The Bible Educator

Edited by the Rev. E. H. Plumptree, M.A.,

The Pentateuch.


By The Very Rev. E. Payne Smith, D.D., Dean of Canterbury.


THE second book of the Pentateuch is called Exodus, from a Greek word signifying Departure. In Hebrew it is simply called The Names, from the opening words. It naturally divides into two parts: the first, consisting of chaps, i.— six., detailing the circumstances under which, the children of Israel left Egypt; and the second, consisting of chaps, xx. — xl., narrating the giving of the law upon Mount Sinai, and the building of the ark as the symbol of Jehovah's presence and the centre of his worship.

Four hundred years and more had elapsed since the descent of Jacob and his family into Egypt. Such had been the terms of the prediction to Abraham: his seed was " to be a stranger and a servant in a land that was not their's for four hundred years" (Gen. xv. 13). So I Stephen quotes the words again in Acts vii. 6; while the four hundred and thirty years mentioned by St. Paul (Gal. iii. 17) exactly agree with the statement in, Exod. xii. 40, 41, that such was the length of the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt to a day, and are not, therefore, to be understood of the whole interval from Abraham to Moses. In spite, however, of the express assertion of the Book of Exodus, a different chronology is generally followed. For this the Septuagint led the way by rendering Exod. xii. 40 as follows: — " The sojourning of the sons of Israel, which they sojourned in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, they and their fathers, was 430 years." But every scholar knows that the authors of the Septuagint had very strange ideas about the duties of translators, and altered the text without scruple whenever they thought they had a reason for it. Here their reason was that they hoped to avoid a difficulty. First it is said that Amram's wife was Jochebed, " a daughter of Levi, whom one bare to Levi in Egypt " (Numb. xxvi. 59). This, of course, only means that she was a Levite, and the impersonal manner in which the Hebrew says " whom one bare to Levi," is a confirmation of this. Levi plainly is the tribe of Levi, and not the patriarch. Literally understood, it makes Amram not merely marry his aunt, but an aunt of the respectable age of eighty-five at the least; while it further gives Moses no fewer than 8,600 first cousins (Numb. iii. 28). Such are the results of tampering with the text of Scripture.

To this we must add a second similar reason. Tin genealogies generally give only four generations in Egypt. Thus — Levi, Kohath, Amram, Moses (Exod. vi. 16 - 20). So again, Judah, Zerah, Zabdi, Canna whose son, Achan, in Joshua's time, stole some of the spoil of Jericho (Josh. vii. 1). But these genealogies merely compendiums, in which apparently, as a rule one name is given for a century. They were legal documents, showing who was the representative of each branch of the families of the high chiefs of pure blood. Fortunately we have one full genealogy of no less a person than Joshua, and we find (1 Chron. vii. 23 - 27) that this great prince of Ephraim was the twelfth in descent from Joseph. One such genealogy settles the question; for we can account for the shorter forms, but not for the longer one. In fact, no one who studies the family histories given at the beginning of Chronicles can doubt that they are legal and technical formula, representing rank and property, and not necessarily relationship. Thus, Othniel and Caleb figure as descendants of Judah; really, they were the chiefs of a powerful clan of Edomites, who joined the Israelites while in Goshen, and were adopted into the tribe of Judah. Their ancestors — Jephuuneh and Kenaz — are never called sons of any of Judah's children, but are introduced without a word of preparation. Nothing is more possible than that names are omitted in the genealogy even of David; and, in short, the chronology based upon these genealogies is as worthless as that based on Gen. v. It is using these documents for a purpose for which they never were intended, and no amount of them would weigh against the plain assertion that the Israelites were in Egypt for a period of four hundred and thirty years, and that there were twelve generations between Joseph and Joshua.

In Egypt the Israelites had multiplied into a nation. They had gone down thither in number seventy souls including Joseph's sons. But these were the chiefs only. Already we have seen that Esau and Jacob, after dividing Isaac's wealth between them, were so rich that the land could not bear them, and so Esau withdrew to Mount Seir (Gen. xxxvi. 7, 8), and by the time of the Exodus had grown into a powerful kingdom (Numb. xx. 14). But there is a fact which puts Jacob's power in a very vivid light. Two of his sons, Levi and Simeon, accompanied, of course, by their armed retainers, smote the city of Shechem, and seized upon all the property of the inhabitants, both in the city and in the field, with all their wealth and their little ones, that is, their households of male and female servants, their children, and their wives. Shechem, probably, was not a very largo city, but this high-handed act shows that Jacob's sons had something both of the martial spirit And also of the power of Chedorlaomer's conqueror, Abraham. To these seventy souls, then, we must add several hundred retainers, who, in fact, are mentioned in the descent into Egypt. " Their little ones " (in Hebrew tappam) were their households, consisting not of children merely, but of all who were in a state of dependence upon the chiefs (Gen. xlvi. 5). As a powerful and warlike body of men, Joseph placed the Beni-Israel in Goshen, a district on the eastern side of the Delta. It was not on the Nile, but was a pastoral land a little removed from it, stretching onward towards Palestine, and if occupied at all when the Israelites came thither was so by Semitic, and not by Egyptian settlers. One fertile valley, containing about sixty geographical square miles, formed their chief abode. Now, everywhere else the Red Sea protects Egypt. But Goshen abuts upon the isthmus of Suez, and so the Israelites were placed just whore they would have to bear the brunt of every invasion. Joseph would not have placed them in so exposed a position had they been a feeble folk. But their martial energies were not confined to this garrison work. They made forays even into Palestine, and on one such occasion the men of Gath came down upon them when driving off their cattle, and among others slew two of the sons of Ephraim (1 Chron. vii. 21).

Fostered in this land by Joseph, and joined there by his two sons— who were enabled, by the powerful bodies of retainers that accompanied them, not merely to take each the place of tribal chiefs, but, as regards Ephraim, to claim absolute supremacy over the whole nation — there is nothing marvellous in their developing, in four hundred years, into a great people. How many tribes like the Kenizzites joined them we cannot tell, but doubtless Semites from the peninsula would completely be attracted to them. Besides this, we are told that they were fruitful and multiplied exceedingly, but not faster than English emigrants in Australia; and thus, when a new dynasty arose, they were looked upon no longer as a safeguard, but as a danger to Egypt.

Their persecutor, apparently, was Amosis, the first king of the eighteenth dynasty. Originally he was king only of a district in the south of Egypt, but having married an Ethiopian princess, whose portrait is often found on Egyptian monuments, where she is celebrated as "the daughter, and wife, and mother of kings," his power increased so rapidly that he was able to subdue the whole land, and push his conquests to the borders of Palestine. Thus brought into contact with the Israelites, of whoso previous history he knew nothing (Exod. i. 8), he evidently regarded with suspicion the presence of so largo a body of foreigners in the land, and took measures to weaken them. Some of these measures were directed against the people generally. Large contingents of them were required for forced labour. To this day, the rulers of Egypt not infrequently call upon some district to supply them with so many thousand fellahs, or peasants, to execute some public work, like the Suez canal. Ill fed and ill cared-for, multitudes of these hapless men never again return to their homes. In the same way, no doubt, Amosis required the district of Goshen to supply him with so many thousand labourers to build him "treasure cities," that is, fortresses for laying up stores, and guarding the western frontier of his kingdom; and by multiplying these demands, he hoped soon to waste their strength away.

Against their chiefs he devised other means. Many, perhaps, of them were hostages at his court; others had the oversight of the men employed in forced labour; those in Goshen he could scarcely interfere with. But such as wore in his power he determined should be childless; and when secret machinations availed nothing, he ordered their male children to be thrown into the river. Probably the forced labour had been going on for many years before this cruel command was given; and let us hope that it was but a temporary ebullition of brutality which soon passed away.

But while this enactment was still hi force Moses was born, and, by Divine providence, it led to his being adopted into the royal family, and so educated as to be made fit to become Israel's deliverer. Of high descent, the chief of one of the three branches of the Levitic race, Amram was apparently at Tanis in command of the labourers there. For three months the trembling mother conceals her child, and then, unable to hide it any longer, she makes for it a little ark of bulrushes, and entrusts it to the Nile. In the Tanisitic branch of the Nile crocodiles are never found; from that danger the child was safe: and soon afterwards a princess descends to bathe. Her maid brings to her the precious casket; and moved to pity by the babe's tears, she determines to bring it up as her own, and, with a woman's kindly feelings, sends for its own mother to be its nurse.

This princess was apparently the sister of Amenophis. the son of Amosis. He was a prosperous and able king, and during his reign the forced labour of the Israelites seems to have been reduced to system; but we may feel sure, from his character, that he passed no such cruel decrees as that which condemned the children of the nobles to a watery grave. At his death it is calculated that Moses would have been just about forty years old. Like William the Silent, at the court of Charles V., lie had probably long brooded over the ill treatment of his people. At the king's death he thought the time had come for an uprise; but his first enterprise was a failure. The people had no confidence in the young noble, whom they had known only as the companion of their oppressors; and to escape the vengeance of the Egyptians, who regarded him as a traitor, he fled away into the wilderness, and there, for a second forty years, tended the flock of a Midianite.

In this period he seems to have given up all ambitious plans, and when the command came to resume the enterprise, once so rashly commenced and hastily abandoned, he is full of difficulties, and carries his reluctance to a sinful length. No chronicler in after tunes, when Moses was the great hero, the mighty champion of the nation, would have so spoken of him. But all through the Pentateuch Moses ever takes a most humble and modest place. None but himself would have drawn so close a veil over his greatness. It is only at his death, in the last chapter added by another hand, that his high dignity is declared. There he is the prophet whose like Israel had never seen, with whom the Lord spake face to face, the worker of mighty wonders, " the servant," or, as the phrase really means, " the vicegerent of Jehovah."1

His reluctance, however, is overcome, and, armed with two signs of God's presence, and comforted by the promise that Aaron should be his spokesman, he returns to Egypt. Probably there had been communications from time to time between the two brothers — the chiefs may even have invited him back; and all the Israelites certainly now receive him as their leader. Coming from the wilderness, no suspicion any longer hung about him, and Aaron, a wise and politic man, had probably gained in the meanwhile the full confidence of his nation. The king, apparently, at that time was Thotmes II. His reign had begun successfully, but subsequently the nations whom his father had conquered revolted, and were not subdued again till the twenty-second year of Thotmes III. In the monuments all the latter part of his reign is a blank. Evidently there was a great collapse of the power of Egypt in his days. Apparently he was a weak, vacillating man, but his wife, Hatason, who was also his sister — such marriages being allowed by Egyptian law — appears from the monuments to have been a woman of strong feelings, and warmly attached to the national religion. Her bigotry may well have helped to harden the heart of her feebler brother. He apparently dwelt at Tanis, or Zoan, on the eastern frontier of Egypt, and Aaron and Moses enter his presence as the accredited representatives of a powerful nation now ready to revolt. They came, also, as the messengers of the God Jehovah, and give proof of their mission by casting down Aaron's rod, which becomes a serpent (or, as the word more probably means, a crocodile), and swallows up the rods of the magicians, who, for some mysterious reason, were allowed to cast down their rods, which also turned into crocodiles.

But signs followed more terrible and alarming. The season apparently was June, when the inundation of the Nile begins, at which time the Israelites would have returned from their quest after stubble. And now commences the first series of three plagues. Just before the Nile rises its waters are green and unfit to drink, but as its channel fills multitudes of microscopic infusoria are produced, which give it a red colour. On this occasion Moses threatened the king with a more terrible portent. For seven days the Nile shall flow along a stream of blood, so that the fish shall the, and only by digging near the river shall the people get water to drink. The threat was fulfilled, but the king heeded not, and in September the second plague came.

At this period the inundation is usually at its height, and a frog peculiar to Egypt, called the Rana Mosaica, appears. It is small, crawls like a toad, and croaks abominably; but it is a favourite food of the ibis, and its numbers are thus kept down. At Moses' command the land swarmed with these reptiles, and when at Pharaoh's request the plague was removed, they were gathered in heaps, and the whole an- poisoned with their smell. In each series the third plague is inflicted without previous notice to the king. And when, on the removal of the frogs, Thotmes refused all terms to the Israelites, the dust of the whole land suddenly swarmed with lice, by which is meant, probably, a small tick, described in Sir S. Baker's travels, which, though itself not larger than a grain of sand, has a marvellous power of suction, and will fill itself with blood till it reaches the size of a hazel-nut.

These plagues had probably caused no very severe injury. The next series is more trying. Swarms of dog-flies, more venomous and pertinacious than mosquitoes, and which sometimes appear in Egypt in such masses as to cover the whole country, prove so terrible an infliction that the king grants the Israelites permission to depart. He had a proof of the miraculous origin of these flies in the circumstance that Goshen was entirely free from them. Yet no sooner were they removed than Pharaoh hardens his heart, and a cattle plague, such as visited England a few years ago, was threatened by Moses: only here not the oxen merely, and sheep, but horses, asses, and camels fell victims to its ravages.

It is at the end of the year, in December, that the murrain usually visits Egypt, when the cattle, after their confinement during the inundation, are first turned out into the fields. Here not only had the murrain been foretold, but it was of unusual severity, and yet no contagion reached the herds of Israel in Goshen. Urged perhaps, by the sterner will of Hatasou, the king will not relent; and Moses therefore, without warning, sprinkles ashes into the air, and burning tumours break forth upon the persons of the Egyptians. None can escape them, and the magicians, who hitherto had kept up a mock semblance of imitation, now confess themselves vanquished, and retire. Cutaneous eruptions are common, we are told, in the valley of the Nile, but these wore of unusual severity.

Next commences the third series of plagues, and plainly the constancy of Pharaoh was greatly shaken by them. A tremendous tempest of hail swept over the whole laud, except Goshen, destroying the barley and flax, but doing little harm to the wheat and spelt, which, at that early period of the year — March — are not far advanced in growth. Though thunder-storms are not unknown in Egypt, yet they are rare enough to excite strange terror, and Pharaoh was greatly depressed. Yet only for a time; and the next plague was a swarm of locusts — a visitation more common, but also more ruinous, than the last.

They came in such numbers as to cover the " eye of the earth" (Exod. x. 51, producing darkness in their flight, and utterly consuming every vestige of vegetation. Yet Pharaoh yielded not. And the third plague of this series, inflicted, as usual, without warning, was a total darkness, such as travellers describe as caused in Egypt by the south-west wind, when, as often happens at the vernal equinox, it blows for many days together, from the desert laden with fine sand. So filled is the atmosphere by it, that no man attempts to light a lamp, for the air has lost all its transparency, and the people hide themselves from the stifling dust in the innermost chambers of their abodes. By the time it reached Goshen the wind had deposited so much of the sand carried with it that the Israelites " had light in their dwellings." But, though similar sandstorms may often have swept over the country, yet this was so intense, and continued so long, that Pharaoh was appalled, and gave the people leave to depart, but only to revoke it when the danger seemed overpast.

And now the last plague came — the death of the first-born — in fearful retribution for the determined attempts made to destroy the children of the Israelites, and Pharaoh gave way for a sufficiently long period to enable the people to begin their march.

The last plagues had followed one another in terrible rapidity, for it was in the month Abib, or April, that the exodus took place. No doubt every preparation had long been made for it, and orders had probably been given for their departure after the plague of darkness, though subsequently Moses had to revoke them. When at last they started, warned by the previous vacillations of the monarch, it was with such haste that they took with them their dough unleavened, for which reason unleavened bread is used to this day at the feast of the Passover. The place of gathering was Rameses, a town built by the Israelites, and at which, probably, they formed the chief population. Thence they started in number 600,000 men, besides children, and a mixed multitude of friends and fugitives from Egypt and the Sinaitic Peninsula, who did not dare to remain behind. No wonder that the Egyptians, terrified at the gathering of so vast a host, gladly gave the Israelites all they asked, and thus in spite of themselves remunerated them for the forced labour they had exacted from them.

So admirably had everything been prepared that, excepting cooked provisions, no hitch delayed their departure. They went forth " by their armies," in strict military order, and as the word " harnessed " (chap. xiii. 18) most probably means, arranged in five divisions — a van, centre, two wings, and rear-guard. Following the course of a canal, they marched first to Succoth, in an easterly direction, and thence to Etham, or Pithom, a town at the head of the Red Sea, and on the regular route to Palestine. But from Etham Moses turned southwards, skirting along the edge of the bitter lakes, now almost dried up, until he reached Baal-zephon, near which, at the modern town of Suez, are sands of considerable extent, passable on foot whenever, as in the present case, a strong east wind blows (chap. xiv. 21). Here again, as in the plagues, the miracle was the overruling of a natural phenomenon, so that it served for the preservation of God's people, and the destruction of their enemies. So unexpected, however, was its occurrence, that Pharaoh had regarded the Israelites as a sure prey, delivered up by this unexpected march southward into his hands.

The route of the children of Israel in the wilderness we will consider when we come to the Book of Numbers, where their itinerary is given. Enough now to remark that the recent researches into the state of the Sinaitic Peninsula, and especially the Ordnance survey of it, prove that in the time of Moses it was a well-watered and pastoral country, except in certain districts. The destruction of its forests, begun by the Egyptians for working its copper and turquoise mines, and completed by the Arabs, has produced upon it the same effect which is now beginning to show itself from the denudation of the mountains in Spain. The clouds, uncondensed by the cool green foliage, pass over its hot sands and rocks to carry their rich freight to happier lands. Though occasionally distressed, therefore, for food and water, as so vast a host could not but be, and after a fierce battle with the Amalekites, the remains of whose dwellings, as Mr. Holland has pointed out, prove them to have been a numerous and powerful race, not of nomads, but with settled homos — for there are indications of their having practised agriculture — the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai.

Winding through narrow defiles, of which their victory had given them the command, it was a sight of surpassing solemnity that met their eye on approaching the mountain. A long level plain, sweeping back from the rock, formed a natural sanctuary capable of containing their mighty host, while in front the Ras Sufsafeh rose almost perpendicularly from the plain, like a huge altar. For recent investigations2 seem to have made it clear that the northern extremity of Mount Sinai, called, as above, Ras Sufsafeh, and not the Jebel Musa, or " Mountain of Moses," on the south, is " the mount that could be touched," from which the voice of God might be heard throughout the whole extent of the plain below. Perhaps throughout the whole world no plain existed so suited for the giving of the Law. unless it be the Cirque of Gavarnie, in the Pyrenees, where also an amphitheatre of rock rises perpendicularly to a height of more than -a thousand feet, while a vast but desolate valley lies at its foot.

At this remarkable place a covenant was made between Jehovah and the Israelites, of which the formal sanction was the enactment of the ten commandments — • the most perfect republication of natural law ever given to the would— while its symbol was the ark, with the building of which the last twenty-one chapters are chiefly concerned. The account is twice repeated. We have first the instructions given by Moses to the people, fully describing both the ark and its accessories. We then have an equally elaborate account of the manner in which these instructions were fulfilled, but in inverse order. Such a double narrative would be unnatural in a history, but is just what we should expect in original documents, such as are most of the contents of the three intermediate books of the Pentateuch. They are generally what we should call the materials for a history rather than a history itself. They have all the character (if contemporaneous records composed each for some special purpose, and finally arranged simply in chronological order, but with no attempt at digesting them, or wearing them together into an orderly narrative. In the first document Moses gives instructions for making the several symbols in the order of their importance: the ark first, then the mercy-seat, then the table of show-bread, and so on. In the second document they are arranged in the order in which they must have been made: the tabernacle first, and last of all the ark, when everything was prepared for its reception.

Of the tabernacle and its contents I will only add that all the materials are of such a kind as would easily he procurable in the desert, excepting, of course, the precious metals and jewels, which the people brought from Egypt. The tabernacle was the royal tent in •which Jehovah, Israel's king, dwelt between the cherubim on the mercy-seat, which covered the ark, a kind of chest, in which were contained the two tables of stone inscribed with the ten commandments. Taking the cubit as equal to 18 inches, the ark was 3 feet 9 inches in length, and 2 feet 3 inches in height and breadth. This alone stood in the holy of holies, a small chamber 18 feet square, and always, except on the march, so covered that all was dark within. Into this solemn gloom once in the year the high priest entered alone, with the blood of the atonement. Separated from it by a veil of gorgeous colours — blue, purple, crimson, and white — arranged in parallel bands, was the holy place, of the same breadth as the holy of holies, but

twice its length, itself carefully covered, but lighted with the seven-branched candlestick, and containing also the table of shew-bread, the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt-offering. These two chambers were made of movable boards 2 feet 3 inches broad, and 15 feet high, fastened in sockets of silver, while over all four coverings were thrown, not laying flat upon them, as many have supposed, but supported by a ridgepole raised 30 feet above the ground in front; and the coverings were so arranged that a passage of 7 feet 6 inches in breadth was left between the boards forming the walls of the inner shrines and the edge of the coverings.

These coverings were four in number: the first, of fine twisted linen, of various colours, embroidered with cherubim, and formed into curtains, 6 feet wide and 37 feet in length. As they were ten in number, they would cover a space of 60 foot, whereas the shrines were only 45 feet long. Over these was a covering of goat-skins, consisting of eleven curtains, each 6 feet wide, and 40 feet long. And over these were thrown curtains of rams' skins dyed red with the wool on. Of their dimensions no account is given, nor of the covering of seal-skins, mistranslated "badger-skins" in our version. This, it has been suggested, did not cover the whole roof, but only the ridge-piece, or crest of the roof, serving there to turn the rain aside. Seals, we are told by Strabo, were common in the Red Sea.

It deserves notice that the Temple of Solomon still preserved the form of a tent, though its dimensions were double those of the tabernacle in the wilderness. This tabernacle, originally set up on the conquest of Palestine at Shiloh (Josh, xviii. 1), was probably destroyed by the Philistines when they burned that town (Ps. lxxviii. 60), but the ark was preserved, and probably was carried about again by the priests, till at length it was stationed at Nob (1 Sam. xxi. 6), whence it got to Gibeon (1 Chron. xvi. 39), and on the conquest of Jerusalem was deposited there in a new tabernacle, replaced in tune by Solomon's Temple. It was made of a wood which at that time grew in great abundance in the desert, called shittim in the Hebrew, a kind of acacia, remarkable for its durability. The reader must not, however, confound it with the tree so well known to us under the name. Our tree came from America, and is really a Robinia. The acacia of the desert is a Mimosa. Whether, therefore, we consider the nature of the plagues, which are, in nearly every ease, occurrences natural in Egypt, but unknown in Palestine; or the names given them, which are mostly Egyptian; Or the shape and materials of the tabernacle; or the nature of the documents; all things concur in proving to us that we have to do with genuine historical documents, contemporaneous with the times of which they give us so interest mg a portraiture; and which, in addition to their religious significance, have preserved for us the record of one of the most remarkable movements which ever affected the human race.



1) The only apparent contradiction to this is Exod. xi. 3, but for entirely independent reasons critics are generally agreed that the three first verses oŁ this chapter are an interpolation.

2) See Dean Stanley's Sinai and Palestine, pp. 42 - 14, and Excursus in Speaker's Commentary, "Exodus," pp. 435 - 442.