Exodus 3:18
And they shall listen to your voice: and you shall come, you and the elders of Israel, to the king of Egypt, and you shall say to him, The LORD God of the Hebrews has met with us: and now let us go, we beseech you, three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(18) They shall hearken.—The pronoun “they” refers to “the elders” of Exodus 3:16. For the fulfilment of the promise, see Exodus 4:29-31. The elders appear to have been persuaded easily, and at once.

Thou and the elders.—We are not told in Exodus 5 that the elders did present themselves before Pharaoh; but it is possible that they may have done so. Or Moses and Aaron, who spoke in their name, and by their authority, may have been regarded as sufficiently representing them.

The Lord God of the Hebrews hath met with us.—Heb., Jehovah, the God of the Hebrews. Pharaoh would readily comprehend this statement. He would quite understand that the Hebrews, being of a different race from the Egyptians, had a God of their own, and that this God would from time to time give intimations to them of His will. Such intimations were supposed to be given to the Egyptian kings occasionally by their gods.

Three days’ journey.—The necessity for withdrawing to so great a distance arose from that remarkable peculiarity in the Egyptian religion, the worship of animals. Cows, or at any rate, white cows, were sacred throughout the whole of Egypt, and to kill them was regarded as a crime of the deepest dye. Sheep were sacred to the inhabitants of one nome or canton, goats to those of another (Herod. ii. 42). Unless the Hebrews retired to a place where there were no Egyptians, they would be unable to perform their sacred rites without danger of disturbance, and even bloodshed. (See below, Exodus 8:26.)

The wilderness.—“The wilderness” to those who dwelt in Goshen was the broad sandy and rocky tract which intervened between Egypt and Palestine—the modern El-Tih—a desert reckoned at three days’ journey across (Herod. iii. 5). It is “a vast limestone plateau of irregular surface, projecting wedge-fashion into the peninsula of Sinai, just as Sinai itself projects into the Red Sea. It terminates in a long cliff or encampment, steep and abrupt on the south-western side, gradually falling away towards the south-east.”—(Our Work in Palestine, p. 275.)

That we may sacrifice.—It is idle to speculate whether, if Pharaoh had granted the request, the Israelites would have returned to Egypt after sacrificing. God knew that he would not grant it.

Exodus 3:18-19. Hath met with us — Hath appeared to us, declaring his will, that we should do what follows. I am sure he will not let you go — God sends his messengers to those whose obstinacy he foresees, that it may appear he would have them turn and live.3:16-22 Moses' success with the elders of Israel would be good. God, who, by his grace, inclines the heart, and opens the ear, could say beforehand, They shall hearken to thy voice; for he would make them willing in this day of power. As to Pharaoh, Moses is here told that petitions and persuasions, and humble complaints, would not prevail with him; nor a mighty hand stretched out in signs and wonders. But those will certainly be broken by the power of God's hand, who will not bow to the power of his word. Pharaoh's people should furnish Israel with riches at their departure. In Pharaoh's tyranny and Israel's oppression, we see the miserable, abject state of sinners. However galling the yoke, they drudge on till the Lord sends redemption. With the invitations of the gospel, God sends the teaching of his Spirit. Thus are men made willing to seek and to strive for deliverance. Satan loses his power to hold them, they come forth with all they have and are, and apply all to the glory of God and the service of his church.Three days' journey - i. e. a journey which would occupy three days in going and returning. This was a demand quite in accordance with Egyptian customs. The refusal of Pharaoh and the subsequent proceedings were revealed to Moses at once; but it is important to observe that the first request which Pharaoh rejected could have been granted without any damage to Egypt, or any risk of the Israelites passing the strongly-fortified frontier. 10-22. Come now therefore, and I will send thee—Considering the patriotic views that had formerly animated the breast of Moses, we might have anticipated that no mission could have been more welcome to his heart than to be employed in the national emancipation of Israel. But he evinced great reluctance to it and stated a variety of objections [Ex 3:11, 13; 4:1, 10] all of which were successfully met and removed—and the happy issue of his labors was minutely described. Hath met with us; hath appeared to us, expressing his displeasure for our neglect of him, and declaring his will that we should do what follows.

Three days’ journey; to Sinai, which, going the nearest way, was no further from Egypt; for here God had declared he would be served, Exodus 3:12.

Quest. Was not this deceitfully and unjustly spoken, when they intended to go quite away from him?

Answ. No; for,

1. Pharaoh had no just right and title to them, to keep them in bondage, seeing they came thither only to sojourn for a time, and by Joseph had abundantly paid for their habitation there, and therefore, they might have demanded a total dismission.

2. Moses doth not say any thing which is false, but only conceals a part of the truth; and he was not obliged to discover the whole truth to so cruel a tyrant, and so implacable an enemy.

3. Moses cannot be blamed, both because he was none of Pharaoh’s subject, and because herein he follows the direction and command of his Master that sent him. And God surely was not obliged to acquaint Pharaoh with all his mind, but only so far as he pleased. And it pleased him for wise and just reasons to propose only this to Pharaoh, that his denial of so modest a request (which God foresaw) might make his tyranny more manifest, and God’s vengeance upon him more just and remarkable.

Sacrifice to the Lord our God, which they could not do freely and safely in Egypt, Exodus 8:26. And they shall hearken to thy voice,.... The elders of Israel, who would give credit to his commission, attend to what he said, and obey his orders, and follow the directions that he should give them, and not slight and reject him, as some had done before:

and thou shall come, thou, and the elders of Israel, unto the king of Egypt: the elders of Israel in a body, and Moses at the head of them; though we do not read of their approaching to Pharaoh, and addressing him in such a manner, only of Moses and Aaron applying to him:

and you shall say unto him, the Lord God of the Hebrews hath met with us; with one of them, who had reported to the rest what he had said; the children of Israel are here called Hebrews, because that seems to be a name the Egyptians most commonly called them, and by which they were best known to them, see Genesis 39:14.

and now let us go, we beseech thee, three days' journey into the wilderness; the wilderness of Sinai and Arabia, and to Mount Horeb in it; which from the borders of Egypt was three days' journey going the direct road, but the Israelites going somewhat about, and stopping by the way, did not get to it until the third month of their going out of Egypt, Exodus 19:1,

that we may sacrifice to the Lord God; in the place where he had appeared to a principal man among them, and where they would be in no danger of being insulted and molested by the Egyptians. Some think the reason of this request they were directed to make, to sacrifice out of the land of Egypt, was, because what they sacrificed the Egyptians worshipped as gods, and therefore would be enraged at such sacrifices; but for this there is no sufficient foundation; See Gill on Genesis 46:34, rather the design was under this pretence to get quite away from them, they being no subjects of the king of Egypt, nor had he a right to detain them; nor were they obliged to acquaint him with the whole of their intentions, and especially as they were directed of God himself to say this, and no more, and which being so reasonable, made Pharaoh's refusal the more inexcusable.

And they shall hearken to thy voice: and thou shalt come, thou and the elders of Israel, unto the king of Egypt, and ye shall say unto him, The LORD God of the Hebrews hath met with us: and now let us go, we beseech thee, three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may {o} sacrifice to the LORD our God.

(o) Because Egypt was full of idolatry, God would appoint them a place where they could serve him purely.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
18. shall hearken] rather, will hearken. In EVV. ‘shall’ (in the 3rd person), and ‘shalt’ are often used where a command is out of place, and where we should now say will, wilt.

the God of the Hebrews] as opposed to the gods of the Egyptians. So Exodus 5:3; Exodus 7:16; Exodus 9:1; Exodus 9:13; Exodus 10:3 (all in the same narrative, J; cf. p. 56).

met with us] or, lighted upon us,—viz. in a sudden, unexpected way. Song of Solomon 5:3; cf. Numbers 23:3-4; Numbers 23:15-16. Rendered happened or chanced in 2 Samuel 1:6; 2 Samuel 18:9; 2 Samuel 20:1.

three days’ journey] Probably a current expression for a considerable distance (Genesis 30:36): they ask to be allowed to worship their national God, with such rites as He may enjoin (Exodus 8:27), at some distant spot in the wilderness where they could give no offence to the Egyptians (Exodus 8:26). The ‘wilderness’ would be the broad and arid limestone plateau, now called et-Tih, extending from the E. border of Egypt to the S. of Palestine, and bounded on the S. by the mountains of the Sinaitic Peninsula. In an age in which every people had its own god, or gods, whom they worshipped in their own special way, a request to be allowed to make such a pilgrimage would seem quite natural. In the form, Let my people go, that they may serve me, it is repeated in the sequel of J seven times (see on Exodus 4:23); comp. also Exodus 5:3; Exodus 10:7-11; Exodus 10:24-26.

In what sense is the request meant? If, as has been supposed, it was intended merely as an excuse for getting a good start for their subsequent flight, then it was clearly a case of deception: the Israelites would in this case have sought to obtain from the Pharaoh by a ruse what, if he had known their entire purpose, he would not have granted. It is not however said that, if the request had been acceded to, they would not have returned, when the three days’ festival was over: so it may have been intended merely (Di.) to test the feeling of the Pharaoh towards the Israelites; to serve their God in their own way was in itself ‘the smallest request that subjects could make of their ruler’; and if this request had been viewed by the Pharaoh favourably, the door might have been opened for further negotiations, and the people might eventually have been allowed to depart altogether: the request was not granted, and so it resolved itself in the end into a demand for the unconditional release of the people and their actual departure.Verse 18. - They shall hearken to thy voice. Moses thought they would despise him - turn a deaf ear to his words - look upon him as unworthy of credit. But it was not so. The hearts of men are in God's hands, and he disposed those of the elders to receive the message of his servant, Moses, favourably, and believe in it. (See Exodus 4:29-31.) Thou shalt come, thou and the elders of Israel, unto the king of Egypt. This future is perhaps one of command rather than of prophetic announcement. The elders do not seem to have actually made their appearance before Pharaoh. (See Exodus 5:1-4.) They may, however, have authorised Moses and Aaron to speak in their name. The Lord God of the Hebrews hath met with us. Through our representative Moses. "Met with us" is undoubtedly the true meaning. That we may sacrifice. There was reticence here, no doubt, but no falseness. It was a part of God's design that sacrifice, interrupted during the sojourn in Egypt for various reasons, should be resumed beyond the bounds of Egypt by His people. So much of his purpose, and no more, he bade Moses lay before Pharaoh on the first occasion. The object of the reticence was not to deceive Pharaoh, but to test him. To the divine commission Moses made this reply: "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?" Some time before he had offered himself of his own accord as a deliverer and judge; but now he had learned humility in the school of Midian, and was filled in consequence with distrust of his own power and fitness. The son of Pharaoh's daughter had become a shepherd, and felt himself too weak to go to Pharaoh. But God met this distrust by the promise, "I will be with thee," which He confirmed by a sign, namely, that when Israel was brought out of Egypt, they should serve (עבד, i.e., worship) God upon that mountain. This sign, which was to be a pledge to Moses of the success of his mission, was one indeed that required faith itself; but, at the same time, it was a sign adapted to inspire both courage and confidence. God pointed out to him the success of his mission, the certain result of his leading the people out: Israel should serve Him upon the very same mountain in which He had appeared to Moses. As surely as Jehovah had appeared to Moses as the God of his fathers, so surely should Israel serve Him there. The reality of the appearance of God formed the pledge of His announcement, that Israel would there serve its God; and this truth was to till Moses with confidence in the execution of the divine command. The expression "serve God" (λατρεύειν τῷ Θεῷ, lxx) means something more than the immolare of the Vulgate, or the "sacrifice" of Luther; for even though sacrifice formed a leading element, or the most important part of the worship of the Israelites, the patriarchs before this had served Jehovah by calling upon His name as well as offering sacrifice. And the service of Israel at Mount Horeb consisted in their entering into covenant with Jehovah (Exodus 24); not only in their receiving the law as the covenant nation, but their manifesting obedience by presenting free-will offerings for the building of the tabernacle (Exodus 36:1-7; Numbers 7:1).

(Note: Kurtz follows the Lutheran rendering "sacrifice," and understands by it the first national sacrifice; and then, from the significance of the first, which included potentially all the rest, supposes the covenant sacrifice to be intended. But not only is the original text disregarded here, the fact is also overlooked, that Luther himself has translated עבד correctly, to "serve," in every other place. And it is not sufficient to say, that by the direction of God (Exodus 3:18) Moses first of all asked Pharaoh for permission merely to go a three days' journey into the wilderness to sacrifice to their God (Exodus 5:1-3), in consequence of which Pharaoh afterwards offered to allow them to sacrifice (Exodus 8:3) within the land, and at a still later period outside (Exodus 8:21.). For the fact that Pharaoh merely spoke of sacrificing may be explained on the ground that at first nothing more was asked. But this first demand arose from the desire on the part of God to make known His purposes concerning Israel only step by step, that it might be all the easier for the hard heart of the king to grant what was required. But even if Pharaoh understood nothing more by the expression "serve God" than the offering of sacrifice, this would not justify us in restricting the words which Jehovah addressed to Moses, "When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain," to the first national offering, or to the covenant sacrifice.)

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