disorderly flight.

There are some who fear to compromise the miraculous character of events by admitting any operation of natural causes to a share of them. Yet the inspired writer does not fail to record that it was by the east wind that the Lord brought the locusts Exodus 10:13 and sent back the sea Exodus 14:21, and, by the mighty strong west wind Exodus 10:19, took back the plague that he had sent. Nor is the miracle at all lessened, because the winds of heaven were made God’s messengers and instruments in the doing of it. The miracles in Egypt were supernatural in their greatness, in their concentration upon one period, in their coming and going according to the phases of the conflict between the tyrant and the captive race, in their measured gradation from weak to strong, as each weaker wonder failed to break Pharoah’s stubborn heart. King and people so regarded them; they were accustomed perhaps to frogs and lice and locusts; but to such plagues, so intense, so threatened, accomplished, and withdrawn, as it were so disciplined to a will, they were not accustomed; and they rightly saw them as miraculous and divinely sent. And further it will be noticed that the phenomena that are put to this use are such as mark the country where this great history is laid. No Jewish writer, who had lived in Palestine alone, could have imagined a narrative so Egyptian in its marks. All evidence tends to prove that the history was written by someone who was well conversant with Egypt; and we shall look in vain for anyone, other than Moses himself, who possessed this qualification for writing the history of the emancipation of the Israelites under divine guidance.

The narrative which records them, remarkable as it is for artlessness and simplicity, is moreover not one which could have been concocted from documents of different ages, constructed on different principles, and full of internal discrepancies and contradictions. It is the production of one mind, written by one man, and by one who had alone witnessed all the events which it records, who alone was at that time likely to possess the knowledge or ability required to write the account.

4. The portion of the book, which follows the account of the departure from Egypt, has characteristics marked with equal distinctness, and bearing with no less force upon the question of authorship. These chapters also are pervaded by a unique tone, a local coloring, an atmosphere so to speak of the desert, which has made itself felt by all those who have explored the country.

Modern travelers point out the following coincidences between the narrative and their own experiences. Absence of water where no sources now exist, abundance of water where fountains are still found, and indications of a far more copious supply in former ages; tracts, occupying the same time in the journey, in which food would not be found; and, in some districts, a natural production similar to manna, most abundant in rainy seasons (such as several notices show the season of the Exodus to have been), but not sufficient for nourishment, nor fit for large consumption, without such modifications in character and quantity as are attributed in the narrative to a divine intervention. The late explorations of the Peninsula of Sinai have thrown much light upon the fact that the route taken by the Israelites was probably determined by conditions agreeing with incidental notices in the history; and when we come to the chapters in which the central event in the history of Israel, the delivery of God’s law, is recorded, we find localities and scenery which travelers concur in declaring to be such as fully correspond to the exigencies of the narrative, and which in some accounts (remarkable at once for scientific accuracy and graphic power) are described in terms which show that they correspond, so far as mere outward accessories can correspond, to the grandeur of the manifestation.

5. A very valuable argument of the same evidential character is drawn from the account of the tabernacle. In form, structure, and materials the tabernacle belongs altogether to the wilderness. The whole was a tent, not a fixed structure, such as would naturally have been set up, and in point of fact was set up very soon in Palestine. The metals, bronze, silver and gold, were those which the Israelites knew, and doubtless brought with them from Egypt; the names of many of the materials and implements which they used, and the furniture and accessories of the tabernacle, the dress and ornaments of the priests, are Egyptian; and it is also certain that the arts required for the construction of the tabernacle, and for all its accessories, were precisely those for which the Egyptians had been remarkable for ages; such as artizans who had lived under the influence of Egyptian civilization would naturally have learned.

Two separate accounts of the erection of the tabernacle are given. In the first Moses relates the instructions which he received, in the second he describes the accomplishment of the work. Nothing would be less in accordance with the natural order of a history written at a later period than this double account. It is however fully accounted for by the obvious hypothesis that each part of the narrative was written at the time, and on the occasion, to which it immediately refers.

6. The chronology of Exodus involves two questions, the duration of the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt, and the date of their departure. So far as regards the direct statements in the Hebrew text, the answers to both questions are positive and unambiguous. Exodus 12:40 gives 430 years for the sojourn, Genesis 15:13 gives 400 years for the whole, or the greater portion, of the same period. Again, the First Book of Kings, 1 Kings 6:1, fixes the Exodus at 480 years before the building of the Temple in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign. This would settle the date within a few years - about 1490 b.c., a date which appears, on the whole, to be reconcileable with the facts of history, and to rest on higher authority than any other which has been proposed.

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