And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Verses 1-16. - SANCTIFICATION OF THE FIRSTBORN. In connection with the deliverance from death of the Israelite first-born by the blood of the lamb, and still further to fix the remembrance of the historical facts in the mind of the nation, Moses was commissioned to declare all the firstborn of Israel for all future time, and all the firstborn of their domesticated animals "holy to the Lord." There was, perhaps, already in the minds of men a feeling that peculiar dignity attached to the first-born in each family; and this feeling was now strengthened by the assignment to them of a sacred character. God claimed them, and also the first-born of beasts, as His own. The clean beasts became his by sacrifice; but the unclean ones could not he similarly treated, and therefore had to be "redeemed" (verse 13) by the sacrifice of clean animals in their place. The first-born of men became at the first institution of the new ordinance God's ministers; but as this system was not intended to continue, it was announced that they too would have to be "redeemed" (verses 13, 15). The exact mode of redeeming them was left to be settled afterwards, and will be found in Numbers 3:40-51; Numbers 18:16. Verse 1. - On the true grammatical nexus of this verse, see note on Exodus 12:51. The injunctions of verse 2, and probably those of 3-15 - were given to Moses on the very day of the setting-forth, most likely, at Succoth in the evening.
Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine.
Verse 2. - Sanctify unto me. Not by any positive ceremony, but by regarding it as "set apart unto the Lord" (verse 12) - made over to him, that is, as his own. All the first-born. The Hebrew word used is masculine, and by its proper force limits the command to the first-born males, who alone had been in danger from the tenth plague. Whatever openeth the womb. This clause added definiteness, showing that "first-born" did not contain any reference to any later Birth, and that it applied to every case where a woman's first child was a male. It is mine. Or, "it shall be mine." I claim it.
And Moses said unto the people, Remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the LORD brought you out from this place: there shall no leavened bread be eaten.
Verse 3. - And Moses said. Without relating the directions given to Moses any further, the author passes to the directions given by him. He thus, here and elsewhere, avoids unnecessary repetition. Remember this day. The injunction came with great force at the close of the first day's journey, when the good-will of the Egyptians had been shown, and the people had been helped and speeded on their way, and felt that they were actually quitting the house of their bondage, and setting out for Canaan. By strength of hand the Lord brought you out - i.e.., "by His powerful protection has God brought you on your way thus far." Therefore, "Remember this day, and remember that nothing leavened is to be eaten on it" (see Exodus 12:15-20). Ver 4. - In the month Abib. The name of the month had not been previously mentioned. Some have derived it from the Egyptian Epiphi. As, however, ab means "greenness" in Hebrew, and abib "green ears of corn," while ibba meant "fruit" in Chaldee (Daniel 4:12, 14), and abbon means "green herbs" in Arabic, there is no need of a foreign derivation for the word. The month of "greenness," or of "green ears of corn," would be both appropriate and intelligible.
This day came ye out in the month Abib.
And it shall be when the LORD shall bring thee into the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee, a land flowing with milk and honey, that thou shalt keep this service in this month.
Verse 5. - The land of the Canaanites, etc. Compare Exodus 3:8, 17. The six nations of these passages are reduced here to five by the omission of the Perizzites, one of the less important tribes. Which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee. See Genesis 15:18; Genesis 24:7; and compare the comment on Exodus 6:8. That thou shalt keep this service. This injunction had been already given (Exodus 12:25) almost in the same words; but on the former occasion it was delivered to the elders only; now it is laid upon the whole people.
Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, and in the seventh day shall be a feast to the LORD.
Verse 6. - Seven days. Compare Exodus 12:15. In the seventh day shall be a feast to the Lord. The feast lasted during the whole of the seven days, but the first day and the last were to be kept especially holy. (See Exodus 12:16; Leviticus 23:6-8.)
Unleavened bread shall be eaten seven days; and there shall no leavened bread be seen with thee, neither shall there be leaven seen with thee in all thy quarters.
Verse 7. - Here again the injunctions are mere repetitious of commands already given in ch. 12. (See verses 15 and 19.) Repetition was no doubt had recourse to in order to deepen the impression.
And thou shalt shew thy son in that day, saying, This is done because of that which the LORD did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt.
Verse 8. - And thou shalt shew thy son. Repeated from Exodus 12:26, 27.
And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the LORD'S law may be in thy mouth: for with a strong hand hath the LORD brought thee out of Egypt.
Verse 9. - And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thy hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes. There can be no doubt that the Jewish system of tephillin, or "phylacteries," grew mainly out of this passage, and was intended as a fulfilment of the commands contained in it. The tephillin were strips of parchment with passages of Scripture written upon them and deposited in small boxes, which were fastened by a strap either to the left arm, or across the forehead. The modern Jews argue that they were what Moses here intended, and that their employment began from this time. Some Christian commentators agree with them. But the great majority argue, from supposed probability and from the entire absence of any reference to the actual wearing of tephillin in the Old Testament, that the custom must be, comparatively speaking, a modern one. It is generally supposed to have originated, with other superstitious practices, in the time of the Babylonish captivity. Those who take this view regard the words of Moses in the present passage as merely metaphorical, and compare them with Proverbs 3:3; Proverbs 6:21; Proverbs 7:3. Kalisch, however, observes with reason, that if the injunction to write passages of the Law on the door-posts of their houses (Deuteronomy 6:9; Deuteronomy 11:20) was intended to be understood literally, and was literally carried out (Isaiah 57:8), the commands with respect to tephillin, which are coupled with them (Deuteronomy 6:8; Deuteronomy 11:18) must have been similarly intended. And probability, which is said to be against the Mosaic origin of tephillin, may perhaps rather be urged in its favour. The Egyptian practice Of wearing as amulets "forms of words written on folds of papyrus tightly rolled up and sewn in linen" (Wilkinson's Ancient Egyptians, vol. 3. p. 364) is well attested. Would it not be in harmony with the general character of his legislation, that Moses should adopt and regulate the custom, employing it to do honour to the Law and keep it in remembrance, without perhaps purging it wholly from superstitious ideas? Moses allowed the Israelites in many things "for the hardness of their hearts," content if he could introduce some improvement without insisting at once on an impracticable perfection. That the law of the Lord may be in thy month. The Israelites are instructed from the first, that the tephillin are to be a means to an end; and that the end is to be the retention of God's law in their recollection - " in their mouth," and therefore in their heart, since "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh."
Thou shalt therefore keep this ordinance in his season from year to year.
Verse 10. - This ordinance. The ordinance of unleavened bread. See Exodus 12:14, 24.
And it shall be when the LORD shall bring thee into the land of the Canaanites, as he sware unto thee and to thy fathers, and shall give it thee,
That thou shalt set apart unto the LORD all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males shall be the LORD'S.
Verse 12. - Set apart. The expression is especially appropriate to the case of first-born animals, which would have to be separated off from the rest of the flock, or of the herd, and "put aside" for Jehovah, so as not to be mixed up and confounded with the other lambs, kids, and calves. The males shall be the Lord's. This limitation, implied in verse 2, is here brought prominently into notice.
And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem.
Verse 13. - Every firstling of an ass. The ass was the sole beast of burthen taken by the Israelites out of Egypt. (See Exodus 20:17.) Neither the horse nor the camel was among their possessions in the wilderness. This is agreeable to the Egyptian monuments, by which the camel appears to have been rare in Egypt at this time, and the horse as yet mainly used for war and by the nobles in their chariots. With a lamb. A lamb or a kid. The word used is the generic one. (See the comment on Exodus 12:3.) If thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break its neck. This enactment was evidently made to prevent a refusal to redeem. It would not require to be put in force, since by refusing under such a penalty a man would suffer pecuniary loss. All the first-born of men among thy children. Rather "among thy sons." Shalt thou redeem. Later on, the amount of the redemption money was fixed at five shekels of the sanctuary for each. (Numbers 3:47.)
And it shall be when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What is this? that thou shalt say unto him, By strength of hand the LORD brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage:
Verse 14. - When thy son asketh thee. Compare Exodus 12:26, and the comment ad loc.
And it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the LORD slew all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man, and the firstborn of beast: therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all that openeth the matrix, being males; but all the firstborn of my children I redeem.
Verse 15. - When Pharaoh would hardly let us go. Bather, "when Pharaoh hardened himself against letting us go." At his last interview with Moses, Pharaoh had absolutely refused to let them go with their cattle (Exodus 10:24-27), and Moses had absolutely refused to go without them. I sacrifice all that openeth the womb, being males. And being clean animals. The common sense of the reader or hearer, is expected to supply the restriction. Of my children. Rather, as in verse 13, "of my sons."
And it shall be for a token upon thine hand, and for frontlets between thine eyes: for by strength of hand the LORD brought us forth out of Egypt.
Verse 16. - A sign... frontlets. See the comment on verse 9. It is the custom among the Jews to write this entire passage - Exodus 13:1-16 - on two of the four strips of parchment contained in the tephillin. The others have inscribed on them Deuteronomy 6:4-9, and Deuteronomy 11:13-21.
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:
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.
But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt.
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."
And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you.
Verse 19. - Moses took the bones of Joseph - i.e., his body, which had been embalmed, and deposited in a mummy case (Genesis 50:26), most probably at Tanis, which was the capital of the Shepherd kings, no less than of Menephthah. He had straitly sworn the children of Israel. See Genesis 50:25. Joseph, firmly believing in the promise of God to give Canaan to the descendants of Abraham had made them swear to take his body with them when they left Egypt. The desire to be laid in their native earth was common to most of the nations of antiquity, and, in the case of the Israelites, was intensified by Canaan being the "laud of promise." Jacob had had the same feeling as Joseph, and had been buried by Joseph in the cave of Math-pelah (Genesis 50:13).
And they took their journey from Succoth, and encamped in Etham, in the edge of the wilderness.
Verse 20. - And they took their journey from Succoth and encamped in Etham. On the probable position of Etham, see the "Introduction" to this book. The word probably means "House of Turn," and implies the existence at the place of a temple of the Sun-God, who was commonly worshipped as Tuna or Atum. The name, therefore, is nearly equivalent to Pithom (Exodus 1:11), which means "City of Turn;" but it is not likely that Moses designated the same place by two distinct appellations. The site of Etham, moreover, does not agree with that of the Patumos of Herodotus (2:158), which is generally allowed to be Pithom.
CHAPTER 13:21, 22
And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night:
Verses 21, 22. - THE PILLAR OF THE CLOUD AND OF FIRE. Having stated, in verse 17, that "God led the Israelites," and determined their route for them, the writer here proceeds to explain how this leading was accomplished. With extreme simplicity and directness he states, that the conduct was effected by means of an appearance, which in the daytime was like a column or pillar of smoke ascending from earth to heaven, and in the night was like a pillar of fire. He considers the presence of God to have been in the pillar, which moved in front of the host, and showed them the way that they were to go. When it halted, they halted when it advanced, they advanced. Their journeys being made as much in the night-time as in the day, on account of the intense heat, the pillar took in the night the appearance of a column of fire, so as to be equally visible as by day. All attempts to give a rational explanation of the phenomenon are misplaced, since the writer, from whom alone we derive our information on the subject, clearly regarded it as miraculous; and both here and elsewhere (Exodus 14:19, 20, 24; Exodus 33:9; Numbers 12:5; Numbers 14:11) speaks of it as a form under which God was pleased to show himself. There is little doubt that fire and smoke signals were already used by commanders of armies for much the same purpose as that which God now accomplished in this way. The Egyptian documents of the period contain indications of the usage; and it is found among the Arabians, the Greeks, and the Persians. (See especially Q. Curt. Vit. Alex. 5:2; "Perticam, quae undique conspici posset, supra praetorium statuit, ex qua signum eminebat pariter omnibus conspicuum: observabatur ignis noctu, fiunus interdin.") The miracle was thus, in a certain sense, founded upon an existing custom, with the difference that God here gave the signals miraculously, which were wont to be given in a natural way by the human leaders of armies. He thus constituted himself the general of the host. Verse 21. - The Lord went before them. From Succoth at any rate; perhaps even on the journey from Rameses to Succoth. In a pillar of cloud. The pillar was seen - the presence of Jehovah, though unseen, was believed to be in it, and to move it. To go by day and night. Or, "so that they might march both by day and by night." Night marches are generally preferred by Orientals on account of the great heat of the days. The night-marches of the Israelites are again mentioned in Numbers 9:21.
He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.
Verse 22. - He took not away. The last distinct mention of the cloud is in Numbers 16:42, after the destruction of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. There is perhaps a later allusion to it in Numbers 20:6. In Nehemiah it is said that "the pillar of the cloud departed not from them," so long as they were in the wilderness (Nehemiah 9:19); and the same is implied, though not formally stated, in Numbers 9:15-23. There is no mention of the pillar of the cloud as still with the Israelites in the Book of Joshua. Probably it was last seen on the journey from Beth-jesimoth to Abel-Shittim in the rich Jordan valley (Numbers 33:49).