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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Exodus 2

 

 

Introduction

The Birth And Growth of Moses As Yahweh’s Future Deliverer (Exodus 2:1 to Exodus 4:26).

This section takes us from the birth of Moses to the commencement of his return from Egypt. This again takes on a clear pattern.

a The birth and deliverance of Moses and his establishment in Pharaoh’s ‘house’ (Exodus 2:1-10).

b Moses has to flee from Egypt and falls among friends in Midian and makes his home with the Midianites (Exodus 2:15-22).

c Conditions in Egypt worsen - God remembers His covenant with their fathers (Exodus 2:23-25)

d God appears to Moses in the sign of a flaming bush at the mountain of God (Exodus 3:1-5).

e Yahweh reveals Himself as Yahweh, the God of their Fathers, the ‘I am’, with the promise of Deliverance (Exodus 3:6-15).

e Moses is therefore to go to the Elders of Israel and promise a glorious deliverance (Exodus 3:16-22).

d God gives to a reluctant Moses a further three signs (Exodus 4:1-9).

c The response of Moses worsens and Yahweh becomes angry and offers him Aaron as ‘his mouth’ (Exodus 4:10-17).

b Moses leaves Midian for Egypt (Exodus 4:18-20).

a The renewal of Moses by deliverance from death and call to go to Pharaoh. Three sons are compared, Yahweh’s firstborn (Israel), Pharaoh’s firstborn, and Moses’ Midianite son. Moses must choose whom he will serve (Exodus 4:21-26).

Note again the parallels. In ‘a’ Moses is born, delivered and brought up in Pharaoh’s household, in the parallel Moses’ loyalty to Yahweh is renewed, he is delivered from death and he is to go to Pharaoh as his adversary. In ‘b’ Moses flees Egypt and makes his home with the Midianites, in the parallel he leaves Midian and goes to Egypt. In ‘c’ the situation in Egypt is worsening, but Yahweh remembers His covenant, and in the parallel Moses’ relationship with Yahweh is worsening and Moses is forgetting the covenant. In ‘d’ God gives Moses a sign in the flaming bush and the sign of the mountain of God, and in the parallel He give Moses three signs. And in ‘e’ Yahweh reveals Himself as Israel’s Deliverer, and in the parallel Moses is to take that deliverance to Israel.

Note for Christians.

The New Testament takes these historical accounts and applies their principles to the modern situation. For history is seen as a continual repetition of itself. Apart from Christ the world does not change. God offered man in the Garden the possibility of living for ever under the Kingly Rule of God. But man rebelled and chose his own way (Genesis 2-3). And from then on history consisted of the few who responded to God and pleased God, and the many who lived without concern for Him.

He then called out one, Abraham, who would found his own ‘kingdom of God’ which would be brought into covenant with God (Genesis 12 onwards), and which would travel from place to place. But again it led to failure by man, and the kingdom eventually finished up in Egypt and became absorbed within it.

It is then offered here, in Exodus to Deuteronomy, through Moses, when the divinely perfect ‘seventy’ are introduced (Exodus 1:5), with the final aim of establishing from their descendants God’s Kingly Rule in Canaan, but from the beginning it is made clear that the people to whom He made this offer were unworthy. For having gone into Egypt which represented ‘the world’ they had remained there and sought to become one with them. But ‘Egypt’ is never a place with which men can be truly satisfied, and thus in this chapter we have seen them stirred from their lives of sin and unbelief by the sufferings that came on them, outwardly caused by their enemies, but underneath the surface caused by God, and as the book proceeds, there will be an offering to them of coming under the Kingly Rule of God in Canaan with all that could hinder removed. But Exodus to Judges is the tale of how they will fail to seize what God has offered them, so that it will only accepted by the few, and in the end they will go so far from God in compromise and sin that the prophets, despairing of them, predict the coming of the Kingly Rule of God in the future. But that it will come they are sure, for God has promised it. There will come an everlasting kingdom (Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11; Ezekiel 37:24-28).

And the New Testament reveals a similar picture. The Jews were waiting for the coming of the Kingly Rule of God promised by the prophets, but when it came in Jesus they rejected it and only the comparatively few responded. They failed to see that the Kingly Rule of God essentially consisted in responding to and obeying the King. Thus they rejected the King sent by God. And the result was that Kingly Rule of God was in the end offered through Jesus’ Apostles to all in the world who would believe in Him and come to Him.

But did this mean that God had forsaken Israel? The answer lies in how God saw Israel. For God makes clear that the true Israel is composed of those who submit to His covenant and obey Him. In the words of Paul ‘He did not cast away His people whom He foreknew’ (Romans 11:2), those who were faithful to Him. And all who would could come within the covenant as long as they were circumcised and became subject to His covenant requirements (Exodus 12:48). As to those who did not obey His covenant they had to be cut off from it and not be seen as His people (Exodus 32:33). Thus Abraham’s foreign servants came within the covenant. There is no reason to doubt that the mixed multitude (Exodus 12:38) came within the covenant. In the days before Christ the Jews welcomed all proselytes into the covenant theoretically at least on equal terms with natural born Jews. And thus after the resurrection of Jesus those who rejected Him were cut off from the true Israel, and the Apostles went out to form the new congregation (ekklesia) of Israel as a result of Jesus’ command (Matthew 16:18). That is why when the Gentiles began to respond the question arose as to whether it was necessary for them to be circumcised in order to become members of the Israel of God. The question was, how else could they be true proselytes in accordance with 12:48? And Paul’s reply was not that they were not becoming Israel. Indeed he made clear that they were (Ephesians 2:11-22). It was that they were circumcised already, in the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2:11; Colossians 2:13). In Christ all had been done in order for them to become the Israel of God, God’s new creation (Galatians 6:12-16), without earthly ritual. Like the offerings and sacrifices, circumcision was done away with in Christ. Thus were Christians seen as entering under the Kingly Rule of God and as the true Israel of God. For if we are Christ’s then are we Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:21).

In the New Testament this has a present and future aspect, as it also had with Jesus. In the present His Kingly Rule is enjoyed by God’s true people in this world (Acts 8:12; Acts 19:8; Acts 20:25; Acts 28:23; Acts 28:31; Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 4:20; Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 1:8; Hebrews 12:28; ), and in the future it will be a heavenly kingdom for all who are called by God in Jesus Christ (Acts 14:22; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Corinthians 15:24; 1 Corinthians 15:50; Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 1:5; 2 Timothy 4:1; James 2:5; Revelation 11:15; Revelation 12:10). Yet the distinctions are not absolute and many verses in the second category include the thought of the present inheriting of the Kingly Rule of God (the Kingdom of heaven) for all who truly believe and respond to Him.

Thus can we apply these historical lessons to our own situation. We too live at a time when the Kingly Rule of God is subject to rejection by the many. We too know that in history God’s offer was made and rejected because man would not receive it on God’s terms, until it was distorted beyond all recognition. And why? Because men clung to ‘Egypt’. They wanted both God and Egypt and that was not possible, and so they chose ‘Egypt’ and tried to call it the kingdom of God. But all through history, in spite of the pretence, for the outward church was no different from failing Israel and foolish Judaism, and it too rejected the Kingly Rule of God, replacing it with its own rule, God’s work has gone on. Within the great churches that became monoliths and Egypts of their own, were always found the true believers who formed the true church, the living, invisible church, yet not really invisible, for it was visible by its life and faith expressed through the individuals who made up the whole. And in the end many broke out and formed churches of their own, only to fall into the danger of doing exactly as had been done before. Thus do all true believers constantly have to ‘come forth from Egypt’, whether representing a failing church or a sordid world, and turn from love of them to the service of the living God, thus revealing themselves as members of the true Israel of God. In the words of John we are called to ‘love not the world, nor the things that are in the world. If any man love the world the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the longings of the flesh, the longings for what is seen (of the eyes, that is, covetousness), and the arrogance and desire of position and status that bespeaks the vanity of life (the pride of life), are not of the Father but are of the world’ (1 John 2:15-16). And the world consists not only of heady pleasures that destroy the soul, or the pride of self-seeking, but also of man’s attempts at religion which avoid true faith in Christ and make him very satisfied with himself.

And this is not only true of the whole it is true of the part. Each individual has his own ‘Egypt’ from which he must be rescued, for it is the tendency of man’s heart to seek the pleasures of sin (Hebrews 11:25) and the vanity of the mind (Ephesians 2:3). When they are converted many still crave for Egypt. Thus when we see Israel suffering because of its folly in clinging to Egypt we can apply it to our own tendency to do the same. And when God brings persecution and suffering on His erring people we can see in it the picture of what happens to many of us, firstly in order to release us from ‘Egypt’, and then in order to remove ‘Egypt’ from us. We should be grateful for His correction. It is because He loves us and wants our love in return (Hebrews 12:5-7).

Most of Israel would in fact never really come out of Egypt, for while their bodies moved from it their hearts would always be there. That is why they subsequently failed again and again, ever longing for Egypt. And subsequently, and ironically, Canaan the chosen land itself became an Egypt for their children, because they had failed to cleanse it of its inhabitants and its follies. It became the continual source of its temptations. It was only the few who, like the prophets, ‘came out’ and freed themselves, like the ‘seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal’ (1 Kings 19:18). And so it is for us today.

Thus as we read these records we may rightly ask, what have they to say to us. What examples can we take from them? And apply these lessons to ourselves. Something which we will seek to do at the end of each chapter. For these things were written for our learning.

Here then we learn in chapter 1 that those who are different from others because of their faith in God will always suffer persecution in one way or another, even though it be only in the home or the workplace. They may find themselves welcome in ‘Egypt’ for a time, but they will find that one day ‘Egypt’ will not like the standards that they set, the demands that they make and the way that they behave, and persecution will follow. And like the midwives they must see in it the opportunity to stand firm for God and thus enjoy His blessing. And they must rejoice in it and recognise that it is helping to free them from love of ‘Egypt’ which deadens the soul. For ‘tribulation works patient endurance, and patient endurance results in experience, and experience produces hope, and hope does not make us ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hears by the Holy Spirit Who is given to us’ (Romans 5:3-5). Thus through the suffering do we experience the love of God, and through it His love possesses us too.

End of note.


Verses 1-10

The Birth of Moses (Exodus 2:1-10).

It is noteworthy that out of this dreadful period God produced his man for that hour. For in the midst of the bloodbath and the despair a child was born, who would be the deliverer of his people.

a A man of Levi marries a daughter of Levi (Exodus 2:1).

b The woman bares a son and hides him for three months (Exodus 2:2).

c She puts him in a waterproofed basket of bulrushes and puts it in the reeds at the Nile’s edge (Exodus 2:3).

d The baby’s sister stands by to see what will happen to him (Exodus 2:4).

e The daughter of Pharaoh, watched over by her maids, comes to bathe in the river (Exodus 2:5 a).

f She sees the basket and sends a handmaid to fetch it (Exodus 2:5 b).

f She opens it and sees the child weeping (Exodus 2:6 a).

e She has compassion on him and declares him to be one of the ill-fated Hebrew children, a child of the river (Exodus 2:6 b).

d Moses’ sister asks if she should seek a Hebrew wet nurse for him (Exodus 2:7).

c Pharaoh’s daughter sends Moses’ sister and she brings the child’s mother, she who put the child in the basket, and Pharaoh’s daughter pays her wages to wean the child (Exodus 2:8-9).

b The child grows and she adopts it as her son (Exodus 2:10 a)

a He is called Moses because he was drawn out of the water (Exodus 2:10).

The parallels here are striking. In ‘a’ the child comes from the chosen tribe of Israel, and in the parallel comes forth from the river. In ‘b’ the woman bears her son and in the parallel the daughter of Pharaoh adopts him as her son. In ‘c’ the woman commits her son to God and in the parallel is called on to bring him up. In ‘d’ the sister waits to see what will happen and in the parallel is there to find a wet nurse for the baby. In ‘e’ Pharaoh’s daughter comes to the river, and in the parallel she sees Yahweh’s chosen one, a child of the river, and has compassion on him. The great enemy’s household will protect the child of God’s deliverance. In ‘f’ she sends for the basket and in the parallel opens it

Exodus 2:1-2

‘And there went a man of the house of Levi and took to wife a daughter of Levi, and the woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw him that he was a healthy child she hid him three months.’

“A man from the household of Levi.” Notice that the full blown tribal title ‘Levite’ is not yet in use (contrast Exodus 4:14). These titles are gradually developing. We note also that no names are given here for Moses’ father and mother. This may suggest that Amram and Yochebed were in fact ancestors of Moses and not his actual father and mother (compare Exodus 6:20, which see). What is important is that Moses came from the chosen tribe (Deuteronomy 18:5).

So here from the beginning of Exodus there is an emphasis on the special obedience of the tribe of Levi. This will come out again later, both with regard to the worship of the molten calf (Exodus 32:26-28), and with regard to the slaughter of the idolatrous Simeonite chief and his adulterous, idol-worshipping lover (Numbers 25:7). It was this special zeal for God that would make them suitable to be His chosen servants.

“Daughter of Levi.” Not necessarily directly so, but a woman descendant as with ‘son of’ (but see Numbers 26:59). The question again is whether Numbers 26:59 is to be taken literally without any generations missed out. If so Yochebed cannot be the direct mother of Moses if they were in Egypt for four hundred years. But it was quite common in genealogies to miss out names and only include important ones.

The mother hid her baby for three months to prevent any ill-wisher from throwing him into the Nile. Possibly she stayed hidden in the house and did not announce the birth, or possibly she made out to everyone that he was a girl and kept him in secrecy, although it may be that that would be frowned on by worshippers of God (Deuteronomy 22:5). Note that Hebrew stresses that this was an act of faith (Hebrews 11:23). His parents were expecting God to do something.

“For three months.” That is, for a goodly time, until it was no longer possible.

“Was a healthy child.” The word can been translated, ‘goodly’, ‘handsome’, ‘beautiful’. It is the word used in Genesis 1 of the world being ‘good’. The point is rather that there was something about him that made his mother see him as good in God’s eyes, as ‘promising’ and ‘whole’.

The suggestion that ‘conceived and bore a son’ indicates only a firstborn, as has been suggested, cannot be maintained as is evident from Genesis 38:4.

Exodus 2:3

‘And when she could no longer hide him she took for him a papyrus basket and daubed it with slime and pitch, and she put the child in it and laid it in the reeds by the brink of the Nile. And his sister stood some distance away to see what would be done to him.’

Once the baby was too old to continue hiding she knew that she had to formulate another plan. She made (or had by her) a basket of papyrus (‘an ark of papyrus’). It would be made of papyrus strips bound or woven together. She then made it watertight by covering it with bitumen and pitch. Such chests often served as housing for the images of gods dedicated to temples. Perhaps she hoped that some Egyptian would see it as an offering to the Nile and would be disposed to keep it, not knowing it was a Hebrew child, although if he was circumcised on the eighth day that would be a give-away (when Egyptians circumcised they did so at around thirteen).

It will be noted that by her action she was technically following the law. To an Egyptian she would be seen as offering him to the Nile god, and by that she could cover herself. But in her heart she was offering him to God. She believed that somehow Yahweh would intervene to save him. It may well be that she had in mind the ‘ark’ through which Noah had been delivered. Certainly the writer, in using the same word for ‘ark’, would have that in mind. Once again then we have a parallel with Genesis.

The circumstances fit the times. It may be that Moses’ mother was influenced by stories she had heard of similar things happening to others. That of Sargon of Agade is often quoted. In the case of Sargon, his own mother exposed him to drowning by putting him in a basket-shaped boat and setting him afloat, because he was an illegitimate child. But the record about Sargon is Babylonian, and the motive is different and even the term for the ark is different - Sargon’s was a basket- shaped boat, kuppu, which was intended to go to sea, and to float away. Here it was no boat, and the desperate plan was not to set him afloat on the Nile to drift away so that she would be rid of him, but with the express purpose of saving her baby’s life. There is no hint of Babylonian influence in the story here. It is purely Egyptian.

“In the reeds.” Probably actually in the water among the reeds, as she had waterproofed it. It may well have been a recognised place for ritual ablutions among wealthy and distinguished Egyptians, and she may even have known that Pharaoh’s daughter went there to worship regularly.

“His sister stood some distance away”. The mother was committing her child into God’s hands but her faith in God is demonstrated by the fact that she wanted if possible to know what happened to him, and so the daughter of the house kept watch in order to see what might happen. She had not just deserted her baby in despair.

Exodus 2:5

‘And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, and her maidens walked along by the river side, and she saw the basket among the reeds and sent her handmaid to fetch it.’

And so it happened that one of Pharaoh’s daughters came down to bathe in the Nile. This may well have been for the purposes of a ritual act as the Nile was worshipped in the form of the god Ha‘pi, the spirit of the Nile flood. It would be a private place and her maids would patrol the banks to keep prying eyes away while she bathed. It was the princess herself who spotted the basket, for she was the one who entered the water among the reeds in order to bathe herself in the Nile, and she sent her personal servant to obtain it for her. It is probable that she thought it would contain an image of the gods and wondered why it was there.

“The daughter of Pharaoh.” This may not mean simply any daughter of the Pharaoh, but be a literal reproduction of the Egyptian Saat Nesu, "daughter of the king", being the official title of a princess of royal blood, just as Sa Nesu, "son of the king", was the official title of royal princes.

But Pharaoh had many daughters, born to both royal wives and concubines, living in harems throughout Egypt which would be regular hives of activity. An inscription on the temple at Abydos in Egypt gives the names of fifty nine daughters of Rameses II. Their children would be educated by ‘the overseer of the harem’ (the ‘teacher of the children of the king’), and later be given a tutor who would be a high official at court or a military official close to the king.]

Note the contrast in the analysis. On the one hand is Pharaoh’s daughter, descended from the great Pharaoh himself, the self-avowed enemy of the people of God, on the other is the baby, one of His people, chosen by God and under His protection. And He constrains Pharaoh’s daughter to care for the babe.

Exodus 2:6

‘And she opened it and saw the child, and behold, the baby cried. And she had compassion on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” ’

When she opened it to her surprise she saw a baby. And just then the baby woke and cried. This moved her heart and she clearly determined that she would keep it. Her quick mind immediately recognised that it was a Habiru child (see article, "Hebrews"). That is how she would think of it) and she knew what their fate was to be. But she felt sorry for it and was ready to show it mercy. So she determined to adopt it as her own. Perhaps she herself had proved infertile. It may indeed have been that it was about that that she had prayed as she bathed. And she no doubt felt that she was above the wrath of Pharaoh, and anyway, she knew that she could depict it as a gift from the god Ha‘pi. And it may well be that that was how she saw it.

Exodus 2:7

‘Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women that she may nurse the child for you?” ’

We are not told the detail of the princess’s decision, except by implication, nor of what was said, but the quick-witted sister of Moses recognised the position, and managing to approach her, offered to find a nursemaid for her among the Habiru. A nursemaid would be needed who could breast-feed the child, for neither the princess or her maids were in that position, nor would they want the task of nursing the child and dealing with his ablutions, and that was what would be required of a nurse. What was needed was a woman who still had milk in her breasts. In those days women who had such milk available because their own child had died, often hired themselves out for the purpose of suckling a child.

Exodus 2:8-9

‘And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” And the maid went and called the child’s mother. And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” And the woman took the child and nursed it.’

Moses’ mother was brought and was passed as suitable. Then she was sent away to look after the child, but hardly back to her home. Rather it would probably be to some sumptuous nursery with everything needed on hand. There she would have responsibility for the child and would be paid for her service. The princess would no doubt look in whenever she felt like it to find out ‘her child’ was progressing.

Exodus 2:10

‘And the child grew and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses, and said “Because I drew him out of the water.”

When the child had been weaned at about three of four years old his mother brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter who then officially adopted him.

“He became her son.” It would appear that this is the time at which she named him. It is probable that his mother has already been calling him ‘Moses’ (mosheh - ‘one who draws forth’) as the one who had been ‘drawn out’ (mashah) of the water and had ‘drawn out’ compassion from the princess, and that she had explained this to the princess. (Moses’ mother would certainly speak some Egyptian). This would explain the princess’s amused comment and how she introduced a Hebrew verb (mashah) into her Egyptian speech. She may have Egyptianised the name to ‘ms’ (‘child’ or ‘one born’) or even mu-sheh (‘child of the lake’ signifying the Nile), or initially she may have attached the name of a god to ms (‘child of --’). But we must be careful here. The ‘s’ in ms is different from the ‘sh’ in Moses and is not the usual transposition (which counts against the princess originally choosing the name ms for then it would be transposed correctly and not as Mosheh. The Egyptian for Ra‘amses, for example, does not take on ‘sh’ in Hebrew. But if the name was already settled on the basis of the Hebrew a transposition to the Egyptian language need not have been quite so particular). But her naming of the child is mentioned because it was very important in political terms. It marked him as being of the royal house, and as being a gift from the Nile god.

The name is in deliberate contrast to the fate of other Hebrew males. They were thrown into the water, but Moses was drawn out of the water. We can compare here 2 Samuel 22:17; Psalms 18:16 which may well have had this incident in mind, and certainly illustrate it, ‘He sent from above, He took me, He drew me from many waters, He delivered me from my powerful enemy and from those who hated me for they were too strong for me’. God turned the tables on Pharaoh, and Moses was constantly there as a witness to the fact.

It is probable that Pharaoh’s vindictive command did not last for too long a period. Perhaps he found that his own people were unwilling to carry out their invidious task enthusiastically, especially after the first waves of deaths. It was hardly a policy that most people would put much effort into on a continual basis once their blood lust and anger had been assuaged. Perhaps the Egyptians began to recognise that they would lose a good source of slave labour. And perhaps he was made to recognise that it was after all only a long term solution. It would be twenty or more years before it even began to work effectively. And the animosity which would arise among the large numbers of ‘Hebrews’ would meanwhile be difficult to contain. The fact is that it was not a workable long term policy even for a tyrant.


Verses 2-12

The First Five Words - Attitude Towards God (Exodus 20:2-12).

The basic principle behind these first commandments is a simple one. It is that Yahweh is supreme, and that to try to depict Him in any heavenly or earthly form would be to debase Him and misrepresent Him, because He is over, above and beyond all such representation, indeed such misrepresentation could only be seen as blasphemy. These requirements reveal Him as the active and powerful living God Who is over all, invisible and unlimited in any way and beyond representation. This latter fact is late emphasised by the mercy seat on the Ark where Yahweh will be seen as sometimes invisibly present.

Thus we may see the covenant as demonstrating:

1). That God is the Redeemer and Deliverer from the bondage of Egypt, thereby proving His superiority to what the nations saw as the mighty gods of Egypt (Exodus 20:2).

2). That God is not of this universe. There is no representation in heaven and earth that can depict Him (Exodus 20:4).

3). That He has deep concern (jealousy) that men should recognise His uniqueness (Exodus 20:5).

4). That He is the moral Judge of the world, calling all into account (Exodus 20:5-6).

5). That His Name, revealing His nature, is to be treated with the utmost reverence because of Who He is (Exodus 20:7).

6). That He is the Creator of Heaven and earth and all that is in them (Exodus 20:11).

We will now consider the covenant in more depth.

Exodus 20:2

“I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondmen.”

This is possibly to be seen as the first ‘word’. It is a typical overlord’s opening to a suzerainty covenant. It reveals His might, power and total sovereignty in all situations and represents to Israel why they owe Him submission. Egypt was the powerhouse among the nations. But this reveals that Yahweh had done His will there and that none had been able to stop Him. It is a declaration of supremacy.

Here Yahweh declares His name, ‘I am Yahweh Eloheyca (your God)’, followed by what He has done for His people. He has mightily delivered them from Egypt. He has set them free from slavery, and they therefore owe Him submission. It is a covenant declaration, and inherent within the covenant is that none could withstand Him and that He will continue to protect them.

“The house of bondmen.” The house of Jacob had been in bondage. They were thus a house of bondmen. So we may translate ‘from bondage.’ Or it may be referring to Egypt as ‘the slave-house’.

Exodus 20:3

“You shall have no other gods before me.”

This may alternatively be seen as the first ‘word’ or it may possibly be seen as the initial part of the second ‘word’ depending on whether we see Exodus 20:2 as the first ‘word’. (They are called ‘the words of the covenant, the ten words’ - Exodus 34:28 - and there is good reason for including Exodus 20:2 among the ‘words’ as it is the crux of the covenant). Total loyalty to Yahweh as their overlord is demanded. All other concepts of the divine must be excluded. Thus Yahweh is to be all, and totally exclusive. This is then expanded on in Exodus 20:4.

“Before me.” Literally ‘before my face’. They live and walk before the face of Yahweh, and their lives and worship must be totally exclusive to Him. All other thoughts of the divine must be excluded for they are His people. The whole camp and people must be exclusively Yahwist without a trace of any other ‘divinity’.

Exodus 20:4-6

“You shall not make for yourself a graven image, nor the likeness of any form that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down yourself to them nor serve them. For I Yahweh your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and on the fourth generation of those who hate me. And showing mercy to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

The forbidding of graven images of any kind in relation to God was unique and startling. But it established once and for all the uniqueness and otherness of God. The point was that He was not to be seen as earthly in any way, but as connected with the heaven of heavens. Nor was he limited in any way. For no form either earthly or heavenly could remotely depict Him. He was above and beyond having a ‘form’ of any kind (see Deuteronomy 4:15). The nations had made their gods mere supermen or superbeasts, tied to their own spheres, some earthly some heavenly, as men were to theirs. But God was God. He was over all and beyond all. Once He was depicted in any earthly form He would be degraded, He would become available to misrepresentation and the manipulation and control of men who became His keepers. He would have to be carried around on beast of burden or a cart! (Compare Isaiah 46:1-2). And this commandment applies as much today as it ever did. No physical likenesses whatsoever are allowed, for such likenesses diminish Him and misrepresent Him.

“You shall not make for yourself --.” Anything man makes for himself cannot be anything but earthly. It is made on earth with earthly material. And he makes it for his own benefit and becomes dependent on it.

“Any form that is in heaven above.” The ‘hosts of heaven’, including sun, moon and stars and sky gods are in mind here (compare Deuteronomy 4:19). God must not be linked with the skies. It was commonplace for great gods to be represented by heavenly bodies, which gave them a certain distinction. But it was not to be so with Yahweh. He was to be seen as over and above all heavenly things, which were all under His direct control (Genesis 1:14-18).

“In the earth beneath.” Any representation of man, beast or bird as representing God was forbidden. He was not to be seen as a nature God..

“In the water under the earth.” Fish gods, or water mammals, or reptiles such as the crocodile, were all seen as gods. But all were seen as inferior to Yahweh, nor could they even vaguely represent Him. ‘Under the earth’ that is, below the surface.

“You shall not bow down yourself to them ----.” To bow before an earthly image is forbidden, under whatever pretext. It is to become subservient to what is creaturely and, whatever the theory, leads to debasement (compare Romans 1:18-32). We bow only to the invisible God.

“I Yahweh your God am a jealous God.” This is the application to Yahweh of human language because we have none better, but as always when human language is used of God it must be heavily qualified. The idea behind jealousy is of exclusiveness and a desire to alone be the object of desire. But God excludes others because there are no others, not because He cannot bear rivals. He is jealous for the purity of the ideas of men and will not allow anything that could jeopardise those ideas. He is ‘jealous’ because He alone is of sufficient worth to be worthy of worship. And He will thus not allow any pretenders.

“Visiting the iniquities of the fathers on the children ---.” This is a fact not a threat. It is a warning that men realise that what they do, and what they believe, not only affects them but their children and their children’s children. And yet because God is over all, and behind all, and beyond all, it is His doing. For nothing happens without Him being aware, even if He is not directly responsible. He is the righteous Judge of all. So the idea is not that God takes it out on the innocent, but that they are not innocent because of the influence of their ancestor. However there is a proviso - ‘of them that hate me.’ If a man turn back to God He will not visit iniquity on him. He will show him mercy.

“Showing mercy to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” There is not only the negative side but the positive side. God is good and delights in mercy. Those whose hearts are fixed on Him and who love Him and do what He demands will enjoy the fullness of His mercy. In a similar way overlords promised benefits for those who faithfully served them and punishment on those who did not.

Notice that love comes before obedience. God does not want a servile obedience but a loving response to His goodness which results in glad obedience.

“To thousands.” Possibly ‘to whole clans’ (root - ‘eleph’). This contrasts with the family effect of the iniquities of the fathers and demonstrates that God’s mercies outweigh His punishments.

That later Israel partly ignored, or more probably argued their way round these words, comes out in Judges 8:27; Judges 17:4 on; Judges 18:14 on. But it is significant that while large quantities of statues of the Canaanite mother goddess are found in later Israelite houses (which demonstrates they were syncretistic) statues of Yahweh are not found in abundance, if at all.

Exodus 20:7

“You shall not take the name of Yahweh your God in vain. For Yahweh will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”

This is the third ‘word’. It is a warning that Yahweh is so holy, so ‘wholly other’, that to use His name lightly is sin of the highest order, for His name represents Himself. Just as to break through the bounds onto Sinai was to court instant death because of the holiness and ‘otherness’ of God, so to trespass on and misuse His name is the same. This injunction again is designed to bring out the unique holiness of God.

Whenever God’s name is used it must be used with the utmost seriousness and never lightly, for to bring His name into anything is to render the situation itself holy. In the end the Jews forbade the use of the name altogether, for they rightly recognised men’s propensities. But the same applies to the terms ‘God’ or Heaven’ or ‘The Blessed’, when they have become a ‘name’, as much as to ‘Yahweh’. This was what the Jews partly overlooked

To genuinely swear on oath in a serious situation is not to take His name in vain if the genuine intention is to speak as in the sight of God, for it honours God, recognising that the judge stands as God’s representative. But to do it lightly, whether in public or in private situations, is to take His name in vain, especially if the aim is simply to convince a person of the truth of a statement. It is this that Jesus objected to (Matthew 5:33-37). And to call in the name of God except in the most serious situations is also to use it in vain. God is not to be called in lightly, for He is the above and beyond, the ‘wholly other’.

“Yahweh will not hold him guiltless.” A way of stressing the gravity of the offence. On this point above all others a man can be sure he will be found guilty. (The use of Yahweh without Eloheyca may indicate that this is an added comment made by Moses when recording the covenant).

Exodus 20:8-11

“Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days you will labour and do all your work but the seventh day is a sabbath to Yahweh your God. In it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, and did no work on the seventh day. For this reason Yahweh has blessed the seventh day and sanctified it.”

This is the fourth word. It has been suggested that Exodus 20:11 (in the third person) may be a comment later added by Moses, for different words are used in Deuteronomy 5:15. But because in such an important covenant we would expect to find reference to God as Creator of heaven and earth, as well as Deliverer, substantiating His credentials, it is far more likely that it was an essential part of the covenant. It calls on His people to ‘remember’, that is, remember by observing it, the sabbath day. To keep it as a special day, a ‘holy’ day, one set apart for God’s purposes and on which to recognise that to do a mundane thing is to dishonour God. See especially Isaiah 58:13-14 which adequately interprets its purpose.

Primary among its principles is the principle of not working. This is to apply to all, male or female, master or servant, ass or alien. There are to be no exceptions. In a day when some were expected to work excessively the boon that the sabbath day was to them cannot be appreciated. Everyone had to have time for themselves and for God. General work in looking after flocks and herds would be permissible (not to milk them would cause great distress), but probably only so far as to ensure their welfare.

“Sabbath.” A day of ceasing from activity as Yahweh ceased from activity on the seventh day. It is a day ‘unto Yahweh your God’. On this day the curse of toil could be put aside. Thus sabbaths can be days for feasting (the preparation being done on the previous day) and worship. In this context the emphasis is on the seventh day Sabbath, but there were other ‘holy days’, other ‘sabbaths’ connected with feasts, not all so restrictive.

“You shall not do any work.” This includes ploughing and reaping (Exodus 34:21), pressing wine and carrying goods (Nehemiah 13:15), bearing burdens (Jeremiah 17:21); carrying on trade (Amos 8:5); holding markets (Nehemiah 13:15; collecting manna (Exodus 16:26); gathering wood (Numbers 15:32); and kindling fire for the purpose of boiling or baking (Exodus 35:3). But on the first day of unleavened bread, for example, it was permitted to buy food for the feast, and therefore to trade in such goods (John 13:29).

“Within your gates.” Reference is made in Exodus to gates of the tabernacle (Exodus 27:16 and often) and the gate of the camp (Exodus 32:26), and many gates in the camp (Exodus 32:27). Thus it basically refers to an entrance way, whether into the camp or possibly into a large multi-occupied tent, as well as to the gates of cities. We may see ‘within your gates’ as meaning, ‘within your purview where you have jurisdiction’.

Notice that the cattle too had a right to rest. One noticeable thing about God’s Law was the concern that it showed for animals. In Genesis 8:1 God was concerned for the cattle in the ark. In Genesis 9:9-11 God’s covenant included the fowl, and the cattle, and every beast of the earth. In Jonah part of the reason why Nineveh was spared was because of its much cattle (Jonah 4:11). The ox should not be muzzled when treading the corn (Deuteronomy 25:4). Other laws were laid down protecting the rights of animals and birds (e.g. 22:30; 23:5; Deuteronomy 22:6), although it was recognised that they were to be available for food. This was unique in the ancient world where animals were little regarded except for their monetary value.

The stranger within their jurisdiction is mentioned last for he is not a member of the covenant community. But he must observe the Sabbath.

“For this reason Yahweh blessed the seventh day and sanctified it.” See Genesis 2:3. But it should be noted that there is no reference in Genesis 2:1-3 to the observance of a sabbath, or indeed to a sabbath at all, although the root of ‘sabbath’ does possibly come from the same root as ‘rested’. So the principle here is that just as Yahweh in His revelation concerning creation originally blessed the seventh day after six days of work because it was the day on which He ceased creation, so this is good reason for now seeing the seventh day in a series, possibly determined from the time when the Manna was first given (Exodus 16:5), as holy and blessed, following the divine pattern. And its blessing is found in freedom from toil. It would ever in the future be a reminder that they had been freed from toil as bondmen in Egypt, and symbolic of the time in the future when the curse would be removed.

As we have seen the first known instance of observing the Sabbath is found in Exodus 16:23-30 where there is indication that it is a new observance to commemorate the first giving of the Manna, and almost certainly it could not be observed while slaves in Egypt. Here that observance is now made a part of the covenant between Yahweh and His people and linked with Genesis 2:3.

In view of the fact that Deuteronomy 5:15 adds different words from Exodus 20:11 to the commandment some have seen these words as a comment added by Moses in both cases (note the lack of Eloheyca (‘your God’) after Yahweh which is the normal pattern in this covenant). It is argued that he would hardly alter the divine word given at Sinai in such a way, for the divine word was written in stone. But we must remember that his purpose in Deuteronomy was to stress the importance of concern for low level servants. On those grounds therefore he probably felt that the fact of God as Creator, something well known to all Israel, did not need to be emphasised.

We should note further that in Deuteronomy 5:15 Moses states that the reason why Yahweh commanded them to keep the Sabbath day was not because of the seventh day of creation but because of God’s deliverance from Egypt. Then too there had been a cessation of work. This would tie in with its being commenced at the time of the first giving of the Manna. But for such a solemn covenant to have no reference to God as Creator would really be inconceivable.

Exodus 20:12

‘Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long on the land which Yahweh your God gives you.”

The idea of the honouring (among other things by obedience) of parents, although strong everywhere, was especially strong in patriarchal tribes. The whole basis of their society was founded on it. Without it the system would falter. To refuse to honour father and mother was to refuse to honour the tribe or to honour God. That is probably why this commandment is placed among the first group of five dealing with a man’s relationship to Yahweh. The father and mother stood in the place of God. Compare here Leviticus 19:3-4 where fearing mother and father, observing the Sabbath, and not turning to idols or making molten gods are on a par with each other as things which will make them holy as Yahweh their God is holy. They were special evidence that they were unique and set apart as His.

The reward for such filial obedience would be a long life in the God-given land that was yet to be theirs, for filial obedience would result in obedience to God’s commandments. Some see this as meaning that if Israel as a whole honour their parents then their occupation of the land will also be long. But it certainly includes long life for individuals (compare Deuteronomy 6:2; Deuteronomy 22:7; and 1 Kings 3:14 where we find a good old age referred to as a special blessing from God), and the one basically includes the other. Honouring of parents contributes to length of days, and length of days is a sign of God’s blessing.


Verses 11-15

Moses Has To Flee From Egypt (Exodus 2:11-15 b).

Moses would have been educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, being groomed for high office. Loyal relatives who had no pretensions to a claim to the throne were always a bonus to ancient kings. But the writer is not interested in that. What mattered was that Moses aligned himself with the people of God.

a When grown up Moses goes among his Hebrew brothers and sees an Egyptian taskmaster beating one of them severely (Exodus 2:11).

b Seeing no one around he kills the Egyptian and hides his body in the sand (Exodus 2:12).

c Next day he sees two Hebrews fighting fiercely and challenges the aggressor as to why he is doing it (Exodus 2:13).

c The aggressor lets him know that he knows about the murder and Moses is afraid because the thing was known (Exodus 2:14).

b When Pharaoh hears of the thing he seeks to have Moses executed (Exodus 2:15 a).

a Moses flees from the face of Pharaoh and dwells in the land of Midian (Exodus 2:15 b).

We note that in ‘a’ Moses chooses to be with his Hebrew brothers and in the parallel has therefore to flee from Pharaoh’s face for foreign parts (compare Hebrews 11:24). He had had to choose whose side he was on. In ‘b’ he kills the Egyptian and in the parallel punishment is demanded for the killing. In ‘c’ he challenges the aggressor and in the parallel the aggressor replies.

Exodus 2:11-12

‘And it happened in those days, when Moses had grown up, that he went out to his brothers and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, one of his brothers, and he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man there, he smote the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.’

“When Moses was grown up.” What a large compass is contained in this verse. Moses’ education from ‘the teacher of the children of the king’, his tuition under some important court official (with the help of the priestly caste) which would probably include reading and writing, transcription of classical texts and civil and military administration, his experience of courtly affairs, his grounding in the faith of his fathers by his mother, until at last he was ‘grown up’ and had reached manhood. But that he knew his background comes out in the incident here (his natural mother had probably made sure of that). And he goes out to visit his relatives. He saw them as his ‘brothers’. He deliberately aligned himself with the people of God.

And when he saw the burdens they had to bear, and especially some particularly vicious treatment from an Egyptian overseer, he could stand it no longer and, after making sure that there was no one about, slew the overseer. Then he disposed of the body in a sandy grave. The arrogance of his upbringing comes out here. He was not afraid to act (compare also 2:17-19), and he did not feel bound by the law. The beating must have been particularly severe for Moses to act as he did for he must have seen beatings often before. But it does bring out the oneness that he felt with his fellow-Hebrews. Son of Pharaoh he may be, but he loved his kinsfolk, and he loved the God of the Hebrews.

Was Moses wrong in what he did? If the beating might have led to the death of the Hebrew he was surely in the right. And we can well argue that it led to a necessary training in wilderness conditions which would stand him in good stead in the Exodus. On the other hand it might be seen as precipitating God’s plans and, as a result, causing a long delay. It is again illustrative of God’s sovereignty. Whether it was His ‘ideal purpose’ for Moses at that time is another question. But that did not matter. God simply incorporated it in His sovereign plan.

Exodus 2:13-14

‘And he went out the second day and behold, two men of the Hebrews were fighting together, and he said to him who did the wrong, “Why do you smite your fellow?” And he said, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you think to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” And Moses was afraid and said, “Surely the thing is known.” ’

The following day he again went out among his fellow-kinsmen and he saw two Hebrews fighting together, a situation clearly caused by the particular viciousness of one of them. This concerned him for he felt that they should all work together in harmony, and he felt very much one of them. He thought that they should be looking out for each other. But he was learning the lesson that was to come home to him even more sharply later, that men are self-willed and selfish, and are generally out for what they can get. They did not want his interference.

When he tried to intervene he discovered that the most belligerent one was not grateful to him for the help he had given one of their fellows. Rather the culprit, who two days previously would probably have responded with submission to such an important man, had lost all fear of Moses because he felt that he now had a hold over him. He knew what Moses had done.

“Who made you a prince and a judge over us?” The answer, as the writer knew, and wants us to recognise, was ‘God’, and a prince and judge over them Moses would later be, but he had much to go through before then. Meanwhile the questioner was rather being derisive. Another answer could have been, ‘Pharaoh’. But not when he had disobeyed Pharaoh and betrayed his trust. Once the truth was known he would no longer have the support and authority of Pharaoh. Let him recognise that he who had given him his authority also had authority over him and would call him to account. Or the man may simply have been saying, “Get lost. Who do you think you are? You have no authority over us. We are not your responsibility. And I have enough on you to get you into very serious trouble.”

“Surely the thing is known.” He realised that the man he had saved had probably told someone, and that others also may have seen what had happened. And he feared that the news would spread like wildfire. Many would be jealous of Moses and would not think well towards him, and they would be quite likely to tell others in authority who hated him. Thus he recognised that the news would pass from man to man until it reached the ears of Pharaoh.

Exodus 2:15 a

‘Now when Pharaoh heard this thing he sought to slay Moses.’

As he might have expected the news inevitably filtered through to the Egyptians and then to Pharaoh himself. We can imagine what Pharaoh thought when he found that one of his princes had taken sides with the Hebrews against an Egyptian taskmaster. This was flagrant opposition to Pharaoh and could not be left unpunished, for if it was the Hebrews might be encouraged and rebellion might ensue. He might indeed have seen it as the first beginnings of a rebellion. Thus his only option was a quick and sharp response. The order went out for the arrest of Moses, with a view to his execution.

“He sought to slay Moses.” Compare 4:24 where Yahweh will outwardly seek the death of Moses, although the verb for killing is different. Pharaoh’s was to be a legal execution for disloyalty and treason, Yahweh’s an action because of a covenant breach. But both had in mind that Moses had ‘betrayed his trust’.

Exodus 2:15 b

‘But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian.’

Moses knew what was in store for him and that his only hope lay in escape. But he little realised that he was treading a path then that he would again tread many years later with responsibility for a large number of people. It was preparing him for what was to come. So he fled the country, taking a similar route to that which he would take later with the Israelites, and that taken by a man called Sinuhe whose life story we discover in Egyptian records. Indeed it was a route by which many were known to attempt their escape.

“Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian.” is there here a reflection of Genesis 4:16? ‘And Cain went out from before the face of Yahweh and dwelt in the land of Nod’. Both had committed murder, but has the writer in mind that while in the case of Cain he had become estranged from Yahweh, Moses had only become estranged from Pharaoh? Yet both would be a long time in the wilderness (Nod was the land of ‘wandering’), and both would find mercy of a kind. On the other hand Cain turned to city-building, while Moses found his way to the mountain of God. Therein lies the difference.

“Dwelt in the land of Midian.” The important thing was to go where he could not be found. Canaan was under Egyptian jurisdiction. But the Midianites, connected with Abraham through Keturah’s son Midian, whose name they had taken, were a roving people and the wilderness was their home. Nor did they owe allegiance to Egypt. They lived to the south and east of Canaan in the semi-desert. They were not a people who would prove helpful to Pharaoh in his search, or among whom he could pursue enquiries with any hope of finding something out. The tribespeople would be inaccessible and uncommunicative, and besides, once he had disappeared Moses was probably not considered to be important enough to make too great a fuss over. No one would know where he had gone. Pharaoh could afford to wait until he surfaced.

The Midianites already used camels (Genesis 37:25) which they would later use extensively (Judges 6:5). They were split into a number of groups but could come together when the need arose or when it was of some benefit to them.


Verses 15-20

Moses Falls Among Friends in Midian (Exodus 2:15-20).

Moses’ position was precarious. But God had not forsaken him. And he would soon raise him to a position where he could prepare for his (as yet unknown to Moses) future.

a Moses sits down by a well (Exodus 2:15 c).

b The seven daughters of the priest of Midian come and draw water at the well, drawing water and filling the troughs to water their father’s flock (Exodus 2:1 a).

c Shepherds come and drive them away (Exodus 2:17 a).

c Moses stands up and helps them against the shepherds and waters their flock (Exodus 2:17 b).

b The daughters return home and when questioned explain about the Egyptian who helped them against the shepherds and drew water and watered the flock (Exodus 2:18-19).

a Their father tells them to call Moses that he might receive hospitality (Exodus 2:20).

We note in the parallels how in ‘a’ Moses comes to the well for refreshment and in the parallel receives abundant hospitality. In ‘b’ the daughters come to water their flock and in the parallel explain how their flock was watered. In ‘c’ shepherds came to drive them away and in the parallel Moses drives the shepherds away.

Exodus 2:15 c

“And he sat down by a well.”

For a while Moses made his home there in the Sinai peninsula as a solitary, living as he could, although we do not know whether it was for but a few days, or whether it was for longer. But then something happened which was to change his fortunes yet again. He sat down by a spring, no doubt because he was thirsty, and possibly because he hoped to meet people who might be willing to help him and provide him with work and food. The needs of the desert produce their own friendships, and a well was the place to meet people (compare John 4).

Exodus 2:16

‘And the priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came and drew water and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. And the shepherds came and drove them away. But Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock.’

When the seven daughters of the priest of Midian arrived at the well they went through the same routine as they did every day. They tried to water their sheep before others arrived. But once they had filled the stone troughs male shepherds arrived and forced them to give way. And the young women had to stand by. They could do nothing about it. They had to watch in frustration while the water they had drawn was being utilised by others. It was not the first time. They thought that it was to be just another day of submissive waiting. But then to their surprise the young Egyptian who was standing by, well armed and clearly capable of looking after himself, stood up and defended them and enabled them to water their flocks straightaway, assisting them in their task.

Moses was a young man at the height of his manhood, and would feel no fear in dealing with bullies, any more than he had when dealing with the taskmaster. He had not yet learned what it was to be afraid of men. And the shepherds would see by his clothes that he was an influential Egyptian, possibly even a prince. They would recognise that to offend him might bring the wrath of Egypt on their heads. And besides he might have soldiers nearby. They would be very hesitant in their dealings with him.

“The priest of Midian.” We do not know what this entailed. As priest he may have been like Samuel, the priest of a central sanctuary, or he may just have been priest of his own family group or clan. In view of the mention of the title the former is more probable. The aim is to show that they were related to an important man.

“Seven daughters.” In the fact that there were seven the writer no doubt had in mind God’s perfect provision for Moses through their good offices, and that they provided a suitable God-given source for a future wife of Moses.

Exodus 2:18-20

‘And when they came to Reuel their father, he said, “How is it that you have come back so soon today?” And they said, “An Egyptian delivered us out of the hands of the shepherds, and moreover he actually drew water for us and watered the flock.” And he said to his daughters, “And where is he? Why is it that you left the man? Call him so that he may eat food with us.”

The daughters returned to their camp where their ‘father’ Reuel (also named Jethro - Exodus 3:1; Exodus 4:18) was waiting, and they were so early that it caused their father to comment. But when he heard the reason for their early return he was concerned that they had not extended to the Egyptian the courtesy that was due to him. So he told them to fetch Moses so that they could extend hospitality to him in recognition of his help and friendship.

Again we find a man with a dual name. This appears to have been fairly commonplace at the time, occurring when men had had a special experience of God or had been given leadership. ‘Reuel’ means ‘a friend of God.’ And that was what he proved to be that day. This may have been the name given to him when he became ‘the priest of Midian’, used here rather than his personal name Jethro because Moses was being officially welcomed. (But some see the name Jethro as meaning ‘pre-eminence’. Thus the converse may apply) He had a son called Hobab (Numbers 10:29) who is elsewhere called an ‘in-law’ of Moses and a Kenite (Judges 4:11 see also Judges 1:16). Reuel and Jethro are significantly never specifically called Kenites, so Hobab’s connection with the Kenites may have been through marriage or assimilation.

(On the other hand it may be that Reuel was only their ‘father’ in the sense that he was the head of the family tribe (compare Genesis 29:5 where Nahor is head of the family tribe, not Laban’s father), with Jethro his son, ‘the priest of Midian’, as their actual father, who was later renamed Hobab, possibly when he finally joined up with the children of Israel (Numbers 10:29-32). If so this would help to explain why Reuel’s name is not given in Exodus 2:16).


Verse 21-22

Moses Makes His Home With The Midianites (Exodus 2:21-22).

The situation suited both parties. The tribe acquired a valuable man of ability and courage. Moses found a home.

a Moses is content to dwell with the man (Exodus 2:21 a).

b Reuel gives him his daughter to wife (Exodus 2:21 b).

b His wife bears a son who is called Gershom (Exodus 2:22 a).

a This is because he is dwelling as a resident alien in a foreign land (Exodus 2:22 b).

Note how in ‘a’ Moses takes up residence in Midian and in the parallel has named his son accordingly. In ‘b’ he marries Reuel’s daughter and in the parallel the daughter bears him a son.

Exodus 2:20-21

‘And Moses was content to dwell with the man, and he gave Moses Zipporah his daughter, and she bore a son and he called his name Gershom, for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a strange land.”

Like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Reuel was probably the leader of a family tribe. But in the area in which they were they may not only have been involved in keeping sheep and tilling the ground, but also in mining copper (the Kenites - ‘smiths’ - were Midianites and Hobab was later seen as connected with the Kenites), in trading, and sometimes in robbing caravans in alliance with other Midianites. Moses joined the group under the protection of the chief. As a man well able to look after himself and knowledgeable about administrative and military affairs, both of which he would have learned in Egypt, he would be welcome. There he married the chief’s daughter and had a son.

But the fact that no men had been available to accompany the seven daughters with their sheep may serve to demonstrate that the group was not very large, although probably part of a larger loose confederacy. For although well born daughters did look after sheep in those days, these were having particular frustrations. However it may be that the group’s main activity was trading (compare the Midianites who bought Joseph) or raiding so that the men of the group were not seen as available for the task of looking after the sheep which could thus easily be left to the womenfolk, and their frustrations were probably dismissed as long as no harm came to the sheep. Jethro certainly later demonstrated some knowledge of controlling tribal affairs (chapter 18) and he was also ‘the priest of Midian’. It suggests that he was used to overseeing a tribe, although how far that reached we cannot know.

“He gave Moses Zipporah his daughter.” Zipporah means ‘Little Bird’, and we can significantly compare Judges 6-8 where the Midianite chiefs were ‘Raven’ and ‘Wolf’. This is evidence of historicity. Moses was now well established as the chief’s son. In this marriage both parties gave recognition of each other’s social status.

“Called his name Gershom.” ‘Ger’ means a foreigner, a sojourner, a stranger. Moses construes the name here as meaning ‘a stranger there’, the regular play on words common with both tribal and Egyptian names. Moses’ comment suggests how hardly he understandably felt his exile. For a time he longed to be back in Egypt.


Verses 23-25

Conditions In Egypt - The Covenant Remembered (Exodus 2:23-25)

But meanwhile in Egypt time passed, and the death of a new king probably raised hopes of more leniency. However, it was seemingly not to be, and the heaviness of their bondage weighed them down.

a In the course of those days the king of Egypt died (Exodus 2:23 a).

b The children of Israel sighed in their bondage and cried to God (Exodus 2:23 b).

c Their cry came up to God by reason of their bondage (Exodus 2:23 c)

c God heard their groaning and remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exodus 2:24).

b As a result of their cry God saw the children of Israel (Exodus 2:25 a).

a God ‘took knowledge’ (of the situation) (Exodus 2:25 b).

Note in the parallels that in ‘a’ the king of Egypt dies, a major event in the world of that day, in the parallel Yahweh takes knowledge of the situation in order to act. In ‘b’ the children of Israel are in bondage and cry to God, and in the parallel God ‘sees’ the children of Israel. In ‘c’ their cry comes up to God because of the situation, and in the parallel God hears their cry and remembers His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Exodus 2:23

‘And it happened in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died, and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up to God by reason of the bondage.’

The king who had enslaved the children of Israel died. The death of a king was often a time of hope to those who suffered under the king, but it appears in this case that his death was simply a reminder to them of their continuing bondage. They found that their bondage did not cease. It possibly even became worse. Their sufferings continued under the new Pharaoh and their cry, re-aroused by their disappointment in the non-improvement of their lot, went up to God. However it is probable that the slaughter of their sons was no longer being carried out. That probably only occurred over a short intensive period, although it may have been renewed now and again.

“In the course of those many days.” The suffering and bondage went on for a long time, in all over a hundred years. The reference is general to bring out the length of the suffering. But there may be a specific reference to the time since Moses left Egypt. It would certainly seem a long time to the sufferers. All the time that Moses was in Midian (probably seen as ‘forty years’, the second period of Moses’ long life - compare Exodus 7:7) the suffering went on.

Exodus 2:24-25

‘And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob, and God saw the children of Israel, and God took knowledge (of them or of their situation).’

God was not oblivious to their situation, but things had to fall into place and lessons had to be learned. God is never in a hurry. He just ensures that His purposes go forward smoothly. Yet He had not forgotten His promises to the fathers of these people. And now He positively chose to ‘remember’. Note the fourfold repetition of ‘God’. There is an emphasis on Who it was Who specifically called them to mind. In other words it was ‘God Himself’, the only God, Who began the process which would bring about their deliverance, a process which, unknown to them, was taking place in far off Midian. As a result He will soon reappear under His old covenant name of Yahweh, for to Moses there was only one God. Then they will know that the day of deliverance is at hand.

“The children of Israel.” This phrase must here be given its full force. It was their connection with the one to whom the covenant was confirmed, Israel/Jacob himself, that resulted in God’s activity on their behalf. Yahweh was carrying forward His plan first formulated with Abraham.

“Took knowledge (‘of them” or ‘of their situation’).’ The verb to ‘know’ means more than mental cognisance, it includes personal response (compare Genesis 18:19; Amos 3:2). Yahweh would again approach to act on behalf of His people, either because of His care for them or because of His involvement in the situation. It will be noted that in the Hebrew the verb has no object, so either suggested inference is possible. He became aware of the whole situation, and the conditions under which His people were living.

Note for Christians.

From this chapter we learn that the sufferings of His people are never unknown to God. And they can thus be sure that when such sufferings come, somehow or another, though they have to wait long, God will provide for them a way of escape, whether in this world or the next. For we do not look at the things which are seen but at the things which are unseen (2 Corinthians 4:18), just as Moses did here (Hebrews 11:26). For God watches over His own, and when things seem at their worst, that is often when God begins to plan His best.

A further lesson we learn from Moses is that when we genuinely seek to follow His will He will act on our behalf, even despite our folly. Moses committed murder, but God used his folly in order to prepare him for the task that lay ahead, and gave him a new family, wife and children into the bargain.

And just as Moses, though under threat of death, was raised a deliverer, so our Lord Jesus Christ came to deliver us through a threat of death that became a reality. As Moses gave God’s Law to the people so did Jesus Christ bring us God’s Law, taking of the Law of Moses and building on it. And while Moses risked his life for his people, our Lord Jesus Christ gave His life for us, and then in order to accomplish our deliverance rose again that we might live through Him. Thus we look to a greater than Moses.

End of note.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Exodus 2:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/exodus-2.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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