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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Exodus 1

Verse 1

Now these are the names of the children of Israel, which came into Egypt; every man and his household came with Jacob.

Now these are the names ... (see the note at Genesis 46:8-26.) This book is prefaced by an abridged recapitulation of the list of Jacob's family who immigrated with him into Egypt; and although this genealogy has already been considered, yet, as an elaborate attempt has been made, on the ground of its alleged inaccuracy, to demonstrate the unhistorical character of the Pentateuch, it may be expedient to examine it a little further.

The catalogue-in which a different order is followed from that in Genesis 46:1-34, the sons of Jacob's wives being first enumerated, then those of the handmaids in the order of their births-embraces the names of those only who were the recognized heads of houses at that period. But the words "which came into Egypt" must not be pressed too closely. They are to be taken in a wide and general sense, as including not only all who were living previous to the departure from Canaan, but some also who were not born until after the actual settlement in Goshen-as, in fact, extending throughout the whole duration of Jacob's life in Egypt; because the seventh years that the patriarch survived in Egypt must be regarded as a transition period-as forming a new epoch in the history of Israel, from which the commencement of their national existence is to be dated. "All the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls" - that is, all the sons and grandsons, excluding the sons' wives, made 66 (Genesis 46:26); and when to this there are added Jacob himself, Joseph, and his two sons, the amount is 70, as stated in this passage, in Genesis 46:27, and in Deuteronomy 10:22. Stephen (Acts 7:14) estimates the number at 75; but then he expressly takes into account 'all the kindred' of Jacob - i:e. not only the patriarch's own children, but also his son's wives, whom Moses had excluded from his enumeration.

In the remarks formerly made (Genesis 46:26-27), we adverted to the usual way of removing the apparent discrepancy between Moses and Stephen, by supposing that the later had regard to the insertion contained in the Septuagint version of this place of five names borrowed from the list in 1 Chronicles 7:1-40. But there is no neccesity for resorting either to the hypothesis that Stephen quoted from the Septuagint, or of adopting the ingenious conjecture of Beza, that he used not [pente] five, but [pantoos] seventy in all; because the statements in Genesis are sufficient to obviate all difficulties by what it says elsewhere of the wives. Rachel was dead (Genesis 35:19), so was Leah (Genesis 49:31); and no mention being made of Zilpah and Bilhah, the probability is that they were dead also. Judah had lost his wife (Genesis 38:12) and Simeon his, too, as may be inferred (Genesis 46:10; cf. Genesis 28:1).

It would appear, then, that among the eleven sons there were only nine wives, which came with Jacob into Egypt; so that if these nine be added to 66, the total is 75. Thus Stephen's expression, "all his (Jacob's) kindred," included the wives who were Joseph's kindred, not only by affinity, but by consanguinity, being probably of the families of Keturah, Ishmael and Esau. 'And thus,' says Dr. Hales ('Anal. of Chronol.' vol. 2:,

p. 1), 'does the New Testament furnish an admirable comment on the Old.' This list relates only to the direct descendants of Jacob, 'the children of his body begotten.' That there was, however, a vast number of others belonging to this pastoral tribe, who also removed along with him, is evident, from the distinction which Joseph made between his "brethren" and his "father's house" - i:e, servants (Genesis 46:31: cf. Genesis 30:43; Genesis 32:5; Genesis 32:7; Genesis 32:16; Genesis 36:7: see also the note at Genesis 34:25); and how numerous these were may be inferred from what Isaiah 32:5, Isaiah 32:7, Isaiah 32:16; Isaiah 36:7: see also the note at Genesis 34:25); and how numerous these were may be inferred from what is said of Abraham (Genesis 12:16; Genesis 14:14), and of Isaac (Genesis 26:13-16).

Verses 2-5

Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah,

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 6

And Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation.

Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation, [ Dowr (H1755), a circle; Septuagint, genea] - signifies not a generation, consisting of thirty years, but, as Rosenmuller explains it, 'the sum total of the lives of contemporary individuals;' or, as Knobel says, 'a century.' Joseph lived to see (Genesis 50:23) the fourth generation flourishing; and his death occurred about seventy years after the immigration into Egypt. Levi was probably the last survivor of that generation (Exodus 6:16).

Verse 7

And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them.

The children of Israel. The ethnic name of the descendants of Jacob was Hebrews. "The children of Israel," or "Israelites," was a religious designation; and Moses uses it here, as he is now commencing to relate the national history of that people who were separated from the general mass of corruption to be trained up in the knowledge and to the worship of God-the infant church.

Were fruitful ... A variety of expressions are employed to represent the rapidity of increase [ paaruw (H6509), brought forth young, were fruitful; ( wayishrªtsuw (H8317), bred abundantly, like fish or reptiles; wayirbuw (H7235), and multiplied. This word is frequently coupled with paaraah (H6509) (Genesis 1:22; Genesis 1:28; Genesis 8:17; Jeremiah 3:16; Ezekiel 36:11, etc.); waya`atsmuw (H6105) bim'od (H3966) mª'od (H3966), and became exceedingly mighty]. And the land was filled with them - i:e., Goshen particularly; but the subsequent history shows that they were dispersed in great numbers throughout the Delta, or Lower Egypt. They were living in a land where, according to the testimony of ancient authors, mothers produced three and sometimes four at a birth (Aristotle, 'Hist. Animal.,' 7:, 4,5; 'Columella de re rust,' 3:, 8; Pliny, 7:, 3) and a modern writer declares that 'the females in Egypt, as well among the human race as among animals, surpass all others in fruitfulness. To this natural circumstance must be added the fulfillment of the premise made to the patriarchs (Genesis 15:5; Genesis 22:17; Genesis 26:4; Genesis 28:14; Genesis 35:11; Genesis 46:3).

There was no miracle-no direct interference with the ordinary laws that regulate the production of the human race. The mean rate of increase was precisely the same as that which is occurring in thousands of instances within our own experience. But, contrary to the usual course of things, the same high average of growth in population continued to be the normal standard in Israel for a series of many generations, fostered by the combined influences of a salubrious climate, a fertile soil, and a friendly government. Thus, the promise was fulfilled, without miraculous interposition, by maintaining the established laws of Providence, with a special blessing to the posterity of the patriarchs (see further the note at Exodus 12:1-51; cf. Birks, 'The Exodus of Israel'). The period embraced by this verse was 'the first century of the occupation of Goshen by the Israelites, which would coincide with the last of the Hyk-Shos dynasty: the period of that frontier war which was carried on against them by the allied forces of Thebes and Ethtiopia, and which resulted in their expulsion' (Drew's 'Scripture Lands,' p. 43).

Verse 8

Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph.

Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, [ wayaaqaam (H6965)] - ascended the throne; appeared in totally different circumstances from those of a regular succession: for so the word is used 1 Kings 3:12; 2 Kings 23:23. [ melek (H4428) chaadaash (H2319), a new king. The Septuagint has: anestee de basileus heteros, 'Now there rose up another king' (cf. Acts 7:18)]. He might be only different in character; but there is the greatest probability that he was different in dynasty also (cf. Josephus, 'Antiquities,' b. 2:, ch. 9:, sec. 1). We have assumed (see the note at Genesis 41:1-57) that the reigning sovereigns of Lower Egypt, during the time of the patriarch's contact with Egypt, were of the Hyk-Shos, or shepherd race - i:e., of the 15th, 16th, and 17th dynasties, the limits of whose territorial dominions, though varying according to the fortunes of war, comprised the Memphitic nome and the whole of the Delta (Poole's 'Horae Egyptiacae'). Sometime after the death of Joseph a revolution took place, by which those military usurpers were expelled, after having held Egypt in subjection for a period of 259 years, and the old Theban kings regained their ascendancy, uniting Upper and Lower Egypt into one kingdom.

Which knew not Joseph. On the hypothesis that 'the new king' had formerly reigned in Thebes, it is probable that he would know nothing about the Hebrews-that he might ignore the important services of Joseph as being mainly instrumental in consolidating the power, as well as rendering popular the government, of the Hyk-Shos king; and that he would from the first regard the occupiers of Goshen with dislike and scorn, as foreigners and shepherds. The chronology of these events being still an unsettled point, we cannot with certainty determine the name of this king.

Sir G. Wilkinson, who assigns Joseph's elevation to the reign of Osirtasen, or Sesertesen I., of the 12th dynasty, considers Ames or Amosis the Diospolite, the head of the 18th dynasty, to be 'the new king who knew not Joseph.' But having assumed Joseph's patron to be one of the shepherd kings, we cannot accept this view of the originator of the oppression. Bunsen takes him to have been Thothmes, or Tuthmosis III., of the 18th dynasty. The Duke of Northumberland (Wilkinson's 'Ancient Egypt,' vol. 1:, p. 77) fixes upon Rameses

I., of the 19th dynasty. Lepsius, ('Chronology of Egypt'), Osburn ('Mon. Hist.'). and Chabas ('Melanges Egyptologiques,' 1862) contend for Rameses II (Sesostris).

Poole, who thinks that the peaceful sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt commenced during the shepherd rule, places this change of policy at a much earlier date, and, founding on Isaiah 52:4, thinks that this new king was not an Egyptian, but an Assyrian conqueror. He believes that this conclusion derives confirmation from the fact, that sovereigns bearing a name which seems clearly the translation of an Assyrian or Babylonian title are among those of the shepherds in the Turin Papyrus (Smith's 'Dict.,' Art. Pharaoh). The consideration of this point, though very interesting in connection with the antiquities of Egypt, does not materially tend to illustrate the condition of the Israelites; and therefore we shall only add, that, assuming this 'new king, who knew not Joseph,' to have been of another dynasty, it was easy for him to rescind the engagements by which his predecessors were bound to that people.

Verse 9

And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we:

Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we. Let the Hebrews have multiplied at ever so rapid a rate of increase, it cannot be supposed that, within so brief a period as a century, they would have been capable of matching, much less of overpowering, the whole military forces of Egypt; and therefore, since they are represented as 'more and mightier than the native population,' it must be borne in mind, that the kingdom within which their settlement lay was confined to the narrow limits of the Delta. Assuming the correctness of the third opinion mentioned above, namely, that Rameses II was the "new king," it may be stated briefly, that the kingdom of Lower Egypt had, in the course of time, become greatly reduced and weakened by internal disorders, arising from the establishment of various foreign races within its territories, who, differing in manners and customs, above all in religion, refused to amalgamate with the aborigines, and were exceeding them in population. Among these the chief were the Moabites and Israelites. The latter were not only spread, with their immense flocks, over the rich verdant plains, but vast multitudes of them were scattered through the great cities as artisans, or tradesmen, and by their energy, wealth, and extensive influence, wielded almost the whole powers of the country.

They were, however, aliens in the eyes of the native inhabitants, the more especially as they had frequently shown strong sympathies with their clansmen, the Ammonites and Moabites, in the border wars which these waged with Egypt, just as the Bedouins in Egypt have in all ages made common cause with the foreign invaders of that country. In these circumstances, the monarch of the distracted kingdom solicited the aid of his powerful neighbour, the sovereign of Upper Egypt, Rameses II (called in Lower Egypt, and by the Greek historians) Sesostris, who-in pursuance of the traditional policy of his ancestors, to unite all parts of the country under one government-immediately assumed the protectorate of the kingdom: city after city was placed under his care, with the exception of twelve cities which belonged to the Moabites. For many years he vainly tried to gain these into his possession. At last, by a secret treaty, artfully negociated with that people, to whom he doubtless gave an equivalent, and among other bribes flattered them by the adoption of their gods, those cities were also ceded to him, and a close alliance was formed between him and that people by the bond of a common idolatry. Further, the king of Lower Egypt dying, left an infant son, between whom and his own daughter, already grown, Rameses contracted a marriage; so that he acquired the supremacy over all Egypt; and thus the Hebrews, who in vast numbers were interspersed throughout all the cities, fell under the power of the ambitious despot. But Rameses, who was a man of deep political wisdom, was too astute and wary to create disaffection to his government by instituting rash and severe measures against so numerous a class of his new subjects; and while he deemed expulsion or extermination both equally inexpedient, he resolved on the secret and unsuspected policy of slowly reducing their numbers, or at least of crushing their spirits by forced labours on his public works (see Osburn's 'Monumental History,' 2:, pp. 502, 503, 521, 527-533).

Verse 10

Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land.

Let us deal wisely with them, [ nitªchakªmaah (H2449)] - let us show ourselves cunning, let us deceive, overreach them (cf. Psalms 105:25; Ecclesiastes 7:16). [Septuagint, Katasofisoometha (cf. Acts 7:19).]

Verse 11

Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses.

They did set over them taskmasters ..., [ saareey (H8269) miciym (H4522)] - masters of tribute service, service masters; or [taking mac (H4522) in the concrete, for a levy of men, as 1 Kings 5:13; 1 Kings 9:15 ], it may be masters of labourers. It has been the practice of Eastern despots from time immemorial, particularly in Egypt, to draft workmen in gangs of tens and hundreds to labour in public works, marshalled under the inspection of overseers armed with sticks to bastinado the lazy or disorderly; and this policy has been adopted chiefly with a view to prevent insurrection and turbulence. They proceeded to such measures very gradually. Having first obliged the Israelites, it is thought, to pay a ruinous rent, and involved them in difficulties, the new government of Ramses, in pursuance of its oppressive policy, degraded multitudes of the lower classes among the Hebrews to the condition of serfs-employing them exactly as the fellahs or labouring people are in the present day (driven in companies or bands), in digging canals, or rearing the public works, with taskmasters who anciently had sticks-now whips-to punish the indolent or spur on the too languid (cf. Psalms 129:1-3; Jeremiah 11:2; Jeremiah 22:21; Ezekiel 23:3; Hos. 11:17 ). All public or royal buildings in ancient Egypt were built by captives; and on some of these works was placed an inscription that no free citizen had been engaged in the servile employment, and they built-literally, they made them build for Pharaoh.

Treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses. The is first called, in the Septuagint, peithoo; by Herodotus (b. 2:, ch. 158), patoumos; and (dropping Pi, the Egyptian article) the Thoum (Thom) of the itinerary of Antoninus, whose site appears to be marked by the ruined town opposite Tel el Wadee, six miles east of the mouth of the canal, on the eastern bank of the Nile, about 12 Roman miles from Heliopolis (Wilkinson, in Rawlinson's 'Herodotus'). The second city, Raamses, differing only in a single diacritical point from the common form Rameses (Exodus 12:37; Numbers 23:3; Numbers 23:5), is called by the Septuagint Ramessee. It was probably the capital city of a district which from it obtained its name (Genesis 47:11).

Dr. Robinson ('Biblical Researches,' 1:, 79) supposes it to have been situated between the Bitter Lakes and the Valley of the Seven Wells, not far from Heroopolis, on the west of the Pelusiac branch of the Nile, in the Wady Tumilat, through which anciently ran the canal connecting the Nile with the Gulf of Suez.

Jablonsky says that the name Rameses is composed of two Coptic words, Rem (romi), man, and Shos, shepherd. The name Remshos would thus correspond to the Greek [boukolia], 'the land of herdsmen' - i:e., Goshen, with which "the land of Rameses," in our version (Genesis 47:11), as well as in the Septuagint is identified, and of which the city mentioned in this verse is supposed to be the capital. Most writers, however, prefer considering Raamses a new city founded by Rameses II, and which he called by his own name, conformably to the custom of giving the name of the reigning sovereign to cities, fortresses, temples, etc., built by his authority.

There are numerous instances of this belonging to the era of Rameses II, who, in consequence of his frequent wars with Asiatic tribes erected cities and forts along the border of the Delta on every side. 'The Papyrus Anastasi III contains a brilliant description of this city, as surpassing Thebes in its public buildings; and from the whole account, as given in this and another papyrus, Chabas, infers the existence of an important city founded by Rameses II, in the eastern part of the Delta, where the Bible places the city of Rameses' ('Bib. Sac.,' Oct., 1865, Art. Egyptology).

These two cities are generally considered to have occupied the sites, Pithom of Abassieh, and Raamses of Abu-Keischeid-so that these were frontier cities on the side of Arabia. Osburn ('Monumental History,' 2:, p. 413, and Egypt, her Testimony,' pp. 59-61, 106) identities Pithom with the modern Damietta, situated at the embouchure of the Phathmetic branch of the Nile, and Raamses, with the mound of ruins which still bears the name, 'situated on the western border of the Delta, about midway between the Canopic branch of the Nile and the ancient canal of Alexandria the remains of which are visible. The completion and fortification of these two cities were the first works to which Rameses (Sesostris) directed the forced labours of the enslaved Israelites. His object in doing so was strategetical. He was enabled by this means to entrench in fortified camps a strong military force on both the borders of the Delta, thereby commanding perfectly the whole district, Pithom being at the eastern end of the valley of Goshen, and Raamses at the western, so that a barrier was provided against future invasions.'

They are called "treasure cities" [ mickªnowt (H4543), by transposition, for miknªcowt (H4370), magazines, stores] - i:e., the cities were receptacles, such as were common in Egypt for the storing of agricultural produce, either for export or perhaps chiefly for supplying provisions for the coast guard, large military detachments being stationed along the border. Whence the Septuagint calls them [poleis ochuras], strong fortified cities (2 Chronicles 11:12); and Osborn says that Pithom means 'the lock,' or 'safeguard,' because it served as a defense to the frontier, and also as a place of refuge, to which the Egyptians resident on the eastward might betake themselves in case of an invasion from Canaan (cf. Jeremiah 35:10-11; 'Mon. Hist.,' 2:, p.

413). [The Septuagint has 'they built,' teen te Peithoo kai Ramessee kai Hoon, hee estin Heelioupolis, and On, which is Heliopolis.]

Verses 12-13

But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 14

And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in morter, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field: all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour.

They made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field. It has been adduced as a proof of the unhistorical character of the Pentateuch, that the author mentions brickmaking-a species of manufacture which, it is alleged, was common in Babylonia, but not in Egypt. This objection, however, is utterly groundless, as there is abundant evidence that bricks were in extensive use among the ancient Egyptians. Ruins of great brick buildings are found in all parts of the country. The use of crude brick baked in the sun, was universal in Upper and Lower Egypt both for public and private buildings-all but the temples themselves were of crude brick. The usual size of the bricks Isaiah 14:17, or 20 inches long, 8 3/4 to 6 1/2 inches wide, and 7 to 4 1/2 inches thick.

Mention is made of 'hard service in the field' - i:e., probably referring to the severe labour of irrigating the higher districts by working at the shadoof, cutting a number of channels for the water, and constructing ramparts to restrain the river, and prevent the moisture from stagnating upon its annual overflow.

Josephus says ('Antiquities,' b. 2:, ch. 9:, sec. 1) the Hebrews were set to build the pyramids; but this is not correct, at least in regard to the large pyramids, which are built of stone, not of brick (Wilkinson, in Rawlinson, 'Herodotus,' b. 2:, ch. 107). 'And in mortar' [ bªchomer (H2563)], clay, loam, probably potter's clay; because pottery (Psalms 71:6) seems to have formed part of their hard service. But the chief employment was brickmaking. A vivid representation of the labourers engaged in this department is depicted on the tomb of Roschere. 'In this picture some of the labourers are seen transporting the clay in vessels some intermingling it with straw; others are taking the bricks out of the form and placing them in rows; still others, with a piece of wood upon their backs and ropes on each side, carry away the bricks already burned or dried; while "taskmasters" are beside them, some standing, others in a sitting posture, with their uplifted sticks in their hands' (Rosellini, quoted by Hengstenberg, 'Egypt and Books of Moses,' p. 80). This picture was found at Thebes; and though it is now generally agreed not to be a portrait of a Hebrew party, it yet gives a lively idea of their employment in brickmaking. A similar picture has been found (Brugsch, 'Histoire d'Egypte,' tom. 1:,

p. 106) on the sepulchral monument of Abd-el-Qurna, at Thebes, representing groups of war captives engaged in various occupations connected with building-dragging stones, making bricks, carrying loads, etc.; each band of workmen being under the care of an overseer, armed with a stick; and at the head of the picture stands this explanatory notice: 'Captives employed by the king in building the temple of Ammon.'

With regard to the clay used in this process, the bricks made of the mud dug from the wadys in the interior, or on the border of the desert, which is loamy and consistent, hold together, and remain firm as a stone, without straw; but those formed of the alluvial soil deposited on the banks of the river, require straw to make them cohere. Professor Onger, the celebrated Viennese paleontologist, has recently published some remarks on the bricks of the ancient Egyptians, especially those of the pyramid of Dashour, which was built about 3,400 years before our era. In one of them, being examined through the microscope, he discovered that the Nile mud, out of which it was made, contained not only a quantity of animal and vegetable matter, but also in these bricks a vast number of plants which at that time grew in Egypt. The chopped straw, clearly discernible in the body of the bricks, confirms the description of the manner of making the latter, such as we find in 'Herodotus,' and in this book.

Chabas ('Melanges Egyptologiques') has translated some papyri, which mention a foreign race, under the hieroglyphic title of APERIU, who were employed upon such works; and two of these belong to the reign of Rameses II. Upon principles of comparative philology, Chabas makes the hieroglyphic group APERI-U, a transcription of [`eebªriym] HIBERI-M, excepting only the final plural, which the Egyptians never imitated. In the first of these documents the scribe Kanisar makes a return to his superior, the scribe Bek-en Ptah, in these words: 'I have obeyed the command which my master gave me, to provide subsistence for the soldiers, and also for the Aperi-u who carry stone for the great Bekhen (all sorts of buildings) of King Rameses. I have given them rations every month, according to the excellent instructions of my master.' Two other papyri contain records of the same kind, relating to workmen labouring at Rameses. Thus, we find the Aperiu, Hebrews, employed under Egyptian officers, in severe labours, building cities and temples. If this reading of Chabas shall be accepted by Egyptologers, it must be placed among the most remarkable confirmations of the Bible from contemporary sources ('Bib. Sac.,' Oct. 1863, Art. Egyptology).

Verse 15

And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah:

The king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives. It appears from the monumental sculptures that female accoucheurs were employed in ancient as in modern Egypt (Wilkinson, in Rawlinson's 'Herodotus,' b. 2:, ch.

85). Two only were spoken to by the king; whence it may be inferred, either that they were the heads of a large corporation (Rosenmuller, 'A. und. N. Morgenl.,' 1:, p. 255; Laborde, 'Commentaire Geographique'); or that, by tampering with these, he designed to intimidate the other practitioners, so as to secure the secret compliance of all of them with his wishes (Calvin). A third hypothesis is, that it was only the midwives who practiced in and around the capital (see the close of the chapter).

Opinions are divided as to whether the two accoucheurs mentioned were Egyptians or Hebrews. On the one hand, Josephus (b. 2:, ch. 9:, sec. 2) says that they were Egyptians; and it has been maintained that his account is most likely to be correct, being the traditional belief of the ancient Church. Besides, it is alleged the original text admits of being rendered as: 'he spake to the midwives of the Hebrew women;' while it is evident, from their own language to the king, that they had general practice among the native women.

Further still, not to speak of the character of the king, who was too wary and politic to entrust his secret designs to the execution of Hebrew midwives, it is thought that the names of Puah and Shiphrah-particularly that of the latter-having an Egyptian sound, and ending in Phra, 'the sun,' marks her to have been a Heliopolitan woman; and in accordance with this view, Osburn ('Mon. Hist.,' 2:, p. 543) says that the midwives were priestesses, who ministered in the temple of the goddess Tenu or Tamar, who was the Lucius of the Egyptians. The two mentioned were of high rank, and presided over all the midwives of Egypt, so that, as the representatives of their class, they received the royal instructions, which through them were to be communicated to their professional sisters.

On the other hand, without dwelling on the obvious construction of the original words, which denote 'Hebrew midwives,' and on their names, which are clearly Hebrew, it deserves particular notice that they were God-fearing women, who were restrained by conscientious scruples from obeying the king, and resolved to follow the dictates of piety and humanity. These considerations are strongly in favour of the opinion that they were Hebrew women.

Verse 16

And he said, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him: but if it be a daughter, then she shall live.

When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools, [ `al (H5921) haa'aabªnaayim (H70)] - upon the two stones. The word occurs in other passages, where it signifies vessels of stone (Exodus 7:19), and a potter's vessel (Jeremiah 18:3). Opinions are divided as to what was the mode of destruction which the king pointed out. Some, as Gesenius, think that the "stools" were low seats, such as are frequently represented on the Egyptian monuments; and our version represents the labouring women as placed open these, which is contrary to usage as well as to probability. Others suppose that obstetric practitioners sat upon them by the couch of the parturient women (which is also a mistake, as the attitude adopted in the East for women in labour is a standing posture (Calmet's 'Frag.'), and that, as they could easily discover the sex of the new-born infant, so, whenever a boy appeared, they were, by a slight pressure, to strangle it, unknown to the parent; while others are of opinion that "the stools" were stone troughs, into which, while the infants were being washed, they were to be, as it were, accidentally dropped. This custom in relation to children is justified by Eastern usage; and such a destruction of boys has actually been practiced in the courts of Eastern monarchs.

Thevenot hints ('Travels,' part 2:, p. 98) at both these principles. He says that 'the kings of Persia are so afraid of being deprived of that power which they abuse, and are so apprehensive of being dethroned, that they destroy the children of their female relations, when they have brought forth boys, by putting them into an earthen trough, where they suffer them to starve' (quoted in Burder's 'Oriental Customs,' p. 140). [The sculptures represent midwives in the act of placing new-born infants in a vessel of the same character, and for the same purpose as the haa'aabªniym (H70) of the Hebrews.] This anecdote of Thevenot throws some light upon the subject. Still, the circumstance of the original word being in the dual, seems to indicate that the explanation is not full, or quite satisfactory. (For other solutions, see Calmet's 'Frag.,' cccxii., cccxiii., and Keil and Delitzsch's 'Commentary,' 1:, p. 425, Clarke's edition.)

Verse 17

But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive.

The midwives feared God ... Their faith inspired them with such courage as to risk their lives by disobeying the mandate of a cruel tyrant; but it was blended with weakness, which made them shrink from speaking the truth. Numerous examples are furnished in the history of the patriarchs of strong faith being exercised along with many moral infirmities.

Verse 18

And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men children alive?

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 19

And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them.

The Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women. It might be that the simple and active habits of the former rendered the labours of maternity much easier to them than among the Egyptian women, who lived in a more artificial and luxurious style, and were delicate and feeble; and, in point of fact, easy labour is the normal experience of the wives of the nomadic Arabs (Burckhardt, 'Travels among the Bedouin Arabs'). But the answer of the midwives was probably a mere pretext, though believed by Pharaoh.

Verses 20-21

Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty.

Therefore God dealt well with the midwives ... This represents God as rewarding them for telling a lie. The difficulty is wholly removed by a more correct translation. To 'make' or to 'build a house,' in Hebrew idiom, means to have a numerous progeny (cf. 2 Samuel 7:11 with Exo. 1:27 ; also Ruth 4:11). The passage, then, should be rendered thus: 'God protected the midwives, and the people waxed very mighty; and because the midwives feared God, the Hebrews grew and prospered.' [The Septuagint has epoieesan heautois oikias-`they made houses for themselves;' i:e. the midwives were held in so high estimation for their kindness, and their steady principle, that, through the favours and rewards heaped upon them, they became wealthy and prosperous; and it was in this way the blessing of Providence rested on them.]

Verse 22

And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive.

Pharaoh charged all his people - most probably the order was confined to his officers and guards, who, on hearing of a birth having taken place, or of the rite of circumcision being performed in any house, were to enter it, seize the male infants, and drown them. [ hayª'oraah (H2975), the river; Septuagint, ton potamon (kat' exocheen, the Nile.] It has been objected, that there is a glaring contradiction between this edict to destroy all the male children and the king's unwillingness to part with the services of the Hebrew people. But there is no contradiction; because it is evident that, although a universal term is used in this passage, the order did not extend to every Hebrew boy born, as well in the extensive inland plains of Goshen as in the cities. Such a wholesale massacre of innocents would have roused the universal indignation of the Hebrews; and as that people were acknowledged to be "more and mightier" than the people of Egypt, it would have led to a rebellion, which the king, by his wily policy, endeavoured to avoid.

The mention of "the river" clearly indicates that the male infants whose destruction was meditated were those born in and around the capital or chief cities; and the presumption is that, even within that range, it was the infant sons of the chiefs or principal families, who came there for a time to take their turn in the public labours imposed upon their race. Josephus relates ('Antiquities,' b. 2:, ch. 9:, sec. 2) that Pharaoh had been forewarned by one of his magi, who was sagacious in anticipating future events, that a Hebrew boy about to be born would inflict a fatal blow upon the glory of Egypt, and raise his own race to liberty and independence. It is quite possible that the apprehension of such a danger might have originated the cruel edict, and thus, by the conduct of Pharaoh, the ancient Church in its infancy was exposed to persecution and peril precisely similar to that which, at the commencement of the New Testament Church, was directed by Herod against the children in Bethlehem, (Matthew 2:16: see Calmet, 'Frag.,' cccxii.)

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Exodus 1". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/exodus-1.html. 1871-8.