Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
This chapter marks the commencement of the series of events which immediately preceded the Exodus. Hitherto, the narrative has been studiously brief, stating only what was necessary to be known as preparatory to those events; but from this point Moses dwells minutely on the details, and enables us to realize the circumstances of the catastrophe which in its immediate and remote consequences stands alone in the world's history.
Jethro his father-in-law - Or "brother-in-law." The word in the Hebrew is a word signifying relative by marriage. When Moses arrived in Midian, Reuel was an elderly man Exo 2:16; 40 years later (Exo 2:23 note), Reuel's son, Jethro, had probably succeeded him.
The backside - i. e. "to the west of the district." Among the Hebrews the East is before a man, the west behind him, the south and north on the right and left hand.
Desert - Or wilderness, not a barren waste, but a district supplying pasturage. The district near Sherm, on the west of the gulf of Akabah, where Jethro may have resided, is described as barren and parched; on the west and east are rocky tracts, but to the northwest lies the district of Sinai, where the pasturage is good and water abundant. The Bedouins drive their flocks there from the lowlands at the approach of summer. From this it may be inferred that the events here recorded took place at that season.
To Horeb - More exactly, toward Horeb. Moses came to the mountain of God, i. e. Sinai, on his way toward Horeb, a name given to the northern part of the Sinaitic range. Moses calls Sinai "mountain of God" by anticipation, with reference to the manifestation of God. There is no authority for assuming that the spot was previously held sacred (see Exo 5:5); but it has been lately shown that the whole Peninsula was regarded by the Egyptians as specially consecrated to the gods from a very early time.
The angel of the Lord - See the note at Gen 12:7. What Moses saw was the flame of fire in the bush; what he recognized therein was an intimation of the presence of God, who maketh a flame of fire His angel. Compare Psa 104:4. The words which Moses heard were those of God Himself, as all ancient and most modern divines have held, manifested in the Person of the Son.
Of a bush - Literally, of the bush or "seneh," a word which ought perhaps to be retained as the proper name of a thorny shrub common in that district, a species of acacia.
The Lord saw - The interchange of the two divine names is to be observed; "Jehovah" (Yahweh) saw, "God" called.
Put off thy shoes - The reverence due to holy places thus rests upon God's own command. The custom itself is well known from the observances of the temple, it was almost universally adopted by the ancients, and is retained in the East.
Holy ground - This passage is almost conclusive against the assumption that the place was previously a sanctuary. Moses knew nothing of its holiness after some 40 years spent on the Peninsula. It became holy by the presence of God.
Our Saviour adduces this passage as a proof that the doctrine of the Resurrection was taught in the Old Testament Mat 22:32, and He calls this book "the Book of Moses" Mar 12:26, two points to be borne in mind by readers of the Pentateuch.
Taskmasters - Oppressors. A different word from that in Exo 1:11.
I know - The expression implies personal feeling, tenderness, and compassion (compare Exo 2:25 margin).
The natural richness of Palestine, the variety and excellence of its productions, are attested by sacred (compare Jer 32:22; Eze 20:6) and ancient writers, whose descriptions are strongly in contrast with those of later travelers. The expression "flowing with milk and honey" is used proverbially by Greek poets.
The Canaanites ... - This is the first passage in this book where the enumeration, so often repeated, of the nations then in possession of Palestine, is given. Moses was to learn at once the extent of the promise, and the greatness of the enterprise. In Egypt, the forces, situation, and character of these nations were then well known. Aahmes I had invaded the south of Palestine in his pursuit of the Shasous; Tothmosis I had traversed the whole land on his campaign in Syria and Mesopotamia; representations of Canaanites, and of the Cheta, identified by most Egyptologers with the Hittites, are common on monuments of the 18th and 19th Dynasties, and give a strong impression of their civilization, riches, and especially of their knowledge of the arts of war. In this passage, the more general designations come first - Canaanites probably includes all the races; the Hittites, who had great numbers of chariots (892 were taken from them by Tothmosis III in one battle), occupied the plains; the Amorites were chiefly mountaineers, and, in Egyptian inscriptions, gave their name to the whole country; the name Perizzites probably denotes the dwellers in scattered villages, the half-nomad population; the Hivites, a comparatively unwarlike but influential people, held 4 cities in Palestine proper, but their main body dwelt in the northwestern district, from Hermon to Hamath (see Jos 11:3; Jdg 3:3); the Jebusites at that time appear to have occupied Jerusalem and the adjoining district. Soon after their expulsion by Joshua, they seem to have recovered possession of part of Jerusalem, probably Mount Zion, and to have retained it until the time of David.
Who am I - These words indicate humility (compare Num 12:3), not fear. He feared failure, owing to incompetency, especially in the power of expression.
A token unto thee - Or the sign. The word means a declaration or promise of God, which rests absolutely on His word, and demands faith. The promise that God would have the people serve Him in that place was an assurance, if fully believed, that all intervening obstacles would be removed by His power.
What is his name - The meaning of this question is evidently: "By which name shall I tell them that the promise is confirmed?" Each name of the Deity represented some aspect or manifestation of His attributes (compare the introduction to Genesis). What Moses needed was not a new name, but direction to use that name which would bear in itself a pledge of accomplishment. Moses was familiar with the Egyptian habit of choosing from the names of the gods that which bore specially upon the wants and circumstances of their worshippers, and this may have suggested the question which would be the first his own people would expect him to answer.
I am that I am - That is, "I am what I am." The words express absolute, and therefore unchanging and eternal Being. The name, which Moses was thus commissioned to use, was at once new and old; old in its connection with previous revelations; new in its full interpretation, and in its bearing upon the covenant of which Moses was the destined mediator.
The Lord God ... - Better, Jehovah יהוה yehovâh, God of your fathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob. It corresponds exactly to the preceding verse, the words "I am" and "Jehovah" (Yahweh) being equivalent. This name met all the requirements of Moses, involving a two-fold pledge of accomplishment; the pledges of ancient benefits and of a new manifestation.
Name ... memorial - The name signifies that by which God makes Himself known, the memorial that by which His people worship Him.
Three days' journey - i. e. a journey which would occupy three days in going and returning. This was a demand quite in accordance with Egyptian customs. The refusal of Pharaoh and the subsequent proceedings were revealed to Moses at once; but it is important to observe that the first request which Pharaoh rejected could have been granted without any damage to Egypt, or any risk of the Israelites passing the strongly-fortified frontier.
No, not - See the marginal rendering. Others explain it to mean, Pharaoh will not let the people go even when severely smitten.
Shall borrow - shall ask. The Egyptians had made the people serve "with rigor," and the Israelites when about to leave the country for ever were to ask or claim the jewels as a just, though very inadequate, remuneration for services which had made "their lives bitter." The Egyptians would doubtless have refused had not their feelings toward Moses (see Exo 11:3) and the people been changed, under God's influence, by calamities in which they recognized a divine interposition, which also they rightly attributed to the obstinacy of their own king (see Exo 10:7). The Hebrew women were to make the demand, and were to make it of women, who would of course be especially moved to compliance by the loss of their children, the fear of a recurrence of calamity, perhaps also by a sense of the fitness of the request in connection with a religious festival.
Jewels - Chiefly, trinkets. These ornaments were actually applied to the purpose for which they were probably demanded, being employed in making the vessels of the sanctuary (compare Exo 35:22).
Sojourneth in her house - This indicates a degree of friendly and neighborly contact, in accordance with several indirect notices, and was a natural result of long and peaceable sojourn in the district. The Egyptians did not all necessarily share the feelings of their new king.