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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Exodus 2

Verse 1

And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi.

There went a man ... The name of the man was Amram, and that of the woman whom he espoused was Jochebed, who is called "a daughter of Levi." Her immediate descent from Levi seems to be confirmed (Exodus 6:20) by the special mention of her relationship to Amram previous to their marriage; and it has been supposed, from the repeated notice of this circumstance, that there was a peculiarity in their matrimonial connection-that, in fact, it came within those degrees which, though permitted in the early times of the patriarchs, were prohibited under the Mosaic law (Leviticus 18:12).

There are chronological difficulties, however, lying in the way of this interpretation. If Jochebed were There are chronological difficulties, however, lying in the way of this interpretation. If Jochebed were actually the daughter of Levi, then her sons must have been his grandsons by their mother's side, while their father Amram was grandson, also, by his father's side. But there is a stronger objection suggested by the bearing of Jochebed's filial relation to Levi on the period of Israel's sojourn in Egypt. Assuming, what is generally admitted, that Levi (born in Jacob's 88th year) was 42 at the time of immigration into Egypt; and, from his having reached 137 years at his death, that he had passed 95 years of his life in that country; then, as Jochebed's birth took place within these 95 years (Numbers 26:59), we have the following data: 95 + 80 (age of Moses at the Exodus) = 175-215 (the shorter period of the sojourn) = 40 missing. It is evident, then, that the word "daughter," from the vague use in the Hebrew writings of all terms of consanguinity (Genesis 14:14) must be taken in the sense of 'descendant' of Levi; and that consequently, as the genealogies are usually abridged, there must be some links of the pedigree dropped either between Kohath and Amram, or between Amram and Moses. From other parts of Scripture we learn that Amram and Jochebed had two children, one of them born three years (Exodus 7:7) previous to the events narrated in the following verses; and we infer, from there being no difficulties connected with his being reared, that the infanticidal edict had not been issued.

Verse 2

And the woman conceived, and bare a son: and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months.

The woman ... bare a son: and when she saw him that he was a goodly child ..., [ Towb (H2896)] - attractive to the eye, fair, beautiful [Septuagint, asteion (cf. Hebrews 11:23) asteios (G791) too (G3588) Theoo (G2316)]; uncommonly, superlatively beautiful (Acts 7:20). Some extraordinary appearance or remarkable comeliness led his parents to augur his future greatness. Beauty was regarded by the ancients as a mark of the divine favour. [Josephus ('Antiquities,' b. 2:, ch. 9:, sec. 7, calls Moses paida morfee Theion; and Philo, 2:, p. 82, genneetheis ho pais euthus opsin enefeenen asteooteran hee kat' idiooteen].

Both these writers seem to intimate that the striking feature in the child's appearance was not so much beauty of countenance as a certain nobility of air, which augured future greatness. This is not mentioned, however, by the sacred historian as the chief inducement for the preservation of Moses. It was only a secondary reason, though it might have stimulated their hopes that God would bless their endeavours to save him, which were not founded on any special revelation made directly concerning him, but originated in their faith and implicit reliance upon the divine promises. It is observable that no prodigies, such as are described in the poetry of the early ages, and even in the fragments of legendary histories that have been transmitted to us, as distinguishing the birth of eminent persons, signalized the nativity of Moses; and as he was the greatest hero of the Israelite nation, it is no slight proof of the historical truth of this book that it contains no traditional fables of this sort.

She hid him three months. The mother is here represented as the sole agent. [But the Septuagint has the plural, eskepasan; as does also the apostle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 11:23), Pisteis Moosees genneetheis ekrubee trimeenon hupo toon pateroon autou, which Bengel conjectures means the father, and grandfather, Kohath, although hoi pateres frequently denotes parents.] Amram and Jochebed were a pious couple; and the measures they took were prompted not only by parental attachment, but by a strong faith in the blessing of God prospering their efforts to rescue their infant from destruction. The persecution was at its height at the birth of Moses; and 'man's extremity' proved in this instance, as in many others, to be 'God's opportunity.'

Verse 3

And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river's brink.

She took for him an ark of bulrushes, [ teebat (H8392); Septuagint, thibeen] - a chest, coffer, or small vessel; "bulrushes," the papyrus Nilotica-a thick, strong, and tough reed, which anciently grew in great abundance on the banks of the Nile-but now that the river has been opened to commerce, has totally disappeared, except in a few sequestered localities. The ancient Egyptians applied it, as the Scriptures show, at an early date, to a great variety of uses: making arms, shoes, baskets, vessels of different kinds, especially boats and light skiffs.

And daubed it with slime and with pitch. "Slime," the Nile mud which, when hardened, is very tenacious; and "pith," mineral tar coating of pitch rendered the papyrus boats impervious to water. Boats of this description are seen daily floating on the surface of the river, frequently with no other caulking than Nile mud (cf. Isaiah 18:2), and they are perfectly watertight, unless the coating is forced off by stormy weather.

Flags, [ bacuwp (H5488)] - a general term for seaweed or river-weed [Septuagint, eis to helos, into the fen]. The chest was not, as is often represented, committed to the bosom of the water, but laid on the bank, where it would naturally appear to have been drifted by the current and arrested by the reedy thicket. The spot is traditionally said to be the Isle of Rodah, near Old Cairo.

Verse 4

And his sister stood afar off, to wit what would be done to him.

His sister - Miriam would probably be a girl of 10 or 12 years of age at the time.

Verse 5

And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river's side; and when she saw the ark among the flags, she sent her maid to fetch it.

The daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river. Dr. Adam Clarke maintains that there was no bathing in the case, and that the princess was about to be occupied in bleaching clothes, according to the primitive manners of kings' daughters in early times, as represented in Homer, who describes Nausicaa, daughter of Alcinous, king of the Phoeacians, as employed, along with her maidens, in washing her own clothes and those of her five brothers at the seaside. But the cases are not similar; and the terms used in this narrative convey the idea of a very different scene from what Dr. Clarke supposed.

The verb [ raachats (H7364)] used here denotes, to wash oneself, to bathe (Ruth 3:3; 2 Samuel 11:2; 2 Kings 5:10; 2 Kings 5:13), whereas a different word [ kaabac (H3526)] is employed to signify washing clothes. Besides, the monuments represent ladies of high rank, with their female servants, bathing in the Nile (Wilkinson 3:, p.

389); and from the extraordinary reverence in which the native Egyptians held their river, it was considered an act of special devotion to plunge at certain seasons into the waters of the sacred stream. The occasion on which the daughter of Pharaoh went down to bathe is thought to have been a religious solemnity; probably the festival of the new moon, which the members of the royal family were accustomed to introduce by performing their ablutions in the river. Peculiar sacredness was attached to those portions of the Nile which flowed near the temples. The water was there fenced off as a protection from the crocodiles; and doubtless the princess had an enclosure reserved for her own use, the road to which seems to have been well known to Jochebed.

Indeed, the hut of this Levite couple seems to have been in the immediate neighbourhood of the capital; and whether Jochebed was, as Osburn conjectures, a domestic slave engaged in some outdoor work of the palace, she was in a position that afforded her good opportunities of knowing the daily movements of the royal family.

On the hypothesis that Rameses II (Sesostris) was 'the new king' (Exodus 1:8), his daughter was THUORIS, according to the hieroglyphics on the sculptures; Thermuthis, according to Josephus, who, though of mature age, was, for political reasons, married by her father to Si-Ptha, the infant heir to the throne of Lower Egypt, and thus became virtually regent over the Delta, until, on the death of her younger brother, Amenephthis, she succeeded to the sovereign authority over all Egypt. It is evident that she was sole administratrix of affairs from the first in Lower Egypt; because in her own right, and by the exercise of her royal power, she set aside the sanguinary policy of her father, in the face of her court; and having no prospect of a legitimate heir in a son of her own, adopted one of her own choice. (See 'Israel in Egypt, p. 285; 'Mon. Hist,' 2:, pp. 564-6.)

Walked along - in procession or in file.

Sent her maid, [ 'ªmaataah (H519)] - immediate attendant. The term is different from that rendered 'maidens.'

Verse 6

And when she had opened it, she saw the child: and, behold, the babe wept. And she had compassion on him, and said, This is one of the Hebrews' children.

When she had opened it - the princess exclaimed, "This is one of the Hebrews' children" - most probably recognized to be one of that race by the mark of circumcision upon his body ('Cause Morale de Circoncision,'

p. 180). The narrative is picturesque. No tale of romance ever described a plot more skillfully laid or more full of interest in the development. The expedient of the ark-the slime and pitch-the choice of the time and place-the appeal to the sensibilities of the female breast-the stationing of the sister as a watch of the proceedings-her timely suggestion of a nurse-and the engagement of the mother herself,-all bespeak a more than ordinary measure of ingenuity, as well as intense solicitude on the part of the parents. But the origin of the scheme was most probably owing to a divine suggestion, as its success was due to an overruling Providence, who not only preserved the child's life, but provided for his being trained in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Hence, it is said to have been done by faith (Hebrews 11:23) in the general promise of deliverance; and in this view the pious couple gave a beautiful example of a firm reliance on the Word of God, united with an active use of the most suitable means.

Verses 7-9

Then said his sister to Pharaoh's daughter, Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee?

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 10

And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses: and she said, Because I drew him out of the water.

She brought him unto Pharaoh's daughter. Though it must have been nearly as severe a trial for Jochebed to part with him the second time as the first, she was doubtless reconciled to it by her belief in his high destination as the future deliverer of Israel. His age when removed to the palace is not stated; but he was old enough to be well instructed in the principles of the true religion; and those early impressions, deepened by the power of divine grace, were never forgotten or effaced. He had remained long enough to be thoroughly imbued with the true national feeling of a Hebrew; and though he may have actively engaged in the varied scenes to which his royal station afterward introduced him, he never ceased to cherish a spirit of sympathy with the race from which he had sprung.

He became her son - by adoption, and his high rank afforded him advantages in education which, in the providence of God, were made subservient to far different purposes from what his royal patroness intended.

Called his name Moses, [ Mosheh (H4872)]. His parents might, as usual, at the time of his circumcision, have given him a name, which is traditionally said to have been Joachim. But the name chosen by the princess, whether of Egyptian or Hebrew origin, is the only one by which he has ever been known to the Church; and it is a permanent memorial of the painful incidents of his birth and infancy. The etymology of this name is variously traced. Some take it as the participle of maashaah (H4871), to draw out. But Gesenius maintains that the form of the name is active, drawing out-not passive, drawn out; and has shown that it is not likely the princess, who bestowed it, would have given a name derived from the Hebrew language. It is generally believed to be a genuine Egyptian word, which Josephus ('Antiquities,' b. 2:, ch. 9:, sec. 6) traces to Moo, water, and usees, such as are saved out of it; Septuagint, Moousees. 'Mou' is still 'water' in Coptic; and the old Egyptian word-given by Bunsen as Muau ('Egypt's Place,' vol. 1:) - was similar. According to Jablonsky ('Opusc.,' 1:, 152), Oushe in Coptic means 'to save' (Rawlinson, 'Bampton Lectures,'

p. 366). Manetho records, that when a student among the priests of Heliopolis, Moses was known by the name of Osarsiph (Josephus, 'Cont. Apion,' b. 1:, 25).

Verses 11-12

And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren.

In those days, when Moses was grown - not in age and stature only, but in power, as well as in renown for accomplishments and military prowess (Acts 7:23; also Josephus' 'Antiquities,' b. 2:, ch. 10:: cf. the testimonies of ancient writers collected by Champollion-Figeac-`Egypte' ('l'Univers Pittoresque,' pp. 11, 122). There is a gap here in the sacred history which, however, is supplied by the inspired commentary of Paul, who has fully detailed the reasons as well as extent of the change that took place in the condition of Moses; and whether, as some say, his royal mother had proposed to make him co-regent and successor to the crown, or some other circumstances led to a declaration of his mind, he determined to renounce the palace, and identify himself with the suffering people of God (Hebrews 11:24-26.) The descent of some great sovereigns, like Diocletian and Charles V, from a throne into private life, is nothing to the sacrifice which Moses made through the power of faith.

Went out unto his brethren. Possessed, doubtless, of some official character, he purposed to make a full and systematic inspection of their condition in the various parts of the country where they were dispersed (Acts 7:23), and he adopted this proceeding in pursuance of the patriotic purpose that the faith which is of the operation of God was even then forming in his heart.

Spied an Egyptian - one of the taskmasters scourging a Hebrew slave without any just cause (Acts 7:24), and in so cruel a manner that he seems to have died under the barbarous treatment-for the conditions of the sacred story imply such a fatal issue. The sight was new and strange to him; and though pre-eminent for meekness (Numbers 12:3), he was fired with indignation.

Slew the Egyptian. This act of Moses may seem, and indeed by some has been condemned, as rash and unjustifiable-in plain terms, as a deed of assassination. But we must not judge of his action in such a country and age by the standard of law and the notions of right which prevail in our Christian land; and, besides, not only is it not spoken of as a crime in Scripture, or as distressing the perpetrator with remorse, but, according to existing customs among nomadic tribes, he was bound to avenge the blood, of a brother. Most probably the outrage he avenged was an act of individual oppression, done by one who was 'armed with a little brief authority,' and who had been guilty of needless excesses of cruelty. The person slain, however, being a government officer, Moses had rendered himself amenable to the laws of Egypt (Diodorus Siculus, 1:, sec.

27), and therefore he endeavoured to screen himself from the consequences by concealment of the corpse.

Hid him in the sand. The sand of the Arabian desert is close on the edge of the cultivated land in Egypt; or, if this happened near Memphis, as is generally supposed, there is a tongue of the sandy desert which comes up to the very borders of Old Cairo, as Laborde describes ('Comment. Geographique'); and thus an objection that was long made to the statement in this verse, that there were no sands in which Moses could bury the man whom he had slaughtered, is shown to be groundless.

Verses 13-14

And when he went out the second day, behold, two men of the Hebrews strove together: and he said to him that did the wrong, Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow?

Two men of the Hebrews strove. The benevolent mediation in this strife, though made in the kindest and mildest manner, was resented, and the taunt of the aggressor showing that Moses' conduct on the preceding day had become generally known, he determined to consult his safety by immediate flight (Hebrews 11:27). 'The Hebrews themselves had been his betrayers. This is, in the first place, a probable effect of the degradation consequent upon their state of slavery. There were, in addition, other and still more powerful reasons to prejudice him in the minds of his brethren, who would doubtless resent, and deeply, as a wrong done to their clan, his refusal of the crown of Egypt' ('Mon. History,' 2: p. 568). These two incidents prove that neither were the Israelites yet ready to go out of Egypt, nor was Moses prepared to be their leader (James 1:20). It was by the staff and not the sword-by the meekness, and not the anger of Moses-that God was to accomplish that great work of deliverance. Both he and the people of Israel were for forty years longer cast into the furnace of affliction, yet it was therein that He had chosen them (Isaiah 48:10).

Verse 15

Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian: and he sat down by a well.

Moses fled ... and dwelt in the land of Midian - situated on the shore of the Eastern gulf of the Red Sea, and occupied by the posterity of Midian, the son of Abraham (Genesis 25:7) - their kindred with Israel, and their adherence to the primitive faith, being, doubtless, the reason of his taking refuge among them. The territory extended northward to the top of the gulf, and westward far across the desert of Sinai. And from their position near the sea, they early combined trading with pastoral pursuits (Genesis 37:28). The headquarters of Jethro are supposed to have been where Dahab-Madian now stands; and from Moses coming direct to that place, he may have traveled with a caravan of merchants. But the site of the "land of Midian" is not known. Josephus describes it as by the Red Sea. Dr. Beke and others hold that it lay in the widespread plains of the Ghor.

Sat down by a well, [ `al (H5921) habª'eer (H875)] - by the well, a well-known watering-place; and it was 'noon' (Josephus 'Antiquities, b. 2:, ch. 11:, sec. 1). See the note at Genesis 29:3.

Verses 16-22

Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters: and they came and drew water, and filled the troughs to water their father's flock.

Now the priest of Midian - as the offices were usually conjoined, he was the ruler also of the people called Cushites or Ethiopians, and, like many other chiefs of pastoral people in that early age, he still retained the faith and worship of the true God.

Seven daughters - were shepherdesses, to whom Moses was favourably introduced by an act of courtesy and courage in protecting them from the rude shepherds of some neighbouring tribe at the well.

Verse 18. Reuel their father - or Raguel (Numbers 10:29) [Septuagint, Ragoueel, in both places]. This is supposed to be his proper name, while Jethro (Exodus 3:1) was a title of official dignity. Or if Jethro were the real appellative of the man (father of the shepherdesses), Reuel or Raguel might be his father (their grandfather), and Hobab his son (Judges 4:11). He afterward formed a close and permanent alliance with this family, by marrying one of the daughters, Zipporah (a little bird, called a Cushite or Ethiopian (Numbers 12:1), and whom he doubtless obtained in the manner of Jacob, by service. He had by her two sons, whose names were, according to common practice, commemorative of incidents in the family history.

Verse 22. Gershom - i:e. [ geer (H1616) shaam (H8033)], a stranger or sojourner there [Septuagint, Geersam].

Verse 23

And it came to pass in process of time, that the king of Egypt died: and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage.

The king of Egypt died: and the children of Israel sighed. The language seems to imply that the Israelites had experienced a partial relaxation, probably through the influence of Moses' royal patroness; but in the reign of her father's successor the persecution was renewed with increased severity. Although a single king is spoken of as the oppressor of the Israelites, we are not hindered from considering the expression to denote the powers ruling in Egypt at that period collectively; or supposing that the bondage extended, with increased severity over several reigns, Rameses II began the oppression, and though it was somewhat mitigated during the mild and liberal policy of Si-Ptha and Thuoris-the royal patroness of Moses-yet the public works begun by her father, Rameses II, were necessarily carried on, and the most harassing burdens laid upon the Israelites, who were levied to labour for certain specified periods of service, as the Canaanites were afterward under Solomon (1 Kings 9:15-23).

On the refusal of Moses to accept the honours intended for him, Thuoris withdrew, in deep disappointment, to Upper Egypt, where she exercised the government as guardian of her infant nephew, Sethos, whom she now constituted her heir. Upon her death seven years after, Sethos ascended the throne of Upper Egypt, and on the demise of Si-phtha several years later-the king of Egypt that died "in process of time" (Exodus 2:23) - he succeeded to the sovereign power in Lower Egypt also. He was a grovelling, dissolute profligate, and at the same time a merciless tyrant, who, on finding in his new dominions the alien race of Israel, whom his grandfather had tried in vain to crush, increased in numbers, and swarming everywhere, resolved to revive the grinding policy of his great ancestor. The most grievous labours were imposed, and their servitude was harder than ever, their wages being principally paid by the bastinado.

The children of Israel ... cried; and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage. Since the same system of forced labour by bands of peasantry, and the same infliction for shortcoming in what is beyond the powers of human strength and endurance, is still pursued in modern Egypt, some idea of the suppressed indignation and cherished hatred of their oppressive taskmasters, which boiled in the breasts of the ancient Israelites, may be gathered from the complaints of the oppressed Fellaheen, etc.

Stanley gives specimens of their popular songs the burden of which is against the chiefs of their own village:-`The chief of the village, the chief of the village, may the dogs tear him, tear him, tear him!' It is said that in the gangs of boys and girls set to work along the Nile is to be heard the strophe and antistrophe of a melancholy chorus:-`They starve us, they starve us,' 'They beat us, they beat us;' to which both alike reply, 'But there's Someone above, there's Someone above, who will punish them well, who will punish them well.' This, with very slight changes, mast have been the cry which went up from the afflicted Israelites, "by reason of the bondage" (Stanley's 'Jewish Church,' p. 84).

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Exodus 2". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.