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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Exodus 13

Verse 1

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 2

Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine.

Sanctity unto me all the first-born. To sanctify means to consecrate, to set apart from a common to a sacred use. The foundation of this duty rested on the fact, that the Israelites having had their first-born preserved by a distinguishing act of grace from the general destruction that overtook the families of the Egyptians, were bound, in token of gratitude, to consider them as the Lord's special property (cf. Hebrews 12:23). By that deliverance Israel, God's son, His first-born, was brought into a new and special relation, which gave it a national existence to be distinguished by extraordinary religious privileges; and it was proper, therefore, in accordance with this sonship, that the first-born, as representatives of all the rest, should be sanctified to the Lord. Hence, the duty was specified to the leader on the earliest possible occasion; and from the place which it occupies in the record, the enactment seems to have been made at Succoth.

Verse 3

And Moses said unto the people, Remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the LORD brought you out from this place: there shall no leavened bread be eaten.

Moses said ... Remember this day ... The day that gave them a national existence and introduced them into the privileges of independence and freedom deserved to live in the memories of the Hebrews and their posterity; and, considering the signal interposition of God displayed in it, to be held not only in perpetual, but devout remembrance.

House of bondage - literally, house of slaves; i:e., a servile and degrading condition.

By strength of hand. The emancipation of Israel would never have been obtained except it had been wrung from the Egyptian tyrant by the appalling judgments of God, as had been at the outset of his mission announced to Moses (Exodus 3:19).

There shall no leavened bread ... - the words are elliptical, and the meaning of the clause may be paraphrased thus: 'For by strength of hand the Lord brought you out from this place, in such haste that there could or should be no leavened bread eaten.'

Verse 4

This day came ye out in the month Abib.

Month Abib - literally, a green ear, and hence, the month Abib is the month of green ears, corresponding to the middle of our March. It was the best season for undertaking a journey to the desert region of Sinai, especially with flocks and herds: for then the winter torrents have subsided, and the wadys are covered with an early and luxuriant verdure.

Verses 5-7

And it shall be when the LORD shall bring thee into the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee, a land flowing with milk and honey, that thou shalt keep this service in this month.

When the Lord shall bring thee. The feast of unleavened bread [ matsot (H4682)] in connection with the passover, which had been previously instituted, is here announced as a pemanent festival of the Israelites. It was, however, only a prospective observance: we read of only one celebration of the Passover during the protracted sojourn in the wilderness; but on their settlement in the promised land, the season was hallowed as a sacred anniversary, in conformity with the directions, the principal portions of which only are here repeated.

Verse 8

And thou shalt shew thy son in that day, saying, This is done because of that which the LORD did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt.

Thou shalt show thy son. The establishment of this and the other sacred festivals presented the best opportunities of instructing the young in a knowledge of His gracious doings to their ancestors in Egypt.

Verse 9

And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the LORD's law may be in thy mouth: for with a strong hand hath the LORD brought thee out of Egypt. It shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes. These words point not, as some suppose, to the Oriental tatooing which is so common among the Arabs, and of which there are evidences that it also prevailed among the ancient Egyptians, but to the practice of wearing memorial signs-such as a bracelet upon the wrist or a band upon the front, as remembrancers of particular events (cf. Deuteronomy 6:8; Deuteronomy 11:18). 'If Moses appropriated this custom to sacred purposes, the patterns may have been so devised as to commemorate the deliverance of the children of Israel from bondage. Possibly the figure of the paschal lamb, whose blood on the door-posts caused the angel of death to pass over their houses, was worked into these tokens and frontlets. The direction in this passage specifies certain purples for which such signs and frontlets were to be used, and consequently were not akin to the idolatrous marks which the Israelites were forbidden to have upon their bodies' ('Land and Book').

Verses 10-12

Thou shalt therefore keep this ordinance in his season from year to year.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 13

And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem.

Every firstling ... The injunction respecting the consecration of the first-born is here repeated with some additional circumstances. The firstlings of clean beasts, such as lambs, kids, and calves, if males, were to be devoted to God and employed in sacrifice. Unclean beasts, such as the donkey's colt, being unfit for sacrifice, were to be redeemed (Numbers 18:15). If not redeemed, the neck or backbone was to be broken. In Babylonia, dogs were in this manner devoted to the Tyrian Hercules (cf. Isaiah 66:3; Bunsen's 'Egypt,' 4:, 213).

Thus, there is a double record of the exodus-namely, the feast of unleavened bread, in remembrance of the day on which they departed, and the consecration of the first-born to the Lord, in memory of the destruction of the first-born of the Egyptians on the previous night (Numbers 8:17). The dedication of all the first-born of the herds to God was not an institution for which the singular reason just mentioned was arbitrarily assigned at a remote period from its original, but it was assigned at the time it took place, to be perpetually recorded as the true cause (Graves 'On the Pentateuch,' vol. 1:, p. 222). At a subsequent stage of the Theocracy, this latter was modified, though not repealed (Numbers 3:15), and the remembrance of the Lord's claim was perpetuated by the enactment respecting the redemption of the first born (see the note at Numbers 18:16).

Verses 14-16

And it shall be when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What is this? that thou shalt say unto him, By strength of hand the LORD brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage:

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 17

And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt:

God led them ... The shortest and most direct route from Egypt to Palestine was the usual caravan road that leads by Belbeis, El-Arish, to Ascalon and Gaza. The Philistines, who then possessed the latter, would have been sure to dispute their passage, because between them and the Israelites there was a hereditary feud (1 Chronicles 7:21-22): and so early a commencement of hostilities would have discouraged or dismayed the unwarlike band which Moses led. Their faith was to be exercised and strengthened; and from the commencement of their travels we observe the same careful proportion of burdens and trials to their character and state as the gracious Lord shows to his people still in that spiritual journey of which the former was typical.

Verse 18

But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt.

Led the people about ... This wondrous expanse of water is a gulf of the Indian Ocean. It was called in Hebrew [ yam (H3220) cuwp (H5488)] 'the weedy sea,' from the forest of marine plants with which it abounds. But the name of the Red Sea is not so easily traced. Some think it was given rein its contiguity to the countries of Edom (red), others derive it from its coral rocks, while a third class ascribe the origin of the name to an extremely red appearance of the water in some parts, caused by a numberless multitude of small seaweeds (see the note at Exodus 15:4). This sea, at its northern extremity, separates into two smaller inlets-the eastern called anciently the Elanitic Gulf, now the Gulf of Akaba; and the western, the Heroopolite Gulf, now the Gulf of Suez, which, there can be no doubt, extended much more to the north anciently than it does now. It was toward the latter the Israelites marched. The children of Israel went up harnessed, [ wachªmushiym (H2571)]. This word, which is of doubtful etymology, has been variously interpreted. It is of rare occurrence, being found only four times in the Old Testament (Joshua 1:14; Joshua 4:12; Judges 7:11; Jeremiah 46:4). [In the first three of these passages it is rendered in our version "armed;" so Aquila, enooplismenoi; Symmachus, kathooplismenoi; Vulgate, armati; and on the hypothesis of this being the only correct translation, an objection has recently been raised against the historical credibility of this narrative.] 'It is impossible,' says Colenso, 'that a grossly oppressed and enslaved people could be universally furnished with military weapons.'

Those, however, who take the word as denoting armour, do not suppose that the Israelites were accoutred as a modern army: the very idea of comparing such a horde to a disciplined and fully equipped body of troops is quite preposterous. A few or many might be armed; which could be the more easily done as the armour used in that age was simple, consisting of a bow and arrows, a bull's hide shield, a sling, a heavy club, etc. (see Wilkinson's 'Ancient Egypt.') That a number, though not all of them, might be equipped with arms of this sort-some having a spear, others a club received among the parting gifts of the Egyptians-is rendered probable from the fact, that Eastern people, on the eve of undertaking a journey, are exceedingly desirous to be furnished with means of personal defense. 'I have often been struck,' says Porter, 'when residing in Syria, with the intense eagerness of every man about to set out on a journey to obtain a good supply of arms. If he has none himself, he will beg, borrow or steal them.'

But the context does not, in any of the four passages where the word chamushim occurs, necessarily point to 'armed' as the only admissible meaning of the term; and it is a striking evidence of the obscurity of its import that the Septuagint has translated it by euzoonoi, 'well girt for a journey,' in Joshua 1:14; and dieskeuasmenoi 'marshalled,' 'ranged in order,' in Joshua 4:1-24:l2 .

In the passage before us the Septuagint gives a totally different meaning to the word. Considering it as coming from [ chaameesh (H2568)], five, that version translates it: pemptee genea, in the fifth generation; while others, who agree in this derivation of the word, render it variously: Ewald-after the fathers, by five divisions-namely, 'the van, the center, the rear, with two flank squadrons, under five presiding officers, according to the usages of all large caravans;' others, 'five in a rank' (as in the margin of the English Bible); 'every one with five children' (Targum of Jonathan), and through a slight change of the vowels, so as to make [hamishiym] 'by fifties' (the number of a military company in the times of the monarchy, 2 Kings 1:9; 2 Kings 1:11; 2 Kings 1:13), as in the Septuagint (Judges 7:11), en tee parembolee. Grotius, following the Jewish writer Kimchi, who derives chªmushiym (H2571) from [ chomesh (H2570)], the belly, the abdomen, translates, 'the children of Israel went up girt under the fifth rib.' [Gesenius, taking it as the passive participle of the verb chaamash (H2571), makes it here 'fierce, active, eager, brave in battle.' Knobel, tracing it to an Arabic root which signifies to 'arrange,' renders it, 'went up' in organized bands. Furst ('Lex.') collects all these meanings, accincti, parati, instructi, armati, as philologically correct: while Rosenmuller, by comparing Numbers 32:32 with Joshua 1:14, and Joshua 4:12 with 5:13, showing that chªmushiym (H2571) is used as synonymous with chªuw`iym, 'girt about the loins,' regards it as equivalent to the general phrase, 'equipped,' prepared for travel.']

This last interpretation is by most modern commentators, and in most modern versions, preferred to all others, not only as yielding a sense in unison with the context of all the passages where the word occurs, but peculiarly appropriate in the verse before us, as a record that the Israelites set out on their march in the manner enjoined on them (Exodus 12:10). In whatever way they were arranged, the spectacle of such a mighty and motley multitude must have presented an imposing appearance, and its orderly progress could have been effected only by the superintending influence of God.

Verse 19

And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you.

Took the bones of Joseph - in fulfillment of the oath he exacted from his brethren (Genesis 50:25-26). The remains of the other patriarchs-not noticed from their obscurity-were also carried out of Egypt (Acts 7:10), and there would be no difficulty as to the means of conveyance-a few camels bearing these precious relics would give a true picture of Oriental customs, such as is still to be seen in the immense pilgrimages to Mecca.

Verse 20

And they took their journey from Succoth, and encamped in Etham, in the edge of the wilderness.

They took their journey from Succoth - (see the notes at Exodus 12:37; also at Leviticus 23:43; Numbers 33:5-6).

And encamped in Etham, in the edge of the wilderness - [Septuagint, Othoom para teen ereemon. Jablonsky considers Etham an old Egyptian word, ATIOM, signifying 'boundary or border of the sea'-the name implying what, in the opinion of many travelers, is indisputably established, that the gulf extended anciently much further to the north, 20 or 30 miles to the salt marsh (Lord Valentia's 'Travels'). But others, and those acute scientific explorers, are doubtful 'whether the basin of the Bitter Lakes formed a prolongation of the gulf of the Red Sea, or was covered with brackish water, separated from the Red Sea, as now, by a tract of higher ground, through which the Israelites advanced' (Robinson's 'Bib. Research.,' vol. 1: pp. 79,80). This place is supposed by the most intelligent travelers to be the modern Ajrud, where is a watering-place, and which is the third stage of the pilgrim caravans to Mecca. 'It is remarkable that either of the different routes eastward from Heliopolis, or southward from Heroopolis, equally admit of Ajrud being Etham. It Isaiah 12:0 miles northwest from Suez, and is literally on the edge of the desert,' ('Pict. Bib.')

But Robinson doubts this identification, although generally entertained. 'The wilderness' referred to is called Shur (Exodus 15:22), and Etham (Numbers 33:8). The place of encampment was apparently situated at the point 'from which,' as Robinson remarks, 'the direct course of the Israelites would have led them around the present head of the gulf, and along its eastern side,' Assuming, as we have done, that Goshen was identical with the modern province of Esh-Shurkiyeh (Genesis 45:10), in the northeastern portion of the Delta, bordering on the Tanitic branch of the Nile, and that Rameses stood on the site occupied by the city afterward called Heroopolis (Abu-Keisheid), the exodial route of the Israelites-from whatever district of Goshen the different tribes had come-would be through Rameses, as the general rendezvous to the south eastward along the valley of the ancient canal to the head of the Arabian Gulf.

This view of Dr. Robinson has been warmly espoused by Hengstenberg, on the ground that the journey to the Red Sea, by the route specified, could be accomplished in three days. But the Scripture narrative does not necessarily imply that the distance was traversed within that brief space of time. It speaks only of three encampments, Rameses, Succoth, and Etham; and Von Ranmer ('Der zug der Israeliten aus AEgypten nach Canaan,' Leipzig, 1837) has shown, by a reference to Numbers 10:33; Numbers 33:15-16), that a marked distinction is made by the sacred historian between days' journeys and successive stages or halting places. But the theory of Robinson, though supported by most modern expositors and critics, is not universally acquiesced in.

There are some writers of eminence who maintain that Goshen was situated on the Heliopolitan nome, and extended in a south direction on the Pelusiac arm of the Nile; so that they look for the site of Rameses in the neighbourhood of On (Heliopolis). There are two theories as to the route of the Israelites from that point to the sea.

The first, that which was broached by Father Sicard, a Jesuit missionary ('Lettres Edifiantes et Curieuses,' tom. 3:, p. 325), and supported by Dr. Wilson ('Lands of the Bible,' vol. 1:, pp. 117-132), supposes Rameses to have been at Basantin, and that the route to the sea was through Wady Ramliyah, and its eastern continuation the valley of Bedeah, or Wady Tawarik, which also bears the Arabic name of Wady Musa. On this hypothesis the place of muster was opposite Memphis, the supposed capital of Pharaoh; and the way would necessitate the Israelites to round the mountain range of the Mukattem at the time, when it might well be supposed that the most direct route would be chosen by a skillful and able leader, who would be anxious to get out of Egypt as speedily as possible. Besides, the entire route would be through mountain defiles, which are in many parts so narrow and so frequently blocked up, that it must have been extremely difficult, if not almost impracticable, for such a host as that of the Israelites to have penetrated the extent of Wady Ramliyah in a moderate time.

The second hypothesis is that of Niebuhr-that Birket-el-Haj-the modern rendezvous of Mohammedan pilgrims on the eve of setting out for Suez-was probably Succoth, the place of booths; and consequently that the Israelites moved in an eastward direction, keeping north of the Mukattem hills until they came to Bir-Suweiss, or to Ajrud. To the west of Suez, and extending north to Ajrud, is a hard gravel plain which would afford a most suitable space for the encampment of the Israelites. This course, which is an intermediate transit between the northern route suggested by Dr. Robinson, and the southern one proposed by Sicard, was adopted as the most convenient and the most direct by Burckhardt, and has been more recently supported by Von Raumer ('Beitrage zur Biblischen Geographie,' Leipzig, 1843), and by the learned traveller and Biblical critic, Tischendorf, in his able and most comprehensive treatise ('De Israelitarum per Mare Rubrum Transitu,' Lipsiae, 1847).

The Hebrew word [ hamidbaar (H4057)], the wilderness, is applied not merely to barren deserts, but to those vast and uncultivated grassy steppes which are not regularly inhabited, and which furnish pasturage to the flocks, not only of rude and nomadic tribes, but of more civilized nations. If the Israelites started from Heroopolis, the way would be through a district well irrigated, and consequently abounding with verdure-which is a sufficient answer to the question, Where was food to be obtained for the flocks and herds? If they started from Basantin, and journeyed by the Wady Badiyah, they would be at no loss for forage to their cattle; because Sicard describes the ground as covered with tamarisk, broom, clover, tufts of brushwood, besides every other variety of odoriferous plant and herb proper for pasturage. Or if they went by the middle course, from Cairo to Suez, although there is not one continuous vale, there are several small vales connected, in which there are one or two wells, and patches of verdure here and there. These circumstances afford a sufficient answer to the cavil, that the flocks and herds could not obtain food in any part of the desert.

Verses 21-22

And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night:

The Lord went before them - by a visible token of his presence, the Shechinah, in a majestic cloud (Psalms 78:14; Nehemiah 9:12; 1 Corinthians 10:1), called the angel of God (Exodus 14:19; Exodus 23:20-23; Psalms 99:6-7; Isaiah 63:8-9). The rationalistic explanation of this is, that it refers to the ordinary signal given on journeys by the smoke of the caravan fires. Each company, or division of a caravan, is distinguished by an appropriate standard, which at night consists of long poles, surmounted by small eagles or beacons, formed of iron hoops, which are filled with combustible materials for light, to the number of ten or twelve to each company; those of one division being of a different figure and shape from those of another; so that everyone knows, by looking at the standard by night or by day, whether he is in his proper place.

But it will be easily seen that this arrangement does not answer the description given in the sacred narrative, which states that the Israelites were guided on their march not only by pillar of fire by night, but of cloud by day. And if the truthfulness of the record respecting the miraculous means by which the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt was effected be admitted, the credibility of this portion of the narrative cannot be affected by the relation of a miraculous guidance being afforded them in their exodus from the house of bondage. But it would have been contrary to all right views of the divine conduct to imagine that the Lord, after having in so remarkable a manner interposed for their rescue from oppression and slavery, had abandoned all further interest in their cause the moment their release was accomplished, and therefore the historical character of this book requires, in consistency, the assertion of such a miracle of providential care and protection as is here stated to have been vouchsafed to His people by the visible symbol of the divine presence day and night.

This fact supplies some of the noblest figures in the writings of the Hebrew prophets (Zechariah 8:5: cf. Numbers 10:34; Isaiah 4:5-6). There was only one cloud (Exodus 14:19; Exodus 14:24; Numbers 9:21), which, consisting doubtless of the same materials as ordinary clouds, and charged with electricity, so far as natural means were employed, assumed the form of a pillar, and occupied a position in the sky sufficiently high to be seen by all in the procession, even to the remotest rear (Deuteronomy 1:33). But neither the form nor the position of the cloud was unchangeable. The cloud first appeared at Etham as their Leader, when entering upon new and unknown tract; and He who went before them was Christ: for he is afterward (Exodus 14:19) called "the angel of God."

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Exodus 13". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/exodus-13.html. 1871-8.