« PreviousContinue »
37.“ Succoth.”—This word signifies“ tents," or“ booths;" and probably nothing more is intended by it than a spot where caravans were accustomed to encamp; or which obtained its name from their encampment there on the present occasion. It will be observed that the Israelites took their departure from “ Rameses ;- but whether the name denotes in this instance the land of Goshen, which is also called the land of Rameses, or a town in that land, or elsewhere, is by no means clear. Neither can the position of Succoth be fixed with exactness. However, as the intention of Moses was undoubtenlly to proceed not immediately towards Palestine, but into the desert of Sinai, his course was probably nearly that which is now taken by the pilgrim caravans from Cairo to Mecca, which is not due east, but first by north-east and then by east, in order to round the “ Arabian mountain ” of Herodotus, which shuts in the valley of the Nile on the east, and which sinks into the plain in the north, at a line nearly parallel with the point of the Delta. On this route, at the distance of about twelve miles N.N.E. from the present Cairo, occurs a place which is very convenient for an encampment, and where the great pilgrim caravan from Cairo to Mecca awaits the arrival of the western pilgrims previous to its final departure, and where it breaks up on its return. This is, with good probability, thought to be the Succoth of the text. At this place there is a rather large lake, called Birket-el-Hadj (Pilgrims' Pool), which receives its waters from the Nile; and near which there are several small villages; and some that are larger, with country-houses and date-plantations belonging to the principal inhabitants of Cairo. Niebuhr went to inspect the encampment at this place in May, 1762, two days before the caravan departed, and took the plan from which the one we offer is copied. Niebuhr remarks on its disorderly arrangement; but this is usual at a mere rendezvous, and will perhaps all the better enable the reader to obtain an idea of the early encampments of the Israelites before that regular order was established which we find detailed in Numb. ii. Niebuhr says that every one encamped just as he saw proper. Something like an orderly arrangement only appeared in that part of the camp occupied by the Emir Hadlj, or chief of the caravan, who had several tents for himself and his people. The following will explain the details, as indicated by letters in the cut. a the tents of the emir-the small one among which is destined to contain the mahmal, or silken pavilion, containing the Koran and presents for the Kaaba at Mecca: b the lodge which the emir occupies during the day ; there were three small cannon before it, and four more at c: dd the tents of the sutlers: e a small village: fff country-houses. The straight lines throughout represent the cords stretched out and fastened to pins driven into the ground, to which the horses and camels are tied in all oriental encampments.
PLAN OF THE DISPOSITION OF THE Mecca CARAVAN AT PILGRIMS' Poor. From NIEBUHR.
There are some writers who place Rameses not at all near the Nile, but in the east of the desert of Suez, about thirty miles due north of the gulf of that name; giving, consequently, a southerly direction to the whole march from thence to the Red Sea. A corresponding position is of course given to Succoth. However, we are unable to understand how the distance of this Rameses, of about eighty miles from the Nile, is compatible with the fact of its being the first point from which the Israelites started on quitting the neighbourhood of that river. Perhaps this has arisen from the desire to shorten the distance between Succoth and Etham ; for if the former was near the Nile, and the latter near the Red Sea, the distance is a good three days' journey. But we do not see the necessity, as some do, for inferring—because it is said they took their journey from Snccoth and encamped in Etham” (xii. 20),—that they performed in one day the distance between the two places. Indeed, there is good indirect evidence that the distance was really three days' journey, and that three days were taken to perform it; and we the rather wonder that this fact has escaped the
notice of those who have written on the subject, because it helps to illustrate the extraordinary move which was made from Etham. (See the note on chap. xiv. 2.)
BIRKET EL HADJ, OR PILGRIMS' POOL (SUCCOTH?).
"About six hundred thousand."-We learn, from Numbers, chap. i., that the statement of males, exclusive of women and children, applies to males above twenty years of age. Now Mr. Rickman, in the Introduction to the Population Returns,' shows that the number of males above twenty years of age is, as nearly as possible, one half that of the total number of males; the whole male population of Israel would then, on this principle, amount to 1,200,000; and if we add an equal number for females, the entire male and female population of the Hebrew nation, at the time of the exodus, will not be less than 2,400,000. The only reduction of which this number seems susceptible results from the conclusion that mankind were at that period longer lived than at present; which enables us to conjecture that the males above twenty considerably exceeded those under that age. But if we make a large allowance on this account, it can scarcely be supposed that the total number fall much short of two millions, exclusive of the "mixed multitude" that went up with them. This is certainly a most extraordinary increase, and can only be accounted for by a reference to the purposes of God, who designed that, while in Egypt, the Hebrews should grow into a nation. Dr. Boothroyd and others think there must be an error in the numbers. It might be so understood if it were an unconnected text; but the reading here is supported by a whole series of distinct enumerations in Numbers, chap. i. ; the sum of which, exclusive of the tribe of Levi, amounts to 603,550. This was at the commencement of the second year from the exodus, and exhibits a detailed coincidence which precludes the idea of a corruption, whether accidental or wilful, in the present text, unless we also are prepared to admit the corruption of a whole series of numbers in the census of Numb. i., and also in that of Numb. xxxvi.
40. "Four hundred and thirty years."-This is not correct; for their actual stay did not exceed 215 years. This must therefore include the whole period from the time that Abraham entered the land of Canaan to the time of the exodus of his descendants from Egypt. There is, in fact, an omission in the text, which the Samaritan and Septuagint supply, and by which our version ought to be corrected. It would then read thus:-"The sojourning of the children of Israel, and of their fathers which they sojourned in the land of Canaan, and in the land of Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years."
1 The firstborn are sanctified to God. 3 The memorial of the passover is commanded. 11 The firstlings of beasts are set apart. 17 The Israelites go out of Egypt, and carry Joseph's bones with them. 20 They come to Etham. 21 God guideth them by a pillar of a cloud, and a pillar of fire.
AND the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
2 Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine.
3 ¶ And Moses said unto the people, Remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the LORD brought
2 Heb. servants.
1 Chap. 22. 29, and 34. 19. Levit. 27. 26. Numb. 3, 13, and 8. 16. Luke 2. 23.
you out from this place: there shall no 14 And it shall be when thy son asketh leavened bread be eaten.
thee in time to come, saying, What is 4 This day came ye out in the month this ? that thou shalt say unto him, By Abib.
strength of hand the LORD brought us out 5 And it shall be when the LORD shall from Egypt, from the house of bondage: bring thee into the land of the Canaanites, 15 And it came to pass, when Pharaoh and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the would hardly let us go, that the Lord slew Hivites, and the Jebusites, which he sware all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both unto thy fathers to give thee, a land flowing the firstborn of man, and the firstborn of with milk and honey, that thou shalt keep beast: therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all this service in this month.
that openeth the matrix, being males; but 6 Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened all the firstborn of my children I redeem. bread, and in the seventh day shall be a 16 And it shall be for a token upon thine feast to the Lord.
hand, and for frontlets between thine eyes : 7 Unleavened bread shall be eaten seven for by strength of hand the Lord brought days; and there shall no leavened bread be us forth out of Egypt. seen with thee, neither shall there be leaven 17 | And it came to pass, when Pharaoh seen with thee in all thy quarters.
had let the people go, that God led them 8 9 And thou shalt shew thy son in that not through the way of the land of the Phiday, saying, This is done because of that listines, although that was near; for God which the Lord did unto me when I came said, Lest peradventure the people repent forth out of Egypt.
when they see war, and they return to 9 And it shall be for a sign unto thee Egypt: upon thine hand, and for a memorial be- 18 But God led the people about, through tween thine eyes, that the Lord's law may the way of the wilderness of the Red sea : be in thy mouth: for with a strong hand and the children of Israel went up "harhath the Lord brought thee out of Egypt. nessed out of the land of Egypt.
10 Thou shalt therefore keep this ordi- 19 And Moses took the bones of Joseph nance in his season from year to year. with him: for he had straitly sworn the
11 | And it shall be when the Lord shall children of Israel, saying, "God will surely bring thee into the land of the Canaanites, visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones as he sware unto thee and to thy fathers, away hence with you. and shall give it thee,
20 | And Othey took their journey from 12 * That thou shalt .set apart unto the Succoth, and encamped in Etham, in the Lord all that openeth the matrix, and every edge of the wilderness. firstling that cometh of a beast which thou 21 And 10the LORD went before them by hast; the males shall be the Lord's.
day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the 13 And every firstling of an ass thou way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give shalt redeem with a "lamb; and if thou wilt them light; to go by day and night : neck: and all the firstborn of man among cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, thy children shalt thou redeem.
from before the people. Chap.22.29, and 34. 19. Ezek. 44. 30.
7 Or, by five in a ran.
not redeem it, then thou shalt break "his 12 ile took not away the pillar of the
4 Heb. cause to pass orer. 3 Or, kid. 6 Heb, to mortore.
Gen. 50, 25. Josh. 24. 32.
17. “God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near," &c.—Palestine being the point to which this journey ultimately tended, we see at the outset a departure from the regular track; the reason for this proceeding is here assigned. On leaving Egypt, the obvious alternatives were, after crossing the isthmus of Suez, either to take a course north-east to Palestine, or south-east into the desert. Each course had its peculiar difficulties; and Mr. Faber, in his · Horæ Mosaicæ,' ably contends that, in this and other instances, the course actually taken by Moses sufficiently manifests that he was no self-appointed lawgiver, but, as he himself declares, was acting under divine direction and control. He was at the head of 600,000 men, besides women and children. But this immense host was merely an undisciplined crowd, dispirited by bondage, and utterly unfit for war; while the southern and nearest portion of the country to which their expedition tended was already occupied by the Philistines, a distinguished military people, allied to those very Pali, or shepherds, who had so long oppressed them in Egypt. Neither they nor the other tribes that occupied the country could be expected to resign their domains without a struggle, and an immediate war must therefore have been the result of a direct march upon the promised land. But bad as alternative was, the other could scarcely, in mere human prudence, have been deemed preferable. Moses, who had so long fed the flocks of Jethro in the desert, must have been well aware that it afforded no resources for the subsistence even for a few weeks of the vast host he was leading thither. His alternatives seem therefore to be, on the one hand, war without any reasonable prospect of success ; and on the other, starvation in the desert. We, upon the whole, quite agree with Mr. Faber in thinking that, bad as the prospect was, “ a politician would have preferred fighting to starving: though it is altogether incomprehensible, on any human principles of action, how Moses could have entertained such a project as that of conducting the Israelites out of Egypt without previously well considering whither he would lead them.”
18. “ The Red sea.”—We have already explained what relates to this name of the Arabian Gulf; and this seems the proper place to state a few particulars concerning the gulf itself. It occupies à basin, in general deep and rocky, and extends about 1160 miles in length, from north to south, with a mean breadth which may be stated at 120 miles. Throughout this great extent it does not receive the waters of a single river. The western coast is of a bolder character, and has a greater depth of water than the eastern. The gulf abounds in sunken rocks, sand-banks, and small islands, together with numerous coral-reefs, which in some places rise above the water to the height of ten fathoms. The bottom is covered abundantly with the same substance, as well as with marine plants, which in calm weather give that appearance of submarine forests and verdant meadows to which the sea probably owes its Hebrew name of Yam Suph (see note on chap. ii. 3), as well as its present Arab name of Bahr Souf. Burckhardt observes, that the coral is red in the inlet of Akaba, and white in that of Suez. The remarkably beautiful appearance which this sea exhibits has attracted notice in all ages; and among its other characteristics, the far more than ordinary phosphorescence of its waters has been mentioned with peculiar admiration. The width of the gulf contracts towards its extremities, and at its mouth is considerably narrower than in any other part. The strait of Bab-el-Mandeb is there formed, and does not exceed fourteen miles in breadth; beside which it is divided, at the distance of three miles from the Arabian shore, by the island of Perim. The high land of Africa and the peak of Azab give a remarkably bold appearance to the shore in this part. At its northern extremity the Red Sea separates into two minor gulfs or inlets, which inclose between them the peninsula of Sinai. The easternmost of these is that of Akaba or Ailah, called by the Greeks and Romans Ælanites; this is only about half the extent of the other, and is rendered very dangerous by shoals and coral-reefs. The westernmost gulf is called the gulf of Suez, anciently, Heeropolites: the ancient and modern names of both inlets being from towns that formerly did, or do now, stand at their extremities. It is the latter, the western gulf, which was crossed by the Hebrews. It is about 160 miles in length, with a mean breadth of about thirty miles, narrowing very much at its northern extremity. The mean depth of its water is from nine to fourteen fathoms, with a sandy bottom; and it is of much safer navigation than the other. There are many indications which place it beyond a doubt that the Arabian Gulf was formerly much more extensive and deeper than at present. One of the most certain proofs of this is, that cities, which were formerly mentioned as sea-ports, are now considerably inland. This is particularly the case in the Gulf of Suez, where the shore is unusually low. That the sea formerly extended more northward than an present, there is much reason to conclude, not only from the marine appearances of the now dry soil, but from this fact, among others, that Kolsoum, which was formerly a port, is now three-quarters of a mile inlan:). There is certainly nothing in the appearance of the soil about the isthmus of Suez to discountenance the hypothesis that the Red Sea was formerly no other than a strait uniting the Mediterranean with the Indian Ocean ; and that the isthmus which is now interposed between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean was formed by drifts of sand from the adjoining deserts. This, however, is an hypothesis : but there is nothing hypothetical in the statement that the gulf once extended more to the north than at present; and this fact is of importance, because it enables us to see that nothing less than a miraculous interposition of the Divine Power could have enabled the Israelites to cross the bay even at the highest of the points which has been selected by those who perhaps were influenced by the wish to diminish the force of the miracle, or to account for it on natural principles.
20. “ Etham.”—It is impossible to determine further concerning this station than that it was somewhere at or near the northern extremity of the Gulf of Suez, because we find that the next move is to turn, and encamp on the western coast of the gulf. Every thing, as to the site of Etham, therefore depends on the limit at which the waters then terminated. It is commonly placed at Adjeroud, the third stage of the pilgrim caravan, where there is a poor village with a copious well of bitter water, and an ancient fortress garrisoned by Egyptian troops. But if, with Lord Valentia, we conclude that the inlet then extended to the salt marsh, between twenty and thirty miles more to the north than at present, Etham must correspondingly have been considerably more northward than the present Adjeroud. The fact is, that the absence of determinate points, with the changes of name and the alterations which have taken place in the gulf itself, concur so much to perplex the settlement of particular points in this part of the journey, that we do not feel authorised to speak so positively as most writers have done in favour of their own particular views. We do not feel that we have any very decided opinion as to any of the stations previous to the passage of the Red Sea, or concerning the point at which that passage took place, for the whole matter seems to us intimately connected with the question as to the extent to which the gulf encroached, at this early period, on what is now the isthmus of Suez. It is right to observe, that those who differ as to the situation of Rameses and Succoth concur in placing Etham near Adjeroud. (See the note on verse 17.)
Ío estimate the importance of the move from this place, let it be recollected that the petition of the Israelites was to go “ three days' journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices.” Now then, the Israelites having arrived at Etham, somewhere near the Gulf of Suez, are three days' journey from the Nile, and on the edge of the wilderness—that is, in or near the spot which, according to the terms of their application, was to form the limit of their journey. This being understood, it is easy to perceive that whatever move they made from Etham would be regarded as a decisive indication of their ulterior intentions. The move from Etham was in fact the crisis of the undertaking, and was obviously so regarded by Pharaoh, who had granted three days' journey ; but who no sooner heard of a further movement than he commenced the pursuit. It is strange that writers should have deprived the text of the benefit of this illustration by placing Rameses to the north of the Gulf of Suez, in order to shorten the stages; or else, retaining Rameses near the Nile, by concluding that, encumbered as the Israelites were with flocks, herds, women, and children, they performed three days' journey in one.
Being arrived at Etham, there seemed but three alternatires. Two of them have already been considered in the note to verse 17; and the other was to perform their sacrifices and return to Egypt. We may regard the route that was taken from the Nile, along the southern margin of the isthmus of Suez, which is the common road to Arabia, instead of taking the northern road, which seems to have always formed the route towards Palestine, as indicating an original intention for the desert, as explained in the text and note to which we have just referred. This course was also calculated to obviate any suspicion which Pharaoh might have entertained of their ultimate intention, because it was into the desert that they had required permission to go. The king of Egypt, who obviously kept a keen watch upon their proceedings, appears to have held himself in readiness to act according to the intention which the Israelites at the end of the three days' journey should indicate. Thus, every way, the march from Etham, whatever direction it took, was to have been regarded as the first decisive indication of the final intention of the Hebrew leader. And what was this decisive move? It was neither to return to Egypt; to proceed round the head of the gulf into the peninsula of Sinai; nor to strike off in a north-easterly direction towards Palestine—which were the only alternatives that seemed open to theni. But it was to take the step, most unaccountable on any human principle of action, of turning down southward, so as to “ entangle” and “shut themselves in” between the mountains and the western shore of the Gulf of Suez-a direction which left them no other way of pursuing their journey (unless they turned back again) or of retreating, than by that miraculous passage through the Red Sea, which actually took place. It may safely be affirmed, that neither Moses nor any other human being would have taken so strange a step as this, acting on his own conclusions. Niebuhr does not think the Israelites could be so infatuated as to suffer themselves to be brought into such a disadvantageons situation, or be led blindfold by Moses to their apparent destruction : "One only need travel with a caravan," he observes, " which meets with the least obstacle, such as a small torrent, to be convinced that the Orientals do not let themselves be led, like fools, by their Caravan Bashi,” or leader of the caravan. He thence infers that they actually did not go into this disadvantageous situation, and uses it as an argument against fixing the passage lower down than Suez. To our minds, however, the wonder which people naturally enough feel on this point, is the most convincing evidence, not only that Moses acted under the divine direction, but that the Israelites believed that he did so. They certainly were not a people whom it was easy to lead, or who placed in their great leader the confidence to which he was fairly entitled ; and if the commands of HIM whose wonders they had lately witnessed in Egypt had not been quite clear to them, they would assuredly have murmured and rebelled on this, as they did on other occasions. But the order was so explicit, and the pillar of cloud so distinctly marked the course they were to take, that they even saw it to be their wisdom to follow the divine indication. But the question recurs, why bring them down this way, and make the passage of the Red Sea necessary, when they might so much more easily have got into the peninsula of Sinai by going round the gulf—why go out of their way to bring them into a situation of difficulty? The answer is given in verses 3 and 4. It was to give Pharaoh an additional inducement to follow them to his own destruction, by his knowledge of the advantage which their position would give him in an attack upon them. The overthrow of the Egyptian host was therefore the contemplated result of this movement; and by this overthrow not only did the Egyptians receive their complete and final punishment, but the immediate security and future success of the Israelites were greatly ass sted by it: for we learn from many passages of Scripture, that the neighbouring tribes and nations were too much alarmed and intimidated by this stupendous event to think of any hostile encounter (the instance of the Amalekites excepted). The rumour of this and the other miracles in Egypt contributed much to facilitate the conquest of Canaan, by filling the minds of the inhabitants with apprehensions which they might not otherwise have entertained. This, in the next generation, is forcibly expressed by a woman at Jericho to the Hebrew spies : “ As soon as we had heard these things our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man.” (Josh. ii. 10, 11; See also, 1 Sam. iv. 8; vi. 6; and Hab. iii. 7). Whatever Pharaoh himself may have thought of the apparent infatuation of the Israelites in this extraordinary march, there was no mistaking the intention of Hight which it indicated, and accordingly the news is conveyed to him as of that import, on which the prospect of finally losing the useful services of his late bondmen determined Pharaoh to pursue them.