23.And it came to pass in process of time.He uses the demonstrative pronoun to mark the forty years in which God kept his servant in suspense, as if he had forsaken him. By adding “many,” he expresses the approaching end of the interval. When, therefore, he had reached his eightieth year, and had married and grown old in the land of Midian, the intolerable cruelty of their tyrannical masters extorted new sighings and cries from the children of Israel; not that they began then first to grieve and lament, but because they became more alive to their woes, and their duration made them to be felt more acutely. We know that the hope of a happier issue is soothing to our woes; and the hope that some one more kind would succeed the dead tyrant, in some measure softened the misery of the afflicted people. But when the change of kings in no wise lightened their oppression, their sorrow was increased, and forced them to cry out more loudly than before. Thus, then, I understand the words of Moses, that when the tyrant was dead, the children of Israel were not treated more humanely, and therefore cried out more vehemently. Although it is not likely, I think, that the Pharaoh who had at first afflicted them with burdens and taxes, and had commanded their children to be killed, lived till this time; because in that case he would have reigned more than eighty years, which is not usual. Before the birth of Moses, the Israelites had already been sorely oppressed for many years. Nor had (the king) proceeded at once to so great an atrocity as to command all the males to be killed; but when he found that his cruel edicts availed nothing, he advanced to this extremity. From the birth of Moses until the time here spoken of, about eighty years had passed; and hence we may suppose that, before their deliverance drew near, there had been one or more successive kings. When these various changes of circumstances left the condition of the people unchanged, or even made it worse, extreme necessity drew forth this unwonted lamentation, and despair itself drove them to pray, not that there had been an entire neglect of supplication to God before, but because they looked also in other directions, until all earthly means being entirely cut off, they were forcibly drawn to seek in earnest for help from above. From this example we learn that, although the pressure of our tribulations weighs us down with sorrow and pain, yet that our prayers are not straightway directed to God, and that much is required to stimulate our sluggish hearts. Moses also infers that it was no wonder if God’s assistance was not earlier afforded, since the children of Israel were stupified in their misery. Let this example, then, teach us to flee to God at once, in order that he may make haste to bestow his grace.
And their cry came up.Moses magnifies the mercy of God by this circumstance, that he took not vengeance on their slowness, as it deserved, but graciously inclined to their tardy cries. In fact, we may observe in this history what is described in Psa_106:0, that the most stubborn and hard-hearted in their extremity turn their prayers at length to God, rather from the exceeding greatness of their trouble than from the well-regulated exercise of faith. He says, “by reason of the bondage;” because it is the attribute of God to succor the oppressed, to deliver the captives, and to raise up them that are brought low; and this office he constantly performs. As to what is added, that “God remembered his covenant,” it is the explanation of the cause why he heard their groaning, viz., that he might ratify his gratuitous promise made to Abraham and his descendants. He expressly mentions the three patriarchs, because God lodged his covenant with them, that it might continue firm for perpetual generations. And, indeed, since God is inclined towards us to help us of his own free mercy, so he offers himself, and invites us voluntarily; and therefore confidence in prayer must only be sought for in his promises. Thus the copula here should be resolved into the illative particle, that “God heard their groaning, because he remembered his covenant.” How far remembrance is possible with God, we must learn from its contrary. God is said to forget when he does not really and openly appear, and stretch forth his hand to help; therefore, when we say he “remembers,” we mark our apprehension of his aid; and both expressions have relation to effect. In the same way he is said “to behold,” and its opposite, “to turn his back,” because we then perceive that he beholds us when he actually succours us.
In process of time – the king of Egypt died – According to St. Stephen, (Act_7:30, compared with Exo_7:7), the death of the Egyptian king happened about forty years after the escape of Moses to Midian. The words ויהי בימים הרבים ההם vayehi baiyamim harabbim hahem, which we translate And it came to pass in process of time, signify, And it was in many days from these that the king, etc. It has already been remarked that Archbishop Usher supposes this king to have been Ramesses Miamun, who was succeeded by his son Amenophis, who was drowned in the Red Sea when pursuing the Israelites, but Abul Farajius says it was Amunfathis, (Amenophis), he who made the cruel edict against the Hebrew children. Some suppose that Moses wrote the book of Job during the time he sojourned in Midian, and also the book of Genesis. See the preface to the book of Job, where this subject is considered.
In process of time – Nearly forty years Act_7:30. This verse marks the beginning of another section. We now enter at once upon the history of the Exodus.
Their cry came up unto God – This statement, taken in connection with the two following verses, proves that the Israelites retained their faith in the God of their Fathers. The divine name, “God,” אלהים ‘ĕlohîym, is chosen because it was that which the Israelites must have used in their cry for help, that under which the covenant had been ratified with the Patriarchs (compare Jam_5:4).
God remembered his covenant – God’s covenant is God’s engagement; he had promised to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give their posterity a land flowing with milk and honey, etc. They are now under the most oppressive bondage, and this was the most proper time for God to show them his mercy and power in fulfilling his promise. This is all that is meant by God’s remembering his covenant, for it was now that he began to give it its effect.
Exo 2:24 And God heard their groaning – That is, he made it to appear that he took notice of their complaints. The groans of the oppressed cry loud in the ears of the righteous God, to whom vengeance belongs; especially the groans of God’s children, the burdens they groan under, and the blessings they groan after. And God remembered his covenant – Which he seemed to have forgotten, but really is ever mindful of. This God had an eye to, and not to any merit of theirs in what he did for them. And God looked upon the children of Israel – Moses looked upon them and pitied them, but now God looked upon them and helped them. And God had respect unto them – A favourable respect to them as his own. The frequent repetition of the name of God intimates, that now we are to expect something great. His eyes which run to and fro through the earth, are now fixed on Israel, to shew himself strong, to shew himself a God in their behalf.
Remembered – This means that God was moved by their prayers to give effect to the covenant, of which an essential condition was the faith and contrition involved in the act of supplication. The whole history of Israel is foreshadowed in these words: God heard, remembered, looked upon, and knew them. It evidently indicates the beginning of a crisis marked by a personal intervention of God.
And God had respect unto them – וידע אלהים vaiyeda Elohim, God knew them, i.e., he approved of them, and therefore it is said that their cry came up before God, and he heard their groaning. The word ידע yada, to know, in the Hebrew Bible, as well as γινωσκω in the Greek Testament, is frequently used in the sense of approving; and because God knew – had respect for and approved of, them, therefore he was determined to deliver them. For אלהים Elohim, God, in the last clause of this verse, Houbigant reads אליהם aleyhem, Upon Them, which is countenanced by the Vulgate, Septuagint, Chaldee, Coptic, and Arabic, and appears to have been the original reading. The difference in the original consists in the interchange of two letters, the י yod and ה he. Our translators insert unto them, in order to make up that sense which this various reading gives without trouble.
The farther we proceed in the sacred writings, the more the history both of the grace and providence of God opens to our view. He ever cares for his creatures, and is mindful of his promise. The very means made use of to destroy his work are, in his hands, the instruments of its accomplishment. Pharaoh orders the male children of the Hebrews to be thrown into the river; Moses, who was thus exposed, is found by his own daughter, brought up as her own son, and from his Egyptian education becomes much better qualified for the great work to which God had called him; and his being obliged to leave Egypt was undoubtedly a powerful means to wean his heart from a land in which he had at his command all the advantages and luxuries of life. His sojourning also in a strange land, where he was obliged to earn his bread by a very painful employment, fitted him for the perilous journey he was obliged to take in the wilderness, and enabled him to bear the better the privations to which he was in consequence exposed.
The bondage of the Israelites was also wisely permitted, that they might with less reluctance leave a country where they had suffered the greatest oppression and indignities. Had they not suffered severely previously to their departure, there is much reason to believe that no inducements could have been sufficient to have prevailed on them to leave it. And yet their leaving it was of infinite consequence, in the order both of grace and providence, as it was indispensably necessary that they should be a people separated from all the rest of the world, that they might see the promises of God fulfilled under their own eyes, and thus have the fullest persuasion that their law was Divine, their prophets inspired by the Most High, and that the Messiah came according to the prophecies before delivered concerning him.
From the example of Pharaoh’s daughter, (see Clarke’s note Exo_2:5), and the seven daughters of Jethro, (Exo_2:16), we learn that in the days of primitive simplicity, and in this respect the best days, the children, particularly the daughters of persons in the highest ranks in life, were employed in the most laborious offices. Kings’ daughters performed the office of the laundress to their own families; and the daughters of princes tended and watered the flocks. We have seen similar instances in the case of Rebekah and Rachel; and we cannot be too pointed in calling the attention of modern delicate females, who are not only above serving their own parents and family, but even their own selves: the consequence of which is, they have neither vigor nor health; their growth, for want of healthy exercise, is generally cramped; their natural powers are prematurely developed, and their whole course is rather an apology for living, than a state of effective life. Many of these live not out half their days, and their offspring, when they have any, is more feeble than themselves; so that the race of man where such preposterous conduct is followed (and where is it not followed?) is in a state of gradual deterioration.
Parents who wish to fulfill the intention of God and nature, will doubtless see it their duty to bring up their children on a different plan. A worse than the present can scarcely be found out.
Afflictions, under the direction of God’s providence and the influence of his grace, are often the means of leading men to pray to and acknowledge God, who in the time of their prosperity hardened their necks from his fear. When the Israelites were sorely oppressed, they began to pray. If the cry of oppression had not been among them, probably the cry for mercy had not been heard. Though afflictions, considered in themselves, can neither atone for sin nor improve the moral state of the soul, yet God often uses them as means to bring sinners to himself, and to quicken those who, having already escaped the pollutions of the world, were falling again under the influence of an earthly mind. Of many millions besides David it may truly be said, Before they were afflicted they went astray.
1.Now Moses kept the flock.We have already said that he was occupied as a shepherd for a long time (viz., about forty years) before this vision appeared to him. The patience, then, of the holy man is commended by his continuance in this work; not that Moses had any intention of boastfully celebrating his own virtues, but that the Holy Spirit dictated what would be useful to us, and, as it were, suggested it to his mouth, that what he did and suffered might be an example for ever. For he must have had much mental struggle at this tedious delay, when old age, which weakens the body, came on, since even in those days few retained their activity after their eightieth year; and although he might have lived frugally, yet temperance could not protect even the most robust body against so many hardships, because it is given to very few persons to be able thus to live in the open air, and to bear heat, and cold, and hunger, constant fatigue, the care of cattle, and other troubles. God, indeed, miraculously supported the holy man in the performance of his arduous duties; but still the internal conflict must have gone on, — why does God so long delay and suspend what he so long ago determined? It was, then, no ordinary virtue which overcame these distracting assaults, which were constantly renewing his anxiety; whilst, in the mean time, he was living poorly, in huts and sheds, as well as often wandering over rough and desert places, though from childhood to mature manhood he had been accustomed to luxury; as he here relates, that, having led his flock across the Desert, he came to Horeb, which certainly could not have been effected without his experiencing the cold as he lay on the ground by night, and burning heat by day. The title of “the mountain of God” refers by anticipation to a future period, when the place was consecrated by the promulgation of the Law there. It is well known that Horeb is the same mountain which is also called Sinai, except that a different name is given to its opposite sides, and, properly speaking, its eastern side is called Sinai, its western, Horeb. Since, then, God appeared there and gave so many manifest signs of his heavenly glory, when he renewed his covenant with his people, and furnished them with a rule of perfect holiness, the place became invested with peculiar dignity.
Jethro his father-in-law – Concerning Jethro, see Clarke’s note on Exo_2:18. Learned men are not agreed on the signification of the word חתן chothen, which we translate father-in-law, and which in Gen_19:14, we translate son-in-law. It seems to be a general term for a relative by marriage, and the connection only in which it stands can determine its precise meaning. It is very possible that Reuel was now dead, it being forty years since Moses came to Midian; that Jethro was his son, and had succeeded him in his office of prince and priest of Midian; that Zipporah was the sister of Jethro; and that consequently the word חתן chothen should be translated brother-in-law in this place: as we learn from Gen_34:9, Deu_7:3, Jos_23:12, and other places, that it simply signifies to contract affinity by marriage. If this conjecture be right, we may well suppose that, Reuel being dead, Moses was continued by his brother-in-law Jethro in the same employment he had under his father.
Mountain of God – Sometimes named Horeb, at other times Sinai. The mountain itself had two peaks; one was called Horeb, the other Sinai. Horeb was probably the primitive name of the mountain, which was afterwards called the mountain of God, because God appeared upon it to Moses; and Mount Sinai, סיני, from סנה seneh, a bush, because it was in a bush or bramble, in a flame of fire, that this appearance was made.
Jamieson, Faussset, and Brown
Now Moses kept the flock — This employment he had entered on in furtherance of his matrimonial views (see on Exo_2:21), but it is probable he was continuing his service now on other terms like Jacob during the latter years of his stay with Laban (Gen_30:28).
he led the flock to the backside of the desert — that is, on the west of the desert [Gesenius], assuming Jethro’s headquarters to have been at Dahab. The route by which Moses led his flock must have been west through the wide valley called by the Arabs, Wady-es-Zugherah [Robinson], which led into the interior of the wilderness.
Mountain of God — so named either according to Hebrew idiom from its great height, as “great mountains,” Hebrew, “mountains of God” (Psa_36:6); “goodly cedars,” Hebrew, “cedars of God” (Psa_80:10); or some think from its being the old abode of “the glory”; or finally from its being the theater of transactions most memorable in the history of the true religion to Horeb – rather, “Horeb-ward.”
Horeb — that is, “dry,” “desert,” was the general name for the mountainous district in which Sinai is situated, and of which it is a part. (See on Exo_19:2). It was used to designate the region comprehending that immense range of lofty, desolate, and barren hills, at the base of which, however, there are not only many patches of verdure to be seen, but almost all the valleys, or wadys, as they are called, show a thin coating of vegetation, which, towards the south, becomes more luxuriant. The Arab shepherds seldom take their flocks to a greater distance than one day’s journey from their camp. Moses must have gone at least two days’ journey, and although he seems to have been only following his pastoral course, that region, from its numerous springs in the clefts of the rocks being the chief resort of the tribes during the summer heats, the Providence of God led him thither for an important purpose.
Jethro his father-in-law – Or “brother-in-law.” The word in the Hebrew is a word signifying relative by marriage. When Moses arrived in Midian, Reuel was an elderly man Exo_2:16; 40 years later (Exo_2:23 note), Reuel’s son, Jethro, had probably succeeded him.
The backside – i. e. “to the west of the district.” Among the Hebrews the East is before a man, the west behind him, the south and north on the right and left hand.
Desert – Or wilderness, not a barren waste, but a district supplying pasturage. The district near Sherm, on the west of the gulf of Akabah, where Jethro may have resided, is described as barren and parched; on the west and east are rocky tracts, but to the northwest lies the district of Sinai, where the pasturage is good and water abundant. The Bedouins drive their flocks there from the lowlands at the approach of summer. From this it may be inferred that the events here recorded took place at that season.
To Horeb – More exactly, toward Horeb. Moses came to the mountain of God, i. e. Sinai, on his way toward Horeb, a name given to the northern part of the Sinaitic range. Moses calls Sinai “mountain of God” by anticipation, with reference to the manifestation of God. There is no authority for assuming that the spot was previously held sacred (see Exo_5:5); but it has been lately shown that the whole Peninsula was regarded by the Egyptians as specially consecrated to the gods from a very early time.
2.And the Angel of the Lord appeared unto him.It was necessary that he should assume a visible form, that he might be seen by Moses, not as he was in his essence, but as the infirmity of the human mind could comprehend him. For thus we must believe that God, as often as he appeared of old to the holy patriarchs, descended in some way from his majesty, that he might reveal himself as far as was useful, and as far as their comprehension would admit. The same, too, is to be said of angels, who, although they are invisible spirits, yet when it seemed good to the Almighty, assumed some form in which they might be seen. But let us inquire who this Angel was? since soon afterwards he not only calls himself Jehovah, but claims the glory of the eternal and only God. Now, although this is an allowable manner of speaking, because the angels transfer to themselves the person and titles of God, when they are performing the commissions entrusted to them by him; and although it is plain from many passages, and especially from the first chapter of Zechariah, that there is one head and chief of the angels who commands the others, the ancient teachers of the Church have rightly understood that the Eternal Son of God is so called in respect to his office as Mediator, which he figuratively bore from the beginning, although he really took it upon him only at his Incarnation. And Paul sufficiently expounds this mystery to us, when he plainly asserts that Christ was the leader of his people in the Desert. (1Co_10:4.) Therefore, although at that time, properly speaking, he was not yet the messenger of his Father, still his predestinated appointment to the office even then had this effect, that he manifested himself to the patriarchs, and was known in this character. Nor, indeed, had the saints ever any communication with God except through the promised Mediator. It is not then to be wondered at, if the Eternal Word of God, of one Godhead and essence with the Father, assumed the name of “the Angel” on the ground of his future mission. There is a great variety of opinions as to the vision. It is too forced an allegory to make, as some do, the body of Christ of the bush, because his heavenly majesty consumed it not when he chose to inhabit it. It is also improperly wrested by those who refer it to the stubborn spirit of the nation, because the Israelites were like thorns, which yield not to the flames. But when the natural sense is set forth, it will not be necessary to refute those which are improbable. This vision is very similar to that former one which Abraham saw. (Gen_15:17.) He saw a burning lamp in the midst of a smoking furnace; and the reason assigned is, that God will not permit his people to be extinguished in darkness. The same similitude answers to the bush retaining its entireness in the midst of the flame. The bush is likened to the humble and despised people; their tyrannical oppression is not unlike the fire which would have consumed them, had not God miraculously interposed. Thus, by the presence of God, the bush escaped safely from the fire; as it is said in Psa_46:1, that though the waves of trouble beat against the Church and threaten her destruction, yet “shall she not be moved,” for “God is in the midst of her.” Thus was the cruelly afflicted people aptly represented, who, though surrounded by flames, and feeling their heat, yet remained unconsumed, because they were guarded by the present help of God.
The angel of the Lord – Not a created angel certainly; for he is called יהוה Jehovah, Exo_3:4, etc., and has the most expressive attributes of the Godhead applied to him, Exo_3:14, etc. Yet he is an angel, מלאך malach, a messenger, in whom was the name of God, Exo_23:21; and in whom dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, Col_2:9; and who, in all these primitive times, was the Messenger of the covenant, Mal_3:1. And who was this but Jesus, the Leader, Redeemer, and Savior of mankind? See Clarke’s note on Gen_16:7.
A flame of fire, out of the midst of a bush – Fire was, not only among the Hebrews but also among many other ancient nations, a very significant emblem of the Deity. God accompanied the Israelites in all their journeying through the wilderness as a pillar of fire by night; and probably a fire or flame in the holy of holies, between the cherubim, was the general symbol of his presence; and traditions of these things, which must have been current in the east, have probably given birth, not only to the pretty general opinion that God appears in the likeness of fire, but to the whole of the Zoroastrian system of fire-worship. It has been reported of Zoroaster, or Zeradusht, that having retired to a mountain for the study of wisdom, and the benefit of solitude, the whole mountain was one day enveloped with flame, out of the midst of which he came without receiving any injury; on which he offered sacrifices to God, who, he was persuaded, had then appeared to him. M. Anquetil du Perron gives much curious information on this subject in his Zend Avesta. The modern Parsees call fire the off-spring of Ormusd, and worship it with a vast variety of ceremonies.
Moses wished to see God, but he could behold nothing but an indescribable glory: nothing like mortals, nothing like a human body, appeared at any time to his eye, or to those of the Israelites. “Ye saw no manner of similitude,” said Moses, “on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb, out of the midst of the Fire,” Deu_4:15. But sometimes the Divine power and justice were manifested by the indescribable, formless, impetuous, consuming flame; at other times he appeared by the water which he brought out of the flinty rock; and in the thick darkness on Horeb, when the fiery law proceeded from his right hand, then the earth quaked and the mountain trembled: and when his terrible eye looked out upon the Egyptians through the pillar of cloud and fire, their chariot wheels were struck off, and confusion and dismay were spread through all the hosts of Pharaoh; Exo_14:24, Exo_14:25.
And the bush was not consumed – 1. An emblem of the state of Israel in its various distresses and persecutions: it was in the fire of adversity, but was not consumed. 2. An emblem also of the state of the Church of God in the wilderness, in persecutions often, in the midst of its enemies, in the region of the shadow of death – yet not consumed. 3. An emblem also of the state of every follower of Christ: cast down, but not forsaken; grievously tempted, but not destroyed; walking through the fire, but still unconsumed! Why are all these preserved in the midst of those things which have a natural tendency to destroy them! Because God Is In The Midst Of Them; it was this that preserved the bush from destruction; and it was this that preserved the Israelites; and it is this, and this alone, that preserves the Church, and holds the soul of every genuine believer in the spiritual life. He in whose heart Christ dwells not by faith, will soon be consumed by the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire — It is common in Scripture to represent the elements and operations of nature, as winds, fires, earthquakes, pestilence, everything enlisted in executing the divine will, as the “angels” or messengers of God. But in such cases God Himself is considered as really, though invisibly, present. Here the preternatural fire may be primarily meant by the expression “angel of the Lord”; but it is clear that under this symbol, the Divine Being was present, whose name is given (Exo_3:4, Exo_3:6), and elsewhere called the angel of the covenant, Jehovah-Jesus.
out of the midst of a bush — the wild acacia or thorn, with which that desert abounds, and which is generally dry and brittle, so much so, that at certain seasons, a spark might kindle a district far and wide into a blaze. A fire, therefore, being in the midst of such a desert bush was a “great sight.” It is generally supposed to have been emblematic of the Israelites’ condition in Egypt – oppressed by a grinding servitude and a bloody persecution, and yet, in spite of the cruel policy that was bent on annihilating them, they continued as numerous and thriving as ever. The reason was “God was in the midst of them.” The symbol may also represent the present state of the Jews, as well as of the Church generally in the world.
3.And Moses said, I will now turn aside.It is certain that his mind was disposed to reverence from no rashness, but by divine inspiration. Although not yet accustomed to visions, he still perceives that, this is no unmeaning spectacle, but that some mystery was contained in it, which he must by no means neglect, and to the knowledge of which he was divinely called. In this, too, we must observe his tractableness, in turning aside to learn. For it often happens that God presents himself to us in vain, because we presumptuously reject such great mercy. Let us learn, then, by the example of Moses, as often as God invites us to himself by any sign, to give diligent heed, lest the proffered light be quenched by our own apathy. But from his calling it a “great sight,” we gather that he was taught by secret inspiration the depth of the mystery, though it was as yet unknown. In this way God prepared his mind to reverence, that he might the sooner profit by it.
4.God called unto him out of the midst of the bush.In the first place, my readers will observe that, as is the case in almost all visions, it was not a voiceless spectacle to alarm the holy man, but that instruction accompanied it by which his mind might obtain encouragement. For there would be no use in visions, if the senses of those who see them were kept in alarm. But although God was unwilling to terrify his servant, yet, in two ways, he claims authority and reverence for his intended address; first, by calling Moses twice by name, he makes his way into the depths of his heart, that, as if cited before the tribunal of God, he may be more attentive in listening; and, again, by commanding him to put off his shoes, he prepares him to humility, by admiration and fear. There is much discussion with respect to the latter clause amongst many, who delight in allegory. I will not recite their various opinions, because a simple exposition of the true meaning will dispose of the whole of their subtle triflings. Moses is commanded to put off his shoes, that by the very bareness of his feet his mind might be disposed to reverential feelings; and on this account, too, he is reminded of the holiness of the ground, because, in our prayers, the bending of the knees, and the uncovering of the head, are helps and excitements to the worship of God. And this, I think, is made sufficiently clear by the reason which is immediately added, that the place on which Moses stood was “holy ground,” and, therefore, not rashly, or in a profane manner to be trodden on. Whence we gather, that he was instructed by the outward sign of adoration to enter into the presence of God as a trembling suppliant. He had, indeed, said, “Here am I,” (which was a testimony that his mind was teachable, and prepared to obey,) yet it was good that he should be more actively aroused, in order that he might come before God with greater fear. But if this most noble Prophet of God had need of such a preparation, no wonder that God stirs up our unwilling hearts, by many aids, in order that we may worship him in truth. And although the same command is not given to all which was given to Moses, still let us learn, that this is the object of all ceremonies, that the majesty of God, being duly and seriously perceived in our minds, may obtain its rightful honor, and that he may be regarded in accordance with his dignity. If any prefer the deeper meaning (anagoge,) that God cannot be heard until we have put off our earthly thoughts, I object not to it; only let the natural sense stand first, that Moses was commanded to put off his shoes, as a preparation to listen with greater reverence to God. If the question be now raised as to the holiness of the place, the reply is easy, that it received this honorable title on account of the vision. Mount Sinai did not, therefore, naturally possess any peculiar sanctity; but because God, who sanctifies all things, deigned to give there the sign of his presence. Thus Bethel was dignified by Jacob with high and honorable titles. (Gen_28:17.) “How dreadful is this place! this is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven;” because it had been consecrated by a special revelation. For, wherever we see any sign of the glory of God, piety awakens this feeling of admiration in our hearts. In the meantime, however, since we are too prone to superstition, these two errors must be avoided; lest, in our gross imaginations, we should, as it were, draw down God from heaven, and affix him to places on earth; and, also, lest we should account that sanctity perpetual which is only temporary. The remedy of the first evil is to reflect on the nature of God; of the second, to observe his design, how far, and for what use he sanctifies places. For since the nature of God is spiritual, it is not allowable to imagine respecting him anything earthly or gross; nor does his immensity permit of his being confined to place. Again, the sanctity of a place must be restricted to the object of the manifestation. Thus Mount Horeb was made holy in reference to the promulgation of the law, which prescribes the true worship of God. If the descendants of Jacob had considered this, they would never have set up Bethel as a holy place in opposition to Sion; because, although God once appeared there to the patriarch, He had never chosen that place; therefore they were wrong in proceeding from a particular instance to a general conclusion.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see — The manifestations which God anciently made of Himself were always accompanied by clear, unmistakable signs that the communications were really from heaven. This certain evidence was given to Moses. He saw a fire, but no human agent to kindle it; he heard a voice, but no human lips from which it came; he saw no living Being, but One was in the bush, in the heat of the flames, who knew him and addressed him by name. Who could this be but the Divine Being?
Draw not nigh hither; keep thy distance; whereby he checks his curiosity and forwardness, and works him to the greater reverence and humility. Compare Exo_19:12,21 Jos 5:15.
Put off thy shoes: this he requires as an act and token,
1. Of his reverence to the Divine Majesty, then and there eminently present.
2. Of his humiliation for his sins, whereby he was unfit and unworthy to appear before God; for this was a posture of humiliation, 2Sa_15:30 Isa_20:2,4 Eze 24:17,23.
3. Of purification from the filth of his feet, or ways, or conversation, that he might be more fit to approach to God. See Joh_13:10 Heb_10:22.
4. Of this submission and readiness to obey God’s will, for which reason slaves used to be bare-footed.
Holy ground; with a relative holiness at this time, because of my special presence in it.
6.I am the God of thy father. He does not merely proclaim himself as some heavenly power, nor claim for himself only the general name of God, but recalling to memory his covenant formerly made with the patriarchs, he casts down all idols and false gods, and confirms Moses in the true faith. For hence he knew surely, that he had not set his hopes in vain in the God whom Abraham and the other patriarchs had worshipped, and who, by the privilege of adoption, had separated their race from all other nations. And lest, through the long lapse of time, Moses might think that what had been handed down concerning Abraham was obsolete, He expressly asserts that His faithfulness still held good, by calling Himself “the God of his father.” But since, in setting forth the hope of redemption, He renews the memory of His covenant, we gather that it was not obliterated from the heart of Moses; because it would have been absurd so to speak of a thing unknown; nor would it have been of any use to make mention of promises of which no recollection existed in the heart of Moses. Since, therefore, the hope of the redemption of the chosen people depended on the covenant which God had formerly made with the patriarchs, He shews that He had not been trusted to in vain, because His engagement would not be ineffectual. It was not so much a sign of reverence as of terror that Moses covered his face; yet must we take both feelings into account, that he felt sudden alarm at the sight of God, and voluntarily adored his majesty. It was necessary that his mind should be affected, and impressed with reverential feelings, that he might be more ready to obey. We read in Isaiah, (Isa_6:2,) that even the angels veil their faces, because they cannot bear the infinite glory of God; no wonder then that a mortal man dared not to look upon him. The name of God is appropriated to the visible appearance in which his majesty was concealed.
I am the God of thy father – Though the word אבי abi, father, is here used in the singular, St Stephen, quoting this place, Act_7:32, uses the plural, Ὁ Θεος των πατερων σου, The God of thy Fathers; and that this is the meaning the following words prove: The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. These were the fathers of Moses in a direct line. This reading is confirmed by the Samaritan and by the Coptic. Abraham was the father of the Ishmaelites, and with him was the covenant first made. Isaac was the father of the Edomites as well as the Israelites, and with him was the covenant renewed. Jacob was the father of the twelve patriarchs, who were founders of the Jewish nation, and to him were the promises particularly confirmed. Hence we see that the Arabs and Turks in general, who are descendants of Ishmael; the Edomites, now absorbed among the Jews, (see Clarke’s note on Gen_25:23), who are the descendants of Esau; and the Jewish people, wheresoever scattered, who are the descendants of Jacob, are all heirs of the promises included in this primitive covenant; and their gathering in with the fullness of the Gentiles may be confidently expected.
And Moses hid his face – For similar acts, see 1Ki_19:13; Isa_6:1, Isa_6:5; Neh_9:9; Psa_106:44; Act_7:34. He was afraid to look – he was overawed by God’s presence, and dazzled with the splendor of the appearance.
Our Saviour adduces this passage as a proof that the doctrine of the Resurrection was taught in the Old Testament Mat_22:32, and He calls this book “the Book of Moses” Mar_12:26, two points to be borne in mind by readers of the Pentateuch.
7.And the Lord said.Before he delegates to Moses the office of delivering his people, God encourages him in a somewhat lengthened address to the hope of victory and success; for we know how doubts enfeeble and hold back the mind with anxiety and care; Moses then could not engage in or set about his work earnestly until furnished with the confidence of divine assistance. Therefore God promises to be his guide, that in reliance upon such aid he may gird himself boldly to the warfare. From hence we may gather this general doctrine — that, however slow and unwilling we may naturally be to obey God, we must not turn away from any command when he assures us of success, because no stimulus can be stronger than the promise that his hand shall be always ready to help us when we follow whither he calls us. With this object God thus speaks before he makes mention of the vocation of Moses, that he may more cheerfully enter upon his work, in the assurance of a successful issue. Moreover, when God has founded the redemption of his people upon his gratuitous covenant, and therefore on his own free bounty, he adds another argument derived from his justice, namely, that it is impossible for the judge of the world not to help the oppressed and afflicted when they are undeservedly mistreated, and especially when they implore his assistance. This is true generally, that God will be the avenger of all unjust cruelty; but his special aid may be expected by believers whom he has taken into his friendship and protection. Accordingly, when he has declared that he has been moved by his adoption of this people not to desert it in its extreme necessity, he adds, in confirmation, that he has come to restrain their oppressors’ tyranny, since he has heard the cry of the afflicted. This was said at that particular time to encourage Moses; but it ought to afford no common consolation in the troubles of us all when we are groaning under any unjust burden; for God, whose sight was then so clear, is not now so blind as not to see all injustice, and to pity them that call upon him. Although the expression here used in the original, “seeing I have seen,” is a Hebraism, still it signifies that, while God delays and suspends punishment, his winking at men’s evil deeds is no proof that he does not behold them from heaven, and will in due time appear as their judge, for the words denote a continued observation — as much as to say, that even then he was beholding them, when by his quiescence he might have seemed to neglect the tribulation of his people. By adding that he had heard their cry, he indirectly rebukes their lukewarmness, since we do not read that they cried until compelled by their extremity and despair. Therefore there is no cause for wonder that they almost wasted away under their misfortunes before succor came, because their prayers were scarcely offered after a long time. And not even then is it probable (as I said before) that they prayed earnestly; but God had more respect to his mercy and faithfulness than to their right and well-grounded preparedness. In these words the Spirit exhorts us to call upon God, and not to be stunned and stupified by our cares and sorrows, but to learn to fly straightway to this sacred anchor; as the Psalmist also says, “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry,” (Psa_34:15,) and as he testifies in another place, (Psa_65:2,) that he is a God that heareth prayer; thus does he anxiously invite us to this remedy whenever we are hard pressed. When he speaks of them as his “people which are in Egypt,” the apparent inconsistency does not a little tend to confirmation, implying that the promise which he made to Abraham with regard to inheriting the land of Canaan would not be without effect; for it would not accord with the truth of God that a people to whom an inheritance elsewhere was given should sojourn in Egypt, unless it was to be freed in the appointed season. It might also be understood adversatively — although a people dwelling in Egypt be far from the land of Canaan, and so might seem in a manner to be put away from me, still have I heard their cry. But the probable meaning is, that because it was not fit that a people which was to inherit the Holy Land should always remain sojourning elsewhere, therefore God would shortly deliver them. In the end of the verse the repetition in other words, “I know their sorrows,” is also an amplification of what came before.
I have surely seen – ראה ראיתי raoh raithi, seeing, I have seen – I have not only seen the afflictions of this people because I am omniscient, but I have considered their sorrows, and my eye affects my heart.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
I am the God … come down to deliver — The reverential awe of Moses must have been relieved by the divine Speaker (see Mat_22:32), announcing Himself in His covenant character, and by the welcome intelligence communicated. Moreover, the time, as well as all the circumstances of this miraculous appearance, were such as to give him an illustrious display of God’s faithfulness to His promises. The period of Israel’s journey and affliction in Egypt had been predicted (Gen_15:13), and it was during the last year of the term which had still to run that the Lord appeared in the burning bush.
8.And I am come down to deliver them.He now more clearly announces his intention not only to relieve their present calamity, but to fulfill the promise given to Abraham as to the possession of Canaan. He therefore marks the end of their deliverance, that they might enjoy the rest and inheritance promised to them. It is a common manner of speaking to say, God descends to us, when he actually puts forth his power and shews that he is near us; as much as to say, that the Israelites would experience plainly that his help was at hand. The “large” land seems to be brought in comparison with the straits in which they now were; for although the land of Goshen was fertile and convenient, still it scarcely afforded room enough for their increasing multitude; besides, there they were kept shut in like slaves in a house of bondage. Finally, he again assures them that he would deal graciously with them, because he had heard their cry, and was not ignorant of their sorrows, although he might have long delayed to avenge them.
I am come down: this word notes God’s manifestation of himself and his favour, and giving help from heaven. See Gen_18:21.
It was a good land and a large, not only comparatively to Goshen, where they now dwelt, and to the number of the Israelites at that time; but absolutely, if you take the Land of Promise according to its true, and first, and ancient bounds of it, as you have them described, Gen_15:18 Deu_1:7 11:24, and not according to those narrow limits to which they were afterwards confined for their unbelief, sloth, cowardice, and impiety.
Flowing with milk and honey, i.e. abounding with the choicest fruits, both for necessity and for delight. The excellency and singular fruitfulness of.this land, howsoever denied or disputed by some ill-minded persons, is sufficiently evident,
1. From express testimony, not only of Moses, Deu_8:7-9, but also of the spies who were sent to view it, and, though prejudiced against it, yet acknowledged it, Num_13:27; and of the holy prophets that lived long in it, as David, Psa_106:24 Joe_2:3; and Ezekiel, who calls it the glory of all lands, Eze_20:15. Which if it had not been true, it is ridiculous to think that they durst have said and writ so, when the people with whom they contested, and thousands of other persons there and then living, were able to confute them. After them Josephus, and St. Hierom, and others since, who lived long in that land, have highly commended it. And whereas Strabo speaks of the barrenness of the soil about Jerusalem, that is true, but by himself it is limited to the compass of sixty furlongs from Jerusalem. And if at this day the land be now grown barren in a great measure, it is not strange, considering both the great neglect and sloth of the people as to the improvement of it, and the great wickedness of its inhabitants, for which God hath threatened to turn a fruitful land into barrenness, Psa_107:34.
These people are diversely numbered, there are ten sorts reckoned, Gen_15:19-21, and seven, Deu_7:1, and here but six, because some of them were either destroyed or driven out of their land by others; or did by choice and design remove to some other place, as many in those times did, though it be not mentioned in Scripture; or by cohabitation and marriage with some of the other people, did make a coalition, and were incorporated with them, and so their name was swallowed up in the other; or because the names of some of these people, as particularly the Canaanites and the Amorites, were used sometimes more strictly, and sometimes more largely, so as to comprehend under them the other people, as the Girgashites, &c., whence it comes to pass that all the rest go under the names of the Canaanites, Gen_13:7, and of the Amorites in some places of Scripture, as hath been showed.
Exo 3:8 I am come down to deliver them – When God doth something very extraordinary, he is said to come down to do it, as Isa_64:1. This deliverance was typical of our redemption by Christ, and in that the eternal Word did indeed come down from heaven to deliver us. A large land – So it was, according to its true and ancient bounds, as they are described, Gen_15:18, and not according to those narrow limits, to which they were afterwards confined for their unbelief and impiety. A land flowing with milk and honey – A proverbial expression, abounding with the choicest fruits, both for necessity and delight.
The natural richness of Palestine, the variety and excellence of its productions, are attested by sacred (compare Jer_32:22; Eze_20:6) and ancient writers, whose descriptions are strongly in contrast with those of later travelers. The expression “flowing with milk and honey” is used proverbially by Greek poets.
The Canaanites … – This is the first passage in this book where the enumeration, so often repeated, of the nations then in possession of Palestine, is given. Moses was to learn at once the extent of the promise, and the greatness of the enterprise. In Egypt, the forces, situation, and character of these nations were then well known. Aahmes I had invaded the south of Palestine in his pursuit of the Shasous; Tothmosis I had traversed the whole land on his campaign in Syria and Mesopotamia; representations of Canaanites, and of the Cheta, identified by most Egyptologers with the Hittites, are common on monuments of the 18th and 19th Dynasties, and give a strong impression of their civilization, riches, and especially of their knowledge of the arts of war. In this passage, the more general designations come first – Canaanites probably includes all the races; the Hittites, who had great numbers of chariots (892 were taken from them by Tothmosis III in one battle), occupied the plains; the Amorites were chiefly mountaineers, and, in Egyptian inscriptions, gave their name to the whole country; the name Perizzites probably denotes the dwellers in scattered villages, the half-nomad population; the Hivites, a comparatively unwarlike but influential people, held 4 cities in Palestine proper, but their main body dwelt in the northwestern district, from Hermon to Hamath (see Jos_11:3; Jdg_3:3); the Jebusites at that time appear to have occupied Jerusalem and the adjoining district. Soon after their expulsion by Joshua, they seem to have recovered possession of part of Jerusalem, probably Mount Zion, and to have retained it until the time of David.
10.Come now therefore. After God had furnished his servant with promises to engage him more cheerfully in his work, he now adds commands, and calls him to undertake the office to which he is designed. And this is the best encouragement to duty, when God renders those, who would be otherwise slow through doubt, sure of good success; for although we must obey God’s plain commands without delay or hesitation, still he is willing to provide against our sluggishness by promising that our endeavors shall not be vain or useless. And certainly it is a feeling naturally implanted in us all, that we are excited into action by a confidence of good success; therefore although God sometimes, for the purpose of trying the obedience of his servants, deprives them of hope, and commands them peremptorily to do this or that, still he more often cuts off hesitation by promising a successful issue. Thus, then, he now aroused Moses to perform his commands by setting the hope of the deliverance before him. The copula must be resolved into the illative particle, because the command and vocation undoubtedly depend upon the promise.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
Come now therefore, and I will send thee — Considering the patriotic views that had formerly animated the breast of Moses, we might have anticipated that no mission could have been more welcome to his heart than to be employed in the national emancipation of Israel. But he evinced great reluctance to it and stated a variety of objections [Exo_3:11, Exo_3:13; Exo_4:1, Exo_4:10] all of which were successfully met and removed – and the happy issue of his labors was minutely described.
19.And I am sure that the king of Egypt.God forearms his people, lest, suffering a repulse at their first onset, they should retire, and abandon in despair the work enjoined to them. It was, indeed, a hard thing to hear that their expedition would be vain; and that they might as well address themselves to the trunk of a tree, since there was no hope of reaching the obstinate heart of Pharaoh; but they would have been much more discouraged by this trial, if his stubbornness had been discovered unexpectedly. Therefore God foretells that their words would avail nothing; but at the same time he announces that he should succeed by his own wondrous power. If any think it absurd for these unhappy men to be wearied by their useless labor, and to be repulsed with ridicule and insult, I answer, that this was for the sake of example, and that it was advantageous for setting forth God’s glory, that the king, having been civilly applied to, should betray his impious perversity, since nothing could be more just than that what he had unjustly refused, should be extorted from him against his will. But interpreters differ as to the meaning of the words. For some translate it literally from the Hebrew, “no, not by a mighty hand;” as though God said that the pride of the king would be unconquerable, and not to be subdued by any power or force; but the context requires a different sense, because the remedy is afterwards opposed to it, “and I will stretch out my hand;” and the result is added, that Pharaoh, overcome at length by the plagues, would let the people go. And this view is grammatically correct; for the Hebrews use the word ולא, velo, for “except.” Therefore God commands his people to be firm and confident, although Pharaoh may not immediately obey; because he would evidence his power in a remarkable manner for their deliverance. In the meantime he arouses them to hope by the promise of a successful issue; since he will forcibly compel Pharaoh to yield.
I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go, no, not by a mighty hand – When the facts detailed in this history have been considered in connection with the assertion as it stands in our Bibles, the most palpable contradiction has appeared. That the king of Egypt did let them go, and that by a mighty hand, the book itself amply declares. We should therefore seek for another meaning of the original word. ולא velo, which generally means and not, has sometimes the meaning of if not, unless, except, etc.; and in Becke’s Bible, 1549, it is thus translated: I am sure that the kyng of Egypt wyl not let you go,
Except wyth a mighty hand. This import of the negative particle, which is noticed by Noldius, Heb. Part., p. 328, was perfectly understood by the Vulgate, where it is translated nisi, unless; and the Septuagint in their εαν μη, which is of the same import; and so also the Coptic. The meaning therefore is very plain: The king of Egypt, who now profits much by your servitude, will not let you go till he sees my hand stretched out, and he and his nation be smitten with ten plagues. Hence God immediately adds, Exo_3:20 : I will stretch out my hand, and smite Egypt with all my wonders – and after that, he will let you go.
Keil and Delitzsch
חֲזָקָה בְיָד וְלֹא, “not even by means of a strong hand;” “except through great power” is not the true rendering, וְלֹא does not mean ἐὰν μὴ, nisi. What follows, – viz., the statement that God would so smite the Egyptians with miracles that Pharaoh would, after all, let Israel go (Exo_3:20), – is not really at variance with this, the only admissible rendering of the words. For the meaning is, that Pharaoh would not be willing to let Israel depart even when he should be smitten by the strong hand of God; but that he would be compelled to do so against his will, would be forced to do so by the plagues that were about to fall upon Egypt. Thus even after the ninth plague it is still stated (Exo_10:27), that “Pharaoh would (אבה) not let them go;” and when he had given permission, in consequence of the last plague, and in fact had driven them out (Exo_12:31), he speedily repented, and pursued them with his army to bring them back again (Exo_14:5.); from which it is clearly to be seen that the strong hand of God had not broken his will, and yet Israel was brought out by the same strong hand of Jehovah.