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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Exodus 3

 

 

Verses 1-15

Exodus 2:23 to Exodus 3:15. The Call of Moses (first account). Exodus 2:23 a, J, Exodus 2:23 b - Exodus 2:25 P, Exodus 3:1 E, Exodus 3:2-4 a, J, Exodus 3:4 b, E, Exodus 3:5 J, Exodus 3:6 E, Exodus 3:7-9 a J, Exodus 3:9 b - Exodus 3:14 E, Exodus 3:15 Rje.

Exodus 2:23 a J. many will refer to the 67 years' reign of Rameses II, unless it is a gloss by a scribe (Old Latin omits) or editor (so Baentsch) to suit P's view of Moses as 80 years old (77). In J (Exodus 4:20; Exodus 4:25) Gershom is still an infant at the return. It is likely that Exodus 4:19 f., Exodus 4:24-26, should follow here but have been displaced by the compiler. The death of the king is clearly mentioned as removing the obstacle to Moses's return. But after the solemn call a merely negative reason seems inadequate. If this view be correct, the appearance at the bush will have been placed by J (Exodus 3:2) on the way back to Egypt or in Goshen itself.

Exodus 2:23 b - Exodus 2:25. The sequel in P of Exodus 1:14. God's "remembering" and His "covenant" are favourite ideas with this writer, and have passed into the devotional language of the Church. In Gen. all the sources agree in linking the patriarchs by bonds of purpose and promise with a God who was their faithful and watchful friend.

Exodus 2:25. The last words are strictly "and God knew," and are usually taken in an intensified sense of interested and sympathetic knowing, as frequently (cf. Exodus 3:7 below). But the omission of the object is strange, and has led some to correct the text. The LXX "and made Himself known unto them" only requires a slight alteration of the vowel points (p. 35), and gives a good sense.

Exodus 3:1-10. The Revelation at the Bush.—According to E (Exodus 3:1; Exodus 3:4 b, Exodus 3:6) Moses had "led the flock to the back of the wilderness," i.e. the W., since the E. was always regarded as being in front (as the N. is with us), N. and S. being left and right. The flock belonged to "the priest of Midian," a term not used elsewhere by E. but which suits the representation of Jethro in Exodus 3:18 (E), and need not be a gloss from Exodus 2:16 J. Thus, accidentally, Moses "came to the mountain of God," and learnt that it was such by the voice of God ("out of the midst of the bush" is probably a gloss from J). By this discovery, it is implied, Horeb became a sacred mountain, i.e. a place where God was peculiarly at home, and, therefore, where man was specially susceptible to Divine influences, even as the mediæval candidate for knighthood would be most likely to see visions or hear voices during his midnight vigil before the altar. In primitive thought the tie with locality was no doubt crudely conceived, but not a few OT references show that the association of places with God's special presence long retained its value, as symbolising and concentrating an aspect of reality to which the abstract doctrine of omnipresence fails to do justice. Moderns, who reckon it unspiritual to call any place sacred, because God is everywhere, may condemn themselves to finding Him nowhere. It has been usual to identify Horeb (Exodus 3:1) with Sinai, or at most to distinguish the former as covering the district in which the latter was placed, and to locate the whole region in the Sinaitic peninsula, where Christian tradition has loved to find it. Recently, however, it has been sought by Sayce and others to prove that Sinai was not in the peninsula at all, but N.E. of it, near Edom; and by M'Neile to show that, as in regard to other places, the sources differ, and that while Sinai was rear Kadesh, N. of the head of the gulf of Akaba, Horeb was S.E., on the E. shore of the gulf. Horeb is mentioned only by E (here and in Exodus 17:6, Exodus 33:6) and by D, while J and P refer only to Sinai. Really the evidence is conflicting and obscure, and it matters little which identification is adopted (p. 64).—As E told how Horeb became sacred, so—we must suppose—originally J related here how Sinai also was shown to be holy by the revelation at the bush (Seneh). Fire is constantly a symbol of God's presence (cf. Exodus 13:7, "the pillar of fire," Exodus 19:18, Exodus 24:17, Ezekiel 1:27; Ezekiel 8:2). In view of the large number of undoubted cases, like that of Joan of Arc, in which visions and voices have been authentically reported by the original subjects of the abnormal experiences, it is reasonable to suppose that it was so in this case, though, in view of the long oral transmission, it would be rash to assert it positively. In any event the story embodies a lofty and suggestive symbolism. The unconsumed bramble bush may signify Israel. burnt by the Divine wrath yet spared destruction (cf Keble, quoted by M'Neile); or Moses, the fleshly pole or contact-point for the transmission of the stream of redemptive energy, unclean (like Isaiah), yet not slain by the Divine holiness, which was then conceived under quasi-physical representations. Only once (Deuteronomy 33:16) is the sacred bush again mentioned in OT (cf. Mark 12:26).—"The angel of Yahweh" is sometimes distinguished from Yahweh and sometimes (as here, Exodus 3:2) identified with Him (Genesis 16:7*). But the phrase always marks some sensible manifestation of the Divine. As the term is missing in Exodus 3:4 and Exodus 3:7, probably "the angel of" is here a gloss due to the reverence of a later age. It is never found in P.—The removal of the "shoes" or sandals (Exodus 3:5) was a traditional mark of reverence, arising more probably from ancient custom than from fear of soiling the sanctuary, and is maintained by Mohammedans (Genesis 35:2*). The place was already holy "ground," and did not merely become so through the manifestation. So now worshippers do not wait for service to begin before removing their hats.—Moses is sent by no new God, but by the God of the patriarchs (Exodus 3:6). Each advance in revelation or redemption is due to the same Being; and the religious experience of to-day is continuous with the experience of yesterday out of which it has been developed. In Mark 12:26 Christ further draws from this verse the inference that God will not allow death to break the conscious fellowship He has established with His creatures.—That Moses "hid his face" (Exodus 3:6) was a sign of reverence parallel with the baring of the feet noted in Exodus 3:5 (J). In this source (cf. Exodus 3:7) there is a fearless use of human terms ("seen," "heard," "come down") to make God's relations with man real and intelligible. Such language is for plain people more effectively true than coldly abstract words.—In Exodus 3:8 we first meet with the phrase, so frequent in J and D, "a land flowing with milk and honey," see RV references. "Honey," like the present-day Arabic cognate dibs, probably includes the grape-juice syrup, used with food, like jam. The lists of Palestinian peoples (as in Exodus 3:8, cf. Genesis 15:19-21*, and RV references), are common in JE and D, but have probably often been amplified. The term Canaanite is used (cf. Genesis 12:6 J) generally of the pre-Israelitic inhabitants of Canaan, but has a narrower sense, of the dwellers on the sea coast and in the Jordan valley. It is a question whether the inclusion of the Hittites among the peoples conquered by Israel is justified by victories over some Hittite colony (cf. Numbers 13:29 JE, Genesis 23* P); for the main body of the nation was established N. of the Lebanon and was never subject to Israel. Amorite (p. 53, Genesis 14:7*) also is used as a comprehensive term, but properly refers to a distinct people, ruled by Sihon, N.E. of the Dead Sea, and settled early N. of Canaan (Tell el-Amarna Letters, 1400 B.C.). For the Perizzites, see Genesis 13:7*. The Hivites belonged to the centre, and the Jebusites held Jerusalem till David took it (2 Samuel 5:6-9).

Exodus 3:4 a. The Heb. is "And Yahweh saw . . . and God called," so that the division of the verse between J and E is grammatically natural.

Exodus 3:11 f. Moses's First Difficulty—personal unfitness (cf. the cases of Gideon, Jeroboam, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel). Once Moses was rash and impulsive. Now he is older and sees the difficulties. All the sources agree in this representation. A fugitive, a shepherd, and unknown, how shall he interview the Pharaoh, or lead Israel? The promise, "I will be with thee" (omit "certainly"), draws aside the veil and shows him his Unseen Divine Companion; cf. RV references.—The "token" or sign (Exodus 2:12) is but a further promise that on the sacred mount (Exodus 2:1*) the people should offer God worship; unless a reference to the "rod" or the "pillar" has been displaced.—The awkward "ye shall serve" (Exodus 2:12) becomes, by changing the Heb. initial t to y, "they shall serve."

Exodus 3:13-15. Moses's Second Difficulty—ignorance of the Name under which Israel was to worship God. This is expressed in two of the sources (E here, and P in Exodus 2:6). He must learn the name of the God who was sending him. In ancient religions generally the knowledge of the name was a necessity for prayer or sacrifice (Genesis 32:29*), and its meaning was sometimes an indication of the nature of the God. Four points arise here: (i) the original pre-Mosaic meaning of the name Yahweh; (ii.) its meaning for Moses; (iii.) the idea of it in the mind of the author; (iv.) the identification of the author. As to (i.) there has been much discussion, but little agreement. Possibly it may have had reference to nature processes—"He who comes down as the rain or the lightning-flash," or He who makes these come down. But the solution of this problem matters little. The greatest words may grow in meaning from the humblest seed of suggestion. Driver considers that there is enough Assyriological evidence "to show that a West-Semitic deity, Ya-u, was known as early as c. 2100 B.C." Taking (iv.) next, it is clear that, for the prophetic writer E, the name Yahweh was regarded as unknown both to the Israelites in Egypt and also to the patriarchs. The text here and the usage of this source in Gen. prove this. Indeed, it is possible that the identification of Yahweh with the God of the fathers is due to a later editor, and that the contrast between old and new was originally thought of as a revolution, a passage from the worship of Elim ("gods") to the worship of one God, Yahweh, greater than all else, and alone revered in Israel. Besides the link with the past through Jethro (Exodus 18:12*) it has been suggested that one or more of the tribes may have been worshippers of Yahweh. (iii.) The diversity of views on the point of translation is shown by the four renderings of RV. For other alternatives, see M'Neile, Ex., p. 22, or HDB ii. 199 (Davidson), or EBi. Exodus 33:20 (Kautzsch). The third mg., "I will be that I will be," is supported by Robertson Smith, Davidson, Driver, M'Neile, and others. [The meaning would be more clearly conveyed to the English reader by the translation, "I will be what I will be."—A. S. P.] It brings out the implications both of the root and tense of the verb hayah. The root denotes rather becoming than being, and the tense (imperfect) marks uncompleted process or activity. AV and RV rendering ("I am that I am"—the unnamable and in expressible One) involves an amount of reflectiveness alien to the Hebrew mind. And so with others: "I am because I am," "I am who am." Heb. syntax and thought analogies favour decisively the beautiful rendering adopted above, found as early as Rashi (A.D. 1105), and now preferred by British scholars. The temper of noble adventure which belongs to faith is here shown to spring out of the very Name (i.e. Being) of Yahweh (= "He will be"): no one can limit the inexhaustibly fresh possibilities of One so named. The question (ii.) of the meaning of the name for Moses is too large for treatment here; but his must have been the parent conception which the historian has so grandly expressed here. In Exodus 3:14 read the last clause, "I-will-be hath sent me." The spelling "Jehovah" (at least as early as A.D. 1278) arose from misunderstanding the Jewish practice of placing under the four-lettered word (or tetragrammaton) Yhwh (or Jhvh) the vowels of the word Adonay ("Lord") which they pronounced in place of it, out of mistaken reverence based on Exodus 20:7 or Leviticus 24:11; Leviticus 24:16. The correctness of the form here adopted, Yahweh, is established, not merely by analogy with other names derived from verbs (Isaac, Jacob, etc.), but from the transliterations used by early Christian Fathers, before the tradition of substituting Adonay had become established; Theodoret, reporting Samaritan speech, and Epiphanius have ἰαβέ, and Clement of Alexandria has ἰαουαι (or ἰαβέ, the occurrence in which of all the five vowels prompted certain magical uses).

Exodus 3:15. Observe that in Exodus 3:14-16 there are three instructions of identical or similar scope in regard to the announcement of the Divine Name. The simplest explanation of the repetition is that Exodus 3:16 comes from J. and Exodus 3:14 from E, Exodus 3:15 being a link verse by the redactor of JE.


Verses 16-18

Exodus 3:16-18 J. Message to the Elders.—This paragraph, which overlaps the last, contains J's account of Moses's instructions, which are to be passed on (not as in Exodus 3:15 E, to the people at large, but) to "the elders of Israel." We here first touch on an important Hebrew institution which both preceded and outlasted the monarchy The tribal "elders" (p. 112) or sheikhs were themselves a development from the heads of families, and gave place, after the settlement, to a localised aristocracy, "the elders of the city." In any case their authority was wide, but somewhat undefined and lacking in coercive power. They were official representatives of weight and character, but they needed to carry with them the body of men who stood behind them, and they admitted of a chief sheikh (such as Moses) or a judge or king over them, whose senate they formed. The message assures them that Yahweh, their fathers' God and their watchful Friend, would "bring them up" from low-lying Egypt to the high Canaanite table-land, and bids them join Moses in asking permission to leave Egypt for sacrifice to "Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews." This demand, seven times urged in J, was a natural one in an age of national rites. At this juncture such sacrifice was a fitting response to the Divine revelation. "Three days' journey" would not bring them to any of the supposed sites of Sinai, only to some nearer shrine in "the wilderness," i.e. of Et-Tiy, the limestone plateau S. of Palestine. The proposal may have been meant as a feeler, or it may have been a ruse to deceive the national enemy, the Pharaoh.

Exodus 3:16. visited . . . Egypt should rather be "taken notice of you and that which is done to you in Egypt."

Exodus 3:17. Perhaps read with LXX, "And he hath said (moreover)," a more natural way of referring to Exodus 3:8. So Baentsch. On the list of peoples, see Exodus 3:8. Here its omission improves the connexion.


Verses 19-22

Exodus 3:19-22 E (Exodus 3:19 f. amplified). First Announcement of Plagues.—For the spoiling of the Egyptians, see Exodus 12:36.—Read in Exodus 3:19, "except by a mighty hand."

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Exodus 3:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/exodus-3.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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