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Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 3: Harmony of the Law, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at


Exodus 2:1-10

1. And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi.

1. Abierat autem vir ex domo Levi, et acceperat filiam Levi.

2. And the woman conceived, and bare a son: and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months.

2. Concepit autem mulier illa, et peperit filium; vidensque eum esse pulchrum, abscondit tribus mensibus.

3. And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river’s brink.

3. Et quia illum abscondere amplius non poterat, accepit ei arcam arundineam, et oblevit eam bitumine et pice, et reposuit in ca infantulum: exposuitque in carecto, juxta ripam fluminis.

4. And his sister stood afar off, to wit what would be done to him.

4. Stetit vero soror ejus eminus, ut cognosceret quid ei fieret.

5. And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river’s side: and when she saw the ark among the flag’s, she sent her maid to fetch it.

5. Porro descendit filia Pharaonis ut lavaret se in flumine: (deambulabant autem puellae ejus secus ripam fluminis:) et videns arculam in medio carecti misit ancillam suam quae illam tolleret.

6. And when she had opened it, she saw the child: and, behold, the babe wept. And she had compassion on him, and said, This is one of the Hebrews’ children.

6. Quumque aperuisset, vidit ipsum infantulum: et ecce, puer flebat: et miserta illius dixit, Hic ex pueris Hebraeorum est.

7. Then said his sister to Pharaoh’s daughter, Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee?

7. Tunc dixit soror ejus ad fili am Pharaonis, Ibone ut vocem tibi mulierem nutricem ex Hebraeis quae tibi lactet infantulum?

8. And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, Go. And the maid went and called the child’s mother.

8. Respondit ei filia Pharaonis, Vade. Profecta est igitur puella, et vocavit matrem pueri.

9. And Pharaoh’s daughter said unto her, Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages. And the woman took the child, and nursed it.

9. Cui filia Pharaonis dixit, Tolle infantulum hunc, et lacta eum mihi, et ego dabo tibi mercedem. Tunc accepit mulier infantulum, et lactavit eum.

10. And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses: and she said, Because I drew him out of the water.

10. Crevit autem infantulus, et adduxit eum ad filiam Pharaonis, cui factus in filium, et vocavit nomen ejus Moseh, dicens, Quoniam ex aquis extraxi eum.

1. And there went. I have preferred rendering the verb in the pluperfect tense (abierat, “there had gone”) to prevent all ambiguity; for unless we say that Miriam and Aaron were the children of another mother, it would not be probable otherwise that this marriage was contracted after the passing of the edict. Aaron was three years old when Moses was born; and we may easily conjecture that he was brought up openly and securely. But there is no doubt but that the cruelty was greatest at its commencement. Therefore, if they were uterine brothers, there is no other explanation except to say that, by the figure called ὕστερον πρότερον, he now relates what had happened before. But mention is only made of Moses, because it then first began to be criminal to breed up male infants. The Hebrews use the word for going or departing, to signify the undertaking of any serious or momentous matter, or when they put any proposal into operation. Nor is it superfluous for Moses to say that his father married a wife of his own tribe, because this double tie of kindred should have confirmed them in their attempt to preserve their offspring. But soon afterwards we shall see how timidly they acted. They hide the child for a short time, rather from the transient impulse of love than from firm affection. When three months had elapsed, and that impulse had passed away, they almost abandon the child, in order to escape from danger. For although the mother would have probably come next day, if he had passed the night there, to give him the breast, yet had she exposed him as an outcast to innumerable risks. By this example, we perceive what terror had taken possession of every mind, when a man and his wife, united to each other by close natural relationship, prefer exposing their common offspring, whose beauty moved them to pity, to peril of wild beasts, of the atmosphere, of the water, and of every kind, rather than that they should perish with him. But on this point different opinions are maintained: whether or not it would have been better to discharge themselves of the care of their child, or to await whatever danger attended its secret preservation. I confess, indeed, that whilst it is difficult in such perplexities to come to a right conclusion, so also our conclusions are apt to be variously judged; still I affirm that the timidity of the parents of Moses, by which they were induced to forget their duty, cannot advisedly be excused.

We see that God has implanted even in wild and brute beasts so great instinctive anxiety for the protection and cherishing of their young, that the dam often despises her own life in their defense. Wherefore it is the more base, that men, created in the divine image, should be driven by fear to such a pitch of inhumanity as to desert the children who are intrusted to their fidelity and protection. The reply of those who assert that there was no better course in their desperate circumstances than to repose on the providence of God, has something in it, but is not complete. It is the chief consolation of believers to cast their cares on the bosom of God; provided that, in the meantime, they perform their own duties, overpass not the bounds of their vocation, and turn not away from the path set before them; but it is a perversion to make the providence of God an excuse for negligence and sloth. The parents of Moses ought rather to have looked forward with hope that God would be the safeguard of themselves and their child. His mother made the ark with great pains, and daubed it; but for what purpose? Was it not to bury her child in it? I allow that she always seemed anxious for him, yet in such a way that her proceedings would have been ridiculous and ineffectual, unless God had unexpectedly appeared from heaven as the author of their preservation, of which she herself despaired. Nevertheless, we must not judge either the father or mother as if they had lived in quiet times; for it is easy to conceive with what bitter grief they compassed the death of their child; nay, to speak more correctly, we can scarcely conceive what terrible agonies they suffered. Therefore, when Moses relates how his mother made and prepared an ark, he hints that the father was so overwhelmed with sorrow as to be incapable of doing anything. Thus the power of the Lord more clearly manifested itself, when the mother, her husband being entirely disheartened, took the whole burden on herself. For, if they had acted in concert, Moses would not have assigned the whole praise to his mother. The Apostle, indeed, (Heb 11:23,) gives a share of the praise to the husband, and not undeservedly, since it is probable that the child was not hidden without his cognizance and approval. But God, who generally “chooses the weak things of the world,” strengthened with the power of his Spirit a woman rather than a man, to stand foremost in the matter. And the same reasoning applies to his sister, into whose hands his mother resigned the last and most important act, so that while Miriam, who, on account of her tender age, appeared to be exempt from danger, is appointed to watch over her brother’s life, both parents appear to have neglected their duty.

2. And when she saw that he was a goodly child. There is no doubt but that God had adorned him with this beauty, in order the more to influence his parents to preserve him; as it sometimes happens that, when God sees his people slow in the performance of their duty, he spurs on their inactivity by allurements; although it appears from the testimony of the Apostle, that this was not their only motive to have pity on him, but that it was the prop, as it were, of their weak faith; for he tells us (Heb 11:23) that “by faith Moses was hid three months of his parents.” If any object that faith and regard for beauty are things not only very different but almost contrary to each other, I reply, that by the wonderful compassion of God, it comes to pass that the very impediment which might darken faith becomes its assistant, though it ought indeed to rest upon the promises alone. Therefore, if faith had shone purely and brightly in their hearts, they would have cared nothing for his beauty; on the other hand, unless the promise had had its power, nay, unless it had occupied the first place, there was no such efficacy in the goodliness of his appearance as would have led them willingly to hazard their lives. We conclude, then, that, since they had good hopes of the deliverance promised to them, their courage was increased by the additional motive of his beauty, and that they were so attracted to pity, that all obstacles were overcome. Thus does God ordinarily work, leading his people in their darkness like the blind, when they are wavering through ignorance and weakness of heart. In fine, the love which his beauty awakened was so far from being a part of faith, that it deservedly detracts from its praise; but God, who, in his wonderful wisdom, makes all things to work for the good of his chosen ones, sustained and strengthened their tottering faith by this support.

4. And his sister stood afar off. It is probable that this was Miriam.  26 By the fact of her standing to watch what became of him, it appears that his parents had some hope remaining, though it was but small. For it is scarcely doubtful but that whatever Egyptian had come that way would have been his executioner, as well from the command of the king as from the general hatred of the nation against the Hebrews. It seems, then, that Miriam was set by her parents to watch, rather to witness her brother’s murder, than to provide for the safety of the child. But, since we have just seen that, in the darkness of sorrow and despair, some sparks of faith still survived, the mother, exposing her little one on the river’s side, did not abandon all care of him, but desired to commend him to the mercy of any passer-by, and therefore stationed her daughter afar off to act as circumstances arose. For, if she had heard that the child still lay there at night, she would have come secretly to give him the breast. This determination, however, as is often the case in times of perplexity and trouble, was vain, though God miraculously stretched forth his hand for the child’s preservation. For there can be no question but that his secret providence brought the king’s daughter to the river, who had the courage to take up the child and to have it nursed; and that he, too, influenced her mind to the kind act of saving its life, — in a word, that he controlled the whole matter. Indeed, all pious persons will confess that he was the author of her great and uninquisitive kindness in not taking more pains to learn who were the child’s parents, and why a nurse offered herself so immediately, which circumstance might have naturally awakened suspicion. Thus it did not happen without many miracles that the child escaped safely from the ark. Scoffers would say that all occurred accidentally; because perverse delusion has possession of their minds, so that they are blind to the manifest works of God, and think that the human race is governed by mere chance. But we must hold fast to the principle, that whilst God rules all men by his providence, he honors his elect with his peculiar care, and is watchful for their deliverance and support; and if we carefully weigh all the circumstances, reason will easily assure us that all things which led to the preservation of Moses, were disposed by his guidance, and under his auspices, and by the secret inspiration of his Spirit. For to ascribe to fortune such an harmonious combination of various and manifold means, is no less absurd than to imagine with Epicurus that the world was created by the fortuitous conjunction of atoms.  27 Assuredly he drew out Moses, who was to be the future redeemer of his people, as from the grave, in order that he might prove that the beginning of the safety of his Church was like a creation out of nothing. And this was the crowning act of his divine mercy, not only that he was given to his mother to be nursed, but that she received wages for it.

10. And the child grew. Here, however, their grief is renewed, when his parents are again obliged to give up Moses, and he is torn as it were from their bowels. For, on this condition, he passed over to the Egyptian nation, not only that he should be alienated from his own race, but that he should increase the number of their enemies in his own person. And certainly it is scarcely credible that he could be long tolerated in the tyrant’s court, and amongst the most cruel enemies of Israel, unless he professed to be a partaker of their hatred. We know of what corrupting influences courts are full; it is well known, too, how great was the pride of the Egyptians, whilst experience teaches us how prone even the best natures are to yield to the temptations of pleasure, wherefore we must wonder the more that, when Moses was engulfed in these whirlpools, he still retained his uprightness and integrity. Certainly the hope of their redemption might seem here again to suffer an eclipse, the course of circumstances being all against it; but thus the providence of God, the more circuitously it appears to flow, shines forth all the more wonderfully in the end, since it never really wanders from its direct object, or fails of its effect, when its due time is come. Nevertheless God, as with an outstretched hand, drew back his servant to himself and to the body of his Church, by suggesting in his name the recollection of his origin; for the king’s daughter did not give him this name without the preventing Spirit of God, that Moses might know that he was drawn out of the river when he was about to perish. As often, then, as he heard his name, he must needs remember of what people he sprang; and the power of this stimulus must have been all the greater, because the fact was known to everybody. The daughter of the king, indeed, could have by no means intended this, and would have rather wished the memory of his origin to be lost; but God, who put words in the mouth of Balaam’s ass, influenced also the tongue of this woman to bear loud and public testimony to the very thing which she would have preferred to conceal; and although she desired to keep Moses with herself, became his directress and guide in returning to his own nation. But should any be surprised that she did not fear her father’s anger in thus publicly recording the violation of his command, it may readily be replied that there was no cause of offense given to the tyrant, who would have willingly allowed any number of slaves to be born to him, so that the name of Israel were abolished. For why did he spare the lives of the female infants, but in order that Egyptian slaves might be born of them? And, regarding Moses in this light, he did not conceive that the act of his daughter had violated his command, nay, he rather rejoiced that the Israelitish nation was thus diminished, and the Egyptian nation numerically increased. One question only remains, viz., how it occurred to the mind of Pharaoh’s daughter to give Moses an Hebrew name,  28 when it is certain from Ps 81:5, that there was a great difference between the two languages: “he went out through the land of Egypt, where I heard a language that I understood not?” And again, we know that Joseph made use of an interpreter with his brethren when he pretended to be an Egyptian. (Ge 42:23.) We may probably conjecture that she asked the mother of Moses the word which expressed this signification, or we may prefer supposing that he had an Egyptian name, which was interpreted by his Hebrew one, and this I am most inclined to think was the case. When Moses subsequently fled, he again took the name his mother gave him.

Exodus 2:11-15

11. And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren.

11. Factum autem est diebus illis, quum adolevisset Moses, ut egrederetur ad fratres suos, et vidit onera ipsorum, viditque virum Aegyptium percutientem quendam Hebraeum ex fratribus suis.

12. And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand.

12. Tunc respexit hue et illuc, et videns quod nemo adesset, percussit Aegyptium, atque abscondit in arena.

13. And when he went out the second day, behold, two men of the Hebrews strove together: and he said to him that did the wrong, Wherefore smitest thou thy follow?

13. Et quum egressus esset postridie, ecce, duo viri Hebraei rixabantur: tunc dixit malefico, Quare percutis propinquum tuum?

14. And he said, Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? Intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian? and Moses feared, and said, Surely this thing is known.

14. Qui respondit, Quis te constituit principem, et judicem super nos? an ut me occidas tu loqueris, sicut occidisti Aegyptium? Itaque timuit Moses, ac dixit, Certe innotuit haec res.

15. Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian: and he sat down by a well.

15. Pharao etiam audito hoc sermone, quaerebat interficere Mosen. Et fugiens Moses a facie Pharaonis mansit in Madian, seditque juxta puteum.

11. And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown. Now did that faith which the Apostle celebrates begin to shew itself, when Moses, despising the pleasures and riches of the Court, chose rather to suffer the reproach of Christ, than to be accounted happy apart from companionship with the chosen people. Nor was it only love for his nation, but faith in the promises, which induced him to undertake this charge, by which he knew that he should incur the hatred of all the Egyptians. For although he did not immediately resign his wealth, and honorable station, and influence, and power, this was, as it were, the preparation for divesting himself of all these deceitful allurements. Whence the Apostle says,

“he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.”
(Heb 11:24.)

There is certainly no doubt but that he avowed his desire to return to his true and natural kindred, from whom he had been separated: for we gather from the context, that he did not come to see his brethren only to pity their estate, but to bring them some consolation, and even to share their lot. Nor was the Court so near that he could daily visit them in his ordinary walk. And it is said that “he went out the second day.” Therefore, he privately withdrew himself from the Court, or, having asked permission, preferred to expose himself to enmity, rather than not discover his affectionate regard to his people. But he relates that he looked on their burdens, or troubles, so that their unjust oppression must have naturally aroused him to give them help. He adds, too, another motive, that he “saw an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew.” It is probable that they were harshly treated by their taskmasters if they were slow in their work, and since they were given over to the will of wicked men, that every one might exercise the same cruelty upon them with impunity.

12. And he looked this way and that way. Hence it more evidently appears that Moses came with the design of succouring his unhappy brethren, and of relieving and aiding them with his help, since, by killing the Egyptian, he avenged the injury done indeed to an individual, but having a bearing on the whole nation. But although he was inspired by the Holy Spirit with special courage for the performance of this act, still it was accompanied with an infirmity, which shews that he did not undertake without hesitation what he yet, knew to be his vocation. For Stephen (Ac 7:25) bears witness that Moses was not impelled by a rash zeal to stay the Egyptian, but because he knew that he was divinely appointed to be the avenger and deliverer of his nation. Still he looked about to see whether any one saw him, and dared not punish the wrong-doer, except by a secret blow. Thus we perceive that he was not altogether so bold as he should have been, and that he had to strive against his timidity. Again, we gather from his hesitation that his faith was weak, so that we must not suppose that it was thus praised by the Apostle because it was absolutely perfect. In the first place, then, let us conclude that Moses did not rashly have recourse to the sword, but that he was armed by God’s command, and, conscious of his legitimate vocation, rightly and judiciously assumed that character which God assigned to him. Thence it follows, that private persons would act improperly, and would be by no means countenanced by his example, if they sought to repress wrong by force and arms. Thus far we should imitate Moses in rendering aid to the suffering and oppressed, as far as our means go, and in caring not to incur the ill-will of the wicked, when we oppose ourselves to their oppressions; but we must leave it to the judges, who are invested with public authority, to draw the sword of vengeance. If these do not afford their aid to the innocent when they are unjustly treated, all we can do is to murmur; as not even Moses would have been allowed to proceed further, unless he had been the appointed avenger and deliverer of the people. As to the fear, by which he betrayed his pusillanimity and his present unpreparedness for fulfilling his office, let us learn that the obedience of the saints, which is stained by sin, is still sometimes acceptable with God through mercy; and therefore, although the weakness of the flesh is a draw-back to us in the performance of our duty, still let us cease not to struggle against it; for our assurance of this ought to have no small effect in animating us, when we are persuaded that there is pardon ready for our hesitation, if we do not yield to it.

13. Behold, two men of the Hebrews. This perseverance shews that Moses was firm and determined in his design of returning to his brethren, and abandoning the Court; and that he had advisedly renounced its splendor, its wealth, and comforts, although he was by no means ignorant of the miseries to which he exposed himself, and how painful and disagreeable, nay, how ignominious a condition awaited him. Wherefore we need not wonder if the Apostle says, that he chose

“rather to endure the reproach of Christ,” “and to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” (Heb. 11:25, 26.)

Besides, the sad sight of the tyrant’s violence and of the burdens by which his brethren were oppressed, was anything but an obstacle to his proceeding, because, being prepared by the hope of future recompense to bear the cross, he was superior to present fear. But he does not assume, as before, the character of a judge; but performs a duty, which the law of charity demands of every one, addressing the men who strove together as a peace-maker, and exhorting them both to be reconciled, though he especially blames the wrongdoer. This was not peculiar to Moses, but the common duty of all believers, when the innocent are harshly treated, to take their part, and as far as possible to interpose, lest the stronger should prevail. It can scarcely be done without exasperating those who are disposed to evil; but nothing ought to allow us to be silent, while justice is violated by their forwardness. For in this ease, silence is a kind of consent. Yet Moses reproves moderately, and in kind terms, the man who had assaulted his brother; because he does not so much wish to reproach him with the greatness of his fault, as to find the means of calming his ferocity.

14. Who made thee a prince? No wonder if the headstrong and wicked man repels angrily this mild admonition; for thus are those, who are disposed to injustice, accustomed to rage as soon as they are reproved, and to drive away good advisers with contumely. And certainly it is an uncommon virtue to acknowledge our faults, and patiently to submit to correction. For in proportion to a man’s evil disposition, and to the greatness of his offense, is his rage under admonition, and his violence in altercation; wherefore, whoever undertakes to restrain the wicked must expect to meet with these indignities. Still, we may understand from the petulance of this individual how perverse were the minds of the whole nation. On this account Stephen says that Moses was refused by his own nation, and accuses them all of ingratitude. (Ac 7:35.) But, without being too hard on this people, we learn from this example how rude is the nature of those whom God has not tamed; for their perverseness as firmly repels correction, as an anvil repels the blow of a hammer. When, therefore, they are so stubborn that though ten times reproved they are still hardened, no wonder if God deals with them more roughly, as he declares he will do by the mouth of David. (Ps 18:27.) Lest we should experience this, let us submit to his rod in time; and since this is not given to all, let us entreat him to make us truly teachable. For what shall we gain by kicking against the pricks? Moreover, a kind of brutal fierceness accompanies this perverseness, as is again seen in this instance. The vile and abject slave asks Moses, Who made him a judge over the Hebrews? as if he, and all his race, were not exposed to universal contumely. If the lowest of the Egyptian rabble had struck him a blow, he would not have dared to murmur; yet he rages as imperiously against this mild admonition, as if he were free from all subjection. What follows is even worse, “Intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian?” He ought to have received Moses as if he had been an angel of God, on account of such a proof of his zeal and piety; but, turning the benefit into an accusation, he not only hatefully taunts him with what it would have been just to praise, but even threatens him. Meantime, we cannot doubt but that the holy man must have been racked by a sore temptation, when he finds such barbarity in his nation. He knew, indeed, that the Egyptians would have been his professed enemies, if the matter had got abroad; but he never could have expected such an unworthy return from his brethren, whose misery he desired to relieve; and therefore it was a proof of incredible strength of purpose to surmount such an obstacle.

15. Now when Pharaoh heard. Moses acknowledges his fear, though it was not sufficient to withdraw him from the work to which he was called. We said before, that his zeal was mingled with infirmity, but yet prevailed; so that he performed the duty entrusted to him manfully, yet at the same time timidly. But this is another proof of his firmness, that he is not ashamed of what he had done, so as to endeavor to appease the king, but he betakes himself to exile; nor is he so alarmed in this critical time as to sink down in helplessness or despair, but he departs into the land of Midian, and prefers wandering in the Desert, to a reconciliation with the enemies of the chosen people. But although God appears by this circuitous course to decline from his purpose of delivering them, yet he marvelously carries on His work. We have already sufficiently perceived that Moses was certainly not yet ripe for the arduous contests which awaited him; that, having been brought up delicately and luxuriously in the Court, he was not yet accustomed to the great and continual anxieties of which the sequel of the history will shew him the conqueror. Therefore God in a manner withdrew him, that he might gradually render him fit and equal to undertake so difficult a task. For the experience of forty years in such a laborious and ascetic mode of life, did not a little avail to prepare him for enduring any hardships; so that the Desert may well be called the school in which he was taught, until he was invited to his more difficult charge. As to his “sitting down by a well,” I interpret it, that he sat down there to rest from his fatigue about sunset, that he might ask for hospitality from the people, who he hoped would come at eventide to draw water. From this unprosperous beginning he might conjecture what an uncomfortable reception he had to expect.

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, cohen  29 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 Bethuel  30 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, Nu 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 Reuel  31 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,  32 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. (Heb 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.

Exodus 2:23-25

23. And it came to pass in process of time, that the king of Egypt died: and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried; and their cry came up unto God, by reason of the bondage.

23. Accidit autem diebus illis multis, mortuus est rex Aegypti: et suspiraverunt filii Israel propter opus, et vociferati sunt: ascenditque clamor eorum, ad Deum propter opus.  33

24. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.

24. Et audivit Deus clamorem eorum, recordatusque est Deus pacti sui cum Abraham, Isaac, et Jacob.

25. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto them

25. Viditque Deus filios Israel, et cognovit Deus.

23. And it came to pass in process of time.  34 He uses the demonstrative pronoun to mark the forty years in which God kept his servant in suspense, as if he had forsaken him. By adding “many,” he expresses the approaching end of the interval. When, therefore, he had reached his eightieth year, and had married and grown old in the land of Midian, the intolerable cruelty of their tyrannical masters extorted new sighings and cries from the children of Israel; not that they began then first to grieve and lament, but because they became more alive to their woes, and their duration made them to be felt more acutely. We know that the hope of a happier issue is soothing to our woes; and the hope that some one more kind would succeed the dead tyrant, in some measure softened the misery of the afflicted people. But when the change of kings in no wise lightened their oppression, their sorrow was increased, and forced them to cry out more loudly than before. Thus, then, I understand the words of Moses, that when the tyrant was dead, the children of Israel were not treated more humanely, and therefore cried out more vehemently. Although it is not likely, I think, that the Pharaoh who had at first afflicted them with burdens and taxes, and had commanded their children to be killed, lived till this time; because in that case he would have reigned more than eighty years, which is not usual. Before the birth of Moses, the Israelites had already been sorely oppressed for many years. Nor had (the king) proceeded at once to so great an atrocity as to command all the males to be killed; but when he found that his cruel edicts availed nothing, he advanced to this extremity. From the birth of Moses until the time here spoken of, about eighty years had passed; and hence we may suppose that, before their deliverance drew near, there had been one or more successive kings. When these various changes of circumstances left the condition of the people unchanged, or even made it worse, extreme necessity drew forth this unwonted lamentation, and despair itself drove them to pray, not that there had been an entire neglect of supplication to God before, but because they looked also in other directions, until all earthly means being entirely cut off, they were forcibly drawn to seek in earnest for help from above. From this example we learn that, although the pressure of our tribulations weighs us down with sorrow and pain, yet that our prayers are not straightway directed to God, and that much is required to stimulate our sluggish hearts. Moses also infers that it was no wonder if God’s assistance was not earlier afforded, since the children of Israel were stupified in their misery. Let this example, then, teach us to flee to God at once, in order that he may make haste to bestow his grace.

And their cry came up. Moses magnifies the mercy of God by this circumstance, that he took not vengeance on their slowness, as it deserved, but graciously inclined to their tardy cries. In fact, we may observe in this history what is described in Ps 106, that the most stubborn and hard-hearted in their extremity turn their prayers at length to God, rather from the exceeding greatness of their trouble than from the well-regulated exercise of faith. He says, “by reason of the bondage;” because it is the attribute of God to succor the oppressed, to deliver the captives, and to raise up them that are brought low; and this office he constantly performs. As to what is added, that “God remembered his covenant,” it is the explanation of the cause why he heard their groaning, viz., that he might ratify his gratuitous promise made to Abraham and his descendants. He expressly mentions the three patriarchs, because God lodged his covenant with them, that it might continue firm for perpetual generations. And, indeed, since God is inclined towards us to help us of his own free mercy, so he offers himself, and invites us voluntarily; and therefore confidence in prayer must only be sought for in his promises. Thus the copula here should be resolved into the illative particle, that “God heard their groaning, because he remembered his covenant.” How far remembrance is possible with God, we must learn from its contrary. God is said to forget when he does not really and openly appear, and stretch forth his hand to help; therefore, when we say he “remembers,” we mark our apprehension of his aid; and both expressions have relation to effect. In the same way he is said “to behold,” and its opposite, “to turn his back,” because we then perceive that he beholds us when he actually succours us.



“De laquelle il sera ci apres parle plus a plein;” who will presently be more fully spoken of. — Fr.


“De ce qui apparoist en l’air comme poussiere, quand le soleil luist, sans que Dieu s’en soit mesle;” of that which appears in the air, like dust, when the sun shines, without the interposition of God. — Fr.


Calvin seems altogether to ignore the opinion of Philo, Clemens Alex., etc., that Moses was an Egyptian name, from Mo, or Moys, water, and Is, or Ises, or Hyse, preserved.


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.


See note on ver. 18. In the French version he is always called Raguel.


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 Nu 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 Exod. 3:1, 18; Hobab in Jud 4:11; and Reuel (probably) in Nu 10:29; whilst Zipporah uses the same word, rendered husband in Ex 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 Nu 10:29, and Jud 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


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


Vel, a servitute.


The Commentary here refers to Calvin’s Latin Translation.

Next: Exodus 3