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Bible Commentaries

Peake's Commentary on the BiblePeake's Commentary

- Exodus

by Arthur Peake



“ THE second Book of Moses” is hardly “ second” to any in the OT for the varied interest, historical importance, and religious value of its contents. Its material is drawn from the three well-known Pentateuchal sources, J, E, and P, each the result of a process involving more than one author (pp. 124– 130). The union of J with E and the much later incorporation of JE with P naturally left traces of editorial modifications and additions, and in the legal passages of JE a Deuteronomic expander can occasionally be detected. The analysis, though much more difficult to effect than in Gen. because of the many parallel variants, the wholesale displacements, and the editorial expansions and linkage-work, is yet upon the whole based upon a sound structure of observation and inference.

History, Legend, and Ideal.— The alternative was often, in days gone by, crudely pressed, “ Either legend or history.” It is now seen that most surviving ancient history, outside contemporary inscriptions, is in legendary form, or at least encrusted with legend ( Exodus 7:14 *), and yet may yield sure and valuable evidence as to the past. At worst it witnesses to the tastes, customs, and beliefs of the far back time when the legends were orally current. At best it enshrines some kernel of fact that would have been lost but for its protective husk of unconsciously imaginative form. The saga or folk-tale, if it is to float its kernel of fact far down the river of time on the waves of oral tradition, must contain few and simple elements. The elaboration of detail, in tales of long ago, is a mark of their later development. So at first the tales are told one by one, and connecting links of time and place and name are rare and variable. And when the tales come to be lovingly edited and re-edited as we find them in the OT, it is their contents and spirit that are important, rather than their correct arrangement in order of time and place. Stories that have “ character,” that shed light upon the present from the past, and, above all, that possess religious interest, must find a place somewhere. If, then, to reverence for God and kin and country we of this age add reverence for the very past as it was, we owe it to these memorials of an eventful period of the pre-Christian age to sift out those that have more of fancy, to appreciate in them the good that is there instead of reading into them what we think better but which only came later, and to set them, as best we may, in their true order and their right relations.

Many of the stories deal with persons, and of these Moses stands out pre-eminently, the mass and variety of material showing how deep a mark he left on his time, and reducing other figures, Aaron, Miriam, Jethro, Hur, Joshua, Nadab, and Abihu, to relative insignificance. His cradle in the bulrushes ( Exodus 2:1-10) preaches God’ s care for His own. His early championship of the oppressed ( Exodus 2:11-14) proves his impulsive sympathy. His flight to Midian ( Exodus 2:15) betrays his spiritual ancestry. His courtesy to women wins him ( Exodus 2:16-22) home and wife. And so the list might run on. Other stories deal with Israel, or its component tribes. Their increase, enslavement, and persecution are told ( Exodus 1:8-22); their harsher treatment (Exodus 5), and eventful escape ( Exodus 12:37 to Exodus 15:27); their entry into covenant at Sinai ( Exodus 1:19 and Exodus 1:14); their heathenish impulses (Exodus 32); their disputes ( Exodus 1:18) and complaints ( Exodus 15:22 to Exodus 17:7); and their early conflicts ( Exodus 17:8-16),— all these come in. Yet other stories, though not so many as in Gen. and Nu., are linked with places: Pithom and Raamses (Exodus 11), Sinai and Horeb ( Exodus 3:1 ff., Exodus 19, 24), the springs (at Kadesh?), Marah ( Exodus 15:22-25), Massah and Meribah ( Exodus 17:1-7, cf. Numbers 20:4-8). Many are concerned directly with religion: its rites— Mazzoth and Passover ( Exodus 1:12), circumcision ( Exodus 4:24-26); its instruments— the altars at Rephidim ( Exodus 17:15) and Horeb ( Exodus 24:4), the sacred rod ( Exodus 4:2 *), and the tent ( Exodus 33:7-11, cf. Exodus 25, etc., P); its agents— Moses and Joshua ( Exodus 33:11), young men ( Exodus 24:5), “ the priests” ( Exodus 19:22; Exodus 19:24), the Levites ( Exodus 32:25-29), the seventy elders ( Exodus 24:9), and judges ( Exodus 18:25); God’ s name ( Exodus 3:13 ff., Exodus 6:2 ff.) and face ( Exodus 33:17-22), His signs and wonders (Exodus 7-12), His pillar of fire and cloud ( Exodus 13:21 *), and His angel ( Exodus 14:19 a, Exodus 23:20, Exodus 32:34). Many of these might also be classified as stories of origins, explaining how customs and institutions had arisen (p. 134). In all naï veté later developments are assigned to the time and place of their first germs. For example, all Hebrew codes of law are collected in the Pentateuch and connected with Moses; but the discovery that these are all of later codification than his time must not involve us in the error of doubting that much of his work as lawgiver was fundamental, and that much of the contents of these codes may go back to him.

What has been said hitherto bears mostly upon JE. But though the matter of P has been entirely rewritten, and in most parts much elaborated, by the post-exilic editors, they were devoid of creative power, and had to fall back on existing tradition for their groundwork. So sometimes we may guess at an old tradition lying at the back of P. For example, there is little doubt that the account of the construction of the sacred tent in JE has been sacrificed for that of P. And the very artificiality of their system may have led these writers to preserve crude elements, like the feats of the magicians, which would have been dropped by such a writer as J. But the cardinal feature of P is the habit of reading back the ideal of the present into the actual of the Mosaic era. Whether the writers really believed their own statements to be literally true, or simply adopted as a literary convention the existing practice of referring all legislation to Moses, may be doubted. But it is certain that, except in rare cases and with due caution, it is not safe to use P as evidence for ancient practice. How rapidly development went on is shown by the analysis of Genesis 25-31 , Genesis 35-40 in Heb. and Gr.

Divisions.— The book falls naturally into three parts. In the first ( Exodus 1:1 to Exodus 12:36) we hear of Israel’ s plight in Egypt, and of Moses’ s mission and the wonders that authenticated it. In the second ( Exodus 12:37 to Exodus 18:27) we hear of the Exodus and the crossing of the Red Sea, this division including in Exodus 15:22 to Exodus 18:27 a series of accounts of wilderness trials which are probably all misplaced here, and belong to the period after leaving Sinai for Kadesh. Lastly, in Exodus 19-40 we have the scenes of the giving of the Law at Sinai, the making of the Covenant, and the construction of a portable sanctuary. Difficulties thicken here, just because at so many epochs so many individuals and groups were impelled by the fundamental importance of the subject matter to collect, revise, rewrite, recombine, and supplement the old.

Literature. Commentaries: ( a) Driver (CB.),Bennett (Cent. B.), M’ Neile (West, C.); ( c) Dillmann-Ryssel (KEH), Holzinger (KHC), Baentseh (HK), Gressmann (SAT). Other literature: Bacon, The Triple Tradition of the Exodus, Volz, Mose, Gressmann, Mose. Discussions in Dictionaries, works on OTI and OTT and the History of Israel. See further bibliography on p. 132.

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