Exodus 3 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Exodus 3
Pulpit Commentary
Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.
Verse 1. - Moses kept the flock. The Hebrew expresses that this was his regular occupation. Understand by "flock" either sheep or goats, or the two intermixed. Both anciently and at the present day the Sinaitic pastures support these animals, and not horned cattle. Of Jethro, his father-in-law. The word translated "father-in-law" is of much wider application, being used of almost any relation by marriage. Zipporah uses it of Moses in Exodus 4:25, 26; in Genesis 19:12, 14, it is applied to Lot's "sons-in-law;" in other places it is used of "brothers-in-law." Its application to Jethro does not prove him to be the same person as Reuel, which the difference of name renders improbable. He was no doubt the head of the tribe at this period, having succeeded to that dignity, and to the priesthood, when Reuel died. He may have been either Reuel's son or his nephew. The backside of the desert, i.e. "behind" or "beyond the desert," across the strip of sandy plain which separates the coast of the Elanitic Gulf from the mountains, to the grassy regions beyond. He came to the mountain of God, even Horeb. Rather, "the mountain of God, Horeb-way," or "towards Horeb." By "the mountain of God" Sinai seems to be meant. It may be so named either by anticipation (as "the land of Rameses" in Genesis 47:11), or because there was already a sanctuary there to the true God, whom Reuel and Jethro worshipped (Exodus 18:12).
And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.
Verse 2. - The angel of the Lord. Literally, "an angel of Jehovah." Taking the whole narrative altogether, we are justified in concluding that the appearance was that of "the Angel of the Covenant" or" the Second Person of the Trinity himself;" but this is not stated nor implied in the present verse. We learn it from what follows. The angel "appeared in a flame of fire out of the midst of the thorn-bush" - not out of "a thorn-bush - which may be explained by there being only one on the spot, which however seems improbable, as it is a common tree; or by Moses having so often spoken of it, that, when he came to write to his countrymen, he naturally called it "the bush," meaning "the bush of which you have all heard." So St. John says of the Baptist (John 3:24) that "he was not yet cast into the prison, meaning, prison into which you all know that he was cast. Seneh, the word translated "bush," is still the name of a thorny shrub, a species of acacia, common in the Sinaitic district.
And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.
Verse 3. - I will turn aside. Suspecting nothing but a natural phenomenon, which he was anxious to investigate. The action bespeaks him a man of sense and intelligence, not easily scared or imposed upon.
And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.
Verse 4. - When the Lord saw... God called. This collocation of words is fatal in the entire Elohistic and Jehovistic theory, for no one can suppose that two different writers wrote the two clauses of the sentence. Nor, if the same term was originally used in both clauses, would any reviser have altered one without altering both. Out of the midst of the bush. A voice, which was the true voice of God, appeared to Moses to proceed out of the midst of the fire which enveloped the thorn-bush. An objective reality is described, not a vision. Moses, Moses. The double call implies urgency. Compare the call of Samuel (1 Samuel 3:10).
And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.
Verse 5. - Draw not nigh. The awful greatness of the Creator is such that his creatures, until invited to draw near, are bound to stand aloof. Moses, not yet aware that God himself spoke to him, was approaching the bush too close, to examine and see what the "great thing" was. (See ver. 3.) On the general unfitness of man to approach near to holy things, see the comment on Exodus 19:12. Put off thy shoes. Rather, "thy sandals." Shoes were not worn commonly, even by the Egyptians, until a late period, and would certainly not be known in the land of Midian at this time. The practice of putting them off before entering a temple, a palace, or even the private apartments of a house, was, and is, universal in the East - the rationale of it being that the shoes or sandals have dust or dirt attaching to them. The command given to Moses at this time was repeated to Joshua (Joshua 5:15). Holy ground. Literally, "ground of holiness " - ground rendered holy by the presence of God upon it - not "an old sanctuary," as some have thought, for then Moses would not have needed the information. Exodus - The God of thy father. "Father" here is used collectively, meaning forefathers generally, a usage well known to Hebraists. (Compare Exodus 15:2, antioch, 18:4.) The God of Abraham, etc., i.e. the God who revealed himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and entered into covenant with them (Genesis 15:1-21; Genesis 26:2-5; Genesis 35:1-12). The conclusion which our Blessed Lord drew from this verse (Matthew 22:32) is not directly involved in it, but depends on his minor premiss, "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." Moses hid his face. A natural instinctive action. So Elijah, on the same site (1 Kings 19:13) and the holy angels before God's throne in heaven (Isaiah 6:2). In the religious system of Rome, the augurs when discharging their office, and all persons when offering a sacrifice, veiled their heads. (See Liv. 1:18; Virg. Aen. 3:405; Juv. 6:390.)
Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.
And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows;
Verse 7. - I have surely seen. Literally "Seeing I have seen" - an expression implying continuance. On the force of the anthropomorphic terms "seeing, hearing, knowing," as used of God, see the comment on Exodus 2:24-25. Taskmasters. Not the general superintendents of Exodus 1:11, but subordinate officials, who stood over the labourers and applied the rod to their backs. (See above, Exodus 2:11.)
And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites.
Verse 8. - I am come down. Another anthropomorphism, and one very common in Scripture (Genesis 11:5, 7; Genesis 18:21; Psalm 18:9; Psalm 144:5, etc.), connected of course with the idea that God has a special dwellingplace, which is above the earth. To bring them up. Literally correct. Palestine is at a much higher level than Egypt. (Compare Genesis 12:10; Genesis 13:1; Genesis 37:25; Genesis 39:1; Genesis 42:2; Genesis 46:3, 4; Genesis 50:25.) A good land and a large. The fertility of Palestine, though not equal to that of Egypt, was still very great. Eastward of Jordan, the soil is rich and productive, the country in places wooded with fine trees, and the herbage luxuriant. Vast tracts in the spring produce enormous crops of grain, and throughout the year pasturage of every kind is abundant. "Still the countless flocks and herds may be seen, droves of cattle moving on like troops of soldiers, descending at sunset to drink of the springs-literally, in the language of; the prophet, "rams, and lambs, and goats, and bullocks, all of them fatlings of Bashan (Stanley, Jewish Church, pp. 217, 218). The western region is less productive, but by careful cultivation in terraces may be made to bear excellent crops of corn, olives, and figs. Palestine proper to a modern European seems small, being about the size of Belgium, less than Holland or Hanover, and not much larger than Wales. It contains about 11,000 square miles. To an Israelite of the age of Moses such a land would appear sufficiently "large;" for it was considerably larger than the entire Delta of Egypt, whereof his nation occupied the smaller half; and it fell but little short of the entire cultivable area of the whole land of Egypt, which was the greatest and most powerful country known to him. It may be added that the land included in the covenant which God made with Abraham (Genesis 15:18-21), and actually possessed by David and Solomon (1 Kings 4:21), was a "good land and a large," according even to modern notions, including (as it did) besides Palestine the whole of Syria, and thus containing an area of from 50,000 to 60,000 square miles. The phrase flowing with milk and honey, first used here, and so common in the later books (Numbers 13:27; Deuteronomy 26:9, 15; Deuteronomy 31:20; Jeremiah 11:5; Jeremiah 32:22; Ezekiel 20:6, etc.) was probably a proverbial expression for "a land of plenty," and not intended literally. See what the spies say, Numbers 13:27 The enumeration of the nations of Palestine here made is incomplete, five only of the ten whose land was promised to Abraham (Genesis 15:19-21) being expressly mentioned. One, however, that of the Hivites, is added. We may suppose that they had succeeded to the Kenizzites or the Kadmonites of Abraham's time. The only important omission is that of the Girgashites, who hold their place in most other enumerations (Genesis 10:16; Genesis 15:21; Deuteronomy 7:1; Joshua 3:10; Joshua 24:11, etc.), but seem to have been the least important of the "seven nations,"and are omitted in Judges 3:5. ("Girgashites" is introduced in the Samaritan version and the Sept.)
Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: and I have also seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them.
Verse 9. - This is a repetition, in substance, of ver. 7, on account of the long parenthesis in ver. 8, and serves to introduce verse 10. The nexus is: "I have seen the oppression - I am come down to deliver them - come now, therefore, I will send thee"
Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.
And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?
Verse 11. - And Moses said... Who am I, that I should go, etc. A great change had come over Moses. Forty years earlier he had been forward to offer himself as a "deliverer." He "went out" to his brethren and slew one of their oppressors, and "supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them" (Acts 7:25). "But they understood not" (ibid.) They declined to accept him for leader, they reproached him with setting himself up to be "a ruler and a judge" over them. And now, taught by this lesson, and sobered by forty years of inaction, he has become timid and distrustful of himself, and shrinks from putting himself forward. Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh? What weight can I, a foreigner, forty years an exile, with the manners of a rough shepherd, expect to have with the mighty monarch of all Egypt - the son of Rameses the Great, the inheritor of his power and his glories? And again, Who am I, that I should bring forth the children of Israel? What weight can I expect to have with my countrymen, who will have forgotten me - whom, moreover, I could not influence when I was,in my full vigour - who then "refused" my guidance and forced me to quit them? True diffidence speaks in the words used - there is no ring of insincerity in them; Moses was now as distrustful of himself as in former days he had been confident, and when he had become fit to be a deliverer, ceased to think himself fit.
And he said, Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain.
Verse 12. - Certainly I will be with thee. Literally, "Since I will be with thee." Moses had excused himself on the ground of unfitness. God replies - "Thou wilt not be unfit, since I will be with thee - I will supply thy deficiencies - I will impart all the qualities thou needest - and this shall be a sign unto thee of my power and faithfulness - this shall assure thee that I am not sending thee upon a fruitless errand - it is determined in my counsels that not only shalt thou succeed, and lead the people out, but after that, - when thou hast so done - thou and they together shall serve me on this mountain." The "sign" was one which appealed to faith only, like that given to Hezekiah by Isaiah (2 Kings 19:29), but, if accepted, it gave a full assurance - the second step involved the first - the end implied the means - if Moses was of a certainty to bring the Israelites to Sinai, he must first lead them out of Egypt - he must in some way or other triumph over all the difficulties which would beset the undertaking.
And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?
Verse 13. - What is his name? It is not at all clear why Moses should suppose that the Israelites would ask him this question, nor does it even appear that they did ask it. Perhaps, however, he thought that, as the Egyptians used the word "god," generically, and had a special name for each particular god - as Ammon, Phthah, Ra, Mentu, Her, Osiris, and the like - when he told his people of "the God of their fathers," they would conclude that he, too, had a proper name, and would wish to know it. The Egyptians set much store by the names of their gods, which in every ease had a meaning. Ammen was "the concealed (god)," Phthah, "the revealer," Ra,"the swift," etc. Hitherto Israel's God had had no name that could be called a proper name more than any other. He had been known as "El," "The High;" "Shad-dai," "The Strong;" and "Jehovah," "The Existent;" but these terms had all been felt to be descriptive epithets, and none of them had passed as yet into a proper name. What was done at this time, by the authority of God himself, was to select from among the epithets one to be distinctly a proper name, and at the same time to explain its true meaning as something more than "The Existent" - as really "The Alone Existent" - the source of all existence. Henceforth this name, which had previously been but little used and perhaps less understood, predominated over every other, was cherished by the Jews themselves as a sacred treasure, and recognised by those around them as the proper appellation of the one and only God whom the Israelites worshipped. It is found in this sense on the Moabite stone ('Records of the Past,' vol. 11, p. 166), in the fragments of Philo-Byblius, and elsewhere.
And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.
Verse 14. - I AM THAT I AM. No better translation can be given of the Hebrew words. "I will be that I will be (Geddes) is more literal, but less idiomatic, since the Hebrew was the simplest possible form of the verb substantive. "I am because I am" (Boothroyd) is wrong, since the word asher is certainly the relative. The Septuagint, Αγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν, explains rather than translates, but is otherwise unobjectionable. The Vulgate, sum qui sum, has absolute exactness. The idea expressed by the name is, as already explained, that of real, perfect, unconditioned, independent existence. I AM hath sent me to you. "I am" is an abbreviated form of "I am that I am," and is intended to express the same idea.
And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.
Verse 15. - The Lord God. In the original Jehovah elokey - "Jehovah, God of your fathers," etc. The name is clearly an equivalent of the "I AM" in the preceding versa The exact mode of its formation from the old root hava, "to be," is still disputed among the best Hebraists. This is my name for ever. Henceforth there will be no change - this will be my most appropriate name so long as the world endures - "The Existent" - "The Alone Existent" - "He that is, and was, and is to come" (Revelation 1:4, 8; Revelation 4:8; Revelation 11:17; Revelation 16:5). My memorial. The name whereby I am to be spoken of.
Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say unto them, The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared unto me, saying, I have surely visited you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt:
Verse 16. - Gather the elders. It is generally thought that we are to understand by "the elders" not so much the more aged men, as these who bore a certain official rank and position among their brethren, the heads of the various houses (Exodus 6:14, 25; 11:21), who exercised a certain authority even during the worst times of the oppression. Moses was first to prevail, on them to acknowledge his mission, and was then to go with them to Pharaoh and make his representation (ver. 18). I have surely visited you. The words are a repetition of those used by Joseph on his deathbed (Genesis 50:24), and may be taken to mean, "I have done as Joseph prophesied - I have made his words good thus far. Expect, therefore, the completion of what he promised."
And I have said, I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt unto the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, unto a land flowing with milk and honey.
And they shall hearken to thy voice: and thou shalt come, thou and the elders of Israel, unto the king of Egypt, and ye shall say unto him, The LORD God of the Hebrews hath met with us: and now let us go, we beseech thee, three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.
Verse 18. - They shall hearken to thy voice. Moses thought they would despise him - turn a deaf ear to his words - look upon him as unworthy of credit. But it was not so. The hearts of men are in God's hands, and he disposed those of the elders to receive the message of his servant, Moses, favourably, and believe in it. (See Exodus 4:29-31.) Thou shalt come, thou and the elders of Israel, unto the king of Egypt. This future is perhaps one of command rather than of prophetic announcement. The elders do not seem to have actually made their appearance before Pharaoh. (See Exodus 5:1-4.) They may, however, have authorised Moses and Aaron to speak in their name. The Lord God of the Hebrews hath met with us. Through our representative Moses. "Met with us" is undoubtedly the true meaning. That we may sacrifice. There was reticence here, no doubt, but no falseness. It was a part of God's design that sacrifice, interrupted during the sojourn in Egypt for various reasons, should be resumed beyond the bounds of Egypt by His people. So much of his purpose, and no more, he bade Moses lay before Pharaoh on the first occasion. The object of the reticence was not to deceive Pharaoh, but to test him.
And I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go, no, not by a mighty hand.
Verse 19. - I am sure. Literally, "I know," a better rendering, since, "I am sure" implies something leas than knowledge. No, not by a mighty hand. Or "not even by a mighty hand." Pharaoh will not be willing to let you go even when my mighty hand is laid upon him. (See Exodus 8:15, 19, 32; Exodus 9:12, 35; Exodus 10:20, 27.) "But by strong hand" (marg.) is a rendering which the rules of grammar do not permit.
And I will stretch out my hand, and smite Egypt with all my wonders which I will do in the midst thereof: and after that he will let you go.
Verse 20. - I will stretch out my hand. To encourage Moses and the people, to support them in what was, humanly speaking, a most unequal contest, this important promise is made. It is a confirmation, and to some extent, an explanation of the pledge, already, given, "Certainly I will be with thee" (ver. 12). It shows how God would be with him - he would smite Egypt with all his wonders - what those would be was left obscure. He would come to his people's aid, and openly assert himself, and afflict and strike terror into their enemies-until at last even Pharaoh's stubborn spirit would be broken, and he would consent to let them go.
And I will give this people favour in the sight of the Egyptians: and it shall come to pass, that, when ye go, ye shall not go empty:
Verses 21, 22. - The "spoiling of the Egyptians" has called forth much bitter comment. (See Kalisch, note on Exodus 3:22.) It has been termed a combination of "fraud, deception and theft" - "base deceit and nefarious fraud" - "glaring villainy," and the like. The unfortunate translation of a verb meaning "ask" by "borrow" in ver. 22, has greatly helped the objectors. In reality, what God here commanded and declared was this: - The Israelite women were told on the eve of their departure from Egypt to ask presents (bakh-sheesh) from their rich Egyptian neighbours, as a contribution to the necessary expenses of the long journey on which they were entering; and God promised that he would so favourably incline the hearts of these neighbours towards them, that, in reply to their request, articles of silver and of gold, together with raiment, would be freely and bounteously bestowed on them - so freely and so bounteously, that they might clothe and adorn, not only themselves, but their sons and daughters, with the presents; and the entire result would be that, instead of quitting Egypt like a nation of slaves, in rags and penniless, they would go forth in the guise of an army of conquerors, laden with the good things of the country, having (with their own good-will) "spoiled the Egyptians." No fraud, no deceit, was to be practised - the Egyptians perfectly well understood that, if the Israelites once went, they would never voluntarily return - they were asked to give and they gave - with the result that Egypt was "spoiled." Divine justice sees in this a rightful nemesis. Oppressed, wronged, down-trodden, miserably paid for their hard labour during centuries, the Israelites were to obtain at the last something like a compensation for their ill-usage; the riches of Africa were to be showered on them. Egypt, "glad at their departing," was to build them a bridge of gold to expedite their flight, and to despoil herself in order to enrich her quondam slaves, of whom she was, under the circumstances, delighted to be rid.
But every woman shall borrow of her neighbour, and of her that sojourneth in her house, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: and ye shall put them upon your sons, and upon your daughters; and ye shall spoil the Egyptians.
Verse 22. - Borrow. The Hebrew word means simply "ask" (αἰτήσει, LXX.; postula-bit, Vulg.). Of her neighbours. The intermixture to some extent of the Egyptians with the Hebrews in Goshen is here again implied, as in chs. 1. and 2. And of her that sojourneth in her house. Some of the Israelites, it would seem, took in Egyptian lodgers superior to them in wealth and rank. This implies more friendly feeling between the two nations than we should have expected; but it is quite natural that, after their long stay in Egypt, the Hebrews should have made a certain number of the Egyptians their friends.

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