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Exodus 12:36

Comparing some different translations of this passage, half them read like "God made all the Egyptians like/be magically charmed by/look favorably upon the Israelites so much, that they gave them everything, like a D&D charm spell."

But others (eg KJV) seem to say something more like "God's very clear and apparent favoring of the Israelites during the recent plagues, where all Egypt could see, made the Egyptians fear/respect the Israelites so much, they gave them everything needed to get rid of them and avoid more punishments."

This KJV interpretation just makes more logical sense to me, in the context of Exodus, but those in the other camp are more modern, and seem very clear in their phrasing.

"God's visible favor cowed the Egyptians" interpretation:

  • KJV: And the LORD gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them such things as they required. And they spoiled the Egyptians.
  • NASB: and the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Therefore they plundered the Egyptians.
  • ESV: And the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.

"God made the Egyptians adore the Israelites" interpretation:

  • NIV: The LORD had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians.
  • CSB: And the Lord gave the people such favor with the Egyptians that they gave them what they requested. In this way they plundered the Egyptians.
  • NLT: The Lord caused the Egyptians to look favorably on the Israelites, and they gave the Israelites whatever they asked for. So they stripped the Egyptians of their wealth!

I don't know enough to tell whether the Hebrew means one or the other, but a look at https://biblehub.com/text/exodus/12-36.htm suggests that it depends on the interpretation of "בְּעֵינֵ֥י" - "in the sight".

I guess it could be ambiguous, but without knowing the language, I can't guess which was intended.

So my question: which of these interpretations is the more widely accepted? (bonus points for any pointers to where I could find out more)

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    You may need to hit refresh on my answer to get the updates.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Mar 31 at 0:03

2 Answers 2

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Look at how God controlled the Egyptians with the circumstances. For example, each time Pharaoh was about to let Israel go, God removed the plague allowing Pharaoh to change his mind, except for the last plague when the first born of the Egyptians died. Even then Pharaoh later tried to stop the Israelites from leaving. See Exodus 9:12, How is it accepted that the LORD hardens the heart of Pharaoh, then Punishes him for that?.

Look at Exodus 12:33:

The Egyptians urged the people on, impatient to have them leave the country, for they said, “We shall all be dead.” (JPS1985)

The Egyptians were scared to death. Even Pharaoh told them to go in the previous verses. The JPS1985 translation for v36-37:

The Israelites had done Moses’ bidding and borrowed from the Egyptians objects of silver and gold, and clothing. And the LORD had disposed the Egyptians favorably toward the people, and they let them have their request; thus they stripped the Egyptians.

The Egyptians acted out of fear. They had enough and wanted the Israelites gone. They weren't leaving fast enough.

A literal interpretation of 12:36 is

וַֽיהוָ֞ה נָתַ֨ן אֶת־חֵ֥ן הָעָ֛ם בְּעֵינֵ֥י מִצְרַ֖יִם (MT BHS2003)

And the LORD gave favor to the people in the eyes of the Egyptians.

Note: בְּעֵינֵ֥י is clearly construct with מִצְרַ֖יִם. So, it is clearly "in the eyes of the Egyptians."

God got the Egyptians to favor the Israelites, not because they liked them, but because they feared what else the Israelites might do. It's like respecting superiors not because you liked them, but out of fear of what they could do. If a robber has a gun pointed at you, then the gun gives the robber favor in your eyes.

Figure 1. Senses of חֵ֥ן in the MT (generated with Logos Bible Software). enter image description here

Note: חֵ֥ן meaning charm is in the sense of charming, appeal rather than the magical sense.

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  • +1! Love the figure. Very informative overall.
    – Jason_
    Commented Mar 31 at 2:43
  • You write "God got the Egyptians to favor the Israelites" - does this mean your interpretation of the passage is that the term "favor" refers to the Egyptians favoring the Israelites, rather than God favoring the Israelites? Commented Mar 31 at 20:51
  • @ Dewi Here the language is the Egyptians favoring the Israelites. Of course, that implies that God favored the Israelites by doing this.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Mar 31 at 22:17
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"In the sight of" or "in the eyes of" - This rendering suggests that the Egyptians looked favorably upon the Israelites because they witnessed all the signs and wonders performed by God during the plagues. God's demonstration of power and His favor towards the Israelites influenced the Egyptians to show kindness and generosity towards them.

"Favorably disposed towards". - This rendering implies that God directly influenced the hearts and attitudes of the Egyptians, causing them to feel favorably inclined towards the Israelites. Then, it is not just the visible signs that influenced the Egyptians, but rather a supernatural intervention by God to change their attitudes.


Let's look at what some of the commentators have to say:

Matthew Henry's Commentary might imply the first:

  • In this terror the Egyptians would purchase the favour and the speedy departure of Israel. Thus the Lord took care that their hard-earned wages should be paid, and the people provided for their journey.

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary would likely imply the first as well:

  • the Lord gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians—Such a dread of them was inspired into the universal minds of the Egyptians, that whatever they asked was readily given.

Matthew Poole's Commentary would also imply the second:

  • The Lord gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, i.e. inclined their hearts to do it willingly, and not only out of fear.

Gill's Exposition may lean towards the second though could certainly be out of fear. It says:

  • And the Lord gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians,.... Their minds were disposed towards them, and their hearts were inclined to grant their request recodes something interesting:

Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges adds something interesting. The idea that God's judgments against the Egyptians compelled them. This leans towards the first:

  • Dillm. writes: ‘In reality the fundamental idea of the narrative is this: God, in His contest for the oppressed and against the oppressor, brings it about by His judgements that the enemy is obliged not only to allow the people to hold their festival in the wilderness, but also at their request to provide them willingly with garments and ornaments to wear at it (cf. on Exodus 3:21 f.); and eventually even to give these things up to them, as lawful spoil, and also, probably, as a reward for long and hard service

Let me conclude. Overall, while these commentaries do not explicitly conclude that the Egyptians' actions were solely motivated by fear, they strongly suggest that fear played a significant role in their favorable treatment of the Israelites. Additionally, if we look at the broader context of Exodus, particularly the plagues and God's display of power, they supports this interpretation.

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  • Both your interpretations are of the Israelites expressing favor, so it seems that you are arguing for the meaning of "favor" in that passage to be "God made the Egyptians favor the Israelites" interpretation, rather than the "The Egyptians saw that God favored the Israelites" interpretation. That is, that the "favor" was a thing expressed by the Egyptians, not by God? Commented Mar 31 at 20:55

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