And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi.
Verses 1-10. - THE BIRTH, ESCAPE, AND EDUCATION OF MOSES. Some years before the Pharaoh issued his edict for the general destruction of the Hebrew male children, Amram of the tribe of Levi, had married Jochebed, his kinswoman (Exodus 6:20). They had already had two children - Miriam, a daughter, born probably soon after the marriage, and Aaron, a son, born some twelve years later. Soon after the issue of the edict, Jochebed gave birth to her third child, a son, who therefore came under its terms. Knowing as she did what fate was in store for him, if his existence became known to the Egyptians, she "hid him three months." Then, despairing of being able to keep him concealed much longer, she devised the plan related in vers. 3-4, which proved successful. Verse 1. - There went a man. The Hebrew language is deficient in tenses, and cannot mark pluperfect time. The meaning is, that "a man of the house of Levi had gone, some time before, and taken to wife a daughter of Levi." Miriam must have been fourteen or fifteen at the time of the exposure of Moses. By a daughter of Levi, we must not understand an actual daughter, which is irreconcilable with the chronology, but one of Levi's descendants - "a wife of the daughters of Levi," as the LXX. translates.
And the woman conceived, and bare a son: and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months.
Verse 2. - And the woman conceived. Not for the first time, as appears from ver. 4, nor even for the second, as we learn from Exodus 7:7; but for the third. Aaron was three years old when Moses was born. As no difficulty has occurred with respect to him, we must regard the edict as issued between his birth and that of Moses. When she saw that he was a goodly child. Perhaps Jochebed would have done the same had Moses been ill-favoured, for mothers have often loved best their weakest and sickliest; but still it nard-rally seemed to her the harder that she was called upon to lose a strong and beautiful baby; and this is what the writer means to express - the clauses are not "simply co-ordinate." She hid him - i.e, kept him within the house - perhaps even in the female apartments. Egyptians were mixed up with the Israelites in Goshen - not perhaps in any great numbers, but still so that no Hebrew felt himself safe from observation.
And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river's brink.
Verse 3. - She took for him an ark of bulrushes. The words translated "ark" and "bulrushes" are both of Egyptian origin, the former corresponding to the ordinary word for "chest," which is feb, teba, or tebat, and the latter corresponding to the Egyptian kam, which is the same in Coptic, and designates the papyrus plant. This is a strong-growing rush, with a triangular stem, which attains the height of from 10 to 15 feet. The Egyptian paper was made from its pith. The rush itself was used for various purposes - among others for boat-building (Plin. 'H. N.' 6:22; 7:16; Theophrast, 4:9; Pint. 'De Isid. et Osir.' § 18, etc.), as appears from the monuments. It would be a very good material for the sort of purpose to which Jochebed applied it. She daubed it with slime and with pitch. The word translated "slime" is the same as that used in Genesis 11:3, which is generally thought to mean "mineral pitch" or "bitumen." According to Strabo and Dioderus, that material was largely used by the Egyptians for the embalming of corpses, and was imported into Egypt from Palestine. Boats are sometimes covered with it externally at the present day (Ker Porter, Travels, vol. 2. p. 260; Layard,'Nineveh and its Remains,' pt. 2. ch. 5.); but Jochebed seems to have used vegetable pitch- the ordinary pitch of commerce - for the purpose. Here again the Hebrew word is taken from the Egyptian. She laid it in the flags. "Suph," the word translated "flags," is a modification of the Egyptian tuff, which has that meaning. Water-plants of all kinds abound in the backwaters of the Nile. and the marshy tracts communicating with it. The object of placing the ark in a thicket of reeds probably was, that it might not float away out of sight. The river's brink. Literally, the lip of the river - an Egyptian idiom.
And his sister stood afar off, to wit what would be done to him.
Verse 4. - His sister. There can be no reasonable doubt that this is the "Miriam" of the later narrative (Exodus 15:20, 21; Numbers 20:1), who seems to have been Moses' only sister (Numbers 26:59). She was probably set to watch by her mother.
And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river's side; and when she saw the ark among the flags, she sent her maid to fetch it.
Verse 5. - The daughter of Pharaoh. Probably a daughter of Seti I. and a sister of Rameses the Great. Josephus calls her Thermuthis; Syncellus, Pharia; Artapanus, Merrhis, and some of the Jewish commentators, Bithia - the diversity showing that there was no genuine tradition on the subject. There is nothing improbable in an Egyptian princess bathing in the Nile, at a place reserved for women. (See Wilkinson, 'Manners and Customs of Ancient Egyptians,' vol. 3. p. 389.) The Nile was regarded as sacred, and its water as health-giving and fructifying (Strab. 15. p. 695). Her maidens. Egyptian ladies of high rank are represented on the monuments as attended to the bath by a number of handmaidens. As many as four are seen in one representation (Wilkinson, 1.s.c.). Her maid is her special personal attendant, the others being merely women attached to her household.
And when she had opened it, she saw the child: and, behold, the babe wept. And she had compassion on him, and said, This is one of the Hebrews' children.
Verse 6. - The princess herself opened the "ark," which was a sort of covered basket. Perhaps she suspected what she would find inside; but would it be a living or a dead child? This she could not know. She opened, and looked. It was a living babe, and it wept. At once her woman's heart, heathen as she was, went out to the child - its tears reached the common humanity that lies below all differences of race and creed - and she pitied it. "One touch of nature makes the whole world kin." This is one of the Hebrews' children. Hebrew characteristics were perhaps stamped even upon the infant visage. Or she formed her conclusion merely from the circumstances. No Egyptian woman had any need to expose her child, or would be likely to do so; but it was just what a Hebrew mother, under the cruel circumstances of the time, might have felt herself forced to do. So she drew her conclusion, rapidly and decidedly, as is the way of woman.
Then said his sister to Pharaoh's daughter, Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee?
Verses 7-9. - Then said his sister. Miriam had watched to some purpose. She had seen everything - she had drawn near as she beheld the "maid" go down to the water's edge, and take the ark out. She had heard the words of the princess; and thereupon she promptly spoke - "Shall I go and call thee a nurse of the Hebrew women?" No doubt, all had been prepared beforehand by the mother, who had selected the place and time of the exposure from a knowledge of the habits and character of the princess, had set her daughter to watch, and - so far as was possible - instructed her what she was to say. But Miriant at least carried out the instructions given her with excellent judgment and tact. She did not speak too soon, nor too late. She did not say a word too much, nor too little. "Surely," exclaimed the princess, "this is one of the Hebrews, children." "Shall I fetch thee then a Hebrew mother to nurse him? is the rejoinder. Egyptians, it is implied, cannot properly nurse Hebrews - cannot know how they ought to be treated; an Egyptian nurse would mismanage the boy - shall I fetch one of his own nation? And the princess, feeling all the force of the reasoning, answers in one short pregnant word - "Go." "Yes," she means, "do so; that will be best." And then the result follows - "The maid (Miriam) went and called the child's mother." So the scheming of the loving mother, and the skilful performance of the part assigned her by the clever sister, were crowned with success - Moses' life was saved, and yet he was not separated from his natural guardian, nor given over to the tender mercies of strangers: the child went back to his own home, to his own apartment, to his own cradle; continued to be nourished by his own mother's milk; and received those first impressions, which are so indelibly impressed upon the mind, in a Hebrew family. Pharaoh's daughter said, "Take this child away, and nurse it for me." "Take him with you - take him to your own home for a while - and there nurse him for me, as long as he needs nursing." And to mark that he is mine, and not yours - to silence inquiry - to stop the mouths of informers - "I will give thee thy wages." Jochebed was more than content, and "took the child and nursed it."
And Pharaoh's daughter said to her, Go. And the maid went and called the child's mother.
And Pharaoh's daughter said unto her, Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages. And the woman took the child, and nursed it.
And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses: and she said, Because I drew him out of the water.
Verse 10. - The child grew. Compare Genesis 21:8, where the full phrase is used - "The child grew, and was weaned." Jocbebed had saved her son's life by a transfer of her mother's right in him to Pharaoh's daughter. She had received him back, merely as a hired nurse, to suckle him. When the time came, probably at the end of the second year, for him to be weaned, she was bound, whatever the sufferings of her heart may have been, to give him up - to restore him to her from whom she had received him, as a child put out to nurse. And we see that she made no attempt to escape her obligations. No sooner was the boy weaned, than "she brought him unto Pharaoh's daughter" - as it would seem, of her own accord. And he became her son. There is no evidence that formal "adoption" was a custom of the Egyptians; and probably no more is here meant than that the princess took the child into her family, and brought him up as if he had been her son, giving him all the privileges of a son, together with such an education as a princess's son usually received. We obtain the best general idea of what such an education was from the words of St. Stephen (Acts 7:21) - "Now Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians." This "wisdom," though not perhaps very deep, was multiform and manifold. It included orthography, grammar, history, theology, medicine, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and engineering. Education began, as in most countries, with orthography and grammar. The hieroglyphical system was probably not taught, and the knowledge of it remained a special privilege of the priest-class: but the cursive character, known as the hieratic, was generally studied, and all tolerably educated persons could read it and write it. Style was cultivated, and though no great progress was made in the graces of finished composition, the power of expressing thought and relating facts in a simple and perspicuous prose was acquired by the greater number. Much attention was paid to letter-writing; and models of business and other letters were set before the pupil as patterns which he was to follow. By the more advanced, poetry was read, and poetic composition occasionally practised. Arithmetic and geometry, up to a certain point, were studied by all; and a plain morality was inculcated. But history, theology, astronomy, medicine, and engineering, were viewed as special studies, to be pursued by those intended for certain professions, rather than as included within the curriculum of an ordinary education; and it may well be doubted whether Moses' attention was much directed to any of them. He may indeed have been initiated into the mysteries, and in that case would have come to understand the esoteric meaning of the Egyptian myths, and of all that most revolts moderns in the Egyptian religion. But, on the whole, it is most probable that he was rather trained for active than for speculative life, and received the education which fitted men for the service of the State, not that which made them dreamers and theorists. His great praise is, that "he was mighty in words and deeds "(Acts, 1.s.c.); and he was certainly anything rather than a recluse student. We should do wrong to regard him as either a scientific man or a philosopher. His genius was practical; and his education was of a practical kind - such as fitted him to become the leader of his people in a great emergency, to deal on equal terms with a powerful monarch, and to guide to a happy conclusion the hazardous enterprise of a great national migration. And she called his name Moses. The Egyptian form of the name was probably Mesu, which signifies "born, brought forth, child," and is derived from a root meaning "to produce," "draw forth." Egyptian has many roots common to it with Hebrew, whereof this is one. The princess's play upon words thus admitted of being literally rendered in the Hebrew - "he called his name Mosheh (drawn forth); because, she said, I drew him forth (meshithi-hu) from the water." Mesu is found in the monuments as an Egyptian name under the nineteenth dynasty
And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren.
Verses 11-15. - FIRST ATTEMPT OF MOSES TO DELIVER HIS NATION, AND ITS FAILURE. After Moses was grown up - according to the tradition accepted by St. Stephen (Acts 7:23), when he was "full forty years old" - having become by some means or other acquainted with the circumstances of his birth, which had most probably never been concealed from him, he determined to "go out" to his brethren, see with his own eyes what their treatment was, and do his best to alleviate it. He had as yet no Divine mission, no command from God to act as he did, but only a natural sympathy with his people, and a feeling perhaps that in his position he was bound, more than any one else, to make some efforts to ameliorate what must have been generally known to be a hard lot. It is scarcely likely that he had formed any definite plans. How he should act would depend on what he should see. Thus far, his conduct deserves nothing but praise. It only perhaps a little surprises us (if St. Stephen's tradition accords with fact) that he did not earlier in his life take some steps in the direction here indicated. We are bound to recollect, however, that we know very little of the restraints under which he would have been laid - whether a severe law of etiquette, or the commands of his benefactress, may not have hampered him, and caused the long delay which strikes us as strange. Living with the court - in Tunis probably - he would have been required to make a strong effort - to break through an established routine, and strike out for himself a new and unheard-of course, if he quitted the princess's household to make a tour of inspection among the enslaved Hebrews. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews seems to consider that his act in "going out" to "look upon the burdens" of his people involved a renunciation of his court life - a refusal to be called any more the son of Pharaoh's daughter (Hebrews 11:240; a casting-in of his lot with his brethren, so as thenceforth to be a sharer in their afflictions (ib. ver. 24). If this were so, we can well understand a long period of hesitation before the resolve was made to take the course from which there was no retreating. Verse 11. - When Moses was grown. "When he had become a mall of vigour and intelligence" (Kalisch). He went out. The expression is emphatic, and accords with the view above exhibited - that a complete change in the life of Moses was now effected, that the court was quitted, with its attractions and its temptations, its riches and its pleasures; and the position of adopted child of a princess forfeited. He spied an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew. It is not certain that this was one of the "taskmasters" (Exodus 1:11); but most probably he was either a taskmaster, or one of the officers employed by them. Such persons are on the Egyptian monuments represented as armed with long rods, said to be "made of a tough pliant wood imported from Syria" (Chabas, 'Voyage d'un Egyptien,' p. 119). It was their right to employ their rods on the backs of the idle, a right which was sure to degenerate in many cases into tyrannous and cruel oppression. We may assume that it was an instance of such abuse of power that excited the anger of Moses; "seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed" (Acts 7:24). For a light fault, or no fault at all, a heavy chastisement was being inflicted.
And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand.
Verse 12. - He looked this way and that way. Passion did not so move him as to make him reckless. He looked round to see that he was not observed,, and then, when he saw there was no man, slew the Egyptian. A wrongful act, the outcome of an ardent but undisciplined spirit; not to be placed among the deeds "which history records as noble and magnanimous (Kalisch), but among those which are hasty and regrettable. A warm sympathetic nature, an indignant hatred of wrong-doing, may have lain at the root of the crime, but do not justify it, though they may qualify our condemnation of it. (See the remarks of St. Augustine quoted by Keil and Delitzsch, 'Commentary on the Pentateuch,' vol. 1. p. 451: "I affirm that the man, though criminal and really the offender, ought not to have been put to death by one who had no legal authority to do so. But minds that are capable of virtue often produce vices also, and show thereby for what virtue they would have been best adapted, if they had but been properely trained," etc.) And hid him in the sand. There is abundant "sand" in the "field of Zoan," and in all the more eastern portion of the land of Goshen. (See the 'Quarterly Statement of the Palestine Exploration Fund' for July, 1880, p. 140.)
And when he went out the second day, behold, two men of the Hebrews strove together: and he said to him that did the wrong, Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow?
Verse 13. - The second day. i.e. "the following day." See Acts 7:26. Him that did the wrong. Literally, "the wicked one." Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow? Literally "thy neighbour." In interposing here Moses certainly did nothing but what was right. The strife was one in which blows were being exchanged, and it is the duty of everyone in such a case, by persuasion at any rate. to seek to stop the combat.
And he said, Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian? And Moses feared, and said, Surely this thing is known.
Verse 14. - Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? It was not his interference now, but his wrongful act of the day before, that exposed Moses to this rebuke. There was no assumption of lordship or of judicial authority in the bare inquiry, "Why smitest thou thy neighhour?" nor in the fuller phrase reported by St. Stephen, "Sirs, ye are brethren. Why do ye wrong one to another?" (Acts 7:26), unless as coupled with the deed of the preceding day. Thus the violence of today renders of no avail the loving persuasion of to-morrow; the influence for good which the education and position of Moses might have enabled him to exercise upon his nation was lost by the very act to which he had been urged by his sympathy with them; it was an act which could be thrown in his teeth, an act which he could not justify, which he trembled to find was known. The retort of the aggressor stopped his mouth at once, and made his interposition valueless.
Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian: and he sat down by a well.
Verse 15. - Pharaoh heard. If we have been right in supposing the Pharaoh of the original oppression to have been Seti I., the present Pharaoh, from whom Moses flies when he is "full forty years old" (Acts 7:23), and who does not die till Moses is near eighty, must be his son, the Great Rameses, Rameses II. This prince was associated by his father at the age of ten or twelve (Brugsch, 'History of Egypt,' vol. 2. pp. 24-5), and reigned sixty-seven years, as appears from his monuments. He is the only king of the New Empire whose real reign exceeded forty years, and thus the only monarch who fulfils the conditions required by the narrative of Exodus supplemented by St. Stephen's speech in the Acts. He sought to slay Moses. We need not understand from this expression that the Pharaoh's will was thwarted or opposed by anything but the sudden disappearance of Moses. As St. Stephen says (Acts 7:29), "Then fled Moses at this saying," i.e. at the mere words of the aggressor, "Writ thou slay me as thou didst the Egyptian?" Moses fled, knowing what he had to expect, quitted Egypt, went to Midian; and the Egyptian monarch "sought to slay him" too late. The land of Midian is a somewhat vague expression, for the Midianites were nomads, and at different times occupied distinct and even remote localities. Their principal settlements appear to have been on the eastern side of the Elanitic Gulf (Gulf of Akabah); but at times they extended northwards to the confines of Moab (Genesis 36:35; Numbers 22:4, 7, etc.), and westward into the Sinaitic peninsula, which appears to have been "the land of Midian whereto Moses fled (see below, Exodus 3:1). The Midianites are not expressly mentioned in the Egyptian inscriptions. They were probably included among the Mentu, with whom the Egyptians contended in the Sinaitic region, and from whom they took the copper district north-west of Sinai. And he sat down by a well. Rather "and he dwelt by the well." He took up his abode in the neighbourhood of the principal well belonging to the tract here called Midian. The tract was probably one of no great size, an offshoot of the greater Midian on the other side of the gulf. We cannot identify the well; but it was certainly not that near the town of Modiana, Ñ spoken of by Edrisi and Abulfeda, which was in Arabia Proper, on the east of the gulf.
Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters: and they came and drew water, and filled the troughs to water their father's flock.
Verses 16-22. - LIFE OF MOSES IN MIDIAN. Fugitives from Egypt generally took the northern route from Pelusium or Migdol to Gaza, and so to Syria, or the regions beyond. But in this quarter they were liable to be arrested and sent back to the Egyptian monarch. Rameses II: put a special clause to this effect into his treaty with the contemporary Hittite king (Brugsch, 'History of Egypt,' vol. 2 p. 73). It was, perhaps, the fear of extradition which made Moses turn his steps southeastward, and proceed along the route, or at any rate in the direction, which he afterwards took with his nation. Though Egypt had possessions in the Sinaitic peninsula, it was not difficult to avoid them; and before Sinai was reached the fugitive would be in complete safety, for the Egyptians seem never to have penetrated to the southern or eastern parts of the great triangle. "The well," by which Moses took up his abode, is placed with some probability in the neighbourhood of Sherm, about ten miles north-east of Ras Mahommed, the southern cape of the peninsula Verse 16. - The priest of Midian. Cohen is certainly "priest" here, and not "prince," since the father-in-law of Moses exercises priestly functions in Exodus 18:12. His seven daughters drew water for his flock, in accordance with Eastern custom. So Rachel "kept the sheep" of her father Laban, and watered them (Genesis 29:9). Such a practice agrees well with the simplicity of primitive times and peoples; nor would it even at the present day be regarded as strange in Arabia.
And the shepherds came and drove them away: but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock.
Verse 17. - The shepherds came and drove them away. There is not much "natural politeness" among primitive peoples. The right of the stronger prevails, and women go to the wall. Even the daughters of their priest were not respected by these rude sons of the desert, who would not wait their turn, but used the water which Reners daughters had drawn. The context shows that this was not an accidental or occasional circumstance, but the regular practice of the shepherds, who thus day after day saved themselves the trouble of drawing. (See the next verse.) Moses stood up and helped them. Ever ready to assist the weak against the strong (supra, vers. 12, 13), Moses "stood up" - sprang to his feet - and, though only one man against a dozen or a score, by his determined air intimidated the crowd of wrong-doers, and forced them to let the maidens' sheep drink at the troughs. His dress was probably that of an Egyptian of rank; and they might reasonably conclude from his boldness that he had attendants within call.
And when they came to Reuel their father, he said, How is it that ye are come so soon to day?
Verse 18. - Reuel their father. Reuel is called "Raguel" in Numbers 10:29, but the Hebrew spelling is the same in both places. The word means "friend of God," and implies monotheisim. Compare Exodus 18:9-12.
And they said, An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds, and also drew water enough for us, and watered the flock.
Verse 19. - An Egyptian. Reuel's daughters judged by the outward appearance. Moses wore the garb and probably spoke the language of Egypt. He had had no occasion to reveal to them his real nationality. Drew water enough for us. The shepherds had consumed some of the water drawn by the maidens, before Moses could drive them off. He supplied the deficiency by drawing more for them - an act of polite attention.
And he said unto his daughters, And where is he? why is it that ye have left the man? call him, that he may eat bread.
Verse 20. - Where is he? Reuel reproaches his daughters with a want of politeness - even of gratitude. Why have they "left the man"? Why have they not invited him in? They must themselves remedy the omission - they must go and "call him" - that he "may eat bread," or take his evening meal with them.
And Moses was content to dwell with the man: and he gave Moses Zipporah his daughter.
Verse 21. - Moses was content to dwell with the man. Moses had fled from Egypt without any definite plan, simply to save his life, and had now to determine how he would obtain a subsistence. Received into Reuel's house, or tent, pleased with the man and with his family, he consented to stay with him, probably entered into his service, as Jacob into Laban's (Genesis 29:15-20), kept his sheep, or otherwise made himself useful (see Exodus 3:1); and in course of time Reuel gave Moses his daughter, accepted him for his son-in-law, so that he became not merely a member of his household, but of his family, was adopted probably into the tribe, so that he could not quit it without permission (Exodus 4:18), and, so far as his own intention went, cast in his lot with the Midianites, with whom he meant henceforth to live and die. Such vague ideas as he may previously have entertained of his "mission" had passed away; he had been "disillusioned" by his ill-success, and now looked forward to nothing but a life of peaceful obscurity.
And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.
Verse 22. - Gershom. An Egyptian etymology has been assigned to this name ('Speaker's Commentary,' vol. 1, p. 488); but Moses in the text clearly indicates that his own intention was to give his child a name significant in Hebrew. "He called his name Gershom, for he said, a stranger (ger) have I been," etc. The only question is, what the second element of the name, shom, means. This appears to be correctly explained by Kalisch and others as equivalent to sham "there " - so that the entire word would mean "(I was) a stranger there" - i.e. in the country where this son was born to me.
And it came to pass in process of time, that the king of Egypt died: and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage.
Verses 23-25. - DEATH OF THE PHARAOH FROM WHOM MOSES FLED - CONTINUANCE OF THE OPPRESSION OF ISRAEL-ISRAEL'S PRAYERS - GOD'S ACCEPTANCE OF THEM. - After a space of forty years from the time of Moses' flight from Egypt, according to the estimate of St. Stephen (Acts 7:30), which is not, however, to be strictly pressed, the king whose anger he had provoked - Rameses II., as we believe - died. He had reigned sixty-seven years - about forty-seven alone, and about twenty in conjunction with his father. At his death, the oppressed Israelites ventured to hope for some amelioration of their condition. On his accession, a king in the East often reverses the policy of his predecessor, or at any rate, to make himself popular, grants a remission of burthens for a certain period. But at this time the new monarch, Menephthah I., the son of Rameses II., disappointed the hopes of the Israelites, maintained his father's policy, continued the established system of oppression, granted them no relief of any kind. They "sighed," therefore, in consequence of their disappointment, and "cried" unto God in their trouble, and made supplication to him more earnestly, more heartily, than ever before. We need not suppose that they had previously fallen away from their faith, and "now at last returned to God after many years of idolatrous aberration" (Aben Ezra, Kalisch). But there was among them an access of religious fervour; they "turned to God" from a state of deadness, rather from one of alienation, and raised a "cry" of the kind to which he is never deaf. God therefore "heard their groaning," deigned to listen to their prayers, and commenced the course of miraculous action which issued in the Exodus. (This section is more closely connected with what follows than with what went before, and would better begin ch. 3. than terminate ch. 2.) Verse 23. - In process of time. Literally, "in those many days." The reign of Rameses II. was exceptionally long, as previously explained. He had already reigned twenty-seven years when Moses fled from him (Exodus 2:15). He had now reigned sixty-seven, and Moses was eighty! It had seemed a weary while to wait. The children of Israel sighed. If the time had seemed a weary while to Moses, how much more to his nation! He had escaped and was in Midian - they toiled on in Egypt. He kept sheep - they had their lives made "bitter" for them "with hard bondage, in molter, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field" (Exodus 1:14). He could bring up his sons in safety; their sons were still thrown into the river. No wonder that "an exceeding bitter cry" went up to God from the oppressed people, so soon as they found that they had nothing to hope from the new king.
And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.
Verses 24, 25. - God heard their groaning. God is said to "hear" the prayers which he accepts and grants; to "be deaf" to those which he does not grant, but rejects. He now "heard" (i.e. accepted) the supplications of oppressed Israel; and on account of the covenant which he had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - a covenant always remembered by him - he looked upon his people, made them the objects of his special regard, and entered on a course, which was abnormal, irregular, miraculous, in order to carry out his purposes of mercy towards them It is observed that anthropomorphic expressions are here accumulated; but this is always the case when the love and tenderness of God towards man are spoken of, since they form the only possible phraseology in which ideas of love and tenderness can be expressed so as to be intelligible to bureau beings. And God regarded them. Literally, "and God knew." God kept the whole in his thoughts - bore in mind the sufferings, the wrongs, the hopes, the fears, the groans, the despair, the appeal to him, the fervent supplications and prayers - knew all, remembered all-counted every word and sigh - gathered the tears into his bottle - noted all things in his book - and for the present endured, kept silence - but was preparing for his foes a terrible vengeance - for his people a marvellous deliverance
And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto them.