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Bible Commentaries

Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Exodus 1

Verses 1-7

Exodus 1:1 to Exodus 12:36 . Israel in Egypt: I. Increase and Oppression.

Exodus 1:1-5 P, Exodus 1:6 J, Exodus 1:7 P. The Sons of Israel.— The transition from the fortunes of a family, such as were the subject of the narratives of Gen., to the events of a people’ s history, such as Ex. is concerned with, is happily marked by the altered rendering “ children of Israel” (7) for the Heb. phrase rendered “ sons of Israel” (1). Exodus 1:1-5 gives the size of the group from which all the increase came. The round number 70 was a part of the older tradition (see Deuteronomy 10:22) which the later writers tried variously to justify. Sometimes Jacob is counted in (as Genesis 46:8; Genesis 46:27) and sometimes left out (as here). These lists all belong to P. The free handling of the material, which was customary in those times, is illustrated by the addition, in the Gr. of Genesis 46, of Joseph’ s three grandsons and two great-grandsons, making 75, the number also given in Stephen’ s speech, Acts 7:14. It is unlikely on several grounds that all the tribes were in Egypt (p. 64). But that the ancestors of the bulk of the nation shared the bitter experiences of Egyptian bondage is the convergent testimony of all our sources, and may be taken as assured fact. While the older Biblical writers, though venturing on a gigantic total ( Exodus 12:37 and Numbers 11:21; cf. Numbers 1:1 *) equivalent to two millions, leave their estimate in round numbers, the post-exilic tradition professed to give precise figures of the distribution among the tribes, and the later rabbis solved the riddle by supposing the Hebrew mothers to have had from six to sixty children at a birth. Those who insist on the accuracy of the various enumerations only make the narrative less credible and less intelligible.

Exodus 1:6 . Between Exodus 1:1-5 and Exodus 1:7 , which belong to P, this verse from J is introduced, which is not required by its immediate context, but leads up to Exodus 1:8 , and follows on Genesis 50:14.

Exodus 1:7 . increased abundantly: the word (peculiar to P) is “ swarmed,” and recalls the account of the creation of the swarming water-creatures in Genesis 1:20 f. (same Heb.). Perhaps, however, the similar word “ spread abroad” ( Exodus 1:12) should be read. The words “ multiplied and waxed mighty” ( Exodus 9:20) are borrowed from J’ s account.

Verses 8-14

Exodus 1:8-12 J, Exodus 1:13 P, Exodus 1:14 a ( to field” ) J, Exodus 1:14 b P. Repression of Israel.— Forced labour was the first device for checking Hebrew increase. The “ new king” is probably Rameses II (1300– 1221 B.C., pp. 56, 63, so Petrie). The phrase has no reference to a change of dynasty, as some have supposed, but to the beginning of an epoch affecting Israel. In Exodus 1:9 read mg.; to represent Israel as stronger than the Egyptians would have been absurd, but such a people might easily grow too strong for their dependent position and close proximity. Brugsch estimates the proportion of foreigners in that reign as one-third. The risk foreseen in Exodus 1:10 (read, with Sam., LXX, etc., “ when any war befalleth us” ) was, as the monuments show, constantly in view. The large, virtually slave, population was ready to take advantage of any Hittite or other invasion. Under the 12th dynasty (c. 1980 B.C.) a line of forts had been erected against the Bedawin incursions. Most of the great palaces and temples of antiquity were built by help of the corvé e. Solomon used such labour-gangs or “ levies,” and the fate of Adoniram ( 1 Kings 12:18) showed their unpopularity. Pithom ( Exodus 1:11 b), “ dwelling of Turn,” was identified by Naville in 1883. It lies about 60 miles N.E. of Cairo, and about 20 miles E. of Tel el Kebir, which stands at the N.E. corner of Goshen as traced by Petrie. Inscriptions show that Pithom was built by Rameses II. It had huge, thick walls of brick, and contained sunken magazines, with brick walls also very thick. The Hebrews are not named as its builders. It is properly called a store-city, though it was also a fortress ( cf. LXX) and the site of a temple. Raamses has been plausibly located by Petrie (1906) at Tell er Relabeh, 10 miles W. of Pithom, half way to the border of Goshen along the narrow fertile valley of the Wady Tumilot. The scheme may have made Egypt stronger against external attack, but it failed to repress the Israelites, and only made the Egyptians “ abhor” ( mg.) or “ loathe” ( Numbers 21:5) them. The graphic details in Exodus 1:14 ( cf. Exodus 1:5 and Genesis 11:3) are perhaps from J. The building tasks are distinguished from the agricultural toils, i.e. making canals and dams, and drudging at the irrigation poles, with their heavy buckets, day by day ( cf. Deuteronomy 11:10 *). The black Nile mud was used for mortar as well as for brick-clay. Josephus and Philo specify canals, and Josephus pyramids, as made by Israel. The tradition of the “ house of bondage” was ground into the very bones of the Hebrews.

Exodus 1:10 . deal wisely has a sinister meaning, cf. LXX, followed by Stephen (“ dealt subtilly,” Acts 7:19).

Exodus 1:11 . taskmasters: better “ gangmasters.”

Verses 15-22

Exodus 1:15-22 E ( Exodus 1:20 b J). Attempt to Destroy Male Children.— From another source we learn of two more ineffectual measures to restrict population. The two midwives, whose names tradition loved to recall for their heroism (while careless about the Pharaoh’ s name!), were, according to Josephus, Egyptian. Though commentators differ, the tone of the passage confirms that view, which requires the rendering, “ the midwives of the Hebrew women” (lit. those women who help the Hebrew women to bring forth). Humanity and natural religion (“ they feared God,” cf. Genesis 20:11; Genesis 42:18) outweighed the royal command. The procedure is held by Driver to parallel closely Egyptian usage. The process of delivery is known to be very rapid among Arabian women. This would also be a sign of racial vigour, which would help to account for the supplanting of the Canaanites. The third device of Pharaoh was a command to all the Egyptians to cast all Hebrew boy babies into the Nile. This now leads up effectively to the next paragraph. Observe that both the last two devices imply only a small group of people, and these near the Nile.

Exodus 1:21 . made them houses: the word “ house” is constantly used for household or family, as in Exodus 20:17. This precise phrase is found, of David’ s house, in 2 Samuel 7:11. While involving risks of its own, the strong social consciousness of early times, each person finding his or her completion in the group, was a valuable safeguard against a premature individualism.

Exodus 1:22 . Insert, with Sam., LXX, etc., “ to the Hebrews” after “ every son that is born.” The rabbis argued from the Heb. text that even Egyptian boys were to be killed.— the river: the word used here and in all this Egyptian section is not the word nahar regularly used for other great rivers, but Yeor, apparently derived from an Egyptian word which had come to serve for the Nile in place of the older and more venerable Hapi.

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Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Exodus 1". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.