Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.
Verses 1-21 - THE SONG OF MOSES. Full of gratitude, joy, and happiness - burning with a desire to vent in devotional utterance of the most fitting kind, his intense and almost ecstatic feelings, Moses, who to his other extraordinary powers, added the sublime gift of poesy, composed, shortly after the passage, a hymn of praise, and sang it with a chorus of the people as a thanksgiving to the Almighty. The hymn itself is generally allowed to be one of transcendent beauty. Deriving probably the general outline of its form and character of its rhythm from the Egyptian poetry of the time, with which Moses had been familiar from his youth, it embodies ideas purely Hebrew, and remarkable for grandeur, simplicity, and depth. Naturally, as being the first outburst of the poetical genius of the nation, and also connected with the very commencement of the national life, it exerted the most important formative influence upon the later Hebrew poetic style, furnishing a pattern to the later lyric poets, from which they but rarely deviated. The "parallelism of the members," which from the middle of the Last century has been acknowledged to be the only real rhythmical law of Hebrew poetry, with its three forms of "synonymous, antithetic, and synthetic (or verbal) parallelism" is here found almost us distinctly marked as in any of the later compositions. At the same time, a greater lyrical freedom is observable than was afterwards practised. The song divides itself primarily into two parts: - the first (vers. 1-12) retrospective, celebrating the recent deliverance; the second (vers. 13-18) prospective, describing the effects that would flow from the deliverance in future time. The verbs indeed of the second part are at first grammatical preterites; but (as Kalisch observes) they are "according to the sense, futures" - their past form denoting only that the prophet sees the events revealed to him as though they were already accomplished. Hence, after a time, he slides into the future (ver. 16). The second part is continuous, and has no marked break: the first sub-divides into three unequal portions, each commencing with an address to Jehovah, and each terminating with a statement of the great fact, that the Egyptians were swallowed up. These three portions are:
1. vers. 2-5, "The Lord is my strength," to "They sank into the bottom as a stone."
2. vers. 6-10," Thy right hand, O Lord," to "They sank like lead in the mighty waters."
3. vers. 11-12, "Who is like unto Thee, O Lord," to "The earth swallowed them." The first verse stands separate from the whole, as an introduction, and at the same time as the refrain. Moses and a chorus of men commenced their chant with it, and probably proceeded to the end of ver. 5, when Miriam, with the Hebrew women, interposed with a repetition of the refrain (see ver. 21). The chant of the males was resumed and carried to the close of ver. 10, when again the refrain came in. It was further repeated after ver. 12; and once moral at the close of the whole "song." Similar refrains, or burdens, are found in Egyptian melodies PART I. Verse 1. - Then sang Moses and the children of Israel. It is in accordance with the general modesty of Moses, that he says nothing of the composition of the "song." No serious doubt of his authorship has ever been entertained; but the general belief rests on the improbability of there having been among the Israelites a second literary genius of the highest order, without any mention being made of him. The joint-singing by Moses and "the children of Israel" implies the previous training of a choir, and would seem to show that the Israelites remained for some days encamped at the point which they had occupied on quitting the bed of the sea. He hath triumphed gloriously. Literally. He is gloriously glorious." (ἐνδόξως δεδόξασται, LXX.) The horse and his rider. Rather, "The horse and his driver." Chariots, not cavalry, are in the mind of the writer.
The LORD is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father's God, and I will exalt him.
Verse 2. - The Lord is my strength and song. Literally, "My strength and song is Jah." The name Jah had not previously been used. It is commonly regarded as an abbreviated form of Jehovah, and was the form generally used in the termination of names, as Abijah, Ahaziah, Hezekiah, Zedekiah, Mount Moriah, etc. It takes the place of "Jehovah" here, probably on account of the rhythm. He is become my salvation. Literally, "He has been to me for salvation," i.e., "He has delivered me out of the hand of Pharaoh and his host, and so saved me from destruction." I will prepare him a habitation. This translation seems to have come originally from the Targum of Onkelos, who paraphrases the single word of the text by the phrase "I will build him a sanctuary." The meaning is a possible one: but most modern commentators prefer to connect the verb used with a root meaning "beautiful," and translate "I will glorify him." (So Gesenius. Rosenmuller, Knobel, Kalisch, Cook. The LXX have δοξάσω. The Vulgate has glorificabo. The Syrian and Coptic versions agree, as do also the Targums of Jonathan and of Jerusalem.) The God of my father. See the comment on Exodus 3:6.
The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name.
Verse 3. - a man of war. A strong anthropomorphism, but one that could scarcely be misunderstood - "a man of war," meaning commonly "a warrior," or "one mighty in battle" (Psalm 24:8). God's might had just been proved, in that he alone had discomfited and destroyed the most potent armed force in the whole world. The Lord is his name. Jehovah - the alone-existing One "truly describes him," before whom all other existence fades and falls into nothingness. On the full meaning of the name, see the comment on Exodus 3:14.
Pharaoh's chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea: his chosen captains also are drowned in the Red sea.
Verse 4. - Pharaoh's chariots and his host. The "host" of this passage is not the "army" of Exodus 14:9, though in the original the same word is used, but the whole multitude of those who rode in the chariots, and were drowned in the sea. Hath he cast. Or "hurled." The verb commonly expresses the hurling of a javelin or the shooting of an arrow. His chosen captains. Compare Exodus 14:7. Are drowned. Literally, "were submerged." The word describes the act of drowning, not the state of lying drowned in the depths of the sea.
The depths have covered them: they sank into the bottom as a stone.
Verse 5. - The depths have covered them. Rather "covered them." Into the bottom. Literally, "into the abyss." Like a stone. The warriors who fought in chariots commonly wore coats of mail, composed of bronze plates sewn on to a linen base, and overlapping one another. The coats covered the arms to the elbow, and descended nearly to the knee. They must have been exceedingly heavy: and the warrior who wore one must have sunk at once, without a struggle, like a stone or a lump of lead (verse 10).
Thy right hand, O LORD, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O LORD, hath dashed in pieces the enemy.
Verses 6-18. - Between verses 5 and 6, Miriam's chorus was probably interposed "Sing ye unto the Lord," etc. Then began the second strophe or stanza of the ode. It is, in the main, expansive and exegetical of the preceding stanza, going into greater detail, and drawing a contrast between the antecedent pride and arrogance of the Egyptians and their subsequent miserable fall. Verse 6. - Thy right hand, O Lord. Another anthropomorphism, here used for the first time. Compare ver. 12; Deuteronomy 33:2; and the Psalms, passim. Is become glorious Or "is glorious. Kalisch rightly regards verses 6 and 7 as containing "a general description of God's omnipotence and justice," and notes that the poet only returns to the subject of the Egyptians in verse 8. So also Knobel. Hath dashed in pieces. Rather, "Will dash in pieces," or "dashes in pieces" - a general statement.
And in the greatness of thine excellency thou hast overthrown them that rose up against thee: thou sentest forth thy wrath, which consumed them as stubble.
Verse 7. - Thou hast overthrown, etc. Here again the verbs are future. Translate - "thou wilt overthrow," or "thou overthrowest them that rise up against thee; thou (wilt send) sendest forth thy wrath, which consumes them as stubble." The metaphor in the last clause was one known to the Egyptians.
And with the blast of thy nostrils the waters were gathered together, the floods stood upright as an heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea.
Verse 8. - With the blast of thy nostril the waters were gathered together. Poetically, Moses describes the east wind which God set in motion as "the blast" or "breath of his nostrils." By means of it, he says, the waters were "gathered together," or "piled up;" then, growing bolder in his imagery, he represents the floods as "standing in a heap" on either side, and the depths as "congealed. No doubt, if these terms are meant to be taken literally, the miracle must have been one in which "the sea" (as Kalisch says) "giving up its nature, formed with its waves a firm wall, and instead of streaming like a fluid, congealed into a hard substance." But the question is, are we justified in taking literally the strong expressions of a highly wrought poetical description?
The enemy said, I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.
Verse 9. - The enemy said. This verse is important as giving the animus of the pursuit, showing what was in the thoughts of the soldiers who flocked to Pharaoh's standard at his call - a point which had not been previously touched. It is remarkable as a departure from the general stately order of Hebrew poesy, and for what has been called its "abrupt, gasping" style. The broken speech imitates the utterance of one at once eager and out of breath. I will divide the spoil. The Israelites, it must be remembered, had gone out of Egypt laden with ornaments of silver and of gold, and accompanied by flocks and herds of great value. Pharaoh's soldiers regarded this wealth as legitimate plunder, and intended to appropriate it. My lust. Literally, "my soul." Rage and hate were the passions to be satiated, rather than lust. My hand shall destroy them. So the Vulgate, Onkelos, Rosenmuller, Knobel, Kalisch, and others. The LXX. have κυριεύσει, "acquire the lordship over them" (whence our marginal rendering) But the drawn sword points to death rather than recapture.
Thou didst blow with thy wind, the sea covered them: they sank as lead in the mighty waters.
Verse 10. - Thou didst blow with thy wind. Here we have another fact not mentioned in the direct narrative, but entirely harmonising with it. The immediate cause of the return of the waters, as of their retirement, was a wind. This wind must have come from a new quarter, or its effects would not have been to bring the water back. We may reasonasbly suppose a wind to have arisen contrary to the former one, blowing from the north-west or the north, which would have driven the water of the Bitter LaMes southward, and thus produced the effect spoken cf. The effect may, or may not, have been increased by the flow of the tide in the Red Sea They sank as lead. See the comment on verse 5.
Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?
Verses 11, 12 contain the third stanza of the first division of the ode. It is short compared to the other two, containing merely a fresh ascription of praise to God, cast in anew form; and a repetition of the great fact which the poem commemorates - the Egyptian overthrow. We conceive that Miriam's chorus (ver. 21) was again interposed between verses 10 and 11. Verse 11. - Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? It was one great object of the whole series of miraculous visitations whereof Egypt had been the scene, that the true God, Jehovah, should be exalted far above all the gods of the heathen. (See Exodus 7:5; Exodus 14:4, 18.) Moses therefore makes this one of his topics of praise; and at the same time notes three points in which God has no rival -
2. Awfulness; and
3. Miraculous power.
Compare Psalm 86:8; "Among the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord; neither are there any works like thy works." Fearful in praises - i.e., "to be viewed with awe even when we praise Him."
Thou stretchedst out thy right hand, the earth swallowed them.
Verse 12. - Thou stretchedst out thy right hand. Thou hadst only to stretch out an arm, and at once thy enemies perished. The earth swallowed them up - i.e., the sea, which is a part of the earth. PART II.
Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed: thou hast guided them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation.
Verse 13. - Thou in thy mercy hast led forth. Or "leadest forth." See the Introduction to the chapter. Which thou hast redeemed. See the comment on Exodus 6:6. Then hast guided. Or "thou guidest." Thy holy habitation. By "God's holy habitation" some understand Mount Sinai, others Canaan, others Mount Moriah, or even the temple there to be built ultimately. That Sinai is not intended seems clear from verses 14, 15, where the nations mentioned are such as were untouched by the occupation of that mountain. Canaan might sufficiently answer the requirements of the present verse, but scarcely comes up to those of verse 17. Altogether, it is clear that Moses knew there would be a place in the land of Canaan where God would "put his name" (Deuteronomy 12:5, 11, 14; Deuteronomy 14:23, 24; Deuteronomy 16:6, 11; Deuteronomy 26:2; etc.); and it would seem to be not unlikely that he may have known where the place would be by special revelation.
The people shall hear, and be afraid: sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestina.
Verse 14. - The people shall hear. - Rather, "the peoples" - i.e., the tribes, or nations, of these parts - Philistines, Amalekites, Edomites, Moabites, etc. - will hear of the wonders done in Egypt, especially of the crowning wonder of all - Israel's passage through the Red Sea and Egypt's destruction in it - and will in consequence tremble with fear when the Israelites approach them, and offer them no effectual opposition. Palestine. This is a Greek form. The Hebrew is Phelasheth, which would perhaps be best translated "Philistia." (Compare Psalm 60:8; Psalm 87:4; Psalm 108:9.) The Philistine country was a strip of territory extending along the coast of the Mediterranean from a little below Gaze on the south, nearly to Mount Carmel on the north. It is curious that the philistines are not mentioned under that name on any of the early Egyptian monuments. They may perhaps be the Purusaia of the time of Rameses III., whom some however identify with the Pelasgi.
Then the dukes of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moab, trembling shall take hold upon them; all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away.
Verse 15. - The Dukes of Edom. Compare Genesis 36:15. By the time that the Israelitesapproached the borders of Edom, the dukes had given place to kings (Numbers 20:14), and everything like abject fear of Israel had passed sway. The Edomites "came out against Moses with much people and with a strong hand," and refused to allow the Israelites passage through their borders (ib, vers. 20, 21). The mighty men of Moab. The alarm of the Moabites was indicated by Balak's efforts to induce Balaam to curse the Israelites (Numbers 22-24.). By their "mighty men" some understood men of unusual strength and stature (Cook); but the expression, which is very frequent both in the prophetical and the historical books, seems to be a mere periphrasis for "warriors." All the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away. This prophecy received a remarkable accomplishment when "it came to pass that all the kings of the Cannanites heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of Jordan from before the children of Israel, and their heart melted, neither was their spirit in them any more" (Joshua 5:1).
Fear and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of thine arm they shall be as still as a stone; till thy people pass over, O LORD, till the people pass over, which thou hast purchased.
Verse 16. - Fear and dread shall fall upon them. Compare Deuteronomy 2:25; Deuteronomy 11:25. The Edomites of Mount Seir and the Moabites gave Israel a free passage through their borders (Deuteronomy 2:4-8, 18, 29), being afraid to oppose them. Till thy people pass over, O Lord. Some see in this an anticipation of the crossing of Jordan; but perhaps Moses meant no more than the crossing of the Canaanite frontier, in some place or other, which must take place if the urea was to be occupied. The event made the expression used peculiarly appropriate. When thou hast purchased. By bringing his people out of Egypt, their ownership had passed to him from the Egyptians, just as if he had bought them. (See Exodus 6:6, 7; Exodus 19:5.)
Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, in the place, O LORD, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in, in the Sanctuary, O Lord, which thy hands have established.
Verse 17. Thou shalt bring them in - i.e., give them possession of the laud. And plant them - i.e., fix them firmly in it - enable them to take root there. The mountain of thine inheritance. The land of Canaan, which is almost wholly mountainous, and which God had given as an inheritance to his people (Genesis 15:7; Hebrews 11:8). The sanctuary. See the comment on verse 13. Which thy hands have established. Moses sees in idea the sanctuary already set up, and God dwelling in it; and emphasises his conviction by using the past tense.
The LORD shall reign for ever and ever.
Verse 18. - In terms most simple yet most grand, often imitated (Psalm 10:16; Psalm 29:10; Psalm 146:10, etc.), but never surpassed, the poet gives the final result of all God's providential and temporary arrangements, to wit, the eternal establishment of his most glorious kingdom. And here reaching the final consummation of all things (1 Corinthians 15:28), he will not weaken the impression made by adding another word, but ends his ode.
For the horse of Pharaoh went in with his chariots and with his horsemen into the sea, and the LORD brought again the waters of the sea upon them; but the children of Israel went on dry land in the midst of the sea.
Verses 19-21. - Sequel to the Song. The "sequel" treats of two quite separate masters.
1. It asserts, in verse 19, the historic groundwork of the song, reiterating in a condensed form the three principal facts of the presage - already recorded in ch. 14. -
(a) Israel's safe transit across the sea-bed;
(b) the pursuit attempted by the Egyptian chariot-force; end
(c) the return of the waters upon the pursuers by God's providential action.
2. It relates, in verses 20 and 21, the part taken by Miriam in the recitation of the ode, which has been noticed in the "introduction" to the chapter. Verse 19. - The horse of Pharaoh, with his chariots, and with his horsemen. Rather, "with his chariots, and with his chariot men." Compare Exodus 14:23. The Lord brought again the waters of the sea upon them. See Exodus 14:26, 27; and Exodus 15:10. The waters did not merely return to their natural place when the east wind ceased to blow, but were "brought back" by miraculous power, and with abnormal rapidity.
And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.
Verse 20. - Miriam, the prophetess. Miriam is regarded by the prophet Micah 6:4, as having had a share in the deliverance of Israel, and claims the prophetic gift in Numbers 12:2. Her claim appears to be allowed both in the present passage, and in Numbers 12:6-8. where the degree of her inspiration is placed below that of Moses. She is the first woman whom the Bible honours with the title of "prophetess." Prophetesses were common in Egypt at a much earlier date; and thus, that a woman should have the gift would have seemed no strange thing to the Hebrews. For examples of other prophetesses, see Judges 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14; Isaiah 8:3; Luke 2:36. The sister of Aaron. Compare Numbers 26:59. Miriam is generally regarded as the sister of Moses mentioned in Exodus 2:4-8, whose name is not there given. If so, she was considerably older than either Moses or Aaron. Took a timbrel By "a timbrel" our translators meant what is now called "a tambourine." Such instruments were common in Egypt (Wilkinson, Ancient Egyptians, vol. 1. p. 93), and in the representations are generally played by women. The separation of the men and women into distinct bands was an Egyptian custom; as likewise was the execution of dances by performers who accompanied their steps with music (ibid. vol. it. pp. 235, 301).
And Miriam answered them, Sing ye to the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.
Verse 21. - Miriam answered them. Miriam, with her chorus of women, answered the chorus of men, responding at the termination of each stanza or separate part of the ode with the refrain, "Sing ye to the Lord," etc. (See the "Introduction" to this chapter.) While responding, the female chorus both danced and struck their tambourines. This use of dancing in a religious ceremonial, so contrary to Western ideas of decorum, is quite consonant with Oriental practice, both ancient and modern. Other examples of it in Scripture are David's dancing before the ark (2 Samuel 6:16), the dancing of Jephthah's daughter (Judges 11:34), and that of the virgins of Shiloh (Judges 21:21). It is also mentioned with approval in the Psalms (Psalm 149:3; el. 4). Dancing was practised as a religious ceremony in Egypt, in Phrygia, in Thrace, by the Phoenicians, by the Syrians, by the Romans, and others. In the nature of things there is clearly nothing unfitting or indecorous in a dedication to religion of what has been called "the poetry of gesture." But human infirmity has connected such terrible abuses with the practice that the purer religions have either discarded it or else denied it admission into their ceremonial. It still however lingers in Mohammedanism among those who are called "dancing dervishes," whose extraordinary performances are regarded as acts of devotion.
So Moses brought Israel from the Red sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water.
Verses 22-27. - THE JOURNEY FROM THE RED SEA TO ELIM. After a stay, which cannot be exactly measured, but which was probably one of some days, near the point of the Eastern coast of the Gulf of Suez, at which they had emerged from the sea-bed, the Israelites, under the guidance of the pillar of the cloud, resumed their journey, and were conducted southwards, or south-eastwards, through the arid tract, called indifferently "the wilderness of Shut" (verse 22), and "the wilderness of Etham" (Numbers 33:8), to a place called Marah. It is generally supposed that the first halt must have been at Ayun Musa, or "the springs of Moses." This is "the only green spot near the passage over the Red Sea" (Cook). It possesses at present seventeen wells, and is an oasis of grass and tamarisk in the midst of a sandy desert. When Wellsted visited it in 1836, there were abundant palm-trees. It does not lie on the shore, but at the distance of about a mile and a half from the beach, with which it was at one time connected by an aqueduct, built for the convenience of the ships, which here took in their water. The water is regarded as good and wholesome, though dark-coloured and somewhat brackish. From Ayun Musa the Israelites pursued their way in a direction a little east of south through a barren plain where sand-storms are frequent - part of the wilderness of Shur - for three days without finding water. Here their flocks and herds must have suffered greatly, and many of the animals probably died on the journey. On the last of the three days water was found at a spot called thenceforth "Marah," "bitterness," because the liquid was undrinkable. After the miracle related in ver. 25, and an encampment by the side of the sweetened spring (Numbers 33:8), they proceeded onward without much change of direction to Elim, where was abundance of good water and a grove of seventy palm-trees. Here "they encamped by the waters," and were allowed a rest, which probably exceeded a fortnight (See the comment on Exodus 16:1.) Verse 22. - So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea. There is no such connection between this verse and the preceding narrative as the word "so" expresses. Translate "And Moses brought." The wilderness of Shur, called also that of Etham (Numbers 33.8) appears to have extended from Lake Serbonis on the north, across the isthmus, to the Red Sea, and along its eastern shores as far as the Wady Ghurundel. It is almost wholly waterless; and towards the south, such wells as exist yield a water that is bitter in the extreme. Three days. The distance from Ayun Musa to Ain Howarah, the supposed representative of Marah, is not more than about 36 miles; but the day's march of so large a multitude through the desert may not have averaged more than twelve miles. And found no water. No doubt the Israelites carried with them upon the backs of their asses water in skins, sufficient for their earn wants during such an interval; but they can scarcely have carried enough for their cattle. These must have suffered greatly.
And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah.
Verse 23. - And when they came to Marah. It is not clear whether the place already bore the name on the arrival of the Israelites, or only received it from them. Marah would mean "bitter" in Arabic no less than in Hebrew. The identification of Marah with the present Ain Howarah, in which most modern writers acquiesce, is uncertain from the fact that there are several bitter springs in the vicinity - one of them even bitterer than Howarah. (See Winer, Realworterbuch, ad voc. MARAH) We may, however, feel confident that the bitter waters of which the Israelites "would not drink" were in this neighbourhood, a little north of the Wady Ghurundel.
And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink?
Verse 24. - And the people murmured against Moses. As they had already done on the western shores of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:11, 12), and as they were about to do so often before their wanderings were over. (See below, Exodus 16:2; Exodus 17:3; Numbers 14:2; Numbers 16:41; Deuteronomy 1:27, etc.) "Murmuring" was the common mode in which they vented their spleen, when anything went ill with them; and as Moses had persuaded them to quit Egypt, the murmuring was chiefly against him. The men who serve a nation best are during their lifetime least appreciated. What shall we drink? Few disappointments are harder to bear than that of the man, who after long hours of thirst thinks that he has obtained wherewith to quench his intolerable longing, and on raising the cup to his lips, finds the draught so nauseous that he cannot swallow it. Very unpalatable water is swallowed when the thirst is great (Eothen, p. 197). But there is a limit beyond which nature will not go. There "may be water, water everywhere, yet not a drop to drink."
And he cried unto the LORD; and the LORD shewed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet: there he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them,
Verses 25, 26. - The Lord shewed him a tree. - Several trees or plants belonging to different parts of the world, are said to possess the quality of rendering bitter water sweet and agreeable; as the nellimaram of Coromandel, the sassafras of Florida, the yerva Caniani of Peru, and the perru nelli (Phylanthus emblica) of India. But none of them is found in the Sinaitic. peninsula. Burckhardt suggested (Travels in Syria. p. 474) that the berries of the ghurkud (Peganum retusum), a low thorny shrub which grows abundantly round the Ain Howarah, may have been used by Moses to sweeten the drink; but there are three objections to this.
1. Moses is not said to have used the berries, but the entire plant;
2. The berries would not have been procurable in April, since they do not ripen till June; and
3. They would not have produced any such effect on the water as Burckhardt imagined. In fact there is no tree or shrub now growing in the Sinaitic peninsula, which would have any sensible effect on such water as that of Ain Howarah; and the Bedouins of the neighbourhood know of no means by which it can be made drinkable. Many of the Fathers believed that the "tree" had no natural effect, and was commanded to be thrown in merely to symbolise the purifying power of the Cross of Christ. But to moderns such a view appears to savour of mysticism. It is perhaps most probable that there was some tree or shrub in the vicinity of the bitter fountain in Moses' time which had a natural purifying and sweetening power, but that it has now become extinct. If this be the case, the miracle consisted in God's pointing out the tree to Moses, who had no previous knowledge of it. The waters were made sweet. Compare the miracle of Elisha (2 Kings 2:19-22). There he made for them a statute and an ordinance. See the next verse. God, it appears, after healing the water, and satisfying the physical thirst of his people, gave them an ordinance, which he connected by a promise with the miracle. If they would henceforth render strict obedience to all his commandments, then he would "heal" them as he had healed the water, would keep them free at once from physical and from moral evil, from the diseases of Egypt, and the diseases of their own hearts. And there he proved them. From the moment of their quitting Egypt to that of their entering Canaan, God was ever "proving" his people - trying them, that is - exercising their faith, and patience and obedience and power of self-denial, in order to fit them for the position which they were to occupy in Canaan. He had proved them at the Red Sea, when he let them be shut in between the water and the host of the Egyptians - he proved them now at Marah by a bitter disappointment - he proved them again at Meribah (Exodus 17:1-7); at Sinai (Exodus 20:20); at Taberah (Numbers 11:1-3); at Kibroth-hattaavah (ib, verse 34); at Kadesh (ib, 13:26-33), and elsewhere. For forty years he led them through the wilderness" to prove them, to know what was in their heart" (Deuteronomy 8.), to fit them for their glorious and conquering career in the land of promise All these diseases. See Deuteronomy 7:15; Deuteronomy 28:27. Kalisch correctly observes that, though the Egyptians had the character in antiquity of being among the healthiest and most robust of nations (Herod. 2:77), yet a certain small number of diseases have always raged among them with extreme severity He understands the present passage of the plagues, which, however, are certainly nowhere else called "diseases." There is no reason why the word should not be taken literally, as all take it in the passages of Deuteronomy above cited.
And said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee.
And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm trees: and they encamped there by the waters.
Verse 27. - They came to Elim. Elim was undoubtedly some spot in the comparatively fertile tract which lies south of the "wilderness of Shur," intervening between it and the "wilderness of Sin" - now E1 Murkha. This tract contains the three fertile wadys of Ghurundel, Useit, and Tayibeh, each of which is regarded by some writers as the true Elim. It has many springs of water, abundant tamarisks, and a certain number of palm-trees. On the whole, Ghurundel seems to be accepted by the majority of well-informed writers as having the best claim to be considered the Elhn of this passage Twelve wells. Rather "springs." The "twelve springs" have not been identified; but the Arabs are apt to conceal the sources of their water supplies (Niebuhr, Arabie, p. 347). A large stream flows down the Wady Ghurundel in the winter-time (ibid.), which later becomes a small brook (Burckhardt, Syria, p. 778), and dries up altogether in the autumn. The pasture is good at most seasons, sometimes rich and luxuriant; there are abundant tamarisks, a considerable number of acacias, and. some palms. Three score and ten palm trees. The palm-trees of this part of Arabia are "not like those of Egypt or of pictures, but either dwarf - that is, truntdess - or else with savage hairy trunks, and branches all dishevelled" (Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, p. 68). There are a considerable number in the Wady Ghurundel, and others in the Wady Tayibeh (ib, p. 69). They encamped there. It has been observed that the vast numbers of the host would more than fill the Wady Ghurundel, and that while the main body encamped there, others, with their cattle, probably occupied the adjacent wadys - Useit, Ethal, and even Tayibeh or Shuweikah - which all offer good pasturage