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the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 5

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary




The Intercession and Judgment. Chaps. 5-13.

Verse 1


1. The era of preparation ends, and the first act of the struggle begins . Moses and Aaron open their mission to Pharaoh . Thus saith Jehovah, God of Israel, so the phrase should be rendered, since “Jehovah” is the proper name, and not the compound word “Lord God,” as the Authorized Version would indicate. Moses and Aaron do not at first demand national independence. It is a far more moderate request to be permitted to sacrifice according to the command of Jehovah. As all nations had their forms of worship, and as religious claims were everywhere acknowledged to be paramount, this was no unreasonable petition, especially in Egypt, where religious festivals and processions were a most familiar pageant. At the same time it contained the core principle of Israel’s mission recognition of Jehovah. See on Exodus 3:18-19. It is a strange and irreverent misconception that has led some interpreters to consider this a deceptive request.

Verse 2

2. Who is Jehovah? It is possible that Pharaoh had never heard the name, for hitherto it had not been much used among the Hebrews in Egypt . At least he refuses to recognise Jehovah’s authority .

Verse 3

3. The God of the Hebrews The Israelites generally called themselves Hebrews when conferring with strangers, and were so called by other nations . Thus their reply is explanatory . Jehovah, whom they styled God of Israel, Pharaoh would style God of the Hebrews .

Verse 4

4. Wherefore do ye Rather, Wherefore make ye the people cease from their work, by this conference with them and agitation? Then to the elders of Israel, who stood with Moses and Aaron, he says, Get you unto your burdens.

Verses 6-9

6-9. Increase of the oppression is the fierce and despotic reply to their request . Two grades of officers are now mentioned in addition to the sarim, or Egyptian superintendents, mentioned Exodus 1:11, namely, the (Egyptian) overseers rendered taskmasters and (Hebrew) scribes, ( shoterim,) rendered officers. These Hebrew shoterim, or scribes, were so called because of the great amount of writing which the Egyptian method of supervision required. Writing was used as much in the ancient Egyptian business as it is in the American business of to-day. Wilkinson relates that in the accounts which the overseers of shepherds were required to present to the steward’s scribes, “Every egg was noted and entered, with the chickens and goslings. And, in order to prevent any connivance, or a question respecting the accuracy of a report, two scribes received it from the superintendent at the same moment. Every thing was done in writing. Bureaucracy was as consequential in Egypt as in modern Austria or France. Scribes were required, on every occasion, to settle public or private questions; no bargain of consequence was made without the voucher of a written document.… They would have been in an agony of mind to see us so careless and so duped in many of our railway and other speculations.” Egyptian deeds and conveyances were documents most formidable for length, and bristled with circumlocution and circumstantiality enough to gladden the heart of a modern lawyer.

The following cut, from a Theban monument, represents a superintendent of an estate giving an account of stock to two scribes.

It will thus be seen how thoroughly the Hebrews were trained in writing during their Egyptian sojourn, and were thus providentially qualified to prepare and preserve the most valuable documents in the world. Yet we are not to think of them as learning the art in Egypt, for, as Ewald shows, ( Hist. Israel, i, p. 51,) this great art was known in the alphabetic form among the Shemitic nations before the time of Moses.

Verse 11

11. Get you straw For the sun-baked bricks, which were made of Nile mud mixed with cut straw, as is seen in specimens still preserved . Similar oppression and a like unreasonable exaction are on record in an Egyptian papyrus of the nineteenth dynasty, wherein the writer complains, “I have no one to help me in making bricks, no straw . ”

Verse 12

12. To gather stubble instead of straw Literally, for the straw . The Egyptians cut the grain first below the ear, leaving a long stubble, which was chopped into straw . The Israelites were now scattered over all the grain fields to gather stubble for themselves .

Click image for full-size version

The cut on the next page shows an Egyptian field, with the stubble standing in a portion of it as the reapers have left it, and gives another view of the scribes.

Verses 15-16

15, 16. The Hebrew scribes come to Pharaoh and complain that they are beaten for not performing an impossible task . The monuments also give us pictures of labourers working under the stick, showing that it was customary for the superintendents to stimulate by blows . There is a papyrus, translated by M . Chabas, which relates the punishment of twelve labourers who failed to make up the required “tale of bricks . ” The Egyptians had much confidence in the virtue of corporeal punishment .

Verses 20-21

20, 21. The bastinadoed shoterim have now lost all faith in Moses and Aaron, for they feel that the yoke that was to have been broken is only tightened . They forget that this is exactly what might have been expected from Jehovah’s prediction . Exodus 3:19-20.

Verses 22-23

22, 23. Moses, too, smarting under the accusations of his brethren, and also wounded by sympathy for their increased sufferings, returns to Jehovah with passionate entreaty for an explanation of his providence . There is a characteristic vehemence an almost irreverent impetuosity in his prayer, most natural to the man, and yet betraying a weakness which any writer of the Jewish ages would have been glad to hide . Only Moses could have written this, and only inspired man could write with such unworldly objectivity of himself .

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Exodus 5". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/exodus-5.html. 1874-1909.
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