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Reference: Exodus, The Book Of


The history of Israel (1) enslaved, (2) redeemed, (3) consecrated religiously and politically to God. There are two distinct parts: (1) Exodus 1-19, the history of Israel's deliverance from the beginning of their Egyptian bondage to their arrival at Sinai; (2) Exodus 20-40, the giving of the law and Israel's organization as "a kingdom of priests and an holy nation." The two parts, though differing in style as in subject matter, are closely intertwined, the institutions of the law in the second part resting on the historical facts recorded in the former part. The term Exodus, "the going forth," is drawn from the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Alexandrian Jews settled in the same country from whence Israel had "gone forth." The Palestinian Jews called the book from its first two Hebrew words, 'elleh shemot; "these are the names." Its separation from Genesis is marked by the different circumstances under which it presents Israel at its commencement as compared with the close of Genesis.

The first seven verses are the introduction briefly recapitulating previous events and stating the existing condition of affairs. Its close is marked by the completion of the tabernacle. Its several sections were probably written on separate papyri or parchments (according to an inscription of Thothmes III his campaigns were written on parchment and hung up in the temple of Ammon). The breaks in the narrative, and the repetitions, accord with the theory that there were distinct sections, composed separately by Moses as the events transpired, and read publicly at successive times. All would be united in one work toward the close of his life, with but a few additions and explanations. The feature which is inexplicable if anyone else were the author is this, the writer's evident unconsciousness of the personal greatness of the chief actor.

The Egyptians recognized his greatness (Ex 11:3); but the writer, while recognizing the greatness of Moses' mission, dwells especially on his want of natural gifts, his deficiencies of character and the hindrances thereby caused to his mission, and the penalties he incurred; his hasty intervention between the Israelite and Egyptian, the manslaughter, and the Israelites' rejection of him as a ruler, and his exile for the prime 40 years of his manhood. Then his unbelieving hesitancy at the divine call and pertinacious allegation of personal incapacity in spite of the miracles which might have convinced him of God's power to qualify him (Ex 3:10-13). Then the Lord's visitation on him (probably sudden and dangerous sickness) for neglecting to circumcise his son (Ex 4:24-26). (See CIRCUMCISION.) Then his passionate reproach of Jehovah for the failure of his first appeal to Pharaoh, which only brought more bitter hardship on Israel (Ex 5:20-23).

His courageous boldness before Pharaoh is never praised. Not his wisdom or foresight, but God's guidance, is prominent throughout. The first battle fought is under Joshua's lead. The only step attributed to human sagacity, the organizing of a body of assistant judges (Exodus 18), is attributed to Jethro not Moses. The same feature appears in subsequent books of the Pentateuch, his shrinking from self-vindication when assailed by Miriam and Aaron (Numbers 12); his impetuous temper at the water of Meribah Kadesh, smiting the rock irreverently and hence excluded by God from the promised land. This all is what we might expect if Moses was the author; but no later writer would be so silent as to the sublime greatness of his character. Contrast the three closing verses of Deuteronomy, added by a reviser in order to record his death. Again, Exodus was evidently written by one minutely acquainted at once with Egypt and the Sinaitic peninsula.

The route from Egypt to Horeb is traced with the local coloring and specific accuracy of an eyewitness No eyewitness of Israel's journeyings possessed such means of observation as Moses. The miracles severally suit the place, the time, and the circumstances under which they are stated to have been wrought; the plagues are essentially Egyptian; the supply of Israel's wants in the wilderness is in harmony with the national characteristics of the country. Cook (Speaker's Commentary) truly says, "we find nature everywhere, but nature in its Master's hand." The nine plagues stand in three groups, each increasing in severity. Then the tenth is threatened and the failure of the other nine declared. "Jehovah hardened Pharaoh's heart so that he would not let Israel go." The delay answered a double purpose. To Pharaoh it was the longsuffering appeal of God, who is slow to anger, and who tries the milder chastisements to bring the sinner if possible to repentance before resorting to the more severe. To Israel it afforded ample time for preparation for the Exodus.

Two months elapsed between Moses' first and second interviews with Pharaoh; the former in April, when the Israelites were scattered throughout all Egypt gathering the stubble of the harvest just reaped (the reapers leaving the stalks standing and cut close to the ears), the latter in June at the time of the Nile's yearly overflow when "the king went out unto the water" to offer his devotions to Apis, whose embodiment the river was (Ex 5:12; 7:15). Israel's "scattering" tended to uproot them from their long settlement in Goshen and to train them for their approaching wilderness life. The Nile, the center of Egypt's national and religious life, was smitten, assuring Israel of Jehovah's interposition.

Three months elapsed before the next plague, giving them time to look about them for the means of escape from present wrongs. The plague of frogs attacked the Egyptian worship of nature under that revolting form (Heka, a female deity with a frog's head, the symbol of regeneration, wife of Chnum, the god of the inundation; Seti, father of Rameses II, is represented offering wine to an enshrined frog, with the legend "the sovereign lady of both worlds"); this was in September, when the inundation is at its height and the frogs (dofda, usually appea). Of the third plague no warning was given; so the third is marked in each of the other two groups of plagues. The lice or mosquitoes (kinnim) penetrating into the nostrils and ears, or rather the tick (the size of a grain of sand, which when filled with blood swells to the size of a hazel nut), came soon after the frogs, early in October.

So closed the first group, none of the three causing great calamity; but enough to warn the Egyptians and to give hope to Israel. The second group began with the 'arob, dog flies (whose bite inflames severely, and particularly the eyelid), or else beetles (worshipped by the Egyptians as the symbol of creative and reproductive power; the sun god was represented as a beetle; thus their god was fittingly made the instrument of their punishment, inflicting a painful bite, and consuming various articles). This plague, exceeding the former in severity, came in November at the critical time to Egyptian agriculture when the Nile's inundation has subsided. Then first Goshen was severed from Egypt and spared the plague. Pharaoh shows the first signs of yielding, but when the plague ceased would not let Israel go.

Then came the cattle murrain or mortality, striking at the resources of Egypt; a contagious epidemic which broke out in Egypt often after the annual inundation had subsided. The cattle tire in the fields from December to April, the change from the stalls to the open air and to fresh pastures predisposing them to it. Israel's separation of their cattle from the contagion would be a step in their preparations for the Exodus. The boils (burning carbuncles) were the third and closing plague of the second group, sent without previous notice, and warning the Egyptians during its three months continuance that their bodies would suffer if Pharaoh should still resist God. The third group began with the hail, which as in the present day prevailed from the middle of February to the beginning of March. Moses for the first time warned Pharaoh to bring all cattle out of the field, on pain of their destruction.

Many of the Egyptians feared Jehovah's word and obeyed, wh

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