Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Exodus 6:9

So Moses spoke thus to the sons of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses on account of their despondency and cruel bondage.
New American Standard Version

Bible Study Resources

Nave's Topical Bible - Despondency;   Moses;   Thompson Chain Reference - Despair;   Hope-Despair;  
Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - God;   Person, Personhood;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Exodus, Book of;   Spirit;   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Moses;  
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - Anguish;   Exodus, the Book of;   Feeble-Minded;   Psychology;  

Adam Clarke Commentary

But they hearkened not - Their bondage was become so extremely oppressive that they had lost all hope of ever being redeemed from it. After this verse the Samaritan adds, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians: for it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness. This appears to be borrowed from Exodus 14:12.

Anguish of spirit - רוח קצר kotzer ruach, shortness of spirit or breath. The words signify that their labor was so continual, and their bondage so cruel and oppressive, that they had scarcely time to breathe.

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These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Exodus 6:9". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

They hearkened not - The contrast between the reception of this communication and that recorded in Exodus 4:31 is accounted for by the change of circumstances. On the former occasion the people were comparatively at ease, accustomed to their lot, sufficiently afflicted to long for deliverance, and sufficiently free in spirit to hope for it.

For anguish - See the margin; out of breath, as it were, after their cruel disappointment, they were quite absorbed by their misery, unable and unwilling to attend to any fresh communication.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Exodus 6:9". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.

The Biblical Illustrator

Exodus 6:9

They hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit.

Physical destitution stifling spiritual life

A permanent principle of our nature, and a distinctive feature of the Divine government are here embodied in an example. We shall endeavour to explain the historic incident, and to apply the spiritual lesson.

I. The fact which embodies the principle. It consists of three parts--

1. The message addressed to Israel: “Moses so spake unto the children of Israel.” In that message, whether you regard its Author, its bearer, or its nature, everything tended to entice; nothing to repel them. Its Author was the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob; its bearer was Moses, a man who for their sakes had sacrificed his position among the princes of Pharaoh, and taken refuge in a desert; its nature was hope to the desponding and freedom to the enslaved. The time, too, seemed fit: when the bondage had become unbearable, word is sent that the bondage is almost done.

2. Their neglect of the message: “They hearkened not unto Moses.” It was a spark of tire that fell, but it fell on wetted wood, and kindled therefore no flame. They saw nothing against it, but they let it alone.

3. Examine near the specific reason of their apathy. The cause of their indifference to liberty was the extreme severity of their bondage. They hearkened not “for anguish of spirit and for cruel bondage.” Here is a paradox: the slavery is excessively severe, and therefore the slave does not care for freedom. Broken hearts have lost their spring, and cannot bound from the bottom of the pit at the call of a deliverer. Great need does not, alone, produce great exertion. The hopeless, helpless captive steadily refuses to stir, lest the chain by the movement Should saw deeper into his flesh.

II. The principle embodied in the fact. These things happened to them in order that their history might be a type for us.

1. The message. To us, as to them, it is a message of mercy. Specifically, it proclaims deliverance to the captive. God recognizes all mankind as slaves, and sends an offer of freedom. Christ is the Messenger of the covenant. A greater than Moses is here, publishing a greater salvation. Through the lamb slain is the deliverance wrought. The death of Christ is the death of death.

2. Such is the proposal; but it is not heeded. Comparatively few disbelieve the message or revile the messenger. They simply pay no heed.

3. The reason of this neglect. A carnal mind, which is enmity against God. At one time prosperity, at another adversity, becomes the immediate occasion to an evil heart of departing from the living God. At present we are called to investigate only one class of these occasions or causes of neglect. Anguish of spirit and cruel bondage still make many captives hug their chains, and refuse to hear the voice which invites them to glorious liberty. The lesson here parts into two branches, one pointing to our neighbour’s neglect, and another to our own.

To the saddest of the sad

Little words often contain great meanings. It is often the ease with that monosyllable “so.” In the present instance we must lay stress upon it and read the text thus--“Moses spake so unto the Children of Israel.” That is, he said what God told him to say. He did not invent his message. He was simply a repeater of the Divine message. As he received it, so he spake it. Now, the message Moses brought was rejected, and he knew why it was rejected. He could see the reason. The people were in such bondage, they were so unhappy and hopeless, that what he spake seemed to them to be as idle words. There are hundreds of reasons why men reject the gospel. Amongst all the reasons, however, that I ever heard, that with which I have the most sympathy, is this one--that some cannot receive Christ because they are so full of anguish, that they cannot find strength enough of mind to entertain a hope that by any possibility salvation can come to them.

I. And first, will you notice that what Moses brought to these people was glad tidings. It was a free and full gospel message. To them it was the gospel of salvation from a cruel bondage, the gospel of hope, the gospel of glorious promise. It was a very admirable type and metaphorical description of what the gospel is to us. Moses’ word to them was singularly clear, cheering, and comforting; but they could not receive it.

II. We come now to note that it was received with unbelief caused by anguish of heart. We can quite understand what that meant. Let us look into the case.

1. They could not now receive this gospel because they had at first caught at it, and had been disappointed. They limited the great and infinite God to minutes and days; and so, as they found themselves at first getting into a worse case than before, they said to Moses, deliberately, “Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians.” They did as good as say--You have done us no good; indeed, you have increased our miseries; and we cannot believe in you or accept your message as really from God, seeing it has caused us a terrible increase of our sufferings. Grace may truly and effectually come to a heart, and for awhile cause no joy, no peace; but the reverse. Yet press on; be of good courage. Wait hopefully. The God who begins in darkness will end in light.

2. The inability of Israel to believe the message of Moses arose also from the fact that they were earthbound by heavy oppression: the mere struggle to exist exhausted all their energy, and destroyed all their hope. If you have such a struggle for existence here, you should seek that higher, nobler, better life, which would give you, even in penury and want, a joy and a comfort to which you are a stranger now.

3. But, worst of all, there are some who seem as if they could not lay hold on Christ because their sense of sin has become so intolerable, and the wretchedness which follows upon conviction has become so fearful, that they have grown almost to be contentedly despairing. A man who has begun to be numbed with cold, cries to his comrades, “Leave me to sleep myself to death”; and thus do despairing ones ask to be left in their misery. Dear soul, we cannot, we dare not, thus desert you.

III. The message was at first not received by Israel by reason of their anguish of soul, but it was true for all that, and the Lord made it so.

1. The first thing the Lord did to prove His persevering grace was to commission Moses again (Exodus 6:1; Exodus 7:2). So the Lord God, in everlasting mercy, says to His minister, “You have to preach the gospel again to them. Again proclaim My grace.”

2. But the Lord did more than that for Israel. As these people had not listened to Moses, He called Moses and Aaron to Him, and He renewed their charge. It is a grand point when the Lord lays the conversion of men on the hearts of His ministers, and makes them feel that they must win souls. Moses was bound to bring out Israel. “But there is Pharaoh.” Pharaoh is included in the Divine charge. They have to beat Pharaoh into submission. “But these Children of Israel will not obey.” The Lord put them in the charge: did you not observe the words, “He gave them a charge unto the Children of Israel, and unto Pharaoh”? Moses and Aaron, you have to bring Israel out, Pharaoh is to let them go, and Israel is to go willingly. God has issued His royal decree, and be you sure it will stand.

3. I cannot help admiring the next thing that God did when He told His servant what to do. The Lord began to count the heads of those whom He would redeem out of bondage. You see the rest of the chapter is occupied with the children of Reuben, and the children of Simeon, and the children of Levi. God seemed to say, “Pharaoh, let My people go!. . . I will not,” said the despot. Straightway the Lord goes right down into the brick-town where the poor slaves are at work, and He makes out a list of all of them, to show that He means to set free. So many there of Simeon. So many here of Reuben. So many here of Levi. The Lord is counting them. Moreover He numbers their cattle, for He declares, “There shall not an hoof be left behind.” Men say, “It is of no use counting your chickens before they are hatched”; but when it comes to God’s counting those whom He means to deliver, it is another matter; for He knows what will be done, because He determines to do it, and He is almighty. He knows what is to come of the gospel, and He knows whom He means to bless. ( C. H. Spurgeon.)

Men content to remain in bondage

When Moses came to the Hebrews to deliver them from bondage, they distrusted his commission, and begged to be let alone that they might serve the Egyptians. And so it happens when Christ, the Divine Emancipator, comes to men who have long worn the inherited chain of bondage to sin. They have become so habituated to the hopes, the desires, the pleasures and expectations of a worldly life, that they give no heed to Him who offers to break their chain and bring them forth into glorious and immortal liberty. I have seen the caged eagle beating vainly against the iron bars of his prison, his plumes soiled and torn, his strong wings drooping, the light of his glorious eye dimmed, the pulse of his proud heart panting in vain for conflict with the careering clouds and the mountain blast; and I thought it a pitiable sight Co see that kingly bird subjected to such bondage, just to be gazed at by the curious crowd. And I have seen the proud denizen of the air rejoicing in the freedom of his mountain home, basking in the noon’s broad light, balancing with motionless wings in the high vault of heaven, or rushing forth like the thunderbolt to meet the clouds on the pathway of the blast; and I thought that that wild and cloud-cleaving bird would choose death, could the choice be his, rather than give up his free and joyous life to drag out a weary bondage in a narrow and stifling cage. And yet I have seen a greater and sadder contrast than that. I have seen men, made in the image of the living God, endowed with the glorious and fearful gift of immortality, capable of becoming co-equal companions with archangels, consenting to be caged and fenced around and fettered down by customs and cares and pleasures and pursuits, that only bind them to earth, make them slaves of things they despise, and answer their noblest aspirations with disappointment. (D. Marsh, D. D.)

Ready for deliverance

Imagine some poor shipwrecked mariner cast ashore upon a lonely island in mid-ocean. The gallant vessel which had been his home upon the deep went down with all its precious freight before the fury of the storm. His fellow-voyagers all perished in the terrible conflict with the winds and the waves. He alone was cast alive on shore, to suffer more than the bitterness of death in sorrowing for his lost companions, and in longing for a return to his far-distant home. The climate of the island is perpetual summer. Everything needed to sustain life springs from the earth without cultivation, Flowers blossom and fruits ripen through all the year. The forests are full of singing birds. But to the lonely shipwrecked mariner this seeming paradise is a prison. He longs for his distant home beyond the melancholy main. The first thing in the morning and the last at evening he climbs the rocky height overlooking the sea, to search round the whole horizon for some friendly ship coming to deliver him from his watery prison. And when at last he sees a white sail hanging in the far horizon and growing larger as it approaches, it looks to him as if it were the white wing of an angel flying to his rescue. With eager and frantic joy he makes every possible signal to arrest the attention of the coming ship. And when his signals are answered, and a boat is lowered to take him on board, he is ready to rush into the waves and swim out to meet his deliverers before they reach the land. Yet all his joy is excited by the hope of return to an earthly home, where he must still be exposed to pain and sorrow and death. This earth is an island in the infinite ocean of space. It has abundance of riches, and pleasures, and occupations for a few--much toil, and work, and suffering for many--and it must be a temporary resting-place for all. But it has no home for the soul. The ship of salvation is sent to take us to the land of rest. Shall we not look often and eagerly for its coming? And when it appears shall we not be ready and willing to go? Shall we try so to accustom ourselves to the ways of living on this island waste of earth that we shall be unfitted to live in a land where there is no death? (D. Marsh, D. D.)

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Exodus 6:9". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

And Moses spake so unto the children of Israel,.... After this manner, and in the above words, declaring all that the Lord made known to him, and promised to do for them; which one would have thought would have revived their spirits, and refreshed and comforted their hearts under their troubles, and encouraged a lively exercise of faith and hope of deliverance:

but they hearkened not unto Moses; being disappointed of deliverance by him, and their afflictions being increased, and lying heavy upon them, they were heartless and hopeless:

for anguish of spirit; trouble of mind and grief of heart, with which they were swallowed up; or "for shortness of breath"F2מקצר רוח "ob brevem anhelitum", Munster. , being so pressed that they could hardly breathe, and so were incapable of attending to what was spoken to them:

and for cruel bondage; under which they laboured, and from which they had scarce any respite, and saw no way of deliverance from it.

Copyright Statement
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Bibliographical Information
Gill, John. "Commentary on Exodus 6:9". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

And Moses spake so unto the children of Israel: but they p> p>
hearkened {(c)} not unto Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage.

(c) So hard a thing it is to show true obedience under the cross.
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on Exodus 6:9". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". 1599-1645.

Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary

Proverbs 13:12; Isaiah 28:12.

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Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Exodus 6:9". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". 1828.

The Pulpit Commentaries


Exodus 6:9

Hope deferred maketh the heart sick. The Israelites, who had expected a speedy deliverance, and found themselves only the more down-trodden for Moses' interference, were too much dispirited to be cheered even by the gracious promises and assurances which Moses was commissioned to give. They had no longer any trust in one who they thought had deceived them. He was a dreamer, a visionary, if no worse. They did not intend hearkening to him any more. "Anguish of spirit" possessed their souls, and "cruel bondage" claimed their bodies, day after day. They had not even the time, had they had the will, to hearken.

Exodus 6:9

Anguish of spirit. Literally, "shortness." Compare Job 21:4. Their spirit was shortened—they had lost all heart, as we say, so cruel had been their disappointment. The contrast between their feelings now, and when Moses first addressed them (Exodus 4:31), is strong, but "fully accounted for by the change of circumstances". (Cook). Cruel bondage. Bondage, i.e; far more oppressive and continuous than. it had been (Exodus 5:9-14). The Samaritan version adds: "And they said to him, Let us alone, and let us serve the Egyptians; for it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than die in a wilderness," an addition which receives some support from Exodus 14:12.


Exodus 6:9

Spiritual deadness produced by extreme physical need.

It is the worst result of long-continued oppression that it brings its victims into a state of apathy. Servile insurrections are rare—servile wars all but unknown. Slavery so crushes men, so brutalises, so deadens them, that they lose all heart, all spirit, all hope, almost all feeling. Defenders of slavery call the proper objects of the "institution" live machines; and "live machines" is exactly what it tends to make them. What is to stir a mass so sluggish and inert that it vegetates rather than lives? Not the name of God (Exodus 6:3). It falls on closed ears—it has no meaning to them, conveys no idea, arouses no thought. Not the mention of a covenant (Exodus 6:4, Exodus 6:5). They cannot realise so complex a notion—cannot understand what the word means. Not promises (Exodus 6:6-8). A promise has no power unless embraced by faith; and the down-trodden have no faith, either in themselves or in others. So the most stirring appeals are made in vain—the brightest hopes and prospects presented to no purpose. And as with oppression, so with all extreme depression and destitution. Hopeless poverty, constant battle with the wolf at the door, continual striving to keep off starvation from themselves, their wives, and children, reduces a population to a condition in which it becomes dead to spiritual things, and not only appears to be, but is, unimpressible. It is so occupied with the cares of this life that it has no thought for another. It has bid farewell to hope, and with hope to fear. It is reckless. The preacher can do nothing with it until he has changed the physical conditions of its existence. He must first address himself to the people's physical wants. Let these be provided for, let the struggle for existence slacken, let hope dawn on the despairing souls, and all will at once be different. As the unbound earth opens to receive seed at the genial breath of spring, so these torpid souls may be brought to take in the seed of life, by having their bodies warmed and clothed and cared for.


Exodus 6:11, Exodus 6:13

The new commission.

And Moses spoke so, etc.: Exodus 6:9.

I. THE AUDACITY OF FAITH. Describe the treatment of Moses and Aaron. They acted under Divine direction, did their very best, but just because everything did not go well instantly, and that through the frowardness and waywardness of others, the people turned upon them, and upbraided them as accessories to their slavery. [See Matthew Henry for some valuable practical notes on this and other parts of this passage from Ex 5:22-6:13.] Moses felt this keenly, and in a moral sense retreated upon his base—that is, upon God. Compare Hezekiah and the letter. Alone with God, Moses complained. Moses is very bold—tells God to his face that he has not delivered Israel at all; that he has brought evil upon the nation, already oppressed to the border of despair; and challenges the Eternal as to his own commission. All this is high tragedy in the realms of spiritual life, and may well demand consideration. Consider—

1. The audacity of Moses. See Exodus 5:22, Exodus 5:23. Is this the language of enquiry or entreaty? Not at all. Of impetuosity, of remonstrance; it borders on the irreverent; the tone is angry, and nearly rebellious. [Note—Such a speech as this would never have been put into the mouth of Moses by any later writer—sure mark this, that we have the history under the hand of Moses.] Such expressions are not uncommon with Old Testament saints. See especially Jeremiah 20:7, et seq. We learn that believers do not stand related to God as stones lying under a cast-iron canopy of destiny. They are quivering sensibilities in the presence of the Father of spirits. What they feel, they may say; better to say it. And if an earthly parent will make allowances for an angry, misapprehending child, shall not our Father in heaven? "Let us therefore come boldly," etc.

2. The error of Moses. God was all the time working in the direction of salvation for the people and of extraordinary eminence for Moses; but he thought everything looked the other way. A similar error may be ours.

3. The accomplishment of the Divine purpose in Moses. To draw him away from all secondary causes, to dependence on and communion with God.

II. THE CONDESCENDING FORBEARANCE OF GOD. In answer to the cry of Moses, God made five announcements of the very first importance. They were made with distinctness, formality, and solemnity. Note—Them may have been an interval of months between the cry and these announcements. Note also, that this is not a second account of the revelation of the Burning Bush. The true explanation of the likeness between the two revelations is, that Moses having fallen into a desponding state of mind, God recalled to him first principles. So now, one cure at least for discouragement is to fall back on elemental Gospel truths. God announced—

1. His resolve: Jeremiah 20:1, see Hebrew; and expound the true meaning. Pharaoh would be forced, not only to "send" Israel out, but to "drive" them out.

2. His name. First, God gave again his proper name, "Jehovah;" and then we have a positive and a negative declaration—

3. His covenant: verse 4.

4. His sympathy: verse 5. With new sorrows.

5. His salvation: verses 6, 7, 8. It is impossible to read these verses without noting the parallel with a still greater salvation. God promised—

III. THE DEAFENING POWER OF SORROW: Colossians 2:9. The contrast now and Exodus 4:31. "On a former occasion the people were comparatively at ease, accustomed to their lot, sufficiently afflicted to long for deliverance, and sufficiently free in spirit to hope for it." Now!—Exodus 4:9. Observe the Hebrews, "shortness of breath," i.e. such as comes with anguish; or may not the meaning be, "shortness of spirit," as we say "shortness of temper"? This verse is against the theory that Israel, by sheer force of religious enthusiasm, emancipated itself. For them, as for us, no salvation save in Jehovah their God. Sorrow may shut out comfort. How many mistakenly stay away from the sanctuary because of their grief!

IV. THE PERSISTENCE OF THE DELIVERING GOD. In this extremity of woe, God appears. The demand once was for a three days' absence; now God uncovers all his purpose. Exodus 4:11 is the ultimatum of God. This new commission overwhelms Moses with a deeper sense of incompetence. He pleads—

1. The aversion of his own people. Effective homiletic use may here be made of the fact, that much of the strength of ministers, which might be used against the enemies of God, is used in dealing with the frowardness.of his professed friends.

2. His own infirmity. There may be here a sense of moral unfitness—"uncircumcised lips"—and a latent reference to the disobedience, Exodus 4:24-26. God did not allow these pleas; but put the two leaders forward once more into the position of responsibility, peril, and honour (Exodus 4:13).—R.


Exodus 6:9

The pains of the lower life shutting out the blessings of the higher one.

They hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage." Notice that this reason, and not some other, is stated for the indifference of Israel to the glorious words which Moses was commanded to repeat to them. We might fairly have expected some other reason to be stated; as, for instance, "We have been deceived once, and are not again to be put off with fair words;" or, "This array of promises is very grand and imposing, but there is nothing in them." But they are emphatically represented as not even attending to what Moses had to say. Their minds were effectually closed by preoccupation with something else. They were so much harassed in body and mind as to lack not only the inclination, but even the ability, to give Moses a proper hearing. And so Pharaoh's policy had this effect at least, that it prevented the people, for a while, from considering things belonging to their highest welfare. Only we must bear in mind that as the liberating advance of God was not in the least hindered by the cruelty of Pharaoh, so neither was it hindered by the negligence of Israel. A Pharaoh could not hinder, so the people could neither help nor hinder. When they were yet without strength, utterly without strength, in due time God intervened to deliver them.

I. There is thus suggested to us how we should keep in mind ONE GREAT CAUSE OF HINDRANCE TO THE GOSPEL. A message like that of the Gospel of Christ finds great difficulty in its way from preoccupation of any kind, seeing that the mind of man cannot properly entertain two great topics of thought at the same time. Some one thing must hold a first place in thought; and when the heart is occupied with the presence of worldly cares, whatever form they take, then it must be peculiarly hard for the Gospel to find a foothold. God, when he seeks love and service from us, looks to find his rivals in ambition, in pleasure, in fiches; and we are used to hear frequent warnings against these rivals. But what rival is more dangerous than (say) poverty, that cleaving, biting, pinching spirit, which, when once it gets hold of a man, never lets him forget that it is near. What chance is there then to bring out of the heart a deep conviction of sin and spiritual need? The difficulties of getting the natural man to attend to spiritual concerns are immensely increased by poverty as well as by riches. If, upon some considerations, it is seen to be hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven, upon other considerations it is seen to be equally hard for the poor. The poor have the Gospel presented to them, but alas! it is often hard work to persuade them that it is a Gospel. Go to them, and how are you often met? It may be that your very exemption from a life-long struggle for daily bread blinds you to their peculiar difficulties. You are not able to see that grim wolf which is incessantly at the door, and never out of their thoughts. What wonder if at first—and indeed habitually—the poor should think that there is little or nothing in religion! Often they show their feeling very plainly by bitter and savage words. They want a gospel; but not your gospel. They do not care for a gospel which, while it makes large offers, makes also large demands. They do not care to be asked for self-denial, self-respect, contentment, and patient submission to hard conditions which cannot be easily or immediately altered. They want a gospel which will give, and give just what they choose to ask. The privations, the struggles, the agonies of the poor reduce them often nearer to the spirit of wild beasts than of human beings. Give them what indulges their appetites, and they will welcome you. Minister to the cravings of the flesh, and they will wait as long as you are disposed to supply. But proclaim unpalatable truths, and you might as well -speak in a wilderness. We might pursue a similar line of thought in considering the anguish of spirit and cruel bondage of heathendom. The missionary often has to speak to those whose minds are oppressed with terrible visions of deities who can only be propitiated by laborious and agonising penances. Read what is said concerning the life-long austerities of some Hindoo devotees, and then consider whether you have not in them a bondage of spirit which may only too effectually shut out even the most attractive truths of the Gospel. We might speak also of the cruel bondage of worldly conventions; the incessant and weary struggle to keep up social position—a struggle which, however ridiculous it may be made to look, is, in the eyes of multitudes, a great necessity. And if a man feels a thing a necessity, then you must, at least in your first approaches to him, treat it as a necessity. And last, but not least, there is the anguish and bondage of disease, physical pain, perhaps approaching death. The sick send, or are supposed to send, for ministers of religion, but how plain it is in the great bulk of instances that such resorts are utterly ineffectual to bring the sick person to God! There may be an appearance of repentance, a pretence of understanding the way of salvation; but when we know that the actual motive is the fear of death, and not the bitter consciousness of sin, then we cannot but distrust all the action following upon the motive. When a human being, in youth, in health, and with the prospect. of a long life, professes to be smitten with convictions of sin, and begins to seek for a Saviour, we know where we are in considering his position. His apparent motive has everything in the circumstances to approve itself as a real one. But when the appearance of interest in Divine things only comes consequent on the alarms of a dangerous, perhaps a fatal illness, then we suspect that the cry for salvation is a selfish and ignorant one; and how can we be sure that it will be anything but a vain one? A courteous pretence of listening to the message of God when there is no real apprehension of it is practically the same thing as not listening at all.

II. NOTE THE OBJECTION WHICH IS BROUGHT AGAINST THE GOSPEL FROM ITS INABILITY TO DEAL IMMEDIATELY WITH ALL THIS ANGUISH AND BONDAGE OF MEN. There is a plausible argument—one very frequently urged, and alas! very easily deceiving—that the Gospel of Christ does nothing immediately for the social improvement of the world. What is more common than the cry, when some hideous blot and ulcer of society is suddenly revealed, "Here we stand, having only got so far, after more than eighteen centuries of Christianity!" And in hearing talk of this kind, which is sometimes sincere, but oftener is mere cant, we have not so much to reply to others as to enlighten and reassure ourselves. How easily it might have been said with respect to these Israelites, "God is no deliverer, else he would at once take these people—this living, suffering generation—out of all their pains." What God might have done we cannot tell; we only know what he actually did. The light of the whole transaction shows that Jehovah was unquestionably a deliverer; that however a single generation might suffer, the whole nation was in due time, and at the best time, fully redeemed. And in like manner, by the consideration of ultimate results as well as present experiences, we gain the assurance that God is truly the deliverer of men from all spiritual bondage, all spiritual pain. Our frequent folly as defenders of the faith is in saying more than there is any need to say. Let us keep within safe, practical, provable assertions, and these will give an answer enough for the present need. The Gospel of Christ, we know, does something, immediately, for every one who, in response to its great invitation, believes in the Lord Jesus Christ as his Saviour. Real belief in him will at once irradiate the meanest hovel, the most squalid circumstances, with a light which may most truly be described as

The light that never was on sea or land.

No combination of favourable social surroundings will ever bring that light; nothing will bring it but the soul's own free and intelligent admission of Jesus as Saviour and Lord. His presence thus obtained gives joy in the midst of the bitterest anguish, liberty in the midst of the most grinding bondage. The more that people believe in Christ, the more we shall have of his effectual presence in the world; and the more we have of his effectual presence, the nearer we shall come to that perpetual summer when the ice that now wraps so many human hearts will be utterly and lastingly melted away. Social reformers who are not also humble Christians, with all their pretensions and all their zeal, are' only touching secondary causes; relieving symptoms without cutting at the root of disease. No human being ever did or ever will get clear of anguish and bondage except by submitting to Christ. And no one ever submitted to Christ without having the certain assurance given, that in due time all sorrow and sighing would for ever flee away.—Y.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Exodus 6:9". The Pulpit Commentary. 1897.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

And Moses spake so unto the children of Israel: but they hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage.

But they hearkened not to Moses for anguish of spirit — That is, They were so taken up with their troubles that they did not heed him.

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Bibliographical Information
Wesley, John. "Commentary on Exodus 6:9". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". 1765.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

Exodus 6:9 And Moses spake so unto the children of Israel: but they hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage.

Ver. 9. But they hearkened not.] The ear, which tastes words as the mouth doth meat, was so filled with choler, that they could relish no comfort. It is ill sowing in a storm, giving physic in a fever fit. The easiest medicines or waters are troublesome to sore eyes: so here. Quicquid recipitur, recipitur ad modum recipientis.

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Exodus 6:9". John Trapp Complete Commentary. 1865-1868.

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Exodus 6:9. Anguish of spirit The original רוח קצר, chotzer ruach, denotes that shortness of breath, which is occasioned by extreme grief, anger, or fatigue: see the margin of our Bibles. The LXX render it, out of despondency, ολιγοψυχιας ; and Grotius interprets it, anxiety of mind. The spirits of the Israelites were so depressed by their anxiety and severe labours, that they were neither accessible to hope, nor susceptible of consolation. See Numbers 21:4. Judges 10:16.

REFLECTIONS.—Observe here, 1. God silences Moses's complaint with assurances of success. He will work, and who shall let it? If his mighty hand of grace or judgment be stretched forth, when he begins he will make an end: yea, he now will accomplish the hope of Israel, as Jehovah, the promise-fulfilling God. He heard his people's cries before Moses spoke, and their deliverance is both certain and near. Let then the Israel of God, in their deepest distresses, trust, and not be afraid. 2. Moses carries the glad message to the people; but they are so dejected, that they pay no attention to it. Thus often impatient sorrow refuses comfort, and despair turns a deaf ear to the promises of mercy.

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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Exodus 6:9". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae



Exodus 6:9. And Moses spake so unto the children of Israel: but they hearkened not unto Moses, for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage.

“AS face answers to face in a glass, so does the heart of man to man.” We are apt, indeed, to imagine that the Jews were a people of more than ordinary depravity: but it is found that mankind almost universally act precisely as they did, under similar circumstances. We have here a remarkable instance of despondency. The Hebrews had been long groaning under a most cruel oppression: and God had sent his servant, Moses, to deliver them from it. But the effect of his interposition hitherto had been only to augment their troubles. Of this they had bitterly complained, as indeed had Moses himself also: and now, for their comfort, God sent them by Moses a most consolatory message, assuring them, that, however gloomy their prospects might appear to be, a most perfect deliverance was at hand. But they, we are told, “hearkened not unto Moses, for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage.”

Let us consider,

I. Their conduct on this occasion—

The testimony of Moses was in every respect worthy of credit—

[He had wrought before the people the miracles which God had commissioned him to work, in confirmation of his divine mission [Note: Exodus 4:30.]: and hitherto, if he had not yet succeeded in his embassy, he had executed his office with fidelity and courage. It might be supposed, indeed, that if Moses himself had fainted under the discouragement which they had experienced, much more might they. But, on the other hand, if God had renewed his commission to Moses, and expressly authorized him to assure them of a speedy and certain deliverance, so that his mind was left without any doubt of ultimate success, they might well receive his testimony, and rest upon it with composure.]

Nor could any thing be conceived more suited to their necessities—

[They were under the most “cruel bondage.” But Moses declared, that God had entered into covenant with their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to deliver them: that he had confirmed this covenant with an oath: that, from compassion to them, he was about to fulfil the engagements he had entered into: that he not only would deliver them from their sore bondage, but would, by the judgments which he would inflict on Pharaoh, make him more anxious to rid himself of them than ever he had been to detain them; and would constrain him, in fact, to “drive them out from his land.” He further declared, that God would bring them safely into Canaan, wherein their forefathers had sojourned as pilgrims and strangers, and give it them for their inheritance; and would “take them to him as his peculiar people, and be unto them a God,” yea, and “their God.”

In reporting to them these “great and precious promises,” he was careful particularly to make known to them the grounds on which they might be received with the most implicit affiance; for that God had repeatedly pledged his power and veracity for the performance of them. Thrice had God renewed that solemn declaration, “I am Jehovah,” the eternal, self-existent, and immutable Jehovah: and, times almost without number, he had undertaken to execute, with his own irresistible arm, the whole that he had promised: “I will bring you out; I will rid you I will redeem you; I will bring you into the land; I will give it you; I will take you to me for a people, and I will be your God [Note: –8.].”]

Yet would not the people receive, or even “hearken to,” his words—

[Their minds were so wholly occupied with their present troubles, that they could think of nothing else: they were altogether overwhelmed with “anguish of spirit:” and so utterly did they despair of relief, that they desired to be left to live and die under their present servitude, rather than run the risk of augmenting their afflictions by any further application to Pharaoh in their behalf [Note: Genesis 14:11-12.].]

Without dwelling any longer on their conduct, I beg leave to call your attention to,

II. The instruction to be derived from it—

We may notice from hence,

1. The weakness of the human mind—

[It has been justly said, that “oppression will make a wise man mad [Note: Ecclesiastes 7:7.]:” and the common experience of all is, that “hope deferred maketh the heart sick [Note: Proverbs 13:12.].” In my text, we see both the one and the other strongly exemplified. And, in truth, where afflictions are great and of long continuance, the mind of every man is apt to faint: nor can any thing but divine grace adequately sustain it. Even David, when hunted by Saul as a partridge upon the mountains, forgat for a season the power and fidelity of his Protector, and in a fit of despondency exclaimed, “I shall one day perish by the hand of Saul.” So, under various circumstances, the Church of old complained, “My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God:” yea, “the Lord hath forsaken me, and my God hath forgotten me.” Sometimes her despair has been so entire, that she has even made the justice of it a ground of appeal both to God and man: “Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered?” But this experience, in whomsoever it be found, is decidedly contrary to the mind and will of God. We are never to limit the power of God, or to doubt his veracity. We are not to suppose, that, because we see not how deliverance can come, God is at any loss for means whereby to effect it. It is well to “have the sentence of death in ourselves, that we may not trust in ourselves, but in God who raiseth the dead,” and has promised to “judge his people and repent himself for his servants, when he seeth that their power is gone, and that there is none shut up or left [Note: Deuteronomy 32:36.].”]

2. The proper office of faith—

[Faith is to look, above all created things, to God; and to realize, under every dispensation, the presence of him that is invisible. It is to lay hold on God’s word, and to rest upon it, and to expect its accomplishment, in defiance of men or devils. It is to hope, even “against hope.” Its legitimate exercise may be seen in Abraham, when he was commanded to offer up his son: “I have no fear but that God will fulfil his promise in Isaac: even though I should reduce him to ashes upon an altar, God can raise him up again, yea, and will raise him up again, rather than suffer one jot or tittle of his word to fail.” “Being strong in faith, and giving glory to God,” he both formed, and acted upon, this assured expectation: and in proportion to the strength of our faith will be our confidence in God, even under the most discouraging circumstances. We shall say, “Though the fig-tree should not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls; yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation [Note: Habakkuk 3:17-18.].”

Had Israel on this occasion been able to confide in God, how sweetly composed had their minds been in the midst of all their troubles! Let us learn to exercise this grace of faith, and under the darkest dispensations to say, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.”]

3. The excellency of the Gospel dispensation—

[What Moses said to Israel, we are authorized and commissioned to declare to you. You are under a bondage far more cruel than that which Israel experienced: but in the name of Almighty God we come to you, and proclaim, that he has entered into covenant with his Son for your redemption; that he has confirmed that covenant with an oath; that he will bring you out from the power of sin and Satan, and conduct you in safely to the heavenly Canaan. For the fulfilment of all this he pledges to you his word, saying, in relation to every part of the work, ‘I, the immutable Jehovah, will do it for you: I will work; and who shall hinder?’ Only believe in him: believe that “what he has promised he is able also to perform.” You have seen what he did for Israel, notwithstanding their unbelief: what then shall he not do for you, if you will truly believe in Christ as your appointed Saviour? He will not only bring you forth out of the land of your captivity, but will preserve you throughout the whole of this dreary wilderness, and introduce you finally to the full possession of your glorious inheritance. Yes, Brethren, these things we declare unto you in the name of Almighty God: and if, with Caleb and Joshua, you will “follow the Lord fully,” like them you shall have your portion assuredly in the realms of bliss.]

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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Exodus 6:9". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. 1832.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Their minds were so oppressed with their present burdens and future expectations, that they could not believe nor hope for any deliverance, but deemed it impossible; and having been once deceived in their hopes, they now quite despaired, and thought their entertainment of new hopes, or use of further endeavours, would make their condition worse, as it had done.

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Exodus 6:9". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Anguish: Septuagint, "pusillanimity." They would not even hope for a change. (Menochius) --- The Samaritan copy records the speech which they made to Moses. (Kennicott, p. 313.)

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Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Exodus 6:9". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". 1859.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

spirit. Hebrew. ruach. See App-9.

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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Exodus 6:9". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". 1909-1922.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(9) They hearkened not.—The second message was received in quite a different spirit from the first. Then “the people believed, and bowed their knees and worshipped” (Exodus 4:31). Now they could not even be induced to listen. But there is nothing strange in this. The reason is obvious. The first announcement of coming deliverance elated them with a hope to which they had been long strangers. Their spirits sprang to the message, and readily accepted it. But now they had been chilled by disappointment. The only result of their leader’s interference hitherto had been to increase their misery (Exodus 4:7-23). They had therefore lost heart, and could trust him no longer.

Anguish of spirit.—Heb., shortness of breath. (Comp. Job 21:4.) The expression points to extreme lassitude and depression.

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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Exodus 6:9". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

And Moses spake so unto the children of Israel: but they hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage.
5:21; 14:12; Job 21:4; Proverbs 14:19
Heb. shortness. or, straitness.
Numbers 21:4
Reciprocal: Exodus 1:14 - their lives;  Exodus 6:12 - children;  Job 9:16 - would I;  Ezekiel 20:5 - lifted up mine hand;  Mark 16:11 - believed

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Exodus 6:9". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge".

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary



This fact has long since passed away; but its lesson remains ever new. Its body is dead, and has returned to the dust; but its spirit survives immortal. God gave it a body in the actual history of the Hebrews that its meaning might become articulate to human ears. A permanent principle of our nature, and a distinctive feature of the Divine government are here embodied in an example.

I. The Fact which embodies the Principle.

1. The message addressed to Israel. "Moses so spake unto the Children of Israel" (Exo ). This message, in its substance and in its circumstances, was fitted to arrest the people's attention and win their love. In that message, whether you regard its author, its bearer, or its nature, everything tended to entice; nothing to repel them. The time was also fitting, when their burdens were unbearable. Before the slave a pospect of liberty is opened; before the weary a prospect of rest. Will the drooping spirits of the multitude revive at this intelligence?

2. The neglect of the message. No; the promise, although it was rich and precious, stirred not the sluggish mass. It was a spark of fire that fell, but it fell on wetted wood, and kindled therefore no flame. "They hearkened not unto Moses." Why? No people could be in deeper affliction, no kind message could be better authenticated. They neither denied the truth of the message, nor injured the person who bore it. When God's great salvation was provided, the people neglected it. This the head and front of their offending. They said nothing against it, but they let it alone.

3. Examine the specific reason of their apathy. The cause of their indifference to liberty was the extreme severity of their bondage. They hearkened not "for anguish of spirit and for cruel bondage." Here is a paradox: the slavery excessively severe, and therefore the slave does not care for freedom. One would say, the force of the reason goes all the other way. We would rather expect that in proportion to the cruelty of the yoke would be the alacrity of the captives in rising at the Redeemer's call. Had Pharaoh lavished kindness and luxury upon Joseph's kindred, this might have been a reason why they treated with indifference the proffered method of escape. But because prosperity makes people callous to the voice of freedom, it does not follow that the extreme of adversity will put courage into their hearts. Extremes meet. Both great prosperity and great distress often crush every aspiration of freedom. Plenty extinguished the desire, and oppression the hope of freedom. Afterwards the same Hebrews shook off the iron yoke that had lain so long upon their bodies, and sunk so deeply into their souls. A door of hope was opened to them.

II. The principle embodied in the fact. The story of this ancient incident may seem to have no more affinity with modern character than the mummies which travellers dig from the tombs in Egypt have with the living men of to-day. Speaks to all.

1. The message. To us, as to them, it is a message of mercy. Specifically, it proclaims deliverance to the captive. God recognises all men as slaves, and sends an offer for freedom. Christ is the messenger of the covenant. A greater than Moses is here, publishing a greater salvation. We are redeemed from one master to serve another. "Let my people go that they may serve me." He allures them into the wilderness, and abides with them there. The glory of the Lord goes before them during the journey, and settles on the mercy seat when they reach the promised land.

2. Such is the proposal, but it is not heeded. But few disbelieve or revile the messenger. They neglect him.

3. The reason of this neglect. Anguish and cruel bondage. Let us beware of mistake here. Both with them and us the true cause of the listlessness is the carnal mind. The evil is in the heart, but outward things become the occasions of specific disloyalties. Learn:—

(1.) The duty of Christ's disciples to a careless neighbourhood. Abject poverty in these favoured exacts a heavy task from many. Bad dwellings. Hunger. Oppression. Their souls are soured to the bottom, and they care neither for God nor man. They are reckless. They are destitute of fear and of hope. They care not for the future. I am not palliating sin. A fact. What shall be done? Disciples of Christ should not give less attention to spiritual teaching, but more to the material well-being of fallen brothers.

(2.) The second lesson applies more directly to ourselves. Anguish of spirit, whether it comes from God's hand in the form of personal affliction, or from man's hand in the form of unjust oppression, may become the occasion of neglecting the salvation of Christ. We regard sorrow as a time of spiritual revival. Thanks to God, it often is. But the day of anguish is not the sinner's best day for seeking the Saviour. Sorrow is not seed; it may conspire with other means to make the seed grow. Beware of neglecting your spiritual state while you are well. (Rev. W. Arnot.)


Exo . God's faithful messengers do speak His will speedily and fully to whom God sends it.

Former discouragements from men must not hinder God's ministers further to declare His will.

After all God's promises and commands perverse spirits may refuse to hear or believe.

God's message to people in such straits is to ease their pain and enlarge their spirits.

Sense of pain makes some souls unreasonable, even to reject their mercies.




Bondage Effects! Exo . Every man has a right to freedom. Of all earth's hapless ones we pity him the most who languishes is hopeless bondage until he has lost all note of time, and looks through the rayless eyes of idiocy upon any change that gleams through the despairs of his dungeon. Very near to this had Israel sunk. They had a right to be free, but long oppression had sunk them into hugging the chains that fettered them. They were slow to seize the offered boon of freedom—so slow that Pharaoh was emboldened to resist the demand of Moses and Aaron to give liberty to the slaves.

"Yet while he deems thee bound,

The links are shivered, and the prison walls

Fall outward."


Vitality! Exo . The sunbeam shines upon the entombed seed, and lo! a flower all beautiful with rainbow brightness—all fragrant with spicy perfumes rises from the grave. The same light will shine upon a rock, and leave it still a rock after a thousand years. Why? There was no life. The Spirit of God plants the germ of life in the softened soul, and the sunlight of the Saviour's beaming countenance energizes. The rock remains unaffected by all the radiance of the Gospel until affliction pulverizes its hardness, and the Spirit implants the germ of life.

"We welcome clouds that bring the former rain,

Though they the present prospect blacken round,

And shade the beauties of the opening year,

That, by their stores enriched, the earth may yield,

A faithful summer and a plenteous crop."


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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Exodus 6:9". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"They hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage."Exodus 6:9.

How religion is sometimes placed at a disadvantage!—Men"s social circumstances disqualify them for listening to sublime appeals.—Poor people are in no mood to listen to speculation; even the word of hope falls mockingly on the ear of men who have grievous burdens to carry.—Sometimes social condition is to be improved before religious instruction can be effectively given.—The condition of the body greatly affects the temper of the spirit.—A wounded spirit who can bear?—By long ill-usage man is disqualified for religious action. We must therefore be patient with men. We do not all start from the same point in our spiritual education. We must wait for the weak ones; we must adapt our tone to those whose lives have been sunk in black despair.—Some news appears to be too good because of the low condition of those who receive it.—No wonder the world itself was startled almost into mockery by the announcement that God had appeared to redeem it.—Preachers should not imagine that their people are all as well prepared as themselves to go forward in the noblest pursuits.— He is most Divine who is most patient with the suffering and the weak.—When Jesus Christ announced the forgiveness of sins, the people were shocked at the very Gospel that should have been their supreme joy.

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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Exodus 6:9". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. 1885-95.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

9.And Moses spake so. From this verse it appears that Moses is referring to the second message which he was commanded to bear. For they had before heard with great joy and approbation, and had expressed their thankfulness to God, that the time of their deliverance was come. Now Moses relates that their hearts were shut against the announcement that he made to them of this grace. Thus do the afflicted often, by closing their ears, shut the gate against the promises of God, which is indeed a marvelous thing. For it is not to be wondered at, if they who are full and intoxicated with prosperity, reject the mercy of God; but it is contrary to nature that the sorrow which ought to awaken the longings of those who are overwhelmed with trouble, should be an obstacle to their receiving the comfort freely offered them of God. But it is too common for people the more they are respectively afflicted, to harden themselves against the reception of God’s help. Moses relates that the children of Israel were affected by this disease, when so kind an invitation of God was repulsed from their deaf ears, because anguish had taken possession of their hearts. But since it is natural for us to be thus straitened by pain and grief, let us learn from this example to struggle that our minds should escape from their sorrows, so far at least as to be able to receive the grace of God; for there is no greater curse than to be rendered heavy and dull, so as to be deaf to God’s promises.

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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Exodus 6:9". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.