“Exodus,” the name of the second book of the Pentateuch or the Torah, is derived from Greek and refers to the departure of the Israelites from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. The account in this book starts with the period of oppression in Egypt before the birth of Moses and then continues with the birth of Moses, his role in Israelite history from then onward, the ten devastating plagues that led to the Israelites being liberated from enslavement and able to leave Egypt, the destruction of Pharaoh and his forces in the Red Sea, experiences of the Israelites as they traveled in the Sinai Peninsula, their receiving the law at Mount Sinai, the establishment of the Aaronic priesthood, and the institution of an arrangement for worship centered at a tabernacle. One of the serious ways in which the Israelites failed to remain loyal to their God YHWH was involvement in the worship of the representation of a calf.
The name of the Pharaoh who was responsible for the oppression of the Israelites is not provided nor is any information recorded about who the Pharaoh was when the Israelites left Egypt. Based on what is contained in the account in Exodus, one cannot establish a specific link to what is known about ancient Egyptian history. The first extant reference to Israel is commonly considered to be on a victory stele of Pharaoh Merneptah, who is thought to have reigned from 1213 to 1203 BCE. More than a century ago, the boastful words of this ruler were translated, “Israel is laid waste, his seed is not.” In more recent years, however, whether Israel is actually mentioned has been questioned and another rendering of the words that omits any mention of Israel has been proposed. This serves to illustrate the difficulty in matching Egyptian inscriptions with biblical accounts. One event from a much later time does coincide with the biblical record. This is the invasion of Pharaoh Shishak (Sheshonk I) in the fifth year of the reign of the Judean king Rehoboam. (1 Kings 14:25, 26) A relief on a temple wall at Karnak lists numerous cities of Judah and Israel that Pharaoh Sheshonk I captured.
A question that is often raised about the book of Exodus relates to the number of able-bodied men who left Egypt. Exodus 12:37 says that it was about 600,000. According to the census taken in the second year after the Exodus, the number was 603,550. (Numbers 1:1, 2, 45) This would mean that the total number of Israelites who left Egypt numbered between two and three million persons. Many have found it difficult to believe that there could have been so many people who wandered thereafter in the Sinai Peninsula. Additionally, the people brought with them much livestock — cattle, sheep, and goats.
In the book of Deuteronomy (8:15), the arid region through which the Israelites traveled is described as “the great and terrible wilderness with its seraph serpents and scorpions, a parched land with no water in it.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) A cow may drink up to thirty gallons (c. 114 liters) of water each day. This amount of water would be significantly less when there is a high moisture content in the grass on which the cow feeds. A sheep may drink up to five gallons (c. 19 liters) of available water daily, and a goat up to two or three gallons (c. 7.5 to 11 liters). Goats need three to four percent of their body weight in the form of vegetation each day. Daily, a cow will eat the equivalent of two percent of its body weight. Sheep require enough pasture to consume between two and half and three percent of their body weight each day. Anciently, far more vegetation may have flourished in the Sinai Peninsula than presently, and much more water may have been accessible. The description in the book of Deuteronomy and biblical references to oases in the arid region, however, do suggest that the wilderness had limited lush pasture and not abundant water for many thousands of domestic animals. This is additionally confirmed by the necessity of miraculous provisions of drinking water for the people.
Regarding Canaan itself, the nations residing there are said to have been “greater and mightier” or more populous and in possession of greater military strength than the Israelites. (Deuteronomy 4:38) Today in that region west of the Jordan River more than 13.5 million make their home, and that includes cities with far larger populations than existed in ancient times. It is inconceivable that there were nations with populations in the millions that resided in ancient Canaan.
After their entrance into Canaan on the west side of the Jordan River, the Israelites ceased to benefit from miraculous provisions of food. They were to live on the produce of the land in the area surrounding their encampment near Jericho. (Joshua 5:11, 12) In this encampment, there were fewer Israelites than there had been when the people first arrived on the east side of the Jordan, for the households of the men from the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh remained settled on the east side. Nevertheless, with over 600,000 able-bodied men in addition to the women and children of the men from the other tribes, the camp would have been larger than the largest refugee camp of modern times. That there would have been enough grain to be harvested in a relatively small area near Jericho to supply more than 600,000 able-bodied men besides women and children does appear questionable. Moreover, the people needed to relieve themselves outside the camp, and one must consider the distance they would have to walk to get outside a camp that accommodated so many men, women, and children. Thousands of tents would have been required to shelter the people.
In view of the aforementioned factors and others that could be mentioned, one may conclude that the numbers in the Pentateuch could have a different significance, but the question is open as to how best to explain the numbers. One conjecture is that the Hebrew word rendered “thousand” (’eleph) refers to a unit or the chieftain of a unit or clan, greatly reducing the number of people who actually left Egypt. None of the various conjectures, however, provides anything close to a definitive resolution about how the numbers in the Pentateuch are to be understood, especially since the Septuagint and Josephus agree in saying that the men who were able to serve as warriors numbered about 600,000. (Antiquities, II, ix, 3; xv, 1)
The descendants of the eleven sons of Jacob (Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher) who came with their households to Egypt and the descendants of Joseph (who already was there at that time) increased greatly in number after all members of the first generation in the land had died. (1:1-7; regarding the “70 souls” (“75 souls” [LXX]), see the comments on Genesis 46:26, 27, and the accompanying note.)
The “new king” who arose in Egypt may well have been a man with whom a new dynasty had its start. His not knowing Joseph may signify that he gave no recognition to Joseph and the service that he had rendered for the Egyptians. In his Antiquities, (II, ix, 1), Josephus specifically mentions that the “crown” had “come into another family.” The new ruler perceived that the sizable population of Israelites, the descendants of Jacob’s sons, posed a potential threat to the Egyptians, as he feared that, in a time of conflict, they might side with the enemies of the Egyptians. Therefore, he instituted forced labor, impressing the Israelites into hard service for building projects (the store cities of Pithom and Raamses [Pithom, Ramesse, and On, that is, Heliopolis (City of the Sun), LXX]) and agricultural operations. The oppressive measures did not prevent an increase in the Israelite population, but it did make life bitter for the people. (1:8-14)
In view of the continued increase of the Israelite population, the Egyptian ruler determined to stop it and commanded the midwives Shiphrah and Puah (Sepphora and Phoua [LXX]) to kill all baby boys immediately at birth and to preserve only the lives of the baby girls. The Hebrew text indicates that the midwives were Hebrews, as were the Israelites. Josephus, however, referred to them as “Egyptian midwives,” indicating that, as Egyptians, their greater loyalty would have been to the ruler so that they would not have been inclined to “transgress his commands.” (Antiquities, II, ix, 2) The Septuagint would allow for this understanding, for it identifies them as “midwives of the Hebrews,” which could be understood to mean that they were appointed as midwives for the Hebrews. It appears that the two midwives, likely heads of the other midwives for the Hebrew community, could not bring themselves to kill the baby boys. They had a fear of God, possibly meaning (if they were Egyptians) that they had a sense of accountability to a deity. Hebrew midwives would have had a wholesome fear or regard for their God. (Exodus 1:15-17; see the Note section.)
Pharaoh, the Egyptian ruler, demanded to know why the midwives had not killed the male babies as he had instructed them to do. They answered that the Hebrew women were not like the Egyptian women. Even before the midwives arrived to assist in the delivery, the Hebrew women had already given birth. The Israelites continued to increase in number, and the action of the midwives led to God’s blessing them, for they came to have their own families. Pharaoh determined to continue a campaign of genocide, commanding his subjects to throw every Hebrew male baby into the Nile River but to preserve the female babies. (1:18-22)
Targum Jonathan mentions that the chief Egyptian magicians Jannis (Jannes) and Jambres told Pharaoh that, “by the hand” or power of a child to be born to the Israelites, all the land of Egypt would be destroyed. This prompted Pharaoh to seek the death of all the Hebrew male babies. Josephus wrote (Antiquities, II, ix, 2) that one of the sacred scribes told the king that a child would be “born to the Israelites, who, if he were reared, would bring the Egyptian dominion low and would raise the Israelites,” and that this one would “excel all men in virtue and obtain a glory that would be remembered through all ages.”
The Levite (“man from the house of Levi” or a descendant of Jacob’s son Levi) was Amram. He married Jochebed who also was a descendant of Levi. According to the Hebrew text of Exodus 6:20, Jochebed was the sister of Amram’s father or Amram’s aunt. This may explain the comments in Targum Jonathan. It says that, on account of the decree of Pharaoh, Amram had separated from his wife and when they were again reunited she was 130 years old. By a miracle, she returned to the years of her youth and became pregnant. In the Septuagint, however, Iochabed (Jochebed) is identified as the daughter of the brother of Amram’s father or Amram’s cousin. (2:1)
Upon giving birth to her son, Jochebed saw what a fine or beautiful baby her son was, and she hid him for three months. The Septuagint rendering indicates that both parents recognized the beauty of the baby. When circumstances made it impossible for the baby to remain concealed and thus saved from being tossed into the Nile River to perish, Jochebed constructed a waterproof “ark”or a covered basket, placed her baby in it, and positioned the container among the reeds growing along the banks of the Nile. At a distance from where the basket had been placed, Miriam (the baby’s sister), undoubtedly at her mother’s direction (as Josephus wrote specifically [Antiquities, II, ix, 4]), watched to see what would happen to her baby brother. (2:2-4) Targum Jonathan says that the baby could not be hidden any longer because the Egyptians had become aware of his existence. (See the Notes section.)
Acts 7:20 refers to the baby as “beautiful to God,” which suggests exceptional beauty and may also indicate that this exceptional beauty indicated that he would become God’s special instrument for delivering his people from Egyptian enslavement. In his Antiquities (II, ix, 6), Josephus commented on the three-year-old boy’s beauty when others saw him. They were amazed at seeing the “beauty of his countenance.” Upon seeing him carried along the road, they would turn, stop their labors, and stand still for a great while to look at him. “The beauty of the child was so remarkable and natural to him on many accounts that it detained the spectators and made them stay longer to look upon him.”
Accompanied by her female servants, the daughter of Pharaoh came to the Nile to bathe. Noticing the basket among the reeds, she sent one of her servants to get it. Upon opening it, she saw the crying baby boy and took pity on him, concluding that the infant was one of the children of the Hebrews. (2:5, 6) Josephus wrote that Pharaoh’s daughter was named Thermuthis and that she wanted to keep the infant as her own. She asked her servants to bring her a wet nurse, but the infant refused to suckle the breast of any of the women whom they brought. Miriam approached Pharaoh’s daughter but made sure not to appear as though she had been there on purpose. She is quoted as telling Pharaoh’s daughter, “It is in vain that you, O queen, call for these women to nourish the child, [women] who are in no way related to it, but still, if you would order one of the Hebrew women to be brought, perhaps it may admit the breast of one of its own nation.” (Antiquities, II, ix, 5)
Both the extant Hebrew text and the Septuagint mention that Miriam asked Pharaoh’s daughter whether she should call one of the Hebrew women to nurse the child for her. Miriam was requested to do so, and she brought her mother to Pharaoh’s daughter, who then requested that she function as the wet nurse for the infant and said that she would pay her wages for the service. (2:7-9) Josephus added that the mother was not known to anyone there and that the infant “gladly admitted [her] breast and seemed to stick close to it.” (Antiquities, II, ix, 5)
Probably when her son no longer needed to be nursed, Jochebed brought him to the daughter of Pharaoh. It was the daughter of Pharaoh who then named the child Moses, saying, “For I drew him out of the water.” The Hebrew text appears to link the name Moses to the Hebrew verb mashah (“draw out”). (2:10) This association with mashah, however, may simply be a way to express what the daughter of Pharaoh meant by the name she gave to the infant, for she would not have been a speaker of Hebrew. Josephus indicated that the name Moses is derived from two Egyptian words. He wrote that the word for water that the Egyptians used was mou, (mo), and they called persons who were saved out of water eses. (uses). Josephus then indicated that the combination of the two words was the basis for the name Moses. (Antiquities, II, ix, 6)
In ancient Egypt, women enjoyed many of the same rights as did men, including the right to adopt children. One early case involved a woman named Nau-nakht. She adopted and raised the freed children of her female servant because of the kindness they had shown to her. So there appears to have been nothing extraordinary about the daughter of Pharaoh adopting Moses as her own son. (See the Notes section regarding the comments of Josephus about what Moses did while still a small child.)
The Exodus account makes no mention of any developments in the life of Moses as a member of the household of Pharaoh until circumstances forced him to flee from Egypt. Although there is no reference to the age of Moses when he fled from Egypt, Stephen, a devoted disciple of Jesus Christ, said that Moses was 40 years old. In his defense before the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin, Stephen also stated that Moses was educated in “all the wisdom of the Egyptians” and was “powerful in his words and works.” (Acts 7:22, 23) What Moses said must have reflected exceptional insight, and his accomplishments must have been significant. (See the Notes section about what was believed in the first century CE about the instruction Moses received and for an example of his impressive deeds.)
Although Moses had been primarily reared in the royal surroundings of Egypt, he did not forget his ties to his fellow Hebrews. When, on one occasion, he left the royal dwelling to see what his “brothers” or fellow descendants of his ancestor Jacob were enduring as persons subjected to bearing burdens, he witnessed an Egyptian taskmaster submitting a Hebrew to violent abuse, and came to the defense of the victim. After looking around to see that no one was in sight, Moses killed the Egyptian who had been beating the Hebrew and then hid the dead body in the sand. (2:11, 12; Acts 7:23, 24) Apparently to justify what he did, Targum Jonathan says that Moses, through the operation of the holy spirit, came to know that there would never come to be a proselyte from the line of the Egyptian abuser, and so he killed him. In his Antiquities (II, xi, 1), Josephus makes no mention of the incident but attributes the flight of Moses to plots that were directed against him. He wrote: When Moses “learned beforehand what plots there were against him, he went away privately; and because the public roads were watched, he took his flight through the deserts and where his enemies could not suspect he would travel.” (See the Notes section.)
In view of his having taken action for his people, Moses thought that they would “understand that, by his hand, God was granting them deliverance, but they did not understand [this].” (Acts 7:25) The next day their failure to recognize a divinely chosen deliverer became apparent. When Moses saw two Hebrews fighting with each other, he tried to effect a reconciliation so that they would be at peace. To the one who wronged his fellow Hebrew, Moses said, “Why do you strike your fellow?” The man responsible for the mistreatment responded angrily and dismissively, “Man, who made you prince and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me like you killed the Egyptian [yesterday (LXX)]?” Upon hearing this angry retort, Moses perceived that his killing of the Egyptian had become known. It was this development that led him to flee from Egypt. Moreover, the report about the slaying of the Egyptian reached Pharaoh, who then determined to kill Moses, prompting him to make his escape. He fled to the land of Midian (probably a region east of the Gulf of ’Aqaba in the northwestern part of Arabia.) Apparently tired from the journey, Moses seated himself by a well in the area. (2:14, 15; see the Notes section.)
While Moses was seated there, the seven daughters of Reuel (Ragouel [LXX]; Ragouelos [Josephus]), the priest of Midian, arrived to draw water from the well to water their father’s flock. The nature of Reuel’s priesthood is not disclosed in the account. Possibly his role was that of a chieftain who led his household in worship. He was also known as Jethro (Iothor [LXX]; Ietheglaios [Josephus], 3:1) and Jether (Iothor [LXX], 4:18) This could mean that he had several names or that his personal name was Reuel and that the designation Jethro (Jether) functioned as his title. (2:16)
As Reuel’s daughters were in the process of watering the sheep, shepherds arrived and drove them away. Moses stood up and came to the aid of the women, helping them to water their flock. Josephus expands on the reason Moses came to their assistance. “Thinking it would be a terrible reproach on him if he overlooked the young women under unjust oppression and should permit the violence of the men to prevail over the right of the maidens, he drove away the men” who wanted more than their share of the water. (Antiquities, II, xi, 2) Aware of what his daughters usually faced at the well, Reuel asked them how it happened that they had returned so quickly. They explained that an Egyptian had delivered them from the “hand” or power of the shepherds and had watered the flock for them. Likely the daughters assumed that Moses was an Egyptian on the basis of his appearance and attire, for they did not know that he was a Hebrew. After asking where the man who had helped them was and why they had left him standing, Reuel asked his daughters to invite him for a meal. (2:17-20)
Josephus (Antiquities, II, xi, 2) represents Reuel’s invitation for Moses to come as having been prompted by the daughters. They entreated their father that “he would not let this generous action be done in vain, nor go without a reward. Now the father took it well from his daughters that they were so desirous to reward their benefactor and asked them to bring Moses into his presence that he might be rewarded as he deserved.”
Moses was willing to stay with Reuel, and he gave him his daughter Zipporah (Sepphora [LXX]) to be his wife. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son whom Moses named Gershom (Gersam [LXX]). This name indicted that Moses found himself as a resident alien in a foreign land. Gershom is linked to the Hebrew expression ger sham, which may be translated a “resident alien there.” (2:21, 22)
After a long time had passed, the Pharaoh who sought to kill Moses died, but this brought no relief from oppression for the descendants of Jacob (the “sons of Israel”). They cried out to God for his help, and he “heard their groaning” and “remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.” God took note of the mistreatment they were enduring and he remembered or purposed to take action in harmony with the covenant he had concluded with their ancestors. He “saw” what the people of Israel were experiencing and he “knew” or was fully aware of their plight and took notice of it. According to the Septuagint, “God looked upon the sons of Israel and made himself known to them.” (2:23-25)
In his Antiquities (II, ix, 2-7), Josephus added numerous details about the early life of Moses but did not identify the sources on which he based his comments. Whereas the Hebrew text and the Septuagint focus on what Jochebed did, Josephus wrote much more about Amram her husband. While Jochebed was pregnant, Amram was fearful about what would happen to the nation on account of Pharaoh’s decree for the baby boys to be killed and the resultant future lack of young men. Not knowing what to do, he prayed. In answer to his prayer, God revealed the following to him: “I shall provide for you all in common what is for your good, and particularly for yourself what shall make you famous; for that child, out of dread of whose nativity the Egyptians have doomed the Israelite children to destruction, shall be this child of yours and shall be concealed from those who watch to destroy him. [See the Note section for chapter 1.) … When he is brought up in a surprising way, he will deliver the Hebrew nation from the distress they are under from the Egyptians.” (Antiquities, II, ix, 3)
After having successfully hidden and cared for the infant in their home, Amram feared that he would be discovered and incur Pharaoh’s displeasure, leading to his own death and that of his son and jeopardizing the fulfillment of God’s promise. Therefore, he determined to entrust the “safety and care of the child to God” and not “to depend on his own concealment of him.” Amram “believed that God” would see to the safety of the child so that the “truth of his own predictions” would be secure. Both he and his wife participated in constructing a waterproof ark, laid their son inside it, and set it afloat on the Nile River, leaving “its preservation to God.” (Antiquities, II, ix, 4)
Pharaoh’s daughter adopted Moses, for she had no child of her own. She thought of her adopted son as her father’s successor to the throne. Josephus quoted her as telling her father the following on one occasion: “I have brought up a child who is of divine form and of a generous mind. As I have received him from the bounty of the river in a wonderful manner, I thought proper to adopt him for my son and the heir of your kingdom.” She then placed the infant in her father’s hands, and he embraced him close to his breast. On account of his daughter, he put his diadem on the boy’s head. “Moses threw it down to the ground” and “trampled upon it with his feet.” The scribe who had foretold that one of the Hebrew children to be born “would bring the Egyptian dominion low” recognized, by what Moses did, that he was this child and, therefore, urged that he be killed. Pharaoh’s daughter snatched the boy away and prevented him from being slain. (Antiquities, II, ix, 7)
The comments of the Jewish philosopher Philo provide some insight regarding what was believed in the first century CE regarding the kind of instruction Moses received. “His mother [Jochebed], who was also his nurse, came to bring him back to the princess who had given him to her, inasmuch as he no longer required to be fed on milk, and as he was now a fine and noble child to look upon. And when the king’s daughter saw that he was more perfect than could have been expected at his age, and when from his appearance she conceived greater good will than ever towards him, she adopted him as her son.”
“The child being now thought worthy of a royal education and a royal attendance, was not, like a mere child, long delighted with toys and objects of laughter and amusement, even though those who had undertaken the care of him allowed him holidays and times for relaxation, and never behaved in any stern or morose way to him; but he himself exhibited a modest and dignified deportment in all his words and gestures, attending diligently to every lesson of every kind which could tend to the improvement of his mind. And immediately he had all kinds of masters, one after another, some coming of their own accord from the neighboring countries and the different districts of Egypt, and some being even procured from Greece by the temptation of large presents. But in a short time he surpassed all their knowledge, anticipating all their lessons by the excellent natural endowments of his own genius; so that everything in his case appeared to be a recollecting rather than a learning, while he himself also, without any teacher, comprehended by his instinctive genius many difficult subjects; for great abilities cut out for themselves many new roads to knowledge.
“And just as vigorous and healthy bodies which are active and quick in motion in all their parts, release their trainers from much care, giving them little or no trouble and anxiety, and as trees which are of a good sort, and which have a natural good growth, give no trouble to their cultivators, but grow finely and improve of themselves, so in the same manner the well-disposed soul, going forward to meet the lessons which are imparted to it, is improved in reality by itself rather than by its teachers, and taking hold of some beginning or principle of knowledge, bounds, as the proverb has it, like a horse over the plain. Accordingly he speedily learned arithmetic, and geometry, and the whole science of rhythm and harmony and meter, and the whole of music, by means of the use of musical instruments, and by lectures on the different arts, and by explanations of each topic; and lessons on these subjects were given him by Egyptian philosophers, who also taught him the philosophy which is contained in symbols, which they exhibit in those sacred characters of hieroglyphics, as they are called, and also that philosophy which is conversant about that respect which they pay to animals which they invest with the honors due to God.
“And all the other branches of the encyclical education he learned from Greeks; and the philosophers from the adjacent countries taught him Assyrian literature and the knowledge of the heavenly bodies so much studied by the Chaldaeans. And this knowledge he derived also from the Egyptians, who study mathematics above all things, and he learned with great accuracy the state of that art among both the Chaldaeans and Egyptians, making himself acquainted with the points in which they agree with and differ from each other — making himself master of all their disputes without encouraging any disputatious disposition in himself — but seeking the plain truth, since his mind was unable to admit any falsehood, as those are accustomed to do who contend violently for one particular side of a question; and who advocate any doctrine which is set before them, whatever it may be, not inquiring whether it deserves to be supported, but acting in the same manner as those lawyers who defend a cause for pay, and are wholly indifferent to the justice of their cause.” (On the Life of Moses, I, v, 18-24)
According to Josephus (Antiquities, II, x, 1, 2), Moses was a mature man when the Ethiopians invaded Egypt and succeeded in conquering many of the cities. On account of an oracle, Moses was appointed as the general to deal with this serious military threat. In command of the Egyptian forces, Moses defeated the Ethiopians, “deprived them of the hopes they had of success against the Egyptians, and went on to overthrow their cities.”
Among the Romans, a man’s coming to the defense of a severely mistreated slave and killing the cruel taskmaster would have been regarded very unfavorably. Possibly, therefore, Josephus chose to omit the reference to what Moses did for his abused fellow Hebrew. (2:11, 12)
In the Septuagint, the wording of the angry response to Moses in Exodus 2:14 is the same as that in Acts 7:27, 28.
One day while shepherding the flock of his father-in-law Jethro (Reuel) the “priest of Midian,” Moses found himself at the “mountain of God” or Horeb (Choreb [LXX]). Seemingly, Horeb is called the “mountain of God” because of the divine revelation that Moses received there. Josephus, however, wrote that men believed that God resided there and that shepherds did not dare to ascend the mountain. (Antiquities, II, xii, 1) It appears that Horeb was also called Mount Sinai (See Exodus 3:12; 19:1, 2, 10-12.) In other contexts, Horeb designated the mountainous area in which Mount Sinai was located. (3:1)
In the area, Moses noted that a bush was in flames, but the fire did not consume it. Therefore, he turned aside to determine why the bush was not burned up. From the midst of the bush, Moses then heard the voice of YHWH’s angel. That angel was the direct representative of YHWH and spoke in his name. Therefore, the account represents YHWH as speaking to Moses and telling him not to come near and to remove his footwear because the place where he stood was holy ground. The ground was holy, apparently because God had revealed himself there to Moses. Speaking in God’s name, the angel said: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Numerous translations render the singular “father” as “ancestors.” (CEV, NJB, TEV) It is preferable to retain the singular “father,” as this is also the rendering in the Septuagint. The reference to “father” could be understood to apply to Amram, the father of Moses. His forefathers (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) worshiped the only true God and so did his father Amram. Accordingly, there existed a relationship in the ancestral family with God, which included trust in him as the one who would make it possible for their descendants eventually to possess the land of Canaan. Seemingly, in recognition of his lowliness and flawed human condition, Moses, out of “fear” or reverential regard, concealed his face so as not to look upon God or upon the angel in his capacity as God’s direct representative. (3:2-6)
Through his angel, God revealed that he was fully aware of the suffering of his people and that he had heard their outcry for help and relief. He had “come down” or turned his attention to them for the purpose of bringing them out of Egypt and settling them in a land “flowing with milk and honey.” There would be an abundance of milk from female goats and cows and much honey from wild bees and also in the form of syrup obtained from fruit. At the time, the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites (Gergesites [LXX]), Hivites, and Jebusites were inhabiting the land. God commissioned Moses to go to Pharaoh and to lead his fellow Hebrews (“sons of Israel”) out of Egypt. (3:7-10)
Moses did not consider himself qualified for the task and raised the question, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and lead the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” Speaking for God, the angel assured Moses with the words, “I will be with you, and this will be the sign for you that I have sent you: When you have led the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God upon this mountain” (Horeb or Mount Sinai). (3:11, 12)
Moses believed that, upon hearing that God had sent him, the “sons of Israel” (apparently the representatives of the people) would ask him, “What is his name?” He wondered what reply he should give. The answer in the Hebrew text is, ’ehyéh ’ashér ’ehyéh, (I will be who I will be), and the rendering of these words in the Septuagint is, egó eimi ho ón (I am the one who is). Both the Hebrew words and the Septuagint rendering associate the answer with the thought of “being.” Moses was to say to the “sons” or people of Israel, ’Ehyéh (I will be [ho ón (the one who is), LXX] “has sent me to you.” The Hebrew expression ’ehyéh ’ashér ’ehyéh, may be understood to indicate that God would be exactly who he has revealed himself to be. He is the ultimate Source of everything that exists and that will come to be in fulfillment of his word and purpose. Never will he deviate from what he has declared or revealed he would prove himself to be. The rendering of the Septuagint egó eimi ho ón may in a more specific way identify God as the Eternal One, the One who is and who always will be. (3:13, 14)
Moses’ question about God’s name may relate to his wondering whether God would reveal himself under a new name that would reflect his purpose respecting his people. The words of the representative angel then specifically focused on the name that appears to incorporate the Hebrew root hayáh (to be.) “Thus say to the sons of Israel, YHWH, God of your fathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name for all time to come, and this is my memorial from generation to generation” (or throughout all generations). The distinctive name represented by the four Hebrew consonants (yod, he, waw, and he) was the name by which God wanted to be remembered for all future time. It was to be his “memorial.” He is identified as the same God who had revealed himself to the forefathers of the people of Israel, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (3:15; see the Notes section.)
YHWH’s angel instructed Moses to assemble the elders of Israel and tell them that YHWH the God of their fathers or ancestors (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) had appeared to him and that he had observed their mistreatment in Egypt. Moses was to assure them that YHWH would deliver them from the affliction they had experienced in Egypt and lead them to the land that the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, (Gergesites [LXX]), Hivites, and Jebusites were then inhabiting. It was a land “flowing with milk and honey.” (3:16, 17; see 3:8 for additional comments.)
The angel told Moses that the elders would listen to him or believe his words. Accompanied by the elders, Moses was to go to Pharaoh, saying to him that “YHWH the God of the Hebrews” had encountered them and that they desired permission for a three days’ journey into the wilderness to sacrifice to YHWH their God. The petition for a few days to leave Egypt was reasonable, and it served to test Pharaoh. If the request then had been for a permanent departure of all the people with their livestock, Pharaoh’s refusal might have been understandable. YHWH knew, however, that Pharaoh would not grant the reasonable request and that he would not let the people leave unless he was forced to do so upon experiencing a “mighty hand” or power directed against him. (3:18, 19)
Through his angel, YHWH declared that he would strike Egypt with his wonders or with deeds that would give rise to astonishment and fear. Thereafter Pharaoh would let the people depart. At that time, YHWH would “give favor” to his people before the “eyes of the Egyptians” so that they would not leave the land empty-handed. There would be no doubt in the minds of the Egyptians that the Israelites were YHWH’s people and under his care and protection, resulting in their coming to have great respect for and a measure of fear of them. As a consequence, the Egyptians would be prepared to grant their requests. The Israelite women were to ask their Egyptians neighbors or any woman residing in a neighbor’s house for articles of silver and gold and clothing. With the obtained items, the Israelite women were to dress and adorn their sons and daughters. The enslaved Israelites had worked for nothing in Egypt, and the Egyptians had greatly profited from their labor. Rightfully, then, the Israelites could exact payment and thereby despoil the Egyptians. (3:20-22)
Throughout the centuries, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob used the name YHWH freely. The abbreviated form of the name (Yah) is part of many personal names, and the name itself was used in naming places (YHWH-jireh, YHWH-nissi). In the book of Psalms, one often finds the expression “hallelujah,” which means “praise Yah [Jah]” or “praise YHWH.” Military correspondence from the time of the Babylonian conquest of the kingdom of Judah and written on pottery fragments that were found at Tell ed-Duweir in 1935 contain the name YHWH. Long before that time, non-Israelite peoples were familiar with this name. For example, in the ninth century BCE, the Moabite Stone (or Mesha Stele) was set up by King Mesha. It refers to the God of the Israelites as YHWH. In connection with his victories over Israel, Mesha boasted, “I took [vessels] of YHWH.”
In the sixth century BCE, a temple for the worship of YHWH existed in the land of Egypt, and sacrifices were offered on the altar there. A papyrus letter (written in Aramaic) from the fifth century BCE says that, when Cambyses came to Egypt, he found this temple in Elephantine. Cambyses, the son of Cyrus the Great who conquered Babylon with the military forces under his command, died in 522 BCE. This means that, before the temple was rebuilt in Jerusalem, a functioning temple existed in Egypt. According to the letter, the temple in Elephantine was destroyed at the instigation of Vidranga. His son Nefayan led Egyptians with other forces to Elephantine and leveled the temple to the ground. The letter from the fifth century BCE was addressed to “Bagoas [Bagohi], governor of Judah,” and petitioned him for support in having the temple rebuilt. Bagoas was the Persian governor, and the letter to him referred to God as YHW (the Aramaic letter represented the divine name with three letters, not four). Nevertheless, it shows that non-Israelites would have understood who was being designated by the name YHWH.
At the time Judea came under the control of Antiochus IV Epiphanes in the second century BCE, a campaign against the Jews prohibited them from using the divine name (YHWH). According to the Talmud (Rosh Hashanah, 18b), the Grecian government had forbidden the Israelites to mention God’s name. (Also see 1 Maccabees 1:10-61 about what the Jews experienced.) When, however, the “Hasmoneans became strong and defeated them” (the forces of Antiochus IV Epiphanes), they ordained that the people should include the name of God even in legal documents. The sages objected, claiming that once a debt was repaid, the debtor would throw the document away and God’s name would be dishonored.
It appears that, after the view of the “sages” came to be the dominant one, the use of the name YHWH became progressively more restrictive. This is also suggested in the way the name YHWH was written in Hebrew manuscripts. The Great Isaiah Scroll (dated between 150 and 100 BCE) contains the name YHWH in the same script as the rest of the text. In the best preserved scroll of the book of Psalms (11Q5, dated between 30 and 50 CE), the name YHWH is written in paleo-Hebrew script. It may well be that this different treatment of the divine name alerted the reader not to pronounce it. An even clearer indication of this are ancient manuscript fragments that represent the divine name by four dots (1QS, 4Q175, 4Q176). In what is called the “Community Rule” (1QS), the penalty for uttering the divine name for any reason whatsoever was expulsion, and the individual was not allowed to return to the “Council of the Community.” Josephus, probably expressing the view of the Pharisees, wrote, “God declared to [Moses] the holy name, which had never been discovered to men before; concerning which it is not lawful for me to say any more.” (Antiquities, II, xii, 4)
In ancient Greek translations of the Hebrew Scriptures such as the fragmentary Minor Prophets Scroll (8HevXIIgr), the name YHWH appears in paleo-Hebrew script. Without knowing the ancient Hebrew script nor how the name should be pronounced, the presence of the divine name would have been meaningless to a Greek reader. It would have been comparable to the experience of someone today who only knows English and then finds Hebrew letters in an English text. Another factor that poses a problem when Hebrew letters are inserted into a Greek text is that Hebrew is read from right to left, whereas Greek is read from left to right. Some copyists of the Hebrew name YHWH made it resemble the Hebrew in Greek capital letters (Π Ι Π Ι), which led to the mispronunciation of the divine name as Pipi. A fragment of a Greek translation of the book of Leviticus [4Q129, thought to date from the first century BCE] transliterates the divine name as IAO, which would suggest the pronunciation Yahoh. This Greek transliteration may have been widely known, for it is found in the writings of the historian Diodorus Siculus (c. 80 BCE to c. 20 BCE). Diodorus Siculus mentioned “Moses [Moyses] and the God who is invoked as Iao.” (Book I, 94) Possibly IAO was the manner in which the oldest Greek manuscripts of the Hebrew Scriptures represented the divine name. In later centuries, this transliteration of the name YHWH seems to have disappeared, and the Jews, in general, did not pronounce the name. As a memorial name, only the four letters have been preserved, but the ancient pronunciation has been lost, apparently on account of developments that started in the second century BCE.
Although having been assured that the elders of Israel would heed his words, Moses was hesitant. Perhaps he recalled what had happened when he came to the defense of a fellow Hebrew and afterward tried to restore peace between two Hebrews who were quarreling. Moses felt that the people would not believe him, questioning that YHWH had indeed appeared to him. (4:1)
Through his angel, YHWH empowered Moses to perform three signs or miracles to back up his words. The angel told him to cast his rod on the ground,and it became a serpent from which Moses fled. Moses was then to grasp the serpent by the tail, and it became a “rod in his hand.” Next Moses was to place his hand into his bosom or the upper fold of his garment. Upon taking the hand out, he saw that it had turned white like snow as if stricken with leprosy. Upon returning his hand into his bosom and taking it out again, Moses saw that the skin of the hand looked like the rest of his skin (literally, “flesh”). The angel continued to speak, saying that, if the Israelites did not believe Moses and disregarded the first sign (the one involving the rod), they may believe the second sign (the change of the skin of the hand to a leprous condition and then back to a healthy state). If the people did not believe upon witnessing the two “signs,” Moses could take water from the Nile River and pour it on the ground. That water would become “blood on the dry ground.” It would not be transformed into human or animal blood but would come to have the appearance of blood. This is also the way in which Josephus (Antiquities, II, xii, 3) understood the miracle to take place when he referred to it as being done initially at Mount Sinai. “[Moses] also, upon God’s command, took some of the water that was near him and poured it upon the ground, and [he] saw the color was that of blood.” (4:2-9)
Despite being empowered to perform miracles, Moses considered himself unqualified for the commission that had been given to him. Forty years previously he had thought that fellow Hebrews would understand that he was God’s chosen instrument to deliver them from Egyptian enslavement. (7:7; Acts 7:23-25) At the age of 80, however, he presented reasons for being unsuitable to function in this capacity. Directing his words to YHWH, Moses said, “My Lord, I am not a man of words” [or eloquent], either yesterday or three days ago or since you have spoken to your servant, for I am slow of speech (weak-voiced [LXX]) and slow of tongue.” The expression “yesterday or three days ago” is a Hebrew idiom that may be understood to mean “recently or in the past.” Moses’ words indicate that he did not consider himself a good speaker at any time in the past nor then but regarded himself as a man who had difficulty in expressing himself. (4:10)
YHWH’s response, conveyed through his angel, reproved Moses. “Who made man’s mouth [gave man a mouth (LXX)], or who makes the speechless or the deaf, or the seeing or the blind? Is it not I, YHWH?” The various conditions in which humans may find themselves have come to be because YHWH has permitted them to exist. He does not directly cause individuals to be speechless, deaf, or blind. As the One who fully understands the organs involved in speaking, he can use whoever he may choose as his messengers. YHWH did not release Moses from the assignment he had given him, but instructed him to go and assured him that he would be with him and tell him what to say. Still, Moses continued to object to his being commissioned to appear before Pharaoh and to ask that his fellow Hebrews be liberated from enslavement. He requested that a more qualified person be sent and thereby incurred YHWH’s anger or displeasure. YHWH called Moses’ attention to his brother Aaron who could indeed speak and fill the role of his spokesman. At the time, Aaron was on his way to meet him and, “in his heart” or his inmost self, would be happy to see him. (4:11-14)
Moses was to be the one to relay the words that his brother Aaron would then speak. YHWH told Moses that he would be with his mouth and with that of Aaron, assuring Moses that whatever either one of them would say had his backing. Moreover, YHWH promised to teach both men what they were to do. Aaron would function as the spokesman for Moses to the people, acting as the “mouth” for him. Moses’s role would be that of God to Aaron, for Moses would be speaking the words that God had given him and would be functioning as his representative. The Septuagint indicates that, with reference to Aaron, Moses would be occupied with “matters pertaining to God.” To perform the signs or miracles that he had been empowered to do, Moses was instructed to take with him the rod he held in his hand (literally, the “rod of God” [“the rod (which was) from God” (LXX)]). (4:15-17)
Thereafter Moses asked his father-in-law Jethro (Reuel) whose flock he shepherded (3:1) for permission to return to his “brothers” or kinsmen in Egypt to see whether they were still alive (or how they were faring). Jethro wished him well, saying, “Go in peace.” (4:18)
The account does not reveal how Moses received the message from YHWH that instructed him to return to Egypt and informed him that all the men who had been seeking his soul, or wanting to take his life, were dead. With his wife Zipporah and his two sons Gershom and Eliezer (2:21, 22; 18:2-4), Moses departed. He seated his wife and children on a donkey (draft animals [LXX]), and he appears to have walked with the rod that he would later use to perform signs or miracles (literally, the “rod of God” [“the rod [which was] from God” (LXX)]). (4:19, 20)
YHWH directed Moses to perform all the “wonders” or miracles that he had been empowered to do before Pharaoh. The Egyptian ruler, however, would not be responsive to the request that the Israelites be permitted to leave the country. YHWH is quoted as saying that he would “harden [Pharaoh’s] heart,” allowing him to persist in his refusal to let the people depart. As he was the source of the signs Moses performed and the plagues that followed, YHWH hardened Pharaoh’s heart or caused him to be stubbornly defiant by means of them. The message to Pharaoh was to be: “Israel is my son, my firstborn [God’s people with whom he had a special relationship like that of a father to his firstborn son]. And I have said to you, Let my son go that he may serve me. And should you refuse to let him go, look, I will slay your son, your firstborn.” (4:21-23)
While Moses and his family were on their way and had stopped to rest for the night, something unexpected happened. According to a literal reading of the Hebrew text, “YHWH met him and sought to kill him. And Zipporah took a flint stone, cut off the foreskin of her son, and touched his feet and said, A bridegroom of blood you [are] to me. And he withdrew from him. Then she said, A bridegroom of blood because of the circumcision.” (4:24-26)
From the context, one cannot definitively determine whose life was in danger, whose feet the foreskin touched, whether the word for “feet” is used euphemistically to denote the organ of procreation, and what the expression “bridegroom of blood” meant. The obscurity of the Hebrew text has led to a variety of interpretive renderings. “On the journey, while they were encamped for the night, the LORD met Moses and would have killed him, but Zipporah picked up a sharp flint, cut off her son’s foreskin, and touched Moses’ genitals with it, saying, ‘You are my blood-bridegroom.’ So the LORD let Moses alone. It was on that occasion she said, ‘Blood-bridegroom by circumcision.’” (REB) “At a camping place on the way to Egypt, the LORD met Moses and tried to kill him. Then Zipporah, his wife, took a sharp stone, cut off the foreskin of her son, and touched Moses’ feet with it. Because of the rite of circumcision she said to Moses, ‘You are a husband of blood to me.’ And so the Lord spared Moses’ life.” (TEV) “One night while Moses was in camp, the LORD was about to kill him. But Zipporah circumcised her son with a flint knife. She touched his legs [either those of Moses or those of the boy (footnote)] with the skin she had cut off and said, ‘My dear son, this blood will protect you [or you are a man of blood (footnote)].’ So the LORD did not harm Moses. Then Zipporah said, ‘Yes, my dear, you are safe because of this circumcision.’” (CEV) In view of the fact that Moses was chosen to liberate his people from enslavement in Egypt, it appears puzzling that YHWH, by his representative angel, purposed to kill Moses. Contextually, however, Moses appears to be the one whose life was in danger, for the third person singular does not fit the reference to “sons.” One conjecture is that Moses also was not circumcised and that, vicariously by the circumcision of the firstborn son, he was circumcised and thus, in a new sense, became the bridegroom or husband of Zipporah through the blood of circumcision. It, however, is unlikely that Moses was uncircumcised, for baby boys were circumcised on the eighth day in obedience to the covenant God concluded with Abraham. (Genesis 17:9-14)
Like numerous modern translations, Targum Jonathan is specific in indicating that the life of Moses was in danger. It says that, because of the objection of Jethro, the father of Zipporah, Gershom was not circumcised but that Moses and Jethro made an agreement for the second son, Eliezer, to be circumcised. Targum Jonathan continues: “And Zipporah took a stone, and circumcised the foreskin of Gershom her son, and brought the severed part to the feet of the angel, the Destroyer, and said, The husband sought to circumcise, but the father-in-law obstructed him; and now let this blood of the circumcision atone for my husband. And the destroying angel desisted from him, so that Zipporah gave thanks, and said, How lovely is the blood of this circumcision that has delivered my husband from the angel of destruction!”
The Septuagint differs from the way the account about the circumcision is narrated in the Hebrew text. It indicates that, after Zipporah circumcised her son, she fell at the feet of the angel and said to him that the “blood of the circumcision is stopped” or had ceased to flow. The Septuagint concludes with the words, “And he [the angel] went away from him, for she said, The blood of the circumcision of my child is stopped.” Perhaps at this point, Zipporah and her two sons returned to the household of her father, for it was not until the Israelites left Egypt as a free people that she and her two sons were reunited with Moses. (4:24-26; 18:2-6)
Possibly through an angel, YHWH revealed himself to Aaron, directing him to go into the wilderness to meet his brother Moses. They met at the “mountain of God” (Horeb or Sinai). Aaron kissed his brother. Moses told Aaron all that YHWH had made known to him and about the signs or miracles that he had been empowered to perform. After arriving in Egypt, Moses and Aaron arranged for the elders of the people of Israel to assemble. Aaron, as Moses’ spokesman, related all the “words that YHWH had spoken to Moses and performed the signs before [their] eyes.” The assembled elders believed (“and rejoiced” [LXX]) that YHWH had “visited,” or turned his attention to, his people and had “seen” or become fully aware of their affliction. This moved them to bow their heads and to prostrate themselves in worship. (4:27-31)
After having met with the elders of the “sons [or people] of Israel,” Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh, informing him that “YHWH the God of Israel” was telling him to let his people depart from Egypt to observe a festival in the wilderness. Defiantly, Pharaoh declared: “Who is YHWH that I should obey [literally, hear] his voice and let Israel go? I do not know YHWH, and moreover I will not let Israel go.” Pharaoh knew that YHWH was the God of the people he had enslaved, but he did not “know” or recognize him as the true God who had to be obeyed. Furthermore, he did not believe that he would face serious consequences for resisting YHWH’s will. (5:1, 2; see the Note section regarding the comments of Josephus.)
Apparently Moses related the message to Aaron who then conveyed it to Pharaoh, saying: “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Let us go, we request, a journey of three days into the wilderness and sacrifice to YHWH our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” Disobedience would have led to his withdrawing protection from his people, leading to their either being afflicted with serious disease or coming under military attack in their vulnerable position in the land of Goshen. In response, Pharaoh accused Moses and Aaron of keeping the people from their labors and added, “Get to your burdens [or labors].” It appears that he believed that, for the Israelites to desist from their burdens would be disruptive to Egypt, for the people were numerous. So he objected with the words, “And you made them rest from their burdens [or labors].” (5:3-5)
Pharaoh decided to make the labors of the enslaved Israelites more difficult. That same day he gave a charge to the taskmasters and the foremen of the people of Israel not to provide them with straw as an ingredient for making bricks. Instead, they were to gather it themselves and still make the same quantity of bricks as had been their previous quota. He claimed that they were lazy and that, because of not having enough to do, they wanted to leave and sacrifice to their God. Pharaoh insisted that heavier work be imposed on the Israelite men so that they would cease paying attention to lying words. Apparently what he termed “lying words” or deceitful promises related to the opportunity the Israelites would have to depart in order to sacrifice to their God. (5:6-9)
In keeping with the command of Pharaoh, the taskmasters and foremen told the Israelite laborers that they would not be given any straw. (5:10) To make the bricks, workers would mix finely chopped-up pieces of straw with the clay, moisten the mixture with water, and trample it underfoot. With the straw in the clay, the substance was easier to mold by hand or to be pressed into four-sided wooden molds. Additionally, as has been established by experiments in modern times, the inclusion of straw in the clay made the sun-dried or kiln-dried bricks three times stronger than bricks made without the use of straw.
After being told that they would have to get the straw themselves and still have to produce the same amount of bricks, the laborers scattered throughout Egypt to find stubble. Although this required significant time that otherwise could have been used for making bricks, the Egyptian taskmasters insisted that the workers meet the daily production quota. When they failed, the Israelite foremen whom the Egyptian taskmasters had placed in charge of the Israelite workforce were beaten and asked why the daily quota of bricks had not been attained. Therefore, the foremen complained to Pharaoh for what had happened to them because the workers were not given straw. He callously answered them, “You are idle; you are idle. Therefore, you say, Let us go to sacrifice to YHWH. And now go, work; and straw will not be given to you, and the same number of bricks you must deliver.” (5:11-18)
The Israelite foreman recognized the impossible situation in which they had been placed. So when they met Moses and Aaron after having left Pharaoh’s presence, the foremen said to them, “May YHWH look upon you and judge, for you have made us a stench in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of his servants [or court officials] and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.” According to the Septuagint rendering, the foremen blamed Moses and Aaron for having put such a sword into the hand of Pharaoh so as to kill them. Disheartened by the unfavorable developments, Moses directed his complaint to YHWH. “Why, O Lord, have you done evil to this people? Why now did you send me? And since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered [literally, and delivering, you have not delivered] your people.” (5:19-23)
In his Antiquities (II, xiii, 2), Josephus indicated that Moses called Pharaoh’s attention to what he had done for the Egyptians. Moses “came to the king who had indeed but lately received the government and told him how much he had done for the good of the Egyptians when they were despised by the Ethiopians and their country had been laid waste by them; and how he had been the commander of their forces and had labored for them as if they had been his own people.” Moses “informed him in what danger he had been during that expedition, without having any proper” rewards given to him “as he had deserved.” He also told Pharaoh concerning what had happened to him at Mount Sinai, what God had said to him, and the signs God did to assure him of the authority of the commands he had given him. Moses also exhorted Pharaoh not to disbelieve what he had told him nor to oppose God’s will.
In response to his complaint as to why God had let the people of Israel continue to experience affliction, Moses received the divine assurance that he would see Pharaoh, by a “strong hand” (“by a strong hand” and a “raised arm”), or mighty divine power directed against him, forced to drive the people out of Egypt. God is then quoted as telling Moses: “I am YHWH, and I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as God Almighty, and by my name YHWH I did not make myself known to them.” (6:1-3; see the Notes section.)
In his dealings with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God revealed himself as the Almighty. For example, he demonstrated his role as the Almighty One when he revived the reproductive powers of Abraham and Sarah, making it possible for Sarah to give birth to Isaac in her old age. Moreover, based on the blessings and protective care they experienced, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would have discerned that God was the Almighty One, the Sovereign. According to the Genesis account, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and persons who lived long before their time were acquainted with the name YHWH. Therefore, their not knowing the unique name appears to relate to their not knowing everything that it signified — the fuller knowledge of the Almighty as the God to whom people of all the nations must submit. It would be futile for individuals, tribes, and nations to resist God’s will.
For the Israelites in the time of Moses, the name YHWH would come to have greater significance than it did for their forefathers. This is evident from the quoted words of YHWH that follow. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob received the promise that their descendants, the Israelites, would receive the land of Canaan as their possession, a land in which their forefathers lived as resident aliens. The Israelites would come to know YHWH as the fulfiller of his promise and as the God who was fully aware of their suffering and groaning in Egypt. He would not forget the covenant he had concluded with their forefathers, but would demonstrate that he remembered it by acting in harmony therewith. YHWH would display his mighty power (literally, his “outstretched arm”) and deliver the Israelites from Egyptian enslavement and oppression. They would witness the impressive judgments of YHWH in the form of ten devastating plagues upon the Egyptians. Furthermore, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as a people would be brought into a special relationship with YHWH. They would come to be his own people, and he would be their God YHWH, their God under whose protection and care they would find themselves. The Israelites would come to know YHWH in a greatly expanded way because of his freeing them from the harsh bondage that the Egyptians had imposed on them. They would take possession of the land that he swore (literally, “lifted up his hand” [as when taking an oath]) to give to their forefathers (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). (6:3-8)
As at other times, YHWH likely used his representative angel to speak to Moses. Thereafter Moses related the words to the “sons [or people] of Israel.” They, however, did not “hear” or “listen” to Moses from the standpoint of their not believing his words. The people were disheartened or discouraged (literally, they experienced “shortness of spirit”) on account of the harsh bondage to which they had been submitted. When YHWH told Moses to go to Pharaoh and inform him that he should let the “sons [or people] of Israel” depart from his land, he objected that the “sons of Israel” had not listened to him. So how could it be that Pharaoh would listen? Moses then referred to his lack of eloquence, saying, “And I am a man of uncircumcised lips” (as if a man with a speech impediment who could not express himself well). Nevertheless, YHWH gave Moses and Aaron the charge that applied both to the “sons of Israel” and to Pharaoh. That charge was for the “sons [or people] of Israel” to be led out of Egypt. According to the Septuagint, God instructed Moses and Aaron to inform Pharaoh that he should “send the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt.” (6:9-13; see the Notes section.)
At this point in the narrative, the heads of three paternal houses of the people of Israel are listed. They are: The sons of Reuben (Rouben [LXX]) the firstborn of Israel — Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi (Enoch, Phallous, Asron, and Charmi [LXX]); the sons of Simeon (Symeon [LXX]) — Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul the son of a Canaanite woman (Iemouel, Iamin, Aod, Iachin, Saar, and Saoul the one from the Phoenician [LXX]); the sons of Levi (Leui [LXX]) — Gershon, Kohath, and Merari (Gedson [Gerson], Kaath, and Merari [LXX]). In view of the role of Moses and Aaron, the family line of Levi is continued. Levi died at the age of 137. The sons of Gershon (Gedson [Gerson], LXX) were Libni and Shimei (Lobeni and Semei [LXX]). Kohath (Kaath [LXX] had four sons (Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel [Ambram, Issaar, Chebron, and Oziel (LXX)]) and lived 133 (130 [LXX]) years. The sons of Merari were Mahli and Mushi (Mooli and Omousi [LXX]). (6:14-19)
Amram (Ambram [LXX]) married Jochebed (Iochabed [LXX]) the daughter of his father’s brother or his aunt. According to the Septuagint, however, Jochebed was Amram’s cousin (the daughter of his father’s brother). Jochebed gave birth to the sons Aaron and Moses (Moyses [LXX]) and their sister Miriam (Mariam [LXX]). Her husband Amram died at the age of 137. (6:20; for additional comments, see Exodus 2:1 and the Notes section.)
The sons of Izhar (Issaar [LXX]) were Korah, Nepheg, and Zichri (Kore, Naphek, and Zechri [LXX]). Uzziel (Oziel [LXX]) had three sons (Mishael, Elzaphan, and Sithri [Elisaphan and Setri (LXX); Mishael is omitted in Rahlfs’ text of the Septuagint]). Aaron the brother of Moses married Elisheba (Elisabeth [LXX]) the daughter of Amminadab (Aminadab [LXX]) and the sister of Nahshon (Naasson [LXX]). She gave birth to four sons (Nadab, Abihu [Abioud (LXX), Eleazar, and Ithamar. The sons of Korah (Kore [LXX]) were Assir (Asir [LXX]), Elkanah (Elkana [LXX]), and Abiasaph. Aaron’s son Eleazar married one of the daughters of Putiel (Phoutiel [LXX]), and she gave birth to Phinehas (Phinees [LXX]). (6:21-25)
The more extensive listing of the family line of Levi through Kohath served to identify the two brothers Aaron and Moses as the ones whom YHWH had commissioned to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. The two brothers informed Pharaoh regarding this. At the time YHWH, probably through his angel, spoke to Moses, he said, “I am YHWH; speak to Pharaoh the king of Egypt everything that I speak to you.” Considering himself to be not well-suited for the task, Moses objected, “Look, I am uncircumcised of lips [weak-voiced (LXX)]. How then will Pharaoh listen to me?” (6:26-30; see the Notes section.)
It appears that Josephus (Antiquities, II, xii, 4) believed that the revelation of the name YHWH did not precede the time of Moses. Also in modern times, many basically have agreed with this interpretation of the words of Exodus 6:3. The literal view of these words would require interpreting the references to the name YHWH in the Genesis account as reflecting what the Israelites knew at the time the account came to be in its final written form and not what individuals knew about God’s name YHWH and their use of the name in earlier centuries.
The Septuagint does not use the expression “uncircumcised of lips.” In verse 12, the rendering is alogós, and this word commonly means “unreasonable.” Possibly the thought is that Moses lacked eloquence or the ability to express himself well as would be characteristic of a person lacking reasonableness. In verse 30, the Septuagint reads, ischnóphonós (weak-voiced).
Before the Israelites received the law at Mount Sinai, marriage to an aunt was not prohibited. If the Hebrew reading of Exodus 6:20 preserves the original text, Amram married his aunt Jochebed. Manuscripts of the Septuagint vary about the age at which Amram died (132, 136, 137).
YHWH purposed to make Moses “God” to Pharaoh and his brother Aaron his “prophet.” In his role as “God” to Pharaoh, Moses would represent YHWH, speak the words he revealed to him, and do everything he commanded. As Moses’ prophet, Aaron would relate and act according to the messages that his brother received from YHWH. Moses was to speak everything that YHWH commanded him, and Aaron would then tell Pharaoh everything, with the main message being that Pharaoh should permit the Israelites to leave Egypt. (7:1, 2)
YHWH knew beforehand that Pharaoh would defiantly refuse to obey. By allowing him to become obstinate, YHWH hardened his heart or his disposition and used the time during which Pharaoh manifested his stubborn attitude to perform impressive signs and wonders in Egypt, revealing himself to be the Supreme Sovereign whose will could never be successfully resisted. YHWH determined to lead his people out of Egypt subsequent to inflicting severe judgments upon the Egyptians. After he “stretched out [his] hand,” or directed his power, against the Egyptians and liberated his people from enslavement, they would “know” or be forced to recognize him as YHWH, the Almighty God, and their own gods and goddesses as powerless to help them. (7:3-5)
Moses and Aaron did everything YHWH commanded them to do. At the time of their speaking to Pharaoh, Moses was 80 years old and Aaron was 83. (7:6, 7) There were times when Aaron’s speaking was accompanied by his use of the rod that Moses had used as a shepherd. When Aaron held it and was directed to use it, this rod is identified as Aaron’s rod.
Upon Pharaoh’s asking for a (sign or [LXX]) wonder, YHWH directed that Moses tell Aaron to take his rod and throw it down on the ground before Pharaoh (“and before his servants” [or officials in the court]). It would then become a serpent (dragon [LXX]). Moses and Aaron did what they had been commanded, Aaron threw down his rod, and it turned into a serpent (dragon [LXX]). In response, Pharaoh summoned his sages and sorcerers or magicians. Resorting to their secret arts, these men threw down their rods and they became serpents (dragons [LXX]). Aaron’s rod, however, swallowed up their rods, establishing the superiority of the wonder that he performed. The Exodus account does not reveal whether the magicians seemingly duplicated the wonder through slight of hand or by holding the serpents in a manner that made them stiff and look like a rod until they were cast down. (7:8-12; see the Notes section regarding the comments of Josephus about this incident and also that of Targum Jonathan concerning the magicians.)
Despite witnessing what the “rod of Aaron” had done, Pharaoh continued to have a hardened heart or stubbornly to resist letting the Israelites leave. As YHWH had revealed to them beforehand, Pharaoh refused to listen or heed what Moses and Aaron said. YHWH then instructed them to take along the rod that had been turned into a serpent and to wait for Pharaoh at the edge of the Nile the next morning, at which time he would be arriving. (7:13-15) The Exodus account does not explain why Pharaoh would come to the Nile in the morning. Targum Jonathan says that he did this to “observe divinations at the water as a magician.” Another reason, in view of the importance of Nile flooding to supply water for irrigation, could be that Pharaoh may have been on an inspection tour to see the level of the river.
The message for Pharaoh was that “YHWH, the God of the Hebrews,” had sent Moses to him to request that he let his people leave to serve him in the wilderness, but he had not obeyed. Therefore, YHWH purposed to have the Nile struck “with the rod” so that the water would be turned into blood. The river would become toxic, causing the fish to die. It would become fowl smelling, and the Egyptians would not be able to drink the water. This would make it clear to Pharaoh that the God who had sent Moses was YHWH and needed to be obeyed. (7:16-18)
YHWH instructed Moses to tell Aaron to take his rod and stretch out his hand, apparently the arm of the hand that held the rod, over the water of Egypt. This is probably to be understood concerning the section of the Nile where they were standing and over the canals, ponds, and pools of water. All visible water would become blood, including that in wooden and stone vessels. Before the “eyes” or in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants or court officials, Aaron did as he was directed, and the water changed into blood. This was not human blood nor that of any specific animal, but the water came to look exactly like blood and came to have toxic properties. Fish were killed, and the Egyptians could not drink the water. (7:19-21) The way the water then looked may have resembled a satellite image of the Nile River that was taken in 2016. Infrared technology revealed the water to have taken on a deep red color which had resulted from the heat of the surrounding vegetation.
With their secret arts, the magicians of Egypt were able to change water into blood. The Exodus account does not say where they obtained the water. According to verse 24, the Egyptians could obtain drinking water by digging for it along the banks of the Nile. So there is a possibility that this was the source for the water the magicians used. Targum Jonathan indicates that the waters of Goshen were not affected by the miracle and says that the magicians changed these waters into blood. Subsequently Pharaoh’s heart was hardened or he became stubbornly and defiantly resistant to heeding YHWH’s word directed to him through Moses and Aaron. Pharaoh returned to his own house and gave no consideration to the miracle he had witnessed after Aaron stretched out his rod. Meanwhile, the Egyptians had to continue digging for drinking water by the Nile, for the plague lasted seven days. (7:22-25; see the Notes section.)
According to Josephus, Pharaoh derided Moses, claiming that he had run away from Egyptian slavery and returned “with deceitful tricks, wonders and magical arts to astonish him.” Moses was undaunted by what the men he whom Pharaoh summoned did with their rods. He is quoted as telling Pharaoh: “‘I do not myself despise the wisdom of the Egyptians, but I say that what I do is so much superior to what these do by magic arts and tricks, as divine power exceeds the power of man. I will demonstrate that what I do is not done by craft, or counterfeiting what is not really true, but that [the wonders] appear by the providence and power of God.’ When he had said this, he cast his rod down upon the ground and commanded it to turn itself into a serpent. It obeyed him, went all around, and devoured the rods of the Egyptians, which seemed to be dragons, until it had consumed them all. It then returned to its own form, and Moses took it into his hand again.” (Antiquities, II, xiii, 3)
Targum Jonathan names two magicians Janis and Jamberes (Jannes and Jambres). In his second letter to Timothy (3:8), the apostle Paul also referred to Jannes and Jambres as resisting Moses.
The changing of the water of the Nile River into blood (7:19-25) would have revealed the impotence of the Nile god Hapi, a fertility deity that was regarded as responsible for the Nile floods that supplied the needed water for irrigation. As Exodus 12:12 indicates, the judgments were also directed against “all the gods of Egypt.”
Regarding the effect from the plague on the water of the Nile, Josephus wrote: “The water was not only of the color of blood, but it brought upon those who ventured to drink of it great pains and bitter torment.” (Antiquities, II, xiv, 1)
YHWH commanded Moses to return to Pharaoh and again request that he let his people depart from Egypt to serve him. If he refused to let them leave, Egypt would be overrun by a plague of frogs that would come up from the Nile. (8:1-4 [7:26-29])
YHWH directed Moses to tell Aaron to stretch out his hand with the rod (the arm of the hand with which he held the rod) over the rivers, canals and pools to cause frogs to come up and spread out over the land of Egypt. Aaron did so and the frogs covered the land. With their secret arts, the Egyptian magicians also seemed to cause frogs to come up from the water, but they were unable to end the plague. The croaking of frogs and their presence in houses, sleeping quarters, beds, ovens, and kneading bowls must have been extremely annoying, prompting Pharaoh to summon Moses and Aaron with the request that they entreat YHWH to end the plague. He even agreed to let the Israelites depart from Egypt to sacrifice to YHWH. (8:5-8 [8:1-4]; see the Notes section.)
Moses granted Pharaoh the honor over him to designate the time for the entreaty to be made so that the frogs would no longer plague him and his people, perishing from the houses and only remaining in the river. After Pharaoh asked that it happen the next day, Moses said that it would take place so that Pharaoh would come to know or recognize that there is no one like YHWH, the God of his people Israel. Frogs would cease to be in the houses and would only remain in the Nile. After leaving the presence of Pharaoh with his brother Aaron, Moses prayed to YHWH regarding the frogs. God answered according to Moses’ petition, and the frogs in the houses, courtyards, and fields died. The Egyptians piled up the dead frogs and the land began to stink as the frogs decayed. (8:9-14 [8:5-10])
After Pharaoh experienced relief from the plague of frogs, he went back on his word. He “hardened his heart” or stubbornly refused to let the Israelites depart to sacrifice in the wilderness to YHWH their God. Just as YHWH had revealed beforehand, Pharaoh refused to heed the words conveyed to him through Moses and Aaron. (8:15 [8:11])
YHWH told Moses to direct Aaron to stretch out his rod and to strike the dust of the earth or land, causing the dust to give rise to gnats . After Aaron acted on the directive and gnats came to be on people and animals, the Egyptian magicians tried to do the same with their secret arts but were unsuccessful. They said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger [or power] of God.” Targum Jonathan refers to them as saying that the plague was “not by the power or strength of Mosheh and Aharon [Moses and Aaron],” but that it was a plague “sent from before YY” (Yeya [YHWH]). Despite what he had witnessed, Pharaoh continued his stubborn resistance, not permitting the Israelites to leave in order to sacrifice to YHWH in the wilderness. His “heart” was hardened or he remained defiant in his refusal to heed the words of Moses and Aaron. (8:16-19 [8:12-15]; see the Notes section.)
YHWH instructed Moses to rise early in the morning and then to head for the water, evidently the Nile River, to meet Pharaoh. The ruler of Egypt would be coming to the water. His reason for arriving in the morning is not stated in the Exodus account. Possibly it was to make an inspection of the water level, for water from the Nile was needed for irrigation purposes. Targum Jonathan refers to Pharaoh as going forth “to observe divinations at the water, as a magician.” Again the word of YHWH for Pharaoh was, “Let my people go that they may serve me.” If he refused, Pharaoh, his officials, and his subjects would experience a plague of stinging flies. These could have been horseflies or “dog flies” (LXX). Female horseflies are blood-sucking insects, and both male and female dog flies suck blood. These insects can inflict significant pain on their victims. In the case of this particular plague, the Egyptians would see that they alone had swarms of these insects fill their houses and that they would be throughout their land, but the Israelites would be spared. None of these insects would be found in Goshen. This demarcation between the Egyptians and the Israelites would serve to let Pharaoh know that YHWH is the God “in the midst of the land” or the God who was actively involved in everything that occurred in the land of Egypt or in all lands (or in the whole “earth”) (8:20-22 [8:16-18]; see the Notes section.)
YHWH revealed that the plague would start the next day. After Pharaoh, his officials, and his subjects suffered from the effects of the plague, he summoned Moses and Aaron and told them that they could sacrifice to their God in the land (in Egypt). To this Moses replied that it would not be acceptable to do so in Egypt, as the Egyptians would regard the sacrificing as abominable and would kill the Israelites by stoning. In the fifth century BCE, the Greek historian Herodotus (Histories, II, 65) wrote that the punishment for killing a sacred animal intentionally was death. Therefore, the Israelites needed to undertake a journey of three days into the wilderness and there sacrifice to YHWH their God as he had commanded them. (8:23-27 [8:19-23])
Pharaoh agreed to let the Israelites go to sacrifice to YHWH, but he did not want them to go so far away into the wilderness. Moreover, he wanted YHWH to be entreated for him. Before departing from Pharaoh’s presence and telling him that he would pray to YHWH so that the plague would end the next day, Moses made it clear that he should not trifle with the Israelites, going back on his word and refusing to let the people go to sacrifice to YHWH. In answer to Moses’ prayer, YHWH brought an end to the plague. After experiencing relief, Pharaoh did not keep his word. He hardened his heart or continued to be stubborn in his refusal to let the Israelites leave to sacrifice to YHWH. (8:28-32 [8:24-28])
The plague of frogs may especially have been troubling to the Egyptians, as their goddess Heqet (also spelled Heket, Heqtit, Heqat, and Heqt), a deity of childbirth and fertility, was powerless to do anything to stop the plague. This goddess was represented as a frog or as a woman with the head of a frog, and what was sacred to her had been transformed into an annoying plague.
There is some uncertainty about the Hebrew word rendered “gnats” (ken, kinnim [plural]). It was most likely a blood-sucking insect like a gnat, mosquito, louse, or flea. The plague of these insects could not be duplicated by means of the Egyptian secret arts, and would have exposed the weakness of the god Thoth (the inventor of magic) and the god Heka (Hekau), a deity associated with magic and medicine.
In a significant manner, the fourth plague (8:18 [8:14]) exposed the Egyptian deities as powerless. Whereas YHWH protected his people from the effects of this plague, the gods and goddesses whom the Egyptians revered could not shield them from experiencing its full impact.
Again YHWH, probably by means of his representative angel, told Moses to go to Pharaoh, informing him that YHWH, the God of the Hebrews, was requiring that he permit his people, the Israelites, to leave Egypt in order to serve him. Refusal on his part would lead to his witnessing the “hand [or power] of YHWH” directed against cattle, horses, donkeys, camels, and herds (of cattle) and flocks (of sheep and goats) out in the field. The domestic animals would be afflicted with a serious pestilence that would result in a high mortality rate. None of the domestic animals belonging to the Israelites, however, would die. As announced beforehand, the pestilence did strike the next day, with only the animals of the Egyptians dying. Pharaoh apparently sent men in his service to investigate the situation among the Israelites and received a report that not one of their animals had died. Nevertheless, Pharaoh did not change his attitude. He hardened his heart, remaining stubbornly defiant, and refused to let the people of Israel leave. (9:1-7; see the Notes section.)
The word of YHWH, doubtless through his representative angel, directed Moses and Aaron to take handfuls of ashes or soot from a kiln and then for Moses to throw the ashes skyward before the “eyes” (or in the sight) of Pharaoh. By means of this act, the Egyptians and their domestic animals would be stricken with painful boils. The pain proved to be so severe that the magicians of Egypt were unable to stand before Moses. Pharaoh, however, did not change his attitude. YHWH permitted him to remain defiant and thus hardened his heart. Pharaoh, as YHWH had revealed beforehand, refused to listen to Moses and Aaron, remaining unresponsive to the request that he permit the Israelites to leave Egypt in order to serve their God. (9:8-13; see the Notes section.)
YHWH’s purpose in sending the plagues was to make it clear to Pharaoh, his officials, and his subjects that there was no god like him in all the earth. In this case, “earth” includes Egypt and lands far beyond its borders. YHWH could have taken the life of Pharaoh and of his subjects, but he chose to let Pharaoh live, using the opportunity to show his power and to have his name declared “throughout all the earth.” (9:14-16) The name of YHWH did become widely known. About 40 years later, Rahab of Jericho in the land of Canaan recalled what YHWH had done in drying up the water of the Red Sea and liberating his people. (Joshua 2:10) Centuries thereafter, the Philistines still knew about the mighty God who had struck the Egyptians with every kind of plague. (1 Samuel 4:8)
Pharaoh continued to exalt himself over the Israelites, maintaining an arrogant bearing toward them as he refused to let them leave to sacrifice to YHWH their God. Therefore, YHWH decreed that the Egyptians would experience a hailstorm of such severity as had never occurred in the history of their country. The Egyptians were advised to bring all their animals under shelter and to leave no slaves out in the fields. Those who “feared,” or trusted, that the word of YHWH would be fulfilled the next day brought their animals and slaves into the safety of a shelter, but those who had no regard for (literally, “did not set [their] heart on”) YHWH’s word left their slaves and animals out in the open. When Moses, at YHWH’s command, stretched out his rod toward the sky, it began to thunder and hail, and “fire” or lightning struck the ground. All during the time the hail fell, lightning flashes were visible in the midst of it. Every man and every animal out in the field were struck down. All plants were flattened, and all trees were shattered. In Goshen, where the Israelites resided, there was no hail. (9:17-26; see the Notes section.)
Apparently the severity of the hail and the damage it caused prompted Pharaoh to acknowledge that he had been in the wrong when refusing to allow the Israelites to depart for the wilderness to sacrifice to YHWH. After summoning Moses and Aaron, he is quoted as saying to them: “I have sinned this time. YHWH is righteous [just or in the right], and I and my people are guilty [or in the wrong (impious [LXX])].” He requested that they entreat YHWH to bring an end to the thunder (literally, “voices [or sounds] of God”) and hail (“and fire” or lightning [LXX]). Pharaoh also consented to permit the Israelites to depart. (9:27, 28)
Moses agreed to stretch out his hands to YHWH upon being outside the city. This meant that he would lift his arms and open palms skyward in an attitude of prayer, petitioning YHWH to cause the thunder and the hail (“and the rain” [LXX]) to stop. Moses wanted Pharaoh to “know” or to recognize, based on the cessation of the hail, that the “earth” or land belonged to YHWH or that everything was under his control. Nevertheless, Moses revealed that he knew that Pharaoh and his servants or officials did not at that time really fear, or have a proper regard for, YHWH. (9:29, 30)
The plague of hail probably occurred in the middle of February or early in March, for the hail ruined the flax and the barley. Wheat and spelt, grains that matured later, were not destroyed. (9:31, 32)
After Moses made his appeal to YHWH, the thunder (literally, “sounds” or “voices”), the hail, and the rain stopped. Having experienced relief from the hailstorm, Pharaoh and his servants or officials revealed that they had not come to fear YHWH. They hardened their hearts and stubbornly resisted his words that were conveyed to them through Moses. Just as YHWH had made known in advance, Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites depart. (9:33-35)
The deadly pestilence that affected domestic animals (9:3-6) would have revealed the impotence of Apis (the sacred bull deity), Hathor (a goddess represented as a cow, a woman with the head of a cow, or a woman with the ears of a cow), and the sky goddess Nut (represented as a woman or a cow forming the sky over the land and with stars on her body).
Verse 6 refers to “all” the domestic animals of the Egyptians as having died from the pestilence. This may be understood to mean that all the animals the pestilence affected died or that a significantly large number of them died. The Egyptians still had domestic animals that survived the pestilence. Later, before the seventh plague, the Egyptians needed to bring their domestic animals under shelter to escape death from the plague of hail. (9:19) Then, at the time the firstborn died, the Egyptians lost firstborn domestic animals. (12:29)
For the Egyptians there was no cure for their painful boils or sores. (9:10, 11) Deities to which they may have looked for relief could not help them. These deities may have included the goddesses of healing (Heka and Sekhmet), the goddess Isis, and the gods Thoth and Ptah.
Any appeal to the Egyptian deities to cause the hailstorm to end would have been in vain. No aid would have come from Tefnut (the goddess of rain), Set (the god of desert storms), Reshpu (a god who was believed to control lightning) and Thoth (a god to whom power over rain and thunder was attributed). (9:22-25)
YHWH hardened the “heart of Pharaoh” and the “heart of his servants” or officials, allowing them to remain defiant in not heeding his word conveyed to them through Moses. Their stubborn resistance provided YHWH with the opportunity to show his “signs” among them. These “signs” came in the form of destructive plagues that revealed his power which could not be successfully resisted. In the case of the Israelites, these “signs” and what YHWH did among the Egyptians were matters they were to relate to their sons or children and to their grandsons or grandchildren. In this way, they and their offspring would come to “know” their God as YHWH, the Supreme Sovereign who had acted for them in effecting their liberation from Egyptian enslavement. (10:1, 2)
As YHWH had commanded him (10:1), Moses and his brother Aaron presented themselves before Pharaoh and told him what YHWH the God of the Hebrews had said. “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me [literally, my face]? Let my people go that they may serve me.” If he continued to be arrogant, refusing to heed YHWH’s word, the Egyptians would experience a severe locust plague that would be greater than they and their forefathers had ever faced. The locusts would consume everything that had remained after the devastating plague of hail. Recognizing how disastrous such a plague would be, Pharaoh’s servants urged him to let the Israelites depart. Therefore, Moses and Aaron received a request to return to Pharaoh. Although then saying that they could leave to serve YHWH their God, Pharaoh asked about who would be going. After being told that the young and the old, the sons and the daughters, and the flocks and herds would be leaving because the people would be holding a festival to YHWH, Pharaoh did not consent, insisting that only the men could go to serve YHWH. He then drove Moses and Aaron out from before his “face” or from his presence. Pharaoh wanted to make sure that the men would return to Egypt to rejoin their families and then continue in their state of enslavement. (10:3-11; see the Notes section.)
After Moses and Aaron left, YHWH instructed Moses to stretch out his hand “over the land of Egypt.” This meant that Moses was to extend the arm of the hand that held his rod. This would signal the start of the locust plague. After Moses did this, an east wind began to blow all day and all night. By the morning of the next day, the wind brought in a huge swarm of locusts. The huge swarm blocked out light from the sun, causing the land to be darkened, and the voracious locust swarm consumed everything that the plague of hail had not ruined. No greenery of any kind escaped from the devastation the locusts effected. (10:12-15; see the Notes section.)
Faced with disaster, Pharaoh hastily summoned Moses and Aaron, acknowledged that he had sinned against YHWH their God and against them, requested that they forgive him his sin “only this once,” and entreat YHWH their God to remove from him “this death” (or the plague that was certain to have a deadly outcome for the Egyptians). (10:16, 17)
After leaving, Moses entreated YHWH to end the locust plague. In answer to that prayer, a very strong west wind drove the locusts into the Red Sea, liberating the Egyptians from the plague. Nevertheless, Pharaoh hardened his heart, or stubbornly defied the word of YHWH through Moses and refused to let the Israelites leave. This hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is attributed to YHWH, for he created the circumstances that permitted Pharaoh to manifest his stubborn resistance.(10:18-20)
After Moses, at YHWH’s command, stretched out his hand toward the sky (evidently raising his arm while holding his rod), thick darkness enveloped the land of Egypt for three days. Whereas the Egyptians felt this darkness, could not see one another, and did not venture from their dwellings, the Israelites enjoyed light in the land of Goshen. (10:21-23; see the Notes section.) In his Antiquities (II, xiv, 5), Josephus described this darkness as follows: “A thick darkness, without the least light, spread itself over the Egyptians, whereby their sight being obstructed and their breathing being hindered by the thickness of the air, they died miserably and under a terror lest they should be swallowed up by the dark cloud.”
The plague of darkness made enough of an impact on Pharaoh for him to summon Moses, telling him that that all the people, including the children, were free to go in order to serve YHWH. He, however, required that their domestic animals remain behind, evidently wanting to keep their flocks and herds to assure that they would return to Egypt. Moses rejected this stipulation, insisting that all the domestic animals needed to be taken. It would be from them that sacrifices for YHWH their God would be chosen and in this way their God would be served. In view of this, Pharaoh hardened his heart, stubbornly refusing to permit the Israelites to depart. Again this hardening is attributed to YHWH, for he permitted Pharaoh to remain defiant in disregarding his word respecting the Israelites. (10:21-27; see the Notes section.)
Pharaoh threatened Moses, ordering him to leave and telling him that he would be killed on the day that he ventured to see his face again. To this, Moses replied, “As you say, I will not see your face again.” (10:28, 29) In Exodus 11:4-8, it says that Moses warned Pharaoh about the coming of the tenth plague — the death of all the firstborn of the Egyptians. So it appears that the first three verses of chapter 11 should be regarded as parenthetical and that Moses continued to speak to Pharaoh until he then left, doing so in anger. In advance, YHWH had revealed to Moses that the tenth plague would be the last one. Therefore, he could positively say (10:29) that he would not try to see Pharaoh again. Pharaoh, however, was forced to summon Moses and Aaron and agree to the departure of the Israelites from Egypt. (12:30-32)
In verse 10, Pharaoh is quoted as saying, “YHWH be with you if ever I let you go and your little ones. See, for bad [you have] before your faces” (or evil you have purposed). The words “YHWH be with you” would usually constitute a blessing. In this case, however, they were part of Pharaoh’s defiant refusal to let the Israelites depart with their children. In effect, therefore, these words could be understood as expressing a curse. Modern translations have interpretively rendered the words as follows: “The LORD will certainly need to be with you if I let you take your little ones! I can see through your evil plan.” (NLT) “The LORD had better watch over you on the day I let you leave with your families! You’re up to no good.” (CEV) “I swear by the LORD that I will never let you take your women in children! It is clear that you are plotting to revolt.” (TEV)
The locust plague (10:12-15) would have humiliated deities that were regarded as responsible for a bountiful harvest. This could have included the goddess Renenutet (Renenet, Ernutet) and the god Min.
In verse 13, the Septuagint says “south wind” (not “east wind”). Possibly the translator chose the rendering “south wind” because of believing that it was more appropriate for the direction from which locusts came into Egypt.
For the Egyptians, the thick darkness (10:22, 23) may have made them feel that their sun gods Ra and Horus had forsaken them and were unable to come to their aid.
It appears that the initial three verses interrupt what Moses continued to say to Pharaoh after the end of the ninth plague (the three days of deep darkness), for the words of verse 4 are simply introduced (“Moses said”) without any indication that YHWH had sent him. Accordingly, at the end of the ninth plague, Moses knew that there would only be one more plague, after which Pharaoh would drive all of the Israelites out of Egypt. Prior to their departure from Egypt, the men and the women were to ask their Egyptian neighbors for objects of gold and silver (“and clothing” [LXX]). In view of what had developed through Moses in relation to the plagues, he became much esteemed among Pharaoh’s servants or officials and the Egyptians generally. (11:1-3; see the Notes section.)
Apparently after saying that he would not see Pharaoh’s face again (10:29), Moses continued to speak, announcing to him the word of YHWH. Around midnight, YHWH would bring about the death of the firstborn in every household. This included the firstborn of Pharaoh and even the firstborn of a slave woman grinding grain with a millstone. Moreover, the firstborn of all livestock would die. This would result in a loud mournful cry in all of Egypt, a cry of such greatness as had never occurred before and as would never take place again. No harm, however, would come to the Israelites. Against them and their animals, no dog would “sharpen its tongue.” This could mean that dogs would not bark or snarl at them. “But not even a dog will bark at the Israelites or their animals.” (TEV) According to another view, nothing like the outcry in Egypt would be occurring among the Israelites. “Things will be so quiet that not even a dog will be heard barking.” (CEV) “But throughout all Israel no sound will be heard from man or beast, not even a dog’s bark.” (REB) “But among the Israelites it will be so peaceful that not even a dog will bark.” (NLT) Pharaoh and his subjects would then “know” or be forced to recognize that YHWH had made a distinction between the Egyptians and the “sons [or people] of Israel.” Thereafter all the “servants” or officials of Pharaoh would go to meet Moses and bow down to him, saying, “Get out, you and all the people who follow you [literally, people at your feet”].” After this would take place, Moses would depart from Egypt. Having finished speaking to Pharaoh, Moses left his presence in “hot anger.” (11:4-8)
YHWH had revealed to Moses that Pharaoh would not listen and that his stubborn attitude provided the opportunities for YHWH to increase his “[signs and (LXX)] wonders in the land of Egypt.” These wonders included the devastating plagues. During the time Pharaoh continued to be defiant, Moses and Aaron performed all the signs that YHWH had empowered them to do before Pharaoh. YHWH, however, “hardened the heart of Pharaoh” or permitted him to remain stubbornly resistant to letting the “sons [or people] of Israel” depart from Egypt. (11:9, 10)
According to verse 2 in the Septuagint, Moses was to speak “secretly into the ears of the people” (of Israel), telling them to make request of their neighbors for gold and silver items and clothing. Their neighbors would comply, for God had granted favor for his people among the Egyptians. (11:3)
The Septuagint rendering of verse 3 indicates that Moses became “exceedingly great before the Egyptians and before Pharaoh and before all his servants.”
In his Antiquities (II, xiv, 5), Josephus indicated that Moses would not return to see Pharaoh but that Pharaoh himself and his “principal men” would want the Israelites to leave. “When the darkness, after three days and as many nights, had dissipated, and when Pharaoh still had not repented and let the Hebrews leave, Moses came to him and said, ‘How long will you be disobedient to the command of God? for he enjoins you to let the Hebrews go. There is no other way to be freed from the calamities you are under, unless you do so.’ But the king was angry at what he said and threatened to cut off his head if he came anymore to trouble him about these matters. Thereupon Moses said he would not speak to him anymore about them, for that he himself, together with the principal men among the Egyptians, should desire the Hebrews to go away. So when Moses had said this, he went his way.” (Compare Exodus 10:29; 11:8.)
Before the Israelites left Egypt, their new year began in the fall. For the start of their sacred year this changed, with the month of their liberation from Egyptian enslavement being divinely designated as the first month. This month came to be known as Abib (mid-March to mid-April) and, after the exile in Babylon, it was called Nisan. Early during the month, YHWH, probably by means of his representative angel, told Moses and Aaron that it was to be the first month and, during this month, an annual commemoration regarding their release from enslavement was to be observed. This commemoration came to be known as Passover, for YHWH’s angel passed over the houses of the Israelites at the time all the firstborn of the Egyptians died. (12:1, 2; see the Notes section.)
Certain features of the first Passover observance in Egypt were unique, but other features continued to be part of the celebration after it was conducted on an annual basis. On the tenth day of the month, the household head was to select a lamb (or goat). If the household was too small to eat an entire roasted lamb (or goat), the household head was to invite his nearest neighbor, along with the man’s entire household to share in eating the meal. This arrangement was to take into consideration the number of persons present for the observance and what they would be able to eat. (12:3, 4)
At twilight on the fourteenth day of the month, the selected unblemished one-year-old male lamb or goat was to be slaughtered. Only in Egypt was some of the blood of the slaughtered animal collected in a basis and, with a bunch of hyssop, put on the two doorposts and the lintel of the house in which the meat would be eaten. In Egypt and also in the land of Canaan (the Promised Land), the entire animal (head, legs, and inner parts) was to be roasted (not left raw nor cooked in water), undoubtedly after having been skinned and having the inner parts washed. The meat was to be eaten that night along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. All of the meat was to be consumed by morning. Any leftover meat was to be burned. (12:5-10, 22; see the Notes section.)
In Egypt, the Israelites were to eat the meal as persons who were ready to depart without delay. With their loins girded, their sandals on (so as to be prepared to travel over varied terrain), and a staff in their hand, they were to eat in haste (not leisurely). YHWH (his “destroying angel” [Targum]) would pass through the land of Egypt that night, striking down all the firstborn of man and beast (the firstborn offspring). It would be a night when YHWH would be executing judgment (or taking vengeance [LXX]) on all the “gods of Egypt,” exposing them as without any power to shield the firstborn from death. The blood on the the doorposts and lintels of the houses would indicate these houses to be the ones to be passed over at the time the Egyptian firstborn would be slain. (12:11-13, 23)
Throughout future generations, the Israelites were to commemorate the day of their deliverance from Egyptian enslavement. It was to be an annual memorial day, a “festival to YHWH.” For seven days after the Passover, from the fifteenth day of the month (which began at sundown) onward, the Israelites were to eat unleavened bread (never leavened bread). This required that they search throughout their houses to make sure that all leaven was removed. From the first day of the festival (Abib [Nisan] 15, which began in the evening of the fourteenth day) until the seventh day (Abib [Nisan] 21, which ended in the evening of that day), anyone eating what was leavened would be “cut off” (“destroyed” [LXX]) from the community of Israel. This included resident aliens living among the Israelites. On the first day and the seventh day, a “holy assembly” was to be held. With the exception of preparing food to be eaten, the people were not to perform any work. (12:14-20, 24)
When the Israelites observed the Passover in the Promised Land annually as they had been commanded, their “sons” would ask the reason for the observance. It would then be explained to them that YHWH had passed over the houses of his people and spared their firstborn when the firstborn of the Egyptians were killed. (12:25-27)
Moses summoned the elders of Israel and related to them everything that had been revealed to him about the Passover and the seven-day festival associated with it. Apparently after Moses had finished speaking, the elders bowed down and prostrated themselves in worship. The “sons [or people] of Israel” did everything that was required of them in preparation for the first Passover observance and the observance itself. (12:21-28)
At midnight, YHWH (his “destroying angel” [Targum]) struck down “all the firstborn in the land of Egypt.” None were spared, from the firstborn of Pharaoh to the firstborn of a prisoner or captive confined in a pit or dungeon. Also all the firstborn of domestic animals died. Pharaoh, his servants or officials, and all his subjects got up in the night and gave way to a loud, mournful outcry or wailing. He summoned Moses and Aaron, telling them that the “sons [or people] of Israel” should leave with their flocks and herds to serve YHWH their God. Pharaoh did not want to be cursed, leading to additional calamities. Therefore, he requested that Moses and Aaron bless him or wish him well. (12:29-32; see the Notes section.)
The death of all their firstborn must have filled the Egyptians with dread, fearing that the continued presence of the Israelites in the land would lead to utter ruin. They urged them to leave quickly, for, as they said, “We are all dead men.” In view of their hasty departure from Egypt, the Israelites took their unleavened dough in their kneading bowls, bound them up in their garments, and carried the bowls on their shoulders. Later, they used the dough to bake unleavened bread. This aspect was recalled during the seven-day festival that followed the Passover on Nisan 14, for no leavened bread was to be eaten during the entire festival. (12:33, 34, 39; see the Notes section.)
Before their departure, the Israelites, in keeping with the instructions Moses had given them, asked the Egyptians for silver and gold articles and garments. The Egyptians gave them everything according to their requests. In this manner, the Israelites despoiled the Egyptians. This development is attributed to YHWH. The account reads, “YHWH had given favor to the people before the eyes [or in the sight] of the Egyptians.” (12:35, 36)
Raamses (Rameses [Ramesses (LXX)]), the starting point from which the Israelites set out in their departure from Egypt, cannot be positively identified with any known location. It could have been either a district or city in Goshen that was located not far from the capital of Egypt at that time. Josephus (Antiquities, II, xv, 1), in conjunction with the exodus of the Israelites, refers to Leto (Letopolis), a site about 10 miles (c. 16 kilometers) south of Heliopolis and about 10 miles (c. 16 kilometers) north of Old Cairo. Although Succoth has been linked to Thukke in Egyptian inscriptions, there is no way to make a definitive identification of Succoth with any known site. (12:37)
Besides women and children, the number of men who left Egypt is given as about 600,000. This number is also found in the Septuagint. Josephus (Antiquities, II, xv, 1) indicated that it was not easy to number all who left Egypt, “including the women and children.” The men who were old enough to be “fit for war” numbered 600,000. (Regarding this number, see the comments in the introduction of Exodus.) Along with sizable flocks and herds, a “mixed multitude” departed with the Israelites. This mixed multitude could have included Egyptians who had married Israelites and their offspring as well as Egyptians and other foreigners who had come to believe that YHWH, the God of the Israelites, was the only true God. It may well have been that the ten plagues led them to this conviction. (12:37, 38)
According to the Masoretic Text, the “sons [or people] of Israel” resided in Egypt 430 years and then departed. (12:40, 41) This, however, is in error. The Septuagint preserves the right significance, indicating that they lived in Canaan and Egypt during the 430 years. Josephus, in his Antiquities (II, xv, 2), correctly wrote that the Israelites were in Egypt 215 years, not 430 years. “They left Egypt in the month of Xanthicus [Abib or Nisan], on the fifteenth day of the lunar month; 430 years after our forefather Abraham came into Canaan but 215 years only after Jacob removed into Egypt.” In his letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul likewise included the residence in Canaan as being part of the 430 years, for he wrote that 430 years passed between the time God made the promise to Abraham regarding his future “seed” or offspring that would receive the land of Canaan as their inheritance (Genesis 12:4-7) and the giving of the law at Mount Sinai, in the same year the Israelites had left Egypt. (Galatians 3:16, 17) Although Targum Jonathan provides a different starting point for the 430 years, it clearly states that the time the Israelites were in Egypt was much shorter than 430 years. It says, “The days of the dwelling of the sons of Israel in Mizraim [Egypt] were thirty weeks of years (thirty times seven years), which is the sum of 210 years.” (See the Notes section.)
The night of Abib or Nisan 14, was a night for YHWH to watch developments in relation to bringing his people out of Egypt. It was his night. As a night to be remembered by all future generations of Israelites, this night was to be one for watching or a vigil. It would be a night for them to observe in honor of YHWH for what he had done for them in liberating them from Egyptian enslavement. (12:42)
To Moses and Aaron, YHWH revealed additional requirements for those who would be partaking of the Passover meal. No foreigner was entitled to eat it. Any non-Israelite slave whom the Israelites might purchase would have to be circumcised before he could join in eating the Passover meal. Alien residents or hired non-Israelites would be excluded from the Passover observance. Each roasted lamb or goat was to be eaten in just one house. None of the meat was to be carried outside that house, and no bone of the lamb or goat was to be broken. The entire community of Israel was to observe the Passover. A resident alien could eat the Passover meal if he and all the males in his household had been circumcised. His status would then be like that of an Israelite native in the land. No uncircumcised male, however, could eat the Passover meal. Only one law would govern natives, strangers, and resident aliens in the midst of the people of Israel. (12:43-49)
“All the sons [or people] of Israel did what YHWH commanded them through Moses and Aaron. It was on the very day the Israelites observed the first Passover that YHWH brought them as a free people out of the land of Egypt. (12:50, 51)
Although the month of Abib (Nisan) was the first month of the sacred calendar (12:2), the Israelites continued to consider their secular or agricultural year to begin in the fall. In his Antiquities (I, iii, 3), Josephus wrote, “Moses appointed that Nisan … should be the first month for their festivals because he brought them out of Egypt in that month.” … This “month began the year as to all solemnities they observed to the honor of God, although he [Moses] preserved the original order of the months as to selling and buying, and other ordinary affairs.”
In the Septuagint, verse 10 contains an addition regarding the animal, “and you must not break a bone of it.”
The death of the Egyptian firstborn (12:29) would have exposed the weakness of the deities they worshiped, for none were able to save even one of their firstborn. Rulers of Egypt considered themselves as gods, the sons of the god Ra or Amon-Ra. Therefore, the death of the firstborn son of Pharaoh would have been regarded as the death of a god.
In verse 29, the Septuagint refers to a captive woman confined in a pit, whereas the Hebrew text indicates that the prisoner or captive was a male.
Regarding the unleavened dough (12:34, 39), Josephus (Antiquities, II, xv, 1) wrote that the Israelites had no food from the land near the Red Sea, “because it was a desert.” He then continued, “They ate of loaves kneaded of flour, only warmed by a gentle heat; and this food they made use of for thirty days.” This was because what they brought from Egypt was insufficient to sustain them any longer. Targum Jonathan says that the dough “was baked for them by the heat of the sun.”
The words of Josephus about the residence in Canaan agree with the Genesis account (25 + 60 + 130 = 215 years). From the time Abraham entered Canaan until the birth of Isaac was 25 years. (Genesis 12:4, 5; 21:5) Isaac became father to the twins Esau and Jacob at the age of 60. (Genesis 25:26) Jacob was 130 years old when he entered Egypt with his household. (Genesis 47:8, 9)
YHWH decreed that all the firstborn of the Israelites, both man and domestic animal, belonged to him and should be dedicated or sanctified to him. This was because the firstborn of the Israelites had been spared at the time the firstborn of the Egyptians perished. (13:1, 2)
The day the Israelites were delivered from Egyptian enslavement was one they should remember. Upon being settled in the land that YHWH, on oath, had promised to their forefathers (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) to give to their descendants, they were to observe parts of the month of Abib or Nisan (mid-March to mid-April, the month during which their deliverance had occurred). They would then be enjoying the land formerly in possession of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Hivites, and Jebusites (Chananites, Chettites, Euites, Gergesites, Amorrites, Pherezites, and Iebousites [LXX]) as their land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Their cows and goats would be supplying the Israelites with much milk, and they would have an abundance of honey from wild bees and from fruits in the form of juice or syrup. (13:3-5)
During seven days of the month of Abib (Nisan), the Israelites were to eat unleavened bread. The seventh day was to be observed as a festival to YHWH, and during the entire seven-day period no leaven was to be found anywhere in their homes throughout their territory. To keep the memory alive about the significance of the seven-day observance, the Israelites were to tell their sons about what YHWH had done for them when they came out of Egypt. (13:6-8)
To indicate that the memory of what happened should never be allowed to fade, the Israelites were to consider this as if it was an actual sign or mark on their hand, a mark that would always be before them in all their activity. It was to be a “memorial between [their] eyes” or, according to the Septuagint, a “memorial before [their] eyes [or in full view before them].” The Hebrew expression a “memorial between your eyes” could be understood to mean that what YHWH had done for them was to be like a permanent mark on their foreheads. It was a historical development that should have been firmly fixed in their memory. (13:9)
With the deliverance that YHWH brought about with his “mighty hand” or power being part of their permanent memory, the Israelites would have it as the “law [or teaching] of YHWH in [their] mouth.” They would be able to use their mouths to explain to their offspring the significance of the observance of the Passover and why the seven-day period that followed was one during which no leaven was to be in their homes. From year to year, they were to commemorate the deliverance of their ancestors from Egypt. This included remembering the events associated with the first Passover on Abib (Nisan) 14 — the death of the Egyptian firstborn and preservation of the Israelite firstborn. In obedience to the word of YHWH, their ancestors had eaten the roasted one-year-old lamb or goat along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Also as commanded, they had put some of the blood of the animal on the two doorposts and lintels of their houses . This was the required sign for them to have their firstborn spared from death. When their ancestors left Egypt they had no time to bake bread for the journey but took the available unleavened dough in their bowls. Therefore, the seven-day period that followed Passover served as a reminder that the Israelites ate unleavened bread following their exodus from Egypt. (13:9, 10)
Upon being settled in the land YHWH had promised to give them, the Israelites were to set apart their firstborn sons and the firstlings of their domestic animals as belonging to him. The firstborn males of cattle, sheep, and goats were to be offered as sacrifices. A firstborn of a donkey (an unclean animal and one not acceptable for sacrifice) was to be redeemed with a sheep, which would then be offered as a sacrifice. If a firstborn donkey was not redeemed, the neck of the animal was to be broken. This may have served to deter any Israelite from failing to redeem a firstborn male donkey, for he would have lost the animal as a potential valuable beast of burden. The firstborn sons were to be redeemed by making a payment of five silver shekels at the tabernacle and later at the temple. (13:11-13; Numbers 18:15, 16; see the Notes section.)
If, in later times, a son asked his father about the significance of the redemption of the firstborn, the father was to explain that it was because YHWH, with a “mighty hand” or his great power, had delivered their ancestors from enslavement in Egypt. To force stubborn Pharaoh to free the people, YHWH had struck down every firstborn, the firstborn of both man and beast, among the Egyptians. Therefore, because the firstborn of the Israelite ancestors were spared, their descendants sacrificed to YHWH the first animals to proceed from the wombs of the animals in their herds and their flocks and redeemed their firstborn sons. (13:14, 15)
For the Israelites to carry out the divine command respecting the firstborn was to be like a sign or mark on their hand and a frontlet or symbol “between [their] eyes” or on their forehead (“unmovable before [their] eyes” [LXX]). They were not to forget what their ancestors had experienced in Egypt. In all their activity and on whatever they focused their eyes, the Israelites were to remember YHWH’s law, including the commands regarding the redemption of the firstborn and its significance. (13:16)
The most direct route to the land of Canaan would have been through the territory of the Philistines. YHWH, however, did not lead his people through that territory. This was so that they would not almost immediately after their departure from Egypt have found themselves fighting the Philistines, and warfare could have led them to regret ever having left Egypt and could have made them desire to return there to enjoy peace. Therefore, God led them by “way of the wilderness” toward the Sea of Reeds (yam-suph) or the Red Sea (LXX). This may have been the western arm of the Red Sea, which is now known as the Gulf of Suez. According to the Septuagint, the people departed from Egypt in the “fifth generation,” apparently the fifth generation after Jacob arrived in Egypt with his household. (13:17, 18; see the Notes section.)
Although the Israelites did not have to fight soon after departing from Egypt, the men did leave as persons prepared for battle. They did, however, have to fight against the Amalekites years before they entered the land of Canaan. (13:18; 17:8-16; Deuteronomy 25:17-19)
In expression of his faith in God’s promise that the descendants of his father Jacob would become permanent residents in the land of Canaan, Joseph solemnly enjoined his brothers to carry his bones out of Egypt when God visited them or turned his attention to them. Accordingly, Moses complied with that request. In this way, whenever the Israelites showed a lack of faith, the bones of Joseph continued to be a tangible evidence of his faith in YHWH’s promise and should have reproved their faithlessness. (13:19)
At this point, the Exodus account indicates where the Israelites encamped after they left Succoth. The place of encampment was at “Etham [Othom (LXX)], on the edge of the wilderness.” It is not possible to be definite in linking Etham to any specific known site. (13:20)
The manner in which YHWH led his people through the wilderness is described as having been by means of a pillar or column of cloud by day and a pillar or column of fire at night. Apparently the pillar appeared like a column of fire that provided illumination during the night. This made it possible for the Israelites to travel not just during the day but also during the night. The column itself was always present with the Israelites. (13:21, 22)
In verse 13, the Septuagint says that, if a firstborn donkey was not exchanged with a sheep, the donkey was to be redeemed. There is no explanation of how the donkey should be redeemed. Possibly the translator, in the time he lived, understood the redemption price to have been a stipulated amount of money and chose to translate the Hebrew text according to what had become the practice outside the land of Israel in much later centuries.
The Hebrew expression yam-suph (Sea of Reeds) has given rise to the view that the Israelites did not cross the Red Sea or its western arm. Those who have adopted this view believe that the Israelites crossed the swampy Bitter Lakes region. This region, however, does not fit the biblical narrative that the waters of the sea covered Pharaoh’s entire military host. (13:18; 14:28)
YHWH, probably through his representative angel, instructed Moses to tell the people to “turn back” from where they were then situated (evidently at Etham [13:20]) and encamp in front of (literally, “before the face”) of Pihahiroth “between Migdol and the sea.” The new location is also described as “by the sea” and in front of (literally, “before the face”) of Baal-zephon “over against it.” None of the place names can be positively identified with known sites. In the Septuagint, there is no reference to Pihahiroth. It says that they were to encamp “before [or opposite] the settlement between Magdolos [Migdol] and between the sea, opposite Beelsepphon [Baal-zephon].” “Before them,” the people were to encamp “by the sea.” The reference to “before them” could mean that they were to encamp opposite the named locations. Both the Hebrew text and the Septuagint agree that the new camping place was near the sea. (14:1, 2)
Josephus, in his Antiquities (II, xv, 3) wrote that there was a mountain ridge on either side of the location and that both of the mountain ridges “terminated at the sea” and “were impassable by reason of their roughness.” One view that this description and the biblical narrative support links the place of encampment to the vicinity of Mount Ataka. The mountain is located at the beginning of the Gulf of Suez and overlooks the western bank of this arm of the Red Sea.
YHWH had the Israelites turn back to a new place of encampment because it would cause Pharaoh to draw the wrong conclusion about them. Pharaoh would think that the people were trapped. Through this circumstance, YHWH hardened Pharaoh’s heart, allowing him stubbornly to resist YHWH’s purpose to bring the Israelites into the land of Canaan as his liberated people. When Pharaoh chose to act defiantly, YHWH purposed to gain glory or honor for himself through him and his military host. This would force the Egyptians to “know” or to recognize the God of Israel as YHWH, the One whose will could never be successfully resisted. (14:3, 4)
Upon coming to know that the Israelites had fled, Pharaoh and his servants regretted that they had let them depart. This had left them without a large number of enslaved laborers for their agricultural operations and building projects. Therefore, Pharaoh determined to capture the Israelites and bring them back to Egypt. He readied his chariot and, with his military force, began his pursuit. The military force included 600 choice chariots and numerous other chariots (literally, “all the other chariots of Egypt” [“all the cavalry of the Egyptians” (LXX)]). All of the chariots were manned. The Hebrew word referring to persons in the chariot may literally be translated “third men.” Ancient Egyptian depictions of chariots, however, show only two warriors positioned on a chariot. Therefore, the designation may simply be understood to apply to officers or commanders. (14:5-7)
With a “hardened heart” or a defiant attitude that YHWH had permitted him to develop, Pharaoh went forth against the Israelites who had, “with uplifted hand” (boldly, defiantly, or victoriously like men with raised arms, poised to strike), left Egypt. Pharaoh, with his entire army that included horses, chariots, and horsemen, caught up with the Israelites at Pihahiroth in front of (literally, “before the face of”) Baal-zephon. (14:8, 9) Josephus (Antiquities, II, xv, 3) commented regarding Pharaoh’s pursuit. Pharaoh reasoned that the Israelites had “no pretense to pray to God against them,” as they had been permitted to leave Egypt (the implication being that all the conditions of the word of YHWH directed to him had been met). He and the warriors with him thought that the Israelites should be “easily overcome,” for they “had no armor” and would have been weary from their journey. “Now when the Egyptians had overtaken the Hebrews, they prepared to fight them, and by their multitude they drove them into a narrow place; for the number that pursued after them was 600 chariots, with 50,000 horsemen, and 200,000 footmen, all armed. They also seized on the passages by which they imagined the Hebrews might flee, shutting them up between inaccessible precipices and the sea.”
Upon seeing the Egyptian warriors pursuing them, the Israelites gave way to fear and cried out to YHWH. They also became angry at Moses, telling him, “Is it because no graves exist in Egypt that you brought us to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us by leading us out of Egypt? Is not this the word we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, Leave us alone and let us serve the Egyptians? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” Moses encouraged the people not to be afraid but to wait for YHWH to act, assuring them that the Egyptians they then saw they would never see again. “YHWH will fight for you, and you only have to be quiet” or remain calm without having to do anything to defend yourselves. (14:10-14)
In his Antiquities (II, xv, 4), Josephus added details that are not in the Exodus account. He wrote that the Hebrews “expected a universal destruction, unless they delivered themselves up to the Egyptians. So they laid the blame on Moses and forgot all the signs that had been wrought by God for the recovery of their freedom.” … In their incredulity, they began to throw stones at Moses “while he encouraged them and promised them deliverance.” They resolved to “deliver themselves up to the Egyptians. So there was sorrow and lamentation among the women and children, who had nothing but destruction before their eyes, while they were encompassed by mountains, the sea, and their enemies, and discerned no way of fleeing from them.”
Apparently Moses also cried out to YHWH, and the response was, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the sons [or people] of Israel to set out” or break camp. Through his representative angel, YHWH directed Moses to stretch out his hand (the arm of the hand in which he would be holding his rod) over the sea , thereby causing the sea to divide and making it possible for the Israelites to pass through the opened sea on dry ground. YHWH would then “harden the heart of the Egyptians” or permit them to become stubbornly defiant and to pursue the Israelites. By the action he would take, YHWH purposed to get “glory through Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots and his horsemen.” The Egyptians would be forced to “know” or recognize YHWH as the God without equal at the time he gained “glory through Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen” or by means of what he would do to them in an impressive manner. (14:15-18)
God’s angel had accompanied the Israelites after they left Egypt, going before them. Apparently the angel was closely associated with the pillar or column of cloud, for both he and the cloud moved from in front of the Israelites to a position in their rear. The pillar of cloud blocked the view of the Egyptian warriors, left them in darkness, and prevented them from nearing the Israelites, who had light. With the rod in his hand, Moses stretched out his arm over the sea. During that night, YHWH (his representative angel) caused the sea to divide with a strong east wind (south wind [LXX]) and dried the pathway through the opened sea. The Israelites entered the dry pathway, and the waters of the sea formed a wall on their right and left sides. (14:19-22)
Thereafter the Egyptian military force followed the Israelites in the passage through the opened sea. During the morning watch (from around 2:00 a.m. through about 6:00 a.m.), YHWH, through his representative angel, looked down from the pillar or column of cloud and fire and threw the Egyptian host into confusion or panic. He caused the wheels of their chariots to become clogged (literally, he turned the wheels), making it difficult for the charioteers to drive onward. Recognizing that it must have been YHWH who was fighting for the Israelites, the Egyptian warriors determined to flee from before them. This, however, became impossible. (14:23-25)
When Moses, at divine direction, stretched out his hand (the arm of the hand that held his rod) over the sea, the water of the sea flowed back over the passageway and drowned the Egyptians. Not a single one of the Egyptian warriors remained alive. Whereas the Egyptian military force perished, the Israelites, between a wall of water on either side of them, crossed to the other side of the sea on dry ground. They thereafter saw the dead Egyptians on the seashore. The “great work” that YHWH did at that time against the Egyptians filled the Israelites with a wholesome fear. They believed in YHWH (in him as the God who had rescued them from the Egyptians) and in Moses as YHWH’s servant. (14:26-31)
Commenting on the events at that time, Josephus (Antiquities III, xvi, 3) wrote: “The Egyptians were not aware that they were going into a road made for the Hebrews, and not for others; that this road was made for the deliverance of those in danger but not for those who were earnest to make use of it for the others’ destruction. As soon, therefore, as the whole Egyptian army was within it, the sea flowed to its own place and came down with a torrent raised by storms of wind and encompassed the Egyptians. Showers of rain also came down from the sky, and dreadful thunders and lightning, with flashes of fire. Thunderbolts also darted upon them. … A dark and dismal night oppressed them. And thus did all these men perish, so that there was not one man left to be a messenger of this calamity to the rest of the Egyptians.”
To express their gratitude to YHWH, Moses and all the “sons of Israel” sang a song that focused on the deliverance they experienced at the Sea of Reeds or the Red Sea. The specific mention of Moses suggests that he had composed this song. (15:1; see the Notes section.)
To YHWH is attributed the act of tossing horse and rider into the sea. In the context of the events at that time, “rider” could apply more specifically to the charioteer. Regarding YHWH’s saving deed for his people, the Hebrew text repeats the verb that may be defined as meaning “to rise up” or “to be exalted” (“to be exalted, exalted”) and could be understood to signify “to be exalted in triumph” or “to be impressively exalted.” The Septuagint rendering may be translated, “gloriously he is glorified.” (15:1)
All the people of Israel were delivered from the Egyptian force that was determined to enslave them again. Accordingly, the singular pronouns identify what happened as a personal experience. YHWH is referred to as “my strength and my song,” the source of “my salvation,” and “my God.” Moreover, the expression of praise is personal. “I will praise him, the God of my father, and I will exalt him.” At the sea, the Israelites, in their vulnerable circumstances, were weak and helpless. YHWH, however, proved to be their strength when he delivered them. He rendered the mighty Egyptian host helpless, and all the warriors perished. YHWH was the “song” for the Israelites individually, for his deliverance provided the occasion for the song of praise. In the Septuagint, the expression “My strength and my song” is not rendered literally. It says, “A helper and protector he has become to me for deliverance.” The reference to “God of my father” could apply to their forefather Abraham or to Jacob as the patriarchal head from whom all the tribes of Israel had descended. Targum Jonathan does not include the personal aspect but says, “God of our fathers” or forefathers. (15:2)
YHWH had fought for his people, providing the basis for his being called a “man of war” or a warrior. The Septuagint refers to him as crushing wars. (15:3)
YHWH threw Pharaoh’s chariots and his military force into the sea. All the Egyptian warriors sank into the sea like a “stone.” (15:4, 5)
The right hand is commonly the one that functions when wielding weapons of offense or defense. For this reason, YHWH’s “right hand” is portrayed as the hand of glorious or impressive power and as shattering the enemy. To YHWH, foes are like stubble that the expression of his anger consumes as does a fire. (15:6, 7)
The strong east wind that divided the water of the sea and created a wide, dry pathway is likened to the blast of YHWH’s nostrils. According to the Septuagint, the “spirit” or “wind of [God’s] wrath” divided the water. On both sides of the created passageway through the sea, the water “stood up in a heap” or like a wall as though the water had been congealed. (15:8) According to Targum Jonathan, the waters stood “as if bound like skins that confine flowing water.”
The Egyptian warriors, the enemy, intended to pursue and overtake the Israelites, divide the booty, and wield the sword against them to effect their destruction. The words about their “soul” having “its fill of them” relates to fulfilling their desire or aim regarding them. In the Septuagint, the objective is expressed as follows: “Pursuing, I will overtake; I will divide spoils; I will fill my soul [or desire]; I will lift up [kill with] my sword; my hand will dominate.” The Egyptians did not succeed, for YHWH blew with his wind, the water of the sea then covered them, and the warriors sank “like lead in mighty [or turbulent] waters.” (15:9, 10)
In view of what YHWH had accomplished that none of the deities the Egyptians worshiped could do, the questions are raised, “Who is like you among the gods, O YHWH? Who is like you, majestic in holiness [impressively holy or pure in all respects; glorified among holy ones (LXX)], awe-inspiring in renown [astonishing in glories (LXX)] or astonishing in acts that reveal glory, splendor, or majesty], performing wonders?” YHWH is indeed the God without equal. (15:11)
YHWH is represented as stretching out his “right hand,” extending his arm to take action against the enemies of his people, and the “earth” then swallowed these enemies or the earth became their watery grave. In his compassionate concern, kindness, or enduring love for them (his “righteousness” or “justice” [LXX]), YHWH had redeemed them from Egypt, their house of slavery. With his strength, he guided them, using his power to aid them. His purpose was to bring them to his “holy abode,” apparently the land he had promised to give to them. The attainment of their future dwelling place was a certainty and, therefore, is referred to as if the Israelites had already arrived there. (15:12, 13)
News about the calamity that had befallen the Egyptian military force spread to neighboring lands, causing the peoples there to tremble in fear. The Septuagint says that “nations heard and were angered.” In Philistia, the inhabitants were seized with “pangs” (like those of a woman about to give birth), possibly when contemplating what could befall them. Chieftains of Edom were frightened (hurried [LXX]), and leaders of Moab gave way to trembling in fear. The inhabitants of Canaan “melted away” or were deprived of their strength and courage. All the peoples in the various lands experienced terror and dread. On account of the greatness of YHWH’s arm or the power he displayed when destroying the entire Egyptian military force, the various peoples are depicted as becoming “still like a stone,” unable to move, as if the Israelites (the people whom YHWH had acquired) were already passing by their lands. (15:14-16)
Ultimately, YHWH would bring his people into the land he had promised to give to them. There they would be “planted” or established. The “mountain of [YHWH’s] inheritance” apparently would be the place where his sanctuary would be. It would be a place of his choosing and, therefore, the place he made and the sanctuary that he established by his “hands” or power. (15:17)
As the only true God, YHWH is the supreme Sovereign, and he “will reign forever and ever.” It appears that, with this thought, the song concludes. (15:18)
The words of verse 19 seemingly function as a summary about the destruction of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, horsemen or charioteers, and concerning the deliverance of the “sons [or people] of Israel.” (15:19)
Aaron’s (also Moses’) sister Miriam is called a “prophetess,” indicating that inspired messages were conveyed through her to the people. In view of her taking the lead in singing praise to YHWH with the other women, this may have been included in her prophesying. Miriam, with a tambourine in her hand, led all the women who played their tambourines and danced. Miriam sang to the women, “Sing to YHWH, for he is impressively exalted. Horse and its rider he has tossed into the sea.” Likely Miriam was the first woman to begin singing and then the other women joined in playing their tambourines, dancing, and singing. According to verse 1, Moses and the “sons of Israel” sang the song. Therefore, Miriam and the other women probably sang the words as a refrain in response to the singing of the men. (15:20, 21; see the comments on verse 1 and the Notes section.)
From the “Sea of Reeds” or the “Red Sea” (LXX), Moses led the Israelites into the “wilderness of Shur [Sour (LXX)],” possibly the arid region near the place named Shur. This place cannot be positively identified with any known site. For “three days” in that arid region, the Israelites did not find any water. When they did find water, they could not drink it, for it was bitter. Therefore, they named the location Marah, meaning “bitterness.” The people then began to murmur against Moses, saying to him, “What shall we drink?”(15:22-24)
In response to his outcry to YHWH, Moses was instructed to toss a specific tree into the water, and it became “sweet,” suitable for drinking. It was there at Marah that YHWH put the people of Israel to a test as to whether they would trust him to care for them and to supply what they needed. Drinking water that is bad can make people sick. When Moses followed YHWH’s direction in using the designated means to make the water fit to drink, this revealed that YHWH could do what was essential to protect his people from illness. The statute and ordinance that the Israelites were then given is set forth in the words that follow. If they heeded the “voice of YHWH [their] God,” did what “is right in his eyes,” obeyed “his commandments” and “all his statutes,” they would not experience the diseases that he “put upon the Egyptians” or the diseases from which he did not shield the Egyptians. He did not prevent the Egyptians from following practices that were injurious to their physical well-being. Instead of being the One to put diseases upon them or allowing them to contract illness on account of disobedience, the Israelites, as an obedient people, would find YHWH to be the One who would be healing them. (15:25, 26)
Moses next led the Israelites to Elim (Ailim [LXX]), a place that cannot be identified with certainty. One conjecture links Elim to Wadi Gharandel (not far from the western shore of the Gulf of Suez and about midway between the land bordering the southern shore of the Mediterranean Sea and the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula). According to the Exodus account, there were twelve springs in the area and seventy palm trees. (15:27; see the Notes section.)
There is no record in the Exodus account that the Israelites had any weapons when they left Egypt, but later they had an armed conflict with the Amalekites. (17:13) Josephus includes information that explains how the Israelites came to have weapons of war. “On the next day [after the destruction of the Egyptian military force] Moses gathered together the weapons of the Egyptians, which were brought to the camp of the Hebrews by the current of the sea, and the force of winds assisting it; and he conjectured that this also happened by divine providence, so that they might not be destitute of weapons.” (Antiquities, II, xvi, 6) This could have happened either before or after the singing of the song.
When Moses was three months old, his sister Miriam was old enough to take the initiative to approach Pharaoh’s daughter and ask her whether she should call one of the Hebrew women to nurse the infant for her. (2:2-9) This means that, at the time she led the women in song (15:20), Miriam may have been in her late eighties or early nineties. (7:7) The other women must have had high regard for her and viewed her as a “mother” in Israel, a woman to whom they looked for teaching and advice.
In his Antiquities (III, i, 3), Josephus describes Elim as an undesirable place. At a distance, the site appeared to be a good place, for it had a grove of palm trees. When the Israelites came near the location, “it appeared to be a bad place, for the palm trees were no more than seventy; and they were poorly grown and creeping trees.” There was insufficient moisture to water the trees. The twelve fountains were a “few moist places” rather than “springs.” When the people “dug into the sand, they met with no water; and if they took a few drops of it into their hands, they found it to be useless, on account of its mud.”
After leaving Elim, the “sons [or people] of Israel” came to the “wilderness of Sin,” situated “between Elim and Sinai [Ailim and Sina (LXX)].” The exact location of this wilderness is not known, but it must have been in the southwestern part of the Sinai Peninsula. One conjecture places the wilderness in the region located east of the approximate midway point of the Gulf of Suez. It was then the fifteenth day of the second month (Iyar [mid-April to mid-May]), about a month after the Israelites had departed from Egypt. (16:1)
The entire community of Israel began to murmur against Moses and Aaron, complaining that there circumstances were so bad that it would have been better for them to have died in Egypt by YHWH’s “hand” or by his power directed against them. They maintained that they had sufficient bread to eat in Egypt and also sat there by pots of meat for their meals. Their complaint was that Moses and Aaron had brought them into the wilderness so that they might die from hunger. (16:2, 3; see the Notes section.) According to Josephus,the Israelites had become so angry at Moses that they contemplated picking up stones and hurling them at him. (Antiquities, III, i, 5)
Faced with the grumbling of the people, Moses (according to Josephus [Antiquities, III, i, 5]) ascended an eminence in the area and prayed to God. He requested that God might deliver the people from the want they were experiencing, “because in him, and in him alone, was their hope of deliverance.” Moses also expressed the desire that God would forgive the people for what their lack of food had forced them to do, “since such was the nature of mankind, hard to please and very complaining under adversities.”
YHWH (evidently through his representative angel) informed Moses that he would cause it to rain “bread from the heavens.” This was to be a daily portion that the people were to gather each day for six days, with the sixth day being the one for them to collect twice as much. The directive for them to gather a double portion on the sixth day and not to set out to collect this “bread from the heavens” on the seventh day was to serve as a test to the Israelites as to whether they would either “walk” or conduct themselves in YHWH’s law or not. Moses and Aaron told the people that, when he, in the evening, provided food for them, they would “know,” or be made to recognize, that YHWH had brought them out of Egypt. In the morning, the people were to witness the “glory of YHWH.” He had heard their murmurings against him. With reference to Moses and Aaron, the question to the people was, “For what are we that you should murmur against us?” Their complaint had really been directed against YHWH, for only he could supply their needs and they, in effect, murmured that he had failed to care for them. Personally, Moses and Aaron could not provide essential food. They also experienced hunger and had to rely on what YHWH would do for them. (16:4-7)
Since it would be YHWH who would be giving them meat to eat in the evening and bread in the morning because he had heard their murmuring, Moses said to the people that their complaining was against YHWH. As had been revealed to him about the “glory of YHWH,” Moses told Aaron to say to the “sons [or people] of Israel” to come near before (literally, “before the face of”) YHWH, for he had heard their murmuring. While Aaron was still speaking, the people saw the “glory of YHWH” when looking in the direction of the wilderness. This “glory” was revealed in a cloud that may have glowed brilliantly. Possibly their seeing the “glory of YHWH” also included their receiving meat in the evening and bread (or food) in the morning. Evidently through his representative angel, YHWH told Moses that the people would be eating meat in the evening and their fill of “bread” in the morning. This would reveal to the people that YHWH was indeed their God, the One who cared and provided for them. (16:8-12)
As had been made known to Moses, a supply of meat became available in the evening. Quail came into and covered the camp of Israel. (16:13) Josephus, in his Antiquities (III, i, 5), described what happened. Quail in great numbers hovered over the people, until “wearied from their laborious flight, and, indeed, as usual, flying very near to the earth, they fell down upon the Hebrews, who caught them and satisfied their hunger with them, and supposed that this was the method whereby God meant to supply them with food.” (See the Notes section.)
In the morning all around the camp, the Israelites, after the dew lifted, saw a substance on the ground that they had never seen before. The substance was flaky and fine like hoarfrost. The Israelites are quoted as saying, man hu’ (“what is this” [LXX])? Josephus (Antiquities, III, i, 6) wrote that this question was the basis for calling the substance “manna.” “Now the Hebrews call this food manna; for the particle man, in our language, is the asking of a question, What is this?” Moses explained to the people that the substance was the “bread” YHWH had provided for them to eat. Based on the number of persons in the household, every “man” was to gather enough so that each of the members of the household had one omer (2 dry quarts [2.2 liters]) or the tenth part of an ephah as their food for the day. (16:36; see the Notes section.) The head of the household either collected the manna or supervised the gathering. According to the Septuagint, the ones dwelling in each tent were to share in collecting the manna. (16:13-16)
Likely the people gathered the manna without delay, for it melted when subjected to the heat of the sun as the day progressed. Once the approximate supply for the entire household had been collected, it was measured. Regardless of how much had been gathered, the amount always equaled one omer for every person in the household. Commenting regarding this, Josephus (Antiquities, III, i, 6) wrote: “They [the Hebrews] were enjoined to gather it equally; the measure of an omer for each one every day, because this food should not come in too small a quantity, lest the weaker might not be able to get their share by reason of the overbearing of the strong in collecting it. However, these strong men, when they had gathered more than the measure appointed for them, had no more than others, but only tired themselves more in gathering it, for they found no more than an omer apiece.” Although Moses told them not to leave any of the manna until the morning of the next day, some of the people did not listen. Worms came to be in the manna, and it began to stink. Therefore, Moses became angry at the disobedient ones. (16:17-21)
On the sixth day of the week, the people were to gather two omers of manna for every member of the household, and none was to be collected on the seventh day. Moses made known to the assembled leaders of the people that YHWH had commanded observing the seventh day as a day of rest, a “holy sabbath.” Accordingly, on the sixth day, the Israelites were to bake or boil what they wanted and to keep the extra amount of manna until the next morning for use as their food on that day. On the seventh day, the manna did not become infested with worms nor did it begin to stink. Although Moses had told them that there would be no provision of manna on the seventh day, some of the people disregarded what he said. They left their tents to look for manna but did not find any. Moses directed YHWH’s words of reproof against them, “How long will you refuse to observe my commandments and my laws?” So that the people could observe the seventh day as a day of rest and not leave their tents, YHWH had provided them with a two-day supply of manna. (16:22-30)
The food that the Israelites called manna is described as being white like coriander seed and tasting like wafers made with honey. Regarding manna, Josephus (Antiquities, III, i, 6) wrote that “it was like honey in sweetness,” and in “greatness” or size “equal to coriander seed.” Coriander seed can be grayish-white in color and between 3 and 5 millimeters in size (c. 0.12 and c. 0.2 inches). According to Numbers 11:7, manna was like coriander seed and had an appearance like that of bdellium (a resinous gum). (16:31)
To provide tangible evidence regarding what the Israelites ate in the wilderness, YHWH commanded that one omer of manna be kept in a (gold [LXX]) container for generations to come. After the “ark of the covenant” (or the “ark of the testimony”) had been constructed, this container was to be placed inside it before (literally, before the face of) YHWH. As YHWH had commanded Moses, Aaron stored the container filled with one omer of manna “before the testimony” (probably meaning before the two stone tablets on which the “Ten Words” or “Ten Commandments” were written and which tablets had been placed inside the ark of the covenant). (16:32-34)
For some 40 years during their wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites ate manna, but the provision of manna ended when they came into the land of Canaan. (16:35; Joshua 5:10-12)
The complaint of the people that they had been brought into the wilderness to die of hunger suggests that whatever food supply they had brought with them had been exhausted in about a month after they had left Egypt. This may explain why Josephus wrote that, for “thirty days,” the Israelites made use of the unleavened dough they had brought from Egypt. (Antiquities, II, xv, 1)
According to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus (Histories, II, 77), the Egyptians salted and ate quail raw. Whether this is what the Israelites did is not indicated in the account. Pliny the Elder (Natural History, X, 33) wrote that quail are light and have limited strength. In their long migratory flight, they rely on a breeze to assist them. He also indicated that it often happened that at night, exhausted quail would settle on the sails of a ship in such great numbers as to cause the vessel to sink.
In verse 36, the Septuagint refers to the gomor (omer) as consisting of three measures. This is apparently based on the then-current understanding that three seah measures equaled one ephah.
After leaving the wilderness of Sin in keeping with YHWH’s commandment, the Israelites arrived at Rephidim (Raphidin [LXX]). There is no certainty about where Rephidim was located. One common conjecture links the place to a site northwest of and comparatively near the traditional location of Mount Sinai. At Rephidim, the people found no water and began to quarrel with Moses, telling him that he should give them water to drink. He responded with the questions, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test YHWH?” The people were wrongfully testing YHWH, for their words challenged YHWH as if he were absent from them and could or would not provide for them what they needed. (17:1, 2)
Their grumbling against Moses reached the point where they accused him of leading them out of Egypt to kill them, their children, and their livestock with thirst. Moses felt seriously threatened and prayed to YHWH about what he should do, for the people were almost ready to stone him. YHWH (evidently his representative angel) told Moses to choose some of the elders of Israel to accompany him to the rock at Horeb (the mountainous area around Mount Sinai) and there, with the rod he had struck the Nile, to strike the rock. It appears that YHWH revealed that he would point out the particular rock, for he is quoted as saying, “Look, I will stand before you [literally, before your face] there.” The account does not, however, reveal whether the angel of YHWH stood at the location or whether the cloud moved to that location. When Moses struck the rock “before the eyes of the elders of Israel,” water in abundance gushed forth. (17:3-6)
Moses named the place, where water had been provided from the rock, Massah (Testing [also LXX]) and Meribah (Quarreling; Reviling [LXX]). They had put YHWH to the test when implying with their faithless complaint that he was not there for them, not providing them with water. They had challengingly questioned whether YHWH was among them or not. The people had also quarreled with or railed against Moses for leading them away from Egypt into a desert where they would die of thirst. (17:7)
At Rephidim, the Amalekites attacked the rear of the camp of Israel. Based on Genesis 36:15, 16, the Amalekites were the descendants of Eliphaz, the firstborn son of Jacob’s twin brother Esau. When they launched their unprovoked attack, the Israelites were in a weak (hungry or famished [LXX]) and weary state. (Deuteronomy 25:18) Moses directed Joshua to select men from among the people to fight against the Amalekites. According to Josephus, they had earlier collected weapons of the Egyptian military force that perished in the Red Sea (Antiquities, II, xvi, 6) and would have been in a position to engage in battle. Moses assured Joshua that he would stand on top of a hill in the area and hold the “rod of God in [his] hand.” (17:8, 9)
Joshua acted on Moses’s directive to fight against the Amalekites, and Moses, accompanied by his brother Aaron and by Hur, walked up to the “top of the hill.” With the rod in his hand pointing skyward, Moses was unable to keep his arm continually aloft. Apparently the lifted rod constituted an appeal to God to render aid to Joshua and the men under his command. It appears that the petition for God’s help required that the rod be steadily held aloft. Therefore, when Moses’ hands became weary, causing him to lower the rod, the Amalekites proved to be superior in their fight against Joshua and the men with him. Witnessing this development, Aaron and Hur found a stone on which Moses could sit. Then, with Aaron on one side of his brother and Hur on the other side, they held his hands steady until the sun set and the Amalekites were defeated. The role of Moses with the rod revealed that the victory had been attained with YHWH’s assistance. (17:10-13; see the Note section.)
In view of what the Amalekites did, Moses was to record, as a memorial or a reminder, YHWH’s judgment against them and to read it aloud to (literally, “in the ears of”) Joshua. The memory of Amalek was to be blotted out. Evidently in expression of thanksgiving for the victory over the Amalekites, Moses built an altar and called it YHWH-nissi (YHWH is my standard or banner, the One around whom the warriors assemble). In the Septuagint, the name of the altar is rendered “The Lord [is] my refuge [or, My Lord [is] a refuge].” (17:14, 15; see the Notes section.)
There is uncertainty about the significance of the Hebrew noun kes in the words ascribed to Moses, “Hand upon the throne [kes] of Yah.” Numerous translations render kes as “banner.” Perhaps the words constitute a battle cry, possibly implying that the warriors should look to YHWH for help as if taking hold on his throne or as if assembling around him like a raised banner. That the Israelites would again fight against the Amalekites is evident from the words that YHWH would be at war “with Amalek from generation to generation.” According to the Septuagint, God would be fighting against Amalek with a “hidden hand,” perhaps indicating that the power at work against Amalek would be secret, not visible. (17:16; see the Notes section.)
Hur was probably the son of Caleb of the tribe of Judah and the grandfather of the expert craftsman Bezalel. (1 Chronicles 2:19, 20) Josephus wrote that Hur was the husband of Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron. (Antiquities, III, ii, 4)
About the altar (17:15) Josephus (Antiquities, III, ii, 5) wrote, “Moses offered sacrifices of thanksgiving to God and built an altar.” Josephus identified God as the Lord who conquers or grants the victory.
Uncertainty about the significance of verse 16 has led to various renderings in modern translations. “‘Take up the banner of the LORD!’ The LORD has a war against Amalek through the ages.” (NAB, revised edition) “Hold high the banner of the LORD! The LORD will continue to fight against the Amalekites forever!”(TEV) “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.” (NIV) “They have raised their fist against the LORD’S throne, so now the LORD will be at war with Amalek generation after generation.” (NLT) “My oath upon it: the LORD is at war with Amalek generation after generation.” (REB) “Then Moses explained [the reason for the victory], ‘This is because I depended on the LORD. But in future generations, the LORD will have to fight the Amalekites again.’” (CEV)
News about everything God had done for his son-in-law Moses and the people of Israel reached Jethro (Iothor [LXX], Ietheglaios [Josephus]; also known as Reuel, Ragouel (LXX), Ragouelos [Josephus]). He heard that YHWH had delivered the Israelites out of Egypt. In his role as priest of Midian, Jethro may have functioned as a chieftain who led his family in worship. Likely he received the report about Moses from a messenger. (18:1)
Somewhere along the route on his way to Egypt, Moses had sent his wife Zipporah (Sepphora [LXX]) and his two sons Gershom and Eliezer back to Jethro. The name Gershom (Gersam [LXX]) indicted that Moses found himself as a resident alien in a foreign land, for the name is linked to the Hebrew expression ger sham, which may be translated a “resident alien there.” Eliezer, the younger son, also had a name that reflected Moses’ circumstances after he had fled from Egypt to escape from being killed. The name Eliezer means “my God is help [or a helper]” and served to express how Moses felt about what God had done for him, “for,” as Moses said, “the God of my father [his own father Amram, his ancestor Abraham, or his forefather Jacob from whom he descended through the line of Levi] [was] my help and he delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.” Upon coming to know that Moses was encamped with the Israelites in the wilderness in the proximity of the “mountain of God” (Mount Sinai) Jethro, accompanied by his daughter Zipporah and his two grandsons Gershom and Eliezer, set out to meet his son-in-law Moses. (18:2-5)
Upon receiving a messenger’s report that his father-in-law Jethro and his wife and his two sons were on their way, Moses went to meet him. He respectfully prostrated himself before his father-in-law and kissed him. The two of them asked about each other’s welfare (literally, “peace”). Apparently so that he might have a private conversation with his father-in-law, Moses conducted him into his tent and related to him everything YHWH had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for the sake of Israel, all the hardships the Israelites experienced during their journey, and how YHWH had delivered them. Jethro rejoiced over the report about “all the good that YHWH had done for Israel” when delivering the people “out of the hand [or power] of the Egyptians.” He was moved to say, “Blessed be YHWH who delivered you [Moses and all those with you] out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh.” Jethro acknowledged that he then knew that YHWH was greater than all other gods, basing this on the overwhelming evidence that YHWH had acted against the people who had dealt arrogantly with the Israelites. (18:6-11)
Jethro apparently had brought with him animals for sacrifice, and he presented a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God. Thereafter Aaron and the elders of Israel shared with Jethro in the communal meal of the meat from the animals that had been sacrificed. (18:12; see the Notes section.)
When later observing the people standing before Moses from morning to evening so that he might render judgment concerning them and make known to them God’s statutes and laws, instructions, or teachings, Jethro advised that his son-in-law make an adjustment to this arrangement, for the responsibility was too great for him to handle by himself. He recommended that Moses choose capable, trustworthy, God-fearing men, men who hated bribery, assigning them to handle the less serious cases. These men would then have the responsibility as rulers or chieftains over groups of various sizes — thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. While they would be handling minor disputes, Moses would handle the major disputes that they would bring to him. The benefit would be that Moses would be able to bear the burden of responsibility without becoming overwhelmed, and the people would not be wearing themselves out by having to wait a long time for him to hear their respective cases. After Moses accepted the recommendation of his father-in-law and wished him well, he departed for his own land. (18:13-27; see the Notes section.)
According to Josephus (Antiquities, III, iii), Moses is the one who offered the sacrifice and “made a feast for the multitude.” This does not agree with the extant Hebrew text nor the rendering of the Septuagint. A number of modern translations are definite in identifying Jethro as having brought the animals to be sacrificed. “Then Jethro brought an offering to be burned whole and other sacrifices to be offered to God; and Aaron and all the leaders of Israel went with him to eat the sacred meal as an act of worship.” (TEV) “Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God. Aaron and all the elders of Israel came out and joined him in a sacrificial meal in God’s presence.” (NLT)
Josephus (Antiquities, III, iv, 1) indicates that Moses’ father-in-law did not say anything while he observed him handling disputes, not wanting to interfere with what he was doing. “But afterward he took him to himself, and when he had him alone, he instructed him in what he ought to do.” He advised him to leave the “lesser causes to others but himself to take care of the greater.” If those to whom Moses delegated the responsibility to handle cases found one that was too difficult for their determination, they were to bring it to him. Jethro is quoted as adding, “By these means two advantages will be gained: the Hebrews will have justice rendered to them and you will be able to attend constantly on God and procure him to be more favorable to the people.”
According to the Hebrew text of verse 23, matters would work out well for Moses and for the people if God directed him to accept Jethro’s recommendation or if he approved of it. In their renderings of this verse, a number of translations are more specific than is the Hebrew text. “If you follow this advice, and if God commands you to do so, then you will be able to endure the pressures, and all these people will go home in peace.” (NLT) “If you do this, as God commands, you will not wear yourself out, and all these people can go home with their disputes settled.” (TEV) “This is the way God wants it done. You won’t be under nearly as much stress, and everyone else will return home feeling satisfied.” (CEV) “If you do this, then God will direct you and you will be able to go on. And, moreover, this whole people will arrive at its destination in harmony.” (REB) The Septuagint conveys a different meaning. It indicates that God would “strengthen” Moses if he followed Jethro’s advice.
The Israelites arrived in the wilderness of Sinai on the “third new moon” after their departure from Egypt. According to Numbers 33:3, the entire nation left Rameses on the fifteenth day of the first month (Abib or Nisan [mid-March to mid-April]). If the month of Abib is considered to be the month of the first new moon, then Iyyar or Ziv (mid-April to mid-May) began with the second new moon and Sivan (the third month) began with the third new moon. Based on this reckoning, the arrival of the Israelites in the wilderness of Sinai occurred in the month of Sivan. There is a measure of ambiguity about the reference to the “day” of their arrival. The Hebrew text says “that day” and could be understood to apply to the first day of the third month Sivan or the fifteenth day (the anniversary date of the departure from Egypt or, more specifically, from the location of Rameses), or the third day of Sivan (the number of the day corresponding to the number of the month). (19:1)
In the wilderness of Sinai, the Israelites encamped “before the mountain” (Mount Sinai) after having set out from the site of Rephidim. Earlier, before Moses returned to Egypt to lead the Israelites out of that land, YHWH made known that Moses and the liberated people would serve him at this mountain. (3:12) Seemingly, in view of the promise, Moses ascended the mountain to receive instructions. The angel of God had accompanied the Israelites on their journey from Egypt and his presence is associated with the pillar or column of cloud. (14:19) Therefore, it is likely that the pillar of cloud was seen at the top of Mount Sinai, and it was from the cloud that YHWH, through his representative angel, called out to Moses, telling him what he was to say to the “house of Jacob” or the “sons [or people] of Israel.” He was to remind the Israelites of what they had seen YHWH do to the Egyptians and how he had cared for them, carrying them as if on the “wings of eagles” and bringing them to himself at the previously designated location (Mount Sinai). Instances have been reported in more recent years where a parent eagle swooped below a struggling fledgling and supported it on its wings and back. This appears to be the basis for the expression used to indicate what YHWH did for his people while in circumstances comparable to that of young eagles just learning to fly. (19:2-4; see the Notes section about Mount Sinai.)
The Israelites should have responded with gratitude for what YHWH had done for them. For them truly to be his people and to continue to enjoy his blessing and aid, they had to meet certain requirements. Therefore, Moses was to relate YHWH’s words regarding this. “If you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine. And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” If obedient, the Israelites would have a unique position as the only people on earth having a direct relationship with YHWH. He, however, was not their God in a limited sense but continued to be the Supreme Sovereign over all nations and peoples, for the earth belonged to him and, therefore, all its inhabitants were subject to what he willed respecting them. The Israelites would be a “kingdom” or a royal realm, with YHWH as their Sovereign. In that royal realm, they would individually be “priests,” enjoying a direct approach to him through prayer and having him respond to their individual needs. As a nation, Israel would be “holy” or in a sanctified condition before their God as a people acceptable to him. (19:5, 6)
Moses summoned the elders of the people and related to them the words of YHWH. As representatives of the entire nation, they answered for themselves and all the rest of the Israelites, “All that YHWH has spoken we will do.” Thereafter Moses reported their words of agreement to YHWH. (19:7, 8, 9b)
YHWH is quoted as telling Moses that he would be coming to him in a thick cloud. Subsequent to that coming, the words of YHWH to Moses would be heard by all the people. The reason for this was so that the people would thereafter fully trust Moses, apparently recognizing him as YHWH’s chosen instrument to communicate his messages to them. In view of the fact that the pillar or column of cloud was linked to the angel of God, this coming of YHWH in a thick cloud must have been something different. (19:9)
Based on other biblical passages, including those recorded many centuries later (Acts 7:38, 53; Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 2:2), Moses did not speak directly with YHWH, but all his communication was with the representative angel. At least two angels appear to have been involved — the one who led the Israelites out of Egypt and accompanied them in the wilderness (Exodus 23:23; 32:34; 33:2; Numbers 20:16) and who was linked to the pillar or column of cloud, and the angel who was manifested in the fear-inspiring developments at Mount Sinai.
To prepare for the manifestation of YHWH (through the angel who appears to have been in the closest relationship to him and who, in the most direct way, could speak representatively as YHWH), Moses was directed to sanctify the people. This required that, on the first and second day, they be set apart as clean, pure, or acceptable before his manifestation on the third day from then. To be found in a sanctified state, the Israelites needed to wash their clothes and abstain from sexual relations. Bounds were to be established around the mountain, and the people were commanded not to ascend it. No person and no animal that touched the mountain would remain alive. Only after the sounding of the trumpet would the people be permitted to go up on the mountain. (19:10-13, 15; see the Notes section.)
As he had been commanded, Moses informed the people about what they needed to do to get ready for the third day. On the morning of that day, a thick cloud descended upon the mountain, thunders and lightnings occurred, and a loud trumpet (shofar) blast resounded. All the encamped people began to tremble in fear. Thereafter Moses led the people out of the camp “to meet God.” They stationed themselves at the foot of the mountain. Meanwhile, smoke, like the smoke from a kiln, rose from the mountain (Mount Sinai), and the entire mountain shook violently. The sound of the trumpet became louder and louder. “Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder.” Summoned to ascend the mountain, Moses did so and then was sent back down to warn the people not to “break through to YHWH” or to ascend Mount Sinai, for doing this would lead to their death. Before leaving, Moses replied that the people had already been commanded not to do so and that bounds had been set around the mountain. After being told that Aaron (likely because of his future appointment to serve the Israelites as their high priest) should come with him after he returned from having gone down to the people, Moses departed from the mountaintop. He then made known to them the word of YHWH. This included telling the people that the “priests” should sanctify or purify themselves and that these priests and the rest of the people should not ascend the mountain. (19:14-25; see the Notes section.)
There is uncertainty about the location of Mount Sinai. Josephus (Antiquities, III, v, 1) described the mountain as the highest in those regions. In the southern part of the Sinai Peninsula, Mount Katrina is the loftiest mountain, but it has not been traditionally identified as Mount Sinai. The traditional site is Jebel (Gebel, Jabal, Gabal, Djebel, or Djabal) Musa (Moses, Mousa, or Moussa) that is significantly lower. Weighing against the site of Jebel Musa is the absence of a large plain where the Israelites could have encamped. In front of the nearby peak known as Ras Safsafa, however, there is a sizable plain that measures a little over half a mile in width (c. 1 kilometer) and about two miles in length (c. 3 kilometers).
According to the Septuagint rendering of verse 13, the people could ascend Mount Sinai after the cloud vanished and the “sounds” (thunders) and trumpet blasts ended.
In verse 18, the Septuagint does not refer to the trembling or shaking of the mountain but says that “all the people” trembled or were terrified.
The reference in verses 22 and 24 to “priests” could not apply to the Levitical priesthood, for men from that tribe had not as yet been appointed as priests. These “priests” would have been the adult firstborn sons or the heads of families who functioned as priests for their respective households.
YHWH revealed himself to be the Supreme Sovereign and the only true God, for he had delivered the Israelites from Egyptian enslavement. In keeping with what he had proved himself to be to them, the first one of the “Ten Words” or Ten Commandments forbade them from having or revering any other gods. YHWH alone was the one whom they should worship. (20:1-3)
The second commandment prohibited the Israelites from making any image patterned after anything visible in the sky and after any creature on the earth or in the waters beneath the surface of the higher land. They were not to prostrate themselves in worship before any image of this kind. As the only true God, he rightly required that his people be devoted to him alone as their God. He would not tolerate any deviation from such devotion through idolatry. From that perspective, he was a jealous God. The Israelites were warned that engaging in idolatry would have serious consequences for future generations. Offspring from the individuals who initially became idolaters and demonstrated their hatred for YHWH when practicing what was repugnant to him would be inclined to follow the bad example of their forebears. YHWH, in turn, would visit with punishment the “iniquity” (“sins” [LXX]) of the idolatrous (“wicked” [Targum Jonathan]) fathers upon their (“rebellious” [Targum Jonathan]) “sons” or children to the third and fourth generation. He, however, would show kindness, enduring love, or “mercy” (LXX) to “thousands” (“of generations of the righteous” [Targum Jonathan]) who love him and demonstrate their love by obeying his commandments. (20:4-6)
The third commandment about not taking up the name of God (YHWH) “in vain” could include the use of the name in any way that did not reflect a proper reverential regard for him. In his Antiquities (III, v, 5), Josephus is more restrictive in what the commandment signifies. He wrote “that we must not swear by God in a false matter.” YHWH would not hold anyone guiltless for taking up his name “in vain” or using it in a way that disregards that he is the Supreme Sovereign, the God of truth who is holy or pure in the absolute sense. (20:7)
The fourth commandment called upon the Israelites to remember the Sabbath, keeping it holy as a day of rest by refraining from all activity that would have been contrary to observing it as a day free from all customary labors. Undistracted by the usual work, the people would also have been in a position to focus appreciatively on God’s loving care for them. Everyone was to benefit from the day of rest — sons and daughters, male and female servants, as well as resident aliens. All of them would be able to enjoy a day without having to work. With the people not laboring, even the domestic animals used in agricultural operations and for other work were to have a day of rest. (Deuteronomy 5:14) This aspect is also included in the Septuagint text of Exodus. Through Sabbath observance, the people would have been imitating YHWH, for he completed the creation of heaven (the celestial dome), earth (or land), and sea and everything “in them” (or all creation relating to the sphere in which humans live) in six days and rested on the seventh day, looking upon the completed creative work as “good” and finding joy in what he had brought into existence during six creative days. YHWH blessed the seventh day when pronouncing what had been accomplished as good and sanctifying it or setting it apart as a sacred day of rest. (20:8-11; compare Genesis 2:2, 3.)
The fifth commandment that directs children to honor their mother and father is linked to a promise. For the Israelites, the promise was that their “days” would be “long in the [good (LXX)] land that YHWH [their] God” had given them. The Septuagint adds, “that it may go well with you,” and this is also included in the quotation found in Ephesians 6:3. Parents are concerned about the welfare of their children. Therefore, when children honor their father and mother by obeying them, they avoid pursuing activities and practices that can lead to a premature death. Honoring parents also includes caring for them and coming to their aid in their times of need. (20:12; see Mark 7:10-12; Ephesians 6:1-3)
The sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth commandments are expressed in brief terms ( you must not kill or murder,  you must not commit adultery,  you must not steal, and  you must not testify falsely against your fellow. In the Septuagint, the order of the commandments differs. Do not commit adultery; do not steal, do not murder, do not “testify falsely against your fellow with false testimony.” (20:13-16)
The tenth commandment is unique among laws, for it is humanly unenforceable, and a person’s transgressing the tenth commandment leads to a defilement of the inner person. This commandment is against coveting or against an inordinate desire to possess what others have. The commandment states that a person must not covet the house, wife, male servant, female servant, bull, donkey, or anything else that belongs to one’s fellow. As only God, not humans, can discern and judge the inmost thoughts of an individual, the tenth commandment reveals that everyone is directly accountable to him for becoming guilty of coveting. (20:17)
While the assembled Israelites heard the “Ten Words” or Ten Commandments, they also witnessed thunders and lightnings, the sound of the trumpet (shophar), and smoke ascending from Mount Sinai. The people trembled in fear and stood far off. They did not want God to continue to speak to them, fearing that they would die, and wanted Moses to relate to them the messages he received from God, saying that they would listen. Moses told the people not to be afraid, for what was taking place served God’s purpose to have them fear him and to restrain them from sinning. The people, however, did not come closer to Mount Sinai, but Moses approached where the thick cloud was, the cloud that was a manifestation of God’s presence. (20:18-21; see the Notes section.)
YHWH is quoted as telling Moses to tell the “sons [or people] of Israel” that they had heard him speak to them “from the heavens.” At that time, they had not seen any form but only heard the voice. (Deuteronomy 4:12) Therefore, they had no basis for making any image of their God, and Moses was to command them not to make any gold or silver images of other gods. (20:22, 23)
At locations where YHWH would reveal himself (cause his “name to be remembered), evidently by acting in an impressive manner to benefit the Israelites, they were to erect an altar of earth (a simple mound of soil) on which they would offer animals sacrifices. YHWH’s coming to his people at these locations signified his turning his favorable attention to them, and he would bless them there. If the Israelites chose to build an altar of stones, they were not to shape the stones with a tool but leave them in their natural state. Destroying the natural state of the stones would have constituted an act of profanation, for it would have altered their appearance from the state in which God had designated them to remain. Steps were ruled out for all altars, as ascending steps would expose “nakedness” or the private parts upon the altar. (20:24-26; see the Notes section.)
With reference to Exodus 20:19, the writer, in his letter to the Hebrews (12:18-26), warned them not to be like the Israelites who wanted to excuse themselves from having God speak directly to them.
The comments on verse 24 follow the way in which the Septuagint rendering of the text has been punctuated.
The command about altars (20:24, 25) applied particularly prior to the construction of the altar for the tabernacle. In later times, Gideon, Samuel, and Elijah must have followed this command when erecting altars. (Judges 6:26-28; 1 Samuel 7:9; 1 Kings 18:31, 32)
Exposure of private parts when ascending steps was possible whenever robes and no undergarments were worn. (20:26) The book of Exodus (28:42) does include the directive that shorts should be made for those who would be serving as priests. Likely, however, men generally did not wear shorts under their robes.
The laws and regulations in this and other chapters of Exodus served to meet the needs and circumstances existing in times and cultures that differed significantly from our own. Often these laws and regulations affected long-established institutions and the then-existing social order. They prohibited abuses, introduced a more humane, compassionate, or just way of dealing with fellow humans, set forth penalties for criminal behavior and serious negligence, promoted greater consideration for the welfare of domestic animals, established practices that contributed to the preservation of productive arable land, and outlined procedures for preventing illness and controlling infectious diseases. (21:1)
Long before the Israelites received the laws that are recorded in the book of Exodus, slavery existed and often slaves were mistreated. Among the Israelites, a fellow Israelite could not, without his personal consent, be owned permanently. The period of servitude for an Israelite slave ended after six years (or earlier if the time remaining until the Jubilee year was less than six years). During the time of his servitude, the slave was to be treated justly like a hired laborer. (Leviticus 25:39, 40) According to Deuteronomy 15:12-15, the liberated slave was to be provided with a generous gift that would aid him to start his life as a free man on a sound footing. (21:2)
A Hebrew (or Israelite) slave who began his service for a master as a single man would be set free as a single man in the seventh year, but a married man would be set free along with his wife. In case the master gave the single man a woman to be his wife, the master retained possession of the woman and of any children resulting from the union. Apparently the woman would have been a non-Israelite, for an Israelite woman could not have been treated like the permanent property of the master who gave her as a wife to another man. In the event the Hebrew slave was content in his position and loved his master and his wife and his children, he could choose to remain a slave. To signify that he wanted to remain with his master, the master would bring him “before God” (or “before the judges” [if the plural word for “God” is not a plural of excellence but applies to human judges (Psalm 82:6; John 10:34, 35)]). With the slave standing with his ear against the door or the doorpost, the master would pierce this ear with an awl, signifying that the slave would remain permanently in his service. As the organ of hearing, the pierced ear could also have indicated that the slave would continue to listen to, respond obediently to, or remain submissive to his master. (21:3-6)
A number of modern translations interpret the words about bringing the slave “before God” to mean bringing him to the place where God is worshiped and where God would witness the piercing of the ear and the commitment the slave had voluntarily made to his master. (CEV, TEV) The expression “before God” may, however, simply denote that the act of piercing the slave’s ear would be done in the presence of God, with God being called upon to witness that the slave chose to be owned permanently. In that case, the door or doorpost could have been that of the master’s house. For the slave to be brought before the judges would denote that he was brought before them so that they could serve to witness the choice the slave had made. It would then be at that particular location where the slave’s ear would have been pierced. The Septuagint rendering supports understanding the reference to be to the judges, for it may be translated, “before the judiciary of God.” (21:6)
A Hebrew woman whom her father sold as a slave would not be released from servitude in the same way as a Hebrew man. There is a question about the significance of a master’s not having designated her if she did not please him. Numerous modern translations do not translate the Hebrew word for “not” but follow the meaning that the Septuagint rendering conveys. “If she proves to be displeasing to her master, who designated her for himself, he must let her be redeemed.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition) “If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed.” (NIV) “If she doesn’t please the man who bought her to be his wife, he must let her be bought back.” (CEV) The Septuagint rendering may be translated, “If she does not please her master to whom she was engaged, he shall let her be redeemed.” Either her own family could redeem her or a Hebrew man who wanted her as his wife could do so. According to Targum Jonathan, her father may redeem her. The master whom she displeased could not sell her to a foreigner. By not following through in having the Hebrew woman be honorably married to him because she did not please him, her master would have dealt treacherously or faithlessly with her. (21:7, 8)
The master of the Hebrew woman had to grant her the rights of a daughter when selecting her as the wife for his son. Regardless of whether she became her master’s or his son’s wife, either one had the same three responsibilities toward her. If an additional wife was taken, the woman’s food, clothing, and marriage due could not be withheld. Any failure in this respect would grant the woman her freedom, and the master lost any right of repayment. (21:9-11)
Murder was punishable by death. If a man killed another man accidentally, it was considered an act that God allowed to happen. A place was to be set aside to which the accidental manslayer could flee. Once the Israelites were settled in the land that God had promised to give to them, six cities of refuge (Hebron, Shechem, Kedesh, Golan, Ramoth, Bezer) served this purpose. (Joshua 20:7-9; 21:13, 21, 27, 32, 36, 38) Premeditated murder merited the death penalty, and a person’s taking hold of God’s alter would not save him from being put to death. The murderer was forcibly to be removed from the altar and killed. (21:12-14)
A son who viciously struck his father or his mother was to be put to death. The death penalty was imposed on kidnappers, regardless of whether the kidnapper had sold the person or still had the individual in his possession. Cursing a father or a mother constituted a solemn declaration that expressed the wish that they be dead and merited the death penalty. (21:15-17; see the Notes section.)
If during a quarrel, one of the men struck the other man with a stone or with his fist and the injured man did not die but was confined to his bed, the man who harmed him had to compensate him for earnings lost because of being unable to work and for what was needed for his recovery. The man who struck him did not have any other penalty imposed on him if the injured party was able to get up from his bed and walk about with the aid of his staff. (21:18, 19) According to Targum Jonathan, the guilty man would be “acquitted from the penalty of death.”
If a male or female slave was brutally beaten with a rod and died as a result, the responsible party was to be punished, for the severe beating indicated intent to do bodily harm that could be fatal. Apparently the judges determined whether the penalty should be death. Targum Jonathan says that the man would be “judged with the judgment of death by the sword.” In the event the slave lived for a day or two and then died, his master would not be punished. It could then not be absolutely determined whether the slave had died as a result of the beating or from some other cause. Moreover, the slave was considered as property, for he had been acquired with the payment of silver. (21:20, 21)
The life of the unborn was protected. If during a fight between men a pregnant woman (an innocent bystander) was pushed and injured and had a miscarriage, her husband could stipulate a fine that the man responsible for the harm needed to pay. The matter would be brought to the attention of judges who would determine the actual payment amount. If, on the other hand, a death or serious injury occurred, the principle of like for like would be applied. The judges, not the husband, applied the principle and determined the penalty. (21:22-25; see the Notes section.)
A provision that safeguarded male and female slaves from being seriously abused was the following: If the mistreatment led to the loss of an eye or a tooth, the slave was granted his or her freedom. Having to set a slave free would have been a significant financial loss for the master, and likely this would have deterred most masters from resorting to brutality. (21:26, 27)
A bull that gored a man or woman to death was to be killed, and meat from the animal was not to be eaten. The owner of the bull would not be held liable if the animal had not been known to gore in the past. If, however, the owner was negligent, having been previously warned about the bull that was in the habit of goring and did not keep the animal under guard, both the bull and the owner would be put to death. In the event the judges determined that the negligent owner of the bull could be exempted from the death penalty, he would have to pay whatever ransom amount for his life was required of him. The same regulations applied in case a bull gored a son or a daughter. (21:28-31)
Slaves were considered to be the property of the owner. Therefore, if a bull gored a male or female slave, the owner of the bull had to pay 30 shekels (the price of a slave) to the owner of the killed slave. The goring bull had to be stoned to death. (21:32)
A negligent man who failed to cover an open pit that he had opened or dug made himself responsible for any harm this hazard posed for domestic animals. If a bull or a donkey fell into the pit, the negligent man would receive the dead animal and had to pay “silver” (money) as compensation to the owner for his loss. (21:33, 34)
If a bull killed the bull belonging to another man, the owner of the goring bull had to sell it. He would then give half of the sale price to the owner of the dead bull. Both men also would divide the price for the dead bull, with each of them receiving an equal share. If, however, the bull was known to have been in the habit of goring and the owner had not taken measures to control the animal, the penalty was more severe. The owner had to replace the dead bull with a living bull of his own, and he received the dead animal. (21:35, 36; see the Notes section.)
In the Septuagint, the two commands relating to parents are kept together, with the words of verse 17 following those of verse 15.
Targum Jonathan says that, if the pregnant woman is killed during the fight between the men, the one responsible for her death would forfeit his life. (“You shall judge the life of the killer for the life of the woman.”) Regarding the infant if the woman is not killed, Targum Jonathan states. “The fine on account of the infant which the woman’s husband shall lay upon him [the one responsible for the miscarriage], he shall pay according to the sentence of the judges.” In the Septuagint, the rendering of verses 22 and 23 conveys a different meaning. It says that, if the infant is not fully formed (recognizable as human offspring), the man responsible for the miscarriage would have to pay a fine. In case of the death of a fully formed baby, the judges would apply the principle of like for like.
The words that follow verse 36 appear in printed Bibles either as verse 37 or as verse 1 of chapter 22. See Exodus 22:1 for comments on this verse.
Deeds that concealed the evidence of theft were punished more severely than cases where the evidence readily established who had committed the theft. A thief who sold or slaughtered a stolen bull or sheep had to make compensation with five bulls for one bull and with four sheep for one sheep. If the stolen bull or sheep remained in the possession of the thief, the required compensation for a bull, a donkey, or a sheep was double for what the individual stole. (22:1, 4 [21:37; 22:3)
At night, when an intruder could not be identified, the homeowner would not be considered bloodguilty if he fatally struck a thief who had broken into his house. After sunrise, however, the thief could be identified. Therefore, the homeowner would be considered bloodguilty if he killed the thief. A thief was required to make restitution for his crime. If he had nothing with which to pay the required compensation, he would be sold for his theft and remain enslaved until the prescribed amount was paid. (22:2, 3 [22:1, 2])
A man who disregarded the property rights of another man had to compensate the injured party for the damage he caused. Letting domestic animals graze in someone else’s field or vineyard required that the guilty party make restitution with the best part of his own field or of his own vineyard. (22:5 [22:4])
Negligence relating to fire required compensating for any damage caused to someone else’s property. The individual responsible for the fire that spread to thorns and then to stacked or standing grain or a field had to make full restitution. (22:6 [22:5])
If a man gave “silver” (money) or valuable items to his fellow for safekeeping and a theft occurred in the house, the thief, when caught, had to pay double in compensation for whatever he stole. Whenever the thief could not be found, the owner of the house, where the specific items had been left for safekeeping, was required to establish his innocence, declaring before God that he had not personally put out his hand to take his fellow’s items. (22:7, 8 [22:6, 7])
If a man claimed that a domestic animal (bull, donkey, or sheep), an article of clothing, or any type of lost items in the possession of another man really belonged to him, both parties had to come “before God.” This likely meant that they had to appear before the judges who represented God. Then, evidently through the judges, God would condemn the guilty party (either the man in possession of property that did not belong to him or the man who had falsely accused the other man of having taken his property). The guilty party would be required to pay double the value of the property (either the misappropriated property or the property concerning which he had falsely accused the innocent party). (22:9 [22:8])
In an arrangement that would primarily benefit him, a man might give his fellow a donkey, a bull, a sheep, or another domestic animal to guard. If during the time of guardianship, the animal died, was injured, or was seized and no one witnessed what had happened to it, an “oath before YHWH” (doubtless in the presence of the judges who represented YHWH) would settle the case. If the one who guarded the animal swore that he had not “laid his hand on the property of his fellow,” the owner of the property was to accept the oath-bound statement and the other man was not required to make any restitution. In the event the animal was stolen, he did have to compensate the owner for the loss, for he should have been more diligent in watching the animal that had been left with him to guard. For an animal a beast of prey killed, he needed to present the evidence that the animal had been torn, but he did not have to compensate the owner for it. According to the Septuagint, he was to take the owner of the animal to the prey. (22:10-13 [22:9-12])
A man who borrowed a domestic animal from his fellow benefited himself when doing so. Therefore, when the animal was injured or died while the owner was not with it, the borrower had to compensate the owner fully for the loss. No compensation was required if the owner had arranged to receive payment for the temporary use of his animal. Besides the payment, the owner would not be entitled to any additional compensation. His having made use of the animal for hire involved a measure of risk, a risk that he had been willing to take when making the arrangement. (22:14, 15 [22:13, 14])
A man who seduced a virgin (one who was not betrothed) and had sexual relations with her was required to pay the bride price to her father and had to marry her. If the father was unwilling to have his daughter become the wife of the seducer whom he may have considered to be unfit as a marriage mate, that man still had to pay the bride price. Her value had been diminished because she had been deprived of her virginity. (22:16, 17 [22:15, 16])
Sorcery was not to be tolerated among the Israelites. No sorceress was to remain alive among the people. ( 22:18 [22:17])
The death penalty was imposed on anyone guilty of bestiality or of offering a sacrifice to any deity other than YHWH. (22:19, 20 [22:18, 19])
Compassionate treatment of disadvantaged persons was to be the law among the Israelites. Strangers or foreigners among them were to be treated fairly and not to be wronged or oppressed, for the Israelites knew what it meant to live as afflicted strangers or foreigners in Egypt. The Israelites were warned not to mistreat widows or orphans, for YHWH would hear their outcry and he would, in his due time, execute severe judgment against oppressors. Deprived of YHWH’s care and concern, the guilty ones would face circumstances that would cost them their lives and leave behind widows and orphans. (22:21-24 [22:20-23])
No Israelite was to profit from the adversity of a fellow Israelite. A poor Israelite who had to borrow money should be given an interest-free loan. While the poor Israelite may have been required to give his garment as a pledge, the creditor had to return the garment before sunset, for the poor person needed it to keep himself warm when retiring for the night. The garment would have been his only covering, serving him as his blanket. YHWH would give attention to the outcry of the poor man who was callously deprived of his garment and subjected to the cold of the night without it. YHWH is compassionate and would not leave the cruel creditor unpunished for failing to return the pledged garment. (22:25-27 [22:24-26])
The command not to revile God may be understood to mean not to range oneself up against his authority and not to dishonor him as the Supreme Sovereign. Human authority was also to be treated respectfully, with one’s not resorting to cursing rulers because of having to submit to their direction, direction that may be resented. (22:28 [22:27]) In the Septuagint, the reference is to “gods,” not to God. Possibly the use of the plural “gods” accommodated the circumstances in which the translator was living. Targum Jonathan represents the command to the Israelites as meaning not to “revile [their] judges, nor [to] curse the rabbans [teachers or masters] who are appointed rulers among [the] people.”
After being settled in the land, the Israelites were not to delay making their contribution for sacred purposes from their harvests and their presses (olive oil or wine from the juice of crushed grapes). They were to offer their firstborn sons to YHWH by redeeming them with the designated payment of silver. The male firstborn of cattle and sheep were to stay with the mothers for seven days, and then they, on the eighth day, were to be given to YHWH as a sacrifice. In the Septuagint, the donkey is included, but the firstborn of the donkey had to be redeemed, as the animal could not be offered to YHWH on the altar. (22:29, 30 [22:28, 29])
As men or people who were “holy” to YHWH, they were not to defile themselves. One way in which they could avoid defilement was to abstain from eating meat from an animal that had been torn by a predator. Flesh or meat from such torn animals was to be thrown to scavenger dogs, to be devoured. (22:31 (22:30)
To assure that justice would be administered in an impartial manner, certain commands prohibited actions that would have led to corrupting the arrangements for handling disputes and other legal matters. The Israelites were not to make themselves guilty of spreading a false report or a malicious rumor. According to the Septuagint, they were not to accept a baseless report. For an Israelite to “join [his] hand” with a corrupt man to be a “malicious [an unjust (LXX)] witness” for him would have meant making a prior agreement to pervert justice or to promote violence or wrongdoing. This was prohibited. Group pressure can be a powerful force that interferes with the proper administration of justice. Therefore, the law prohibited following the crowd to commit evil or to be influenced by the crowd to pervert justice in a dispute. Although others often victimized the poor, they were not to be shown deference when they were guilty of serious wrongdoing. (23:1-3)
While it would have been wrong to treat the poor with partiality, their rights were not to be subverted in their disputes. The Israelites were to keep far away from false charges or refuse to entertain them. They were to remember that YHWH, as the ultimate Judge, would not acquit the wicked ones. Therefore, the Israelites were not to make themselves guilty of grave injustices, leading to the death of innocent or upright persons. The accepting of “gifts” or “bribes” was ruled out, for bribes can blind individuals who are responsible for administering justice and can lead to corrupt decisions that subvert the cause of persons who are in the right. (23:6-8)
Hateful or vengeful action even toward a man who had demonstrated himself to be an enemy was to be avoided. The Israelite who saw his enemy’s bull or donkey going astray was to take it back to him. If the enemy’s donkey had not been able to bear up under a heavy load and was lying down, the Israelite was to render assistance to raise the animal up. This kind act would also have reflected compassion for the overburdened donkey. The Septuagint says, “You must not pass it [the donkey] by, but you must raise it with him.” This rendering could be understood to refer to raising the animal together with its burden. (23:4, 5)
The Israelites were not to forget how they had been treated as strangers or foreigners in the land of Egypt and the affliction their ancestors endured there. Accordingly, they were not to oppress strangers or foreigners in their land, for they knew the “soul of a stranger” or how it felt to be mistreated as a foreigner. Instead, they were to treat the resident alien like a fellow Israelite, loving the person as they would love themselves. (23:9; Leviticus 19:33, 34)
The survival of a people depends on the wise use of resources, and the commands given to the Israelites, when heeded, contributed to maintaining the productivity of arable land. After sowing seed and cultivating crops for six years, the people were to let the land lie fallow in the seventh year. Whatever the fallow land produced of itself was to be designated for the poor and the wild animals, and (according to Leviticus) the owner, his servants, his hirelings, his domestic animals, and the wild animals could eat from the yield of the uncultivated land. Grapevines were not to be pruned, and the grapes from the untrimmed vines and the olives in the olive groves were not to be harvested in the seventh year but left for the needy to gather and to eat and for the wild animals to consume. (23:10, 11; Leviticus 25:2-6)
The seventh day that followed six days of laboring was to be a day of rest, providing welcome rest from work and refreshment for domestic animals (oxen or bulls) and donkeys, servants, and resident aliens. (23:12)
In the Scriptures, the names of false gods are recorded. Therefore, the command not to mention the names of false gods must refer to not mentioning them in a reverential way or in a manner that attributed existence to them. These gods and goddesses were to be regarded as something abhorrent and therefore their names should not have been heard from the mouths of the Israelites (unless it was in a demeaning way). Of necessity, parents needed to mention false deities when warning their children against engaging in idolatrous practices, and the prophets named false gods and goddesses when reproving fellow Israelites regarding their failure to worship YHWH exclusively. (23:13)
Once settled in the land, the Israelites were to observe three sacred annual festivals — the Festival of Unleavened Bread (in the month of Abib or Nisan [mid-March to mid-April), the Festival of the Harvest, the Festival of Weeks, or Pentecost (in the month of Sivan [mid-May to mid-June]), and the Festival of Ingathering or the Festival of Tabernacles or Booths at the conclusion of the agricultural year in the month of Ethanim or Tishri (mid-September to mid-October). All the Israelite males were required to appear before YHWH at these three festivals. Initially, the location was the tabernacle that was set up in the land of Canaan, and later the place was the temple at Jerusalem. While the men were commanded to be present for the festivals, the women could choose to be in attendance. It was a kindness on God’s part to exempt the women from obligatory attendance, as their being pregnant or having to nurse babies and to care for small children would have made it burdensome to travel a considerable distance to the designated location and then to stay for the duration of the festivals. (23:14-17)
Nothing leavened was to accompany the “blood of [YHWH’s] sacrifice,” and no fat from a festival offering was to remain until the morning of the next day. The firstfruits from the cultivated soil were to be brought into the “house of YHWH” (initially the tabernacle and later the temple that replaced it). (23:18, 19a)
From early times, the Jews have interpreted the command prohibiting the boiling of a kid of the goats in its mother’s milk to indicate that meat should not be mixed with dairy products. Targum Jonathan (thought to have been composed in the second century CE) is specific in stating that one must not “eat of flesh and milk mingled together.” Originally, the command may have reminded the Israelites that the milk that was designed to nourish the kid should not be used as a means contrary to its original purpose to preserve the animal’s life. This command may also have served to teach the Israelites compassion, for the natural and instinctive attachment of the female goat to her kid in no way agrees with the use of her milk for the total destruction of her offspring. (23:19b)
The opening word (“look”) of verse 20 introduces a new subject. YHWH (doubtless through the agency of his representative angel) informed Moses that he would be sending his angel to accompany the Israelites, guarding them and leading them to the place he had prepared for them (the Promised Land). The angel who would be with the Israelites had God’s name “in him,” indicating that he represented YHWH and possessed the full authority to act in his name. Therefore, failure to heed his authoritative words or to rebel against him would not be pardoned or left unpunished. There is a biblical basis for identifying this angel who had God’s name “in him” as having been Michael. Daniel 10:21 and 12:1 indicate that Michael had a special relationship with the Israelites, and Jude 9 refers to a dispute the archangel Michael had with the devil over the body of Moses. (23:20, 21)
For the Israelites to listen to the voice of his angel denoted heeding YHWH himself. Accordingly, YHWH’s message regarding this angel to Moses was: “If you listen attentively [literally, listening, you listen] to his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.” The angel would bring the Israelites into the land of Canaan, the land which the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, (Gergesites LXX]), Hivites, and Jebusites then inhabited, and YHWH promised to blot out these peoples. (23:22, 23)
The Israelites were forbidden to revere the deities of the peoples in the land and to engage in the abhorrent practices associated with these deities. As a people to be exclusively devoted to YHWH, the Israelites were to destroy the sacred pillars (which appear to have been phallic symbols of Baal or other false gods) in the land. Their serving YHWH exclusively would lead to his blessing their “bread” or food, their “wine” (LXX), and their “water.” Blessed with good food and an abundance of good water, the people would enjoy good health. This would fulfill YHWH’s promise to remove sickness from their midst. Women generally would not miscarry or be barren, and the people would be blessed with a long life. (23:24-26)
To enable his people to gain possession of the land he had promised to give to them, YHWH declared that he would send his terror before them (or cause the inhabitants of the land to be overwhelmed with fear), throw into confusion or panic all the people against whom they would come, and cause all their enemies to turn their backs in flight from before them. (23:27)
There is a measure of uncertainty about the meaning of the Hebrew word (tsir‘ah) relating to what YHWH would send forth to impact the inhabitants of the land he had promised to give to his people. The Septuagint rendering is the plural of sphekía (hornet or wasp), and this is also the rendering found in footnotes or in the main text of modern translations. Other possible meanings of the Hebrew word tsir‘ah that have been suggested include “terror,” “dejection,” and “discouragement.” It is questionable that “terror” or “fear” is the meaning here, for in verse 27 the word ’eymah can be specifically defined as “terror” or “fear.” Regardless of how the word tsir‘ah may be defined, it designates means that would contribute to driving out the Amorites (LXX), Hivites, Canaanites, and Hittites from the land. YHWH promised not to drive them out in a single year, for this would have left too much desolation in the land and caused beasts of prey to enter the desolated regions, posing a threat to the safety of his people, particularly their young children. (23:28, 29)
Instead of effecting a swift depopulation of the land, YHWH purposed that the inhabitants of the land be driven out progressively (“little by little”) as the population of his people Israel increased. The boundaries of the land to be occupied by the Israelites extended from the Sea of Reeds (yam suph) or the Red Sea (LXX), the eastern arm of the Red Sea (now known as the Gulf of ‛Aqaba), to the Sea of the Philistines (the Mediterranean), and from the “wilderness” (the Syro-Arabian Desert east of the Promised Land and the arid Sinai Peninsula south of the land) to the “River” (the Euphrates). With YHWH’s support, the Israelites would eventually drive the native inhabitants out of the land. (23:30, 31)
After entering the Promised Land, the Israelites continued to live among many of the native inhabitants. Therefore, they were commanded to make no covenants or agreements with them nor to have anything to do with their gods. The native inhabitants were not to remain as the prominent population in the land, as close association with them could lead the Israelites astray to the point where they would begin to revere their false gods. (23:32, 33)
While Moses had been on Mount Sinai, YHWH (apparently through the angel who represented him) told him that he should again come near to him. This next time, however, he was not to come alone. The others accompanying him were to be Aaron, Nadab and Abihu (two of Aaron’s sons and Moses’ nephews), and a representative group of seventy elders from among the elders of Israel. At Mount Sinai, all of them were to bow down in worship before YHWH. Only Moses had been authorized to ascend the mountain so as to approach YHWH closer. None of the men with Moses were to go beyond the location where they had stopped, and the rest of the Israelites were prohibited from ascending the mountain. (24:1, 2)
After receiving YHWH’s commands and directives, Moses descended the mountain and came to the people, relating to them “all the words of YHWH and all the regulations.” As with “one voice,” the people responded, “All the words that YHWH has spoken we will do [or obey].” Moses then made a written record of “all the words of YHWH.” When he rose from his sleep the next morning, Moses built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve pillars corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. (24:3, 4)
The young men whom Moses sent to present holocausts and bulls as communion offerings to YHWH on the newly erected altar are identified in Targum Jonathan as having been firstborn sons. This is likely, for (at that time, before the inauguration of a priesthood in the family of Aaron) priestly functions had been performed by the heads of households or by the firstborn sons in these households. From the sacrificed bulls, Moses “took half of the blood and put it in bowls,” and the other “half of the blood” he splashed “on [or against] the altar.” Then he took the “book of the covenant” (all the words of YHWH that he had previously recorded [24:4]) and read everything to the people, thereby making them aware of what their obligations were. They responded with the words, “All that YHWH has spoken we will do and heed.” Moses used blood from the bowls to splash on the people, identifying it as the “blood of the covenant that YHWH had made with [them].” With this blood, the covenant between YHWH and the Israelites was validated. (24:5-8)
Thereafter Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders approached Mount Sinai. As a people who had come into a covenant relationship with YHWH, the Israelites, through their representative elders, were then able to draw near to the mountain where he had revealed his presence. There, at the mountain, the entire group “saw,” or had a vision of, the “God of Israel.” Apparently when the men looked up, they saw, “under his feet,” what appeared to them like a “pavement of sapphire stone [a deep-blue precious stone], like the very heavens for purity.” The glory or magnificence that they beheld was like the cloudless blue sky, but they saw no form that would have given anyone the pattern for making an image of YHWH. Just what they did see of the divine glory is not stated in the account. According to the Septuagint rendering, they “saw the place where the God of Israel stood.” Although they were sinful men close to the holy God or the pure divine presence, they did not perish. YHWH did not lay his hand on these principal men of the “sons [or people] of Israel.” They, however, “saw” God, or beheld a manifestation of his glory, and had a meal in his presence. They ate and drank as persons having communion or fellowship with God as parties to the covenant that had been concluded with them and the rest of the people. Whether they had brought meat to eat from the sacrificed animals that had been offered as a communion sacrifice and wine to drink is not revealed in the account. It is likely, however, that they did. (24:9-11; see the Note section.)
YHWH summoned Moses to come to him on the mountain and to wait there until he would be given the tablets of stone on which were written the Ten Words or Ten Commandments. With the young man Joshua as his attendant, Moses prepared to make the ascent. He told the seventy elders to wait for their return and informed them that Aaron and Hur should be consulted respecting any dispute or legal case among the people. As Moses and Joshua went up on Mount Sinai, Aaron, Hur, and the seventy elders returned to their respective locations among the encamped Israelites. Apparently Joshua accompanied Moses only part way and remained at that location on the mountain. While Moses made his ascent, a cloud continued to cover the mountain, and the glory of YHWH that became visible on the mountain resembled a “devouring fire.” For six days, Moses waited for additional instructions. Then, on the seventh day, YHWH called to Moses from the midst of the cloud. Meanwhile the Israelites were able to see the “glory of YHWH” that looked like a “devouring fire” on top of Mount Sinai. Moses entered the cloud on the seventh day and stayed there “forty days and forty nights.” (24:12-18)
The words of verse 11 in the Septuagint differ from those in the Hebrew text. “And of the chosen ones of Israel not as much as one was missing [or perished], and they appeared at the place of God and ate and drank.”
For the construction of a tabernacle devoted to the worship of YHWH, the utensils that would be needed, and the garments for the men who would be functioning as priests, Moses was divinely directed to obtain a voluntary offering from the people. YHWH decreed that the contribution of materials would come from “every man whose heart [was] willing” or every man who in his inmost self was motivated to want to share in the offering. The items needed were gold, silver, copper or bronze, “blue” or “blueish purple” yarn, cloth, or wool; yarn, cloth, or wool dyed purple or “reddish purple”; scarlet material (double scarlet [LXX]), fine linen (twisted linen [LXX]), goats’ hair, ram skins dyed red; hyacinth-colored skins (LXX [uncertainty exists about the kind of skins the Hebrew word designates]), acacia wood (decay-resistant wood [LXX]), olive oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the incense, onyx (shóham [sardius (LXX)]) stones and precious and semi-precious stones to be placed in settings for the ephod and for the breastpiece. (25:1-7 [25:1-6]; see the Notes section.)
The sanctuary to be constructed was to be a rectangular tent-like structure, a tabernacle. It and its furnishings were to be made according to the pattern YHWH would show Moses. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews referred to this when indicating that the priestly services were conducted in a “copy of the true one [literally, true ones (probably because the tabernacle consisted of two parts)],” the real holy place where God is. (25:8, 9 [25:7, 8]; Hebrews 8:5; 9:24, 25)
The most sacred item to be fashioned was the ark of the covenant in which the two tablets containing the “Ten Words” or “Ten Commandments” (the “testimony” [25:16, 21 (25:15, 20)] were to be stored. Its measurements were to be 2.5 cubits (45 inches [c. 114 centimeters] in length, 1.5 cubits (27 inches [c. 69 centimeters]) in width, and 1.5 cubits (27 inches [c. 69 centimeters]) in height. With the exception of the cover, the ark was to be constructed of (decay-resistant [LXX]) wood (commonly considered to have been acacia wood because of its suitability for the purpose and its availability on the Sinai Peninsula) and to be overlaid inside and outside with pure gold. A beautifully fashioned border was to be designed for the top of the Ark. According to the Septuagint, this would have been a border of twisted (or braided) gold. (25:10, 11 [25:9, 10]; see the Notes section.)
To facilitate carrying the ark, it was to be equipped with four gold rings on its four corners, and poles were to be inserted in these rings. The poles were to be constructed of the same wood as the ark and overlaid with gold. According to the Hebrew text, the ark did not rest on the ground but was fashioned with “four feet” or four supports at the four corners. The Hebrew text also indicates that the rings were to be attached on the four feet, which possibly means that the rings were just above the feet. In the Septuagint, there is no mention of “feet.” It says that the rings were placed on the sides of the ark, with two being on one side and two being on the other side. Once in position in the rings, the poles were not to be removed, assuring that the ark would not be touched. (25:12-15 [25:11-14])
The cover (or propitiatory) of the ark, measuring 2.5 cubits in length and 1.5 cubits in width (45 inches [c. 114 centimeters] by 27 inches [c. 69 centimeters]), was to be fashioned of pure gold. Two cherubs of gold consisting of hammered work were to be positioned on the cover, with one cherub at one end and the other one at the other end. Their outspread wings were to be designed to overshadow the cover, and their faces were to be toward one another and looking down, evidently in an attitude of worship. Thereafter, from above the cover of the “ark of the testimony” and from between the cherubs, YHWH would communicate with Moses everything that he would then relate to the “sons [or people] of Israel.” (25:17-22 [25:16-21]; see the Notes section)
Like the “ark of the testimony,” the table for the display of the showbread was to be constructed of wood and overlaid with pure gold. The designated measurements were: 2 cubits (36 inches [c. 92 centimeters]) long, one cubit (18 inches [c. 46 centimeters] wide, and 1.5 cubits (27 inches [c. 69 centimeters]) high. A rim or border of one handbreadth (3 inches [c. 8 centimeters]) was to be beautified with gold molding (moldings of twisted or braided gold [LXX]). For carrying purposes, the table was to be designed with gold rings attached to the four corners at its four legs. Through these rings, two gold-covered wooden poles were to be positioned. Various other utensils, including the ones to be used on the table, were to be made of gold. On the table itself, the showbread was to be placed. This bread is literally named the “bread of faces,” for it would always be before the “face” or the presence of YHWH as an offering to him. (25:23-30 [25:22-29])
A pure gold lampstand of hammered work was to provide illumination in the holy compartment of the tabernacle. Three branches on each side of the central shaft, or seven branches in all, were to be equipped with lamps. Alternating knobs and flowers (possibly almond blossoms) provided the decorative elements for the central shaft and the six branches. Gold fire pans and gold snuffers or tongs were to be fashioned for the lampstand. The gold tongs may have been used to remove the burnt lampwicks that would be deposited in the gold fire pans. With its utensils and lamps, the lampstand was to be made from one gold talent (about 92 pounds troy or about 75.5 pounds avoirdupois [c. 34 kilograms]) according to the pattern Moses had been shown at the top of Mount Sinai. (25:31-40 [25:30-40]); see the Notes section.)
Considerable uncertainty exists whether the Hebrew word shóham (25:7 [25:6]) designates onyx. The Septuagint is inconsistent in how it renders this word (berýllion [beryl], ónyx, prasinos [“light green” stone], sárdion [sardius], smáragdos [“bright green” stone, probably emerald], and soóm [possibly carnelian]).
The tabernacle and its furnishings were designed to be portable. This confirms that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness and moved from one location to another location. Once they were permanently settled in the land and had an established location for the tabernacle, frequent movement ceased and portability would not have been as important as it had been initially.
There is archaeological evidence for a cubit of approximately 17.5 inches (44.5 centimeters), but 18 inches (c. 46 centimeters) for a cubit (as commonly found in many reference works) is used in Werner Bible Commentary because it reduces the number of fractions involved when calculating cubit measurements in inches, feet, centimeters, and meters.
The ark represented God’s presence, and so the reference to it as the “ark of the testimony” (25:22 [25:21]) could indicate that it served as a testimony or witness that God was present in the midst of the Israelites. Another significance for the designation “ark of the testimony” would be that in it the “testimony” (the two tablets of stone inscribed with the Ten Commandments) was stored. The tablets served as a testimony respecting the commands the Israelites were obligated to observe, and this testimony would be a witness against them if they failed to live up to these commands. In verse 21 (20), the Septuagint refers to placing the “testimonies” or “witnesses” in the ark. This may be because there were two stone tablets.
According to the Septuagint rendering, the decorative elements for the lampstand consisted of bowls shaped like nuts or shaped like the blossoms of nut-bearing trees. It refers to the lampstand and the three arms on each side of the central shaft as designed with buds and lilies. (25:30-34 [25: 31-35])
The supporting structure for the four coverings of the tabernacle consisted of wooden frames overlaid with gold. These frames were held together with five bars each. Gold rings on each frame accommodated the bars, with each bar in the middle position on the north, west, and south sides running from one end to the other end. The position of the four other bars on the three sides is not specified in the account. Each frame had two tenons that fitted into silver bases. A covering of fine twisted linen, of blue (or blueish purple), purple (reddish purple), and scarlet yarn, embroidered with cherubs was positioned first on the tabernalce framework. One embroidered cherub appears to have been visible in each frame. The covering itself consisted of two large sections, with each section being made up of five cloths. Each cloth measured 28 cubits in length and 4 cubits in width (42 feet x 6 feet [c. 12.8 meters x c. 1.8 meters]), and five of these cloths were joined together to form one large cloth. The two large cloths were joined by means of 50 gold clasps that connected the 50 loops of blue (or blueish purple) yarn on the edge of one large cloth with that of the matching 50 loops on the edge of the other large cloth. (26:1-6, 15-17, 26-29; see the Notes section.)
The second covering for the tabernacle consisted of goats’ hair. In design, this longer covering was much like that of the shorter linen covering, a covering that did not reach down to the ground by at least one cubit [18 inches [c. 46 centimeters]) on each side. The second covering consisted of two sections made from eleven cloths that measured thirty cubits by four cubits (45 feet x 6 feet [c. 13.7 meters x c. 1.8 meters] each. Five of the cloths were joined to form one large cloth, and the six remaining cloths were joined to make the other large cloth. The two large cloths were joined with 50 copper (or bronze) clasps that connected the 50 loops on the edge of one large cloth with that of the matching 50 loops on the edge of the other large cloth. Being two cubits (36 inches [c. 92 centimeters] longer than the linen covering, the second covering did hang down to the bottom of the north and south sides of the tabernacle. Next came a covering of tanned (or red) ram skins and finally another covering of skins. There is uncertainty about the material from which the fourth coverning was made. According to the Septuagint, they were hyacinth-colored skins. Although not mentioned in the account, ropes must have been attached to the last covering, and these ropes would have been securely fastened to tent pins in the ground. (26:7-14; see the Notes section.)
On both the north and the south sides, twenty wooden frames overlaid with gold were attached by means of tenons to forty silver bases, and on the west side (or rear) of the tabernacle, there were six of these frames and two silver bases under each frame. Additionally, two frames served as corners at the rear of the tabernacle, with only a half cubit (9 inches [c. 23 centimeters]) adding to the inside dimension of the structure. The individual gold-overlaid wooden frames measured 10 cubits (15 feet [c. 4.6 meters]) in length and in height, and 1.5 cubits (27 inches [c. 69 centimeters]) in width. Based on the dimensions of the frames, the inside measurements of the tabernacle would have been 30 cubits (45 feet [c. 13.7 meters] in length, 10 cubits (15 feet [c. 4.6 meters]) in width, and 10 cubits (15 feet [c. 4.6 meters]) in height. (26:15-25)
The tabernacle consisted of two sections — the Holy and the Most Holy. A fine twisted linen curtain, of blue (or blueish purple), purple (or reddish purple), and scarlet yarns, embroidered with cherubs, separated the two compartments. This curtain hung from gold hooks attached to four gold-overlaid wooden pillars or posts that were secured in four silver bases. In the Most Holy, the “ark of the testimony” was placed. The table for the showbread was in position on the north side of the Holy, and the lampstand was across from it on the opposite side. A screen at the entrance of the tabernacle was made like the curtain that separated the Holy from the Most Holy, but it hung from gold hooks attached to five gold-overlaid wooden pillars that were secured in five copper or bronze bases. It is likely that the place where the two large cloths of the linen covering were joined with gold clasps was positioned over the pillars from which the curtain separating the Holy from the Most Holy was suspended from the gold hooks. Accordingly, the Most Holy would have been a cube of 10 cubits (15 feet [c. 4.6 meters]) on each side, and the Most Holy would have measured 20 cubits (30 feet [c. 9.2 meters]) in length and 10 cubits (15 feet [c. 4.6 meters]) in width and height. (26:31-37)
According to the account, Moses had the benefit of seeing the pattern for the tabernacle and its furnishings. Therefore, he was in position to follow through on the command to have everything constructed just as he had been shown on Mount Sinai. (26:30; see the Notes section.)
There is archaeological evidence for a cubit of approximately 17.5 inches (44.5 centimeters), but 18 inches (c. 46 centimeters) for a cubit (as commonly found in many reference works) is used in Werner Bible Commentary because it reduces the number of fractions involved when calculating cubit measurements in inches, feet, centimeters, and meters.
The wood is commonly considered to have been acacia wood because of its suitability for the framework of the tabernacle and its availability on the Sinai Peninsula.
Verse 9 states that the sixth cloth was to be doubled over at the front of the tabernacle. This would mean that, from the top of the tabernacle, about three feet (c. 91 centimeters) of the covering would have hung down on the east or entrance side of the tabernacle. The remaining part of the covering would have added three feet (c. 91 centimeters) to the length of the material that covered the west side. (Verse 12)
The ark represented God’s presence, and so the reference to it as the “ark of the testimony” (25:22; 26:33, 34) could indicate that it served as a testimony or witness that God was present in the midst of the Israelites. Another possible significance for the designation “Ark of the Testimony” would be that in it the “testimony” (the two tablets of stone inscribed with the Ten Commandments) was stored. The tablets served as a testimony respecting the commands the Israelites were obligated to observe, and this testimony would be a witness against them if they failed to live up to these commands.
Without actually having the pattern for the tabernacle and its furnishings, one cannot be sure about how everything should be portrayed visually.
The altar of burnt offering was basically a hollow square box made of wood overlaid with copper or bronze. At its four corners were four horn-like projections. Four copper or bronze rings, with two on one side of the altar and two on the opposite side, were used to insert the wooden poles overlaid with copper or bronze. These poles functioned as the means for carrying the altar. A grating consisting of a copper or bronze network was positioned inside the hollow boxlike altar, which measured five cubits (7.5 feet [c. 2.3 meters]) in length, five cubits in width, and 3 cubits (4.5 feet [c 1.4 meters]) in height. Whereas Moses had been shown a pattern that provided him with the details needed to construct the altar, readers of the account now are much more limited in understanding what was recorded about the altar and how the officiating priests would have carried out their functions at the altar. (27:1-8; see the Notes section.)
The altar of burnt offering had its designated location in the courtyard around the tabernacle. This courtyard was surrounded by 5-cubit (7.5-foot [c. 2.3-meter]) high linen hangings that measured 100 cubits (150 feet [c. 45.7 meters]) on the south and north sides, and 50 cubits (75 feet [c. 23 meters]) on the west side. The 50-cubit east side had an entrance that measured 20 cubits (30 feet [c. 9 meters]) across and that had an entrance screen of fine twisted linen, seemingly embroidered with blue (or blueish purple), purple (or reddish purple), and crimson yarns. Copper or bronze pillars supported the linen hangings on the four sides of the courtyard. The hangings were suspended from silver hooks and bands (rings or hoops) attached to the pillars. Both on the north and south sides, the 20 pillars were secured in copper or bronze bases, and the 10 pillars on the west side had ten corresponding copper or bronze bases. The arrangement on the east side required three pillars for the 15-cubit (22.5-foot [c. 6.9-meter] hangings on each side of the entrance, and four pillars for supporting the 20-cubit (30-foot [c. 9-meter] entrance screen. (27:9-18)
All utensils used in the courtyard were made from copper or bronze, as were all the pegs needed for attaching the tabernacle outer covering and the courtyard hangings to the ground. (27:3, 19)
For keeping the lamps on the lampstand burning, the Israelites were to contribute pure oil from beaten olives. Aaron and his sons were the ones to set up the lampstand with its lamps in the Holy, or on the east side of the curtain that separated the Holy from the Most Holy. The lamps were to be kept burning before YHWH from evening to morning, requiring that the Israelites provide the needed olive oil throughout their generations. (27:20, 21)
There is archaeological evidence for a cubit of approximately 17.5 inches (44.5 centimeters), but 18 inches (c. 46 centimeters) for a cubit (as commonly found in many reference works) is used in Werner Bible Commentary because it reduces the number of fractions involved when calculating cubit measurements in inches, feet, centimeters, and meters.
The wood is commonly considered to have been acacia wood because of its suitability for construction purposes and its availability on the Sinai Peninsula.
Verse 4 indicates that copper or bronze rings were to be attached at the four corners of the grating. This appears to have been a removable grating. The designated place for the grating was to be “halfway down the altar” below the altar ledge. (Verse 5) According to the Septuagint, the rings were to be placed under the grating of the altar, and the grating itself was to be positioned “unto the middle of the altar.”
In the descriptions, the main references are to dimensions and materials. This information is readily conveyed by means of the spoken or written word. What was visually revealed is not included in the account, and this makes it impossible to represent the tabernacle, the courtyard hangings, and the utensils and furnishings exactly as they existed many centuries ago. The absence of any detailed description of the cherubs may also have prevented the making of images for use in idolatrous practices.
Aaron, the brother of Moses, and his four sons (Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar) were YHWH’s choice for serving as priests in Israel, with Aaron being appointed as the first high priest. Garments were to be made for Aaron that were more impressive than those of his sons. These garments “for glory [splendor or dignity] and for beauty” (especially beautiful attire) included items that the other priests did not wear — a sleeveless blue (or blueish purple) mantle, an ephod, a sash for the ephod, a breastpiece, and a turban to which a gold plate was fastened and on which the words “Holy to YHWH” were engraved. (28:1, 2, 4, 31, 36, 37)
Persons who were divinely endowed “with the spirit of wisdom” or who possessed the skill to do the work were the ones designated to make the holy garments in which Aaron, as a man sanctified or set apart, would serve YHWH in priestly capacity. These individuals also were to make holy garments for his four sons. These garments were worn while serving YHWH at his holy tabernacle and, therefore, were holy. The Israelites would provide the skilled workers with the gold, the blue (or blueish purple) yarn or cloth, purple (or red purple) yarn or cloth, scarlet material, and fine twisted linen which they needed to accomplish their assigned tasks. (28:3, 5)
Both Aaron and his sons were required to wear linen drawers or shorts to prevent any exposure of their private parts while serving at the tabernacle. These drawers were to cover the private parts and reach down to the thighs. Exposure of their private parts while serving at the tabernacle and at the altar would have constituted a defilement of the holy place and an affront to YHWH (the ultimate “Holy One”) at his representative place of dwelling, and this transgression would have merited death. (28:42, 43)
Over the drawers, Aaron and his sons wore linen robes that were tied around their bodies with linen sashes. Most likely each linen robe had been left in the natural state of its off-white color, for there is no mention of the cloth as having been dyed. The Exodus account does not describe the robe, but Josephus (Antiquities, III, vii, 2, 4) did include details. He wrote that the robe reached down to the feet and had sleeves that fitted closely around the arms. According to the Talmud (Yoma, 72b) the “sleeves reached as far as the palm of the hand.” The linen sash was embroidered with blue (or blueish purple), purple (or reddish purple), and scarlet yarn. (28:39, 40; 39:27, 29) Josephus (Antiquities, III, vii, 2) wrote that the sash was embroidered with flowers, had a width of “four fingers” and was “girded to the breast a little above the elbows.”
Above the long linen robe, Aaron was to wear the blue (or blueish purple) “mantle of the ephod” when entering the sanctuary to carry out his official duties. So that he could pull it over his head, the mantle had an opening at the top with a binding of woven work that would prevent it from tearing. This mantle doubtless had no sleeves. Josephus stated that the garment was “parted where the hands were to come out.” On the hem of the mantel were alternating gold bells and pomegranates made from blue (or bluish purple), purple (or reddish purple), and scarlet yarn. Josephus described this part of the attire as reaching down to the feet, and he wrote that the fringes between the bells were “like pomegranates” in color. (Antiquities, III, vii, 4) Targum Jonathan says that there were 71 bells (but 70 for chapter 39). The purpose of the bells was so that Aaron could be heard when entering the sanctuary before the “face of YHWH,” or when coming into his presence in his representative place of dwelling, and also upon leaving the sanctuary. It appears that the bells served to make an announcement so that it would be acceptable for Aaron to be in the sanctuary and, therefore, would not die as an unauthorized person. (28:31-35)
Above the blue (or blueish purple) mantle, Aaron was to wear an ephod consisting of two pieces and made from gold, blue (or blueish purple), purple (or reddish purple) and scarlet yarns and fine twisted linen. Initially, the gold was hammered into sheets and then cut into threads that could be used for beautifying the ephod along with the yarns of different colors. (39:2, 3) Josephus described the ephod as short in length and as having sleeves. (Antiquities, III, vii, 5) The ephod was designed to accommodate a breastpiece with four rows of precious and semiprecious stones that were placed in gold settings. This breastpiece was attached with gold chains from rings at the top right and left corners of the breastpiece to the gold settings of the two gem stones positioned at the top of the right and left shoulder pieces of the ephod. Two blue (or bluish purple) cords that were passed through two gold rings at the bottom corners of the breastpiece held it securely to the ephod. The ephod was tied around the body with a sash. This sash was made from the same materials as the ephod. (28:6-28; see the Notes section.)
Each one of the two gem stones on the shoulder pieces was engraved with the names of six “sons of Israel” or Jacob in birth order, with the names of the oldest “sons of Israel” on one stone and the names of the youngest sons on the other stone. This may have served to indicate that the high priest bore the responsibility for all the tribes of Israel in matters of worship and in making known YHWH’s will and purpose to his people. Based on the way the sons are listed in Genesis 29:32-30:34 and 35:16-18, the six oldest sons were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, and Naphtali; and the six youngest sons were Gad, Asher, Isaachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin. The Hebrew word for the gem stone (shóham) on the two shoulder pieces has often been translated “onyx.” Indicative of the uncertainty about this rendering is the inconsistent manner in which the Hebrew word is translated in the Septuagint. (berýllion [beryl], ónyx, prásinos [“light green” stone], sárdion [sardius], smáragdos [“bright green” stone, probably emerald], and soóm [possibly carnelian]). (28:9-14; see the Notes section.)
The material for the breastpiece was to have a length of a cubit (18 inches; c. 44 centimeters) and the width of a span (9 inches; c. 22 centimeters). It was then to be folded in half to form a square of equal sides, with the folded portion forming a pocket into which the Urim and Thummim were to be placed. The Urim and Thummim may have been lots by means of which YHWH’s answer to inquiries was disclosed. Therefore, the breastpiece was also called the “breastpiece of judgment.” Aaron, as the high priest, was to “bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment upon his heart before YHWH continually.” This seems to indicate that he should highly value the divine judgment and recognize that all the people of Israel should faithfully conduct themselves in harmony therewith. Apparently to inquire of YHWH, the high priest would stand in front of the curtain that separated the Holy from the Most Holy, and YHWH’s answer to questions for guidance would be revealed by means of the Urim and Thummim. In the Septuagint, the rendering for Urim and Thummim is “revelation” and “truth.” (28:15, 16, 29, 30)
On the breastpiece, four rows of each of the three gem stones in the respective row was engraved with the name of one of the “sons of Israel.” Likely the gem stones were positioned in the order they are named in the Exodus account (from right to left as would be the case when reading Hebrew). Targum Jonathan is specific in listing the name engraved on each stone according to the birth order that appears to be indicated in the Genesis account (Reuben, Simeon, Levi [the first row]; Judah, Dan, Naphtali [the second row]; Gad, Asher, Issachar [the third row], and Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin [the fourth row]). Positive identification of all twelve precious or semiprecious stones is not possible. Some of the renderings of the Hebrew words and the Greek words in the Septuagint are conjectural. The following are renderings of the Hebrew and Greek words for the respective rows: ruby (possibly [a red stone]), topaz, and emerald [sardius (a red stone), topaz, emerald (LXX)]), first row; torquoise or garnet (possibly), sapphire, and diamond (possibly [a very hard stone]) [carbuncle, sapphire, jasper (LXX)], second row; amber (perhaps), agate, and amethyst (perhaps) [ligurion, agate, and amethyst (LXX)], third row; beryl (possibly), onyx (possibly), and jasper [chrysolite, beryl, and onyx (LXX)], fourth row. The precious and semiprecious stones engraved with the names of the sons of Israel were on the breastpiece that the high priest wore over his heart, suggesting that he was to have heartfelt love, concern, and care for all the people of the tribes of Israel. His service for them included helping them to remain devoted to YHWH as a people obedient to his commands. (28:17-21, 29)
The linen turban of Aaron differed from the headdresses that were made for his sons. On the front of his turban only and attached to it with a blue (or blueish purple) cord was the gold plate with the engraved inscription, “Holy to YHWH.” This gold plate with its inscription served to make the offerings of the people of Israel acceptable to YHWH, for Aaron, as high priest, would be taking upon himself any guilt the people incurred respecting their holy offerings and holy gifts. (28:36-40; 29:6; 39:30) Josephus (Antiquities, III, vii, 3) described the turban as having been made of “thick swathes,” with the linen material being “doubled round many times and sewn together.” This headdress was covered with a “piece of fine linen” that extended from the upper part “down to the forehead,” hiding the “seams of the swathes.”
After the skilled weavers and other expert workers had finished making the attire for Aaron and his sons, Moses was to clothe them with the new garments and to anoint, fully empower or ordain (literally,“fill their hand”), and sanctify them (or set them apart) to serve YHWH as priests. (28:41)
Josephus wrote that the breastpiece was part of the ephod and fitted into the space that had been left empty in the middle of the breast section. According to him, the arrangement of gold rings and gold chains served to secure the breastpiece with its twelve gem stones from falling out of its place. (Antiquities, III, vii, 5)
According to Josephus (Antiquities, III, vii, 5), the gem stone with the six names of the oldest sons was on the right shoulder and the gem stone with the names of the youngest sons on the left shoulder. (28:9)
Eight of the precious and semiprecious stones mentioned in Revelation 21:19 and 20 are the same ones the Septuagint lists for the high priest’s breastpiece. They are sardius (sárdion), topaz (topázion), emerald (smáragdos), sapphire (sáppheiros but a different spelling in Revelation [sápphiros]), jasper (íaspis), amethyst (améthystos), chrysolite (chrysólithos), and beryl (berýllion, which is the diminutive form of the term appearing in Revelation [béryllos]). (Exodus 28:17-20; 36:17-20)
Shortly before the Israelites left Egypt, they obtained gold and silver from the Egyptians, and it must have been at this time that they also acquired precious and semiprecious stones. In view of the extensive trade in which the Egyptians engaged, many of the people doubtless owned gem stones.
In Rahlfs’ printed text of the Septuagint, the words of verses 23 through 28 concerning the breastpiece are missing.
To sanctify Aaron and his sons (or to set them apart) to serve YHWH as priests, an unblemished young bull and two unblemished rams were to be slaughtered. For the installation, Moses also needed to have unleavened baked items made from fine wheat flour, with olive oil being used for certain designated items. In a (“reed” [LXX]) basked, he was to bring the baked items and also to lead the bull and the two rams to the completed “tent of meeting,” “tent of the testimony” (LXX), or tabernacle. To the entrance of the tent or tabernacle, he was to conduct Aaron and his sons. After washing Aaron and his sons with water (or possibly meaning directing them to do so), Moses was to clothe Aaron in the priestly attire that had been made for him and to anoint him, pouring the anointing oil on his head. It does not seem likely that the oil would have been poured on the turban and so it first must have been removed before the act of anointing. (29:1-7; Leviticus 8:2-9, 12; see the Notes section.)
After Aaron’s sons had been dressed in their priestly attire, they and their father were to place their hands upon the head of the young bull that had been led to the tent of meeting. This indicated that they acknowledged the sacrifice as being for them and needing to be made because they were sinners. At the entrance of the tent of meeting, Moses was to slaughter the bull “before the face of YHWH” or in his presence. He was to take part of the bull’s blood and, with his finger, apply it to the four horns of the altar. The rest of the blood Moses was to pour out at the base of the altar. Since the “horn” is a symbol of power, the application of blood to the horns of the altar could signify that the atoning power of the sacrifices had its basis in the blood. The pouring out of the blood at the base of the altar could indicate that blood constituted the foundation of the sacrificial arrangement. Moreover, the use of the blood in this manner would have served to cleanse it from the defilement that was brought upon it by the sins of Aaron and his sons. Like all the other people of the tribes of Israel, they were still sinners, and sin causes defilement. (29:8-12; Leviticus 8:13-15; compare Haggai 2:12-14; Hebrews 9:22, 23.)
Fat was considered to be the choicest or the best part of the slaughtered bull. Therefore, all of it was designated to be offered to YHWH. As a sin offering for Aaron and his sons, the entire carcass of the bull was to be burned outside the camp, with nothing but the fat consumed on the altar. (29:13, 14; Leviticus 8:16, 17)
One of the rams was to be offered as a holocaust or a whole burnt offering. Aaron and his sons were to place their hands on the ram’s head, indicating that the offering was for them with reference to their installation to serve as priests. Although the holocaust was not a sin offering, the sacrifice did not exclude the aspect of sin, as evident from the divinely required manner in which the ram’s blood was to be used. Likely with hyssop, Moses was to splash blood against the four sides of the altar, thereby cleansing it from any defilement associated with sin. Accordingly, when Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the ram, they may also have been acknowledging their own sinful state. After the ram was slaughtered, cut into sections for placement on the altar, and its entrails and legs were washed, it thus was properly prepared to be offered as a holocaust to YHWH. (29:15-18; Leviticus 8:18-21)
As in the case of the first ram, Aaron and his sons were to place their hands on the head of the second ram. A portion of the blood of this second ram was to be applied to Aaron’s right ear, right thumb, and the big toe of his right foot. This was also to be done to each one of his four sons. Blood was the means used for cleansing from defilement or sin and for sanctifying or setting apart as holy what was thus cleansed. (Compare Leviticus 16:18, 19; Hebrews 9:22.) Therefore, the application of the blood on the right ear, right thumb, and right big toe must have constituted a cleansing from sin and a sanctifying of all the faculties of Aaron and his sons so that they might acceptably serve as priests. With cleansed ears, they were to be attentive and obedient to God’s commands. Their cleansed hands were to be ready for faithfully carrying out their priestly duties and doing God’s will. In their walk or their conduct, they needed to be exemplary as persons directing their “feet” in a way that honored YHWH. (29:19, 20; Leviticus 8:22-24)
Moses again was to splash blood against all four sides of the altar, cleansing it from any defilement. He also was to take some of the blood that was on the altar and some of the anointing oil and to sprinkle this (likely with hyssop) on Aaron and his attire and on his sons and their attire, thus sanctifying them and their garments or setting them and their garments apart as holy and not tainted with sin. Seemingly, to indicate that Aaron and his sons were being empowered or authorized to serve as priests, Moses was to “fill their hands” literally. He was to place on the open palms of Aaron and his sons the fatty parts and the right thigh (shoulder [LXX]) of the ram along with baked items that had previously been put in a basket. It appears that Aaron and his sons moved their arms back and forth as if presenting an offering before YHWH. Viewed from this standpoint, the offering was a wave offering. The Septuagint, however, does not convey this thought. It indicates that these items were set apart as a separate offering. Numerous modern translations have opted for another meaning of the Hebrew verb nuph — “lift up” instead of “wave.” “Put all these [items] in the hands of Aaron and his sons to be lifted up as a special offering to the LORD.” (NLT) “Then they [Aaron and his sons] will lift it all up to show that it is dedicated to me.” (CEV) “All these things you shall put into the hands of Aaron and his sons, so that they may raise them as an elevated offering before the LORD.” (NAB) “Place all these on the palms of Aaron and his sons, and offer them as an elevation offering before the LORD.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) Thereafter Moses was to take all the items from the hands of Aaron and his sons and place them on the altar, to be consumed in addition to the rest of the sections of the ram that had been placed on the altar as a whole burnt offering. (29:21-25; Leviticus 8:25-28, 30; see the Notes section.)
The breast of the ram was to be the designated portion for Moses. Regarding the breast, the Hebrew verb nuph is used, suggesting that Moses may have waved it back and forth before YHWH as if presenting it as a wave offering. According to another meaning of nuph, however, this was an “elevation offering.” (29:26; Leviticus 8:29)
In the future, the breast and the thigh (shoulder [LXX]) of the ram was to be the priestly share from the offerings of well-being or the communion sacrifices that the “sons [or people] of Israel” would present. The special garments Aaron would wear were to be passed to his “sons” or descendants who would succeed him and be anointed as high priests while clothed with these garments. These future high priests were to wear the special attire in which they were anointed for seven days while performing their services in the “tent of meeting,” the tabernacle, or the “holy place.” (29:27-30)
The narration of the Exodus account returns to the then-present, setting forth divine directives with which Aaron and his sons were required to comply regarding their appointment to the priesthood. At the entrance of the “tent of meeting,” they were to eat meat from the ram (meat boiled in a holy place or a place free from any defilement) and bread that previously had been placed in a basket. They were to eat the items that had been used to make atonement for them, with which items their hands had been filled to indicate their having been empowered or authorized to serve as priests, and by means of which items they had been sanctified or set apart as holy to serve YHWH as his priests. Any of the meat or bread that remained until the morning was to be burned and not eaten because it had been sanctified. (29:31-34; Leviticus 8:31, 32)
The installation procedure for Aaron and his sons was to take seven days. On each one of these days, Moses was commanded to offer a bull as a sin offering to make atonement, apparently for Aaron and his sons. A sin offering was also required to make atonement for the altar, cleansing it from any defilement. This altar would be anointed, or designated for its purpose, and sanctified (or set apart) for sacred use as the furnishing on which acceptable sacrifices could be offered. Seven days were to be allotted to make atonement for the altar and to sanctify it or to make it holy. As a most holy (literally, “holy of holies”) altar, it communicated holiness to whatever touched it. Each day two one-year-old lambs were to be offered on the altar, one in the morning and the other one in the evening. Along with the first lamb, the other items to be offered were a tenth measure of flour, probably a tenth of an ephah (2 dry quarts; 2.2 liters), mixed with a fourth of a hin (possibly about 1 quart [c. 1 liter]) of oil from beaten olives, and a fourth of a hin of wine as a libation. The arrangement for offering the second lamb in the evening was to be the same. From the time the priesthood began to function, two year-old lambs were to be offered every day. (29:35-41)
At the entrance of the “tent of meeting,” YHWH would reveal his directives and judgments to his people. His glory, or his presence with his people, would sanctify the “tent of meeting” or make it holy. Besides sanctifying the “tent of meeting” and the “altar” for their sacred functions, YHWH also purposed to sanctify Aaron and his sons to serve him as priests. In a representative way, YHWH would reside among the “sons [or people] of Israel.” In view of what he would do, the people of Israel would know YHWH as their God who had brought them out of the land of Egypt so that he would be the One to dwell among them. According to the Septuagint, God’s purpose was for him to be the God of the Israelites and for them to call upon him, praying to him and looking to him for help and guidance. (29:42-46)
In verse 4, the Septuagint uses the expression “tent of the testimony” or “tent of witness.” It was at the tabernacle where the two tablets containing the “Ten Words” or “Ten Commandments” were stored in the ark of the covenant. The tablets served as a testimony respecting the commands the Israelites were obligated to observe, and this testimony would have been a witness against them if they failed to live up to these commands. Moreover, the “tent” with the ark of the covenant functioned as a witness that YHWH was dwelling representatively with his people.
In verse 6, the reference to the “holy crown” or “holy diadem” appear to be to the gold plate with the engraved inscription, “Holy to YHWH.” The Septuagint supports this, for it reads, “the [thin] plate, the sanctified” one. Josephus, however, referred to the diadem as an addition to the headdress. “Above [it] there was another, with swathes of blue embroidered, and round it was a golden crown polished, of three rows, one above another; out of which arose a cup of gold.” He wrote that this “cup” resembled a certain herb which he then described in greater detail for those who had never seen the herb. (Antiquities, III, vii, 6)
As at the present time, fat-tailed sheep must have been common in northern Africa, including Egypt. Their tails may weigh ten pounds (c. 4.5 kilograms) or more. In verse 22, the Septuagint, however, does not mention the fat of the ram’s tail as one of the fatty pieces to be offered.
The altar of incense and its two carrying poles were to be constructed of (decay-resistant [LXX]) wood (commonly considered to have been acacia wood because of its suitability for the purpose and its availability on the Sinai Peninsula) and then overlaid with gold. Two gold rings on opposite sides of the altar just below the molding or border at its top were to be made for holding the poles. The altar was to be designed with a horn at each of its four corners, and the designated dimensions of the altar were to be one cubit (18 inches [c. 46 centimeters]) wide on each side and two cubits (36 inches [c. 92 centimeters]) high. Upon completion, the altar of incense was to be placed in front of the curtain that separated the Holy from the Most Holy. (30:1-6)
As high priest, Aaron had the responsibility to burn incense on the altar of incense at the time that he prepared the seven lamps to continue providing light in the Holy of the tabernacle. Then, when again preparing the lamps in the evening, he was to burn incense on the altar. This altar was to be used exclusively for burning the specially formulated incense and was never to be used for offering any other incense or any type of sacrifice or libation. Annually, evidently because of having come into contact with priests who were sinners, atonement was to be made for the altar of incense. This was to be done by applying the “blood of the sin offering” to the horns of the altar. Since “horns” represented power, the application of blood to the horns of the altar could signify that the atoning power had its basis in the blood of the sin offering. (30:7-10)
Instead of referring to additional instructions regarding furnishings for the tabernacle, the Exodus account continues with matters pertaining to the taking of a census of men from the age of 20 and upward. So that the people would not be plagued, each man was to pay half a shekel as an offering to YHWH to atone for his life. The payment was to be made “according to the shekel of the holy place” or the sanctuary, suggesting that it was to be based on the standard weight at the tabernacle. Average weights of ancient shekels indicate that a half shekel would have been about 0.2 ounce avoirdupois (c. 0.1835 ounce troy; c. 5.7 grams). The equivalent of one shekel (c. 0.4 ounce avoirdupois, c. 0.367 ounce troy, 11.4 grams) was twenty gerahs, with one gerah weighing about 0.02 ounce avoirdupois (c. 0.01835 ounce troy; c. 0.57 gram). All men were required to pay the same amount, indicating that, whether rich or poor, all of them had the same value from YHWH’s standpoint. The payment served as a contribution for the support of the tabernacle. (30:11-16; see the Notes section.)
At this point, the subject matter returns to items essential for the tabernacle and the priestly services there. For washing their hands and feet, the priests were to be provided with a copper or bronze basin that was filled with water and was to be positioned between the “tent of meeting” or the tabernacle and the altar of burnt offering. Before Aaron or his sons (and later their descendants) entered the tabernacle or carried out their priestly services at the altar, they were to wash. The seriousness of washing as required was emphasized with the words, “and [that] they may not die.” (30:17-21)
A specially formulated oil (consisting of myrrh, cinnamon, aromatic cane, cassia, and a “hin” [possibly about 4 quarts or 4 liters] of olive oil) was to be used for anointing the “tent of meeting,” the “ark of the testimony,” the table for the showbread and all its utensils, the lampstand and its utensils, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, the copper basin and its base, and the priests. All of the items anointed with this anointing oil became holy (or were set apart for their sacred purpose), and anyone touching them would become holy. The duplication and use by or for anyone else was designated as a serious offense, requiring that the transgressor be “cut off [destroyed (LXX)] from his people.” (30:22-33; see the Notes section.)
Likewise, no one was permitted to make the incense that was to be used exclusively in the sanctuary and that was burned on the altar of incense. The penalty was for the individual to be “cut off [destroyed] from his people.” Ingredients for this incense (stacte, onycha, galbanum, and pure frankincense in equal proportion) are mentioned in the Exodus account, but it is not possible presently to establish the source for the ingredients that the Israelites used. Based on what Josephus wrote, additional ingredients appear to have been added in later years. “The altar of incense, by its thirteen kinds of sweet-smelling spices with which the sea replenished it [or which were derived from the sea], signified that God is the possessor of all things that are both in the uninhabitable and habitable parts of the earth and that they are all to be dedicated tohis use.” (War, V, v, 5) A portion of the incense was to be placed “before the testimony in the tent of meeting” or where the altar of incense was located in front of the curtain that separated the Holy from the Most Holy. It was there where YHWH is quoted as saying that he would meet Moses. (30:34-38; see the Notes section regarding verses 6 and 36.)
From above the cover of the “ark of the testimony”and from between the cherubs on the cover, YHWH purposed to “meet” Moses and to make known to him everything that needed to be related to the “sons [or people] of Israel.” According to the Septuagint, God would be “known” to Moses there. The ark represented God’s presence, and so the reference to it as the “ark of the testimony” could indicate that it served as a testimony or witness that God was present in the midst of the Israelites. Another significance for the designation “ark of the testimony” could be that in it the “testimony” (the two tablets of stone inscribed with the Ten Commandments) was stored. The tablets served as a testimony respecting the commands the Israelites were obligated to observe, and this testimony would be a witness against them if they failed to live up to these commands. (25:22; 30:6, 36)
In the Septuagint (30:13), the required payment for each man at the time a census would be taken is expressed in terms of the then-existing coinage. The payment was half a didrachma (or one drachma), and there were 20 obols to one didrachma.
In verse 23, the Hebrew text includes amounts of 500 and 250 without mentioning that the weight is the shekel, but the Septuagint does include the transliteration of the Hebrew word “shekel.” In connection with cassia, however, verse 24 of the Hebrew text does indicate that the weight should be “according to the shekel of the holy place.” This is the same expression found in verse 13. Based on the shekel weight of 11.4 grams, 500 shekels of myrrh weighed about 12.6 pounds (c. 5.7 kilograms), as did 500 shekels of cassia; and 250 shekels of cinnamon weighed about 6.3 pounds (c. 2.85 kilograms), as did 250 shekels of aromatic cane.
YHWH revealed to Moses that Bezalel (son of Uri and the grandson of Hur) of the tribe of Judah was to be the chief artisan for constructing the tabernacle and its furnishings, and his assistant was to be Oholiab (son of Ahisamach) of the tribe of Dan. Apparently Bezalel possessed the ability to perform the essential tasks, but this ability must have been enhanced through the operation of God’s spirit upon him. YHWH is quoted as telling Moses, “I have filled him with the spirit of God, with ability and with understanding and with knowledge and with all craft.” Accordingly, Bezalel was equipped to perform everything that was needed for working with gold, silver, copper or bronze, for cutting gem stones, for making settings for precious and semi-precious stones, and for carving wood. Bezalel and Oholiab, however, were not the only artisans. Other skilled workers were also to be involved in constructing everything regarding which YHWH had instructed Moses. “In the heart” of these persons (literally, “all wise ones of heart”), YHWH had placed the ability, suggesting that their exceptional skills for the work had been divinely granted to them. As the chief artisan, Bezalel appears to have been entrusted with the primary responsibility to direct the work that had to be done. (31:1-6)
The “tent of meeting” or tabernacle and all its furnishings needed to be constructed. Other major projects were the making of the ark of the testimony, the table for the showbread, the lampstand and all of its utensils, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering, and the basin and its base. Skills in weaving, embroidering, and sewing were required to produce the garments for Aaron and his sons. Two substances needing to be produced were the anointing oil and the incense. (31:7-11; see the Note section regarding the “testimony.”)
YHWH’s final instructions to Moses before his descent from Mount Sinai focused on the importance of observing the sabbaths for generations to come. The Sabbath itself was a sign between YHWH and the people of Israel, indicating that he had santified or set them apart as his own people. It was a “holy day,” specifically designated as a day of rest and refreshment for everyone, including domestic animals. For anyone to violate the Sabbath, refusing to observe it, would have constituted rebellion against YHWH, for he had instituted it for his people. Such rebellion was a capital offense, punishable by “cutting off” (being destroyed [LXX]) or having the death penalty inflicted. No work was to be done on that day, for that would have desecrated it as a day of rest and refreshment. Through Sabbath observance, the people would have been imitating YHWH, for he completed the creation of heaven (the celestial dome), earth (or land), and sea and everything “in them” (or all creation relating to the sphere in which humans live) in six days and rested on the seventh day, looking upon the completed creative work as “good” and finding joy in what he had brought into existence during six creative days. YHWH blessed the seventh day when pronouncing what had been accomplished as good and sanctifying it or setting it apart as a sacred day of rest. (31:11-17)
After he had received all the instructions, Moses was given the two tablets of stone on which the “Ten Words” or “Ten Commandments” were written. The writing is attributed to the finger of God, revealing that the written text had God as its source and came to be in recorded form through the operation of his power. (31:18)
The ark represented God’s presence, and so the reference to it as the “ark of the testimony” could indicate that it served as a testimony or witness that God was present in the midst of the Israelites. Another significance for the designation “ark of the testimony” could be that in it the “testimony” (the two tablets of stone inscribed with the Ten Commandments) was stored. The tablets served as a testimony respecting the commands the Israelites were obligated to observe, and this testimony would be a witness against them if they failed to live up to these commands.
After considerable time had passed and Moses had not returned from Mount Sinai, the people seem to have become impatient. Apparently through certain representatives, they requested or demanded that Aaron make “gods” for them to lead them, for they did not know what had happened to Moses, the man who had brought them out of Egypt. Aaron told them to bring to him the gold rings on the ears of their wives, sons, and daughters. Perhaps he reasoned that they might not be willing to part with their ornaments. If this was a stalling measure, it failed in dissuading the people from desiring to have a tangible representation of gods or of a deity because of then not having Moses with them as their visible leader. The people brought the gold earrings to Aaron, and he used the gold to construct the image of a calf, probably a young bull, and said to the people, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” (32:1-4; see the Notes section.)
While in Egypt, the Israelites had become contaminated with the idolatrous practices of the Egyptians who associated their deities with a great variety of animals, including cows and bulls. (Psalm 106:19-21; Ezekiel 20:7, 8; Acts 7:39-41) The people must have regarded the image of the calf as representing YHWH, for Aaron, after erecting an altar before the idol, announced that there would be a festival to YHWH the next day. Early in the morning of that day, the Israelites began to offer burnt offerings and sacrifices of well-being or communion sacrifices. They sat down to eat meat from the sacrificed animals and drank, getting up thereafter to enjoy themselves in playing or merriment, probably wild dancing. (32:5, 6)
By engaging in idolatry in total disregard for YHWH’s command, the Israelites ceased to be his people. This may be why YHWH is quoted as telling Moses, “Go down, for your [not my] people have corrupted themselves.” After thus distancing himself from the Israelites, he also identified them as a “stiff-necked” or stubborn people. YHWH then granted Moses an opportunity to choose to act as a mediator for the Israelites, saying to him, “Let me be [or allow me], that my wrath may blaze against them and that I may consume them. And of you, I will make a great nation.” (32:7-10; see the Notes section.)
In response, Moses pleaded for his people on the basis that the Egyptians would wrongly conclude that YHWH, with evil purpose, had led them into the mountainous region to destroy them. He also made his appeal on the basis of the oath-bound promise YHWH had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel or Jacob, that their seed or descendants would become numerous and receive the land of Canaan as their inheritance. YHWH thereafter “repented of the evil” (or the punishment of annihilation he had threatened to bring upon the Israelites). This “repentance” was not a change of mind respecting an established predetermined purpose, for YHWH had granted Moses an opportunity to express himself about the outpouring of wrath against the Israelites and Moses had done so. (32:11-14)
When Moses descended from Mount Sinai, he carried in his hands the “two [stone (LXX)] tablets of the testimony” or the tablets on which the “Ten Words” or “Ten Commandments” were written on both surfaces. These tablets are identified as the “work of God” and the writing on them as the “writing of God.” (32:15, 16)
After meeting Joshua where Moses had left him much earlier at the time he continued his ascent on Mount Sinai, both men heard the sound of shouting among the Israelites. Joshua concluded that it was the “sound of war in the camp.” Moses, however, explained that it was not the sound of chanting over triumph or the sound of chanting over defeat but the “sound of chanting” or singing. The Septuagint rendering could be understood to indicate that it was the sound of singing under the influence of wine. (32:17, 18)
When Moses came close enough to the Israelite camp to see the golden calf and the people dancing, he became furious to the point of throwing down the two tablets he was carrying and breaking them at the foot of the mountain. He seized the golden calf, burned it, pulverized all that remained, scattered the particles upon the water, apparently of a nearby stream, and made the “sons [or people] of Israel” drink the water in which the residue of the golden calf floated. In effect, Moses made them drink the idol that they had treated as their god. In view of what he did with the golden calf, it could not have been fashioned from solid gold. It probably was constructed from wood and then overlaid with gold. Otherwise, Moses could not have burned it, for gold does not burn and would not have mixed with water. Even small particles of gold would have sunk to the bottom. Wood, however, would have been reduced to charcoal, leaving only tiny bits of gold on the charcoal after the burned image had been pulverized. Moses may well have had the assistance of others in destroying the golden calf, but everything would have taken place at his direction. (32:19, 20)
In view of his brother Aaron’s failing to restrain the people from engaging in idolatry, Moses asked him, “What did this people do to you that you have brought a great sin upon them?” Aaron was fully aware that he had permitted himself to cooperate in carrying out a very serious sinful act and could see that his brother was angry with him. Therefore, he addressed his brother respectfully as his “lord” and appealed to him not to let his anger blaze against him. Aaron’s next words reveal that he had succumbed to the pressure of the people, for he said to his brother, “You know the people that they are set on evil.” He related their demand for him to make “gods” for them to lead them, for they did not know what had become of Moses who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. Aaron, however, minimized his own role, telling Moses that, into the fire, he tossed the gold the people had brought to him at his request, and the calf came out. Obviously, the idol could not have fashioned itself in the fire, and Aaron would have known that his brother would not accept such a lame excuse. (32:21-24; see the Notes section.)
Moses saw that the people were out of control, exercising no restraint on their actions, for Aaron had allowed them to become persons who were out of control. The Hebrew wording that expresses the result from the lack of all restraint may be translated, “to their ridicule [or shame] among those rising up against them.” Those “rising up” could designate the enemies who knew that YHWH was the God of the Israelites. Therefore, when the Israelites acted without restraint in a rebellious way against him, they, as persons who despised their own God, made themselves objects of ridicule to or dishonored themselves before their foes. It is also possible that the “ones rising up” were persons who opposed the idolaters, and the idolaters were the ones who resorted to mockery against them or tried to shame them. (32:25) Modern translations make various meanings more explicit than is the Hebrew text. “They were a menace to any who might oppose them.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “They mocked anyone who opposed them.” (NLT, footnote) “And now they had made fools of themselves in front of their enemies.” (CEV) “Aaron had laid them open to the secret malice of their enemies.” (REB) “Moses saw that the people were running wild because Aaron had lost control — to the secret delight of their foes.” (NAB)
Moses positioned himself at the entrance of the camp and called out, “Whoever [is] for YHWH, to me [or to my side].” All the “sons of Levi,” men of the tribe to which Moses belonged, assembled themselves around him. He declared to them the word of “YHWH, the God of Israel,” saying, “Every man place his sword on his thigh [or side], go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.” This could not have been a command to engage in indiscriminate slaughter, for then even those with the weapons would have faced the possibility of death at the hands of fellow Levites. Targum Jonathan is specific in identifying those to be killed as “wicked workers of strange worship” or the chief promoters of idolatry. According to the Exodus account, the Levites did what had been conveyed to them through Moses, and about 3,000 men were slain on that day. (32:26-28)
Moses told the Levites to “fill their hand” for YHWH on that day (or empower themselves as persons set apart for his service), for they had cleared out of Israel serious transgressors, acting against men who were close to them (son and brother) or fellow members of the people of Israel. With the defiled members of the nation having been killed, YHWH could bestow his blessing. This did not mean that the rest of the nation was guiltless, and Moses reminded the people that they had committed a “great sin.” He, however, intended to ascend Mount Sinai to see whether he could obtain YHWH’s forgiveness for their sin. Before YHWH, Moses acknowledged that the people had gravely sinned when they made a “god of gold” for themselves. Moses’ desire was that the people would be granted forgiveness. If they were not pardoned for their sin, he even offered himself as the one to have his name blotted out of the book that YHWH had written. This “book” refers to YHWH’s record of all those whom he regards as approved persons. (32:29-32; see the Notes section.)
YHWH’s response to Moses made it clear that only those who had sinned against him would be blotted out of his book. He then instructed Moses to lead the Israelites to their final destination (the land of Canaan, the Promised Land). YHWH’s angel would go before Moses, guiding him on the way. Nevertheless, YHWH purposed to “visit” punishment upon the people for their sin. The Exodus account adds that YHWH sent a plague upon the people for their grave sin respecting the golden calf, but it provides no details about the nature of this plague. (32:33-35)
In verse 2, the Septuagint does not include a reference to the sons as having earrings.
Although Aaron is represented as responsible for making the golden calf (verse 4), he likely did not perform all the work but directed that it be done.
The Septuagint does not contain the words (verse 9) about the people being stiff-necked.
Apparently to excuse what Aaron did, Targum Jonathan adds information that is not based on the Exodus account. It says that he was afraid because Hur had been slain in front of him, suggesting that Hur strongly resisted the demands of the people and lost his life as a result.
Targum Jonathan does not attribute the fashioning of the golden calf to Aaron, but states that Satan entered into the gold which Aaron had cast into the fire, and the representation of a calf then came out.
The wording of verse 29 in the Septuagint may be understood to mean that the Levites had “filled” their hand on the “son” or “brother” when executing the men who were primarily responsible for the idolatry related to the golden calf.
To Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, YHWH had given his oath-bound promise that their “seed” or descendants would come to possess the land of Canaan. He instructed Moses to depart and to lead his people to that land, assuring him that he would send his angel before him. According to the Hebrew text, YHWH would dispossess the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, (Gergesites [LXX]), Hivites, and Jebusites who were then living in the land. The Septuagint, however, indicates that the angel would do this. Whether the action is attributed to YHWH or to his representative angel does not affect the basic thought that the Israelites would not be left on their own to drive out the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, a land “flowing with milk and honey.” The Israelites would have an abundance of milk from the cows and goats that would be feeding on lush pasturage. Besides wild honey from bees, the people would also have much honey or syrup from fruits. Whereas his representative angel would accompany the Israelites, YHWH declared that he would not be in the midst of the people because they were stiff-necked or stubborn and, therefore, the possibility existed that he would destroy them on their way to Canaan. (33:1-3)
Upon hearing YHWH’s severe words that Moses related to them, the people began to mourn and, as an outward manifestation of their mourning, stripped off their ornaments. They did this in obedience to what Moses had told them about what they should do. Apparently based on their response, YHWH determined what he should do with the people. Seemingly, from the time of their departure from Mount Horeb or Mount Sinai, the people did not wear their ornaments. A number of modern translations are more specific in conveying this significance than is the Hebrew text. “So from the time they left Mount Sinai, the Israelites wore no more jewelry or fine clothes.” (NLT) “And after leaving Mount Sinai, they stopped wearing fancy jewelry.” (CEV) “So after they left Mount Sinai, the people of Israel no longer wore jewelry.” (GNT) The Septuagint, however, could be understood to indicate that it was at Mount Horeb that the people removed their ornamentation and their robes. Another possible meaning of the Septuagint rendering is that the people did this after they left Mount Horeb. (33:4-6)
It may be, because YHWH had not as yet forgiven the people, that Moses removed his tent some distance away from the area where the Israelites were encamped. This tent came to be known as the “Tent of Meeting [Tent of Testimony (LXX)],” for it was to this tent that the Israelites went to seek YHWH to find out what his decisions and will were. They did so through Moses who had direct communication with YHWH’s representative angel. This was visible to all the people, for the pillar or column of cloud would descend and stand in front of the entrance of the tent when Moses entered. Whenever the people saw Moses going to the tent, they would rise and stand at the entrance of their respective tents, watching until he entered his tent. When the pillar or column of cloud would descend and stand at the tent entrance, the people arose and bowed low at the entrance of their own tents. Apparently this was because the column of cloud was a tangible evidence of the divine presence. In view of the direct two-way communication Moses had with YHWH’s representative angel at the times the column of cloud stood before the tent entrance, the Exodus account says that YHWH used to speak to Moses face to face as does a man when conversing with his friend. (33:7-11a)
Whenever Moses would leave his tent to go to the encampment of the Israelites, Joshua would remain at the tent. He likely did this to prevent anyone else from entering it. (33:11b)
YHWH had told Moses to lead the people to the land of Canaan and had informed him that he would have his angel go before him. Therefore, Moses raised the matter about not having been told about whom YHWH would be sending. This was even though YHWH had told him, “I know you by name and you have also found favor in my eyes” or my sight. The words “know you by name” indicate that YHWH knew Moses well or knew him like someone would know a close friend. Based on his having found favor in YHWH’s eyes or sight, Moses appealed to him to show him “his way,” revealing himself more fully to him and making it possible for him to “know” YHWH (or to have a more intimate knowledge of him as a person) and to continue experiencing his favor. At the same time, Moses interceded for the Israelites, petitioning YHWH to consider that the nation of Israel was his people. (33:12, 13)
YHWH is quoted as responding with the words, “My face [I (LXX) or my presence] will go [before you (LXX)], and I will give you rest.” For Moses, rest would signify being freed from the distressing burden that had resulted from the unfaithfulness of the Israelites and its having incurred YHWH’s wrath. Ultimately, rest would come when he arrived with the people at the place of rest, the land YHWH had promised to their forefathers (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) as the future possession of their descendants. Targum Jonathan interprets the words as a directive for Moses to wait until God’s displeasure had ceased, with rest being granted to him afterward. Both the Hebrew text and the Septuagint, however, seem to indicate that Moses and his people would experience manifestations of God’s presence during their journey to the land of Canaan. It appears that Moses desired more assurances of YHWH’s continued presence with his people and therefore asked that he not lead them away from Mount Sinai unless his “face” or presence accompanied them (if his wrath did not go away from them [Targum Jonathan]). Moses made his plea because of desiring the assurance that the Israelites again had YHWH’s favor and that they were his unique people among all the peoples of the earth. Moses seemingly felt that he could only have absolute confidence respecting this if YHWH’s presence continued to be with them, providing help, guidance, and protection. YHWH’s response to Moses was that his request would be granted, for he had gained his favor and was known to him “by name” (known well as his faithful servant or friend). (33:14-17)
In view of the repeated assurances that he had been given, Moses desired an even closer relationship with YHWH, prompting him to appeal to him to show him his “glory,” the fullness of his majestic being. In response, YHWH told Moses that he would make all his “goodness” pass before him or reveal to him the attributes that distinguished him as the source of all that is good. Moses would hear the proclamation of the unique name (YHWH) that summed up all that he is — the true God who grants favor to whom he chooses to grant favor and who shows mercy to whom he chooses to show mercy. Moses, however, would not see the face of YHWH, for no man of flesh would be able to see the face of the God who is spirit, or experience the revelation of the complete glory, and live. Even a partial revelation of this glory (represented by being able to see only the back) required that Moses initially had to be shielded “in a cleft of the rock” or crag where he would be standing and that God’s “hand” would be covering him until he passed by. (33:18-23; see the Notes section.)
After quoting God as saying that the Israelites were a “stiff-necked people,” the Septuagint in verse 5 continues, “Watch that I do not strike you with another plague and annihilate you.” Whereas the Hebrew text only refers to the directive for the people to take off their ornaments, the Septuagint adds that they should also remove the “robes of [their] glory” or their attractive garments, with the possible implication being that they should replace them with sackcloth.
In verse 19, the Hebrew text literally reads “will proclaim by name YHWH.” The Septuagint, however, says “my name,” which is the rendering found in many modern translations. Unlike the deities that other nations worshiped and which had been named by them, the true God revealed himself by his own name. Accordingly, neither the name itself nor its correct pronunciation came from a human source.
As evident from other texts in the book of Exodus (3:2-6), YHWH spoke to Moses by means of his representative angel. Therefore, through this angel, Moses received communication, including the glorious manifestation that required for him to be shielded. In this respect, Targum Jonathan is specific in its interpretation about YHWH’s glory passing by. It says, “I will make the host of angels who stand and minister before me to pass by.”
YHWH instructed Moses to ascend Mount Sinai after he had hewn out two tablets of stone like the ones he had broken. On the new tablets, YHWH indicated that he again would write the “Ten Words” or “Ten Commandments.” No man was to make the ascent with Moses, and no domestic animals from the flocks or herds were to pasture before the mountain. (34:1-3)
Early in the morning, Moses, carrying the two tablets he had hewn out, started his ascent on Mount Sinai. YHWH then descended upon the mountain in a cloud, stood there (apparently by means of his representative angel) with Moses, “and proclaimed the name of YHWH.” This proclamation was not limited to saying, “YHWH, YHWH.” Additionally, he revealed himself as the God in possession of certain prominent attributes. He is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, great in kindness or enduring love, and [in] truth [faithfulness or trustworthiness], preserving enduring love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and by no means exempting” (literally, to exempt, he will not exempt) the guilty, “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons and the sons’ sons to the third and the fourth generation.” Although YHWH does not hold back from punishing those who choose to disregard his commands and defy him, he identified himself more prominently with his willingness to forgive wrongdoing and to be merciful and not quick to be aroused to anger. If at all possible, he chooses to show kindness or enduring love to thousands. Nevertheless, he does visit with punishment the “iniquity” of fathers upon their (“rebellious” [Targum Jonathan]) “sons” or children to the third and the fourth generation. Offspring or descendants of fathers who demonstrated their hatred for YHWH when practicing what was repugnant to him would be inclined to follow the bad example of their forebears and would suffer the consequences for their own sinful course. (34:4-7)
In response to this proclamation, Moses hurried to reverentially bow his head to the ground, probably dropping to his knees and prostrating himself in worship. Based on having found favor in YHWH’s eyes or sight, Moses pleaded with him to “go in the midst” of the people even though they had proved themselves to be stiff-necked or stubborn. He did not exclude himself from the people but petitioned YHWH, “Pardon our iniquity and our sin and take us for your inheritance [or as belonging to you].” (34:8, 9)
The covenant or agreement that YHWH purposed to make with all of Moses’ people was the following: He promised to perform marvels such as had not occurred previously in all the earth and in any nation. All of Moses’ people would see the work of YHWH, for he would be performing something awe-inspiring. (34:10)
Entrance into the land of Canaan was certain for the people of Israel, but they needed to obey YHWH’s directives about taking possession of the land. Although YHWH promised that he would drive out the inhabitants of the land (the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzzites, Hivites, [Gergesites (LXX)], and Jebusites), the Israelites were commanded not to conclude any covenants, agreements, or alliances with the inhabitants of the land so as not to be ensnared into adopting their ways. They were to tear down their altars, break their sacred pillars (which appear to have been phallic symbols of Baal or other false gods), and cut down their Asherim (possibly carved poles that represented a female deity like Asherah). As the only true God, YHWH rightly required that his people be devoted to him alone as their God and not to prostrate themselves before the images of the deities that other nations worshiped. He would not tolerate any deviation from worship that was acceptable to him. From that perspective, he was a jealous God. His being jealous, or his tolerating no rival deities, is linked to his name or to everything that his name represents him to be. (34:11-14)
The idolatrous practices of the inhabitants of Canaan are designated as harlotry. Therefore, for the Israelites to form alliances with them would have exposed them to joining them in sacrificing to their deities and eating from the meat that had been offered in sacrifice. As the Israelites were in a covenant relationship with YHWH (a relationship comparable to that of a wife to her husband), involvement in idolatrous practices would have consituted prostitution or gross unfaithfulness to their God. Any intermarriage with the inhabitants of the land was also forbidden, as it posed a threat to remaining exclusively devoted to YHWH. The Israelites had no basis for making any image of their God. Accordingly, for the Israelites to make any image of any other god would have been an affront to him and was prohibited. (34:15-17)
The Israelites could demonstrate their love for YHWH by observing his commands in matters of worship. In the month of Abib or Nisan (mid-March to mid-April), they were to celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread that served to commemorate their hurried departure from Egypt as a liberated people. As their firstborn had been spared when his angel struck down the firstborn of the Egyptians, the firstborn really belonged to YHWH. Therefore, the firstborn male offspring of cows, sheep, and goats were to be offered in sacrifice. Donkeys were unclean animals and could not be sacrificed. Their firstborn had to be redeemed with a lamb that could be offered up on the altar at the tabernacle. If the donkey was not redeemed, its neck was to be broken. It being YHWH’s property, no one was entitled to use it. This requirement doubtless also served to restrain the Israelites from failing to redeem the firstborn of donkeys, for it would have meant loss of potenitally valuable beasts of burden. The firstborn sons were to be redeemed by making a payment of five silver shekels at the tabernacle and later at the temple. (34:18-20; Numbers 18:15, 16; see the Notes section.)
Nothing was allowed to interfere with sabbath observance. Whereas plowing and harvesting needed to be done in a timely manner, these agricultural operations were not permitted, but the seventh day was to be preserved as a sacred day of rest. (34:21)
Besides the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Israelites were to observe two other sacred annual festivals — the Festival of Weeks or Pentecost (in the month of Sivan [mid-May to mid-June], which coincided with the wheat harvest), and the Festival of Ingathering or the Festival of Tabernacles or Booths at the conclusion of the agricultural year in the month of Ethanim or Tishri (mid-September to mid-October). All the Israelite males were required to appear before YHWH at these three festivals. Initially, the location was the tabernacle that was set up in the land of Canaan, and later the place was the temple at Jerusalem. While the men were commanded to be present for the festivals, the women could choose to be in attendance. It was a kindness on God’s part to exempt the women from obligatory attendance, as their being pregnant or having to nurse babies and to care for small children would have made it burdensome to travel a considerable distance to the designated location and then to stay for the duration of the festivals. (34:22, 23)
To leave their lands unprotected during the time they traveled to and from the location where they would stay for the duration of the three annual festivals, the men needed to trust YHWH to safeguard their property. Besides assuring them that he would assist them to drive out the nations from the land of Canaan and expand the borders of their territory, YHWH promised that, while they were away to be present for the three festivals, no man would desire their land. (34:24)
Nothing leavened was to accompany the offering of the blood of a sacrificial victim, and the meat from the Passover lamb or goat was not to be left over until morning. (34:25)
After the Israelites would be residing in the land of Canaan, they were to bring the choice firstfruits from their land to the tabernacle (the “house of YHWH [their] God”) as an offering. Their doing this would show their appreciation for his blessing on their agricultural labors. (34:26a)
From early times, the Jews have interpreted the command prohibiting the boiling of a kid of the goats in its mother’s milk to indicate that meat should not be mixed with dairy products. Targum Jonathan (thought to have been composed in the second century CE) is specific in stating that one must not “eat of flesh and milk mingled together.” Originally, the command may have reminded the Israelites that the milk that was designed to nourish the kid should not be used as a means contrary to its original purpose to preserve the animal’s life. This command may also have served to teach the Israelites compassion, for the natural and instinctive attachment of the female goat to her kid in no way agrees with the use of her milk for the total destruction of her offspring. (34:26b)
YHWH instructed Moses to write down the “words” or commandments he had spoken to him, for they were the basis on which he was concluding a covenant or solemn agreement with Moses and his people Israel. (34:27)
It was during a period of forty days and forty nights that Moses received all the commandments that the Israelites were to obey. He neither ate nor drank there on Mount Sinai as YHWH, by means of his representative angel, communicated with him. Based on verse 1 of this chapter, YHWH (his representative angel) wrote the “Ten Words” or “Ten Commandments” on the two stone tablets that Moses had hewn out. The “Ten Words” are identified as the “words of the covenant,” probably meaning the most significant part of the covenant or agreement with the people of Israel. (34:28)
Thereafter Moses descended Mount Sinai with the two stone tablets. He was unaware that his face emitted rays from having been in the glorious divine presence for forty days and nights and having experienced direct communication with the angel who represented YHWH. When Aaron and other Israelites saw the changed appearance of Moses’ face, they were afraid to approach him. It was not until Moses called out to them to come that Aaron and the leaders or chieftains of the people made their approach. After Moses spoke to Aaron and the chieftains, the other “sons” (or people) of Israel drew near, and he related to all of them what YHWH had spoken to him on Mount Sinai. (34:29-32)
Apparently Moses was informed that his face emitted rays, for this was unknown to him when he descended from Mount Sinai. Therefore, “he put a veil on his face.” Centuries later, in his letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul referred to this and indicated that Moses veiled his face to prevent the people from gazing “to the end [of the glory]” that would fade or vanish. Whenever he communicated with YHWH (his representative angel), Moses removed the veil. His face would again emit rays. Therefore, when he conveyed the words of YHWH to the people, Moses again veiled his face. (34:33-35; see the Notes section.)
In verse 20, the Septuagint indicates that, if a firstborn draft animal was not redeemed with a sheep, the the owner had to pay a price. There is no reference to breaking the neck of the animal. Possibly the translater, in the time he lived, understood the redemption price to have been a stipulated amount of money and chose to translate the Hebrew text according to what had become the practice outside the land of Israel in much later centuries.
Paul’s words in his second letter to the Corinthians suggest that, while Moses addressed the people, the rays emitted from his face would begin to fade and then vanish. The veil, however, prevented them from seeing the change in the appearance of Moses’ face. Then, as a result of communicating with YHWH at other times, Moses’ face would shine again. It appears that Paul’s mention of the passing glory (2 Corinthians 3:7, 10, 11) was intended to illustrate that the law covenant, like Moses’ shining face, was not permanent. This aspect is what neither the Israelites in the time of Moses nor in the apostle’s own time understood. (2 Corinthians 3:14)
After assembling the entire congregation of the “sons [or people] of Israel,” Moses related to them everything that YHWH had commanded them to do. A significant command required of them to observe the Sabbath, keeping it as a sacred day of rest. No work was permitted on that day, not even lighting a fire. The penalty for disobedience was death. Apparently this severe penalty assured that all hirelings, slaves, and even domestic animals would not fail to benefit from a day of rest. (35:1-3)
A temporary command that allowed the Israelites to show their heartfelt appreciation for YHWH and their devotion to him pertained to their voluntarily contributing materials for the tabernacle, its utensils and furnishings, materials for the garments of the priests, olive oil, and ingredients for the incense and anointing oil. This command was really an invitation for all those who were “generous of heart” or who were motivated in their inmost selves to make an offering. The needed materials were: gold, silver, copper or bronze; blue (or blueish purple), purple (or reddish purple), and scarlet material or yarn; fine twisted linen, goats’ hair, tanned (or red) rams’ skins, other animal skins (táchash [“hyacinth-colored skins” (LXX)]), acacia wood (decay-resistant wood [LXX]), olive oil for the lamps on the lampstand, spices for the anointing oil and for the incense, and precious and semiprecious stones for the ephod and for the breastpiece. (35:4-9; see the Notes section.)
The reference to “everyone wise of heart” applies to men who had the skills to construct the tabernacle, its furnishings and utensils, and garments for the priests. The following were all the items that had to be made in keeping with YHWH’s commands: the tabernacle with its frames, coverings, hooks, bars, pillars, and bases; the ark of the covenant with its carrying poles, the curtain separating the Holy from the Most Holy, the table for the showbread with its carrying poles and all the utensils for the table, the showbread, the lampstand with its utensils and lamps, the oil for the lamps, the altar of incense with its carrying poles, the anointing oil, the fragrant incense, the screen for the entrance of the tabernacle, the altar of burnt offering with its copper or bronze grating and its carrying poles, all the altar utensils, the basin to be filled with the water the priests needed for washing, the base of the basin, the hangings of the courtyard and its pillars and bases or sockets, the screen for the entrance of the courtyard, the pegs to which the outer tabernacle covering and the courtyard hangings would be attached by cords, these cords, and the garments for Aaron and his sons when performing their priestly service. (35:10-19)
After the people left Moses’ presence, they decided what they could contribute. All the people who were stirred in their hearts or their inmost selves and whose “spirit” or impelling motivation moved them brought YHWH’s offering to be used for the “tent of meeting” or tabernacle and its services and for the priestly garments. According to the Hebrew text, both men and women came, bringing various kinds of gold ornaments. The Septuagint, however, indicates that the men brought ornaments from the women or from their wives. Additionally, the men brought blue (blueish purple), purple (reddish purple), and scarlet material or yarn, fine linen, goats’ hair, tanned or red rams’ skins, and other animal skins (táchash), silver, copper or bronze, and acacia wood. (35:20-24)
Skilled (literally, “wise of heart”) women did the spinning and brought the products of their work (blue [blueish purple], purple [reddish purple], and scarlet material or yarns, fine linen, and spun goats’ hair). The leaders of the people brought the precious and semiprecious stones to be used for the ephod and the breastpiece of Aaron the high priest. They also contributed spices for the anointing oil and the fragrant incense, and oil (olive oil) for the lamps on the lampstand. (35:25-28)
All the men and women were moved from the “heart” or from their inmost selves to make a contribution of materials for the work that YHWH, “by the hand” or through the agency of Moses, had commanded to be done. Everyone contributed of their own free will. (35:29)
Moses told the “sons [or people] of Israel” that YHWH had designated Bezalel the son of Uri and grandson of Hur of the tribe of Judah to be the chief artisan. Although Bezalel possessed the required skills for working in gold, silver, copper or bronze, for cutting gem stones to be placed in settings, for carving in wood, and for doing embroidery and weaving, YHWH, by means of his spirit, enhanced these skills. Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan likewise had his skills divinely enhanced to work alongside Bezalel. Both men had been divinely equipped to give directions or to teach others to share in the construction and design work. (35:30-35)
The wood mentioned in verses 7 and 24 is commonly considered to have been acacia wood because of its suitability for the framework of the tabernacle as well as for other furnishings and its availability on the Sinai Peninsula.
In verses 9 and 27, the Hebrew word for the gem stone (shóham) has often been translated “onyx.” Indicative of the uncertainty about this rendering is the inconsistent manner in which the Hebrew word is translated in the Septuagint. (berýllion [beryl], ónyx, prásinos [“light green” stone], sárdion [sardius], smáragdos [“bright green” stone, probably emerald], and soóm [possibly carnelian]).
There is uncertainty about the specific animal skin the Hebrew word táchash (in verse 23) designates.
For a man to be “wise of heart” means that he is in possession of valuable skills. The craftsmen Bezalel, Oholiab, and other artisans could be described in this way, especially since YHWH, by means of his spirit, had enhanced their abilities, granting them the wisdom and understanding to be able to construct the sanctuary or tabernacle according to the pattern he had provided to Moses. Besides possessing the required skills, the craftsmen were motivated in their inmost selves (their “heart”) to participate in the work that needed to be done. Along with Bezalel and Oholiab, these were the skilled workers whom Moses summoned and to whom he gave everything that the “sons [or people] of Israel” had voluntarily contributed. Every morning the people continued coming to bring their contributions until they had brought much more than was actually needed. Upon learning from the men doing the work about what had happened, Moses proclaimed throughout the camp of Israel that the men and the women should stop bringing more contributions for the work. (36:1-7)
For the supporting structure of the tabernacle, the skilled artisans made a covering of fine twisted linen, of blue (or blueish purple), purple (red purple), and scarlet yarn, embroidered with cherubs. The covering itself consisted of two large sections, with each section being made up of five cloths. Each cloth measured 28 cubits in length and 4 cubits in width (42 feet x 6 feet [c. 12.8 meters x c. 1.8 meters]), and five of these cloths were joined together to form one large cloth. The two large cloths were joined by means of 50 gold clasps that connected the 50 loops of blue (or blueish purple) yarn on the edge of one large cloth with that of the matching 50 loops on the edge of the other large cloth. (36:8-13 [37:1, 2, LXX]; see the Notes section.)
The second covering for the tabernacle consisted of goats’ hair. In design, this longer covering was much like that of the shorter linen covering, a covering that did not reach down to the ground by at least one cubit [18 inches [c. 46 centimeters]) on each side. The second covering consisted of two sections made from eleven cloths, with each one of the eleven cloths measuring thirty cubits by four cubits (45 feet x 6 feet [c. 13.7 meters x c. 1.8 meters]). Five of the cloths were joined to form one large cloth, and the six remaining cloths were joined to make the other large cloth. The two large cloths were joined with 50 copper (or bronze) clasps that connected the 50 loops on the edge of one large cloth with that of the matching 50 loops on the edge of the other large cloth. Being two cubits (36 inches [c. 92 centimeters]) longer than the linen covering, the second covering did hang down to the bottom of the north and south sides of the tabernacle. Next came a covering of tanned (or red) rams’ skins and finally another covering of skins. There is uncertainty about the material from which the fourth covering was made. According to the Septuagint rendering of Exodus 26:14, they were hyacinth-colored skins. Although not mentioned in the account, ropes must have been attached to the last covering, and these ropes would have been securely fastened to tent pins in the ground. (36:14-19; see the Notes section.)
The supporting structure for the four coverings of the tabernacle consisted of wooden frames overlaid with gold. Each frame measured 10 cubits (15 feet [c. 4.6 meters) in length and in height, and 1.5 cubits (27 inches [c. 69 centimeters]) in width. On both the north and the south sides, twenty frames were attached by means of tenons to forty silver bases or sockets, and on the west side (or rear) of the tabernacle, there were six of these frames and two silver bases or sockets under each frame. Additionally, two frames served as corners at the rear of the tabernacle, with only a half cubit (9 inches [c. 23 centimeters]) adding to the inside dimension of the structure. Both of these frames also had two tenons that fitted into silver bases or sockets. The frames were held together with five bars each. Gold rings on each frame accommodated the bars, with each bar in the middle position on the north, west, and south sides running from one end to the other end. The position of the four other bars on the three sides is not specified in the account. (36:20-34 [38:18-21, LXX]; see the Notes section.)
The tabernacle consisted of two sections — the Holy and the Most Holy. A fine twisted linen curtain, of blue (or blueish purple), purple (or red purple), and scarlet yarn, embroidered with cherubs, separated the two compartments. This curtain hung from gold hooks attached to four gold-overlaid wooden pillars or posts that were secured in four silver bases or sockets. A screen at the entrance of the tabernacle was made like the curtain that separated the Holy from the Most Holy, but it hung from gold hooks attached to five gold-overlaid wooden pillars that were secured in five copper or bronze bases or sockets. (36:35-38 [37:3-6, LXX])
For the contents of this chapter, compare the commands for tabernacle construction set forth in Exodus chapter 26.
The wood used for the frames is commonly considered to have been acacia wood because of its suitability for the framework of the tabernacle and its availability on the Sinai Peninsula.
In the Septuagint, the arrangement of the text differs significantly from that of the Masoretic Text,
According to the pattern Moses had been shown on Mount Sinai, Bezalel constructed the ark of the covenant. It consisted of a rectangular (decay-resistant [LXX]) wooden chest that measured 2.5 cubits (45 inches [c. 114 centimeters] in length, 1.5 cubits (27 inches [c. 69 centimeters]) in width, and 1.5 cubits (27 inches [c. 69 centimeters]) in height. Both the inside and the outside of the ark was overlaid with pure gold. At the top, Bezalel made a beautiful border. (37:1, 2 [38:1, 2, LXX]; see the Notes section.)
Bezalel cast four gold rings, attaching two of these to one side of the ark and the other two to the other side. He positioned carrying poles in these rings. The poles had been made of the same wood as the ark and were overlaid with gold. According to the Hebrew text, the ark did not rest on the ground but was fashioned with “four feet” or four supports at the four corners. The Hebrew text also indicates that the rings were to be attached on the four feet, which possibly means that the rings were just above the feet. In the Septuagint, however, there is no reference to “feet.” (37:3-5 [38:3, 4, LXX])
Bezalel fashioned the cover (or propitiatory) of the ark from pure gold. It measured 2.5 cubits in length and 1.5 cubits in width (45 inches [c. 114 centimeters] by 27 inches [c. 69 centimeters]). On the cover, he placed two cherubs of gold consisting of hammered work, with one cherub at one end and the other one at the other end. Their outspread wings overshadowed the cover, and their faces were toward one another and looked down, evidently in an attitude of worship. (37:6-9 [38:5-8, LXX])
Bezalel constructed the table for the display of the showbread from wood and overlaid it with pure gold. This table was 2 cubits (36 inches [c. 92 centimeters]) long, one cubit (18 inches [c. 46 centimeters] wide, and 1.5 cubits (27 inches [c. 69 centimeters]) high. Gold molding beautified the rim or border that measured one handbreadth (3 inches [c. 8 centimeters]). Bezalel attached a gold ring to each one of the four corners at the four legs of the table, positioning two gold-covered wooden poles through these rings. He made various other gold utensils, including the ones to be used on the table. (37:10-16 [38:9-12)
With hammered work, Bezalel made a pure gold lampstand and all of its parts. One lamp was positioned on top of the central shaft and on top of the three branches on each of its sides. Alternating knobs and flowers (possibly almond blossoms) provided the decorative elements for the central shaft and the six branches. Bezalel fashioned gold fire pans and gold snuffers or tongs for the lampstand. The gold tongs may have been used to remove the burnt lampwicks that would be deposited in the gold fire pans. With its utensils and lamps, the lampstand was to be made from one gold talent (about 92 pounds troy or about 75.5 pounds avoirdupois [c. 34 kilograms]). (37:17-24 [38:13-17, LXX])
Bezalel constructed the altar of incense and its two carrying poles from (decay-resistant [LXX]) wood and overlaid it with gold. He made two gold rings on opposite sides of the altar just below the molding or border at its top for inserting the carrying poles. The altar was designed with a horn at each of its four corners, and the altar dimensions were one cubit (18 inches [c. 46 centimeters]) in width on each side and two cubits (36 inches [c. 92 centimeters]) in height. For use at the altar of incense, Bezalel made pure incense with specific spices. He also made the anointing oil with which Aaron and his sons were anointed as priests. (37:25-29 [38:25, LXX])
Although all the construction of the furnishings for the tabernacle is ascribed to Bezalel, he doubtless had the assistance of other skilled craftsmen who worked under his direction.
Exodus 25:10-40 and 30:1-5 contain YHWH’s directions to Moses regarding the construction of the ark of the covenant, the table for the showbread, the lampstand, and the altar of incense. Chapter 37 narrates how Bezalel (or how he with the assistance of other skilled artisans) did the work exactly according to the pattern that had been provided to Moses.
The wood used is commonly considered to have been acacia wood because of its suitability for the purpose it would serve and its availability on the Sinai Peninsula.
The arrangement of the text in the Septuagint differs from that of the Masoretic Text.
The altar of burnt offering that Bezalel constructed (doubtless with the assistance of other skilled men who worked under his direction) was basically a hollow square box made of wood overlaid with copper or bronze. This altar measured five cubits (7.5 feet [c. 2.3 meters]) in length, five cubits in width, and 3 cubits (4.5 feet [c 1.4 meters]) in height. At its four corners were four horn-like projections. Four copper or bronze rings, with two on one side of the altar and two on the opposite side, were used to insert the wooden poles overlaid with copper or bronze. These poles functioned as the means for carrying the altar. A grating consisting of a copper or bronze network was positioned inside the hollow boxlike altar. The four copper or bronze rings were attached to the corners of the grating. Bezalel was also involved in making various copper or bronze utensils for use at the altar — pots, shovels, bowls or basins, forks or meat hooks, and fire pans. (38:1-7; compare 27:1-8 and see the Notes section.)
The altar of burnt offering had its designated location in the courtyard around the tabernacle. At the entrance to this courtyard, certain women appear to have been given services to perform, and they apparently contributed their copper or bronze mirrors. These mirrors provided enough copper or bronze to fashion a basin and its base. The priests could wash their hands and feet with the water in this basin that was located in the courtyard. (38:8)
For the courtyard, linen hangings had to be made. These hangings, with a height of 5 cubits (7.5 feet [c. 2.3 meters]), measured 100 cubits (150 feet [c. 45.7 meters]) on the south and north sides, and 50 cubits (75 feet [less than 23 meters]) on the west side. The 50-cubit east side had an entrance that measured 20 cubits (30 feet [c. 9 meters]) across and that had an entrance screen of fine twisted linen embroidered with blue (or blueish purple), purple (or reddish purple), and crimson yarns. Copper or bronze pillars supported the linen hangings on the four sides of the courtyard. The hangings were suspended from silver hooks and bands (rings or hoops) attached to the pillars. Both on the north and south sides, the 20 pillars were secured in copper or bronze bases, and the 10 pillars on the west side had ten corresponding copper or bronze bases. The arrangement on the east side required three pillars for the 15-cubit (22.5-foot [c. 6.9-meter] hangings on each side of the entrance, and four pillars for supporting the 20-cubit (30-foot [c. 9-meter] entrance screen. All the pegs needed for attaching the tabernacle outer covering and the courtyard hangings to the ground were made of copper or bronze. (38:9-20; compare 27:9-18.)
The Levites who would be using the various utensils to carry out their tasks in the courtyard served under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the high priest. (38:21)
Bezalel the son of Uri and grandson of Ur of the tribe of Judah was responsible for the construction of everything according to the instructions that Moses had received from YHWH. Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan worked along with Bezalel. He was a skilled craftsman, designer, and embroiderer, an expert in using blue (or blueish purple), purple (reddish purple), and scarlet yarn or material and fine twisted linen. (38:22, 23)
The gold the people contributed for the construction of the sanctuary amounted to 29 talents and 730 shekels (approximately 2,208 pounds avoirdupois [c. 1000 kilograms]) “by the shekel of the holy place.” The reference to the “holy place” or sanctuary suggests that the shekel was based on the standard weight at the tabernacle. (38:24 [39:1, LXX]; see the Notes section.)
The contributed silver came to 100 talents and 1,775 shekels (approximately 7,595 pounds avoirdupois [c. 3440 kilograms]) At the time of the census, each man who was 20 years of age or older paid half a shekel. This payment corresponded to the “shekel of the holy place” or the sanctuary, suggesting that it was based on the standard weight at the tabernacle. Average weights of ancient shekels indicate that a half shekel or a bekah would have weighed about 0.2 ounce avoirdupois (c. 0.1835 ounce troy; c. 5.7 grams). The number of men who paid a half shekel is listed as having been 603,550. (38:25, 26 [39:2, 3, LXX]; regarding the number 603,550, see the introductory section to Gleanings from Exodus and the Notes section.)
Most of the silver was used to cast the bases or sockets for the frames of the tabernacle and the pillars from which the curtain that separated the Holy from the Most Holy was suspended. Each one of the 100 bases or sockets was made from one talent of silver. From the 1,775 shekels of silver, hooks were made for the pillars and an overlay for their tops, and bands were fashioned around the pillars. (38:27, 28 [39:4, 5, LXX])
The amount of copper or bronze the people contributed came to 70 talents and 2,400 shekels (approximately 5,345 pounds avoirdupois [c. 2,421 kilograms]). This metal was used for the bases or sockets that supported the pillars from which the hangings of the courtyard were suspended. Other pillars requiring the copper or bronze bases or sockets were the ones at the entrance of the “tent of meeting” or the tabernacle and at the entrance of the courtyard. Additionally, the wooden framework of the altar was overlaid with copper or bronze, and the grating of the altar was made from this metal, as were all of the altar utensils. Pegs made from copper provided the means for attaching the courtyard hangings and the uppermost tabernacle covering to the ground (38:29-31 [39:7-10, LXX]; see the Notes section.)
The wood is commonly considered to have been acacia wood because of its suitability for the framework and furnishings of the tabernacle and its availability on the Sinai Peninsula.
Fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus agrees with the Masoretic Text that the amount of gold shekels was 730. According to another Septuagint reading, the number is 720. (38:24 [39:1, LXX])
Calculations are based on a talent weight of 34.2 kilograms and 75.5 pounds avoirdupois, and a shekel weight of 11.4 grams and 0.403 ounce avoirdupois.
The Septuagint translator did not transliterate the Hebrew designation bekah (a half shekel) but chose to express the value as a coin (the drachma) that was in use during his time. (38:26 [39:2, LXX])
Fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus and the Masoretic Text are in agreement in stating the number of copper shekels to have been 2,400. Another reading of the Septuagint, however, is 1,500 shekels. The reference to 470 talents of copper or bronze in Codex Alexandrinus is definitely an error. (38:29 [39:7, LXX])
The arrangement of the text in the Septuagint differs from that of the Masoretic Text.
Persons who possessed the required skill made the beautiful garments in which Aaron was to serve YHWH as high priest in the “holy place” or tabernacle. The people of Israel voluntarily contributed the gold, the blue (or blueish purple) yarn or cloth, purple (or red purple) yarn or cloth, scarlet material, and the fine twisted linen that the skilled workers needed to accomplish their assigned tasks according to what YHWH had commanded Moses. (39:1 [36:8, LXX]; compare 28:1-3.)
From the contributed material, the skilled workers made an ephod consisting of two pieces and used gold threads, blue (or blueish purple), purple (or reddish purple) and scarlet yarn, and fine twisted linen. Initially, they hammered the gold into sheets and then cut them into threads that, along with yarn of different colors, were used to beautify the ephod. Josephus described the ephod as short in length and as having sleeves. (Antiquities, III, vii, 5) The ephod was tied around the body with a sash. This sash was made from the same materials as the ephod. Each one of the two gem stones (shóham) on the shoulder pieces of the ephod was engraved with the names of six “sons of Israel” or Jacob. Apparently on the basis of the engraved names, the two stones were “stones of remembrance” as the high priest came into the presence of YHWH, bearing the responsibility for all the tribes of Israel in matters of worship and in making known YHWH’s will and purpose to his people. (39:2-7 [36:9-14, LXX]; compare 28:6-12 and see the Notes section.)
The ephod was designed to accommodate a breastpiece that, like the ephod, was made with gold threads, blue (or blueish purple), purple (or reddish purple) and scarlet yarn, and fine twisted linen. This breastpiece consisted of material with a length of a cubit (18 inches; c. 44 centimeters) and a width of a span (9 inches; c. 22 cenitmeters). The material was folded over to form a square of equal sides. (39:8, 9 [36:15, 16, LXX]; compare 28:15, 16 and see the Notes section.)
On the breastpiece, four rows of each of the three gem stones in the respective row was engraved with the name of one of the “sons of Israel.” Likely the gem stones were positioned in the order they are named in the Exodus account (from right to left as would be the case when reading Hebrew). Targum Jonathan is specific in listing the name engraved on each stone according to the birth order that appears to be indicated in Genesis 29:32-30:34 and 35:16-18 (Reuben, Simeon, Levi [the first row]; Judah, Dan, Naphtali [the second row]; Gad, Asher, Issachar [the third row], and Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin [the fourth row]). Positive identification of all twelve precious or semiprecious stones is not possible. Some of the renderings of the Hebrew words and the Greek words in the Septuagint are conjectural. The following are renderings of the Hebrew and Greek words for the respective rows: ruby (possibly [a red stone]), topaz, and emerald [sardius (a red stone), topaz, emerald (LXX)]), first row; torquoise or garnet (possibly), sapphire, and diamond (possibly [a very hard stone]) [carbuncle, sapphire, jasper (LXX)], second row; amber (perhaps), agate, and amethyst (perhaps) [legurion, agate, and amethyst (LXX)], third row; beryl (possibly), onyx (possibly [shóham]), and jasper [chrysolite, beryl, and onyx (LXX)], fourth row. (39:10-14 [36:17-21, LXX]; compare 28:17-21 and see the Notes section.)
The breastpiece was attached with gold chains from rings at the top right and left corners of the breastpiece to two gem stones [shóham] positioned in gold settings at the top of the right and left shoulder pieces of the ephod. Two blue (or bluish purple) cords that were passed through two gold rings at the bottom corners of the breastpiece held it securely to the ephod. (39:15-21 [36:22-29, LXX]; compare 28:13, 14, 22-28 and see the Notes section.)
The blue (or blueish purple) “mantle of the ephod” likely had no sleeves. So that Aaron could pull it over his head, the mantle had an opening at the top with a binding of woven work that would prevent tearing. On the hem of this mantel were alternating gold bells and pomegranates made from blue (or bluish purple), purple (or reddish purple), and scarlet yarn. (39:22-26 [36:30-34, LXX]; compare 28:31-35.) Josephus described this part of the attire as reaching down to the feet, and he wrote that the fringes between the bells were “like pomegranates” in color. (Antiquities, III, vii, 4) Targum Jonathan indicates that there were 70 bells (71 in chapter 28).
The skilled workers made linen robes, headdresses, and drawers or shorts for Aaron and his sons. For the girdle or sash of each robe, they used fine twisted linen and blue (or blueish purple), purple (or reddish purple), and scarlet yarn. The linen turban of Aaron differed from the headdresses of his sons. On the front of his turban only and attached to it with a blue (or blueish purple) cord was the gold plate with the engraved inscription, “Holy to YHWH.” (39:27-31 36:35-40, LXX]; compare 28:36-42.) Josephus (Antiquities, III, vii, 3) described the turban as having been made of “thick swathes,” with the linen material being “doubled round many times and sewn together.” This headdress was covered with a “piece of fine linen” that extended from the upper part “down to the forehead,” hiding the “seams of the swathes.”
Everything for the tabernacle and the items and utensils associated with it was made according to “all that YHWH had commanded Moses.” Probably the skilled workers brought the parts of the tabernacle and everything else that they had made (the furnishings, the clasps, the frames for the tabernacle structure, the bars, the pillars, and the bases or sockets; the covering of tanned [or red] rams’skins, the covering of other skins [táchash], the curtain separating the Holy from the Most Holy, the ark of the testimony, its carrying poles, and its cover or lid with the two cherubs; the table for the showbread, all its utensils, and the showbread; the lampstand, its seven lamps, all utensils for the lampstand, and the oil for the lamps; the gold altar of incense, the anointing oil, the incense, the curtain for the entrance of the tabernacle, the copper [or bronze] altar, its copper [or bronze] grating, carrying poles, and all its utensils; the basin for washing and its base; the hangings for the courtyard and its pillars and bases or sockets; the curtain for the entrance of the courtyard, the cords for the hangings, the pegs for securing the hangings to the ground; all the implements for the service at the tabernacle, the garments to be worn by those serving at the tabernacle; the holy garments for Aaron and the garments for his sons). Upon making his inspection of everything, Moses determined that everything had been accomplished according to what YHWH had commanded. Apparently he recognized that what had been made matched the pattern that had been shown to him on Mount Sinai. Moses then blessed the people for what they had done. (39:32-43 [39:11, 14-23, LXX]; 25:40; see the Notes section.)
The arrangement of the text in the Septuagint differs from that of the Masoretic Text.
The Hebrew word for the gem stone (shóham) on the two shoulder pieces and in the fourth row of the breastpiece has often been translated “onyx.” (Verses 6 and 13) Indicative of the uncertainty about this rendering is the inconsistent manner in which the Hebrew word is translated in the Septuagint. (berýllion [beryl], ónyx, prasinos [“light green” stone], sárdion [sardius], smáragdos [“bright green” stone, probably emerald], and soóm [possibly carnelian]).
Uncertainty exists about the specific animal skin the Hebrew word táchash (in verse 34) designates. Although Josephus included transliterated Hebrew words and explanatory comments in his writings (Antiquities, III, vii, 1-5), he did not transliterate táchash but appears to have accepted the Septuagint rendering (hyacinth or blue). Regarding the curtains or tent cloths that were joined to form the topmost covering of the tabernacle, he wrote: “Great was the surprise of those who viewed the curtains at a distance, for they seemed not at all to differ from the color of the sky.” (Antiquities, III, vi, 4)
The ark represented God’s presence, and so the reference to it as the “ark of the testimony” (verse 35) could indicate that it served as a testimony or witness that God was present in the midst of the Israelites. Another significance for the designation “ark of the testimony” could be that in it the “testimony” (the two tablets of stone inscribed with the Ten Commandments) was stored. The tablets served as a testimony respecting the commands the Israelites were obligated to observe, and this testimony would be a witness against them if they failed to live up to these commands.
On the first day of the first month (Abib or Nisan [mid-March to mid-April), YHWH directed Moses to set up the tabernacle. This was nearly one year after the Israelites had departed from Egypt as a free people. Everything for the tabernacle and the services there had been completed to the specifications YHWH had given to Moses and the visual representations of all parts of the tabernacle and its furnishings that he had shown to him on Mount Sinai. (40:1, 2; 25:40) According to Josephus, the entire project was finished in seven months. (Antiquities, III, viii, 4)
Verses 3 through 15 set forth YHWH’s directive to Moses about setting up everything that had been constructed in the erected tabernacle with its courtyard. The ark of the testimony was to be placed in the Most Holy and screened from view with the curtain that separated the the Most Holy from the Holy. In the Holy, Moses was to position the table with the showbread. After placing the lampstand in the Holy, Moses was to light its lamps. Before the ark of the testimony (or just in front of the curtain that separated the Holy from the Most Holy), Moses was to place the golden altar of incense. At the entrance of the tabernacle, Moses was to hang the curtain that prevented anyone in the courtyard to see the inside of the tabernacle. In the courtyard, the designated position for the altar of burnt offering was before the entrance to the tabernacle, and the basin that needed to be filled with water was to be placed between the tabernacle and the altar. Although the tabernacle had been set up before the furnishings were to be brought inside, the hangings for the courtyard, as well as the curtain that served as a screen at the entrance of the courtyard, still needed to be put in position. (40:3-8; see the Notes section.)
YHWH directed Moses to anoint the tabernacle and its furnishings inside and, in the courtyard, the altar of burnt offering and the water basin and its base. This anointing would serve to sanctify everything or set it apart as holy to YHWH. Moses was to bring Aaron and his sons to the tabernacle and wash them with water. It may be that this is to be understood to mean that Aaron and his sons washed as Moses directed them. After being dressed in his priestly attire, Aaron was to be anointed and thus sanctified as holy in the service of YHWH as high priest. Moses also was to anoint his sons to serve as priests after they were dressed in their priestly garments. (40:9-15)
Verses 16 through 33 relate that Moses did everything “according to all that YHWH had commanded him.” Again the carrying out of YHWH’s command is dated — the “first month [Abib or Nisan (mid-March to mid-April)] in the second year [after Israel’s departure from Egypt], on the first day of the month.” Whereas to work is attributed to Moses, he either accomplished the tasks with the assistance of skilled workers or directed them to complete the needed tasks. To set up the tabernacle, the silver bases or sockets were put in position, the tenons of the frames were inserted therein, the bars were used to join and secure the frames of the tabernacle, and the pillars were set up. From these pillars were hung the curtain at the tabernacle entrance and the one separating the Holy from the Most Holy. Upon the erected framework of the tabernacle, Moses had the covering with the representations of cherubs placed and thereafter the other covering. (40:16-19; see the Notes section.)
Moses put the “testimony,” or the two tablets containing the “Ten Words” or “Ten Commandments,” into the ark, positioned the gold-overlaid carrying poles in the gold rings on each side of the ark, and placed the cover with the two cherubs on the ark. After bringing the ark into the tabernacle, Moses hung the curtain that separated the Holy from the Most Holy. In the Holy, he placed the table for the showbread on the north side and put the showbread on it. On the south side of the Holy, Moses set up the lampstand and lighted its lamps. In front of the curtain that separated the Holy from the Most Holy, he set up the gold altar of incense and burned incense thereon. Moses hung the curtain at the tabernacle entrance. In the courtyard, he then set up the altat of burnt offering and presented sacrifices upon it; put the basin in position and filled it with water so that he, Aaron, and his sons could wash their hands and their feet. Finally, Moses put all the hangings of the courtyard in position and hung the curtain at the entrance of the court. (40:20-33; see the Notes section.)
YHWH’s acceptance of the tabernacle as his representative place of dwelling became visibly apparent when the cloud covered it and the “glory of YHWH” filled it. On account of this development, Moses then could not enter the tabernacle. From that time onward, YHWH’s guidance of the people of Israel through the wilderness was revealed by means of the cloud. Whenever the cloud lifted, the Israelites would break camp and set out on their journey. As long as the cloud remained over the tabernacle, the people would stay where they had encamped. Both during the day and the night, the cloud could be seen, for at night it proved to be like a fire. (40:34-38; see the Notes section regarding what Josephus wrote about the cloud.)
In the Septuagint, the text for verses 7 and 8 is missing. Therefore, verse 7 in the Septuagint contains the text of verse 9, and the numbering of the verses changes accordingly. The numbering of the verses in the Septuagint changes again after verse 27 (in the Hebrew text, but 25 in the Septuagint text). The Septuagint does not include the text of verses 28, 30, 32, and 32.
Chapter 40, by means of repetition, emphasizes that Moses did everything as YHWH had commanded him. Repeatedly, one finds the phrase “as YHWH had commanded Moses.” (Verses 19, 21, 23, 25, 27, 29, 32)
In his Antiquities (III, viii, 5), Josephus wrote: “God showed himself pleased with the work of the Hebrews and did not permit their labors to be in vain; nor did he disdain to make use of what they had made, but he came and sojourned with them and pitched his tabernacle in the holy house. And in the following manner did he come to it: The sky was clear, but there was a mist over the tabernacle only, encompassing it, but not with such a very deep and thick cloud as is seen in the winter season, nor yet in so thin a one as men might be able to discern anything through it; but from it there dropped a sweet dew, and such a one as showed the presence of God to those who desired and believed it.”
Regarding the construction of the tabernacle and its furnishings, the Exodus account often repeats information. It records YHWH’s instructions to Moses and then how these were carried out and, finally, YHWH’s commands for setting up the tabernacle and its furnishings and how Moses did everything that he had been directed to do. It appears inconceivable that this kind of information would have been recorded centuries after the tabernacle was no longer in use. The relevance of material that includes so much repetition would not have existed in later centuries. Therefore, one may rightly conclude that the record in Exodus originated when it was most relevant to the Israelites and that it reflects the time when they were in the wilderness in the vicinity of Mount Sinai.