Poole on Exodus 2:16-22: Moses' New Life in Midian

Verse 16:[1] (Ex. 3:1) Now the priest (or, prince,[2] as Gen. 41:45[3]) of Midian had seven daughters: (Gen. 24:11; 29:10; 1 Sam. 9:11) and they came and drew water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock.



[And to the priest, וּלְכֹהֵן] Some maintain that he was a prince (thus Onkelos, Lyra, Oleaster, Samaritan Text in Bonfrerius). Now, magistrates are called כֺּהֲנִים, that is, priests, partly because formerly both offices, priestly and political, were in their hands, even as it is now among the heathen; partly because the magistrate is obliged above all to promove the worship and glory of God, wherefore he is also called a minister of God, Romans 13:4 (Fagius, Vatablus). Others maintain that he was a priest, either, 1. of idols (thus Kimchi in Munster); but then Moses would not have entered into a relationship of affinity with him (Rivet): or, 2. of the true God (thus Ibn Ezra in Fagius, Rivet, Grotius); of which sort also was Melchizedek; for idolatry had not yet extended itself so broadly (Grotius). Moncæius[4] thinks the same, and proves it, Concerning the Apparition in the Bramble[5] 2. See the notes on Exodus 18. He was able to have received a notion of God from his ancestors; for Midian was a son of Abraham by Keturah[6] (Estius). Objection: But when he saw the miracles, he exclaimed, Now I know that God is great above all gods, Exodus 18:11. Therefore, previously he was a worshiper of idols. Response: This is to be understood of a new knowledge by experience; just like 1 Kings 17:24, Now I know that thou art a man of God, and Psalm 20:6 (Rivet). Others maintain that he was both prince and priest; just like the men of first rank in those days, Melchizedek, Noah, and Abraham (Menochius).


[To draw water] This is not strange (Lyra): In that age, the shepherd’s trade was noble (Menochius). Without doubt the wealth of the ancients was in their herds (Lyra).


[By filled troughs] הָרְהָטִים/troughs are named after רָהִיט, tree trunk, because they used to be made from tree trunks (Oleaster).


The Priest of Midian; not of idols, for then Moses would not have married into his family; but of the true God; for some such were in those ancient times here and there, as appears by Melchisedec, though his manner of worshipping God might be superstitious and corrupt: or the Hebrew כֺּהֵן/cohen may here signify a prince, or a potentate, as Genesis 41:45. Nor doth the employment of his daughters contradict that translation, both because principalities were then many of them very small and mean, and because this employment then was esteemed noble, and worthy of great men’s daughters, as appears from Genesis 24:15; 29:6, etc.


Verse 17:[7] And the shepherds came and drove them away: but Moses stood up and helped them, and (Gen. 29:10) watered their flock.



[They drove them away] Leading their own herds to the drink drawn up and prepared by the maidens, the idle were going to profit from the labors of others (Menochius out of Philo).


[וַיְגָרְשׁוּם[8]] Some refer this to צֺאן/sheep, for the relative pronoun is masculine.[9] Others maintain that ם is put in the place of ן (Vatablus). Sometimes the masculine ם refers to females, and the feminine ן refers to males, from a peculiarity of language (Fagius’ Comparison of the Principal Translations). [See what things are written on Exodus 1:21.[10]] Others: them, namely, the pastoral servants of the daughters (Malvenda, thus Junius and Tremellius).


The shepherds drove them away, that they might enjoy the fruit of their labours, and make use of the water which they had drawn for their own cattle. Moses helped them; either by persuading them with fair words, or by force; for Moses was strong, and full of courage and resolution, wherewith the shepherds were easily daunted.


[The sheep of the women, צֹאנָם] And here ם is in the place of ן, to avoid the combination of two נ’s (Ibn Ezra in Fagius).


Verse 18:[11] And when they came to (Num. 10:29) Reuel (called also Jethro or Jether, Ex. 3:1; 4:18; 18:1; etc.) their father, he said, How is it that ye are come so soon to day?



[To Reuel their father, אֲבִיהֶן] Some maintain that Reuel, their father, was the same as he who is called Jethro (thus Lyra, Vatablus, Cajetan, Rivet out of Calvin, Theodotion[12] in Drusius). Others make him their grandfather, and the father of Jethro (thus Ibn Ezra and Jonathan in Drusius’ A Miscellany of Sacred Expressions 2:69, Grotius, Drusius, Ainsworth, Lapide). This is gathered out of Numbers 10:29[13] (compared with Genesis 24:48 [Grotius]), Moses said to Hobab, the son of Raguel, even to Hobab, the father-in-law of Moses; where some have Moses said to Hobab, the son of Raguel, who was in turn the father-in-law of Moses: whom Judges 4:11 refutes, of Hobab, the father-in-law of Moses.[14] All things are clear, unless one should evince that Hobab was the brother of Moses’ wife (Drusius). But Rivet replies that the word son is able to be supplied, as it was wont to be, in this way, of the sons of Hobab, the son of the father-in-law of Moses; or that חֹתֵן, father-in-law, with Jerome can be translated kinsman, and thus every difficulty is removed (Rivet). They say that חֹתֵן now and then signifies the brother of the wife. But since it is the same word which is used of Jethro, Exodus 3:1; 4:18; and of Hobab, Numbers 10:29; and of Rechab; its sense is not to be rashly changed (Drusius). It appears to me that Jethro is the same as Reuel, namely, the father-in-law of Moses, and that Hobab is his son, and the brother of Zipporah. For it appears that Jethro returned to his own (as we shall see), and Moses did not desire that a decrepit old man should lead them through the desert; Hobab, however, being a younger man, remained. And it is certain that the Kenites of the posterity of Hobab dwelt among the Israelites[15] (Rivet).


Their father; either, 1. Strictly, and then he is the same who elsewhere is called Jethro, Exodus 3:1 and 18 ofttimes; and, as some think, Hobab, Judges 4:11. Or, 2. Largely, that is, their grandfather, for such are oft called fathers, as Genesis 31:43; 2 Kings 14:3; 16:2; 18:3; so he was the father of Jethro, or Hobab, Numbers 10:29.


Verse 19:[16] 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.


[An Egyptian man] Perhaps he had affirmed himself to be such, and thus he appeared from the refinement of his person (Menochius).


An Egyptian: They guessed him to be an Egyptian by his habit and speech, or he told them that he came from thence.


[He drew up] Hebrew: in drawing he drew.[17] The doubling of the verb denotes diligence, conscientiousness, and hard work (Vatablus).


Drew water; Hebrew, in drawing drew, which notes that he drew it very diligently and readily, which caused their quick return.


Verse 20:[18] And he said unto his daughters, And where is he? why is it that ye have left the man? call him, that he may (Gen. 31:54; 43:25) eat bread.


[Why have ye sent the man away? לָ֤מָּה זֶּה֙] To what purpose is this? (Montanus). For what reason now? namely, at his hour, or at this time, when it is late (Junius, Piscator, Malvenda).


Why is it that ye have left the man?: Hebrew, Have left the man thus,[19] or now, at this time of the day, when it is so late, and he a stranger and traveller.


Verse 21:[20] And Moses was content to dwell with the man: and he gave Moses (Ex. 4:25; 18:2) Zipporah his daughter.



[He swore, etc., that is, he bound himself by swearing (thus certain Hebrews in Munster), וַיּוֹאֶל[21]] They translate it, And he was willing (Chaldean, Pagnine, Montanus, Oleaster, Vatablus, Fagius’ Comparison of the Principal Translations); he resolved himself, see Genesis 18:27[22] (Malvenda); he acquiesced (Junius and Tremellius, Ainsworth); he was pleased (Samaritan Text); he consented (Syriac, Munster, Tigurinus); he began[23] (Ainsworth, certain interpreters in Fagius’ Comparison of the Principal Translations). This verb is often omitted by the Holy Spirit. In the place of he began to say, Luke 12:1, is he said, Matthew 16:6; in the place of he began to cast out, Mark 11:15, is he cast out, Matthew 21:12, etc. (Ainsworth).


Moses was content; or, consented to this desire or offer. And so his present and temporary repose there is turned into a settled habitation.


[And he took Zipporah, his daughter, as a wife] The Patriarchs were taking wives from the daughters of their kinsmen, φόβῳ τοῦ μὴ ἐκτραπῆναι τοὺς υἱοὺς τῆς εὐσεβείας, lest they should turn their sons from religion: but Moses and Joseph, free from that fear, took wives of the Gentiles, and they were not turned from religion by them, but they converted them (Justin’s[24] Questions and Responses to the Orthodox[25] 90 in Gataker).


Zipporah: Moses married Zipporah not instantly, but after some years of acquaintance with the family, as may probably be gathered from the youngness and uncircumcisedness of one of his sons forty years after this, Exodus 4:25. In which time, as Moses would not fail to instruct them in the knowledge of the true God, which he was able excellently to do, so it is likely he had succeeded therein in some measure, and therefore married Zipporah.


Verse 22:[26] And she bare him a son, and he called his name (Ex. 18:3; Acts 7:29; Heb. 11:13, 14) Gershom (that is, a stranger here[27]): for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.


[Gershom, גֵּרְשֹׁם] A stranger there.[28] By such names the pious were stirring themselves unto gratitude and the praise of God (Vatablus).

[1] Hebrew: וּלְכֹהֵ֥ן מִדְיָ֖ן שֶׁ֣בַע בָּנ֑וֹת וַתָּבֹ֣אנָה וַתִּדְלֶ֗נָה וַתְּמַלֶּ֙אנָה֙ אֶת־הָ֣רְהָטִ֔ים לְהַשְׁק֖וֹת צֹ֥אן אֲבִיהֶֽן׃


[2] Hebrew: וּלְכֹהֵן.


[3] Genesis 41:45a: “And Pharaoh called Joseph's name Zaphnath-paaneah; and he gave him to wife Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest (כֹּהֵן) of On.…”


[4] Francis Moncæius was a French archeologist and author, whose work flourished during the late sixteenth century.


[5] De Apparitione in Rubo.


[6] Genesis 25:2.


[7] Hebrew: וַיָּבֹ֥אוּ הָרֹעִ֖ים וַיְגָרְשׁ֑וּם וַיָּ֤קָם מֹשֶׁה֙ וַיּ֣וֹשִׁעָ֔ן וַיַּ֖שְׁקְ אֶת־צֹאנָֽם׃


[8] Exodus 2:17a: “And the shepherds came and drove them away (וַיְגָרְשׁוּם)…”


[9] The affixed ם is the third person, masculine, object pronoun; ן is the feminine.


[10] Exodus 1:21: “And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them (לָהֶם) houses.”


[11] Hebrew: וַתָּבֹ֕אנָה אֶל־רְעוּאֵ֖ל אֲבִיהֶ֑ן וַיֹּ֕אמֶר מַדּ֛וּעַ מִהַרְתֶּ֥ן בֹּ֖א הַיּֽוֹם׃


[12] Theodotion was a linguist and convert to Judaism, who translated the Hebrew Scripture into Greek in the middle of the second century AD. His translation appears to be an attempt to bring the Septuagint into conformity with the Hebrew text.


[13] Numbers 10:29a: “And Moses said unto Hobab, the son of Raguel the Midianite, Moses’ father in law (חֹתֵן)…”


[14] Judges 4:11a: “Now Heber the Kenite, which was of the children of Hobab the father in law (חֹתֵן) of Moses…”


[15] Judges 1:16; 4:11.


[16] Hebrew: וַתֹּאמַ֕רְןָ אִ֣ישׁ מִצְרִ֔י הִצִּילָ֖נוּ מִיַּ֣ד הָרֹעִ֑ים וְגַם־דָּלֹ֤ה דָלָה֙ לָ֔נוּ וַיַּ֖שְׁקְ אֶת־הַצֹּֽאן׃


[17] Hebrew: דָּלֹ֤ה דָלָה֙.


[18] Hebrew: וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֶל־בְּנֹתָ֖יו וְאַיּ֑וֹ לָ֤מָּה זֶּה֙ עֲזַבְתֶּ֣ן אֶת־הָאִ֔ישׁ קִרְאֶ֥ן ל֖וֹ וְיֹ֥אכַל לָֽחֶם׃


[19] Hebrew: לָ֤מָּה זֶּה֙ עֲזַבְתֶּ֣ן אֶת־הָאִ֔ישׁ.


[20] Hebrew: וַיּ֥וֹאֶל מֹשֶׁ֖ה לָשֶׁ֣בֶת אֶת־הָאִ֑ישׁ וַיִּתֵּ֛ן אֶת־צִפֹּרָ֥ה בִתּ֖וֹ לְמֹשֶֽׁה׃


[21] Exodus 2:21a: “And Moses was content (וַיּ֥וֹאֶל מֹשֶׁ֖ה) to dwell with the man…”


[22] Genesis 18:27b: “Behold now, I have taken upon me (הוֹאַלְתִּי) to speak unto the Lord…”


[23] יָאַל can be translated, to undertake, which is closely related to the concept of beginning.


[24] Justin, also known as the Martyr, was one of the great Greek apologists of the second century.


[25] Quæstiones et Responsiones ad Orthodoxos.


[26] Hebrew: וַתֵּ֣לֶד בֵּ֔ן וַיִּקְרָ֥א אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ גֵּרְשֹׁ֑ם כִּ֣י אָמַ֔ר גֵּ֣ר הָיִ֔יתִי בְּאֶ֖רֶץ נָכְרִיָּֽה׃


[27] Hebrew: גֵּרְשֹׁם.


[28] The name is a combination of גֵּר/stranger and שָׁם/there.

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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