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( 1.) Moses, like Solon, was a poet as well as a lawgiver. He not only wrote history, law, precept, and prophecy, but embalmed them in inspired song. Thus the divine truth which was to be translated by Israel to all ages was not only fastened upon their understanding, reason and conscience, but was interwoven with emotion, passion, and imagination. Israel exhaled the first breath of national life in a glad burst of song. The fervour of their national and religious emotions was poured forth, in the desert, in solemn and triumphant chants whenever they struck their tents in the morning, or pitched them at evening. When in the morning the cloud rose heavenward from the Sacred Tent all Israel chanted,
Rise, JEHOVAH, and scattered be thine enemies,
And let the foes flee from before thy face,
and when at night it returned and rested, they sang,
Return, JEHOVAH to the ten thousand thousands of Israel .
Numbers 10:34-36 .
The song which Moses taught all Israel at the close of his mission, Deuteronomy 32:0,) the lyric blessing of the tribes, (Deuteronomy 33:0,) and the ninetieth Psalm, “the prayer of Moses the man of God,” show the same grand poetic powers which are displayed in this chapter. David’s poetry is pre-eminent for its wonderful beauty and sweetness; it has a matchless spiritual pathos which unlocks all hearts; yet it is, as says Campbell, in joyous expression that the power of David’s genius is best seen. But Moses excels in solemn grandeur and majesty. The Psalm in which David touches the highest sublime caught its inspiration from the ancient poet-lawgiver, and opens with his morning chant of the desert: Psalms 68:0.
There are brief snatches of poetry throughout the book of Genesis. The blessing of Jacob is a prophetic ode; but this is the earliest lyric in literature. It seems, however, probable that there were poets of the sojourn who sang the praise of EL SHADDAI, GOD ALMIGHTY, in Egypt, whose hymns have never reached us; for this magnificent poem could hardly be the first flower of the lyric literature of the nation.
( 2.) The characteristics of Hebrew poetry will more properly receive attention in the Introduction to the Book of Psalms; and here we simply remark that, as Lowth has long ago shown, it is a waste of time and effort to attempt here the application of the rules of metre which have been drawn from the Grecian and Roman models. Rhyme, measure, regularity in accents, in number, and quantity, are not here to be found. Parallelism is the special characteristic of the form of Hebrew poetry. This consists simply in correspondences of sound or sense between successive lines, phrases, or words, so that the sentiments are reinforced by repetition, comparison, and contrast. Yet while the same sentiment is poured forth again and again, as in successive waves, there is great conciseness and vigour in the separate expressions. It is impossible to do justice to this conciseness in translation, although our Anglo-Saxon compares well with the Hebrew in this characteristic. No great poem can be adequately translated, since form is essential in poetry; but the Hebrew poetry appears at a special disadvantage in another language, since it is made up so largely of monosyllables and dissyllables, which explode like volcanic bursts or break like waves upon a rock. The sonorous gutturals and aspirates are broken into feeble fragments in translation, and the terse phrase or word, which strikes like a thunderbolt, is attenuated into a limping line. Every great poem must be read in the original language to be appreciated; and the poetry of Moses and David will amply repay any man of taste for the acquisition of Hebrew.
( 3.) The three criteria of Milton can be well applied to the Song of Moses. It is simple, sensuous, passionate: simple, for the words are transparent to the sentiments, which appeal to elemental and universal feelings; sensuous, for the imagery flashes the ideas to the soul through the senses; passionate, for every word is a flame. But, above all, religion is its inspiration. First and midst and last is JEHOVAH. Not Moses, not Israel, but JEHOVAH is the “hero of war.” Exodus 15:3. I will sing to Jehovah! is the proem; Sing to Jehovah! is the perpetual refrain; and the grand chorus bursts from the great host at last, JEHOVAH SHALL REIGN FOR EVER AND EVER!
This song may be analyzed into seven divisions: five stanzas or strains, a chorus, which with a slight change is also the proem or introductory strain, and the grand chorus. The men probably chanted the successive strains, Miriam and the women responding in the chorus with voice and timbrel, and all uniting in the grand chorus.
The proem gives the theme the glory of Jehovah in the destruction of the Egyptians. The five strains present the theme in five aspects, or reach it by five different paths of association: (1,) by extolling the might of Jehovah; (2,) the same in apostrophe; (3,) by triumphing over enemies; (4,) by triumphing over heathen gods; (5,) by prophesying future victories. Each of the first four strains closes by relating in different tropes and epithets the Red Sea overthrow, and the fifth terminates appropriately in the rest of Canaan. It will be noticed that the first strain is descriptive and in the third person; but, as the bard’s spirit rises, the second strain mounts into apostrophe, which is maintained to the end. Thus the ode rolls on in five successive waves, each returning in the refrain, and all rolling up together in the grand final chorus.
SONG OF MOSES AND MIRIAM, Exodus 15:1-21.
1. Most glorious That is, perhaps, as well as our English can do with the terse, alliterative גאה גאח , which swelled like a thousand trumpets in every repetition of the chorus .
The horse and his rider To be taken collectively, cavalry and chariotry .
2-5. First strain .
JAH A poetic abbreviation of JAHVEH, restricted in use to the higher kinds of poetry, and found often in compound names, as Yirm’jah, (Jeremiah;) also in certain formulas, as Hallelu-jah, (Praise ye Jah . )
This is my God A gesture here directs the hearer heavenward .
The God of my father Father is taken collectively, bringing up to view the patriarchs, the covenants made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob . It was as their God that Jehovah spoke to Moses from the burning bramble . This is a double strain, of two quatrains, or four-line stanzas . Parallelisms of thought and expression, such as are described in the Introduction, will be noticed in the first three lines of the first quatrain, the fourth line proclaiming in simple grandeur JEHOVAH as the hero of this victory . So in the second quatrain the lines of the first couplet are parallel with each other, and then those of the second also, in both instances rising in climax. Similar parallels are readily traced throughout the ode.
6-8. Second strain . Now the poet breaks out into a bold apostrophe to Jehovah . Here are seven lines in two couplets and one triplet, rising in climax from a declaration of his power to a description of its manifestation at the Red Sea, first in plain language, and then in tropes which steadily rise in fervour and boldness.
Blast of thy nostrils Sublime imagery for the “strong east wind” which God made to blow “all that night.”
Rise like a heap… stiffen The waters are poetically painted as solid masses, heaped up like walls. Habakkuk sang in a yet bolder strain: The deep lifted up his voice, (and) raised his hands on high. Habakkuk 3:10.
9, 10. Third strain . Now the enemy is personified, and his boasts and threats are dramatically pictured in six terse, strong phrases, all compressed into ten nervous words, which our translation has broken up into twenty-five! In successive flashes it reveals the Egyptian host, proud, confident, fierce, eager for their prey, dashing on their chase through the darkness into the cloven sea; and then the closing couplet paints once more the waters returning at the blast of Jehovah’s breath .
Like lead So Homer, Iliad, 24: 80: “She, (Iris,) like the lead, plunged to the abyss . ”
11-13. Fourth strain . Now Jehovah is compared with the imaginary gods of the heathen .
Who like thee among the gods, Jehovah This is four words in Hebrew, whose initials stand thus, מכבי , which, it is said, were inscribed as a motto upon the banner of the Maccabees, giving them their name . Ewald doubts this derivation, (since Maccabi is spelled with a ק ,) but it is poetically true, for here is the flame whence that family of heroes caught their fire . (See Apocrypha, Books of Maccabees .) So also the names Micha and Michael signify, “Who is like God?”
Holiness This is the distinguishing attribute of Jehovah among the imperfect and sinful deities created by man’s imagination .
Fearful in praises Fearful because of the awful judgments which call forth these praises . The first triplet of this strain is an apostrophe setting forth Jehovah’s attributes against those of the heathen gods; the second returns once more to the deliverance of his people, and gliding in the last line into the prophetic strain which follows . The Red Sea deliverance being the pledge of grander things in store for Israel, the inspired bard now turns away from the past, and is borne forth into the future on the long, final wave of the song .
14-17. Fifth strain . The Egyptians were conquered, but other foes yet lay between the Israelites and the promised inheritance . The Canaanites filled the land, and Philistia barred one gate of entrance, while Moab and Edom held the other . It is a noteworthy mark of the genuineness of this prophecy that Canaan and Phllistia, Edom and Moab, are all spoken of in the same terms; yet, while the Canaanites were exterminated, Israel passed by Edom, (Numbers 20:18, etc . ,) while Moab and Philistia were rival nations through all the centuries of the Hebrew commonwealth and monarchy . A poet would naturally have written thus at the time of the exodus, when he had simply the general revelation that Israel would triumph over all these enemies; but after the conquest of Canaan some distinction would naturally have been made between nations which were exterminated and those which never lost their independence .
The theme of this last stanza is introduced with wonderful boldness and vigour, hurling out the words without article or connective.
Palestina Palestuth, Philistia; the meaning of the word Palestine or Palestina throughout the Bible. This was the dwelling-place of the Philistines, the long, fertile plain, about fifteen miles wide, which skirts the Mediterranean from the coast to the foot-hills of the mountains of Judah, and now, as probably then, an enormous wheat field. The name was afterwards extended to the whole of Canaan. Note Acts 8:40.
Edom Idumea, Mount Seir, and the adjacent desert; the mountainous and desert country east of the Arabah, stretching from the head of the eastern gulf of the Red Sea to the Jordan valley; separated by the brook Zered from Moab, which skirts the eastern shore of the Dead Sea .
Till thy people pass through Through the desert to the Land of Promise . The strain closes with a beautiful parallelism and climax .
Thou shalt… plant them in the mountain Israel, like a fruitful tree, is to be planted in God’s mountain-land, God’s dwelling-place, God’s sanctuary, country, home, altar. ( Murphy.) How calm the close! How delightful to repose under the vine and fig tree, to rest in the peaceful home, to cling to the sacred altar, after this tempest of emotions! And then from the whole congregation bursts forth the grand chorus,
Jehovah shall reign for ever and ever And the hearts of the vast host are all lifted heavenward and left before the Throne.
The saints on “the sea of glass” will sing the “song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.” Revelation 15:3. The birth-song of ransomed Israel is, in its deeper meanings, the birth-song of the spiritual Israel of all ages of the great redemption from the darkness and death of sin. The profound and far-reaching spiritual significance of these Old Testament events will be fully felt when “God’s mystery is finished;”
when type and antitype, prophecy and history, law and gospel, will blend in one blaze of light. Christ is in all the Old Covenant as Moses is in all the New; the “Song of Moses” is the “Song of the Lamb.” “The word is nigh” us, though it comes to us across so many centuries, for it is a word from Jehovah, and not to Israel alone, but to mankind to me and thee.
19. This verse is not a part of the song, but repeats the incident that was its occasion .
20. Miriam the prophetess Miriam, or Mariam, the Greek and Latin Maria, and the English Mary . Thus the Mother of our Lord bore the name of the prophetess of the Exodus, who is numbered by the prophet Micah (Micah 6:4) with Moses and Aaron as one of the deliverers of Israel .
Sister of Aaron The Scriptures nowhere speak of her marriage, and she seems to have held an independent position as sister of the high priest and of the leader of Israel . Josephus, however, says that she was the wife of Hur, and grandmother of the tabernacle architect, Bezaleel . ( Antiq . , 3: 2, § 4, and 6, § 1.)
Timbrels Tabrets, tabours, or tambourines. Probably this was the same instrument which is now used by the modern Egyptians a small, shallow drum, made by stretching a skin upon a hoop, about eleven inches in diameter. LANE says: “The hoop is overlaid with mother of pearl, tortoise shell, white bone or ivory, both without and within, and has ten double circular plates of brass attached to it.… It is held by the left or right hand, and beaten with the fingers of that hand, and by the other hand: the fingers of the hand which holds the instrument, striking only near the hoop, produce higher sounds than the other hand, which strikes in the center.” Modern Egypt, ii, p. 76. See, also, notes on 1 Samuel 10:5, and 2 Samuel 6:5.
Dances Some render the word guitars .
21. Miriam answered That is, she led in these words the chorus or refrain . See on Exodus 15:1.
Here closes the first division of the Book of Exodus. Israel has now gone forth, and, with the Sea behind and the Desert before, begins her career as a NATION.
MARCH TO MARAH AND ELIM, Exodus 15:22-27.
22. And they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water The springs regulate the movements and fix the halting places of the caravans now as in the time of Moses, and it is probable that the first resting-place of Israel after the passage of the Red Sea was the oasis which the Arabs call Ayun Musa, the “Springs of Moses,” two miles from the shore, and about six hours’ travel from Suez . There Robinson found seven fountains, one of massive ancient masonry; yet previous travellers describe many more, some mentioning twenty. The water is dark coloured and brackish, depositing a hard, calcareous sediment as it rises, which forms mounds around the springs, over which the water flows into the sands and disappears. About twenty palm bushes now grow around the springs, and there is a small patch of grain and a vegetable garden cultivated by people from Suez. There are fragments of tiles and pottery, indicating that there were once habitations near these springs. It was probably from this spot that Israel started on the three days’ journey in the wilderness of Shur.
Exodus 15:22-27 . INTRODUCTORY .
DIVINE ADOPTION OF ISRAEL. Exodus 15:22 to Exodus 40:38.
1. PREPARATORY PERIOD.
March from the Red Sea to Sinai. First Contact with Friends and Foes in the Desert. Exodus 15:22 to Exodus 18:27 .
The Wilderness of Shur. Shur signifies a wall, and is certainly perfectly applicable to the long, white, flat-topped limestone wall of the Jebel (Mountain) or Rahah, which now stretched along the left flank of the host of Israel as they faced towards Sinai. This mountain range ran southeast, far beyond the limit of their vision, thus giving name and character to the wilderness, which is here an undulating gravelly plain, twelve to fifteen miles wide between this white wall and the blue waters of the Gulf of Suez. It is also called “the wilderness of Etham,” in Numbers 33:8, from the station Etham, in the edge of the wilderness, near the head of the Gulf, where Israel encamped before the passage of the Sea. Exodus 13:20.
Israel is now fairly in the “wilderness,” and we therefore give here a general idea of the country in which they spent the ensuing forty years, gathered from the observations of recent travellers, and the Report of the “Sinai Survey Expedition” of 1868-69.
The Mountain of the Law, or the Sinai of Exodus, is a peak of the great cluster of naked, steep, granite mountains in the southern part of the triangular peninsula of Sinai, which lies like a wedge between the Gulfs of Suez and Akabah. The apex of this triangle is at Ras (Cape) Mohammed, which stretches on the south into the Red Sea, and its base lying along the twenty-ninth parallel of north latitude; and it measures about one hundred and ninety miles along the Gulf of Suez, one hundred and thirty miles along the Gulf of Akabah, and one hundred and fifty miles from gulf to gulf. North of the Sinai peninsula is the desert of et Tih, an arid limestone table-land, with isolated mountain groups, which rise above plains of gravel, sand, and flint. This plateau is bounded generally by steep, flat-topped cliffs, and it projects wedge-wise into the Sinai desert on the south, and on the northeast joins the plateau of the Negeb, or “South Country” of Palestine. The Tih table-land is a fearful waste, almost wholly waterless; the valleys or wadies, along which the water runs in the wet season, marking the white or gray gravel with scanty lines of “sickly green.” The white range of cliffs which forms the western wall of this plateau of the Tih is called Jebel (Mount) Rahah on the north, and Jebel et Tih on the south; and it was along this wall, as seen above, that the Israelites commenced their desert march, the desert of Shur or Etham being the narrow strip between the mountains of Shur and the Gulf. Between the granitic cluster of Sinai and the southern limestone escarpment of the Tih is a broad belt of low sandstone hills, reaching nearly from shore to shore. These hills have flat tabular summits, and are often most fantastic in shape, and coloured gorgeously in various shades of yellow and red. Among these hills are broad, undulating plains, the chief of which is the Debbet er Ramleh, or Sandy Plain, which skirts the southern wall of et Tih. This sandstone formation contains many rich veins of iron, copper, and turquoise, which were worked by the ancient Egyptians on an extensive scale. At Maghareh and Surabit el Kadim, in this district, are found hieroglyphic tablets recording the names of the kings under whose auspices these mining operations were carried on. At the latter place are the ruins of two temples, one of hewn stone, the other excavated in the rock, and inscriptions which show, according to the translation of Lepsius, that these temples were constructed for the use of the miners and the troops stationed there for their protection. These inscriptions range in date from the third Memphitic dynasty, (about 2,500 B.C.,) to Rameses IV. of the twentieth dynasty, (about 1200 B.C.) Cheops, or Shufer, the builder of the Great Pyramid, has a tablet here. Here are also numerous evidences of immense smelting operations, piles of slag and remains of furnaces, which show that vast quantities of fuel must have been consumed here by the ancient Egyptians. Palmer and others hence infer that the country was once much more plentifully supplied with vegetation, and, therefore, had a more copious rainfall than now. ( Desert of the Exodus, i, p. 235.)
The mountains of Sinai are a “rugged, tumbled chaos” of dark granite, variegated porphyries, and mica schist, with veins of green stone and variously shaded feldspar, often displaying a great variety of brilliant tints in the bright sun under the clear desert sky. There are three principal groups of these mountains: the central group of Jebel Musa, (Mount of Moses,) of which Mount St. Katharine is the highest peak, and the crown of the peninsula, standing seven thousand three hundred and sixty-three feet above the sea level; Serbal, whose smooth granite dome rises on the northwest; and Um Shomer, which lifts its jagged peaks in the southeast. There is a strip of broad gravelly plain called el Ga’ah, (or el Ka’a,) “the Plain,” which runs down along the Gulf of Suez between the mountains and the sea, and a narrower strip of a similar character along the Gulf of Akabah, which disappears here and there as the mountain spurs come down to the water. With the exception of the Debbet er Ramleh, or Sandy Plain, above mentioned, the plains and valleys are usually floored with gravel, dark in the granitic districts, and white and black in the limestone regions. The wadies, or dry rivers as they are sometimes called, are the water-courses of the desert, along which the torrents from the mountains find their way to the sea. These are the permanent natural roads through the mountains. Most of them are dry for the greater part of the year, and in the wet season destructive floods sweep through them, tearing out the scanty soil where it is not fastened down by large shrubs or trees, and often scattering boulders from the craggy walls along their course. These wadies must always have determined the lines of travel, for it is impossible to pass the mountains except in their beds; and in these only is there water and herbage for man and beast. It is this fact that makes it possible to determine with a high degree of certainty the route of the Israelites through these mountains; at least, we can be sure that we know all the alternatives that were before them in choosing their course.
On leaving the white glare of the desert plain, and rising through the mountain passes into the granite region, the traveller finds a cool, genial climate and refreshing breezes. A few perennial streams flow down from the mountains, along which are considerable tracts of vegetation. The trees are chiefly the acacia, or shittah, from which distils the gum arabic of commerce; the tamarisk, with its long feathery leaves and manna-dropping twigs; and the juniper, or broom, “with its high canopy and white blossoms;” while the palm is scattered along the more fertile wadies, and stands in fine groves at Tor and Feiran. The bright green caper plant often hangs along the face of the crags, and here and there are olive groves, or scattered olive trees, the relics of ancient monkish plantations. Game is occasionally found in the mountains the ibex, or wild goat of Scripture, the gazelle, and the hare, while more rarely partridges and quails are seen. The productiveness of these fertile spots would be vastly increased by cultivation; then what are now bare rocks or gravelly torrent beds would be turned into gardens. It is well known that the amount of rain which falls upon a district depends to a high degree upon the evaporating surfaces furnished by the forests; and the forests of this region have for centuries been diminishing, having been destroyed, firstly, for fuel, as shown above, in the mining operations of successive centuries; and, secondly, for the manufacture of charcoal, which is the chief and almost sole export of the peninsula. These facts make it probable that this desert, at the time of the Exodus, was capable of sustaining quite a large population, and of furnishing water and pasturage to their cattle and flocks.
The desert of the Tih is much more barren. It is drained by the Wady el Arish, or “river of Egypt,” into the Mediterranean; but it is a white wilderness of chalk and limestone, yet sprinkled over with a brown, dry herbage, which bursts into a sudden and transitory green after the autumnal rains. Yet the Tih bears traces of ancient, perhaps pre-historic, inhabitants, in the stone cairns and fenced inclosures which were reared by some primeval pastoral people. In the “South Country” of the Pentateuch and Joshua, northeast of the Tih plateau, are found deep ancient wells, remains of ruined cities, gardens, and vineyards; and also abundant traces of roads, which were once the pathways of civilization. It was through the arid and dreary Tih that Jacob went down into Egypt; and through the same wilderness Joseph and Mary fled with the infant Jesus.
23. Marah Bitterness, a place of bitter or brackish water . This does not enable us to locate the station, since all the springs of the region are saltish . Since the time of Burckhardt Marah has been generally identified with Hawwara, a little over forty miles, or about three days’ journey, from Ayun Musa, and the first spring after leaving that station. But whether Marah be here, or five miles farther on, as Lepsius supposes, at Gharandel, or three miles back, at Wady Amarah, is of comparatively little moment, seeing that we certainly know that all of these spots are on the track of the great host of Israel as they moved towards Mount Sinai. Between the long white mountain wall of er-Rahah on their left, and the blue Red Sea waters on their right, they moved southeasterly across a great whitish gravelly plain, at times amid sand mounds and low, flat, barren hills of limestone and chalk, sparkling now and then with crystals of gypsum, and at other times crossing wadies, or dry water-courses, running from the mountain range across their course, and fringed occasionally with dwarf palms, stunted tamarisks, shrubby broom, and other hardy plants of the desert. There was no shade, and the sun’s rays were reflected hot and dazzling from the white hills and plains. Across the sea on their right the dark form of the promontory of Attaka reminded them of the Egypt that they had left. Accustomed all their lives to the sweet Nile water, which the Egyptians deem unsurpassed in the world, they had now for three days been drinking from their water-skins of the supply laid in at the last station, which was most likely Ayun Musa, anticipating the fountains, of which Moses had probably told them, at this oasis. And now they find the springs so bitter that they cannot drink of them.
Hawwara is now a spring but about eight feet across, within a calcareous mound which has been formed from its deposits. Two stunted palm trees grow near it, affording the weary traveller a delicious shade, and a number of ghurkud bushes straggle around it low thorny shrubs, bearing small juicy berries, much like our barberry. Murray says, “Should the thirsty traveller hasten forward now to drink at the fountain, his Arabs will restrain him by the cry, Murr! murr! ‘Bitter! bitter!’” The water is strongly impregnated with salt and alum, and yet it is frequently quite drinkable. Holland says it is often more palatable than that which has been brought down in skins from Suez.
24. Murmured against Moses Burckhardt says that nothing is more common than to hear such complaints from Egyptian peasants and servants who travel in the Arabian deserts. Like the Israelites, they everywhere mourn for the sweet water of their native land. These murmurings were unbelieving and ungrateful, especially as poured out upon Moses, their deliverer; but in judging their sin we are to remember the magnitude of their trial. Nothing would be more quickly or more keenly felt by such a mingled host in the heat and glare of the desert than a lack of water, especially by a people who had always had an abundance of the most drinkable water in the world.
25. The Lord showed him a tree Many have supposed that this tree had sweetening properties, possibly neutralizing the salts which made the water undrinkable . Some have suggested that Moses used the ghurkud berries, above mentioned, for this purpose . But it was not yet time for this berry, which ripens in June, while the Israelites were at Marah in April; and if there were any shrub or tree in the desert possessing natural properties which would make these bitter, brackish springs drinkable, it is not at all probable that so valuable a fact would be unknown to the natives of the region; yet diligent inquiries made by the most intelligent travellers have failed to find any such knowledge among the Bedouins .
It is most probable that the wood had no more healing virtue than the clay which Jesus applied to the eyes of the blind man, or the Jordan waters which cleansed the leprosy of Naaman. The tree was but the appropriate means to call forth faith. Casting it into the waters was an exercise and manifestation of faith. And this was an instructive “sign” as well as a miracle. The first judgment-stroke upon Egypt made the sweet, wholesome Nile waters loathsome, and the first saving miracle in the desert made sweet the bitter Marah. Luther’s typical application is excellent. “Moses causes man to murmur by the terrors of the law, and thus pains him with bitterness, so that he longs for help; and then, when the Holy Spirit comes, at once it [the law] is made sweet. Now this tree of life is the Gospel, the word of the grace, the mercy, and goodness of God. When the Gospel is plunged into the law, and into the knowledge of sin which the law produces, and when it touches a heart in which the law has caused sadness, anxiety, terror, and confusion, it is at once delightful to the taste.”
For them (or, him, Israel being personified as one man) a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them (or, him; the pronoun is grammatically singular) The statute or law, and the ordinance or judgment, follows in the next verse.
26. For I am the Lord that healeth thee For I, JEHOVAH, am thy Healer, Physician . This first trial and miracle of the desert is made the occasion of great spiritual lessons, such as may ever come from great trials . They had seen Egypt’s blessings turned to curses because of the sins of the Egyptians, and the same God would not only save them from these dreadful judgments, but would turn all life’s bitterness to sweetness if they would but keep his law . Jehovah the Physician can heal all the Marahs of life if man but obeys and submits, whether he comprehends God’s dealings or not. Here, also, they were clearly taught that continued obedience was essential to their continued election as God’s covenant people. They were not to be presumptuous because of the wonderful manifestations in Egypt and at the Red Sea. If they sinned like the Egyptians they would also be punished like the Egyptians. But the great lesson here emphatically impressed is, that it is not ritual or outward obedience of any kind not the offering of sacrifices or of bodily services merely but the doing that which is right in his sight the sacrifice of the heart, the offering of the self, that Jehovah demands. Jeremiah, centuries afterwards, refers to this transaction and this solemn spiritual lesson thus: “For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices: but this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you.” Jeremiah 7:22-23. This “statute and ordinance” coming just before the Levitical economy just before the first altar was reared in the wilderness is most valuable as setting forth the real nature and spirit of the Levitical ordinances.
27. Elim Trees. Here were palm trees and waters, or springs, around which they encamped, (rested and refreshed themselves,) probably for from two to three weeks, since it was just a month from the time of their leaving Rameses that they broke up from Elim . Exodus 16:1. As the next encampment was “by the Red Sea,” according to the itinerary in Numbers xxxiii, which gives a fuller catalogue of the stations, it is plain that Elim took them back from the shore, within sight of which they had been moving . Just below Hawwarah, and surrounding three sides of Jebel ( Mount) Hammam, there are several fertile wadies, through and across which their route now led them, which perfectly met their requirement. Jebel Hammam is a bare, picturesque cliff of flinty limestone, warm sulphur springs rising from its northern base, which comes down to the Sea in steep bluffs five miles long, thus cutting off the plain already described as the “Wilderness of Shur,” and compelling caravans from Suez to go round and over its northern shoulder in order to reach the plain which skirts the Sea below the Mount, and which we suppose to be the “Desert of Sin.” Exodus 16:1. The Israelites were probably spread through all these wadies around Mount Hammam, while the headquarters of the host were encamped where there were wells corresponding in number to the tribes, and where there was a grove of palms corresponding to the tribal families the Wady Gharandel . Gharandel is the principal halting place and the most fertile spot between Suez and Sinai; Wady Feiran alone comparing with it in richness and loveliness . It is in some places nearly a mile broad, its running brook fringed with trees, while water can be anywhere found by digging a little depth . “Here are the wild palms,” says Stanley, “successors of the threescore and ten. Not like those of Egypt or of pictures, but either dwarf, that is, trunkless, or else with savage, hairy trunks, and branches all dishevelled. Then there are the feathery tamarisks, here assuming gnarled boughs and hoary heads; the wild acacia; a tangled, spreading tree, which shoots out its gay foliage and blue blossoms over the desert.” Sinai and Pal., p. 65. Here, too, the bright green grass is most refreshing to the eye wearied by the hot, white desert, but it is coarse and rough to the touch. Tischendorf says, “This is a glorious oasis… enclosed like a jewel between the chalky cliffs. We reposed for a long time in the grass, which was as tall as ourselves; tamarisks and dwarf palms stretched like a garland from east to west.” (Quoted by Kurtz.)
The wadies which succeed Gharandel resemble it somewhat in character, but are much inferior in fertility, although Useit once surpassed it in its palm-grove. Through these valleys we suppose the Israelitish camp to have spread, round the northern shoulder of Jebel Hammam, perhaps into Wady Taiyebeh, a beautiful valley, winding between steep cliffs of red sandstone, flinty chalk, and variegated conglomerates, down to the plain el Murkha, which skirts the Sea. When they left Elim they encamped at the mouth of the wady, and scattered along this plain, “by the Red Sea.”
Numbers 33:10. As they descended the mountain pass, between the high steep walls, then as now curtained here and there with the green, creeping caper, and painted, as they neared the Sea, with bright bands of red, and brown, and black as they poured down into the plain and spread along the shelly beach they caught one more view of the distant hills of Egypt across the blue waters that had swallowed up the chariots and horses of Pharaoh.
From Gharandel to the Sea at Ras (Cape) Zelinea is, by this route, about eight hours’ travel, an easy day’s journey for the men of Israel after their long rest at Elim, but quite long for the remainder of the host, who, it is likely, had generally to come only from Useit, or the upper part of Taiyebeh. Palmer, who has thoroughly surveyed all these wadies, decides that Taiyebeh is the only valley by which they could have descended to the Sea.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Exodus 15". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26