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).