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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Exodus

- Exodus

by Daniel Whedon

EXODUS

INTRODUCTION.

IN the Book of Genesis, or Generations, we have a history of origins, preparing the way for this history of the birth and training of the Covenant People. The Book of Exodus is thus a continuation of the preceding narrative, being joined to it by a simple connective particle; and yet it is a distinct regular treatise, as may be seen by a glance at the Plan and Table of Contents which follow. Its authenticity and genuineness are discussed in the general Introduction to the Pentateuch. There are, however, certain internal marks of credibility peculiar to this book, which it is well to notice here. It claims to be the work of Moses, an Egyptian Hebrew, who received his religion from the Hebrew patriarchs, and yet was educated in the court of the Pharaohs. Such a man must have had minute acquaintance with the language, manners, religion, art and science of Egypt, and also, of course, with its climate, geography, and natural productions. Such knowledge must everywhere appear in such a work as this, if genuine.

The extensive and thorough researches of travellers for the last three quarters of a century, and especially the wonderful discoveries of Young and Champollion, which unlocked the immense volumes of the Egyptian monuments, so that they are now being deciphered line by line, enable us to compare more and more closely day by day the books of Moses with the description of the Egypt of his time as it was written by the Egyptians themselves. Thus the vast folios of the French savants, of Rosellini and of Lepsius, and the more recent and yet unfinished works of De Rouge and Mariette, are perpetual commentaries upon the book of Exodus. We can but indicate a few points of comparison and of internal evidence.

1. REFERENCES TO GEOGRAPHY. Every day reveals more and more clearly the accuracy of the knowledge which the author of Exodus possessed concerning the geography of Egypt, the Red Sea coast, and the Desert of Sinai. The Egypt of Exodus is the Nile-land of history and of the monuments. Every intelligent traveller, whatever his religious belief, regards the Book of Exodus as the indispensable guidebook in the wilderness of Sinai. The history of the book is indissolubly bound to its geography; and although many of the sites which it mentions are still unidentified, yet in the desert mounds and ruins, springs, palm clusters and wadies, and in the floating Bedouin traditions, every traveller is seeking after the Bible names, and finding fresh proofs of the geographical accuracy of Exodus.

2. REFERENCES TO CLIMATOLOGY AND NATURAL HISTORY. The Nile is Egypt’s rain, and Moses describes the inhabitants as wholly dependent upon the river for drink, keeping its water in reservoirs and cisterns, and sorely distressed when it was tainted. (See notes on the first plague, chap. 7.) The narrative of the plagues shows a minute acquaintance with the climate, insects, reptiles, domestic animals, and cultivated grains, peculiar to Egypt.

So the account of the tabernacle shows acquaintance with the productions of the Desert. The boards of the sanctuary are made not of cedar or cypress, as they would have been in Palestine, but of the desert shittah, or acacia, and it was covered with the skins of the tachash, the seal or the halicore of the Red Sea. Mr. Holland measured acacia trees in the Desert nine feet in circumference, and the Bedouins make sandals of the skin of the halicore.

It has been strongly objected, by Colenso and others, that the Desert of Sinai never could have sustained two millions of people, with their cattle, for forty years. But this is also the precise statement of our narrative; which accordingly relates the specially providential or miraculous provisions of the manna, the quails, and the water from the rock of Horeb. It is particularly and repeatedly declared that ordinary natural means were not sufficient to sustain them. It is not specially stated that pasturage was providentially or supernaturally provided for the cattle, but we are at liberty to suppose this, if needful, for the greater miracle of the manna includes lesser ones like this. Colenso’s difficulties arise wholly from attempting to account for what is avowedly supernatural upon natural causes, and of course he finds these difficulties insuperable.

Yet it is most probable that there was not any thing supernatural in providing pasturage for the cattle of Israel. The monuments and the most recent explorations of travellers show conclusively that the Desert did once sustain a great population. Long before the time of Moses there were permanent Egyptian settlements in this desert, around the copper, iron, and turqouise mines of Maghara and Sarabit-el-Khadim, where troops, officered by men of high rank, were garrisoned, and who have left their record in the beautiful bas-reliefs of Wady Maghara. These inscriptions boast of Egyptian victories over the warriors of the Peninsula, showing that they were then formidable enough in numbers and in valour to contest the supremacy of these deserts and mountains. Rich veins of iron, copper, and turquoise are now found in that vicinity; and ancient slag heaps, as well as remnants of smelting furnaces, are met with in many parts of the Peninsula. (Palmer’s Desert of the Exodus, chaps. 2:10.)

Palmer, of the “Sinai Survey Expedition,” describes extensive and massive foundations and walls of ruined cities deep, finely constructed wells walled fields and traces of terraced gardens where now are arid wastes. Hundreds of monastic gardens and orchards were once scattered through the Sinai mountains. The causes of these great changes have also been largely, if not wholly, discovered. The reckless destruction of the forest has diminished the rainfall, and the contemptuous neglect of all cultivation on the part of the inhabitants has left the soil to be stripped from the hillsides and carried down the rocky wadies by the torrents which are produced by every shower, which else might be clothing these barren valleys with blooming gardens. The rich black soil, palm groves, and tamarisk thickets of Wady Feiran, and the convent gardens and orchards around Jebel Musa, show what cultivation might accomplish here. The wretched misgovernment of centuries, which has not only neglected but wasted the natural resources, even levying upon the country a tribute of charcoal which annually diminishes the scanty stock of timber, and the total neglect of irrigation and agriculture, have been steadily deteriorating the country for more than two thousand years. The same causes have operated in this desert which have changed Palestine from a “land of milk and honey” to the bare and barren country which the Christian traveller visits to-day. See note on Exodus 15:22.

In reading the narrative of the desert sojourn we are not to consider the people of Israel as constantly in motion. The greater part of the forty years they spent at fertile halting places in the desert wadies, where they scattered over several square miles for pasturage; and when they moved to another camping place it is probable that the cattle carried the water for their own use in leathern bottles or sacks, as Baker tells us that the cattle in the Abyssinian deserts do to-day. Holland, who has four times visited the Peninsula, and wandered over it for months on foot, sees no difficulty in finding pasturage for the flocks of the Israelites, and says that “it is wonderful how apparent difficulties melt away as one’s acquaintance with the country increases.” SMITH’S Dict., Am. Ed., ( Appendix.)

3. REFERENCES TO LANGUAGE. Egyptian scholars have shown that the author of Exodus was acquainted with the Egyptian language, from his peculiar use of words. In a brief paragraph we can instance but a few among a multitude of examples which may be gathered from consulting Birch’s Egyptian Lexicon, in the last volume of “Egypt’s Place in Universal History,” by Baron Bunsen. Canon Cook calls attention to the most noticeable fact, that in that portion of Exodus which treats especially of Egyptian affairs words are constantly used which are either of Egyptian origin or are common to Hebrew and Egyptian.

There is a series of examples in the description of the “ark of bulrushes,” (Exodus 2:3,) which will illustrate this argument .

תבה ( tbh,) “ark,” Egyptian, teb, Septuagint, thibe, is a common Egyptian word meaning “chest,” “coffer,” or “cradle . ” This word occurs twenty-seven times in the books of Moses, and nowhere else. It has no Shemitic root or equivalent.

גמא , “bulrush,” papyrus, is, according to Brugsch, the Egyptian kam, and it is significant that it is used by Isaiah to describe “the habitation of dragons,” lairs of the crocodiles of the Nile, (Isaiah 35:7,) and the vessels of the Upper-Nile Ethiopian ambassadors, (Isaiah 18:2,) while it nowhere else occurs, except in one passage of Job .

חמר ( chmr,) verb and noun, meaning daub, slime, has the same letters, although reversed, as the Egyptian word of the same meaning, mrch .

זפת ( zft,) “pitch,” is the common Egyptian sft.

סופ ( suph,) “flags,” is the hieroglyphic tufi, the Coptic and modern Egyptian zufi.

יאר ( ior,) “river,” is the Egyptian ior or aur, as read on the Rosetta stone; and “by the river’s brink,” or “lip,” is the exact Egyptian idiom as given in the famous “Funeral Ritual . ” In a papyrus of the nineteenth dynasty we read, “I sat down upon the lip of the river . ” All these Egyptian words and idioms occurring in this single verse, which describes the exposure of the infant Moses in the Nile, convey an irresistible impression that they were written by one born and bred in Egypt.

A long list of similar words could easily be furnished, and we instance especially the proper names Moses, Pharaoh, Pithom, and Rameses, on which see the notes; and the common nouns sare missim, “taskmasters,” lords of tribute; seneh, “bramble,” Egyptian, sheno; tebhen, “straw,” Egyptian, tebu; kin, “fly” or mosquito, Egyptian, ken, which means “plague;” pasach, “passover,” Egyptian, pesht.

Besides words of this character, which are virtually identical in the two languages, the author also uses many words which are not Shemitic in origin and can be traced to Egyptian roots. This verbal usage clearly shows the Egyptian training of the author of Exodus, and it is a usage which would not occur in the work of a writer trained in Palestine.

4. REFERENCES TO ART. The building of the treasure cities, the work among bricks, and the gathering of straw and stubble for this work, all receive abundant illustration from the Egyptian monuments. (See on Exodus v, and illustrations there from Wilkinson.) The temples, tombs, and palaces of Egypt have never been elsewhere equaled in vastness and massiveness, and immense multitudes of slaves were employed, as shown in the mural pictures, for transporting the granite, basalt, and sandstone from the distant quarries; in the manufacture of bricks, both sun-dried and kiln-burnt, which are as enduring as the stone; in cutting the canals and building the dykes which covered the land like a net-work; and in rearing these colossal monuments to the pride and power of the Pharaohs.

The architecture and furniture of the tabernacle are precisely what might have been expected from artists who had been trained in the Egyptian cities. As shown above, the materials were such as would have been used in the desert, and not after the settlement in Palestine. The arts of carving, of embroidery, of overlaying with gold, of the ornamentation of capitals, hangings and walls, with the representations of fruits and flowers, and with symbolic forms setting forth spiritual truths, were precisely the arts in which the Egyptians were most famous, as is abundantly illustrated in their palaces, tombs, and temples. Moreover, these were arts to which the Israelites never gave special attention after their settlement in Canaan, so that Solomon was obliged to send to Tyre for workmen to build and ornament his palace and temple. Alone among the famous nations of antiquity the Hebrews have left us hardly a trace of their architecture, and not a vestige of their painting or sculpture. Thus this sanctuary tent was not only just adapted to the nomad life of the desert sojourn, but we cannot well conceive of its origin under any other circumstances than those related in the book of Exodus.

5. REFERENCES TO CONTEMPORARY HISTORY. The exact epoch of the exode of Israel is as yet one of the unsettled questions, although more light daily gathers about it. The general harmony of this narrative with the history, religion, government, and manners of ancient Egypt is universally recognised, as is shown in the notes where occasion offers. But a closer harmony with any special period of Egyptian history we do not believe can as yet be found, although the time when this will be possible cannot be far distant. See Introduction to the History of the Plagues, chap. vii, and Concluding Note 1 to chap. 1. It will be seen that we have not entangled our exegesis with the historical theories of Poole, Wilkinson, Lepsius, or Ewald, (though inclining most to the last,) for the time to write dogmatically upon this subject has not yet come.

6. REFERENCES TO MOSES HIMSELF. The references to the great founder and lawgiver of Israel are worthy of a separate and careful study. They are such as could have been made by no man except Moses himself. Let the reader peruse the book, imagining it to be the work of a contemporary, such as Joshua or Eleazer, or of a Jew of a later age, such as Samuel, or a Levite of the times of the Kings, and this conviction will be felt at once. Moses, the founder and the father of the nation, the lawgiver and deliverer of Israel, was beloved and venerated by every Hebrew above all other human beings, as the greatest man of all time. What Israelite of that or of any age would have set down thus plainly and nakedly the failures, weaknesses, and sins of Moses? Who of his followers would thus have painted his stammering speech, his halting faith, his hasty wrath, the rebukes and punishments which fell upon him from Heaven? What scribe of the time of the Judges or Kings would thus have hidden Moses in his work overshadowed him with the Sinai cloud? Not thus do men write of their heroes, unless, indeed, they are lifted up by inspiration above human prejudices; but inspired men do not forge history and law, and this work is simply a forgery if it is not the work of Moses. It is clear that the author of Exodus did not know of the personal and historic greatness of Moses.

Only Moses, and the Moses here described as the slowly-fitted instrument of Jehovah, could thus have written of the lawgiver, founder, and father of Israel.

The theory of Ewald, Knobel, and others, that this body of history and law grew gradually from various documents in a later age, contradicts fundamental laws of human nature. Especially is it difficult to see how it can be held by men possessing the moral sense. It assumes that men who above all others worshipped, loved and trusted a God whom they believed to be holy, had yet no sense of truthfulness. It makes this book a solecism in literature and in history.

Our comment assumes the existence and influence of the supernatural. Not the unnatural, nor the contra-natural, but the supernatural, is assumed in the fact of revelation. Denial of this has logically led many able and learned writers to manifold theories and artifices of interpretation, some absurd and some dishonest, in order to bring all the phenomena of the Scriptures within the range of natural law. It is well for the reader to see that these manifold questions of interpretation are all virtually settled before the commentator begins his work, by the settlement of the previous question, whether the Creator of Nature is yet its Lord, using its laws to reveal himself in truths undiscoverable by Reason, but clear and convincing to Faith. So overwhelming is the evidence of the authenticity of this narrative that no objection worth attention would now arise from any quarter if the book did not contain accounts of supernatural events. In fact, all the real objections made to its authenticity and genuineness are found, when reduced to their lowest terms, to be a simple denial of the supernatural. While the critical keenness and learning of eminent Rationalists have done the truth great service by their attestation to the substantial verity of the narrative in Exodus, they have done no less a service by attesting as constantly, in the criticism of its details, to the fact that these are phenomena of history that cannot be accounted for on merely natural causes.

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Our comment assumes the existence and influence of the supernatural. Not the unnatural, nor the contra-natural, but the supernatural, is assumed in the fact of revelation. Denial of this has logically led many able and learned writers to manifold theories and artifices of interpretation, some absurd and some dishonest, in order to bring all the phenomena of the Scriptures within the range of natural law. It is well for the reader to see that these manifold questions of interpretation are all virtually settled before the commentator begins his work, by the settlement of the previous question, whether the Creator of Nature is yet its Lord, using its laws to reveal himself in truths undiscoverable by Reason, but clear and convincing to Faith. So overwhelming is the evidence of the authenticity of this narrative that no objection worth attention would now arise from any quarter if the book did not contain accounts of supernatural events. In fact, all the real objections made to its authenticity and genuineness are found, when reduced to their lowest terms, to be a simple denial of the supernatural. While the critical keenness and learning of eminent Rationalists have done the truth great service by their attestation to the substantial verity of the narrative in Exodus, they have done no less a service by attesting as constantly, in the criticism of its details, to the fact that these are phenomena of history that cannot be accounted for on merely natural causes.

PLAN AND CONTENTS OF EXODUS.

The Book of Exodus is a record of the deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, of their journey to Sinai, and of the covenant and legislation given at that sacred mountain. It is susceptible of analysis in several ways. We have (1) an account of the Bondage of Israel, and its intense persistence in spite of all the plagues which smote the land, because of the king’s refusal to let the people go. Chaps. 1-11. This is followed (2) by an account of the Redemption of Israel, as typified by the passover, realized in the journey out of Egypt, and celebrated in Moses’s triumphal song, (chaps. 12-15:21;) and (3) the Consecration of Israel, by means of the various events and discipline recorded in Exodus 15:22-27. Or one may recognize the two simple divisions of (1) the Exodus out of Egypt, (chaps. 1-18,) and (2) the Legislation at Sinai, (19-40.) We follow, however, the divisions and subdivisions prepared by the late Dr. Newhall, author of the commentary on the first seventeen chapters, and exhibited in the following outline:

Birth of the Nation of Israel, Chapters Exodus 1:1 to Exodus 15:21 .

I. PREPARATORY PERIOD.

(1.) Increase and Oppression of Israel, Exodus 1:2 .

Descendants of Israel, Exodus 1:1-6. Increase and Oppression of Israel, Exodus 1:7-22. Birth and Education of Moses, Exodus 2:1-10. Moses’s Failure and Flight into Midian, Exodus 2:11-22. Increased Oppression of Israel, Exodus 2:23-25.

(2.) Call and Commission of Moses, Exodus 3:1 to Exodus 4:31 .

Jehovah in the Burning Bramble, Exodus 3:1-6. Moses is Called, Exodus 3:7-10; and God Reveals the Memorial Name, Exodus 3:11-22. Moses Receives the Three Signs, Exodus 4:1-9. Moses Hesitates and is Rebuked, Exodus 4:10-17. The Return of Moses to Egypt, Exodus 4:18-31.

II. THE STRUGGLE.

(1.) The Intercession and Judgment, Exodus 5-13 .

The Intercession of Moses with Pharaoh, and the Result, Exodus 5:1-23.

(2.) The Ten Judgment Strokes, Exodus 6:1 to Exodus 12:30 .

Resumption of the Narrative, and Recapitulation, Exodus 6:23 to Exodus 7:7. The Ten Plagues, Exodus 7:8 to Exodus 12:36. Opening Contest with the Magicians, Exodus 7:10-13. First Plague Blood, Exodus 7:14-25. Second Plague Frogs, Exodus 8:1-15. Third Plague Lice, Exodus 8:16-19. Fourth Plague Swarms, (of Flies,) Exodus 8:20-32. Fifth Plague Murrain, Exodus 9:1-7. Sixth Plague Boils, Exodus 9:8-12. Seventh Plague The Hail, Exodus 9:13-35. Eighth Plague Locusts, Exodus 10:1-20. Ninth Plague Darkness, Exodus 10:21-29. Tenth Plague Predicted, Exodus 11:1-10. Institution of the Passover, and Covenant Consecration of Israel, Exodus 12:1-28. Tenth Judgment Stroke, Exodus 12:29-36. The Exode, Exodus 12:37-42. Additional Passover Regulations, Exodus 12:43-50. Promulgation of the Law of the First-born, and of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Exodus 13:1-16. March of the Israelites from Succoth to Etham, Exodus 13:17-22.

III. THE VICTORY.

Triumph over Egypt, Exodus 14:1 to Exodus 15:21 .

The Red Sea Deliverance, Exodus 14:1-31. The Triumphal Song of Moses and Miriam, Exodus 15:1-21.

Divine Adoption of Israel, Chapters Exodus 15:22 to Exodus 40:38 .

I. 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 .

March to Marah and Elim, Exodus 15:22-27. The Murmuring in the Desert of Sin, Exodus 16:1-3. Promise of Manna and Quails, Exodus 16:4-12. Quails and Manna Given, Exodus 16:13-21. The Sixth Day’s Manna, Exodus 16:22-31. An Omer of Manna laid up before Jehovah, Exodus 16:32-36. March to Rephidim; Want of Water, Exodus 17:1-7. Conflict with Amalek, Exodus 17:8-16. Jethro’s Visit to Moses, Exodus 18:1-27.

II. JEHOVAH REVEALED AS KING OF ISRAEL.

The Divine Glory and the Giving of the Law at Sinai, Exodus 19:1 to Exodus 24:18 .

The Encampment at Sinai, Exodus 19:1-2. Preparations for the Sinaitic Theophany, Exodus 19:3-15. The Sinaitic Theophany, Exodus 19:16-20. Repeated Charge to the People, Exodus 19:21-25. The Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:1-17. The Effect on the People, Exodus 20:18-21. The Book of the Covenant, Exodus 20:22 to Exodus 23:33. Ratification of the Covenant, Exodus 24:1-11. Moses’s Ascent into the Mount, Exodus 24:12-18. III . JEHOVAH’S DWELLING WITH ISRAEL .

(1.) The Plan of the Tabernacle and its Holy Service, Exodus 25-31 .

Offerings for the Sanctuary, Exodus 25:1-9. Ark of the Covenant, Exodus 25:10-22. Table of Show-bread, Exodus 25:23-30. Golden Candlestick, Exodus 25:31-40. The Tabernacle, Exodus 26:1-37. Altar of Burnt Offering, Exodus 27:1-8. Court of the Tabernacle, Exodus 27:9-19. Oil for the Light, Exodus 27:20-21. Holy Garments for the Priests, Exodus 28:1-43. Consecration of Aaron and his Sons, Exodus 29:1-37. The Continual Burnt Offering, Exodus 29:38-46. The Altar of Incense, Exodus 30:1-10. Ransom of Souls, Exodus 30:11-16. The Laver, Exodus 30:17-21. The Anointing Oil, Exodus 30:22-33. Compounding of Incense, Exodus 30:34-38. Bezaleel and Ahollab, Exodus 31:1-11. The Sabbath Law, Exodus 31:12-17. The two Tables, Exodus 31:18.

(2.) The Covenant Broken and Renewed, Exodus 32-34 .

Worship of the Golden Calf, Exodus 32:1-6. Intercession and Punishment, Exodus 32:7-35. Mediation and Intercession, Exodus 33:1-23. The Tables of the Covenant Renewed, Exodus 34:1-35.

(3.) The Construction, Erection, and Dedication of the Tabernacle, 35-40.

The Sabbath, Exodus 35:1-3. The Offerings for the Sanctuary, Exodus 35:4-29. Bezaleel and Aholiab, Exodus 35:30-35. Superabundance of Offerings, Exodus 36:1-7. Tabernacle Curtains, Boards, and Hangings, Exodus 36:8-38. Ark of the Covenant, Exodus 37:1-9. Table of Showbread, Exodus 37:10-16. Golden Candlestick, Exodus 37:17-24. Altar of Incense, Exodus 37:25-28. The Oil and the Incense, Exodus 37:29. Altar of Burnt Offering, Exodus 38:1-7. The Laver, Exodus 38:8. Court of the Tabernacle, Exodus 38:9-20. Amount of Metals used for the Tabernacle, Exodus 38:21-31. Holy Garments for the Priests, Exodus 39:1-31. All Brought to Moses and Approved, Exodus 39:32-43. The Order to set up the Tabernacle, Exodus 40:1-16. Erection of the Tabernacle, Exodus 40:17-33. Jehovah’s Glory Filling the Tabernacle, Exodus 40:34-38.

BIRTH OF THE NATION. Exodus 1:1 to Exodus 15:21.

I . PREPARATORY PERIOD .

Increase and Oppression of Israel, Chaps. 1, 2.