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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Exodus 2


(1.) The time of the event with which this chapter opens is not precisely ascertained, but it must have been somewhere in the third stage of the cruel oppression described in the last part of chap. 1. We now come to transactions in which Moses was an eyewitness and an actor. From the opening of this chapter we should naturally suppose that Moses was the firstborn child; yet from verses four and seven we find that he had an older sister, and from Exodus 7:7 we find that Aaron was his older brother, of whose birth no mention is made . This omission of events well known to Moses, which do not lie directly in the line of connexion that he aims to trace, is specially noteworthy as a characteristic of the author’s style . The opening history is, in truth, not only biography, but autobiography, the narrative of the writer’s own eventful birth .

(2.) The whole style of this chapter shows that it was written by one who was familiar with both Egyptian and Hebrew. Ewald shows ( Hist. of Israel, ii, p. 3) that the words for river, (Nile,) bulrushes, (Nile grass,) and afterward the words for ephah, hin, etc., are Egyptian words naturalized in Hebrew. So the words for slime, pitch, brick, ark, and others, are common to both languages, as may be seen at once from the hieroglyphic dictionaries of Bunsen and Brugsch. The great Hebrew lawgiver used both languages with equal fluency, and his work is everywhere tinged with the “wisdom of the Egyptians.”

(3.) Here begins the history of one of the great souls of the earth. In original endowments, in the grandeur of his mission, and in the permanence of his influence, no other man has been more highly honored of God. In law and literature, as well as in religion in the world of action as well as of thought in the Occident as well as the Orient what name outshines the name of Moses? No other man ever touched the world at so many points as he, and through no other did God ever so move the world. We must accept his claim to inspiration or leave him a riddle unsolved. Says Ewald: “We cannot explain him, or derive him from previous antecedents, for here we stand in presence of the mystery of all creation and of all spiritual power.” Yet he is not self-reliant, like the great captains, statesmen, and lawgivers of profane history. He was humbled and crushed by a sense of weakness while revealing the sublimest power. Utterly quenched in his work, he built no monuments for himself, founded no dynasties, but retired behind the cloudy pillar, where he “wist not that his face shone.”


REUEL, JETHRO, HOBAB. Some have made Reuel and Jethro the same; others, Hobab and Jethro the same; and others still have considered all three the same. The solution of the question depends on the meaning of the word חתן , which our translators have always rendered “father-in-law,” but which the Seventy render by γαμβρος , which means simply marriage relation, and may be father-in-law, son-in-law . brother-in-law, or bridegroom . The Seventy thus give us a wide liberty, which we must use to settle the relationship of these persons to Moses .

1. Reuel, or Raguel, is called the father of Zipporah, Moses’s wife, in Exodus 2:18. Also in Numbers 10:29, Reuel is called the חתן of Moses, that is, his “father-in-law . ”

2. Jethro, or Jether, is in Exodus 3:1, and often thereafter, called the חתן of Moses, and “Jethro” we understand to be another name for Reuel . Jether, or Jethro, signifies “excellence,” and was probably a titular or honorary name which he received because of his priestly dignity .

3. Hobab is in Numbers 10:29 expressly called Reuel’s son, so he must have been Zipporah’s brother . But the same word is also applied to him in Judges 4:11, which we consider here to mean simply marriage relation, that is, in this case, brother-in-law .

Other incidental notices confirm this view. Reuel, that is, Jethro, was advanced in life when Moses first met him, (Exodus 2:16,) since he had seven grown-up daughters . But, forty years after this, we find Hobab invited to accompany the Israelites in their journeyings, and aid them in selecting their encampments, (Numbers 10:31,) and he seems to have complied with the invitation, for his children are afterwards found settled in Canaan. Judges 1:16; Judges 4:11. This we should not expect of the aged Reuel, but it might betrue of Hobab, his son, who would then have been in the prime of life; while the character of a wise counsellor, such as is assigned to Jethro in Exodus 18:0, well suits the age and office of Reuel .

Reuel and Jethro, then, we understand to be one and the same person, the father of Hobab and of Zipporah, the wife of Moses. Thus Hobab would be her brother.

Verse 1


1. A man of the house of Levi Amram, a descendant of Levi through Kohath. And took to wife a daughter (descendant) of Levi Jochebed. Exodus 6:20, where see note . See Introductory, (1 . )

Verse 2

2. She saw… he was a goodly child Literally, he was beautiful: “beautiful before God,” says Stephen . Acts 7:20, in margin . Every child is beautiful to the mother’s eye; but the spiritually-minded Jochebed, whose very name declared “JAH, her glory,” saw His beauty behind the child’s sweet face, and knew by faith that He who had given her such a treasure could guard it for her, even from Pharaoh .

She hid him “By faith” she hid the child, and “was not afraid . ” Hebrews 11:23. She used all means, yet trusted; she had full trust, yet used all means. It is the old paradox of the divine-human life.

Verse 3

3. When she could not longer hide him She had already concealed him three months.

She took for him an ark of bulrushes Papyrus. The papyrus, or paper reed, from which paper was first made and named, has a triangular stalk, as thick as the finger, about a dozen feet high. Light, strong boats were made of it; also mats, mattresses, sails, and many other articles. The famous Egyptian papyri, whose contents are now being deciphered, were made from slices of the pith, dried and then pressed and glued together, forming strips of indefinite length.

Daubed it with slime Either bitumen or Nile mud. Jochebed cemented the rushes together with the Nile mud or bitumen, and then smeared the seams with liquid pitch to make it water-tight. Similar boats are common on the Tigris now.

Flags Rather, the Nile grass. She placed the child where she knew that the princess would see him, trusting for his safety to his captivating beauty and to God.

Verse 4

4. His sister Probably Miriam, who is the only sister named in the history . Numbers 26:59. The mother has now exhausted all her skill; she can think of but one thing more to station Miriam afar off . And now, if ever, JAHVEH-JIREH, “The Lord will provide . Genesis 22:14.

Verse 5

5. The daughter of Pharaoh came The intellectual and moral condition of women in Egypt was far higher than in Asia or in Greece . Polygamy was rare, and the harem seclusion unknown . Women were respected and honoured in society, much as in modern Europe and America, and the wives and daughters of kings succeeded to the throne of the Pharaohs . Wilkinson says, that the Egyptians recognised the fact that the morals and manners of society depended on the respect shown to women .

To wash Rather, to bathe: not to wash her clothes, as Dr . Clarke interprets, who in this case transferred to Egypt the manners of the Grecian lands in the Homeric age . The Nile was regarded as an emanation of the god Osiris, and the act of bathing in its waters was devotional as well as sanitary, for the Nile was deemed the mother of all life and fruitfulness .

Verses 6-9

6-9. There is a pathos in this description which shows that the writer’s heart was in it . That princess was his adopting mother . The self-reliant action of the king’s daughter, notwithstanding her father’s cruel and absolute command, well illustrates the independence in character and action which distinguished the Egyptian women, at least the high-born .

The Egyptians were taught also to regard mercy as one of the conditions of acceptance in the day of judgment. In the Funeral Ritual, or Book of the Dead, recently translated from a papyrus by Birch, the human spirit is represented as answering to the judge, “I have not afflicted any man; I have not made any man weep; I have not withheld milk from the mouths of sucklings.”

Verse 10

10. The child grew… and he became her son This is all that Moses tells us of his own youth . How easily could he here have written lines which would have satisfied the curiosity of ages! but he hastens over years to touch the next link in the providential chain . The sacred writers ever show this baffling, unworldly reticence . Thus the youth of Moses’s great Antitype, Jesus, is almost a blank in history . In both instances apocryphal legends, beneath attention except as psychological curiosities, (witness Josephus and Philo,) have swarmed into the vacuum . There are, however, in the British Museum papyri of the eighteenth dynasty, (B . C . 1525-1325, according to Wilkinson,) which give something of an idea of the education of a youth designed for civil and military service in the Mosaic age . From these and other sources we learn that the education was in literature, philosophy, and the mystic lore of the Egyptian religion, rather than in science, although great attention was given to arithmetic, pure and applied geometry, mensuration, surveying, accounts, architecture, and astronomy . But especially were the children trained from infancy in grammar and rhetoric, and the drill in style was thorough enough to have satisfied Quintilian . Literary examination was indispensable for appointment to the lowest public office, and instructors were appointed and schools superintended by the government . Such was the training of Moses at Heliopolis, the Oxford of Egypt .

And she called his name Moses Rather, Mosheh, (from the Egyptian word mos, or mas, to draw,) using a word which was the root of several royal Egyptian names, as Teth- mos -is, A- mos -is, which was transcribed to Mosheh in Hebrew, and to Μω υσης by the LXX translators, (which means water-saved,) whence the Latin Moyses, and our Moses . Brugsch states that it is also the name of an Egyptian prince of the nineteenth dynasty, a viceroy of Nubia .

Verses 11-12


11, 12. Looked on their burdens Looked with sympathy and longed to help . St . Stephen says (Acts 7:23) that he was now forty years old . In the prime of his powers, with the culture of Heliopolis and the faith of Jochebed seeing his great mission dimly rising before him with the quick sympathies of a kinsman and a patriot, and with a fiery soul that pined for action, he offered to cast in his lot with his brethren, and put himself at their head, “esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt . ” But neither he nor the people were yet ready . He was too precipitate and self-confident, nor did he yet see the immensity of his real mission. He needed the forty years’ desert chastisement and the solemn converse of the solitudes of Horeb. Nor had Israel yet felt the throe in which a nation is born. He felt that he was the born and commissioned leader to break the Egyptian chain; he felt that he had the revolutionary right to strike; but erred in thinking that the hour had come.

He looked this way and that way Not from criminal guilt, but with soldierly wariness. He looked on the war as begun, and himself as the captain in the field, and “supposed that his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them.” Acts 7:25.

Verses 13-14

13, 14. “But they understood not;” the iron had not yet gone deep enough into their souls, and Moses’s self-sacrifice in their behalf was too sublime for them to see . They betrayed their leader, (for a Hebrew must have informed against him,) and his first effort was a failure, not from Egyptian malice, but from Hebrew jealousy and envy .

Verse 15

15. And he sat down by a well The (well-known) well (of that place) . Midian was the country of the wandering descendants of Abraham’s son Midian, in the peninsula of Sinai, and reaching around the Arabian Gulf into the desert beyond . Knobel locates “the well” at Sherm, on the Arabian Gulf, northeast of Ras Mohammed . Here was once a sanctuary, and an hereditary priest and priestess, possibly successors of Jethro, and here are now deep, copious, and very ancient wells .

The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says (Hebrews 11:27) that Moses left Egypt “by faith,” and “not fearing the wrath of the king,” yet our narrative says that he feared and fled . How is this? Simply that he feared and evaded by flight the immediate and transitory consequences of his rash act, but feared not the grand result of the conflict on which he had staked all . He was ready to measure strength with Pharaoh when the time should come, “for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible . ” The general who falls back in order to advance does not fear . (It is surprising that Alford should find difficulty here.)

Verses 16-17

16, 17. Moses’s quick sense of right, and promptness to help the weak, are seen in the desert as well as in the brick-field, and he secures the hospitality of Reuel as Jacob did that of Laban. The priest’s flock consisted of sheep and goats, though he probably had also camels and asses; but for these there may not have been water and pasturage in the desert of Sinai. It is not likely that Reuel was a “prince,” as written in the margin.

Verse 18

18. Reu-El Friend of God . The name implies that he worshipped the God of Abraham his father. Midian was the son of Abraham by Keturah.

Genesis 25:2. On the relationship of Reuel, Jethro, and Hobab, see Concluding Note.

Verse 19

19. An Egyptian For such Moses seemed to the Midianitish maidens, from his costume and language .

Verses 21-22

21, 22. The Egyptian prince is content to become the shepherd of an humble Arab priest, whose daughter, a child of the desert, becomes the Zipporah ( little bird) of his wilderness home . The sceptre that had been almost within his grasp is exchanged for a shepherd’s crook . The learning, luxury, and power of Egypt are exchanged for the barbarism, sand, and stones of Midian . It was the way of duty, but a wonderfully mysterious way! The deliverer is in the glory of his strength and eager for his work, and his people are dying yet God does not speak! The name of his first-born,

Gershom a stranger there tells us that he feels his exile, that his heart is with his far-off people, but we hear no murmur; and the name of his second born,

Eliezer my God (is my) help shows that his faith was firm. He vanishes into the awful solitudes of Sinai, and we neither see nor hear of him any more for forty years.

Verse 23


23. In process of time Literally, After many of those days .

The king of Egypt died [This king has been with good reason believed to be Remeses the Great, who reigned sixty-seven years and must have been almost a centenarian at his death . His reign was long enough to have covered the entire forty years of Moses’ sojourn in Midian, and also a considerable portion of his previous life in Egypt . Well might his death have been spoken of as occurring after many of those days! Great interest has been added to this history by the discovery, in 1881, of the mummies of most of the kings of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth dynasties, including the embalmed body of this great “Pharaoh of the oppression . ” These bodies are now in the Bulaq Museum, Cairo, and photographs of their faces have been carried into many lands . ]

Verses 24-25

24, 25 . God heard… remembered… looked… had respect Through all those generations of heart-break, to the eye and ear of flesh God had seemed deaf, dumb, dead; yet all the while he remembered his covenant, saw each tear, heard each groan, knew his children with all the energy of love . In this graphic and emphatic way does the sacred writer picture our Father, and help every sufferer everywhere to get within the everlasting arms .

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Exodus 2". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.