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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4
Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8
Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12
Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16
Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20
Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24
Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28
Chapter 29 Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Chapter 32
Chapter 33 Chapter 34 Chapter 35 Chapter 36
Chapter 37 Chapter 38 Chapter 39 Chapter 40

Book Overview - Exodus

by Joseph Exell



THE Hebrew-speaking Jews have always designated the five books of the Pentateuch by their initial word or words; and, as they called the first book Bereshith, "In the Beginning," and the third Vay-yikra, "And he called," so they denominated the second Ve-eleh shemoth, "And these (are) the names." The title "Exodus" was first applied to the book by the Hellenistic, or Greek-speaking, Jews, who translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek at Alexandria in the third and second centuries B.C. Exodus ( ἐ ì<sup>ξοδος</sup>) means "departure" or "outgoing," and was selected as an appropriate name for a work which treats mainly of the departure of the Children of Israel out of the land of Egypt. The earliest Latin translation of the Old Testament, which was made from the Greek, retained the Greek title untranslated; and hence it passed into the Vulgate of Jerome, and into the languages of modern Europe.

While the departure of the Israelites out of Egypt, and the mode in which it was brought about, constitute the main subject of the book, and occupy its middle portion (chs. 2.-18.), two other subjects are also treated of, which form the prologue and the epilogue of the principal drama. The former of these — the subject-matter of ch. 1. — is the increase and growth of the Israelites — their development from a tribe into a nation. The latter, which in spiritual grandeur and importance holds a pre-eminent rank. is the adoption of Israel as God's peculiar people by the Law given and the Covenant entered into at Mount Sinai (chs. 19.- 40.). The contents are thus in part historical, in part legislative. Historically, the book contains the events of 360 years, which is the interval between the death of Joseph and the giving of the Law at Sinai. It embraces the formation of the people by a rapid increase, which may have been partly due to natural causes, but was also in some degree the result of God's blessing resting especially upon them; the alarm of the Egyptian monarch at their growing numbers; his plans for preventing their multiplication and the entire failure of those plans; the birth and education of Moses; his first unauthorised attempt to deliver his nation from oppression; his flight to the land of Midian, and Divine appointment to be the deliverer of his nation; his communications with the Egyptian king on the subject of the people's release; the ten successive plagues whereby the king's reluctance was ultimately overcome; the institution of the Passover, and the departure of the Israelites; Pharaoh's pursuit; the passage of the Red Sea and the destruction of the Egyptian host; the journey from the Red Sea to Sinai; the giving of the Decalogue and the acceptance of the "Book of the Covenant" by the people; the lapse into idolatry and its punishment (ch. 32.); the directions given for the construction of the Tabernacle, the freewill offerings made, and the execution of the work by Bezaleel and Aholiab (chs. 35. - 40:33); followed by the Divine occupation of the new construction, and the establishment, in connection with it, of signs whereby the further journeyings of the people were directed (Exodus 40:34-38). In its legislative aspect, the book occupies the unique position of being the very source and origin — fons et origo — alike of the moral and of the ceremonial law, containing in the Decalogue an inspired summary of the first principles of pure morality, and in the directions given with respect to the Passover (Exodus 12:1-50) and other feasts (Exodus 23:14-17), the redemption of the firstborn (Exodus 13:11-16), the materials and plan of the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:10-27.), the vestments of the priests and high-priest (ch. 28.), the method of their consecration (ch. 29.), and other similar matters, asserting and enforcing the necessity of a prescribed course of outward acts and forms for the sustentation of religious life in a community of beings' so constituted as men are in this world.




If then there is no obstacle arising out of the circumstances of the time when Moses lived, to hinder our regarding him as the author of Exodus, and if tradition is unanimous in assigning it to him, nothing remains but to ask what internal evidence the book itself offers upon the subject — does it support, or does it make against, the hypothesis of the Mosaic authorship?

This double knowledge of Egypt and of the Sinaitic peninsula, joined to the antique character of the work, seems to amount to a proof that the book of Exodus was written either by Moses or by one of those who accompanied him in his journey from the land of Goshen to the borders of Palestine. There was no period between the Exodus and the reign of Solomon when an Israelite — and the writer was certainly an Israelite — was likely to be familiar either with Egypt or with the Sinaitic peninsula, much less with both. There was little intercourse between the Hebrews and Egypt from the time of the passage of the Red Sea to that of Solomon's marriage with Pharaoh's daughter; and if occasionally during this period an Israelite went down into Egypt and sojourned there (1 Chronicles 4:18), it was a very unlikely thing that he should visit the region about Sinai, which lay above 150 miles out of his route. Add to this the dangers of the journey and the absence of any conceivable motive for it, and the conclusion seems almost certain that only one of those who, after being brought up among the Egyptians, traversed the "wilderness of the wanderings" on his way to Palestine, can have composed the existing record.

If then the style and diction of Exodus, combined with the knowledge which it exhibits both of Egypt and of the Sinaitic peninsula, indicate unmistakably for its author either Moses or one of the other leading Israelites of Moses' time, there cannot be any reasonable doubt towards which of the two theories the balance of the internal evidence inclines. It is simply inconceivable that one of those who looked up to Moses with the reverence and admiration that he must have inspired in his followers, could have produced the unflattering portraiture which Exodus presents to us of one of the very greatest of men. It is, on the other hand, readily conceivable, and completely in accordance with what experience teaches of the thoughts and words of great saints concerning themselves, that Moses should have given such a representation of himself. The internal evidence is thus in harmony with the external. Both alike point to Moses as the author of this Book and of those which follow.


With respect to St. Paul's estimate (Galatians 3:17), it would simply show that, in writing to Greek-speaking Jews, whose only Bible was the Septuagint version, he made use of that translation. It would not even prove his own opinion upon the point, since the chronological question is not pertinent to his argument, and, whatever he may have thought upon it, he would certainly not have obtruded upon his Galatlan disciples a wholly irrelevant discussion.

From the descent of Jacob into Egypt to the death of Joseph 71 years
From the death of Joseph to the birth of Moses 278 years
From the birth of Moses to his flight into Midian 40 years
From the flight of Moses into Midian to his return to Egypt 40 years
From the return of Moses to the Exodus 1 years

Total — 430 years

CIRCA b.c.

Egyptian HISTORY.



Egypt under the Shepherd Kings Dynasty XVII.

Joseph in Egypt. His brethren join him. Commencement of the 430 years, about b.c. 1740.


Accession of Dynasty XVIII.

Joseph dies about b.c. 1670.


Accession of Dynasty XIX (Rameses I. first king).


Seti I. (great conqueror).

Rise of "king who knew not Joseph." Pithom and Rameses built


Rameses II. (associated)

Birth of Moses. Flight of Moses to Midian


Menephthah I

Moses returns from Midian


Seti II. (Seti-Menephthah)

The Exodus.


Revolution in Egypt. Short reigns of Amon-meses and Siphthah. Period of anarchy


Accession of Dynasty XX. Set-Nekht


Rameses III. (conqueror)

The Israelites enter Canaan.


Rameses IV.


The admitted uncertainty of the proper mode of synchronising Egyptian with Biblical history makes it desirable to add in this place a few remarks on the main features of Egyptian chronology and history in the earlier times, that so the reader may be able to judge for himself between the various synchronistic theories which come under his notice, and form his own scheme, if that in the text does not satisfy him.

In the ensuing dynasty — the nineteenth — Egyptian art and literature culminated, while in arms there was a slight retrogression. Seti I. and Rameses II. erected the most magnificent of all Egyptian buildings. Seti was a conqueror, but Rameses was content to resist attack. Towards its close the dynasty showed signs Of weakness. Internal troubles broke out. The succession to the crown was disputed; and three or four short reigns were followed by a time of complete anarchy. The dynasty probably held the throne from about B.C. 1400 to B.C. 1280.

Under the twentieth dynasty a rapid decline set in. The second king, Rameses III., was a remarkable monarch, successful in his wars, and great in the arts of peace. But with him the glorious period of the Egyptian monarchy came to an end his successors rapidly degenerated, and for more than two centuries — until the time of Solomon — there was not the slightest sign of a revival. Architecture, art, literature — all pass under a cloud; abel, but for the dynastic lists and the excavated tombs of the kings, we might have supposed that some sudden calamity had engulfed and destroyed the Egyptian people.

It is agreed on all hands that the period within which the Israelites and their ancestors came into contact with Egypt prior to their settlement in Canaan fell within the space occupied in Egyptian history by the dynasties between the twelfth and the twentieth inclusively. Abraham's visit to Egypt is generally assigned to the period called above that of "the Old Empire," Joseph's residence to the "Middle Empire," the oppression of the Israelites and the Exodus to the "New Empire." The chief controversy raised is with respect to the Exodus, which some assign to the nineteenth, some to the eighteenth, some to a period anterior to the eighteenth dynasty. The materials at present existing seem insufficient to determine this controversy; and perhaps the unlearned reader will do best to follow the balance of authority, which certainly at present points to the nineteenth as the dynasty, and to Menephthah, son of Rameses II., as the king, under whom the "going forth" of the Israelites took place.


At Etham the Israelites were commanded to change their route. "Speak unto the children of Israel," said God to Moses, "that they turn and encamp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baal-zephon" (Exodus 14:2). Dr. Brugsch believes that the "turn" was made to the left — that from Tel-Defneh the south-east course was changed to a north-east one, and a march made which brought the Israelites close to the Mediterranean Sea at the western extremity of Lake Serbonis. The distance to this point from Tel-Defneh, his Etham, is by the shortest route considerably over forty miles — yet Dr. Brugsch appears to regard this distance as accomplished in one day. Pi-hahiroth is described (Exodus 14:2) as "between Migdol and the sea," and as "over against Baal-zephon." Dr. Brugsch finds a Migdol some twenty miles from the western end of Lake Serbonis, to the south-west, and conjectures that Baal-zephon was a Phoenician settlement, situated at the modern Ras Kazeroun, the ancient Molls Casius. As this place is distant from his site for Pi-hahiroth some twenty-five miles in the opposite direction from Migdol, he regards the description of Exodus 14:2 as sufficiently answered, and even places the three sites accordingly. Almost all other expositors have felt that the three places must have been very near together — indeed, so near that the encampment beside Pi-hahiroth (Exodus 4:9) was regarded as "pitching before Migdol" (Numbers 33:7).

From the Molls Casius, his Baal-zephon, Dr. Brugsch, having conducted the Israelites across a tongue of land which does not exist, makes them enter the wilderness of Shur, and travel three days in a south-west direction to Marah, which he identifies with the "Bitter Lakes." It seems to have escaped him that the distance is one of at least seventy miles, which could not certainly have been accomplished under five days, and being through an arid desert would probably have taken six. tie also fails wholly to account for the extraordinary change of mind on the part of the Israelites, who, having marched out of Egypt thirty miles on the direct road to Palestine, suddenly turn round and go back to the very confines of Egypt, taking a line from Etham to Marah which must have measured at least 140 miles, when the two places (according to him) were not much above thirty miles apart.

There would seem, therefore, to be no reasonable doubt that Sinai and its wilderness have been identified, and that the Law was given from Ras Sufsafeh to the people of Israel assembled in the Wady of Er Rahah.


The Book of Exodus is so closely connected with the remainder of the Pentateuch that it has but seldom, comparatively speaking, been made the subject of distinct and separate comment. The great bulk of those who have written upon it, have been either composers of "Introductions" to the whole of the Old Testament, like Eichhorn, Bertholdt, Carpzov, Havernick, Keil and Delitzsch, De Wette, Jahn, Herbst, Michaelis, Bleek, and Stahelin, or writers of commentaries on the entire Pentateuch, like Vater, Knobe1, Baumgarten, Marsh, Jahn (Aechtheit des Pentateuch), Hartmann, Fritzsche, Kalisch, and Bush. One English writer of repute, Graves, occupied somewhat narrower ground in his 'Lectures on the Last Four Books of the Pentateuch,' which in England was long reckoned among standard theological works. The volume devoted to Exodus by Kalisch, though part of a general commentary, stands on a somewhat peculiar footing, since it was written and published separately by one who viewed "Exodus" as "forming the centre of the Divine Revelation," and as being consequently "the most important volume which the human race possesses." As the comment of a Jew, a special interest attaches to this treatise, the author having certain advantages of intimate familiarity with the text and close acquaintance with Hebrew customs and ideas, which render his remarks deserving of attentive consideration.

Of comments on Exodus alone, the earliest which deserves mention is that of Rivet, entitled 'Commentarii in Exodum,' which will be found in his Opera Theologica, vol. 1. published at Rotterdam in 1651. After this, no contribution of much value was made towards the right understanding of the work until Rosenmuller published his 'Scholia in Exodum' in 1822. The strictures of Von Bohlen in his 'Alte Indien' called forth in 1840 the excellent work of Hengstenberg, entitled 'Aegypten und Moses,' which, although containing reference to Genesis, is in the main a comment on Exodus, of great value in all that regards Egypt and the Egyptians. Thirteen years later Keil and Delitzsch commenced the publication of their great work, 'Einleitung in die Kanonischen Schriften des alten Testamentes,' by commentaries on Genesis and Exodus, which were translated into English in Clark's Edinburgh Series in the year 1864. Kalisch's 'Historical and Critical Commentary,' which has been already mentioned, appeared within two years of that of Keil and Delitzsch, but was written apparently without any knowledge of it, and shows throughout marks of original and independent thought. It was published simultaneously in English and in German, in the year 1855. In 1857, two years later, the editors of the 'Kurzgefasstes exegetisches Handbuch zum alten Testament,' published by Hirzel of Leipsic, gave to the world a still more elaborate comment than either of these, entitled 'Die Bucher Exodus und Leviticus erklart yon Augustus Knobel,' in which great and varied learning was brought to bear on the subject, and a view taken which, though rationalistic to a certain extent, was moderate in comparison with the older generation of German commentators, as De Wette, Von Lengerke, and Stahelin. Finally, in 1871, the first volume of the 'Speaker's Commentary' contained an Introduction and Explanatory Comment on Exodus, accompanied by additional Notes and Essays — the joint production of Canon Cook and the Rev. S. Clark, remarkable for the great knowledge of Egyptian history and of the ancient Egyptian language which it displayed — a knowledge that at once placed the principal author in the first rank of European Egyptologers.

Some good collections have been made in recent years of the Jewish commentators upon Exodus, or the Pentateuch generally. Among these the most important are 'Mechilta, der alteste halach, und hagad. Commentar z. 2. Buch Moses, yon J. H. Weiss,' Wien, 1865; 'Wehishir, gesammeite, erlauterte, Midrasch- and Halachasteken z. Buche Exodus des Pentateuch, yon R. Chefez Aluf,' Leipzig, 1873; and 'Der Pentateuch, mit folgenden zehn Commentatoren, Raschi, Ibn Esra, Ramban, Rasehbam, Balhaturim, Sofurns, Asvi Eser, Mesoras Targum, Paschegen, und dem Commentar Nesina-la-ger yon R. Nathan Adler, ferner mit Targum und Toldos Aron,' Wilna, 1876.

Important works have also been written on portions of Exodus, e.g. that of Bryant, entitled 'Observations upon the Plagues inflicted upon the Egyptians,' 2nd edition, London, 1810, and that of Millington on the same subject; also Michaelis, 'Mosaisches Recht,' Frankfurt, 1775-80; and the following upon the Tabernacle — Friedrich, 'Symbolik der Mosaischen Stiftshiitte,' Leipzig, 1841; and Neumann, 'Die Stiftshutte, Bild and Wort,' Gotha, 1861. Important light has also been thrown on this last-mentioned subject by Mr. James Fergusson, in Dr. Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible' art. Temple.

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