Exodus 1
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers










I.Title.—The Hebrews knew the five books of the Pentateuch by their initial word or words, Bereshith, Ve-eleh shemoth, Vay-yikra, &c.; but as this kind of nomenclature was unknown to the Greeks, the Alexandrian translators had to devise new titles, which should be intelligible to those for whom their translation was made. Following a method which was at once natural and familiar to the Hellenic world by its very early application to the Iliad of Homer,[29] they named the several parts of the work from their contents, and gave to the second book, very happily, the title it still bears of “Éxodos,” “departure,” “outgoing,” or “setting forth,” since a main subject of the narrative is the “outgoing” of the Israelites from Egypt. Jerome, in his translation of the Bible, preserved the word, merely Latinising it into “Exodus “; and the acceptance of his version by the Western Church has led to the general adoption of the name used by him among the nations of Western Europe.

[29] See Herod, ii. 116; and compare Heyne, Excurs. ad Horn. Iliad, xxiv. § 2, p. 787.

II.Contents, Design, and General Plan of the Book.—Although the outgoing of the Israelites from Egypt is one of the principal matters treated of in the Book of Exodus, yet it was not the sole, nor even the main, purpose of the writer to give an account of that remarkable passage of history. His purpose was a wider and grander one. It embraced a space of time anterior to even the first preparations for departure, and another subsequent to the completion of the journey and escape. It was theocratic rather than historic. It was to “give an account of the first stage in the fulfilment of the promises made by God to the patriarchs with reference to the growth of the children of Israel,”[30] by tracing their development from a family into a tribe, and from a tribe into a nation. Genesis left Israel in Egypt a family or “house” (Genesis 1:22); Exodus leaves them a nation of above two millions of souls, organised under chiefs (Exodus 18:21-24), with a settled form of worship, a priesthood, a code of laws, and a judicature. It finds them still a family (Exodus 1:1-6); it leaves them the people of God (Exodus 33:13). By the entrance of “the glory of the Lord” into the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34) the theocracy is completed—God locally dwells with His people as their Ruler, Director, and Guide. The nation receives its Head, and becomes “a kingdom” (Exodus 19:6). It is still nomadic—it has no settled country—but it is an organised whole.

[30] Keil, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. I., p. 415.

In tracing the steps of this change, the author of the book pursues the ordinary historical and chronological method. Having recapitulated (from Genesis 46) the family of Jacob, and mentioned the death of Joseph (Exodus 1:1-6), he sketches rapidly the condition of the descendants of Jacob during the period which intervened between Joseph’s decease and the birth of Moses, dwelling especially on the rapid increase of the Israelites (Genesis 27:7; Genesis 27:12; Genesis 27:20), and relating incidentally the steps in the “affliction” to which they were subjected by the Egyptians, according to God’s prophecy to Abraham (Genesis 15:13). From this he passes to the birth, providential escape, and bringing up of Moses, their pre-destined deliverer, and to the circumstances which compelled him to quit Egypt, and become an exile in the land of Midian. The call and mission of Moses are next related, together with the circumstances of his return from Midian to Egypt, the consent of Jethro to his departure (Exodus 4:18), the circumcision of Eliezer (Exodus 4:24-26), the meeting with Aaron (Exodus 4:27-28), and the acceptance of Moses for their leader by the people (Exodus 4:29-31). The account of Moses’ first application to Pharaoh follows, and its result—the increase of the people’s burthens, with their consequent despair, and the despondency of Moses (Exodus 5; Exodus 6:1-13). After a genealogical parenthesis (Exodus 6:14-27), the narrative of the struggle between Moses and Pharaoh is resumed, and carried on through five chapters (Exodus 7-11), which contain the account of all the “plagues of Egypt,” except the last, and exhibit in a strong light the tergiversation and final obduracy of Pharaoh. The crisis now approaches, and in preparation for it the Passover is instituted, with full directions for its continued observance (Exodus 12:1-28). The blow then falls—the firstborn are slain—and the Israelites are not only allowed to depart, but are sent out of Egypt “in haste” (Exodus 12:33), laden with presents from those who wished to expedite their departure (Exodus 12:35-36). The account of the “Exodus “itself is then given, and the journey traced from Rameses, by way of Succoth and Etham, to Pi-hahiroth, on the western shore of the Red Sea (Exodus 12:37 to Exodus 14:4). Upon this follows an account of the pursuit made by Pharaoh, of the miraculous passage of the sea by the host of Israel, and the destruction in the returning waters of the entire Egyptian chariot and cavalry force (Exodus 14:5-31). This portion of the narrative is appropriately concluded by the song of triumph sung by Moses and Miriam (Exodus 15:1-21).

Israel being now in safety, the account of their journey is resumed. Their line of march is traced through the wilderness of Shur to Marah (Exodus 15:22-26); from Marah to Elim (Exodus 15:27); thence through the wilderness of Sin to Rephidim (Exodus 17:1); and from Rephidim to Sinai (Exodus 19:2). On the march occur the murmuring and miracle at Marah (Exodus 15:23-25); the giving of the quails and of manna (Exodus 16:4-36); the great battle with the Amalekites at Rephidim (Exodus 17:8-13); and the visit of Jethro to Moses, with his advice, and the consequent organisation of the people (Exodus 18:1-27).

The scene of the rest of Exodus is Sinai and the plain at its northern base. In Exodus 19 the author describes the preparations made for the giving of the fundamental law, which is then explicitly stated in four chapters (Exodus 20-23), and consists of the Decalogue (Exodus 20:1-17) and the “Book of the Covenant” (Exodus 20:22-23). In Exodus 24 he tells of the acceptance of the covenant by Israel (Genesis 27:3-8), and of the first ascent of Moses into the mount (Genesis 27:9-18). After this, seven chapters (Exodus 25-31) relate the directions there given to Moses by God with respect to the mode in which He would be worshipped, and the “house” which He would have constructed for Him. In Exodus 32 Israel’s apostacy is related, together with its immediate punishment; and in Exodus 33 we have an account of the steps taken by Moses to obtain from God a renewal of the forfeited covenant. In Exodus 34 the writer relates the circumstances of Moses’ second ascent into the mount, and declares the terms upon which the covenant was renewed. The construction of the various parts of the tabernacle and of the priestly garments is then given in five chapters (Exodus 35-39); and the work concludes with an account in one chapter (Exodus 40) of the setting up of the tabernacle, and the entrance of the “Glory of God” into it.

III.Divisions.—Primarily, the work divides itself into two portions:—1. An historical narrative of the fortunes of Israel from the death of Joseph to the arrival of the nation in front of Sinai (Exodus 1-19). 2. A didactic portion, containing all the most essential points of the Law and of the worship (Exodus 20-40). This didactic portion is, however, historical in its setting, and is intermixed with some purely historical sections, as especially Exodus 24 and Exodus 32, 33.

Part. I. may be sub-divided as follows:—




Exodus 1

The oppression of Israel in Egypt.


Exodus 2

The birth, escape from death, and bringing up of Moses. His first attempt to deliver his people, and flight to Midian.


Exodus 3:4

The call and mission of Moses, and his return to Egypt.


Exodus 5, Exodus 6:1-13.

The first interview between Moses and Pharaoh, with its result—the increase of the people’s burthens, their despair, and the despondency of Moses.


Exodus 6:14-27; Exodus 7-11

The genealogy of Moses and Aaron.

The efforts made by Moses, under Divine guidance, to overcome the obstinacy of Pharaoh. The first nine “plagues of Egypt.”


Exodus 12:1-28.

The institution of the Passover.


Exodus 12:29-36.

The tenth plague, and its consequences.


Exodus 12:37 to Exodus 14:4.

The departure from Egypt, and the journey to Pi-hahiroth.


Exodus 14:5-31.

The pursuit of Pharaoh. The passage of the Red Sea. Great destruction of the Egyptians.


Exodus 15:1-21.

The song of triumph sung by Moses and Miriam.


Exodus 15:22-27

The journey of the Israelites from the Red Sea to Rephidim. The victory ever the Amalekites.


Exodus 18

Jethro’s visit to Moses.


Exodus 19

Arrival of Israel before Mount Sinai, and preparations made for the giving of the Law.

Part II. contains the following sub-divisions:




Exodus 20

Delivery of the Decalogue.


Exodus 21-23

Words of the “Book of the Covenant”


Exodus 24

Acceptance of the covenant, and ascent of Moses into the mount.


Exodus 25-26

Instructions given to Moses with respect to the structure of the tabernacle, and the consecration and attire of the priests.


Exodus 32-34

Infraction of the covenant by the idolatry of the calf, and renewal of it through the intercession of Moses.


Exodus 35-39

Construction of the tabernacle and its furniture. Making of the “holy garments.”


Exodus 40

Erection of the tabernacle, and entrance of the “Glory of God” into it.

IV. Date of the Composition.—The antiquity of the Book of Exodus is evidenced by the simplicity of its constructions, and the occurrence in it of a certain number of extremely archaic forms. Its composition by an eye-witness of most of the events which it relates is indicated by the vividness with which they are portrayed, and the details and unnecessary minutiœ into which the writer enters. The descriptions of the effect of the hail upon the Egyptian standing crops (Exodus 9:31-32), of the character and appearance of the manna (Exodus 16:14-31), and of the descent of Jehovah upon Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16-19; Exodus 20:18) have all the appearance of being by an eye-witness. Who but an eye-witness would note the exact number of the wells at Elim, and of the palm-trees that grew about them (Exodus 15:27)? Or the fact that the first tables of stone were “written on the one side, and on the other(Exodus 32:15)? Or the circumstance that Moses and Joshua heard the sound of the idol feast in honour of the golden calf before they got sight of it (Exodus 32:17-19)? What Israelite of later times would have presumed to fix the exact date of the setting forth from Elim as “the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 16:1)? Or to state that Miriam and the Israelite women accompanied their song of triumph “with timbrels” (Exodus 15:20)? Or to give the precise position of Pi-hahiroth as “between Migdol and the sea, over against Baal-zephon” (Exodus 14:2)? Who but an eye-witness would have noticed that the locusts were taken away by “a strong west wind,” or would have ventured to state that “there remained not one locust in all the coasts of Egypt” (Exodus 10:19)? Little graphic touches strongly indicative of the eye-witness are such as the following:—“Zipporah cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet” (Exodus 4:25) “Aaron met Moses in the mount of God, and kissed him” (Exodus 4:27). The officers of the Israelites “met Moses and Aaron, who stood in the way, as they came forth from Pharaoh” (Exodus 5:20). “The frogs died out of the houses, out of the villages, and out of the fields; and they gathered them together in heaps” (Exodus 8:13-14). “The Lord sent thunder and hail, and the fire ran along upon the ground” (Exodus 9:23). “The locusts covered the face of the earth, so that the land was darkened” (Exodus 10:15). “Darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt” (Exodus 10:21). “And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt” (Exodus 12:30). “The people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading troughs being bound up in their clothes upon their shoulders” (Exodus 12:34). “The Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night” (Exodus 14:21). “Thus the Lord saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore” (Exodus 14:30). The Egyptians “sank into the bottom as a stone; they sank as lead in the mighty waters” (Exodus 15:5-10). “The quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning the dew lay round about the host” (Exodus 16:13). “They did mete the manna with an omer” (Exodus 16:18). “When the sun waxed hot, the manna melted” (Exodus 16:21). “Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, and did obeisance, and kissed him” (Exodus 18:7). “The whole mount (Sinai) quaked greatly” (Exodus 19:18). “All the people answered with one voice, and said: All the words which the Lord hath said we will do” (Exodus 24:3). The subject need not be further pursued. It is evident that the style of narration is exactly that of an eye-witness, and we must either suppose intentional fraud, or the composition of Exodus by one of those who quitted Egypt at this time under the circumstances narrated. The date of the final completion of the work will therefore be, at the latest, some twenty or thirty years after the entrance into Canaan.

V. Author.—If the Book of Exodus be granted to have been written by a contemporary—an Israelite present at the greater part of the scenes recorded in it—the question of its exact author becomes one of mere literary curiosity. The credibility of the Biblical history is established, as even Strauss admits,[31] if it can be shown that it was written by eye-witnesses. And the author of Exodus can have been no ordinary Israelite, no uneducated person, no mere member of the rank and file; he must have been among the foremost of his nation, highly gifted, possessed of rare culture, a man of mark, one of the chief leaders. It would not detract from the value of the work as an historical record if it could be shown to have been written by Aaron or Hur, by Joshua or Caleb; but the interest is increased, no doubt, if it can justly be regarded as the work of Moses.

[31] Leben Jesu, § 13, p. 55,’E.T.

“What ground, then, is there for this belief, which, notwithstanding all that has been urged against it, is still the prevalent one? In the first place, there is the unanimous tradition.” The Book of the Law “is ascribed to Moses by Joshua,[32] by the author of Kings,[33] by the author of Chronicles,[34] by Ezra,[35] by Nehemiah,[36] by Malachi,[37] by our blessed Lord,[38] by St. John the Baptist,[39] by Philip the Apostle,[40] by St. Peter,[41] by St. Paul repeatedly, and by all the Jewish Targume, Rabbis, and commentators generally. A work which there is every reason to regard as the same is assigned to him by Hecataeus of Abdera, by Manetho, by Eupolemus, by Nicolas of Damascus, by Juvenal, and by Longinus. There is no counter-tradition. No writer of antiquity, of either great or small authority, has ever suggested any other author of Exodus, or (if we take the word author in its wider sense) of the entire Pentateuch, but Moses.

[32] Joshua 8:31.

[33] 2Kings 14:6.

[34] 2Chronicles 25:4.

[35] Ezra 6:18.

[36] Nehemiah 13:1.

[37] Malachi 4:4.

[38] John 7:19, &c.

[39] John 1:17.

[40] John 1:45.

[41] Acts 4:22.

Secondly, there is a large mass of internal evidence pointing to the Mosaic authorship of Exodus. Not only was the author familiar with Egypt, but he had a large acquaintance with the Egyptian language, laws, art, and literature. The number of Egyptian words and phrases which occur in Exodus is considerable.[42] The Mosaic legislation has Egyptian features. The ornamentation of the tabernacle, and the fabrics used for curtains and for garments, betray an acquaintance with. the resources and methods of Egyptian industrial skill. Acquaintance with Egyptian literature is shown in the more elevated parts of the work, especially in the “Song of Moses.” As there is no reason to believe that any other Israelite of the time had enjoyed the advantage of being bred up in the Egyptian learning, and familiarised with the highest specimens of Egyptian artistic and literary genius, it is unlikely that any other member of the community could have produced Exodus. But Moses was fully competent for the task. Moses, brought up at the court, as the son of a princess, “learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:22)—or, at any rate, in all that was not of a recondite character—familiar with artists and literary men, accustomed to the splendour and magnificence of the Pharaonic palaces and temples, might naturally have at once the literary skill, the legislative ability, and power of artistic conception which the work displays. Further, many of the little turns noticed in the preceding section, and others similar to them, which betray the hand of an eye-witness, are of such a nature that the eye-witness could only be Moses. Who but Moses could know that before he “slew the Egyptian” he “looked this way and that” (Exodus 2:12)? Who but he would remember that he “buried him in the sand” (Exodus 2:12)? Who but he could know that he turned aside to see the great sight of the burning bush (Exodus 3:3), or that he “fled from before” the serpent into which his rod was turned (Exodus 4:3), or that when he quitted Midian, he set his wife and child upon an ass (Exodus 4:20), or that Zipporah cut off her son’s foreskin “with a stone” (Exodus 4:25), or that when she had cut it off, she cast it at Mioses’ feet (Exodus 4:25)? Who but he could tell us that at Marah “he cried unto the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree” (Exodus 15:25), or that at Rephidim his “hands were heavy” (Exodus 17:12), or the exact reasons for which he gave his two sons their names (Exodus 18:3-4), or that when he came down from the mount he “wist not that his face shone” (Exodus 34:29), or that when he saw the glory of God, he “made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped” (Exodus 34:8)? Not only the actions of Moses, but his thoughts and feelings, the very words of his prayers breathed inwardly to God (Exodus 32:31-32; Exodus 33:12-16, &c), are declared to us with openness, simplicity, and an unmistakable stamp of truth. Who but Moses could dare to lay bare to us the secret thoughts of Moses, to expose to us the very recesses of his heart?

[42] See Canon Cook’s “Essay” in the Speaker’s Commentary Vol. I., pp. 476–492.

Again, a strong argument for the Mosaic authorship may be drawn from the entire manner in which Moses is portrayed and spoken of. Whereas to the Hebrew nation—who owed him so much—Moses had always been the first and greatest of men, the writer of Exodus is unconscious of his possessing any personal greatness at all. The points in the personality of Moses which have impressed him the most, and on which he lays the greatest stress, are his deficiencies in natural gifts, and his numerous imperfections of temper and character. Rash and impetuous, beginning his public life with a crime (Exodus 2:12), and following up his crime with an assumption of authority that was unwise (Exodus 2:13), he next shows a timid spirit, when he finds that his crime is known (Exodus 2:14-15), and betaking himself to exile, relinquishes all patriotic effort. Called by God, and entrusted with the mission of delivering Israel, he holds back, hesitates, pleads his personal defects, until he angers God, and loses half his leadership (Exodus 4:1-14). Unsuccessful in his first application to Pharaoh, he utters a remonstrance which verges on irreverence (Exodus 5:22-23). Encouraged by fresh promises, and bidden to make a second application, he responds by a fresh disparagement of his natural powers (Exodus 6:12). When at last he makes up his mind to carry out his struggle with Pharaoh to the bitter end, he shows, no doubt, courage and confidence in God; but still he is never praised: no single word is uttered in commendation of his moral qualities; once only is he said to have been “very great in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants and of the people” (Exodus 11:3). It has been urged that he would not have spoken of himself in this tone—and it is just possible that the words are a later addition to his work—but still they contain no praise; they do but note a fact, and a fact of importance to the narrative, since it accounts for the gifts lavished upon Israel at their departure. In the later portion of Exodus, it is absence of all words of praise rather than any record of faults that we note; nothing calls forth from the writer a single sentence of approval; even when the offer is made to be blotted out of God’s book for the sake of his people (Exodus 32:32), the same reticence is observed: no comment follows; there is no apparent recognition that the offer was anything but a small matter. Nor is any notice taken of the courage, faith, and wisdom exhibited by Moses in the performance of his mission from the time of his second appearance before Pharaoh (Exodus 7:10). Contrast with this silence what later writers say of him, as the son of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus 45:1-5), the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews Hebrews 11:24-28; comp. Hebrews 3:5), and the completer of Deuteronomy (Exodus 34:10-12). It will be sufficient to quote the last-named passage to show what his countrymen generally thought of their deliverer. “And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, in all the signs and the wonders, which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh,” &c. The humble estimate formed of the deliverer, and the general reticence, are quite intelligible, and in harmony with the rest of the Scripture, if the author was Moses. They are wholly unintelligible on any other hypothesis.

VI. Credibility.—Strauss observes, as has already been stated (see above, § V.), that “it would, most unquestionably, be an argument of decisive weight in favour of the credibility of the Biblical history could it indeed be shown that it was written by eye-witnesses.”[43] And, again, “Moses, being the leader of the Israelites on their departure from Egypt, would undoubtedly give a faithful history of the occurrences, unless” (which no one supposes) “he intended to deceive.”[44] These admissions show that the credibility of Exodus is involved in the Mosaic authorship, and is proved if that be proved, as we conceive that it is. Still, as all men are not logically-minded, the following remarks on the credibility of the narrative itself, whoever was the writer, may not be superfluous.

[43] Leben Jesu, § 13, p. 55, E.T.

[44] lb., p. 56, E.T.

The narrative contains an account of Egypt, touching in numerous points its history, geography, productions, climatic peculiarities, manners and customs, &c, with much definiteness and exactness. A writer who ventures on such minutiae, unless a contemporary, and familiar with the scene which he describes, is liable to trip at every turn, and is certain to be caught tripping if subjected to a close scrutiny by those who, with all the aids of modern historical research, have made the country and the period their special study. But the more closely Exodus is scrutinised by learned Egyptologists, the more triumphantly does it emerge from the ordeal; and it is not too much to say that, for the future, no sceptical critic is likely to repeat the attack of Von Bohlen, which called forth so crushing a reply from Hengstenberg.[45] The narrative of Exodus, though at present it receives no direct confirmation from the Egyptian monuments, is indirectly confirmed on so many and such minute points, that its historical character must be admitted, unless we tax the writer with conscious imposture. He is familiar with the Egypt of the early Rameside period, and must have known the circumstances of the departure of Israel. If he has misrepresented them, he must have done so intentionally, and have sought to give his fiction an air of reality by observing, in all his details, the utmost, truthfulness and accuracy.

[45] See the important work of this writer, entitled Œgyvten und Mose, published in 1840, and translated into English for Clark’s Theological Library in 1845. Some additions have been made to the proof furnished by Hengstenberg in the following work of the present writer—Historical Illustrations of the Old and New Testament, pp. 67-79.

Though the general narrative is unconfirmed by the Egyptian monuments, which would not be likely to notice an inglorious episode in Egyptian history, yet it receives a certain amount of confirmation from an Egyptian writer of repute, as well as from several of the classical historians. Manetho, an Egyptian priest, who wrote a history of Egypt, in the time of the first Ptolemy (B.C. 323-283), declared that, in the reign of an Amenophis, who was the son of a Rameses, and the father of a Sethos, a man named Moses led out of Egypt a colony of unclean persons, and conducted them to Syria.[46] Hecatseus, of Abdera, who lived about the same time, told a similar story, adding that the colony consisted of foreigners, and settled in Judaea.[47] Artapanus, Chseremon, Eupolemus, Lysimachus, Tacitus, and others gave accounts which were not very different. It was generally accepted as historic truth in the ancient world, that the nation known as Jews or Israelites had at one time dwelt in Egypt, had quitted that country under circumstances of hostility, and had passed through the desert to Palestine. Most writers agreed that the leader of the migration had been Moses. Some mentioned both Moses and Aruas, i.e., Aaron.[48] The passage of the Red Sea was admitted by the Egyptians themselves, who only differed as to the question whether it had been miraculous or not. While the priests of Memphis maintained that Moses had merely taken advantage of a low tide to lead the Israelites across, those of Heliopolis, more honest or better informed, freely declared that, “on the Egyptian king, at the head of a large force, pursuing after the Jews, because they were carrying away with them the riches which they had borrowed of the Egyptians, the voice of God commanded Moses to smite the sea with his rod, and divide it. Moses, therefore, when he was thus admonished, touched the water with his rod, and so the sea parted asunder, and the host marched through on dry ground.” [49] The march by way of Mount Sinai is witnessed to by one classical writer,[50] and there is a general agreement that the laws which marked off the Jews from all other nations were given them by Moses.

[46] Ap. Joseph. Contra Apion. i. 26, 27.

[47] Ap. Phot. Bibliothe, p. 1152.

[48] Trog. Poompeius ia the Epitome of Justin (34:2).

[49] Frag. Hist. Gr., Vol. III., pp.2 23, 224.

[50] Justin, 50s.100

At the present day, the credibility of Exodus is assailed on two principal grounds:—1. The miraculous character of a large portion of the narrative. 2. The exaggeration, which is thought to be apparent, in the numbers. A school of foreign critics denies the possibility of a miracle; and among ourselves there are many who accept the view of Hume, that it is more probable that the witnesses to miracles should have been deceived, than that the miracles should have happened. It is impossible, within the limits of an “Introduction,” to discuss these large questions. Every Christian, every believer in the Apostles’ Creed, must accept miracles. And when the Resurrection and Ascension of our Lord are once accepted, any other minor miracles cease to be felt as difficulties. In the present case, it is observable:—(1) that the miracles were needed; (2) that they were peculiarly suitable and appropriate to the circumstances; and (3) that they were of such a nature that it was impossible for eye-witnesses to be deceived with regard to them. Moses especially, whom we have shown to have been almost certainly the writer of Exodus, could not have been deceived as to the miracles. He must have known whether he performed them or not. Even if the writer be a companion of Moses (Joshua or Caleb), and not Moses himself, deception is inconceivable. Either the plagues of Egypt happened, or they did not. Either the Red Sea was divided, or it was not. Either the pillar of fire and of the cloud guided the movements of the host for forty years, or there was no such thing. Either there was manna each morning round about the camp, or there was none. The facts were too plain, too simple, too obvious to sense for there to be any doubt about them. The record is either a true account, or a tissue of lies. We cannot imagine the writer an eyewitness, and reject the main features of his tale, without looking on him as an impudent impostor. No “enthusiasm,” no “poetic temperament,” could account for such a record, if the Exodus was accomplished without miracles. The writer either related the truth, or was guilty of conscious dishonesty.

With respect to the numerical difficulties, it is to be borne in mind, in the first place, that numbers are peculiarly liable to corruption in ancient works, from the fact that they were not fully expressed, but written in a sort of cipher.[51] It is quite possible that the numbers in our present copies of Exodus are in excess, and express the ideas of a reviser, such as Ezra, rather than those of the original author. The males of full age who quitted Egypt may have been 100,00, or 60,000, instead of 600,000, and the migration one of 400,000 or 200,000 souls, instead of two millions. But, on the whole, judicious criticism inclines to uphold the numbers of the existing text. Alarm would not have been felt by the Egyptian kings until the people had greatly multiplied, and become formidable from a military point of view,[52] which they could not have been until the fully-grown men numbered some hundreds of thousands. For the population of Egypt was probably from seven to eight millions,[53] and the military class, at a far less flourishing time than that of the Exodus, was reckoned at above 400,000.[54] Nor could Canaan well have been conquered by an emigrant body which did not amount to some millions, since the country was well peopled at the time, and its occupants were brave and warlike. The difficulty of subsistence for two millions of persons in the desert is entirely met by the continuous miracle of the manna, and that of sufficient pasture for their numerous flocks and herds, by the far greater fertility of the Sinaitic peninsula in ancient than in modern times, of which abundant indications have been observed by recent travellers.[55] Ewald, Kalisch, Kurtz, and Keil accept the numbers of the present text of Exodus, and believe the migration to have been successfully accomplished by a body of about two millions of persons.

[51] Wilkinson, in Rawlinson’s Herodotus, Vol. II., p. 51, 2nd edition; Rawlinson, Ancient Monarchies, Vol. I., p. 131.

[52] See Exodus 1:9-10.

[53] Diod. Sic. i. 31; Joseph., Bell. Jud. ii. 16.

[54] Herod. ii. 165–6.

[55] See Our Work in Palestine (chap. 13, p. 270). The writer says:—“Objections have been made, based on the present barrenness of the peninsula, to the narrative of the Bible. They vanish before the results of the survey. The barrenness of the peninsula is due to neglect. In former times it was more richly wooded; the wadies were protected by walls stretching across, which served as dams to resist the force of the rushing waters; the mountains were terraced, and clothed with gardens and groves.”

VII. Condition of the Text.—The condition of the text of Exodus is extremely good. Variant readings of any importance are few, and passages which require emendation almost non-existent. There are one or two short sentences[56] which may be interpolations by a later hand, perhaps Joshua’s: and there is one long insertion (Exodus 6:14-27) which seems not to be from the pen of Moses, but which he may have sanctioned. Some critics, grounding themselves upon the LXX. or Samaritan Version, or both, maintain that a considerable number of passages have fallen out of the text, which were originally part of it; [57] but the predominant voice of scholars pronounces the passages in question to be unauthorised additions, foisted into the work by the Greek or the Samaritan translators. Even the supposed transposition of the passage concerning the altar of incense from Exodus 26 to Exodus 30, the place where it stands in the Hebrew copies, which at first sight seems highly probable, is condemned by the spirit of the rule, Proclivi lectioni prœstat ardua, and is rejected by all recent commentators. Thus Exodus would seem to have come down to us almost in the condition in which it was left by Moses, who was regarded with so much veneration by succeeding prophets, that the greatest. care was taken to hand down his works unaltered.

[56] As especially the second clause of verse 3 in chap. 11 (Exodus 11:3).

[57] The most important of these passages are chap. 1:11, where the LXX. add On” to “Pithom and Raamses”; and 12:40, where the LXX. insert “and in the land of Canaan” after “Egypt”; and the Samaritan, adopting this change, adds further, “and their fathers” after “the children of Israel.” Other places, where comparatively unimportant additions occur, are Exodus 7, between verses Exodus 7:18-19; Exodus 8, between Exodus 8:19-20; Exodus 9, between Exodus 9:5-6, and between Exodus 9:19-20; Exodus 10, between Exodus 10:2-3; Exodus 11, between Exodus 11:2 and Exodus 11:4; and Exodus 20, between Exodus 20:17 and Exodus 20:18.



THE question of the exact time in Egyptian history to which the circumstances related in the Book of Exodus belong is one rather of secular interest than of importance for Biblical exegesis. Yital to the Jewish nation as was the struggle in which Moses engaged with the Pharaoh of the time, to Egypt and its people the matter was one of comparatively slight moment—an episode in the history of the sons of Mizraim which might well have left no trace in their annals. Subject races, held as bondmen by the monarchs, were common in the country; and the loss of one such race would not have made any great difference in the general prosperity of Egypt; nor would the destruction of such a chariot and cavalry force as appears to have perished in the Red Sea have seriously crippled the Egyptian military power. The phenomena of the plagues—aggravations mostly of ordinary Egyptian scourges—would not necessarily have attracted the attention of any writers, while they would, no doubt, have been studiously concealed by the historiographers of the kings. As M. Chabas observes—“Des événements de ce genre n’ont pas dû être inscrits sur les monuments publics, où l’on n’enregistrait que des succès et des gloires.”[60] No one, therefore, has the right to require of the Biblical apologist that he should confirm the historical narrative of Exodus by producing references to it in the Egyptian records. The events themselves may never have been put on record in Egypt, or, if recorded, the record of them may have been lost. It is not, perhaps, generally known what large lacunœ there are in the Egyptian annals, nor how scanty are the memorials even of the best known times. The argument a silentio, always weak, has absolutely no value in a case where the materials on which the history is based are at once so limited and so fragmentary.

[60] Chabas, Recherches pour servir à l’Histoire de l’Egypte aux temps de l’Exode, p. 152.

Still, an interest will always attach to the connection of sacred history with profane, and speculation will always be rife as to the identity of Pharaohs mentioned in the Bible with monarchs known to us from the Egyptian remains. Readers will naturally expect the writer of such a comment as the present to have some view, more or less distinct, as to the period in Egyptian history whereto the events recorded in Exodus belong, and may fairly claim to have such view put before them for their consideration.

Egyptian history divides itself into three main periods, which are generally distinguished as the times of the Old, the Middle, and the New Empires. The “Old Empire” was certainly anterior to Abraham, and probably lasted from about B.C. 2500 to B.C. 1900. The Middle Empire was the result of a conquest of Egypt by Asiatic invaders, and is known as the period of the Hyksôs, or “Shepherd Kings.” Its duration, in the opinion of the present writer, did not exceed two hundred years[61] (B.C. 1900-1700). The New Empire was established by a revolt of the native Egyptians against the Hyksôs (about B.C. 1700),[62] and is reckoned to have lasted from that time to the Persian conquest under Cambyses (B.C. 527).

[61] See the writer’s History of Egypt, vol. ii., p. 17; and compare Canon Cook’s Essay in the Speaker’s Commentary, vol. i., p. 447, who enlarges the time to “between two and three centuries.”

[62] So Brugsch, History of Egypt, vol. ii., p. 314. Mariette makes the date B.C. 1703; Birch, B.C. 1600; Stuart Poole, B.C. 1525.

It is generally allowed that the exodus belongs to the time of the New Empire.[63] All the characteristics of the period, as set forth in the Biblical narrative, are so thoroughly Egyptian, that we cannot imagine Egypt at the time crushed under the iron yoke of a hated race of foreigners, and a smouldering spirit of discontent everywhere pervading the masses, and ready to burst out into insurrection. If the “Middle Empire” is thus eliminated, and our choice shown to lie between the Old Empire and the New, we cannot hesitate to prefer the latter. Under the Old Empire Egypt had no chariot force;[64] and there is every reason to believe that the horse itself was unknown in the country.[65] Chronological considerations, moreover, make it impossible to throw the exodus back to a time anterior to B.C. 1900. The result is that modern critics universally, or all but universally, assign the exodus to the time of the New Empire, and that what remains to be determined is, under which dynasty, and after that, under which king, the great migration took place.

[63] This is the view of Birch, Brugseh, Lenormant, Chabas, Kalisch, Canon Cook, Ebers, Eisenlohr, and most others.

[64] It is not till the time of the eighteenth dynasty that we have any representation or any mention of chariots. The probability, however, is that they were introduced under the seventeenth.

[65] Birch, History of Ancient Egypt, p. 82.

The synchronism of the twenty-second dynasty of Manetho with Solomon, which must be regarded as sufficiently established by the identity of the name Shishak with Sheshonk, and the record of Sheshonk I.’s expedition against Palestine engraved on the walls of the Temple of Karnak,[66] determines the time of the exodus to the earlier portion of the New Empire, and may even be said to leave us a choice between two dynasties only—the first and second of the new régime (Manetho’s eighteenth and nineteenth). The twenty-first dynasty, which did not hold the throne for more than a hundred and thirty years,[67] is manifestly excluded, since its commencement could not be anterior to the judgeship of Samuel; while the space assigned to the twentieth, which is at the utmost a hundred and eighty years,[68] is certainly not more than sufficient for the time of the other judges. Hence it is now regarded by almost all commentators and critical historians as certain that the exodus took place under one or other of the two great dynasties which .stand at the head of the New Empire lists, and are the most important in the whole range of Egyptian history.

[66] See Rosellini, Monumenti Storici, pl. 148; Lepsius, Denkmäler, pt. 3, pl. 252.

[67] Lenormant, Manuel d’Histoire Ancienne, vol. i., p. 321.

[68] Ibid. Manetho said 173 or 135.

In favour of the eighteenth dynasty, it is urged that the interval of time between the death of Solomon and the exodus, whether taken as fixed by the date given in the First Book of Kings (Exodus 6:1) at somewhat more than five hundred years,[69] or, as might fairly be gathered from the scattered notices in the Books of Samuel and Judges, at about six hundred and fifty years,[70] brings us to the time of the eighteenth, and not of the nineteenth, dynasty, according to the computations which those most familiar with the subject have drawn from purely Egyptian sources. This argument must be allowed to have some weight; but its importance is greatly diminished by two facts. These are, the extreme uncertainty of the Egyptian, and the general inexactness of the Biblical, chronology. Egyptologists are not agreed as to the date for the accession of the eighteenth dynasty within two centuries,[71] nor as to its duration within a century.[72] The chronological notices in Judges and Samuel are mostly in round numbers, [73]and do not claim exactness. The Biblical chronology, moreover, is not continuous, but presents several gaps.[74] The single text on which an exact chronology could be based (1Kings 6:1) is with reason suspected,[75] and cannot be regarded as determining an otherwise insoluble problem.

[69] The 480 years of this passage dato from the fourth year of Solomon. Add 36, the remaining years of his life, and the result is 516 years.

[70] See Clinton, Fasti Hellenici, vol. i., p. 312, where the sum of the years between the exodus and the fourth year of Solomon is estimated at a minimum of 600, and a maximum of 628.

[71] Mariette makes it B.C. 1703: Brugsch, B.C. 1700; Birch, B.C. 1600: Stuart Poole, B.C. 1525; Wilkinson, B.C. 1520

[72] Brugsch assigns to it 300 years; Mariette, 211; Bunsen, 221; Wilkinson, 196 years

[73] Twenty years (Judges 5:3; Judges 16:31; 1Samuel 7:2); forty years (Judges 3:11; Judges 5:31; Judges 8:28; Judges 13:1; 1Samuel 4:18); eighty years (Judges 3:30); three hundred years (Judges 11:26).

[74] E.g., the judgeships of Joshua, Shamgar, and Samuel; the space between Joshua s death and the accession of Othniel, &c.

[75] See the writers “Additional Note” on the passage in the Speaker’s Commentary, vol. ii., pp. 515, 516. Hales says on the passage, “The period of 480 years is a forgery, foisted into the text” (Chronology, vol. ii., p. 287).

A supposed agreement between the general course of events in Egyptian history at the beginning of the eighteenth dynasty and the inferences suggested by the brief narrative of Exodus has been also urged in favour of the view that the exodus is to be assigned to this period.[76] But this argument is too unsubstantial and shadowy to have much force. The facts of Egyptian history obtainable from Exodus are too few, and of too ordinary a character, the inferences too uncertain, to justify the conclusion which has been drawn from them. Indeed, they are capable of being read in a directly opposite sense. A writer, second to few in his knowledge of the Egyptian records, observes that the facts mentioned “point to a divided country and a weak kingdom, and cannot apply to the time of the eighteenth dynasty.” [77]The only definite facts seem to be (1) the building of Pithom and Raamses as store-cities by the Pharaoh who began the oppression (Exodus 1:11); (2) his employment of forced labour; (3) the existence at the time of a formidable enemy which threatened Egypt, and which the Israelites might be expected to join (Exodus 1:10); and (4) the long reign of the Pharaoh from whom Moses fled, which cannot have been much less, and may have been considerably more, than forty years.[78]

[76] Canon Cook in the Speaker’s Commentary, vol. i., pp. 455–461.

[77] R Stuart Poole in Dr. Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. i., p. 510.

[78] Moses is eighty at his return from Midian (Exodus 7:7), which must have followed closely upon the death of the Pharaoh from whom he fled soon after he was grownup (Exodus 2:11-15). St. Stephen regarded him as forty at the time of his flight (Acts 7:23); but from Exodus alone we should have eupposed him younger.

Of these facts there is one—the building of Raamses—which points strongly to the nineteenth dynasty as occupying the throne. The name Raamses first appears in the dynastic lists at this time, and though it may be true that the name, or one like it, was previously known in Egypt, and had even been borne by a prince,[79] yet, until it had been borne by a king it was not likely to become the name of a town.[80] Moreover, it is exactly at this period of Egyptian history that we first hear of a city called Pi-Ramesu, “the city of Rameses,” and that the kings are found to be engaged in the construction of it. They employ in its construction forced labour, and denominate the labourers Aperu, which is a fair Egyptian equivalent of the word Hebrew. [81]Further, Rameses is their capital, and is a sort of suburb of Tanis, which agrees well with the statement of the Psalmist that the miracles of Moses were wrought “in the field of Zoan.”[82] There is no other period in Egyptian history when Tanis was the capital, excepting under the Middle Empire, under which the exodus would scarcely now be placed by any one.

[79] Aahmes, the first king of the eighteenth dynasty, is said to have had a son called Karnes (Cook in the Speaker’s Commentary, vol. i., p. 451).

[80] No Egyptian king would have given a town the name of a mere subject. Pi-Ramesu, probably begun by Seti I., was named after Rameses II., whom he had associated.

[81] See Chabas, Recherches pour servir à l’Histoire de l’Egypte, pp. 142,143. M. Chabas regards Aperu as “the exact Egyptian translation of the Hebrew ענךי” (Hebrews). It is objected that there is no reason for the change of b into p, and that the proper transcript would have been Aberu (Cook in Speaker’s Commentary, vol. i., p. 466, note 114). But the sounds of p and b in Egyptian must have been very near, or Pi-Bast would not have become Bubastis, Pi-Hesar Busiris, and the like.

[82] Psalm 78:12; Psalm 78:43.

The existence at the time of a formidable enemy, I which the Hebrews might have been expected to join, suits also the early portion of the nineteenth dynasty. It was just then that, as Dr. Brugsch says, “a great nation grew up beyond the frontier on the north-east to an importance and power which began to endanger the Egyptian supremacy in Western Asia.”[83] The Hittite power was a real peril to Egypt during the reigns of Rameses I., Seti I., and Rameses II., the first three kings of the dynasty, who were engaged in constant wars against these formidable neighbours. They were induced under the circumstances greatly to strengthen their north-eastern frontier by means of walls and fortresses, and evidently feared invasion from this quarter. Invasion came in the time of Rameses III., though not from the Hittites, but from a people who had temporarily subjected them. As the Israelites were Asiatics, who had immigrated into Egypt from Syria, it might easily be supposed that they would readily join a Syrian invader. No such fears or perils beset the Egypt of the eighteenth dynasty, when the country was at the height of its military glory, and accustomed to carry its arms deep into Asia.

[83] History of Egypt, vol. ii., p. 2, E.T.

The long reign of the Pharaoh from whom Moses fled agrees well with what we know of Rameses II. Not only did Manetho assign him a reign of above sixty years, according to all the accounts that have come down to us, [84]but his sixty-seventh year is noted upon his monuments. [85]Very few Egyptian kings reigned so much as forty years, and it is a noticeable circumstance that, exactly at the period of Egyptian history to which the oppression and the exodus would on other grounds have been referred, there occurs a reign of the unusual duration which is required by the facts of the narrative.

[84] Syncell, Chronograph., pp. 72B, 73A, B; Euseb., Chron. Can- i., 20, p. 102.

[85] Brugsch, History of Egypt, vol. ii., p. 110.

Confirmation is given to the view, that the events related in Exodus belong to the nineteenth dynasty, by the statement of George the Syncellus that the synchronism of Joseph with Apepi, the last Shepherd King, was “universally admitted,”[86] In this case the “new king who knew not Joseph”[87] could not be Aahmes, the founder of the eighteenth dynasty, who immediately succeeded Apepi, and with whom Joseph must have been in part contemporary, but must rather have been the founder of the next dynasty, the nineteenth—either Rarneses I., or Seti I., his son and successor. Four hundred and thirty years [88]after Apepi will bring us to the nineteenth dynasty at any rate, if not even to the twentieth, since no one now assigns to the eighteenth dynasty more than three hundred, or to the nineteenth more than a hundred and sixty years.

[86] Syncell, Chronograph., p. 62B. There are no grounds for limiting the statement, as is done by Bunsen, to “all Christian chronographers” (Egypt’s Place, vol. ii., p. 438); or, as is done by Canon Cook, to “Josephus and those who drew their information from him” (Speaker’s Commentary, vol. i., p. 447).

[87] Exodus 1:8 : “Now there arose up a new king over Egypt.” The phrase naturally points to the founder of a new dynasty.

[88] See Exodus 12:40. The authority of the Hebrew text far outweighs that of the LXX. and Bamaritan Versions, which, moreover, are discordant.

Again, the distorted account of the exodus which was given by Manetho,[89] inaccurate as it may be in its details, preserves undoubtedly the Egyptian tradition, which placed the events in the reign of an Amenôphis, who was the son of a Rampses (Ramesos) and the father of a Sethos. No other king in the Egyptian lists answers to these particulars except Menephthah, who was the son and successor of Rameses II., and the father of Seti II., or Seti-Menephthah. The name Menephthah is, indeed, inaccurately represented by Amenôphis, which is the true Greek equivalent of Amenhotep; but Manetho himself probably called the king Ammenephthes, [90]which Josephus turned into Amenôphis.

[89] Ap. Joseph, contr. Ap. i. 26, 27.

[90] See Syncell, Chronograph., pp. 72B and 73B.

Altogether, the arguments in favour of the nineteenth dynasty being that which held the throne at the time of the events recorded in Exodus seem to preponderate considerably over those which can be adduced in favour of the eighteenth. The eighteenth was too powerful and warlike to have feared invasion, or to have regarded Israel as a danger. It built no “store-cities.” It was unacquainted with the name Rameses. It did not hold its court at Tanis. It contained neither king nor prince of the name of Sethos (Seti). The nineteenth was differently situated. It combined the various particulars to which the eighteenth was a stranger. Moreover, it terminated in such a time of weakness as might have been expected to follow the calamities recorded in Exodus;[91] while the eighteenth was glorious to its very close, and gave no indication of diminished greatness.

[91] See the Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archœology, vol. i., pp. 274, 275; Birch, History of Ancient Egypt, pp. 136, 137.

On the whole, it would seem to be most probable that the Israelites, having come into Egypt in the reign of Apôphis (Apepi), the last Shepherd King, who was a thoroughly Egyptianised Asiatic,[92] remained there as peaceable subjects under the great and warlike eighteenth dynasty for some three hundred years, gradually, as the memory of Joseph’s benefits faded, suffering more and more oppression, but multiplying in spite of it, till at length a change of dynasty occurred, and with it a change of policy in respect of them. Moderate ill-usage was succeeded by the harshest possible treatment: their “lives were made bitter with hard bondage.”[93] The “new king who knew not Joseph” (Exodus 1:8) is perhaps, in the mind of the writer, rather Sethos I. Than Rameses I, who reigned but a year and four months.[94] Sethos, threatened on his north-eastern frontier by the Hittites, and fearing lest the Hebrews should join them, devised the plans ascribed to the “new king” in Exodus 1—set them to build “store cities, Pithom and Raamses,” the latter named probably after his son; [95]when this had no effect, sought to check their increase by means of the midwives; and finally required that all their male offspring should be thrown into the Nile. There is nothing in the character of Seti I., as represented upon his monuments, to render these severities improbable. He was a good son and a good father, but an implacable enemy and a harsh ruler. His treatment of prisoners taken in war was cruel beyond the wont of his time, his campaigns were sanguinary, and his temper fierce and resentful. [96]

[92] Chabas, Lea Pasteurs en Egypte, p. 31·

[93] Exodus 1:14.

[94] Joseph, contr. Ap. i. 15.

[95] Seti I. associated his son Rameses on the throne early in his reign, and the two ruled conjointly for a period of (probably) twenty years.

[96] See Birch, History of Ancient Egypt, pp. 114-118; Rawlinson, History of Egypt, vol. ii., pp. 299-301.

If Moses was born under Seti I., and bred up by his daughter, the king under whom he found himself when he grew to manhood, and from whom he fled to the land of Midian,[97] must have been Rameses II. Seti associated his son Rameses when he was about twelve years of age, and shortly afterwards he practically transferred to him the reins of power. Rameses II. claims to have held the throne for at least sixty-seven years, and was assigned sixty-six by Manetho. His reign is the longest of all the Egyptian reigns, except that of Phiops. He was a king likely to have continued the “hard bondage” of the Israelites, for he was the most indefatigable of builders, and effected the greater number of his constructions by the instrumentality of forced labour. Lenormant says that “during his reign thousands of captives must have died under the rod of the taskmaster, or have fallen victims to over-work or privations of every description;” and that “in all his monuments there was not, so to speak, a single stone which had not cost a human life.”[98] It was the sight of oppression such as this which provoked the indignation of Moses, and led to the rash act which caused him to quit Egypt and fly to Midian.

[97] Exodus 2:15.

[98] See his Manuel d’Histoire Ancienne, vol. i., p. 423.

So long as Rameses II. lived, the exile felt that he could not return. It must have been weary waiting for the space of forty years or more, while the great Pharaoh made his expeditions, excavated his canal,[99] and erected his numerous buildings. The weariness of prolonged exile shows itself in the name given by Moses to his eldest son: “He called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land” (Exodus 2:22; Exodus 18:3). At length, “in process of time”—after a reign which exceeded sixty-six years—“the king of Egypt died” (Exodus 2:23); and Moses, divinely informed of the fact (Exodus 3:19), returned to Egypt to his brethren.

[99] The first canal, carried from the Nile to the Red Sea, was begun by Seti I, and completed by Rameses II.

If Seti I. be the king who commenced the oppression, and Rameses II. the monarch from whom Moses fled, the Pharaoh whom he found seated on the throne upon his return must have been Menephthah. The character of this king, as depicted in the Egyptian monuments, bears a considerable resemblance to that of the adversary of Moses. He was proud, vain-glorious, disinclined to expose his own person in war, yet ready enough to send his soldiers into positions of peril.[100] The cruelties that he sanctioned in his Libyan war[101] are worthy of the monarch who, when a subject people complained of their burthens, met the complaint by making their burthens heavier. [102]He appears in Egyptian history as the weak successor of two great and powerful monarchs; he has one military success, due not to himself, but to his generals, after which his reign is inglorious, and closes in disaster.[103]

[100] Lenormant, Manuel d’Histoire Ancienne, vol. i„ p. 430.

[101] Chabas, Recherches pour servir, &c., pp. 88-91.

[102] Exodus 5:6-18.

[103] Lenormant, Manuel, vol. i., pp. 432-434.

Menephthah held the throne for eight years. During the first four of these his annals are almost a blank. If the Biblical numbers are taken as exact,[104] it is into this space that the plagues and the exodus must fall. If, on the contrary, we regard the Biblical periods of forty years as intended to be inexact, we may conjecture (1) that Moses returned to Egypt in Menephthah’s second or third year;[105] and (2) that there was some further delay before he made his demands. In that case the great war of Menephthah with the Libyans and their allies, which belongs to his fifth year,[106] may have been over before the troubles with Israel began. Moses may have come forward shortly after its close to deliver the message with which he was charged; and the struggle between him and Menephthah may have fallen into the latter’s fifth and sixth years. Menephthah, like his father, commonly held his court at Tanis. It would be there, “in the field of Zoan,” that Moses and Aaron confronted him and wrought their “wonders.” The struggle, the departure, the pursuit, the disaster in the Red Sea, may belong to the king’s sixth year; and two years afterwards he may have succumbed to revolutionary movements consequent upon the losses which he suffered in the Red Sea catastrophe. His reign certainly ended amid clouds and darkness, and was followed by a period of civil disturbance, terminating in bloodshed and anarchy.

[104] Moses is forty at his flight into Midian (Acts 7:23), remains there forty years (Acts 7:30), is eighty when he works his first miracle before Pharaoh (Exodus 7:7), passes forty years in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 29:5), and is a hundred and twenty at his death (Deuteronomy 24:7).

[105] There is some indication of delay on the part of Moses in Exodus 4:19.

[106] Brugsch, History of Egypt, vol. ii., p. 123.

The troubles of this period, described in the “Great Harris Papyrus,”[107] together with the remarkable successes of Rameses III., second monarch of the twentieth dynasty, would fall into the period passed by Israel in the “Wilderness of the Wanderings,” [108]and would thus naturally obtain no direct mention in the sacred narrative. Rameses may, however, have been the “hornet” which God sent before Israel to break the power of the Canaanites and Hittites (Exodus 23:28), and render the conquest of Palestine more easy.[109] He seems certainly to have made at least one great expedition into Asia, and to have reduced under his sway the whole tract between “the river of Egypt” and the Euphrates.[110] Had the Israelites been in possession of Palestine at the time, he must have come into contact with them, and have seriously interfered with their independence. As it was, his Syrian wars, by weakening the Canaanite nations, paved the way for the victories of Joshua and the Israelite occupation of the “Land of Promise.”

[107] See the Records of the Past, vol. viii., p. 46; and compare Chabas, Recherches, pp. 6-26.

[108] Menephthah does not seem to have reigned more than eight years, or two after the exodus. Amon-mes reigned, perhaps, five years; Seti II., two; Siphthah, seven; Setnekht, two or three; and Rameses III. employed, perhaps, fifteen or twenty years in his warlike expeditions. This space of time is amply, covered by the “forty years” of the wanderings.

[109] See the Note on chap. 23:28.

[110] Brugsch, History of Egypt, vol. ii., p. 152.

The depressed state of Egypt between the death of Rameses III. and the accession of the first Sheshonk [111]accounts for the absence of all mention of the Egyptians from the Books of Joshua, Judges, and Samuel. If the exodus had taken place under the eighteenth dynasty, and the Syrian wars of Seti I., Rameses II., and Rameses III. had belonged to the period of the Judges[112] (as in that case they must), it is inconceivable that neither should the Hebrew records of the time have contained any notice of the Egyptians nor the Egyptian records of the Hebrews.

[111] Birch, History of Ancient Egypt, pp. 147-156; Lenormant, Manuel d’Histoire Ancienne, vol. i., pp. 445-452.

[112] So Canon Cook, Speaker’s Commentary, vol. i., pp. 474,475.

Now these are the names of the children of Israel, which came into Egypt; every man and his household came with Jacob.

(1) Now these are the names.—The divisions between the books “of the Pentateuch are not arbitrary. Genesis ends naturally and Exodus begins at the point where the history of the individuals who founded the Israelite nation ceases and that of the nation itself is entered on. That history commences properly with Exodus 1:7. Exodus 1:1-6 form the connecting link between the two books, and would not have been needed unless Exodus had been introduced as a distinct work, since they are little more than a recapitulation of what had been already stated and stated more fully in Genesis. Compare Exodus 1:1-5 with Genesis 46:8-27, and Exodus 1:6 with Genesis 1:26.

Every man and his household.—“A household,” in the language of the East, includes not only children and grand-children, but retainers also—“servants born in the house”—like those of Abraham (Genesis 14:14). The number of each “household” may thus have been very considerable.

Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin,
(3-4) Reuben . . . —The sons of the legitimate wives are placed first, then those of the concubines. Leah has precedence over Rachel; Bilhah over Zilpah. The children of each wife and concubine are given in order of seniority. The omission of Joseph from the list is explained in the last clause of Exodus 1:5.

And all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls: for Joseph was in Egypt already.
(5) All the souls . . . were seventy souls. Comp. Genesis 46:8-27. The number is made up as follows:—Jacob himself, 1; his sons, 12; his daughter, Dinah, 1; his grandsons, 51; his grand-daughter Serah, 1; his great-grandsons, 4—Total, 70. His daughters, except Dinah, and his sons’ daughters, except Serah, spoken of in Genesis 46:7, are not included. If his female descendants were, at the time of his descent into Egypt, as numerous as the males, the entire number of those who “came out of his loins” must have been 132. To form a calculation of the number of persons who entered Egypt with him, we must add the wives of his sons and grandsons, and the husbands of his daughters and granddaughters. A further liberal allowance must be also made for retainers. (See the comment on Exodus 1:1.) It is not perhaps surprising that Kurtz, taking all these classes into account, should calculate that those who entered Egypt with Jacob amounted to “several thousands” (History of The Old Covenant, vol. ii. p. 149, E.T.).

And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them.
(7) The children of Israel were fruitful.—A great multiplication is evidently intended. Egypt was a particularly healthy country, and both men and animals were abnormally prolific there. Grain was so plentiful that want, which is the ordinary check on population, was almost unknown. The Egyptian kings for many years would look favourably on the growth of the Hebrew people, which strengthened their eastern frontier, the quarter on which they were most open to attack. God’s blessing was, moreover, upon the people, which he had promised to make “as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea-shore, for multitude” (see Genesis 22:17). On the actual extent of the multiplication and the time that it occupied, see the comment on Exodus 12:37-41.

The land—i.e., where they dwelt—Goshen (Genesis 47:4-6)—which seems to have been the more eastern portion of the Delta.

Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph.
(8) There arose up a new king.—A king of a new dynasty might seem to be intended. Some suppose him to be Aahmes I., the founder of the eighteenth dynasty of Manetho; others suggest Rameses II., one of the greatest monarchs of the nineteenth. The present writer inclines to regard him as Seti I., the father of this Rameses, and the son of Rameses I. Seti, though not the actual founder of the nineteenth dynasty, was the originator of its greatness. (See Excursus I. “On Egyptian History, as connected with the Book of Exodus,” at the end of this Book.)

Which knew not Joseph.—It seems to be implied that, for some considerable time after his death, the memory of the benefits conferred by Joseph upon Egypt had protected his kinsfolk. But, in the shifts and changes incident to politics—especially to Oriental politics—this condition of things had passed away. The “new king” felt under no obligation to him, perhaps was even ignorant of his name. He viewed the political situation apart from all personal predilections, and saw a danger in it.

And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we:
(9) He said unto his people.—It is not intended to represent the Egyptian monarch as summoning a popular assembly, and addressing it. “His people.” Is antithetical to “the people of the children of Israel,” and simply marks that those whom he addressed were of his own nation. No doubt they were his nobles, or, at any rate, his courtiers.

More and mightier than we.—Heb., great and mighty in comparison with us. The more to impress his counsellors, and gain their consent to his designs, the king exaggerates. Ancient Egypt must have had a population of seven or eight millions, which would imply nearly two millions of adult males, whereas the adult male Israelites, near a century later, were no more than six hundred thousand (Exodus 12:37). Wicked men do not scruple at misrepresentation when they have an end to gain.

Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land.
(10) Let us deal wisely.—Instead of open force, the king proposes stratagem. He thinks that he has hit upon a wise scheme—a clever plan—by which the numbers of the Israelites will be kept down, and they will cease to be formidable. The nature of the plan appears in Exodus 1:11.

When there falleth out any war.—The Egyptians were in general an aggressive people—a terror to their neighbours, and seldom the object of attack. But about the beginning of the nineteenth dynasty a change took place. “A great nation grew up beyond the frontier on the north-east to an importance and power which began to endanger the Egyptian supremacy in Western Asia” (Brugsch, History of Egypt, vol. ii. p. 2). War threatened them from this quarter, and the impending danger was felt to be great.

They join also.—Rather, they too join. It was not.likely that the Hebrews would have any real sympathy with the attacking nation, whether Arabs, Philistines, Syrians, or Hittites; but they might regard an invasion as affording them a good opportunity of striking a blow for freedom, and, therefore, attack the Egyptians simultaneously with their other foes. The Egyptians themselves would perhaps suppose a closer connection between them and the other Eastern races than really existed.

Get them up out of the land.—The Pharaohs of the nineteenth dynasty were excessively jealous of the withdrawal from Egypt of any of their subjects, and endeavoured both to hinder and to recover them. Immigration was encouraged, emigration sternly checked. The loss of the entire nation of the Hebrews could not be contemplated without extreme alarm.

Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses.
(11) Task-masters.—Heb., chiefs of tributes. The Egyptian system of forced labour, which it was now resolved to extend to the Israelites, involved the appointment of two sets of officers—a lower class, who personally overlooked the labourers, and forced them to perform their tasks, and a higher class of superintendents, who directed the distribution of the labour, and assigned to all the tasks which they were to execute. The “task-masters” of the present passage are these high officials.

To afflict them.—This was the object of the whole proceeding. It was hoped that severe labour under the lash would produce so much suffering that the number of the Israelites would be thinned, and their multiplication stopped. Humanly speaking, the scheme was a “wise” one—i.e., one likely to be successful.

They built for Pharaoh treasure-cities.—By “treasure-cities” we are to understand “magazines”—i.e., strongholds, where munitions of war could be laid up for use in case of an invasion. (In 1Kings 9:19, and 2Chronicles 8:4, the same expression is translated “cities of store.”) The Pharaohs of the nineteenth dynasty gave great attention to the guarding of the north-eastern frontier in this way.

Pithom.—This city is reasonably identified with the “Patumus” of Herodotus (ii. 158), which was in Lower Egypt, not far from Bubastis (Tel Basta). It is mentioned in the inscriptions of the nineteenth dynasty under the name of Pi-Tum (Brugsch, History of Egypt, vol. ii. p. 128). It was, as the name implies, a city of the sun-god, and was probably not very far from Heliopolis, the main seat of the sun-god’s worship.

Raamses.—Pi-Ramesu, the city of Rameses, was the ordinary seat of the Court during the earlier part of the nineteenth dynasty. It appears to have been a new name for Tanis, or for a suburb of Tanis, which overshadowed the old city. Rameses II. claims to have built the greater part of it; but it was probably commenced by his father, Seti, who made the defence of the north-eastern frontier one of his main cares. The name must be considered as a mere variant rendering of the Egyptian Ramessu or Ramesu. The site is marked by the mounds at San.

But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel.
(12) The more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew.—This result was not natural. It can only be ascribed to God’s superintending Providence, whereby “the fierceness of man” was made to “turn to his praise.” Naturally, severe and constant labour exhausts a nation, and causes its numbers to diminish.

They were grieved.—This is scarcely strong enough. Translate, “They were sore distressed.”

And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour:
(13) With rigour.—Forced labour in Egypt was of a very severe character. Those condemned to it worked from morning to night under the rod of a task-master, which was freely applied to their legs or backs, if they rested their weary limbs for a moment. (See Records of the Past, vol. viii. p. 149; Chabas, Mélanges Egyptolo-giques, vol. ii. p. 121). The heat of the sun was great; the burthens which the labourers had to carry were heavy, and the toil was incessant. Death often resulted from the, excessive work. According to Herodotus, a single monarch, Neco, destroyed in this way 120,000 of his subjects (Herod, ii. 158).

And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in morter, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field: all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour.
(14) In morter and in brick.—It has been questioned whether the Egyptians used brick as a material for building. No doubt temples, palaces, and pyramids were ordinarily of stone; but the employment of brick for walls, fortresses, and houses, especially in the Delta, is well attested. (See the Quarterly Statement of the Palestine Exploration Fund for July, 1880, pp. 137, 139, 143, &c.) Pyramids, too, were sometimes of brick (Herod. ii. 136). The manufacture of bricks by foreigners, employed (like the Israelites) as public slaves, is represented by the kings upon their monuments.

All manner of service in the field.—Josephus speaks of their being employed to dig canals (Ant. Jud. ii. 9, § 1), and there is a trace in Deuteronomy 11:10 of other labours connected with irrigation having been devolved on them. Such labours, under the hot sun of Egypt, are exhausting and dangerous to health.

And all their service . . . was with rigour. Rather, besides all their other service, which they made them serve with rigour.

And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah:
(15) The Hebrew midwives.—Or the midwives of the Hebrew women (ταῖς μαίαις τῶν Έβραίων, LXX.). The Hebrew construction admits of either rendering. In favour of the midwives being Egyptians is the consideration that the Pharaoh would scarcely have expected Hebrew women to help him in the extirpation of the Hebrew race (Kalisch); against it is the Semitic character of the names—Shiphrah, “beautiful;” Puah, “one who cries out;” and also the likelihood that a numerous and peculiar people, like the Hebrews, would have accoucheurs of their own race.

And he said, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him: but if it be a daughter, then she shall live.
(16) Upon the stools.—Literally, upon the two stones. It has been suggested that a seat corresponding to the modern hursee elwilâdeh is meant. This is a “chair of a peculiar form,” upon which in modern Egypt the woman is seated during parturition. (See Lane, Modern Egyptians, vol. iii. p. 142.) But it does not appear that this seat is composed of “two stones;” nor is there any distinct evidence of its employment at the time of child-birth in Ancient Egypt. The emendation of Hirsch—banim for âbnaim, is very tempting. This will give the sense, “When ye look upon the children.”

But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive.
(17) The midwives feared God.—The midwives, whether Hebrews or Egyptians, believed in a God who would punish wrong-doing, and therefore resolved not to obey the Pharaoh.

And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them.
(19) The Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women.—This was probably true; but it was not the whole truth. Though the midwives had the courage to disobey the king, they had not “the courage of their convictions,” and were afraid to confess their real motive. So they took refuge in a half truth, and pretended that what really occurred in some cases only was a general occurrence. It is a fact, that in the East parturition is often so short a process that the attendance of a midwife is dispensed with.

Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty.
(20) Therefore God dealt well with the midwives.—Heb., and God dealt well, &c. The reason is stated in Exodus 1:21. It was not because they equivocated and deceived the king, but because they feared God sufficiently to disobey the king, and run the risk of discovery. If they had been discovered, their life would have paid the forfeit.

And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them houses.
(21) He made them houses.—God rewarded those who had showed tenderness to young children, by giving them children of their own, who grew up, and became in their turn fathers and mothers of families. There is no indication that the “houses” spoken of were Hebrew ones.

And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive.
(22) Every son that is born.—The LXX. add “to the Hebrews,” but without any necessity, since the context shows that only Hebrew children are meant.

Ye shall cast into the river.—Infanticide, so shocking to Christians, has prevailed widely at different times and places, and been regarded as a trivial matter. In Sparta, the State decided which children should live and which should die. At Athens a law of Solon left the decision to the parent. At Rome, the rule was that infants were made away with, unless the father interposed, and declared it to be his wish that a particular child should be brought up. The Syrians offered unwelcome children in sacrifice to Moloch; the Carthaginians to Melkarth. In China infanticide is said to be a common practice at the present day. Heathen nations do not generally regard human life as sacred. On the contrary, they hold that considerations of expediency justify the sweeping away of any life that inconveniences the State. Hence infanticide is introduced by Plato into his model republic (Rep. v. 9). Almost all ancient nations viewed the massacre of prisoners taken in war as allowable. The Spartan crypteia was a system of licensed murder. The condemnation to death of all male Hebrew children by Pharaoh is thus in no respect improbable. On the other hand, the mode of the death presents difficulties. For, first, the Nile was viewed as a god; and to fill it with corpses would, one might have supposed, have been regarded as a pollution. Secondly, the Nile water was the only water drunk; and sanitary considerations might thus have been expected to have prevented the edict. Perhaps, however, the children were viewed as offerings to the Nile, or to Savak, the crocodile headed god, of whom each crocodile was an emblem. At any rate, as the Nile swarmed with crocodiles throughout its whole course, the bodies were tolerably sure to be devoured before they became putrescent.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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