Introduction to Exodus

Introduction to Exodus

1. The book of Exodus consists of two distinct portions. The first Exodus 1-19 gives a detailed account of the circumstances under which the deliverance of the Israelites was accomplished. The second Exodus 20-40 describes the giving of the law, and the institutions which completed the organization of the people as “a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” Exodus 19:6.

The name “Exodus” (ἔξοδος exodos), i. e. “the going forth,” assigned to it by the Alexandrian Jews, applies rather to the former portion than to the whole book.

The narrative is closely connected with that of Genesis, and shows not only that it was written by the same author, but that it formed part of one general plan. Still it is a distinct section. The first events which it relates are separated from the last chapter in Genesis by a considerable interval, and it presents the people of Israel under totally different circumstances. Its termination is marked with equal distinctness, winding up with the completion of the tabernacle.

The book is divided into many smaller sections; each of which has the marks which throughout the Pentateuch indicate a subdivision. They are of different lengths, and were probably written on separate parchments or papyri, the longest not exceeding the dimensions of contemporary documents in Egypt. They were apparently thus arranged for the convenience of public reading.

This general view of the structure of the book is what might have been expected.

2. Some of the most convincing evidences of the Mosaic authorship are supplied by the contents of this book.

One argument is drawn from the representation of the personal character and qualifications of Moses, a representation perfectly intelligible as proceeding from Moses himself.

What other men have seen in Moses is – the chief agent in the greatest work ever entrusted to man, an agent whose unique and unparalleled qualifications are admitted alike by those who accept and by those who deny the divine interposition: what the writer himself sees in Moses is – a man whose only qualification is an involuntary and reluctant surrender to the will of God. The only rational account of the matter is, that we have Moses’ own history of himself and of his work.

Another argument rests on external facts. The Book of Exodus could not have been written by any man who had not passed many years in Egypt, and who did not also have a thorough knowledge, such as could only be acquired by personal observation, of the Sinaitic Peninsula.

We have no probable alternative but to admit that the narrative in its substance came from Moses, or from a contemporary; and we can have little hesitation as to our choice between these alternatives, when we consider that none of the contemporaries of Moses had equal opportunities of observation, and that none were likely to have received the education and training which would have enabled them to record the events.

3. A weighty argument is drawn from the accounts of the miracles, by which Moses was expressly commanded to attest his mission, and by which he was enabled to accomplish the deliverance of his people.

We have throughout the miracles the characteristics of local coloring, of adaptation to the circumstances of the Israelites, and of repeated announcements followed by repeated postponements, which enabled and indeed compelled the Israelites to complete that organization of their nation, without which their departure might have been, as it has been often represented, a mere disorderly flight.

There are some who fear to compromise the miraculous character of events by admitting any operation of natural causes to a share of them. Yet the inspired writer does not fail to record that it was by the east wind that the Lord brought the locusts Exodus 10:13 and sent back the sea Exodus 14:21, and, by the mighty strong west wind Exodus 10:19, took back the plague that he had sent. Nor is the miracle at all lessened, because the winds of heaven were made God’s messengers and instruments in the doing of it. The miracles in Egypt were supernatural in their greatness, in their concentration upon one period, in their coming and going according to the phases of the conflict between the tyrant and the captive race, in their measured gradation from weak to strong, as each weaker wonder failed to break Pharoah’s stubborn heart. King and people so regarded them; they were accustomed perhaps to frogs and lice and locusts; but to such plagues, so intense, so threatened, accomplished, and withdrawn, as it were so disciplined to a will, they were not accustomed; and they rightly saw them as miraculous and divinely sent. And further it will be noticed that the phenomena that are put to this use are such as mark the country where this great history is laid. No Jewish writer, who had lived in Palestine alone, could have imagined a narrative so Egyptian in its marks. All evidence tends to prove that the history was written by someone who was well conversant with Egypt; and we shall look in vain for anyone, other than Moses himself, who possessed this qualification for writing the history of the emancipation of the Israelites under divine guidance.

The narrative which records them, remarkable as it is for artlessness and simplicity, is moreover not one which could have been concocted from documents of different ages, constructed on different principles, and full of internal discrepancies and contradictions. It is the production of one mind, written by one man, and by one who had alone witnessed all the events which it records, who alone was at that time likely to possess the knowledge or ability required to write the account.

4. The portion of the book, which follows the account of the departure from Egypt, has characteristics marked with equal distinctness, and bearing with no less force upon the question of authorship. These chapters also are pervaded by a unique tone, a local coloring, an atmosphere so to speak of the desert, which has made itself felt by all those who have explored the country.

Modern travelers point out the following coincidences between the narrative and their own experiences. Absence of water where no sources now exist, abundance of water where fountains are still found, and indications of a far more copious supply in former ages; tracts, occupying the same time in the journey, in which food would not be found; and, in some districts, a natural production similar to manna, most abundant in rainy seasons (such as several notices show the season of the Exodus to have been), but not sufficient for nourishment, nor fit for large consumption, without such modifications in character and quantity as are attributed in the narrative to a divine intervention. The late explorations of the Peninsula of Sinai have thrown much light upon the fact that the route taken by the Israelites was probably determined by conditions agreeing with incidental notices in the history; and when we come to the chapters in which the central event in the history of Israel, the delivery of God’s law, is recorded, we find localities and scenery which travelers concur in declaring to be such as fully correspond to the exigencies of the narrative, and which in some accounts (remarkable at once for scientific accuracy and graphic power) are described in terms which show that they correspond, so far as mere outward accessories can correspond, to the grandeur of the manifestation.

5. A very valuable argument of the same evidential character is drawn from the account of the tabernacle. In form, structure, and materials the tabernacle belongs altogether to the wilderness. The whole was a tent, not a fixed structure, such as would naturally have been set up, and in point of fact was set up very soon in Palestine. The metals, bronze, silver and gold, were those which the Israelites knew, and doubtless brought with them from Egypt; the names of many of the materials and implements which they used, and the furniture and accessories of the tabernacle, the dress and ornaments of the priests, are Egyptian; and it is also certain that the arts required for the construction of the tabernacle, and for all its accessories, were precisely those for which the Egyptians had been remarkable for ages; such as artizans who had lived under the influence of Egyptian civilization would naturally have learned.

Two separate accounts of the erection of the tabernacle are given. In the first Moses relates the instructions which he received, in the second he describes the accomplishment of the work. Nothing would be less in accordance with the natural order of a history written at a later period than this double account. It is however fully accounted for by the obvious hypothesis that each part of the narrative was written at the time, and on the occasion, to which it immediately refers.

6. The chronology of Exodus involves two questions, the duration of the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt, and the date of their departure. So far as regards the direct statements in the Hebrew text, the answers to both questions are positive and unambiguous. Exodus 12:40 gives 430 years for the sojourn, Genesis 15:13 gives 400 years for the whole, or the greater portion, of the same period. Again, the First Book of Kings, 1 Kings 6:1, fixes the Exodus at 480 years before the building of the Temple in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign. This would settle the date within a few years – about 1490 b.c., a date which appears, on the whole, to be reconcileable with the facts of history, and to rest on higher authority than any other which has been proposed.

Exodus 1:1
Now these are the names of the children of Israel, which came into Egypt; every man and his household came with Jacob.
Now – Literally, “And,” indicating a close connection with the preceding narrative. In fact this chapter contains a fulfillment of the predictions recorded in Genesis 46:3 and in Genesis 15:13.

Every man and his household – It may be inferred from various notices that the total number of dependents was considerable, a point of importance in its bearings upon the history of the Exodus (compare Genesis 13:6; Genesis 14:14).

Exodus 1:2
Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah,
Exodus 1:3
Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin,
Exodus 1:4
Dan, and Naphtali, Gad, and Asher.
Exodus 1:5
And all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls: for Joseph was in Egypt already.
Seventy – See Genesis 46:27. The object of the writer in this introductory statement is to give a complete list of the heads of separate families at the time of their settlement in Egypt. See the note at Numbers 26:5.

Exodus 1:6
And Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation.
Exodus 1:7
And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them.
In no province does the population increase so rapidly as in that which was occupied by the Israelites. See the note at Genesis 47:6. At present it has more flocks and herds than any province in Egypt, and more fishermen, though many villages are deserted. Until the accession of the new king, the relations between the Egyptians and the Israelites were undoubtedly friendly. The expressions used in this verse imply the lapse of a considerable period after the death of Joseph.

The land was filled with them – i. e. the district allotted to them Genesis 45:10.

Exodus 1:8
Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph.
The expressions in this verse are special and emphatic. “A new king” is a phrase not found elsewhere. It is understood by most commentators to imply that he did not succeed his predecessor in the natural order of descent and inheritance. He “arose up over Egypt,” occupying the land, as it would seem, on different terms from the king whose place he took, either by usurpation or conquest. The fact that he knew not Joseph implies a complete separation from the traditions of Lower Egypt. At present the generality of Egyptian scholars identify this Pharaoh with Rameses II, but all the conditions of the narrative are fulfilled in the person of Amosis I((or, Aahmes), the head of the 18th Dynasty. He was the descendant of the old Theban sovereigns, but his family was tributary to the Dynasty of the Shepherds, the Hyksos of Manetho, then ruling in the North of Egypt. Amosis married an Ethiopian princess, and in the third year of his reign captured Avaris, or Zoan, the capital of the Hyksos, and completed the expulsion of that race.

Exodus 1:9
And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we:
Exodus 1:10
Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land.
Any war – The Northeastern frontier was infested by the neighboring tribes, the Shasous of Egyptian monuments, and war was waged with Egypt by the confederated nations of Western Asia under the reigns of the successors of Amosis. These incursions were repulsed with extreme difficulty. In language, features, costume, and partly also in habits, the Israelites probably resembled those enemies of Egypt.

Out of the land – The Pharaohs apprehended the loss of revenue and power, which would result from the withdrawal of a peaceful and industrious race.

Exodus 1:11
Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses.
Taskmasters – The Egyptian “Chiefs of tributes.” They were men of rank, superintendents of the public works, such as are often represented on Egyptian monuments, and carefully distinguished from the subordinate overseers. The Israelites were employed in forced labor, probably in detachments, but they were not reduced to slavery, properly speaking, nor treated as captives of war. Amosis had special need of such laborers, as proved by the inscriptions.

Treasure cities – “Magazines,” depots of ammunition and provisions 1 Kings 9:19; 2 Chronicles 8:4; 2 Chronicles 32:28.

Pithom and Raamses – Both cities were situated on the canal which was dug or enlarged in the 12th Dynasty. The former is known to have existed under the 18th Dynasty. Both were in existence at the beginning of the reign of Rameses II, by whom they were fortified and enlarged. The name “Pithom” means “House or temple of Tum,” the Sun God of Heliopolis (see Exodus 13:20). The name of Raamses, or Rameses, is generally assumed to have been derived from Rameses II, the Sesostris of the Greeks, but it was previously known as the name of the district. See Genesis 45:10; Genesis 47:11.

Exodus 1:12
But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel.
Exodus 1:13
And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour:
Exodus 1:14
And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in morter, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field: all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour.
The use of brick, at all times common in Egypt, was especially so under the 18th Dynasty. An exact representation of the whole process of brickmaking is given in a small temple at Thebes, erected by Tothmosis III, the fourth in descent from Amosis. Immense masses of brick are found at Belbeis, the modern capital of Sharkiya, i. e. Goshen, and in the adjoining district.

All manner of service in the field – Not merely agricultural labor, but probably the digging of canals and processes of irrigation which are peculiarly onerous and unhealthy.

Exodus 1:15
And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah:
Hebrew midwifes – Or “midwives of the Hebrew women.” This measure at once attested the inefficacy of the former measures, and was the direct cause of the event which issued in the deliverance of Israel, namely, the exposure of Moses. The women bear Egyptian names, and were probably Egyptians.

Exodus 1:16
And he said, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him: but if it be a daughter, then she shall live.
Upon the stools – Literally, “two stones.” The word denotes a special seat, such as is represented on monuments of the 18th Dynasty, and is still used by Egyptian midwives.

Exodus 1:17
But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive.
Exodus 1:18
And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men children alive?
Exodus 1:19
And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them.
Exodus 1:20
Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty.
Exodus 1:21
And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them houses.
Made them houses – i. e. they married Hebrews and became mothers in Israel. The expression is proverbial. See the margin reference.

Exodus 1:22
And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive.
The extreme cruelty of the measure does not involve improbability. Hatred of strangers was always a characteristic of the Egyptians (see Genesis 43:32), and was likely to be stronger than ever after the expulsion of an alien race.

Notes on the Bible by Albert Barnes [1834].

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