Exodus 13:17
And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt:
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(17) God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines.—In Exodus 13:17-19 the writer interposes some parenthetic remarks, which are not a continuation of the narrative interrupted (Exodus 12:42), but rather reflections that occur to him. The starting point of the journey being Tanis or Rameses, in the Eastern Delta, not far from the sea, he sees that the shortest, and apparently the easiest, route for the Israelites to have pursued would have been that which led along the coast, from Tanis to Pelusium, thence to Rhinocolura, and from Rhinocolura to Gaza, Ascalon, and Ashdod, the chief towns of the Philistines. The distance along this line was not more than about 200 miles, and might have been accomplished in a fortnight. He anticipates an inquiry, Why did they not pursue this route? The reply is, that such was not the will of God; and the reason why it was not His will is further given—“The people would probably have repented when they saw war, and would have returned to Egypt.” It is implied that the Philistines were already a strong and warlike people, which they may well have been, though not mentioned in the contemporary Egyptian monuments. The Egyptians mention by name very few of the nations of Syria, and the few names which they put on record can seldom be identified.

Although that was near.—Rather, because that was near. God did not, because it was near, lead them that way, but another.

When they see war.—If the Philistines are to be regarded as identical with the “Purusata” of the Egyptian remains, they must be viewed as one of the most warlike people of the time. Even leaving aside this identification—which is very uncertain—we must view them as one of the most important of the tribes inhabiting the lower Syrian region. In Joshua’s time they already possessed their five strong fortresses—Gaza, Ascalon, Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron (Joshua 13:3); and during the period of the Judges they raised themselves to the leading position in the Palestinian region. Palestine derives its name from them, and would not have obtained the name unless they had been a very remarkable race. We can well understand that the Israelites after four centuries of slavery would have been an ill match for the Philistines, and that, if defeated or intimidated, they might have felt that no course was open to them but a return to Egypt.

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.An ass - The ass could not be offered in sacrifice, being an unclean animal: possibly the only unclean animal domesticated among the Israelites at the time of the Exodus. This principle was extended to every unclean beast; see Numbers 18:15.

Thou shalt redeem - The lamb, or sheep, was given to the priest for the service of the sanctuary.

Firstborn of man - The price of redemption was fixed at five shekels of the sanctuary: Numbers 3:47, where see the note.

Ex 13:17-21. Journey from Egypt.

17. God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near, &c.—The shortest and most direct route from Egypt to Palestine was the usual caravan road that leads by Belbeis, El-Arish, to Ascalon and Gaza. The Philistines, who then possessed the latter, would have been sure to dispute their passage, for between them and the Israelites there was a hereditary feud (1Ch 7:21, 22); and so early a commencement of hostilities would have discouraged or dismayed the unwarlike band which Moses led. Their faith was to be exercised and strengthened, and from the commencement of their travels we observe the same careful proportion of burdens and trials to their character and state, as the gracious Lord shows to His people still in that spiritual journey of which the former was typical.

The Philistines, a fierce and warlike people, whereof they had sad and late experience, 1 Chronicles 7:21.

That was near; there being this way but a few days’ journey between Egypt and Canaan. Peradventure: God speaks after the manner of men, for nothing was unknown nor uncertain to him. Though the Hebrew particle pen doth not always imply doubting, but ofttimes only signifies lest, as Genesis 3:3 38:23 Numbers 20:18.

When they see war; which they were likely to do, because the war would probably be long and hot, and their bodies were much weakened, and their spirits and courage broken, by a tedious and grievous bondage; and therefore it was fit that before they were called to such sharp conflicts, they should be hardened by the labours of a long and troublesome journey, and their faith should be strengthened by further experience of God’s power, and faithfulness, and goodness, and by the glorious appearance of God at Mount Sinai, and those commands, promises, and encouragements there given them. But though this which is here mentioned was one, yet it was not the only reason of his counsel, but there were other causes of it; the Egyptians were to be drowned in the sea, the Israelites to be further tried, Deu 8:2 and full measure to be allowed to the iniquity of the Amorites. And they return to Egypt; as afterwards they attempted to do, Num 15, upon a like occasion.

And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go,.... Gave them leave to depart out of Egypt, and even urged them to be gone in haste upon the death of his firstborn:

that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; the land of the Philistines was the Pentapolis, or five cities of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath, which lay between Egypt and Canaan; and their way through it to Canaan, out of Egypt, was the nearest they could go; and was, as Aben Ezra says, about ten days' journey; but Philo the Jew says (l) it was but three days' journey; and it seems, by the sons of Jacob going to and fro for corn, that it was no very long journey:

for God said: within himself, or he declared the following reason of so doing to Moses:

lest peradventure the people repent: which is said not as ignorant or doubtful, but, as Aben Ezra says, after the manner of men:

when they see war: the Philistines coming out against them to hinder their passage through their country; they being a warlike people, bold and courageous, and the Israelites, through their long servitude, of a mean, timorous, and cowardly disposition; and indeed as yet unarmed, and so very unfit to engage in war, and therefore would at once be intimidated:

and they return to Egypt; judging it more eligible to continue in their former bondage, than to fall a prey into the hands of such fierce and cruel enemies. This is the only reason mentioned for not leading them this way; but there were other secret reasons for it, which afterwards opened in Providence, as the doing that wonderful work for them, leading them through the Red sea as on dry land, and the destruction of Pharaoh and his host in it; and by being brought into a wilderness, a solitude, they would be in the fittest place to receive and attend to the body of laws given them, and where they were formed into a commonwealth and church state, previous to their entrance into, and possession of, the land of Canaan; and here also they were humbled, tried and proved, and had such instances of the power and goodness of God to them, as were sufficient to attach them to his service, and lay them under the greatest obligation to him, as well as would be of use to strengthen their faith and hope in him in future times of difficulty and distress.

(l) De Vita Mosis, l. 1. p. 627.

And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they {i} see war, and they return to Egypt:

(i) Which the Philistines would have made against them by blocking their passage.

17. the way of, &c.] We say idiomatically the way to, which ought to be read similarly in v. 18, Genesis 3:24 (cf. Exodus 16:7 RV.), Numbers 21:33 (cf. v. 4 RV., and the "" Deuteronomy 3:1), Deuteronomy 1:2, &c. E emphasizes elsewhere also the providence of God: cf. Genesis 45:5; Genesis 45:7 f., Genesis 50:20.

17, 18. Why Israel did not take the shortest route to Canaan, which was also the one usually followed by both caravans and armies, across the North end of the isthmus of Suez, and then along the sea-coast, to Gaza, the most south-westerly of the Philistine cities, here called, ‘the way to the land of the Philistines.’ Because the Philistines were a warlike and aggressive people, it was feared that Israel might be alarmed at meeting them, and be tempted to return to Egypt. Whether, however, the alleged reason was the real reason, is very doubtful: the Philistines in point of fact do not appear to have settled in Canaan till the reign of Rameses III (EB. iii. 3717 f.; Sayce, EHH. 291 f.; Wade, OT. Hist. 108): the use of the term here is consequently an anachronism (cf. Genesis 21:34; Genesis 26:1). It is remarkable that no mention is made of the forts and guards (pp. 127, 141), which might have formed a real obstacle to the Israelites leaving Egypt by the isthmus.

17–22. Journey from Succoth (Exodus 12:37) to Etham.

Verse 17-20. - THE DIRECTION OF THE JOURNEY. - The direct road from Tanis to Palestine - a road much frequented under the nineteenth dynasty - lay along the coast of the Mediterranean, and conducted to Philistia. If we look at the map, and observe the position of Tanis (now San) on the old Tanitic branch of the Nile, now nearly dried up, we shall see that the route which would naturally suggest itself to any one wishing to proceed to the Holy Land from Tanis would be one running almost due east, from Tanis to Pelusium, and from Pelusium, south of Lake Serbonis, to Rhinocolura; and thence, following the course of the coast to Gaza, Ascalon, and Ashdod, the chief towns of the Philistine country. It is true that a marsh region intervenes between Tanis and Pelusium which might seem to bar the route; but the Egyptian remains show that, in the times of the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties, this obstacle was surmounted by means of an embankment which was carried across it, and that a direct road thus connected the two cities. Moses, at this point of his narrative, being about to trace the onward march of the Israelites from Succoth to Etham, in the direction of the Red Sea, anticipated, it would seem, an objection on the part of his reader, who would naturally ask, Why was not the direct route eastward taken and Canaan entered on the south-west after some half-dozen marches? In verses 17, 18, he gives the reply -

1. God led them, they did not determine their own route; and

2. God would not lead them by the direct route, because it would have conducted them to the Philistine country, and the Philistines were strong, and would have resisted the invasion by force of arms. Hence it was that the southern or south-eastern route was taken in preference to the northern one - and that the second stage in the journey was from Succoth to Etham (verse 20). Verse 17. - Although that was near. Rather "because it was near" (ὅτι ἐγγὺς ῆν, LXX.) - i.e.., "God did not, because it was near, lead them this way, but a longer one." Lest peradveature the people repeat when they see war. The Philistines were a powerful and warlike race half a century after this, in the time of Joshua, and were masters of the five important cities of Gaze, Ascalon, Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron, which seem to have formed a confederacy (Joshua 13:3). It would appear that their strength was already considerable, and that the Israelites, though perhaps more numerous, were incapable of coping with them, being wholly unaccustomed to war, The Israelites were therefore not allowed to take this route, which would have brought upon them at once a severe trial, and might have led to their voluntary return into Egypt. Exodus 13:17Journey from Succoth to Etham. - Succoth, Israel's first place of encampment after their departure, was probably the rendezvous for the whole nation, so that it was from this point that they first proceeded in an orderly march. The shortest and most direct route from Egypt to Canaan would have been by the road to Gaza, in the land of the Philistines; but God did not lead them by this road, lest they should repent of their movement as soon as the Philistines opposed them, and so desire to return to Egypt, פּן: μή, after אמר to say (to himself), i.e., to think, with the subordinate idea of anxiety. The Philistines were very warlike, and would hardly have failed to resist the entrance of the Israelites into Canaan, of which they had taken possession of a very large portion. But the Israelites were not prepared for such a conflict, as is sufficiently evident from their despair, in Exodus 14:10. For this reason God made them turn round (יסּב for יסב, see Ges. 67) by the way of the desert of the Red Sea. Previous to the account of their onward march, it is still further stated in Exodus 13:18, Exodus 13:19, that they went out equipped, and took Joseph's bones with them, according to his last request. חמשׁים, from חמשׁ lumbus, lit., lumbis accincti, signifies equipped, as a comparison of this word as it is used in Joshua 1:14; Joshua 4:12, with חלוּצים in Numbers 32:30, Numbers 32:32; Deuteronomy 3:18, places beyond all doubt; that is to say, not "armed," καθωπλισμένοι (Sym.), but prepared for the march, as contrasted with fleeing in disorder like fugitives. For this reason they were able to fulfil Joseph's request, from which fact Calvin draws the following conclusion: "In the midst of their adversity the people had never lost sight of the promised redemption. For unless the celebrated adjuration of Joseph had been a subject of common conversation among them all, Moses would never have thought of it."
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