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Increase in the Number of the Israelites Their Bondage in Egypt - Exodus 1
The promise which God gave to Jacob in his departure from Canaan (Genesis 46:3) was perfectly fulfilled. The children of Israel settled down in the most fruitful province of the fertile land of Egypt, and grew there into a great nation (Exodus 1:1-7). But the words which the Lord had spoken to Abram (Genesis 15:13) were also fulfilled in relation to his seed in Egypt. The children of Israel were oppressed in a strange land, were compelled to serve the Egyptians (Exodus 1:8-14), and were in great danger of being entirely crushed by them (Exodus 1:15-22).
To place the multiplication of the children of Israel into a strong nation in its true light, as the commencement of the realization of the promises of God, the number of the souls that went down with Jacob to Egypt is repeated from Genesis 46:27 (on the number 70, in which Jacob is included, see the notes on this passage); and the repetition of the names of the twelve sons of Jacob serves to give to the history which follows a character of completeness within itself. “ With Jacob they came, every one and his house, ” i.e., his sons, together with their families, their wives, and their children. The sons are arranged according to their mothers, as in Genesis 35:23-26, and the sons of the two maid-servants stand last. Joseph, indeed, is not placed in the list, but brought into special prominence by the words, “ for Joseph was in Egypt ” (Exodus 1:5), since he did not go down to Egypt along with the house of Jacob, and occupied an exalted position in relation to them there.
After the death of Joseph and his brethren and the whole of the family that had first immigrated, there occurred that miraculous increase in the number of the children of Israel, by which the blessings of creation and promise were fully realised. The words פּרוּ ישׁרצוּ ( swarmed), and ירבּוּ point back to Genesis 1:28 and Genesis 8:17, and יעצמוּ to עצוּם גּוי in Genesis 18:18. “ The land was filled with them, ” i.e., the land of Egypt, particularly Goshen, where they were settled (Genesis 47:11). The extra-ordinary fruitfulness of Egypt in both men and cattle is attested not only by ancient writers, but by modern travellers also (vid., Aristotelis hist. animal. vii. 4, 5; Columella de re rust. iii. 8; Plin. hist. n. vii. 3; also Rosenmüller a. und n. Morgenland i. p. 252). This blessing of nature was heightened still further in the case of the Israelites by the grace of the promise, so that the increase became extraordinarily great (see the comm. on Exodus 12:37).
The promised blessing was manifested chiefly in the fact, that all the measures adopted by the cunning of Pharaoh to weaken and diminish the Israelites, instead of checking, served rather to promote their continuous increase.
“ There arose a new king over Egypt, who knew not Joseph.” ויּקם signifies he came to the throne, קוּם denoting his appearance in history, as in Deuteronomy 34:10. A “new king” (lxx: βασιλεὺς ἕτερος ; the other ancient versions, rex novus ) is a king who follows different principles of government from his predecessors. Cf. חדשׁים אלהים , “new gods,” in distinction from the God that their fathers had worshipped, Judges 5:8; Deuteronomy 32:17. That this king belonged to a new dynasty, as the majority of commentators follow Josephus
“ Let us deal wisely with them, ” i.e., act craftily towards them. התחכּם , sapiensem se gessit (Ecclesiastes 7:16), is used here of political craftiness, or worldly wisdom combined with craft and cunning ( κατασοφισώμεθα , lxx), and therefore is altered into התנכּל in Psalms 105:25 (cf. Genesis 37:18). The reason assigned by the king for the measures he was about to propose, was the fear that in case of war the Israelites might make common cause with his enemies, and then remove from Egypt. It was not the conquest of his kingdom that he was afraid of, but alliance with his enemies and emigration. עלה is used here, as in Genesis 13:1, etc., to denote removal from Egypt to Canaan. He was acquainted with the home of the Israelites therefore, and cannot have been entirely ignorant of the circumstances of their settlement in Egypt. But he regarded them as his subjects, and was unwilling that they should leave the country, and therefore was anxious to prevent the possibility of their emancipating themselves in the event of war. - In the form תּקראנה for תּקרינה , according to the frequent interchange of the forms ה ל and א ל (vid., Genesis 42:4), nh is transferred from the feminine plural to the singular, to distinguish the 3rd pers. fem. from the 2nd pers., as in Judges 5:26; Job 17:16 (vid., Ewald, §191 c, and Ges. §47, 3, Anm. 3). Consequently there is no necessity either to understand מלחמה collectively as signifying soldiers, or to regard תּקראנוּ drager ot , the reading adopted by the lxx ( συμβῆ ἡμῖν ), the Samaritan, Chaldee, Syriac, and Vulgate, as “certainly the original,” as Knobel has done.
The first measure adopted (Exodus 1:11) consisted in the appointment of taskmasters over the Israelites, to bend them down by hard labour. מסּים שׂרי bailiffs over the serfs. מסּים from מס signifies, not feudal service, but feudal labourers, serfs (see my Commentary on 1 Kings 4:6). ענּה to bend, to wear out any one's strength (Psalms 102:24). By hard feudal labour ( סבלות burdens, burdensome toil) Pharaoh hoped, according to the ordinary maxims of tyrants ( Aristot. polit., 5, 9; Liv. hist. i. 56, 59), to break down the physical strength of Israel and lessen its increase-since a population always grows more slowly under oppression than in the midst of prosperous circumstances-and also to crush their spirit so as to banish the very wish for liberty. - ויּבן - .ytrebil r , and so Israel built (was compelled to build) provision or magazine cities vid., 2 Chronicles 32:28, cities for the storing of the harvest), in which the produce of the land was housed, partly for purposes of trade, and partly for provisioning the army in time of war; - not fortresses, πόλεις ὀχυραί , as the lxx have rendered it. Pithom was Πάτουμος ; it was situated, according to Herodotus (2, 158), upon the canal which commenced above Bybastus and connected the Nile with the Red Sea. This city is called Thou or Thoum in the Itiner. Anton., the Egyptian article pi being dropped, and according to Jomard (descript. t. 9, p. 368) is to be sought for on the site of the modern Abassieh in the Wady Tumilat. - Raemses (cf. Genesis 47:11) was the ancient Heroopolis, and is not to be looked for on the site of the modern Belbeis. In support of the latter supposition, Stickel, who agrees with Kurtz and Knobel, adduces chiefly the statement of the Egyptian geographer Makrizi, that in the (Jews') book of the law Belbeis is called the land of Goshen, in which Jacob dwelt when he came to his son Joseph, and that the capital of the province was el Sharkiyeh. This place is a day's journey (for as others affirm, 14 hours) to the north-east of Cairo on the Syrian and Egyptian road. It served as a meeting-place in the middle ages for the caravans from Egypt to Syria and Arabia ( Ritter, Erdkunde 14, p. 59). It is said to have been in existence before the Mohammedan conquest of Egypt. But the clue cannot be traced any farther back; and it is too far from the Red Sea for the Raemses of the Bible (vid., Exodus 12:37). The authority of Makrizi is quite counterbalanced by the much older statement of the Septuagint, in which Jacob is made to meet his son Joseph in Heroopolis; the words of Genesis 46:29, “and Joseph went up to meet Israel his father to Goshen,” being rendered thus: εἰς συϚάϚτησιν Ἰσραὴλ τῷ πατρὶ αὐτοῦκαθ ̓ Ἡρώων πόλιν . Hengstenberg is not correct in saying that the later name Heroopolis is here substituted for the older name Raemses; and Gesenius, Kurtz, and Knobel are equally wrong in affirming that καθ ̓ ἩρώωϚ πόλιν is supplied ex ingenio suo ; but the place of meeting, which is given indefinitely as Goshen in the original, is here distinctly named. Now if this more precise definition is not an arbitrary conjecture of the Alexandrian translators, but sprang out of their acquaintance with the country, and is really correct, as Kurtz has no doubt, it follows that Heroopolis belongs to the γῆ Ῥαμεσσῆ (Genesis 46:28, lxx), or was situated within it. But this district formed the centre of the Israelitish settlement in Goshen; for according to Genesis 47:11, Joseph gave his father and brethren “a possession in the best of the land, in the land of Raemses.” Following this passage, the lxx have also rendered גּשׁן ארצה in Genesis 46:28 by εἰς γῆν Ῥαμεσσῆ , whereas in other places the land of Goshen is simply called γῆ Γεσέμ (Genesis 45:10; Genesis 46:34; Genesis 47:1, etc.). But if Heroopolis belonged to the γῆ Ῥαμεσσῆ , or the province of Raemses, which formed the centre of the land of Goshen that was assigned to the Israelites, this city must have stood in the immediate neighbourhood of Raemses, or have been identical with it. Now, since the researches of the scientific men attached to the great French expedition, it has been generally admitted that Heroopolis occupied the site of the modern Abu Keisheib in the Wady Tumilat, between Thoum = Pithom and the Birket Temsah or Crocodile Lake; and according to the Itiner. p. 170, it was only 24 Roman miles to the east of Pithom, - a position that was admirably adapted not only for a magazine, but also for the gathering-place of Israel prior to their departure (Exodus 12:37).
But Pharaoh's first plan did not accomplish his purpose (Exodus 1:12). The multiplication of Israel went on just in proportion to the amount of the oppression ( כּן כּאשׁר prout, ita; פּרץ as in Genesis 30:30; Genesis 28:14), so that the Egyptians were dismayed at the Israelites ( קוּץ to feel dismay, or fear, Numbers 22:3). In this increase of their numbers, which surpassed all expectation, there was the manifestation of a higher, supernatural, and to them awful power. But instead of bowing before it, they still endeavoured to enslave Israel through hard servile labour. In Exodus 1:13, Exodus 1:14 we have not an account of any fresh oppression; but “the crushing by hard labour” is represented as enslaving the Israelites and embittering their lives. פּרך hard oppression, from the Chaldee פּרך to break or crush in pieces. “ They embittered their life with hard labour in clay and bricks (making clay into bricks, and working with the bricks when made), and in all kinds of labour in the field (this was very severe in Egypt on account of the laborious process by which the ground was watered, Deuteronomy 11:10), כּל־עבדתם את with regard to all their labour, which they worked (i.e., performed) through them (viz., the Israelites) with severe oppression.” כל־ע את is also dependent upon ימררו , as a second accusative ( Ewald, §277 d). Bricks of clay were the building materials most commonly used in Egypt. The employment of foreigners in this kind of labour is to be seen represented in a painting, discovered in the ruins of Thebes, and given in the Egyptological works of Rosellini and Wilkinson, in which workmen who are evidently not Egyptians are occupied in making bricks, whilst two Egyptians with sticks are standing as overlookers; - even if the labourers are not intended for the Israelites, as the Jewish physiognomies would lead us to suppose. (For fuller details, see Hengstenberg's Egypt and the Books of Moses, p. 80ff. English translation).
As the first plan miscarried, the king proceeded to try a second, and that a bloody act of cruel despotism. He commanded the midwives to destroy the male children in the birth and to leave only the girls alive. The midwives named in Exodus 1:15, who are not Egyptian but Hebrew women, were no doubt the heads of the whole profession, and were expected to communicate their instructions to their associates. ויּאמר in Exodus 1:16 resumes the address introduced by ויאמר in Exodus 1:15. The expression על־האבנים , of which such various renderings have been given, is used in Jeremiah 18:3 to denote the revolving table of a potter, i.e., the two round discs between which a potter forms his earthenware vessels by turning, and appears to be transferred here to the vagina out of which the child twists itself, as it were like the vessel about to be formed out of the potter's discs. Knobel has at length decided in favour of this explanation, at which the Targumists hint with their מתברא . When the midwives were called in to assist at a birth, they were to look carefully at the vagina; and if the child were a boy, they were to destroy it as it came out of the womb. וחיה for חייה rof ו from חיי , see Genesis 3:22. The w takes kametz before the major pause, as in Genesis 44:9 (cf. Ewald, §243 a).
But the midwives feared God ( ha-Elohim, the personal, true God), and did not execute the king's command.
When questioned upon the matter, the explanation which they gave was, that the Hebrew women were not like the delicate women of Egypt, but were חיות “vigorous” (had much vital energy: Abenezra), so that they gave birth to their children before the midwives arrived. They succeeded in deceiving the king with this reply, as childbirth is remarkably rapid and easy in the case of Arabian women (see Burckhardt, Beduinen, p. 78; Tischendorf, Reise i. p. 108).
God rewarded them for their conduct, and “made them houses,” i.e., gave them families and preserved their posterity. In this sense to “make a house” in 2 Samuel 7:11 is interchanged with to “build a house” in 2 Samuel 7:27 (vid., Ruth 4:11). להם for להן as in Genesis 31:9, etc. Through not carrying out the ruthless command of the king, they had helped to build up the families of Israel, and their own families were therefore built up by God. Thus God rewarded them, “not, however, because they lied, but because they were merciful to the people of God; it was not their falsehood therefore that was rewarded, but their kindness (more correctly, their fear of God), their benignity of mind, not the wickedness of their lying; and for the sake of what was good, God forgave what was evil.” (Augustine, contra mendac. c. 19.)
The failure of his second plan drove the king to acts of open violence. He issued commands to all his subjects to throw every Hebrew boy that was born into the river (i.e., the Nile). The fact, that this command, if carried out, would necessarily have resulted in the extermination of Israel, did not in the least concern the tyrant; and this cannot be adduced as forming any objection to the historical credibility of the narrative, since other cruelties of a similar kind are to be found recorded in the history of the world. Clericus has cited the conduct of the Spartans towards the helots. Nor can the numbers of the Israelites at the time of the exodus be adduced as a proof that no such murderous command can ever have been issued; for nothing more can be inferred from this, than that the command was neither fully executed nor long regarded, as the Egyptians were not all so hostile to the Israelites as to be very zealous in carrying it out, and the Israelites would certainly neglect no means of preventing its execution. Even Pharaoh's obstinate refusal to let the people go, though it certainly is inconsistent with the intention to destroy them, cannot shake the truth of the narrative, but may be accounted for on psychological grounds, from the very nature of pride and tyranny which often act in the most reckless manner without at all regarding the consequences, or on historical grounds, from the supposition not only that the king who refused the permission to depart was a different man from the one who issued the murderous edicts (cf. Exodus 2:23), but that when the oppression had continued for some time the Egyptian government generally discovered the advantage they derived from the slave labour of the Israelites, and hoped through a continuance of that oppression so to crush and break their spirits, as to remove all ground for fearing either rebellion, or alliance with their foes.
The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Exodus 1". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany