Bible Commentaries
Exodus 2

Gray's Concise Bible CommentaryGray's Concise Commentary

Verses 1-22


In Exodus we have the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt and the establishment of their relationship with Jehovah their Deliverer.

It opens by rehearsing the names of Jacob’s sons and the passing away of Joseph and his generation (Exodus 1:1-6 ) matters considered in Genesis. Then follows a statement of the numerical development of Israel. Count the adverbs, adjectives and nouns describing it, and see how God has fulfilled already one part of His prediction to Abraham (Genesis 15:13-14 ).


What circumstance is mentioned (Exodus 1:8 )? What course does the king pursue toward Israel and why (Exodus 1:9-11 )? What effect had this on the development of the people (Exodus 1:12 )? How further did the Egyptians oppress Israel (Exodus 1:13-14 )? How was the execution of the last-named method of oppression subsequently extended (Exodus 1:22 )?


Exodus begins with “Now” which might be translated “And,” suggesting that the book was not originally divided from Genesis, but constituted a part of it. This is true of all the first five books of the Bible, which were originally one unbroken volume and known as The Law or The Law of Moses (Luke 16:31 ; Luke 24:44 ).

“The new king.., which knew not Joseph” means a new dynasty altogether, the result of some internal revolution or foreign conquest. If that of Joseph’s day was a dynasty of shepherd kings from the East or the neighborhood of Canaan, we can understand their friendship for Joseph and his family outside of any special debt of gratitude they owed him. For the same reason we can understand how the new regime might have been jealous and fearful of his clan in the event of a war with the people of that region (Exodus 1:10 ). Perhaps, “more and mightier than we,” is not to be taken in a literal but comparative sense.

Notice concerning the Hebrew midwives that while the names of but two are given these may have been heads of schools of the obstetric art. “Stools” (Exodus 1:16 ) might be translated “stones” and suggests a vessel of stone for holding water like a trough, the application being to the children rather than to the mothers. When a newborn child was laid in the trough for bathing may have been the time for the destruction of the male issue.

Exodus 1:21 will be better understood if we know that “them” is masculine and refers not to the midwives but Israel. “The midwives feared God,” and because of this they did not execute Pharaoh’s orders, and those orders remaining unexecuted, God built up Israel. “He made them houses” refers doubtless to the way in which the Israelites begat children and their families grew. It was for this reason that the king now gave commandment to his people generally to engage in the destructive work.


The story now descends from the general to the particular and the history of one family and one child is given. To which tribe did this family belong (Exodus 2:1 )? For the names of the father and mother, see 6:20. What measures were taken to preserve the child (Exodus 2:3 )? Compare Hebrews 11:23 for evidence of a divine impulse in this action. What is the meaning of “Moses” (in Hebrew, Mosheh, Exodus 2:10 )? While Moses was to have the advantage of all the wisdom and learning of the Egyptian court (Acts 7:22 ), what arrangement is made for his instruction in the traditions of his fathers (Exodus 2:7-9 )?

Do you see any relation between this training of Moses and his action in Exodus 2:11-12 ? May it have been that Moses was fired by a carnal desire to free his people at this time and in his own way? What led to his flight from Egypt (Exodus 2:13-14 )? Were his fears well grounded (Exodus 2:15 )?

Identify Midian on the map, and from your studies in Genesis recall what Abrahamic stock had settled in that neighborhood. Is there anything in Exodus 2:15 and the following verses to recall an ancestor of Moses, and if so, which one?


It is probable the marriage of Moses’ parents had taken place previous to the order for the destruction of the male children, for Aaron, the brother of Moses, was older than he and there is no intimation that his infancy was exposed to peril.

Speaking of the wisdom and learning of the Egyptian, Dr. Murphy has a paragraph explaining it as follows:

The annual overflow of the Nile, imparting a constant fertility to the soil, rendered Egypt preeminently an agricultural country. The necessity of marking the time of its rise led to the study of astronomy and chronology. To determine the right to which it rose in successive years and the boundaries of landed property liable to be obliterated by these waters, they were constrained to turn their attention to geometry. For the preservation of mathematical science and the recording of the observation needful for its practical application, the art of writing was essential; and the papyrus reed afforded the material for such records. In these circumstances the heavenly bodies, the Nile and the animals of their country became absorbing objects of attention and eventually of worship.

This part of Moses’ history should be studied in connection with Acts 7:20-29 and Hebrews 11:23-27 , where we have an inspired commentary on his actions and motives.

It would appear that he declined all the honor and preferment included in his relation by adoption to Pharaoh’s daughter, and for all we know the throne of Egypt itself, in order to throw in his lot with the Hebrews, and this before the incident recorded in this lesson. And if this be so, no man except Jesus Christ ever made a choice more trying or redounding more to His credit; for it is to be remembered that the step was taken not in youth or old age, but at the grand climacteric of his life when he was forty years of age.

The Midianites being descended from Abraham by Keturah, had doubtless to some degree preserved the worship of Jehovah so that Reuel (elsewhere called Jethro) may, like Melchisedec, have been a priest of the Most High God, and Moses in marrying his daughter was not entering into alliance with an idolator.


1. What are the two main subjects of Exodus?

2. What is suggested as to the original form of the first five books of Moses?

3. How would you explain the opposition of the Egyptians?

4. Can you give the history of their learning and wisdom?

5. How do the events of this lesson exalt Moses?

Verses 23-25


The Egyptian records refer to Moses. Rameses, said by many to be the Pharaoh of the Exodus, built a great monument on which he made an inscription naming the nobility who were present when it was erected. Toward the end of the list he mentions “The ra-Moses, Child of the Lady and Priestess of the Sun God Ra.”

Note the peculiarity of the description. “The ra-Moses” means some distinguished ra-Moses, while “Child of the Lady” describes a situation and relation not unlike that of Moses and Pharaoh’s daughter. There are other corroborative data we have no space for, mentioned as a further hint concerning what archaeology reveals on the historicity of the Old Testament.

THE BURNING BUSH (Exodus 2:23 to Exodus 3:10 )

Observe the prelude to the oratorio of power and grace the next chapter reveals, which is found in the language of the closing verses of the present chapter: “God heard,” “God remembered,” “God looked,” “God had respect unto,” or took knowledge of them. His spiritual apprehension is limited who finds nothing for his soul to feed upon in this.

Observe in the burning bush a type of Israel afflicted but not consumed, because God was in the midst of her. Observe in Moses’ action (Exodus 3:3 ) an illustration of the purpose God has in a certain kind of miracle which He performs. This purpose is simply to arrest the attention of men to listen to His voice, that they may be convinced. Observe the name by which God reveals Himself (Exodus 3:6 ), and the identity it establishes with Israel’s past, awakening hope and confidence in Him as the God of promise.

What does God now propose to do for Israel (Exodus 3:8 )? Why (Exodus 3:9 )? How (Exodus 3:10 )? To what extent is Moses to be used, that is, shall he bring Israel out and in, or only out (Exodus 3:10 )?

THE GREAT NAME (Exodus 3:11-22 )

It is not surprising that when Moses, hesitates to accept His command (Exodus 3:11 ), God should encourage him with a token (Exodus 3:12 ), but is it not singular that the token shall not be realized upon until after the command has been fulfilled (same verse, last clause)? Did God mean that the burning bush was the token, or are we to suppose that the token was the event itself? In the latter case, it were as though God said, “Go, and try, and you shall find in the trial and its result that I have sent you.” The former view accords better with the Hebrew accents in the case and with our ordinary idea of a sign, but the latter is corroborated by later Scriptures, such as Isaiah 7:14 .

Have we ever met with this name of God before (Exodus 3:14 )? It is the expression of what God is, the sum of His being and the greatest of all His names. A commentator paraphrases the verse thus: “If Israel shall ask: What are the nature and attributes of Him who hath sent thee to bring us out of Egypt? Tell them it is the eternal, self-existent, immutable Being who only can say that He always will be what He always has been.”

Compare Christ’s words concerning Himself in John 8:58 and observe the identity of expression as well as the application of it made by the Jews, who understood Christ to appropriate this name to Himself.

Are you troubled about the ethics of Exodus 3:21-22 ? If so, you will wish to know that “borrow” does not imply a promise of return but signifies simply to ask or demand (compare Psalms 2:8 ). The Israelites were but receiving at last the fair wages for their toil which their oppressors had denied them. They shall not be ashamed who wait for God.


Moses’ long tutelage in Midian has developed caution. He is a different man from the one who slew the Egyptian in haste forty years before (Exodus 4:1 )! What is the first sign now given him (Exodus 4:2-5 )? The second (Exodus 4:6-8 )? Were these simply for his own assurance or that of Israel? What power was bestowed upon him with reference to a third sign? Doubtless there was an adaptedness of these signs to the purpose for which they were to be used in Egypt, but space will hardly permit a discussion of that feature.

In what does the backwardness of Moses approach the danger point of unbelief (Exodus 4:10-13 )? Light is thrown on the answer to this question if we reflect that Exodus 4:13 amounts to this: “Choose another, a better man to send.” No wonder God was angered, and yet how does He express His patience (Exodus 4:14-16 ) ? Nevertheless, Moses may have forfeited a certain privilege because of his waywardness. A rendering of Exodus 4:14 could read: “‘Is not Aaron thy brother the Levite?’“ By which we may understand that in consequence of Moses’ act the honor of the priesthood and of being the official head of the house of Levi was denied him and conferred on Aaron. If this be true, it teaches that those who decline the labor and hazard connected with the call of God to a special service may lose a blessing of which they little dream.

THE START FOR EGYPT (Exodus 4:18-28 )

How is Moses encouraged (Exodus 4:19 )? What peculiar designation is given Israel (Exodus 4:22 )? You will recall the harmony between this and what we have learned as God’s purpose in calling Israel for her great mission. She was favored beyond other nations not for her own sake but that of those nations to which she was to minister.

What mysterious incident occurred on this journey (Exodus 4:24-26 )? We do not know the meaning of this, but following we give the views of James G. Murphy in his commentary on Exodus:

The Lord had charged Moses with a menace of the gravest kind to Pharaoh and it was well that Moses himself should feel acutely the pang of death in order to comprehend the meaning of this threat. It appears that his youngest son had not been circumcised through some fault of his; the neglect of which was a serious delinquency in one who was to be the leader and lawgiver of the holy people. It was therefore meet that the perfection of the divine holiness should be made known to him and that he should learn at this stage of his experience that God is in earnest when He speaks, and will perform what He has threatened. Hence the Lord sought to kill him probably by some disease or sudden stroke. It is also probable from her promptitude in the matter that Zipporah was in some way the cause of the delay in circumcising the child. Her womanly tenderness shrunk from the painful operation, and her words seem to imply that it was her connection with Moses that had necessitated the bloody rite. It was doubtless a salutary and seasonable lesson to her as well as Moses. The Lord, who sought to put the latter to death, remitted the penalty when the neglected duty had been performed.


1. How does archeology testify to Moses in Egypt?

2. What is God’s purpose in certain miracles?

3. How would you define “I Am That I Am”?

4. Give an argument from John 8:58 for Christ’s deity.

5. How would you explain the word “borrow” (Genesis 3:21-22 )?

6. How does Murphy explain Genesis 4:24-26 ?

Bibliographical Information
Gray, James. "Commentary on Exodus 2". Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. 1897-1910.