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Exodus 2:16-22

16. Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters: and they came and drew water, and filled the troughs to water their father's flock.

16. Erant autem sacerdoti Madian septem filiae, quae venerunt, et hauserunt, impleveruntque canales, ut potarent oves patris sui.

17. And the shepherds came and drove them away: but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock.

17. Et venerunt pastores qui repulerunt eas: et surgens Moses auxiliatus er ipsis, potavique oves illarum.

18. And when they came to Reuel their father, he said, How is it that ye are come so soon to-day?

18. Et quum venissent ad Bethuel patrem suum, dixit ille, Quare hodie tam cito rediistis?

19. 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.

19. Responderunt, vir Aegyptius liberavit nos e manu pastorum, atque etiam hauriendo hausit nobis, et praebuit potum ovibus.

20. 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.

20. Dixit ille ad filias suas, Et ubi est ille? Quare sic dereliquistis virum? Convocate eum ut comedat paneum.

21. And Moses was content to dwell with the man: and he gave Moses Zipporah his daughter.

21. Et consensit Moses habitare cum viro illo, qui dedit Sephoram filiam suam Mosi.

22. And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.

22. Quae quum peperisset filium, vocavit nomen ejus Gerson, dicens, Peregrinus sum in terra aliena.

16. Now the priest of Midian. The profane would attribute this meeting to good fortune, whereas God affords us in it a striking picture of his providence, in thus with an outstretched hand directing the steps of his servant. Those damsels were in the habit of coming daily to the well; and Moses sat down to ask for hospitality at the waterside, whither in a dry country the inhabitants were likely to flock in the evening. But it was by no means due to chance that he came so opportunely to render assistance to the damsels, and that Jethro so hospitably invited him; but God was the guide of his wandering servant’s way, not only to obtain for him a resting-place for a day, but a comfortable habitation even to the close of his exile. For Jethro (whose title shews that he was of some dignity amongst his people) not only engaged his services, but chose him for his son-in-law. Although the occupation of a shepherd was a humble one, yet there was no little consolation in this high connection. All are not agreed about the word כהן, cohen2929     כהן. This verb does not occur in Hebrew in its primary conjugation (kal), but is found in Arabic, where it signifies to draw nigh. Hence the noun, being of the form of the present participle, means in strictness one who draws nigh; and in usage a priest who draws nigh to God; a prince who draws nigh to the sovereign; or, sometimes the sovereign’s guards, ministers, or near kinsmen. The Chaldee paraphrast badly translates it “Prince,” because it does not accord with the fact that the shepherds of the country were at variance with his daughters. Nor is it more probable that a rich and chief man would have been without servants, so as to be obliged to expose his daughters daily to the insults and quarrels of the shepherds. I think, then, that he was a priest (sacrificum,) which is the opinion most generally received. But the question is, whether he worshipped false gods, or the one true God? and certainly many probable reasons lead us to conclude, that he did not sacrifice to idols; because Moses could scarcely have been persuaded, not merely to live in a house which was defiled by foul unrighteousness, but even to marry into it. Besides, hereafter, many indications of piety will appear in the language of Jethro. Although, as almost the whole world had then fallen into many corrupt practices, it seems likely to me that his priesthood was in some measure corrupted. In the time of Abraham, Melehizedek was the only priest of the living God. Abraham himself was extricated from a deep abyss of idolatry into which his family was plunged. It was, then, hardly possible that the Midianites should have retained the pure worship; and indeed it is plain from other passages, that they were joined to idols. After duly weighing all these points, nothing occurs to me as more probable, than that under the priesthood of Jethro the true God was worshipped, according as tradition had revealed Him, but not purely; because religion was at that time everywhere contaminated by diverse superstitions. But there is some difference between idolatry and the impure worship of God, corrupted in some respects. I say, then, that they were worshippers of the true God, because they had not entirely departed from the principles of His religion, although they had contracted some defilement from the stinking puddles of error which had gradually crept in. There is also another question among interpreters as to the name “Jethro.” Those who think Bethuel3030     See note on ver. 18. In the French version he is always called Raguel. was a different person from Jethro, are easily refuted; for it is quite evident, that Moses in the next chapter speaks of the same person, though under another name. Nor would it agree with the mention of his marriage, that the name of the father should be altogether omitted; and it is a forced construction to suppose, that in such immediate connection two persons should be spoken of as in the same degree of relationship. Again, if Jethro was the son of Bethuel, living in the same house, he would have been a member of the family, but not its head, and therefore Moses would not be said to have fed his flock. Besides, it is probable that Hobab (who will be afterwards called the son of Bethuel, Numbers 10:29) was the brother-in-law of Moses, i e., the brother of his wife; from whence we collect, that Jethro, as is not unusual, had two names. For it is absurd to think that it is Hobab whom Moses here calls Jethro, and an unreasonable invention. We shall hereafter see that Jethro came into the Desert to congratulate Moses; but it is related in the same place that he “let him depart;” and certainly it would not have been kind to press a man bowed down by age to accompany him on his long journey. For if he was older than Moses, he was scarcely less than ninety; and what sense would there have been in promising a decrepit old man the reward of his labor, after they should reach the land of Canaan?

But the whole controversy is put an end to in one word; because Moses writes that Jethro returned home, but that Hobab was persuaded to listen to his earnest requests, and to remain with him. Nothing can be more probable than that the old man Bethuel, who was unequal to bear the fatigue of a long journey, returned straight home, having left his son behind with Moses, to be to him “instead of eyes,” and to guide them on their way.

18. And when they came to Reuel3131     In the Latin Geneva editions of 1573 and 1617, this name is printed, through the whole commentary on the chapter, Bethuel; but in the commentary on Numbers 10:29, Reuel; whilst A V. has Reuel here, and Raguel in Numbers. In Hebrew, the name in both cases is Reuel; but the Hebrew ע having no equivalent in either the Greek, Latin, or English alphabet, its occurrence has occasioned a dissimilar orthography of several proper names in different translations, or sometimes in the same translation, according as the translator happened to substitute for it a or o, or to omit it altogether. The LXX. seems to have been induced by mere similarity of shape to substitute γ for it in the middle of words, where a consonant seemed desirable.
   As to the person here spoken of, the relation of each to Moses is designated by the same word חתן; viz., Jethro in Exodus 3:1, and 18; Hobab in Judges 4:11; and Reuel (probably) in Numbers 10:29; whilst Zipporah uses the same word, rendered husband in Exodus 4:25, 26;. The radical verb, in this case also, is one which does not occur in Hebrew in its primary conjugation, but is found in Arabic, where it signifies to provide a nuptial feast; and hence the noun came to signify any relative by marriage, though most commonly a father-in-law In Numbers 10:29, and Judges 4:11, Jerome has rendered it simply kinsman. This being premised, it will appear probable that Reuel was the grandfather, Jethro the father, and Hobab the brother, of Zipporah. Hence, after forty years, Reuel is no more spoken of, except to notice descent from him. — W
I do not think any blame attaches to the daughters of Bethuel for not offering hospitality to Moses, because young women should be modest, and it would have been an act of too great forwardness to invite an unknown foreigner, without acquainting their father. But God inspires the heart of their father with gratitude, so that he desires him to be sent for. Moses, therefore, is brought from the well, and finds a home in which he may live comfortably, and is treated with kindness on account of his matrimonial alliance. And certainly there was need of some alleviation for his manifold cares and sorrows; since it was a hard trial, which would not only pain him greatly, but would have altogether overwhelmed him in despair unless the holy man had been supported in some way in enduring his forty years’ exile. We may easily conjecture from our own feelings how great must have been the weariness of so tedious a delay, especially when he saw that the flower of his age was past, and that his strength was failing, so that he would be afterwards but little fitted for activity. It was, therefore, difficult for him to be intent on that vocation, which might seem to be obsolete, and abrogated in this period of forty years. These heavy troubles and anxieties are in some degree mitigated, but yet not so completely as to prevent the recurrence of many opposing thoughts. Wherefore God’s grace is more astonishing, which kept him peaceful and calm in the midst of so many cares, so that, in expectation of the unknown time, he should be content with his mean and humble lot, and stand in daily preparation to perform the part of a deliverer. As to the word יאל,3232     יואל, A V., was content C states the question about the meaning of this word nearly as he found it stated in S M.; who had said, “Radix verbi יאל idem significat quod רצה, voluit, complacuit, consensit. Sunt tamen inter Hebraeos qui etiam אלה et נשבע, id est juravit, exponunt.” They who would interpret it he sware, must suppose יואל to be irregularly formed out of the verb אלה; whilst there is no irregularity of formation assumed by those who accept it as a part of the verb יאל, and consequently translate it consented, or was content W yal, the Jews themselves are not agreed: many think that it merely expresses consent; others take it to mean “to swear.” And perhaps Bethuel was unwilling to give his daughter to an unknown guest, unless he bound himself by an oath to live there, as otherwise it might be feared that Moses might take away his wife elsewhere. Thus the marriage-vow was a promise to remain. Thence we see the integrity of that age, that the sanction of an oath, through reverence to the name of God, was so strong, that both were contented with this bond.

22. He called his name Gershom. I do not approve of their view who think this was a name of congratulation to alleviate the pain of banishment, but rather imagine that Moses gave this name to his son, as well to remind himself as his father-in-law and his wife, that he sought a country elsewhere, and that there he was but a sojourner. Nor is there any objection in his promise to his father-in-law to remain, because he did not so bind himself as to shake off or break the yoke of his divine vocation. It was only a provision to this effect, that Moses should not lightly forsake the home where he was so kindly welcomed. It is not credible that he was silent as to the cause of his exile: in the first place, to avert the suspicion of wrong-doing, and in witness of his innocence; and secondly, that he might proclaim the peculiar favor with which God had honored the people of Israel. Wherefore, in the name of his son, he would set before himself an unceasing memorial, by which he might be kept, alive to the hope of redemption; for he declares that land, in which he had found apparently a peaceful resting-place, and a pleasant home, to be “strange” to him. Nor does he compare Midian with Egypt, for he was but a sojourner in either land; but wherever he may dwell, he declares himself a stranger, until he should obtain the inheritance which God has promised. And, indeed, it would have been absurd to call that land, where he had found a settled home, a foreign land, in reference to Egypt, especially since the Apostle bears testimony that he had left that land under the influence of faith. (Hebrews 11:27.) In fine, we see that he sought for a means of cherishing and at the same time of testifying his faith, when he professed that he was a sojourner in a foreign land.


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