|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
13:17-20 There were two ways from Egypt to Canaan. One was only a few days' journey; the other was much further about, through the wilderness, and that was the way in which God chose to lead his people Israel. The Egyptians were to be drowned in the Red sea; the Israelites were to be humbled and proved in the wilderness. God's way is the right way, though it seems about. If we think he leads not his people the nearest way, yet we may be sure he leads them the best way, and so it will appear when we come to our journey's end. The Philistines were powerful enemies; it was needful that the Israelites should be prepared for the wars of Canaan, by passing through the difficulties of the wilderness. Thus God proportions his people's trials to their strength, 1Co 10:13. They went up in good order. They went up in five in a rank, some; in five bands, so others, which it seems rather to their faith and hope, that God would bring them to Canaan, in expectation of which they carried these bones with them while in the desert.
Verse 18. - God led the people about. Or "led the people a circuit," i.e., made them take a circuitous route to Canaan, the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea - i.e., by the southern wilderness, or what is now called "the wilderness of Sinai." Kalisch shows the wisdom of this course - how it gave time for the nation to be "gradually accustomed to fatigues and hardships by a long and tiresome march in the desert" - to learn obedience to their chief - and finally to be "trained to military discipline and martial, virtue by occasional expeditions against the weaker tribes of the desert." He errs, however, in ascribing the wisdom of the course taken to Moses, since Moses expressly declares that the conception was not his, but God's. And the children of Israel went up harnessed. The word here translated "harnessed," is generally thought to mean either "with their loins girded" (Onkelos, Kimchi, Kalisch) or "in military order" (Gesenius, Lee, Knobel). Ewald, who inclines to the latter of these two senses, suggests that, strictly, it means "in five divisions" - viz., van, centre, two wings, and rearguard. The word is, apparently, a derivative from khamesh, "five."
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
But God led the people about,.... Instead of their going to the west, or northwest, towards Gaza, &c. and the Mediterranean sea, the Lord going before them in a pillar of cloud and fire, as after related, directed them to turn off to the right, between the east and south, to the southeast:
through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: the wilderness of Etham, by the Red sea:
and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt or "girt" (m) about the loins under the fifth rib; not with armour, as some (n) understand it, for it is not likely that they could, or that Pharaoh would suffer them to be furnished with armour, but their garments were girt about them, and so fit for travelling; or they went up "by fives" (o), as it may be rendered, either by five in a rank, or rather in five bodies or squadrons, and so marched out, not in a disorderly and confused way, but in great order and regularity. The latter is much more reasonable to suppose, for five in a rank is too small a number for an army of 600,000 men to march in; since allowing the ranks to be but three feet asunder, and a mile to consist of about two thousand yards, the front and rear of the army would be sixty miles distant from each other (p).
(m) "accincti", Fagninus, Vatablus, Cartwright; so Onkelos, Aben Ezra. (n) Kimchi & Pen Melech. (o) "Quintati", Montanus: "quini", Piscater, Rivet. (p) See the Bishop of Clogher's Chronology of the Hebrew Bible, p. 272.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
18. God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea, &c.—This wondrous expanse of water is a gulf of the Indian ocean. It was called in Hebrew "the weedy sea," from the forest of marine plants with which it abounds. But the name of the Red Sea is not so easily traced. Some think it was given from its contiguity to the countries of Edom ("red"); others derive it from its coral rocks; while a third class ascribe the origin of the name to an extremely red appearance of the water in some parts, caused by a numberless multitude of very small mollusca. This sea, at its northern extremity, separates into two smaller inlets—the eastern called anciently the Elanitic gulf, now the gulf of Akaba; and the western the Heroopolite gulf, now the gulf of Suez, which, there can be no doubt, extended much more to the north anciently than it does now. It was toward the latter the Israelites marched.
went up harnessed—that is, girded, equipped for a long journey. (See Ps 105:37). The Margin renders it "five in a rank," meaning obviously five large divisions, under five presiding officers, according to the usages of all caravans; and a spectacle of such a mighty and motley multitude must have presented an imposing appearance, and its orderly progress could have been effected only by the superintending influence of God.
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