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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 12

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary



The long travail has now ended, and the birth-hour of Israel has come. Every thing in the style of the narrative now shows that momentous events impend. The institution of the passover, which was the national birthday festival, is minutely related: first, the divine command being given at length, (Exodus 12:1-20,) and then the fulfilment of the command being detailed, (Exodus 12:21-28,) which involves a repetition of essential matters, though there are some additional particulars; then follows the last and most awful judgment stroke, and the Exode itself, from which the book derives its name; (Exodus 12:29-42;) and finally, at Succoth, the first camping place, Moses gives Israel a further ordinance concerning the participants of the passover. Every thing here shows the supreme importance of this passover institution It is interwoven into the very substance of the history, and, including the further repetition of the next chapter, is described, ordained, and enforced in four different forms, each bringing out special and important features, yet all involving the essentials of the ordinance. This, the great memorial feast of the Old Covenant, fore-shadowing the one memorial feast of the New, typifies to the Christian consciousness the whole history of redemption, the sacrifice of the “Lamb without blemish,” “slain from the foundation of the world,” and the exodus of a redeemed race from the bondage of sin. The passover, which is the oldest of the Jewish festivals, has out-lasted all the rest; and this alone has passed from the Old to the New Covenant, and, as the Supper of the Lord, commemorates now, how “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” See notes on Matthew 26:2; Matthew 26:20-25.

The passover was also to Israel a sacrifice, an act of solemn consecration. The sprinkled blood set forth the desert of sin. The outward deliverance was fitly preceded by this inward consecration of the whole people to Jehovah. We are here carried back to the time when the temple had not yet been reared, nor the tabernacle set up, nor the priesthood consecrated; when each house was made a temple, each doorway an altar, and each father a priest. True national worship must ever begin at home.

Verse 1


1. The Lord spake Had spoken, just before this final announcement to Pharaoh.

In the land of Egypt The passover was the only feast ordained in Egypt. All the other ordinances were given in the wilderness of Sinai or in the plains of Moab.

Verses 1-30

THE TEN PLAGUES, Exodus 7:8 to Exodus 12:30.

Moses and Aaron now stand before Pharaoh as ministers of judgment, and the conflict opens between Jehovah and the gods of Egypt. The first contest between the messengers of Jehovah and the magicians, or enchanters, who are regarded as the servants of the false gods, given in Exodus 7:8-13, is properly the opening scene of the struggle, and is therefore here included in the section with it. Several general observations on the whole subject are most conveniently introduced here for future reference.

(1.) The great and worthy object of these “signs and wonders” is throughout to be carefully held before the mind. There were several secondary purposes met, but the chief aim was, not to inflict retribution upon Egypt, although they did this as judgments, nor to give Israel independence, though they effected this by crushing the oppressor, but to teach the world the nature of God. It was a series of most solemn lessons in the fundamental truths of religion in God’s attributes and government. With perfect distinctness and reiterated emphasis is this declared from the very beginning: “ I am JEHOVAH … Ye shall know… the Egyptians shall know that I am JEHOVAH.” Events were to burn into the national consciousness of Israel, and into the memory of the world, the great truths revealed in the Memorial Name; and the faith of Israel, the sin of Pharaoh, and the might and splendour of Egyptian heathenism, were the divinely chosen instruments to accomplish this work. The rich Nile-land teemed with gods, and was the mother country of the idolatries that, centuries afterward, covered the Mediterranean islands and peninsulas, and filled the classic literature with such manifold forms of beauty. The gods of Greece were born in Egypt, and the Sibyls of Delphos and Cumaea descended from the sorcerers who contended with Moses. In no other land has idolatry ever reared such grand and massive structures as in Egypt. The immense ram-headed Ammun and hawk-headed Ra, the placid monumental Osiris, the colossal Rameses, sitting in granite “with his vast hands resting upon his elephantine knees,” these, and their brother gods of the age of the Pharaohs, have looked down upon the rising and falling Nile through all the centuries of European civilization. In no other land were the manifold forms and productions of nature so deified. In their pantheistic idolatry they offered worship not only to the sun, and moon, and earth, but to bulls, crocodiles, cats, hawks, asps, scorpions, and beetles. They seem to have made to themselves likenesses of almost every thing in “heaven above, in earth beneath, and in the waters under the earth.” The Apis and Mnevis bulls were stalled in magnificent palaces at Memphis and Heliopolis, and were embalmed in massive marble and granite sarcophagi, grander than enclosed the Theban kings. The sepulchres of Egyptian bulls have outlasted the sepulchres of Roman emperors. Nowhere else were kings so deified as here. Pharaoh incarnated in himself the national idolatry, and to crush the king was to crush the gods. The king made his palace a temple, and enthroned himself among the Egyptian deities. He sculptured himself colossal so vast that the Arabs to-day quarry millstones from his cheeks sitting hand in hand and arm in arm with his gods. To-day Rameses sits in the temple of Ipsambul between Ra and Ammun, his tall crown rising between the hawk head of the one and the tiara of the other, looking out from his rock-hewn shrine upon the desert, as he has sat since the Pharaohs. From Cambyses to Napoleon invasion after invasion has swept the Nile valley wave on wave yet here have sat these massive forms, the Nile coming to bathe their feet year by year, as if brothers to the mountains. They mark the graves of Egypt’s vanished gods, while the name of Him who smote these gods to death with Moses’s rod liveth forever.

(2.) But Egypt was the mother-land of philosophies as well as idolatries. Long ages after Moses, Herodotus, Pythagoras, and Plato followed the Hebrew lawgiver to the oldest university in the world. The Egyptian philosophy was inextricably entangled with its religion, and deciphered papyri show that magic and sorcery were esteemed as highly at the court of Pharaoh, as, long after, in the time of Daniel, at the court of Nebuchadnezzar. The dreamy mysticism of Plato and of Philo reveals how hopelessly most precious truths were entangled in priestly juggleries, and how deeply this black art, or illusion, or demonism, left its mark on the ancient world. The heathen idolatry had no more potent allies in the old civilizations than the soothsayers, sorcerers, and magicians, and it was needful that they too should be signally vanquished by the prophet of the true God. Hence Moses in Egypt as, a thousand years later, Daniel in Babylon, and a half thousand years later still, Paul at Salamis and Philippi discomfited the false prophets who aped God’s mighty works with their lying wonders. The sooth-saying and necromancy found in Christian lands to-day belong to the same kingdom of darkness, and can be exorcised only in that “Name which is above every name.” Moses, then, smites for mankind; Israel brings the Sacred Name through the wilderness for the world.

(3.) The weapons and tactics of this warfare were not such as to inflame the pride of the people of Israel, or to awaken in after generations a thirst for military glory, but such as to turn the tides of their faith and hope wholly away from themselves to their God. Hence the Hebrew national anthems glory in Jehovah rather than in Israel. Not the baptism of a war of national independence, but that of the Red Sea redemption, was their great national remembrance. Enthusiasm for Jehovah thus became the national passion. How appropriate was this in the training of a nation which was to teach the world true religion!

The real character of these plagues, or judgment strokes, will, as a general thing, appear from an attentive study of the Egyptian geography and natural history. They arise, as can usually be seen on the face of the narrative, from natural causes supernaturally intensified and directed. In the first and ninth plagues the natural causation is less distinct. They cannot, however, be explained away as natural events; for, if the record is to be believed at all, they were supernatural (1) in their definiteness, the time of their occurrence and discontinuance being distinctly predicted; (2) in their succession; and (3) in their intensity. They were, in their power and direction, threefold: (1) against the Egyptian faith in the diviners, enchanters, and sorcerers, the prophets of a false religion. (2) Against their faith in their deities, their gods of earth, and water, and air powers of nature; and beasts, and birds, and creeping things. Thus Jehovah’s supremacy over idolatry appeared. But (3) they were also punishments for disobedience to God. There is from the beginning a gradually increasing intensity in these supernatural manifestations till the magicians are utterly discomfited, all the gods of Egypt put to shame, and Pharaoh compelled to yield reluctant obedience. At first the magicians seem to display the same power as Moses, (Exodus 7:11; Exodus 7:22,) then come signs beyond their power . (Exodus 8:18;) soon the prophet of Jehovah so smites them that they cannot appear at all, (Exodus 9:11;) and then they vanish altogether . So the weight of the judgments increases as with increasing light the crime of disobedience rises in magnitude beginning with simple though sore annoyances, as blood, frogs, and flies; then advancing to the destruction of food and cattle smiting first their dwelling-place and surroundings, and then themselves; till the locusts swept the earth and the darkness filled the heaven, and only the death stroke was left to fall . Thus we are taught how the consequence of sin is sin, and judgments unheeded inevitably lead on to sorer judgments, till destruction comes .

(4.) Some commentators have found a special application in each plague to some particular idolatry or idolatrous rite, but this we do not find warranted by facts. Some, following Philo, the learned and devout but fanciful Alexandrian Jew, separate the plagues into two groups of nine and one, and then the nine into three groups of three, between which groups they trace what they deem instructive contrasts and correspondences. Origen, Augustine, and others, have traced parallels between these ten judgments and the ten commandments, the succession of the judgments and of the creative days, etc. Most of these interpretations not to dwell on the extravagant conceits of the Rabbies are amusing rather than instructive, and would be appropriate rather to a sacred romance or drama than to a sober history like this. The wild fables of the Talmud, the monstrosities of the Koran, and the often romantically embellished history of Josephus, present here an instructive contrast to the sacred narrative.

(5.) Thus far the Egyptian monuments give us no distinct mention of the plagues and of the exodus. We have, however, Egyptian records of the sojourn and exodus of Israel, although confused and fragmentary, and written more than a thousand years after the events. Chief and most valuable among these is the narrative of the priest Manetho, who wrote his Egyptian history during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus, B.C. 283-247, of which a few fragments remain. Josephus has preserved all that we have of this narrative in his work against Apion. It is, as might be expected, a very different history, being the relation of an Egyptian priest many centuries after the events; yet the points of agreement are very striking.

The Israelites appear in Manetho’s story as a nation of lepers, headed by Osarsiph, a priest of Osiris, who had been educated at Heliopolis, but abandoned his order and the Egyptian religion to take the lead of this people. He taught them to abjure idolatry, gave them laws, a constitution and ceremonial, and when he united his fortunes with theirs he changed his name to Moses. The war is described as a religious war, in which, for the time, the Egyptians were discomfited, and obliged, in compliance with prophetic warnings, to abandon the country for thirteen years, and to flee, with their king Amenophis, into Ethiopia, taking with them the bull Apis and other sacred animals, while this leprous nation, reinforced by shepherds from Jerusalem, fortified themselves in Avaris, (Zoan,) a city of Goshen, robbed the temples, insulted the gods, roasted and ate the sacred animals, and cast contempt in every way upon the Egyptian worship. Amenophis afterwards returned with a great army and chased the shepherds and lepers out of his dominions through a dry desert to Palestine. (From Ewald’s trans., Hist. of Israel, 2: 79.) Here, as Ewald shows, the great outlines of the story of the exodus are to be clearly seen; the Mosaic leadership, the war of religions, the uprising of the hostile religion in Egypt itself, the leprous affliction of the revolting people, so pointedly mentioned in the Pentateuch, the secret superstitious dread inspired by Moses, which seems to have shaken the foundations of the Egyptian religion, the confession of defeat in the struggle, and the transformation of the exodus into an expulsion from Egypt these are unmistakable traces of the same history coming down through Egyptian channels. The later Egyptian writers, Chaeremon and Lysimachus, echo the story of Manetho, mingling with it Hebrew traditions. ( Josephus Against Apion, bks. i, 2.)

(6.) The exotic of Israel from Egypt is a fact now universally admitted, whatever differences may exist in its explanation. Bunsen says, in his Egypt, that “History herself was born on that night when Moses led forth his countrymen from the land of Goshen.” That this event resulted from some heavy calamities which at that time befel the Egyptians, or, in other words, that the narrative of the plagues has a solid historical foundation, is also now maintained with unbroken unanimity by Hebrew and Egyptian scholars, even by those who decline to see in these events anything supernatural. Thus Ewald says, that this history, “on the whole, exhibits the essence of the event as it actually happened.” And Knobel says, that “in the time of Moses circumstances had transpired which made it possible for the Hebrews to go forth of themselves, and impossible for the Egyptians to hinder their undertaking or to force them to return.” In other words, they who refuse to recognise here miraculous influence do recognise miraculous coincidence. Without any war, which, had it happened, must, as Knobel says, have left some trace in the history without any invasion from abroad or insurrection from within to weaken the Egyptian power a nation, unified and vitalized by faith in the one Jehovah, went forth unhindered from the bosom of a strong and prosperous empire. This is the event to be explained. The Mosaic record alone gives an adequate cause.

Verse 2

2. This month (Abib or Nisan) shall be unto you the beginning ( head) of months… first month of the year Hitherto the year had commenced with the month Tisri, (or September,) but henceforth the year was to be reckoned from Abib, the month of Israel’s birth . Abib signifies “an ear of grain;” it was the month when barley ripened, corresponding with our close of March and beginning of April . The Hebrew months were lunar, and Abib was the month commencing with the new moon just after or just before the vernal equinox. This was the sacred year, by which the festivals were reckoned; but the civil or common year was still reckoned from Tisri. The passover was, then, instituted some time in the month of Israel’s deliverance, but not after the final interview with Pharaoh described in the last chapter, since four days, inclusive, were to elapse after the choice of the lamb before the passover.

Verses 3-4

3, 4. In the tenth day After this first passover there is no record of any instance where the lamb was selected before the fourteenth day .

A lamb for a house No special number is here mentioned as necessary to constitute the paschal company, but a Jewish tradition fixed ten as the least number, and, reckoning children, it probably averaged about twenty . It became a custom for each person to eat a piece of the lamb about the size of an olive, which would allow the paschal company to be quite large . An individual might not eat the passover alone . Thus was symbolized the fellowship of the Church in partaking of Christ .

Verse 5

5. Without blemish, a male of the first year A faultless male, at least a year old . Only perfect gifts could be offered to God, as the heathens also felt . So Homer teaches us, ( Iliad, 1: 66,) αγνων … αιγων τε τελειων , “perfect lambs and goats . ” The letter of the law allowed a kid, but a lamb was almost always chosen .

Verse 6

6. Until the fourteenth day For three days, which were, as we suppose, the days of darkness in the land of Egypt, the devoted lamb was kept for the sacrifice in each family the centre of prayerful and grateful meditations as they talked together of the great morning of deliverance that was about to dawn on them.

The whole assembly Each family in its own house, that the sacrifice might be simultaneous in all the land.

In the evening Literally, Between the two evenings; the time which was afterward specified for the evening sacrifice, Numbers 28:4, and described in Deuteronomy 16:6, as the time of the “going down of the sun . ” The Rabbies understand that the first of the “two evenings” is when the sun begins to decline and the heat to decrease, or about three o’clock, and that the second is sunset, so that “between the two evenings” would be, at the fourteenth of Abib, between three and six . Kimchi, Rashi, and others, interpret the period of the declining sun as the first evening, and that of twilight as the second; so that the moment of sunset is the point “between the two evenings.” Whichever view be adopted, “about sunset” is the time fixed, allowing some latitude on both sides, as became necessary afterwards when the lambs were offered in the temple.

The Lamb of God was offered at the time of the paschal feast, and at the paschal hour, for “at the ninth hour,” three in the afternoon, he “cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.” Mark 15:34; Mark 15:37.

Verse 7

7. They shall take of the blood Each doorway was made an altar, the lintel and side-posts of which were to be sprinkled with blood from a bunch of hyssop, (Exodus 12:22,) and thus was each person who entered consecrated . The blood was not dropped upon the threshold, lest it should be trodden under foot . This was the outward token of expiation and consecration which all the families of Israel were required to set upon themselves, as the outward sacraments are ordained in the Church of Christ; not that God needs to see these signs, but that we need to make them .

Verses 8-9

8, 9. In that night The night following the sunset of the fourteenth of Nisan, or Abib . Roast… not… raw, (under-done,) nor sodden (boiled) The lamb was to be roasted whole, not a bone broken, the entrails being cleansed and put back, and all the viscera, as heart, liver, etc . , ( purtenance, inwards,) included . Boiling would be liable to separate the members, but the typical wholeness of the lamb was an essential thing, as setting forth the oneness of the chosen people, and this was preserved in roasting. As they gathered about the table, the lamb was to symbolize to all who ate of it the spiritual oneness into which they were then by faith to enter. Thus says the Apostle, speaking of the Christian Passover, “We being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one Bread.” 1 Corinthians 10:17. The lamb was to be fastened to the spit, as afterwards the Lamb of God was fastened to the cross. Jahn says that it was transfixed upon two spits, the one lengthwise and the other crosswise, ( Arch., § 353,) and it is significant that the Samaritans at Nablous now fasten the lamb to a spit in the form of a cross. (Stanley’s Jewish Church, lect. 5.) Justin Martyr records that this was the Jewish usage. ( Dialogue with Trypho, chap. 40.) Christ’s body was preserved unbroken, as a symbol of the same unity of the members and the Head. See note on Matthew 26:2.

Unleavened bread This specially symbolized three things: the haste in which they fled, not waiting for the bread to rise, (vers . 34 and 39;) their sufferings in Egypt, for such bread was called “bread of affliction,” (Deuteronomy 16:3;) but chiefly their purity as a consecrated nation, since fermentation is incipient putrefaction, and leaven was thus a symbol of impurity . With bitter herbs they shall eat it A symbol of their bitter bondage . On (not “with”) bitter herbs That is, these, with the unleavened bread, were to constitute the basis, the chief part, of the supper, while a morsel of the lamb gave it flavour . The meal as a whole was a memento both of the “passing over” of the destroying angel, and of the bondage, while the savory accompaniment of the lamb’s flesh commemorated their deliverance. It was also to be eaten as a feast, with cheerfulness and gratitude.

Verses 10-11

10, 11. Let nothing of it remain It was sacred to this special use, and was not to be profaned .

Loins girded As the first passover was eaten in the last hours of their stay in Egypt, they must then have been all ready to leave, waiting for the final word . Usually they sat or reclined about the table, but now they were to stand on their feet . Their feet were always bare within the house, but now they were to be shod for the rough desert roads . Their long garments were usually loose as they sat at meals, but now they were to be girded up closely for a long journey . Each was to have his travelling staff in hand, and to eat in haste . It is the Lord’s passover Here for the first time occurs the word פסח , pesach, well rendered by our word passover, as it sets forth the passing over the houses of Israel in the tenth judgment-stroke . Jehovah says, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you.” So ever will the God of judgment pass over the soul marked with the blood of the spotless Lamb.

Verse 12

12. Against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment See Introd . to the history of the plagues, (1 . )

Verse 14

14. This day The fourteenth of Abib, or Nisan, which was forever to be memorable as Israel’s birthday . The day of the full moon in the “ ear-month” the full moon of the spring equinox, when nature begins her round once more was ever to be the great national festival of Israel.

Verse 15

15. Seven days Through the sacred cycle of days they were to learn the lessons taught by the “bread of affliction . ”

That soul shall be cut off Excommunicated from the sacred body, since such a soul cast off God’s covenant with the covenant sign . The modern Jews make the unleavened bread in thin dry biscuits . They are exceedingly scrupulous to cleanse, at this time, the whole house, searching every dark corner with candles lest a crumb of leavened bread should anywhere be found when this feast begins. Great care is taken that all the vessels in which it is made be perfectly clean, and that it bake rapidly, lest the least fermentation take place.

Verse 16

16. Holy convocation The first and seventh days were to be days of general assembly, in which no work but that of necessity should be done sabbaths, when all the people should gather to hear the law, and to adore Jehovah, their Saviour, while they recounted to each other his mighty delivering mercies. This was the origin of the Jewish synagogue.

Verse 17

17. In this selfsame day have I brought your armies out This was said before the deliverance was effected, and it is spoken of in the past as if already made sure . Thus the Hebrew preterit is often used in prophecy for an emphatic future . (Nordh . , Gram . , § 966, 1, a . )

Verses 18-20

18-20. These verses repeat and emphasize the details of the ordinance .

Verse 21

21. Now follows the fulfilment of Jehovah’s command by Moses .

Draw out and take Withdraw; go forth to your homes, and make ready the passover: so Septuagint, Vulgate, Arabic, Keil, Knobel . But Gesenius, De Wette, and others interpret choose out, or lay hold of .

Verses 22-23

22, 23. Hyssop This has not been mentioned before . The hyssop included several species of herb, but that used in Egypt was, according to Kimchi and Maimonides, wild marjoram, an aromatic plant and condiment much used by the poorer classes in Egypt for food .

None of you shall go out at the door Only within the blood-besprinkled door was safety .

The destroyer Whether angel or pestilence, could not pass the line drawn in blood. Each sanctuary home in Israel was thus made a symbol of the fold whereof Christ is the door, and only behind hiswounds can sinful man be safe from the destroyer.

Verses 24-27

24-27. The monumental character of this feast as a perpetual reminder of the supernatural origin of the nation, and as a means of education to all the generations of the people, is here minutely emphasized and enforced .

Verses 29-36


And now arose the awful “midnight cry,” as the flower of every house fell before the destroyer.

Verses 31-33

31-33. And he called for Moses and Aaron by night Pharaoh had commanded them to see his face no more, but now an awful fear seized the monarch that the whole nation was to be destroyed, and he sent as an humble suppliant, beseeching Israel to depart, and take all their families, flocks, and herds.

And bless me also Pray Jehovah that no worse come upon me.

Verse 34

34. Their kneading troughs being bound up in their clothes The kneading troughs of the Egyptians were of wood, (see illustration under chap . 8:3,) and so, perhaps, were those of the Israelites; but more probably they were mere leather bags, such as are now used by the Bedouins . By “clothes” is here meant the simlah, a square, shawl-like outer garment, like a Scotch plaid, used to wrap up small movables . From this and the thirty-ninth verse it will be seen that the unleavened bread had an historical as well as a symbolical meaning. There was not the usual time for dough to rise, even had it been leavened.

Verses 35-36

35, 36. See on Exodus 3:22, and Exodus 11:2.

Verse 37

THE EXODE, Exodus 12:37-42.

37. From Rameses to Succoth Probably not the treasure-city Rameses, or Raamses, mentioned Exodus 1:11, but the district or province spoken of Genesis 47:11, which is the same as Goshen, the border-land, of Egypt toward Palestine . From all parts of the province they started, the families and tribes gradually gathering, concentrating in and around Succoth at the end of the first day . The name Succoth, which signifies booths, indicates that this was a mere temporary caravan or military station, though it may possibly have been a town named from such a station. We are to think of the people as falling into the host with their flocks and herds for the first two days, when they rallied behind the pillar of cloud at Etham, “in the edge of the wilderness.” It seems most likely that their course for the first days lay along the Wady Tumeylat, which runs in an easterly direction towards the ancient bitter lakes. In this wady the Israelites were probably most thickly settled. From all parts of Rameses or Goshen there was a movement eastward through this rich valley in the heart of the province, along the line of the canal, which had the same general direction as the present Sweet-water Canal constructed by Lesseps. (See note on Goshen, Genesis 48:6. ) Although they are said to have started from Rameses, they did not get fairly beyond its limits till they passed Etham .

Some, following Sicard, have supposed that the Israelites took the ancient caravan route from the Nile due east to the Red Sea, along the Wady et Tih, which is shut in on the north and south by mountain ranges, and terminates in the broad plain of Baideah on the Gulf of Suez. The northern range is broken by a branch valley, twenty-three miles from the Nile, where is the only fountain in the wady, and it ends in the promontory of Ras Attah-kah, which stretches into the Gulf, twelve miles below Suez. (See map of Goshen.) But the northern route above described much better fits the requirements of the text.

Six hundred thousand This is given as the round number; by the census taken the next year in the wilderness of Sinai the actual number was six hundred and three thousand five hundred and fifty. Numbers 2:32. See further in Concluding Note .

Verse 38

38. A mixed multitude Egyptians, who, in this time of popular excitement and commotion had become disaffected, unsettled, and a medley of adventurous spirits of various peoples, such as always follow an army or emigrating host . Egyptians and “strangers” are afterwards mentioned as living among the Israelites. From Numbers 11:4, we see that the distrust of God’s providence which led to the plague of Kibroth-hattaavah ( Graves of lust) began among this heathen rabble, and from Deuteronomy 29:11, it would seem that these “strangers” became hewers of wood and drawers of water for Israel . The Israelites had always continued to be a pastoral people, so that their property consisted mainly of flocks and herds .

Verse 39

39. Unleavened cakes See on Exodus 12:8.

Verse 40

40. The sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt Or, as in Septuagint, The sojourning which they sojourned . This much-controverted passage forms one of the pivots of biblical chronology. The question is simply as to the point from which the four hundred and thirty years are to be reckoned. The Septuagint (Vatican Codex) has an important addition, and reads, “The sojourning of the children of Israel which they sojourned in Egypt and in Canaan;” while in the Alexandrian Codex there is still another addition, making it read, “which they and their fathers sojourned in Egypt and in Canaan.” Thus the Alexandrian translators of this book of Exodus (about 280 B.C.) clearly understood that this “sojourn” dated from Abraham’s call, and included the time when the “fathers” of Israel, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “sojourned in the Land of Promise as in a strange country,” as well as the time of the bondage of their children in Egypt. The Samaritan has the same reading. (See Introd., (2,) chap. 11.) But the Hebrew text is without doubt correct, and these additions are to be understood as explanatory emendations by these translators, who wished to show how the three patriarchs might be included with the “children of Israel,” and the sojourn in Canaan be united with that in Egypt. These translations have evidently only the authority of explanatory comments, and the question is, Do they correctly explain our text? Is the sojourning of the “fathers,” Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in Canaan, included in the sojourning of the children of Israel which they sojourned in Egypt?

The first strong impression clearly is, that the text declares the Egyptian sojourn to have been four hundred and thirty years, for we have the phrase “which they sojourned in Egypt;” and “the children of Israel” only are spoken of. But we are to consider that the Hebrew idiom is much more pliant than ours in the use of terms. Fathers are included in children, as in Matthew xxiii, 35, “Ye slew;” and children in fathers, as in Hebrews 7:9, “Levi paid tithes in Abraham.” The Hebrew race might have been freely styled the “children of Israel” from Abraham downwards, and the whole sojourning period of the race might have been in the writer’s mind, though he specifies the most remarkable part of that period as peculiarly characteristic of it as a whole, which they sojourned in Egypt. That is, although they had also sojourned in Canaan, yet their Egyptian life, having been the epoch of God’s remarkable providences in their behalf, gave the whole period character. This history, thus interpreted, is also well illustrated by the prophecy to Abraham, (Genesis 15:13; Genesis 15:16,) “Thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them, and they shall afflict them four hundred years . ” Now this doubtless refers to the Egyptian bondage, yet, as shown in the notes on Exodus i, the real bondage or affliction did not begin till shortly before the birth of Moses, and so could not have lasted over eighty years . Yet this eighty years gives the character of “affliction” to the whole period . Now it is probable that the historical statement in our text spreads the Egyptian “sojourn” over the four centuries, just as the prophetic statement in Genesis does the Egyptian bondage and affliction. St. Paul expressly declares that the four-hundred-and-thirty years period is to be reckoned from the covenant with Abraham. Galatians 3:17.

If this be the correct view, then just one half of this period, or two hundred and fifteen years, was spent in the Egyptian sojourn. This may be thus seen: Abraham was seventy-five when he left Haran, (Genesis 12:4,) and one hundred when Isaac was born, (Genesis 21:5,) and therefore from the call of Abraham to the birth of Isaac was twenty-five years . From the birth of Isaac to that of Jacob was sixty years, (Genesis 25:26,) and from the birth of Jacob to the descent into Egypt was one hundred and thirty, (Genesis 47:9,) and so from the call of Abraham to the descent into Egypt was two hundred and fifteen years, since 25+60+130=215 . The genealogy of Moses and Aaron, as given in Exodus 6:16-20, points to the short period, or a sojourn of two hundred and fifteen years in Egypt, and we must suppose that several generations are omitted if the long period be taken, since four generations cannot be made to span four hundred and thirty years. This supposition is adopted by many, (Tiele, Kurtz, Keil, Thompson, etc.;) but all the events of the “bondage” can be brought within the short period, or two hundred and fifteen years. See Concluding Note.

Verse 41

41. The selfsame day That is, on the very day after the passover and death of the firstborn, whose incidents are previously related the fifteenth of Abib; not that it was four hundred and thirty years to a day since the sojourn commenced . The same phrase occurs in Exodus 12:51.

Verse 42

42. Observed of all the children of Israel in their generations Israel was long ago scattered among the Gentiles; all the Levitical sacrifices have for centuries “ceased to be offered;” tabernacle and temple vanished ages ago; yet wherever in his wanderings a Jew retains to-day one shred of his ancestral religion he keeps the passover .

Verses 43-50


This additional ordinance, defining the character of the participants in the passover feast, now became necessary, since aliens and strangers of various nations attached themselves to Israel. Exodus 12:38. Israel was called to be a blessing to all nations, and, therefore, aliens were not excluded from the covenant privileges if they would take upon them the covenant sign, but this was an essential condition. Transient settlers or labourers for wages were not to be admitted to the passover; but all who had become incorporated into the families of Israel by marriage or by purchase (and who bore the covenant sign) became spiritually as well as outwardly one with the covenant people. Concerning Hebrew servitude see on Exodus 21:0.

Verse 51

51. This verse, as a final summary, brings the account of the departure from Egypt to a formal close.

The selfsame day That is, the fifteenth of Abib, the momentous day whose events have just been related. CONCLUDING NOTE.

Length of Sojourn in Egypt, and Census of Israel at the Exode. These two topics are so connected that it is convenient to discuss them together. Was the Egyptian sojourn a period of four hundred and thirty or of two hundred and fifteen years? In the note on verse forty the short period is favoured. Two things are specially relied upon by the advocates of the long period in proof of their view: (1,) The genealogy of individuals; (2,) The census of the Exode.

The genealogy is supposed to show that in some lines several generations have been omitted. (The genealogy of Moses is discussed in the note on Exodus 6:20. ) While Moses and Aaron are only the third generation from Levi, Dathan and Abiram the third from Reuben, (Numbers 26:0,) and Achan the fourth from Judah, (Joshua 7:0,) Bezaleel is the sixth from Judah, (1 Chronicles 2:0,) Elishama the eighth from Joseph, and Joshua the tenth from Joseph, (1 Chronicles 7:23-27. ) Colenso presents these discrepancies as fatal objections to the authenticity of the history . But we may easily suppose Moses, when past his century, to have been contemporary with Bezaleel, who was of the same generation with his great-grandchildren, so that Elishama and Joshua give us the only real difficulty. But their genealogy is given in only one passage, (1 Chronicles 7:23-27,) which is on all hands confessed to be very obscure, and has probably been corrupted in transcription, so that it ought to have no decisive weight whatever, especially against passages of unmistakable clearness. Colenso, like his kin of all generations, ignores the clear to burrow in the obscure or unknown.

As to the census of Israel at the Exode, we are to consider that extraordinary fruitfulness is spoken of in Exodus 1:7, as it had been specially promised to the patriarchs . There were more than 600,000 men at the Exode, and these numbers would have been reached in two hundred and fifteen years if they continued to multiply as they commenced . This is proved thus: Jacob and his sons averaged five sons each, (not reckoning daughters at all in this calculation,) for he had twelve sons and fifty-three grandsons, (Genesis 46:0,) and (53+12)/13=5 . Now if each man had, at the age of thirty-five, five sons, and had none born to him thereafter, we may reckon six generations in two hundred and fifteen years, since 215/35=6+ . To find, then, the number of Jacob’s male posterity of the sixth generation we have 53×5*6=53×15,625, or 828,125, a surplus of 200,000 over the number of the text . This calculation, moreover, makes no account of the survivors of previous generations .

The census of the Kohathites, given in Numbers 3:28, is also presented by Tiele, Kurtz, Keil, etc . , as an argument for the long chronology or for the omission of generations, since the four families of the Kohathites numbered 8,600, thus averaging 2,150 each, while one of the four, the Amramites, numbered, as far as the record shows, only two men who could have been counted in the 8,600, since Aaron and his sons, and Moses himself, are not reckoned. But, (1,) The general calculation before given covers the whole ground. (2,) We have no right to assume that the record gives us all the Amramites. Amram may have had other children besides the famous historic three, and the argument from silence is always dubious. (3,) Still more dubious is the argument from averages to particulars. (4,) The other three families might have made up the lack of the Amramites, if lack there were. While these facts, given in the record itself, enable us to fully account for the numbers of Israel at the Exode, the objections of Knobel, Colenso, etc., are of no weight.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Exodus 12". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/exodus-12.html. 1874-1909.
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