Exodus 6 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Exodus 6
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Then the LORD said unto Moses, Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh: for with a strong hand shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land.


(1) Now shalt thou see.—Moses’ complaint was that God delayed, and “was slack as concerning His promise.” Hitherto He had not “delivered His people at all.” The answer,”Now shalt thou see,” is an assurance that there will be no more delay; the work is just about to begin, and Moses will behold it. He will then cease to doubt.

With a strong hand shall he let them go.—Rather, through a strong hand: i.e., through the compulsion which my strong hand will exert on him,

Drive them.—Comp. Exodus 12:31-33.

And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the LORD:
And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them.
(3) I appeared . . . by the name of God Almighty.—This name, “El Shaddai,” is first found in the revelation made of Himself by God to Abraham (Genesis 17:1). It is used by Isaac (Genesis 28:3), and repeated in the revelation made to Jacob (Genesis 35:11 ). Its primary idea is, no doubt, that of “overpowering strength.” (See the comment on Genesis 17:1.) The primary idea of “Jehovah” is, on the contrary, that of absolute, eternal, unconditional, independent existence. Both names were probably of a great antiquity, and widely spread among Semitic races; but, at different times and in different places, special stress was laid on the one or on the other. To the early patriarchs God revealed Himself as “El Shaddai,” because He desired to impress upon them His ability to fulfil the promises which He had made to them; to Moses and Israel generally, at the date of the Exodus, He insisted on His name Jehovah, because they were in the closest contact with polytheism, and had themselves, in many cases, fallen into polytheism (Joshua 24:14), against which this Name was a standing protest, since “the Existent” must mean “the Self Existent,” and so “the Only Existent.” (See Deuteronomy 4:39 : “Jehovah, he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else”)

By my name Jehovah was I not known to them.—Rather, was I not made manifest to them. The antiquity of the name itself appears—(1) from its derivation, which is from the obsolete havah, a form already in the time of Moses superseded by hayah; (2) from its occurrence in some of the most ancient documents inserted by Moses into the Book of Genesis, e.g., Exodus 2:4; Exodus 2:3-4; Exodus 11:1-9, &c.; (3) from its employment by Abraham as an element in a name (Genesis 22:14). But though the name was ancient, and known to the patriarchs, its full meaning was not known to them, and so God was not manifested to them by it.

And I have also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, wherein they were strangers.
(4) My covenant.—See Genesis 15:18-21; Genesis 17:7-8; Genesis 26:3-4; Genesis 35:12. &c.

The land of Canaan.—Canaan proper was the tract between Sidon and Gaza (Genesis 10:19), which is now counted as “Palestine “; but the region promised to Abraham, and included in a larger sense of the word “Canaan,” was very much more extensive, reaching as it did from the Nile to the Euphrates (Genesis 15:18). This vast territory was actually possessed by Israel under David and Solomon (1 Kings 4:21-24).

The land of their pilgrimage, wherein they were strangers.—Heb., The land of their sojournings, wherein they sojourned. (Comp. Genesis 17:8; Genesis 23:4; Genesis 28:4.) Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were occupants of Canaan merely by sufferance: they were allowed to dwell in it because it was not half peopled; but the ownership was recognised as belonging to the Canaanite nations, Hittites and others (Genesis 20:15; Genesis 23:3-20, &c).

And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage; and I have remembered my covenant.
Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments:
(6) I will redeem you.—The idea of God purchasing, or redeeming, Israel is here brought forward for the first time. Later on we learn that the redemption was accomplished in a twofold way—(1) by the long series of wonders, culminating in the tenth plague, whereby they were taken out of Pharaoh’s hand, and ceased to be his slaves, becoming instead the servants of God; and (2) by being led through the Red Sea, and thus delivered, one and all, from impending death, and so purchased anew. (See Exodus 15:13-16.) The delivery from Pharaoh typified our deliverance from the power of Satan; the bringing forth from Egypt our deliverance from the power of sin.

With a stretched out arm.—See the comment on Exodus 3:20.

Witn great judgments. – That the “wonders” to be performed would also be “judgments” is here first declared plainly, though previously hinted at (Exodus 3:20; Exodus 4:23). In Genesis God had said that he would “judge” the nation which should afflict Israel (Genesis 15:14), but not that he would do so miraculously.

And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
(7) I will take you to me for a people.—Comp. Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 7:6. The selection of Israel as a “peculiar people” did not involve the abandonment of all other nations, as we see by the instances of Balaam, Ruth, Job, Nebuchadnezzar, Darius the Mede, Cyrus, and others. God always continued to “govern all the nations upon the earth” (Psalm 67:4); and “in every nation those that feared him and worked righteousness” were accepted with him (Acts 10:35). The centurion of the Gospels (Matthew 8:5-13, Luke 7:2-10) and Cornelius in the Acts (Acts 10:1-33) carry the same principle into Gospel times.

I will be to you a God.—See Genesis 17:8.

And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage: I am the LORD.
(8) I will give it you for an heritage: I am the Lord.—Heb., I will give it to you for an heritage, I Jehovah. The whole is one sentence, and implies that, as being Immutable and Eternal, He would assuredly give it them.

And Moses spake so unto the children of Israel: but they hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage.
(9) They hearkened not.—The second message was received in quite a different spirit from the first. Then “the people believed, and bowed their knees and worshipped” (Exodus 4:31). Now they could not even be induced to listen. But there is nothing strange in this. The reason is obvious. The first announcement of coming deliverance elated them with a hope to which they had been long strangers. Their spirits sprang to the message, and readily accepted it. But now they had been chilled by disappointment. The only result of their leader’s interference hitherto had been to increase their misery (Exodus 4:7-23). They had therefore lost heart, and could trust him no longer.

Anguish of spirit.—Heb., shortness of breath. (Comp. Job 21:4.) The expression points to extreme lassitude and depression.

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Go in, speak unto Pharaoh king of Egypt, that he let the children of Israel go out of his land.

(11) Speak unto Pharaoh.—The second message was an advance upon the first. The first asked only for permission to enter the wilderness, much of which was within the limits of Egypt; the second was a demand that the Israelites should be allowed “to go out of the land.” Such is the way of Providence generally. If we refuse a light cross, a heavier cross is laid on us. If we will not close with the Sybil on the first occasion, she offers us a worse bargain on the second.

And Moses spake before the LORD, saying, Behold, the children of Israel have not hearkened unto me; how then shall Pharaoh hear me, who am of uncircumcised lips?
(12) How then shall Pharaoh hear me?—This time the objection comes from Moses. His double rejection, by Pharaoh (Exodus 5:1-4) and by Israel (Exodus 6:9), had thrown him back into utter despondency. All that diffidence and distrust of himself which he had shown in his earlier communications with Jehovah (Exodus 3:11; Exodus 4:1; Exodus 4:10; Exodus 4:13) revived, and he despaired of success in his mission. Was it of any use his making a second appeal to the foreign monarch when he had failed with his own countrymen?

Uncircumcised lips.—Rosenmüller argues from this expression that Moses was “tongue-tied;” but it is not clear that more is meant here than in Exodus 4:10, where Moses says that Hebrews 13 “slow of speech and of a slow tongue.” He had some difficulty of utterance; but whether or not it was a physical impediment remains uncertain. “Uncircumcised” is used, according to the Hebrew idiom, for any imperfection which interferes with efficiency. An “uncircumcised ear,” is explained in Jeremiah 6 to be an ear that “cannot hearken;” and an “uncircumcised heart: (Lev. xxvi 41) is a heart that fails to understand.

And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, and gave them a charge unto the children of Israel, and unto Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt.
(13) The Lord . . . gave them a charge.—The reluctance and opposition of Moses led to an express “charge” being laid upon himself and Aaron, the details of which are given in Exodus 7:1-9. Exodus 6:1 of Exodus 7 probably followed originally on Exodus 6:12 of this chapter. When the genealogy was inserted at this point, the present verse, which summarises Exodus 7:1-9, was added, as also Exodus 6:28-30 at the end of the chapter.

These be the heads of their fathers' houses: The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel; Hanoch, and Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi: these be the families of Reuben.

(14) These be the heads of their fathers’ houses.—Genealogies have always had a special interest for the Semitic races. They occupy quite as prominent a position in Arabian as in Jewish history. The descent of a man who aspired to be a leader would be a subject of curiosity, with a Semitic people, to all those who submitted themselves to his guidance; and Moses naturally inserts his at the point where, fully accepting the post of leader, he came forward and commenced his struggle with Pharaoh for the emancipation of his nation. A “father’s house” is a family. (See Numbers 1:2; Numbers 1:18.)

(14, 15) Reuben . . . Simeon.—It fixes the position of the family of Levi in the house of Jacob to commence the genealogy with a mention of the two elder brothers. As, however, the writer is really concerned only with the Levites, the families of Reuben and Simeon are dismissed with the briefest possible notice. Nothing new is rocorded of them. (See Genesis 46:9-10.)

And the sons of Simeon; Jemuel, and Jamin, and Ohad, and Jachin, and Zohar, and Shaul the son of a Canaanitish woman: these are the families of Simeon.
And these are the names of the sons of Levi according to their generations; Gershon, and Kohath, and Merari: and the years of the life of Levi were an hundred thirty and seven years.
(16) Gershon, Kohath, and Merari were all born before Levi went into Egypt (Genesis 46:8; Genesis 46:11; Genesis 46:27), which was when he was about forty or fifty years of age. It is not unlikely that they were at that time all grown up. If Levi lived to be “an hundred thirty and seven years” old, he would probably before he died have seen his descendants of the fifth generation. Attempts have been made to show that the present genealogy is complete, and that Moses was Levi’s great-grandson. But in Joshua’s case there were ten generations (at least) between him and Jacob (1 Chronicles 7:23-27); so that three generations only between Jacob and Moses are scarcely possible. The Israelites were in the habit of constructing their genealogies by omitting some of the links, as we see plainly in the genealogy of Ezra (Ezra 7:1-5) and in St. Matthew’s genealogy of our Lord (Matthew 1:8). In this present genealogy four or five (perhaps more) names are probably omitted between Amram, the son of Kohath. and Amram, the father of Moses, as will appear if we model the genealogy of Moses upon that of Joshua.

(17) The sons of Gershon.—From this point the genealogy is no longer a recapitulation, but an original historical document of first-rate importance, which is confirmed by Numbers (Numbers 3:18-33) and Chronicles (1 Chronicles 6:17-19). It is remarkable that Gershon had but two sons, Kohath but four, and Merari but two. Yet the Levites in the year after the Exodus numbered 22,300 males (Numbers 3:22; Numbers 3:28; Numbers 3:34). This increase could only have taken place, at the rate indicated, in the course of some ten or eleven generations.

The sons of Gershon; Libni, and Shimi, according to their families.
And the sons of Kohath; Amram, and Izhar, and Hebron, and Uzziel: and the years of the life of Kohath were an hundred thirty and three years.
And the sons of Merari; Mahali and Mushi: these are the families of Levi according to their generations.
And Amram took him Jochebed his father's sister to wife; and she bare him Aaron and Moses: and the years of the life of Amram were an hundred and thirty and seven years.
(20) Amram took him Jocheoed his father’s sister to wife.—Marriages with aunts and nieces were not unlawful before the giving of the Law. They were common throughout the East, and at Sparta (Herod. vi. 71, 7:239).

The years of the life of Amram.—The long lives of Levi, Kohath, and Amram, the father of Moses, are not recorded for any chronological purpose, but to show that the blessing of God rested in an especial way on the house of Levi, even before it became the priestly tribe. Life in Egypt at the time not unfrequently reached 120 years; but the 137 of Levi, the 133 of Kohath, and the 137 of Amram, the father of Moses, would, even in Egypt, have been abnormal.

And the sons of Izhar; Korah, and Nepheg, and Zichri.
And the sons of Uzziel; Mishael, and Elzaphan, and Zithri.
And Aaron took him Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab, sister of Naashon, to wife; and she bare him Nadab, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar.
(23) Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab, sister of Naashon.—Amminadab and Naashon were among the ancestors of David (Ruth 4:19-20; 1 Chronicles 2:10-15), and their names are consequently found in the genealogies of our Lord (Matthew 1:4; Luke 3:32-33). Naashon was “prince of Judah” at the time of the Exodus (Numbers 1:7; Numbers 1:16).

And the sons of Korah; Assir, and Elkanah, and Abiasaph: these are the families of the Korhites.
(24) The sons of Korah did not partake in his sin, and therefore “died not” (Numbers 26:11), but became the heads of important families.

And Eleazar Aaron's son took him one of the daughters of Putiel to wife; and she bare him Phinehas: these are the heads of the fathers of the Levites according to their families.
(25) According to their families.—The genealogy proper here ends. But the author appends to it an emphatic statement that the Moses and Aaron mentioned in it (Exodus 6:20; Exodus 6:23) are the very Moses and Aaron appointed by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt—the very Moses and Aaron who delivered God’s message to Pharaoh (Exodus 6:26-27).

These are that Aaron and Moses, to whom the LORD said, Bring out the children of Israel from the land of Egypt according to their armies.
(26) Their armies.—This expression is here used of the Israelites for the first time. It seems to refer to that organisation, of a quasi-military character, which was given to the people by the order of Moses during the long struggle with Pharaoh, and which enabled them at last to quit Egypt, not a disorderly mob, but “harnessed,” or “in military array” (Exodus 13:18). The expression is repeated in Exodus 7:4; Exodus 12:17; Exodus 12:51.

These are they which spake to Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring out the children of Israel from Egypt: these are that Moses and Aaron.
And it came to pass on the day when the LORD spake unto Moses in the land of Egypt,
÷Exo 6:


(28-30) These verses are most closely connected with Exodus 7. They are a recapitulation of main points in Exodus 6, rendered necessary by the long parenthesis (Exodus 6:14-27), and serve to unite Exodus 7 with the previous narrative. They contain no new information.

That the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, I am the LORD: speak thou unto Pharaoh king of Egypt all that I say unto thee.
And Moses said before the LORD, Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips, and how shall Pharaoh hearken unto me?
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