James Gray - Concise Bible Commentary
And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying,
And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside children.Exodus 12:37-13:17
THE PILLAR OF CLOUD
THE FIRST STAGE OF THE JOURNEY (Exodus 12:37-51)
How did the Hebrews get from Goshen to Rameses? Perhaps Rameses was in the land of Goshen or it was a name used here in the sense of the general locality rather than the specific city which the Hebrews helped to build (1:11). Compare Genesis 47:11. We cannot identify “Succoth,” but since the word means tents or places for tents some think it specifies a camping spot en route.
Note the number of the men, which, multiplied by four to allow for families, gives an aggregate of 2,400,000 souls in all, without counting “the mixed multitude” of the next verse. Some of these latter may have been the poorer Egyptians and some foreign slaves of both Egyptians and Hebrews.
Note the time named in Exodus 12:40 and the exactitude of the fulfillment of prophecy mentioned in Exodus 12:41, a date to be reckoned from the time Abraham received the promise (Genesis 15:13), which makes just 430 years.
THE FIRSTBORN SET APART (Exodus 13:1-16)
We can see a reason for the command in Exodus 13:1 when we recall the preservation of their firstborn in Egypt. Doubtless it was to keep alive the memory of that event as well as to express their gratitude for it. All things belong to God by right of creation; the Israelites by right of redemption; the firstborn of Israel by right of passing over them in the judgment upon Egypt.
Moses immediately communicates this command to the people. Note that the month Abib (Exodus 13:4) is Hebrew for the Chaldaic Nisan previously mentioned.
By what figurative language does he impress the people with the duty of remembering all God’s goodness to them (Exodus 13:8-9)? We see the duty of parental instruction enjoined, and are impressed by the fact that “the history of the ways of God with men is a trust to be conveyed faithfully from father to son.”
What two words in Exodus 13:12 explain the word “sanctify” of Exodus 13:2? Note that the firstlings of the clean beasts as subsequently explained, calves, lambs and kids, were dedicated to God and used in sacrifice, but those of the unclean were redeemed. How (Exodus 13:13)? And if not redeemed, then what? What about the firstborn of man? The law concerning this will be met with later (Numbers 18:16). Of course this regulation was to come into force when Israel should reach Canaan (Exodus 13:11). As Murphy remarks, “the residence of Israel for forty years in the wilderness was in consequence of their unbelief and is not here contemplated. Here it is presumed they were to pass immediately through the wilderness into the Promised Land, with the exception of a year in the peninsula of Sinai for which special provision is made later on” (Numbers 3).
THE SECOND STAGE OF THE JOURNEY (Exodus 13:17-22)
Do not neglect the map in this study, since it is at least approximately correct. Why were not the Hebrews permitted to go the near way (Exodus 13:17)? Could not God have delivered them from the Philistines as well as from the Egyptians? How then does this illustrate the principle that God makes no unnecessary displays of miraculous power?
By what route were they led (Exodus 13:18)? At its northern extremity the Red Sea separates into two minor gulfs which enclose the peninsula of Sinai. The western gulf is called Suez, which is the one they crossed. Its varied width is about thirty miles, narrowing very much at its northern extremity, and its varied depth about twelve fathoms, with a sandy bottom.
The word harnessed in this verse is unusual. According to its derivation it means “by five in a rank,” but we can only explain it by supposing that in some way the men went up marshaled in orderly array, the better to protect the women and children of the company as well as their cattle and other possessions.
What special command does Moses execute (Exodus 13:19)? Compare Acts 7:16. What is the name of their next camping place (Exodus 13:20)? In what supernatural way were they guided (Exodus 13:21)? We have not now the pillar of fire and cloud, but we have the Word of God, which is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.
Excursus on the Pillar of Cloud
Dr. Bush has an interesting excursus on the pillar of cloud, from which a few paragraphs are taken:
The Hebrew root arnad signifies “to stand,” and imports an upright standing mass of cloud resembling a column in a building. It appears from
Psalm 105:39 that it was spread at the base so as to cover as with a canopy the whole host of Israel, shading them from the heat. The height, if it bore any proportion to its base, must have been immense, as the encampment covered a space of twelve square miles. It is evident from
Deuteronomy 31:15 that it was the habitation of the divine presence from which oracles were proclaimed to the people.
For further allusion to its use as a guiding signal see Psalm 78:14 and Nehemiah 9:12 and observe also its reappearance in the millennial age (Isaiah 4:5; Revelation 7:15-16).
Some think the whole mass was opaque by day and luminous by night, while others believe there was a rending at night of the outer, dark body of the cloud and consequent disclosure of an interior splendor enveloped from view during the day.
This unwrapped splendor appearing at night was presumably “the glory of the Lord” which occasionally appeared by day when God would express displeasure towards His people or impress them with His majesty, as at Sinai (Exodus 16:10; Numbers 16:40). In other words, taken as a whole, this pillar was intended to serve as the shekinah or visible representative of Jehovah dwelling in the midst of His people.
Compare now Exodus 14:19 and observe that the pillar of cloud is called in the same verse “the angel of God.” The term angel is used in Scripture to denote various kinds of agency, personal and impersonal, but “The Angel of God” (as we have learned) is a phrase descriptive of the second Person of the Trinity, Jehovah-Jesus. There is reason to believe, therefore, that this cloud was in some sense a manifestation of His presence to Israel. (See further Exodus 23:20-23 and Isaiah 63:8-9.) To all practical purposes it was the Angel of Jehovah, and they were to look up to that sublime and awful column as a visible embodiment of their covenant with God, as an ever-pre-sent witness, and feel as if a thousand eyes were looking out of the midst of it upon them, from which not even their slightest word or deed could be hidden. Through the whole tenor of the Mosaic narrative this is to be understood as associated with the title “Lord” or “the Angel of the Lord.”
It was this visible symbol, too, which was their oracle or means of communication with Jehovah, the Word of the ancient economy, both in the course of their wilderness journey and when afterwards it was removed into the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle and Temple (see Exodus 33:9-11 and Psalm 99:6-7). Compare also John 1:1-14, where the glory of the Word incarnate is referred to, not that intrinsic moral glory that distinguished His character always, but rather that special and overwhelming display of glory of which Peter, James and John were eyewitnesses on the Mount of Transfiguration, when there was a temporary laying aside of the veil of His flesh and disclosure of the indwelling shekinah, the glory of His Godhead.
A preintimation indeed of that glory in which He shall appear when He comes a second time, without sin, unto salvation.
What a wonderful theme of study we have in this pillar of cloud!
1. In what two ways may the location Rameses be understood?
2. How does this lesson illustrate God’s conservation of the miraculous?
3. Of what was the pillar of cloud a symbol?
4. Show its fitness for this purpose.
5. What takes its place for God’s people today?