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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Exodus 1


The family of Jacob increase much in Egypt. The king of Egypt oppress them with hard bondage and labours, and commands the midwives to destroy their male children: they disobey his injunctions, upon which he orders the male children to be cast into the river.

Before Christ 1635.

Verse 1

Exodus 1:1. Now these are the names Moses begins this book with recounting to us the names of the family of Jacob, to make us attentive to the accomplishment of the promise made to Abraham in their great multiplication. It may be asked, perhaps, how it came to pass that Joseph's brethren so readily returned back into Egypt after their father's funeral in Canaan, when, the famine being long before over, they might have settled in the land of Promise, and sent for their families out of Egypt? To which Parker answers—That Joseph's brethren had hitherto received nothing but civil and kind usage from the Egyptians; and therefore could not with any propriety have withdrawn themselves in such a manner; that, upon the demise of Jacob, the eleven brethren and their families were attached to Joseph, as lord of Egypt; so that his motions were to determine theirs; that this occasional journey from Egypt to Canaan was not like that from Canaan to Egypt, their little ones and effects being left behind; nor was any preparation made for such a removal; that, considering Joseph's brethren as the peculiar people, and, in that respect, under God's immediate eye and care, they were to do nothing without his leave and direction; and that things, as yet, were by no means ripened, or approached to maturity, for the intended crisis; Moses and Aaron, whom GOD had designed to commission as instruments of their deliverance out of Egypt, were not yet born. To which let us add, that it seems to follow plainly, from this chapter, and from the whole subsequent history, that the Egyptians themselves were very loth to part with the Israelites.

Verse 5

Exodus 1:5. Were seventy souls (See Genesis 20:18.) Seventy souls, with Joseph, who was in Egypt already.

Verse 6

Exodus 1:6. And Joseph died, and all his brethren, &c.— The sacred historian means to say here, that Joseph had now been some time dead, with all his brethren, as well as all the Egyptians who had seen and known him, and were convinced of the obligations which the whole country lay under to him. This preamble, says Calmet, refers to the reign of the new king, mentioned Exo 1:8 the commencement of whose reign may be fixed fifty-eight years after the death of Joseph.

Verse 7

Exodus 1:7. The children of Israel were fruitful, &c.— A variety of terms, nearly synonimous, are used in this verse, to express the prodigious increase of the children of Israel; with whom, says the sacred writer, the land, i.e. of Goshen, was filled. Great increase of people naturally produces power; and so we read, that they not only increased abundantly, but also waxed exceeding mighty: so that the fears of the Egyptians were awakened. Moses, both here and in Deu 10:22 remarks this increase as miraculous, and owing to the providence of GOD, who made them thus fruitful amidst all the oppression and efforts of their enemies to prevent it. Population however, in Egypt, was naturally very rapid, according to the testimony of the best writers; and there was no country in the world, where children were more easily brought up, says Diodorus, both on account of the good temperature of the air, and the great abundance of all things necessary to life. Let it be remembered that upwards of six hundred thousand fighting men of the children of Israel, (Numbers 1:46.) came out of Egypt; and, in this view, it will be deemed no hyperbole to say, that the land was filled with them. Calculators have shewn, that from seventy persons, within two hundred and fifteen years, such a number as the Mosaic history relates, separate from any thing miraculous, might very easily have been produced.

Verse 8

Exodus 1:8. Now there arose up a new king, &c. which knew not Joseph To know, in the sacred Scripture, signifies often, to love, to regard, approve. See Hosea 2:8. Amo 3:2 compared with Psalms 1:6; Psalms 31:7. Matthew 25:12. In Jdg 2:10 it is said, There arose another generation who knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel; that is evidently, who regarded not the Lord; as here it must mean a new king, who regarded not Joseph, had no grateful remembrance of the eminent services he had done to Egypt, and was utterly averse to his system of politics. The Chaldee renders it, who confirmed not the decrees of Joseph. It is probable that this new king might be of another family; for Diodorus tells us, that the ancient kings of Egypt were chosen by the people, not so much with respect to birth as merit: and some writers are of opinion (as we have had occasion before to observe, Genesis 50:22.) that Joseph supported his credit under four kings; and that this, who succeeded them, being a foreigner, had heard nothing of him, nor of his administration. But the passage will be sufficiently clear, if we understand a king, different from him who had raised Joseph, and who was regardless of what had passed in the former reigns, and inattentive to the obligations due to Joseph. This we need not wonder at after so many years, when Ahasuerus could so soon forget Mordecai, who had lately saved his life, Esther 2:21-23. Though it must be owned, that had Joseph's merit been ever so fresh in their memory, yet the conduct of a jealous and despotic prince had nothing in the present instance strange or uncommon, since it would rather have been a prodigy, if his gratitude to a man, who had been dead above fifty years, had prevented his taking some arbitrary and cruel measures, in order to secure his kingdom against the danger it seemed threatened with from a people who, from a single family, were become such a formidable host. The religion of the Israelites, so opposite to the Egyptian idolatry; their prosperity, their union, their valour, their riches, their strength; all these, in the eye of such a prince, would seem to justify the measures he took against them. Even in these modern times, some Christian princes, so called, have taken precautions as cruel against their own natural subjects, of whose fidelity and attachment they had the strongest proofs; and yet these persecutions have been justified, nay, canonized, while Pharaoh's have been branded with the worst of epithets. Critics vary much in their opinions concerning the name of this Egyptian king; some saying that it was Ramesses-Miamum; others Amenophis; and others Salatis; whose government, Dr. Shuckford says, was so despotic, that many families fled from under it out of Egypt; among whom, he thinks, were Cecrops, Erichthonius, and the father of Cadmus.

Verse 9

Exodus 1:9. He said unto his people, &c.— i.e. to his council, composed of the principal people of his land. We must either understand the king here in an hyperbolical sense, or as uttering the language of fear, which, indeed, the word wisely, let us deal wisely, seems to insinuate; or else, as there is no verb in the Hebrew, we must supply the verb will be instead of are: The children of Israel will be more and mightier than we; therefore, come on, (Exodus 1:10.) let us do so and so.

Verse 10

Exodus 1:10. Come on, let us, &c.— It is not to be conceived that the Egyptians could be ignorant of the Israelites' intention to return and settle in Canaan. Sensible therefore of the advantages arising to the community from such a body of people, yet fearful lest their great increase might render them too powerful, they determined, with subtle policy, to prevent that increase, and so weaken their power. Let us deal subtilely with them therefore, say they, (ne crescant amplius, observes Houbigant,) lest they should increase still more, and so, upon any occasion, join the enemies of Egypt, and assert their own liberty.

Verse 11

Exodus 1:11. Task-masters The original words signify, properly, tax-gatherers: so that the result of this counsel was, to exact a tribute to lessen their wealth, and to lay heavy burdens on them to weaken their bodies, and thereby prevent their populating and increasing. Philo tells us, that they were made to carry burdens above their strength, and to work night and day; that they were forced to be workers and servers; that they were employed in brick-making, digging, and building; and that if any of them dropped dead under their burdens, their friends were not permitted to bury them. Josephus tells us, moreover, that they were made to dig trenches and ditches, to drain rivers into channels, to wall whole towns, and, among other laborious works, to raise the useless and fantastical pyramids: but, without troubling ourselves further than with what Moses tells us in the subsequent verses, we shall find their work hard and bitter enough. Some observe, that the Israelites about this time began to corrupt their religion, and to worship the idols of Egypt, and were therefore, in the just judgment of God, thus oppressed and punished, as the prophet Ezekiel intimates, ch. Exodus 23:8. See also Ezekiel 20:7-8. Joshua 24:14.

Treasure-cities Store-cities, as the word is rendered, 2 Chronicles 16:4; 2Ch 17:12 and in ch. Exodus 32:28. Storehouses, which Hezekiah built for the increase of corn, and wine, and oil; so that here it must mean magazines for preserving the royal stores of corn as well as treasures. The first of these, called Pithom, Marsham thinks to be the same with Pelusium, which was seated near the sea, at the mouth of one of the streams of the Nile; but Bochart and others take it for that city on the borders of Arabia, which Herodotus calls Patumos, of which opinion also is Dr. Shaw. See his Travels, p. 306.

Verse 12

Exodus 1:12. The more they afflicted them, &c.— The expression in the original is more energetic than any of the preceding in Exodus 1:7. יפרצ iprotz, rendered grew, signifies, properly, to break forth, and expand itself with impetuosity, like a rapid river, which swells and gathers force by being confined. Vain are the counsels of men against the providence of God! His blessing can turn the means they employ to oppress into the greatest advantages. There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless, the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand. Proverbs 19:21.

Verse 13

Exodus 1:13. And the Egyptians The more sensibly God's blessing was discerned towards the Israelites, the more furiously was the rage of their persecutors kindled against them. Moses represents them suffering, as it were, in a furnace of fire, Deuteronomy 4:20.

REFLECTIONS.—We must not promise ourselves long prosperity in this world. Where we have found the warmest love we may soon experience the bitterest hatred; so transitory is the fashion of sublunary comforts. We have here,

1. The great unkindness shewn to the Israelites in a succeeding reign; not by Pharaoh's immediate successor, but by one who, at a considerable distance of time, had forgotten the obligations which the country lay under to Joseph. Note; We shall often find men ungrateful, and unmindful of the kind offices we have done them; but what is done for God will be had in everlasting remembrance. The poor Israelites are now become obnoxious to the state; their multitude is a plea for their oppression, as if they were a dangerous people; they pretend at least to fear, lest they revolt to their enemies, or, according to the tradition which was well known, should secede into Canaan. Note; The people of God have been often misrepresented as enemies to the state, in order to countenance oppression and persecution against them. With a crafty policy they therefore harass them with taxes, burdens, buildings, to break their spirits, diminish their numbers, and perhaps with a view to enforce them to incorporate with the Egyptians, in order to avoid the afflictions of their brethren. Note; (1.) The most deep-laid schemes of the wicked, however wise in their own eyes, will appear folly at the last. (2.) Where men attempt to defeat God's counsels, their very efforts against them shall sooner produce their accomplishment.

2. We have the great increase of the Israelites under their oppression. A persecuted church is almost always a thriving one.

Verse 15

Exodus 1:15. And the king of Egypt, &c.— Pharaoh finding, by the experience of at least ten years, that neither the hardships he laid upon the Hebrews, nor all the cruelties which his officers and people used towards them, could prevent their multiplying, he devised another more cruel scheme, and sent for two of the principal Hebrew midwives, to enjoin them the execution of it. Though, Moses mentions but two midwives, yet we must not suppose that they could suffice to such a vast number of women. It is therefore most probable that these two were the chief, who had the charge and direction of the rest. That there was such a superiority among midwives appears probable, at least, from what Plutarch tells us, that among the Grecians there were some to whom the care of this business was committed; and that public schools were kept for that purpose.

Verse 16

Exodus 1:16. See them upon the stools The word אבנים abnim occurs only here, and Jeremiah 18:3. The LXX have not translated it.

If it be a son,—ye shall kill him The order itself was inhuman enough; but it becomes, if possible, ten times more so, by making the midwives the executioners; thus obliging them not only to be savagely bloody, but basely perfidious in the most tender trust. Josephus says, that a prophecy of a child to be born of the Hebrew race, who should greatly annoy the Egyptians, determined Pharaoh to make this decree; but the sacred writer gives no hint of any such prediction, and refers us to a more satisfactory cause, Exodus 1:10. The reasons are evident, why the daughters were to be saved; from whom no wars could be feared.

Verse 19

Exodus 1:19. And the midwives said unto Pharaoh Fully satisfied that it was better to obey GOD than man, the midwives disobeyed this unjust command; and vindicated themselves to Pharaoh, when accused by him, for so doing. I see no sufficient reason to suppose, that there was the least prevarication in the midwives: for is it not natural to believe, that the same Divine Providence which so miraculously interposed for the multiplication of Israel, might grant an easy deliverance to the Hebrew women, and cause them to dispense with the assistance of midwives? So that, upon this supposition, the midwives not only delivered the truth, but delivered it with great magnanimity, avowing the protection which God gave to their nation: and accordingly we find their proceeding approved and rewarded; for God dealt well with them, Exodus 1:20.

Verse 21

Exodus 1:21. He made them houses He made them families, i.e. in the obvious sense of the words, he recompensed their piety, virtue, and courage, by making them prosperous, and their families considerable in Israel. In which sense, all the versions we have met with understand the passage: and as this is the case, and as the expression is truly scriptural, there surely can be no need to look out for other and forced interpretations. See Deuteronomy 25:9. Ruth 4:11. 1Sa 2:35; 1 Samuel 25:28. 2 Samuel 7:27. Psalms 127:1.

Verse 22

Exodus 1:22. Pharaoh charged all his people This was, most probably, enjoined under severe penalties; and that, as it appears from the next chapter, not only upon the Egyptians, who were to see the order executed; but also upon the Israelites, who were to execute it themselves. The Lacedemonians, Calmet observes, used to destroy the children of their slaves, lest they should increase too much. This cruel order of the king was not published till after the birth of Aaron, and it was probably revoked soon after the birth of Moses: for if it had subsisted in its rigour, during the whole eighty-six years servitude, the number of Israelites capable of bearing arms would not have been so great as Moses mentions, Numbers 2:0. There would have been none but old men among them.

REFLECTIONS.—1. When God's people are the objects of enmity, persecutors often divest themselves not only of pity, but humanity. 2. From the midwives' disobedience we may observe, that where we must disobey God or man, there can be no hesitation. He that fears God, as these midwives, will rather risk the loss of man's favour, nay, of life too, than of his own soul by sin. 3. From God's kindness to them we see, that none who serve his people shall do it without wages, especially in suffering seasons. 4. From the bloody edicts of the king, we may learn, (1.) That disappointed rage usually makes men more furious. (2.) That the patience of the saints must be proved by trial upon trial.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Exodus 1". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.