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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 1

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-6



Exodus 1:1-6

The Book of Exodus, being written in continuation of the history recorded in Genesis, is carefully connected with it by a recapitulation. The recapitulation involves three points:—

1. The names of Jacob's children;

2. The number of Jacob's descendants who went down into Egypt; and

3. The death of Joseph.

Exodus 1:1-4 are a recapitulation of Genesis 35:22-26; Genesis 35:5, of Genesis 46:27; and Genesis 46:6, of Genesis 1:26. In no case, however, is the recapitulation exact, or (so to speak) mechanical. The "households" of Genesis 1:1 had not been mentioned previously; Joseph had not in Genesis been separated off from his brethren, as he is in Exodus 1:5; nor had the deaths of "his brethren" been recorded, much less of "all that generation." Thus there is here no "vain repetition." New facts come out in the course of the recapitulation; and the narrative advances while aiming especially at maintaining its continuity.

Exodus 1:1

Now these are the names. Literally, "And these are the names." Compare Genesis 46:8, where the phrase used is the same. We have here the first example of that almost universal practice of fife writers of the Historical Scriptures to connect book with book in the closest possible way by the simple copulative "and." (Compare Joshua 1:1, Judges 1:1, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.) This practice, so unlike that of secular writers, can only be explained by the instinctive feeling of all, that they were contributors to a single book, each later writer a continuator of the narrative placed on record by his predecessor. In the Pentateuch, if we admit a single author, the initial vau will be less remarkable, since it will merely serve to join together the different sections of a single treatise. Which came into Egypt. The next two words of the original, "with Jacob," belong properly to this clause. The whole verse is best translated, "Now these are the names of the children of Israel which came into Egypt with Jacob: they came every man with his household." So the LXX; Pagnini, Kalisch, Geddes, Boothroyd, etc. Every man and his household. This is important in connection with the vexed question of the possible increase of the original band of so-called "Israelites" within the space of 430 years to such a number as is said to have quitted Egypt with Moses (Exodus 12:37). The "household" of Abraham comprised 318 adult males (Genesis 14:14). The "households" of Jacob, his eleven sons, and his numerous grown-up grandsons, have been with reason estimated at "several thousands."

Exodus 1:2-5

The sons of the legitimate wives Leah and Rachel are placed first, in the order of their seniority (Genesis 29:32-35; Genesis 30:18-20; Genesis 35:18); then these of the secondary wives, or concubines, also in the order of their birth (Genesis 30:6-13). The order is different from that observed in Genesis 46:1-34; and seems intended to do honour to legitimate, as opposed to secondary, wedlock. The omission of Joseph follows necessarily from the exact form of the opening phrase, "These are the names of the children of Israel, which came into Egypt with Jacob."

Exodus 1:5

All the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls. This is manifestly intended as a repetition of Genesis 46:27, and throws the reader back upon the details there adduced, which make up the exact number of "seventy souls," by the inclusion of Jacob himself, of Joseph, and of Joseph's two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. The inaccuracy by which Jacob is counted among his own descendants, is thoroughly Oriental and Hebraistic, however opposed to Western habits of thought. To stumble at it shows a narrow and carping spirit. (Compare note on Genesis 46:15.) For Joseph was in Egypt already. Joseph, i.e; has not been mentioned with the other sons of Jacob, since he did not "come into Egypt with Jacob," but was there previously. The transfer of the clause to the commencement of the verse, which is made by the LXX; is unnecessary.

Exodus 1:6

And Joseph died. Or, "So Joseph died"—a reference to Genesis 1:26and all his brethren. All the other actual sons of Jacob—some probably before him; some, as Levi (Genesis 6:16), after him. Joseph's "hundred and ten years" did not constitute an extreme longevity. And all that generation. All the wives of Jacob's sons, their sister Dinah, and the full-grown members of their households who accompanied them into Egypt.


Exodus 1:1-5

The patriarchal names.

I. THE NAMES IN THEMSELVES. Nothing seems to the ordinary reader of Holy Scripture so dry and uninteresting as a bare catalogue of names. Objections are even made to reading them as parts of Sunday or week-day "lessons." But "ALL Scripture," rightly viewed, "is profitable" (2 Timothy 3:16). Each Hebrew name has a meaning, and was given with a purpose. What a wealth of joys and sorrows, hopes and fears, surmises, triumphs, jealousies, is hid up in the list before us! Jacob, the supplanter (Genesis 27:36); Reuben, the son of God's gracious regard (Genesis 29:32); Simeon, the proof that God hears prayers and answers them (ib. verse 33); Levi, the bond of association between wife and husband; Judah, he for whom God is praised; Issachar, the son given as a reward; Zebulon, he who will make the husband and wife dwell together; Benjamin "son of my strength," otherwise Benoni, "son of my sorrow" (Genesis 35:16); Dan, the sign that there is a God who judges us; Naphtali, "one wrestled for"; Gad, "good fortune cometh"; Asher, "the happy one"! How the private life of Jacob, how the rivalries and heats and contentions of that polygamist household, come before us, as we read the names! How again, amid all these heats and contentions, is revealed on all sides a faithful trust in God, a conviction of his overruling providence, and an acceptance of that aspect of his character which the Apostle holds up to view, when he calls him "a rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Hebrews 11:6). Again, how strong the feeling, that, whatever cares and troubles they bring with them, children are a blessing! What a desire is shown to have children! What a pride in the possession of many children! Already "the Desire of all nations" was looked for, and each Hebrew mother hoped that in the line of descent from her might be born that Mighty One, who would "bruise the serpent's head" (Genesis 3:15), and in whom "all the nations of the earth would be blessed" (Genesis 12:3; Genesis 18:18). Thus this list of names, if we will consider the meaning of them and the occasion of their being given, may teach us many a lesson, and prove "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness."

II. THE ORDER OF THE NAMES. The order in which the names are given assigns a just advantage to legitimate and true marriage over even the most strictly legal union which falls short of true marriage. Let men beware lest they forfeit God's blessing upon their domestic life, by contracting marriage in any but the most solemn way that is open to them. There is a sanctity in the relation of husband and wife, that should lead us to surround the initial contract with every sacred association and every holy form that the piety of bygone ages has provided for us.

Again, the order followed assigns a just and rightful advantage to priority of birth. Primogeniture is in a certain sense, a law of nature. The elder brother, superior in strength, in knowledge, and experience, rightfully claims respect, submission, reverence from those younger than himself. In a properly regulated family this principle will be laid down and maintained. Age, unless by misconduct it forfeits its privilege, will be assigned the superior position; younger children will be required to submit themselves to elder ones; elder children will be upheld and encouraged to exercise a certain amount of authority over their juniors. There will be a training within the domestic circle in the habits both of direction and submission, which will prepare the way for the after discipline of life in the world.

III. THE NUMBER OF THE NAMES. Whatever minor lessons he may have intended to teach in this opening paragraph, the main purpose of the writer was undoubtedly to show from what small beginnings God produces the greatest, most remarkable, nay, the most astounding results. From the stock of one man and his twelve sons, with their households, God raised up, within the space of 430 years, a nation. Similarly, when "in the fulness of time" the New Dispensation succeeded the Old, from "the Twelve" and from "the Seventy" (Luke 10:1), the original "little flock" (Luke 12:32) was derived that "general assembly and church of the firstborn" (Hebrews 12:23) which is a "great multitude that no man can number" (Revelation 7:9). And the growth was even more rapid. "We are but of yesterday," says Tertullian, in the third century after our Lord's birth, "and yet we fill all places—your cities, islands, forts, towns, villages; nay, your camps, tribes, decuries—your palace, your senate, your forum." How wonderful is such increase in either case! How clearly the consequence of Divine favour and blessing!

Exodus 1:5

Joseph in Egypt.

Exodus here points back to Genesis. So the present is always pointing back to the past. In the life of an individual, in the life of a family, in the life of a nation, there is a continuity: no past act but affects the present—no present act but affects the future. Joseph's descent into Egypt is at the root of the whole of Exodus, underlies it, forms its substratum. Without an in-coming, no outgoing; and it was at Joseph's instance that his brethren had come into the country (Genesis 45:9-24). Or our thoughts may travel further back. "Joseph in Egypt." How had he come there? Through the envy and jealousy of brethren, provoked by the favouritism of a too fond father. Here are evils to be guarded against; here are sins to be east out. And yet of the evil good had come: "Ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good" (Genesis 50:20). "The fierceness of men he turns to his praise; and the fierceness of them he doth refrain" (Psalms 76:10). The cruel wrong done to Joseph had saved from starvation his father and his father's house, had preserved the entire people of the Egyptians from extreme suffering, and had brought Joseph himself to the highest honour. "God's ways are not as our ways, nor his thoughts as our thoughts." He is potent to bring good out of evil, and to turn the worst calamity into the choicest blessing.

Exodus 1:6

Joseph in death with all his generation.

There are some sayings so trite that we can scarcely bring ourselves to repeat them, so vital that we do not dare to omit them. One of these is that immemorial one: "We must all die." Joseph, great as he had been, useful as his life had been to others, unspeakably precious as it had proved to his near kinsmen, when his time came, went the way of all flesh—died like any common man, and "was put in a coffin" (Genesis 50:26) and buried. So it must always be with every earthly support and stay; it fails us at last, and if it does not betray us, at any rate deserts us; suddenly it is gone, and its place knows it no more. This is always to be borne in mind; and no excessive reliance is to be placed on individuals. The Church is safe; for its Lord is always "with it," and so will be "even to the end of the world." But the men in whom from time to time it trusts are all mortal—may at any time be lost to it—may in one hour be snatched away. It is important therefore for the Church to detach itself from individuals, and to hold to two anchors—Christ and the Faith of Christ—which can never cease to exist, and can never fail it. For, when our Joseph dies, there die with him, or soon after him, "all his brethren, and all that generation." The great lights of an age are apt to go out at once, or if a few linger on, they burn with a dim lustre. And the generation that hung upon their words despairs, and knows not which way to turn itself, until the thought comes—"Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." Then, in resting upon Christ, it is well with us. Well, too, for each generation to remember, it will not long stay behind—it will follow its teachers. Joseph dies—his brethren die; wait a few years, and God will have taken to himself "all that generation."


Exodus 1:1

Removal to Egypt.

This early instance of emigration shows—

I. How the CALL to leave the land of one's fathers may sometimes be

1. Unexpected Jacob little expected to end his days in Egypt.

2. Trying. Canaan, the land of promise, where were the graves of his ancestors, etc.

3. Mysterious. An apparent reversal of the lines on which Providence had hitherto been moving. Yet—

4. Distinct. Jacob had no doubt that God's call had come to him. It came first in providence, and was ratified by direct Divine permission (Genesis 46:2-5). Many have the indirect call, who can scarcely doubt that it is also a direct one. Causes of emigration—Want and distress at home, with reasonable prospect of comfort and plenty abroad; opening of a better field for talents and energies; state of health, necessitating change of climate; persecution, as in case of Huguenots, Pilgrim Fathers, etc.

II. What CONSOLATIONS the emigrant may carry with him.

1. God accompanies him (Genesis 46:4).

2. He can serve God yonder as well as here.

3. He is furthering wise and beneficent purposes. Little doubt of that, if he is leaving at God's bidding. Israel's residence in Egypt secured for the tribes—

(1) A home.

(2) Provision.

(3) Room to grow.

(4) Education in arts and letters.

(5) Valuable discipline

all preparatory to settlement in Canaan, and the fulfilment of their spiritual mission to the world.

4. The terminus is not Egypt, but Canaan. Jacob never saw again the Canaan he had left, but, dying in faith, he and his sons became heirs of the better Canaan. Whatever his earthly destination, let the emigrant keep in view a "better country, that is, an heavenly" (Hebrews 11:16).

III. The ADVANTAGES of emigration.

1. It is not always advantageous.

(1) Not always advantageous to the country left. A country that by misgovernment, bad laws, excessive taxation, or persecution, drives its best subjects from its soil, may be compared to a man who humours an insane bent by occasionally opening a vein.

(2) Not always advantageous to the country settled in. Emigrants may carry with them—too often do—low and immoral habits, and prove a curse, rather than a blessing, to the populations in whose midst they settle.

(3) Not always to the emigrant himself. His step may prove to have been hasty. He may have taken it On impulse, or on insufficient information, or in a spirit of adventure. He finds when too late that a sanguine disposition has deceived him. This is to go forth without a clear call. But—

2. Emigration, wisely and judiciously conducted, is of great benefit to society.

(1) It thins an overstocked country, and so relieves pressure on the means of subsistence.

(2) It occupies territory needing population to develop its resources.

(3) It affords room and scope for the vigorous expansion of a young race.

(4) It benefits native populations. The Egyptians would profit by the residence of the Hebrews in their midst.

(5) It may be made subservient to the diffusion of the knowledge of the true religion. How seldom is this thought of, yet what a responsibility rests on those who leave Christian shores, carrying with them, to lands sunk in the night of heathenism, the blessed truths of Christianity! The conclusion of the matter is: Let emigration be an act of faith. Do not, in so important a step in life, lean to your own understanding. Ask guidance and clear direction from on High. But if the way is open and the call plain, then, like Jacob, go forth, and go boldly, and in faith. Trust God to be with you. He goes before you to seek you out a place to dwell in, and will surely bless you in all you put your hand to (Deuteronomy 1:33; Deuteronomy 15:10).—J.O.

Exodus 1:1-6

The twelve foundations.

The heads of the covenant race had hitherto been single individuals. Abraham—IsaActs—Jacob. The one now expands into the twelve. Glance briefly at this list of the patriarchs.

I. THE MEN. Here we are struck—

1. With the original unfitness of most of these men for the position of dignity they were afterwards called to occupy. How shall we describe them! Recall Reuben's incest; Simeon and Levi's cruelty; Judah's lewdness; the "evil report" which Joseph brought to his father of the sons of the handmaids. The picture in the later chapters of Genesis is crowded with shadows, and it is chiefly the sins of these men which are the causes of them. Joseph is the one bright exception. The rest appear to have been men of a violent, truculent disposition, capable of selling their younger brother into Egypt, and afterwards, to screen their fault, of imposing by wilful falsehood on their aged father. Even in Benjamin, traits of character were discernible which gave ground for the tribal prediction: "Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf" (Genesis 49:17). How unlikely that men of so ungodly a stamp, who began so ill, should end by being exalted to be patriarch-heads of a covenant nation! And neither in truth were they, till, by God's grace, a great change had passed upon them. Their crime in selling Joseph was, in a sense, their salvation. It was an act for which they never forgave themselves. Compunction wrought in them a better disposition, and laid the basis for "a train of humiliating and soul-stirring providences, tending to force on them the conviction that they were in the hands of an angry God, and to bring them to repentance of sin and amendment of life." See—

(1) The natural unfitness of man for God's service; "that which is born of the flesh is flesh" (John 3:6).

(2) What the grace of God can make even of very bad men. "By grace ye are saved" (Ephesians 2:5).

(3) How those whom God designs for honour in his kingdom, he first prepares for that honour. Whatever disciplines are needful for that purpose—and they may not be few—he will not withhold.

2. With the variety of gifts and dispositions found amongst them. This variety is taken note of in the blessings of Jacob and of Moses, and is reflected in the history. Judah is from the first a leader. He and Joseph were heads of what subsequently became the royal tribes. Reuben's impulsiveness reminds us of Peter, but he lacked Peter's underlying constancy. Levi's zeal wrought at first for evil, but afterwards for good. The other brethren were less distinguished, but, as shown by the blessings, all were gifted, and gifted diversely. Does this not teach us?

(1) That God can use, and

(2) that God requires, every variety of gift in his service. Hence,

(3) that there is both room and need in his kingdom for all types and varieties of character—for every species of gift. A type of religion is self-condemned which cannot find room in it for the play and development of every legitimate capability of human nature. This is but to say that the goal of God's kingdom is the perfecting of humanity, not in part, but in the totality of its powers and functions. Grace does not suppress individuality; it develops and sanctifies it. It does not trample on gifts, but lays hold upon, transforms, and utilises them.

3. With the existence of a law of heredity in spiritual as in natural descent. The characteristics of the patriarchs were stamped with remarkable distinctness on the tribes which bore their names. Reuben's instability, Judah's capacity of rule, Levi's zeal, Dan's agility, Benjamin's fierceness, etc. This reappearance of ancestral characteristics in the descendants is a fact with which we are familiar, and is only explained in part by inherited, organisation. Inheritance of ideas, customs, family traditions, etc; plays quite as important a part in producing the result. A law this, capable of being the vehicle of much good, but also of much evil.—as potent to punish as to bless.

II. THEIR NUMBER. The number twelve not to be regarded as fortuitous. Twelve (3 × 4), the symbol of the indwelling of God in the human family, of the interpenetration of the world by the Divinity. Three, the number of the Divine; four, the number of the world. Hence, twelve tribes, twelve cakes of shewbread, twelve apostles, twelve foundations and twelve gates of the New Jerusalem. The number twelve is kept up in spite of actual departures from it in fact. The" twelve tribes" are spoken of in the days of the apostles (Acts 26:17; James 1:1), though, counting Levi; there were really thirteen tribes, and after the Captivity only two. It was doubtless with reference to the twelve tribes of Israel, and therefore to the number of these patriarchs, that Christ chose the twelve apostles. View the patriarchs, accordingly, as representing the covenant race, not only—

1. In its natural heads, but symbolically—

2. In its spiritual privilege as a people of God, and

3. In its world-wide destiny.—J.O.

Exodus 1:6

An ending.

The descent into Egypt was—

1. An ending.

2. A beginning.

It closed one chapter in God's providence, and opened a new one. It terminated the sojourn in Canaan; brought to a harmonious conclusion the complicated series of events which separated Joseph from his father, raised him to power in Egypt, wrought for the purification of his brethren's character, and prepared the way for the ultimate settlement of, the whole family in Goshen. It laid the foundation for new historical developments. There is now to be a pause, a breathing space, while the people are gradually multiplying, and exchanging the habits of nomadic life for those of agriculturists and dwellers in cities. The death of Joseph, and of his brethren, and of all that generation, is the proper close of this earlier period. Their part is played out, and the stage is cleared for new beginnings.

1. They died—so must we all. The common fate, yet infinitely pathetic when reflected on.

2. They died—the end of earthly greatness. Joseph had all he could wish for of earthly power and splendour, and he enjoyed it through a long lifetime. Yet he must part with it. Well for him that he had something better in prospect.

3. They died—the end of earthly disciplines. The lives of the brethren had been singularly eventful. By painful disciplines God had moulded them for good. Life to every one is a divinely ordained discipline. The end is to bring us to repentance, and build us up in faith and holiness. With some, the discipline succeeds; with others it fails. In either case death ends it. "After this the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). The fact of discipline an argument for immortality. God does not spend a lifetime in perfecting a character, that just when the finishing touches have been put upon it, he may dash it into non-existence. Death ends discipline, but we carry with us the result and the responsibility.

4. They died—Joseph and his brethren—happily in faith. There was a future they did not live to see; but their faith grasped God's promise, and "Joseph, when he died, gave commandment concerning his bones" (Hebrews 11:22). And behind the earthly Canon loomed something better—an inheritance which they and we may share together.—J.O.


Exodus 1:1-22

The prosperity of Israel.

This prosperity was not a mere appearance, nor a passing spurt of fortune. It was a deep, abiding, and significant reality. Nor was it something exaggerated in order to make an excuse for the cruelties of a suspicious tyrant. There was indeed only too much to make Pharaoh uneasy; but altogether apart from his alarms there is a plain and emphatic statement of the prosperity of Israel in Exodus 1:7. It is a very emphatic statement indeed, summoning us m the most imperative way to a special notice of this remarkable prosperity. Let us therefore take a general view of Israel's prosperity as it is set before us in all the extent of this first chapter. Note—

I. THE INDICATIONS OF THIS PROSPERITY. The prosperity is not only plainly stated, but the chapter abounds in indications of Jehovah's favour towards Israel, and his peculiar watchfulness over it.

1. The wonderful way in which God had brought a whole family into Egypt, and provided for their comfortable settlement in the land. Families usually get scattered; but here are the children of Israel and children's children all kept together. The very means which they had employed in order to get rid of one of their number who was an offence to them, had ended in their being brought together more closely than ever. Joseph went before, and all unconsciously made a solid foundation for the building of their prosperity. Through all domestic jealousies, in the perils of famine, and in their journeyings between Canaan and Egypt, the Lord had preserved these twelve men so that not one of them was lacking in his contribution to the future excellency of Israel.

2. The name by which they were described—the children of Israel. God had said to Jacob (Genesis 32:28), "Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel," and yet down to the end of his life he is sometimes called Jacob and sometimes Israel, as if to keep before our minds both his natural character and also his new position and privileges gained in the memorable wrestling at Peniel. These twelve men, the fathers of the tribes, were children of Israel as well as sons of Jacob. Jacob himself had done many things to show the meanness and corruption of fallen human nature, and his sons had been not one whir better than himself (consider the revengeful action of Simeon and Levi in Genesis 34:25; the conduct of Reuben in Genesis 35:22; and especially the conduct of the brethren towards Joseph and the father who so doted upon him). But these sons of Jacob, with all their personal demerits, were also the children of him who by his sublime, persistent, courageous, and successful struggle had gained the name of Israel. It was a name to be transmitted from them to their children, full of significance, recalling a glorious experience in the past and promising a still more glorious experience in the future. It was a name not to be forfeited even in the greatest apostasies, and perhaps its chief splendour lay in this, that it pointed forward to a still more glorious fatherhood enjoyed by those who through the gracious work of him who taught Nicodemus concerning regeneration, are permitted to say, "Now are we the children and heirs of God."

3. The apprehensive attitude of Pharaoh. He is a witness to the greatness of Israel's prosperity, and to the Divine and miraculous origin of it, all the more valuable because he gives his evidence unconsciously. The more we consider his unaffected alarm and his continuous and energetic efforts to crush Israel, the more we feel what a real and Divine thing Israel's prosperity was, how it was nourished by the secret and unassailable strength of God. It should be a matter of great rejoicing to God's people when the world, in its hatred, suspicion, and instinctive sense of danger, takes to the instruments of persecution, for then there is unmistakable indication of prosperity within.

II. WHEREIN THE PROSPERITY CONSISTED. It did not consist in the accumulation of external possessions. The Israelites might have remained comparatively few or have increased in a way such as to excite no attention. Their increase might have been in external wealth, and this would have been reckoned, by many, true prosperity. But it would not have been prosperity after a godly sort. It was the purpose of God to show in Israel how our true resources come, not from things outside of us, but from the quality of the life which he puts within. Hence the prosperity of Israel was not the result of industry, personal ability, and fortunate circumstances. It was shown by the manifestation of a miraculous fulness of life. The husbandman does not reckon it anything wonderful that there should be among the trees of his vineyard a certain increase of fruitfulness, corresponding to the carefulness of his cultivation. But if all at once certain trees begin to put forth a fulness of fruit altogether beyond expectation, the husbandman would not claim that such a result came from him. There is the greatest possible difference between the prosperity lying in mere external possessions and that which comes from the energy of a Divine life working in us. It needs no special help from God to make a man a millionaire. There are but few who can be such; but place them in favourable circumstances, and the immense results of their industry and attention are quite intelligible. But to produce such a result as appears in the peculiar prosperity of Israel in Egypt required a special influx of Divine energy. We have not only unmistakable indications of the prosperity of Israel; it is an equally important thing to notice that this prosperity in its peculiar character is an indication of the presence of God. He was doing what none but himself could do. Learn then that our spiritual prosperity must be something produced by God manifesting his power in Our hearts. There is no chance of attributing it to our unaided industry, attention, and prudence. It is a growth more than anything else, and must show itself in the abundant and beautiful fruits of a Divine life within us.

III. A PAINFUL ACCOMPANIMENT OF THE PROSPERITY. Such prosperity as is indicated in Exodus 1:7 could not but produce apprehension and opposition on the part of Pharaoh—inevitably assuming, as it did, the appearance of a menace to his kingdom. But it was better for Israel to go on increasing with the increase of God, even in the midst of persecutions, than to be without the persecutions on condition of being without the increase. Spiritual prosperity not only may be, but must be, accompanied with afflictions of the natural life. That is a very doubtful spirituality which manages to keep clear of all temporal troubles. They that will live godly must suffer persecution. Let us pray for spiritual prosperity, and hail its coming, and secure its stay, whatever pains be suffered and whatever lesser comforts be lost. The more the life of God is in us, the more we must expect the powers of evil to be stirred against us.—Y.


Exodus 1:1-7

Tarry thou the Lord's leisure.

Introduction to the Book of Exodus. How much summed up in so few words. When men live history, every month seems important; when God records history a few sentences suffice for generations. Man's standpoint in the midst of the tumult is so different from God's: he "sitteth above the waterflood" and seeth "the end from the beginning" (Psalms 29:10; Isaiah 46:10). From God's standpoint we have here as of main consequence—

I. A LIST OF NAMES, verses 1-5. Names of certain emigrants. More in them than seems at first sight. If I say, "William, Arthur etc; came to England at such and such a time," not much. If I say, "William, a great warrior; Arthur, a great inventor; we feel at once that with them elements are introduced which may prove important. In these early times names are connected with the characters of the men who bear them. All these names are significant. Illustrate from their meaning as given in Genesis 29:1-35; etc; and expanded in Jacob's blessing, Genesis 49:1-33. We are supposed, too, to know something of the men from the previous history. The whole, taken together, shows us, as it were, a nation in embryo—a nation of which the characteristics were wholly different from those of the Egyptians. "Seventy souls," but—

1. Seed souls; bound to develop through their offspring the characteristics they exhibited.

2. United, not isolated; a nation in embryo, not a collocation of units.

II. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE BEARERS OF THE NAMES, Genesis 49:6. All died-Joseph and all that generation. The common lot, but, from God's standpoint, the ordained method of development (John 12:24). What wailing, as each patriarch, in his own time, passed away! Yet with each death the harvest of the future was being ever more securely sown. Death, as it were, rounds off the life; pedestals it; sets it where it can become exemplary. So set it becomes fruitful; the old husk drops away, and the true life-grain is enfranchised, Gad, Asher, and the rest, very ordinary men, or, if not ordinary, not very high-class men; and yet, once dead, they are rightly reverenced as the fathers of their tribes. Which is better, the day of death or the day of birth? The day which makes life possible for us, or the day which, by sanctifying our memory, makes that life an ennobling influence for others?

III. HOW THE DESCENDANTS PROSPERED, Genesis 49:7. So—through the vicissitudes of life; the varieties of character; the monotony of death—God works on, slowly but certainly, to his destined end. New generations, each more numerous, succeed the old. Power and prosperity, for a time, go hand-in-hand with increased numbers—the people "waxed exceeding mighty." [The shepherd life, even in Egypt, ensured some knowledge of warfare. Goshen, the border land—cf. "the borders' in the wars with Scotland. Perhaps Joseph had purposely placed his brethren as a defence to Egypt against raids from the desert.] Families grew into tribes, and the tribes learnt their first lessons in discipline and war. Egypt, God's Aldershot—the training-ground for his armies. Canaan had to be conquered and cleared, but God could take his own time about it. When at length the hour should come, it would find his preparations perfected.

Application:—Would that man—God's child—would be content to copy his Father's methods—slow; thorough; a definite end in view; quiet, persistent preparation. No haste, no hurry, no delay (Isaiah 28:16).—G.

Verses 7-14


Exodus 1:7-14

Here the real narrative of Exodus begins. The history of the Israelites from and after the death of Joseph is entered on. The first point touched is their rapid multiplication. The next their falling under the dominion of a new king. The third, his mode of action under the circumstances. It is remarkable that the narrative contains no notes of time. How long the increase continued before the new king arose, how long it went on before he noticed it, how long the attempt was made to cheek it by mere severity of labour, we are not told. Some considerable duration of time is implied, both for the multiplication (verse 7) and for the oppression (verse 11-14); but the narrator is so absorbed in the matters which he has to communicate that the question what time these matters occupied does not seem even to occur to him. And so it is with the sacred narrative frequently—perhaps we should say, generally. The chronological element is regarded as of slight importance; "A thousand years in the Lord's sight are but as yesterday"—"one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." Where a profane writer would have been to the last degree definite and particular, a sacred writer is constantly vague and indeterminate. We have in the Bible nothing like an exact continuous chronology. Certain general Chronological ideas may be obtained from the Bible; but in order to construct anything like a complete chronological scheme, frequent reference has to be made to profane writers and monuments, and such a scheme must be mainly dependent on these references. Archbishop Ussher's dates, inserted into the margin of so many of our Bibles, are the private speculations of an individual on the subject of mundane chronology, and must not be regarded as in any way authoritative. Their primary basis is profane history; and, though taking into consideration all the Scriptural numbers, they do not consistently follow any single rule with respect to them. Sometimes the authority of the Septuagint, sometimes that of the Hebrew text, is preferred; and the result arrived at is in a high degree uncertain and arbitrary.

Exodus 1:7

The multiplication of the Israelites in Egypt from "seventy souls" to "six hundred thousand that were men" (Gen 12:1-20 :37)—a number which may fairly be said to imply a total of at least two millions—has been declared to be "impossible," and to stamp the whole narrative of Exodus with the character of unreality and romance. Manifestly, the soundness of this criticism depends entirely on two things—first, the length of time- during which the stay in Egypt continued; and secondly, the sense in which the original number of the children of Israel in Egypt is said to have been "seventy souls." Now, as to the first point, there are two theories—one, basing itself on the Septuagint version of Exodus 12:40, would make the duration of the Egyptian sojourn 215 years only; the other, following the clear and repeated statement of the Hebrew text (Exodus 12:40, Exodus 12:41), literally rendered in our version, would extend the time to 430 years, or exactly double it. Much may be said on both sides of this question, and the best critics are divided with respect to it. The longer period is supported' by Kalisch, Kurtz, Knobel, Winer, Ewald, Delitzsch, and Canon Cook among modems; by Koppe, Frank, Beer, Rosenmuller, Hofmann, Tiele, Reinke, Jahn, Vater, and J. D. Michaelis among earlier critics; the short period is approved by Calvin, Grotius, Buddeus, Morinus, Voss, Houbigant, Baumgarten; and among our own countrymen, by Ussher, Marsham, Geddes, and Kennicott. The point cannot be properly argued in an "exposition" like the present; but it may be remarked that both reason and authority are in favour of the simple acceptance of the words of the Hebrew text, which assign 430 years as the interval between Jacob's descent into Egypt and the deliverance under Moses.

With respect to the number of those who accompanied Jacob into Egypt, and were assigned the land of Goshen for a habitation (Genesis 47:6), it is important to bear in mind, first of all, that the "seventy souls" enumerated in Genesis 46:8-27 comprised only two females, and that "Jacob's sons' wives" are expressly mentioned as not included among them (ib. Genesis 46:26). If we add the wives of 67 males, we shall have, for the actual family of Jacob, 137 persons. Further, it is to be borne in mind that each Israelite family which went down into Egypt was accompanied by its "household" (Exodus 1:1), consisting of at least some scores of dependants. If each son of Jacob had even 50 such retainers, and if Jacob himself had a household like that of Abraham (Genesis 14:14), the entire number which "went down into Egypt" would have amounted to at least 2000 persons.

According to Malthus, population tends to double itself, if there be no artificial check restraining it, every twenty-five years. At this rate, 2000 persons would expand into 2,048,000 in 250 years, 1000 would reach the same amount in 275 years, and 500 in 300 years; so that, even supposing the "seventy souls" with their "households" to have numbered no more than 500 persons when they went down into Egypt, the people would, unless artificially checked, have exceeded two millions at the expiration of three centuries—that is to say, 130 years before the Exodus! No doubt, the artificial checks which keep down the natural tendency of population to increase began to tell upon them considerably before that time. The "land of Goshen."a broad tract of very fertile country, became tolerably thickly peopled, and the rate of increase gradually subsided. Still, as the Delta was a space of from 7000 to 8000 square miles, and the land of Goshen was probably about half of it, a population of two millions is very much what we should expect, being at the rate of from 500 to 600 persons to the square mile.
It is an interesting question whether the Egyptian remains do, or do not, contain any mention of the Hebrew sojourn; and if they do, whether any light is thereby thrown on these numbers. Now it is admitted on all hands that, about the time of the Hebrew sojourn, there was in Egypt a subject race, often employed in forced labours, called Aperu or Aperiu, and it seems impossible to deny that this word is a very fair Egyptian equivalent for the Biblical עצרים, "Hebrews." We are forced, therefore, either to suppose that there were in Egypt, at one and the same time, two subject races with names almost identical, or to admit the identification of the Aperu with the descendants of Jacob. The exact numbers of the Aperu are nowhere mentioned; but it is a calculation of Dr. Brugsch that under Rameses II; a little before the Exodus, the foreign races in Egypt, of whom the Aperu were beyond all doubt the chief, "amounted certainly to a third, and probably still more," of the whole population, which is usually reckoned at from 7,000,000 to 8,000,000, One-third of this number would be from 2,300,000 to 2,600,000.

The writer of Exodus does not, however, as yet, make anything like a definite calculation. He is merely bent on having it understood that there had been a great multiplication, and that the "family" had grown into a "nation." To emphasise his statement, he uses four nearly synonymous verbs ("were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed-mighty"), adding to the last a duplicated adverb, bim'od m'od, "much, much." Clearly, an astonishing increase is intended.

Exodus 1:8

There arose up a new king. It is asked, Does this mean merely another king, or a completely different king, one of a new dynasty or a new family, not bound by precedent, but free to adopt and likely to adopt quite new principles of government? The latter seems the more probable supposition; but it is probable only, not certain. Assuming it to be what is really meant, we have to ask, What changes of dynasty fall within the probable period of the Israelite sojourn in Egypt, and to which of them is it most likely that allusion is here made? Some writers (as Kalisch) have supposed the Hyksos dynasty to be meant, and the "new king" to be Set, or Salatis, the first of the Hyksos rulers. But the date of Salatis appears to us too early. If Joseph was, as we suppose, the minister of Apophis, the last Hyksos king, two changes of dynasty only can come into consideration—that which took place about b.c. 1700, when the Hyksos were expelled; and that which followed about three centuries later, when the eighteenth dynasty was superseded by the nineteenth. To us it seems that the former of these occasions, though in many respects suitable, is

(a) too near the going down into Egypt to allow time for the multiplication which evidently took place before this king arose (see Exodus 1:7), and

(b) unsuitable from the circumstance that the first king of this dynasty was not a builder of new cities (see Exodus 1:11), but only a repairer of temples. We therefore conclude that the "new king" was either Rameses I; the founder of the nineteenth dynasty, or Seti I; his son, who within little more than a year succeeded him. It is evident that this view receives much confirmation from the name of one of the cities built for the king by the Hebrews, which was Raamses, or Rameses, a name now appearing for the first time in the Egyptian dynastic lists.

Who knew not Joseph. Who not only had no personal know]edge of Joseph, but was wholly ignorant of his history. At the distance of from two to three centuries the benefits conferred by Joseph upon Egypt, more especially as they were conferred under a foreign and hated dynasty, were forgotten.

Exodus 1:9

And he said unto his people, Behold, the children of Israel are more and mightier than we. Literally, "great and strong in comparison with us." Actual numerical superiority is not, perhaps, meant; yet the expression is no doubt an exaggerated one, beyond the truth—the sort of exaggeration in which unprincipled persons indulge when they would justify themselves for taking an extreme and unusual course.

Exodus 1:10

Come on. The "Come then" of Kalisch is better. Let us deal wisely. "The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light." Severe grinding labour has often been used as a means of keeping down the aspirations of a people, if not of actually diminishing their numbers, and has been found to answer. Aristotle (Pol. 5.9) ascribes to this motive the building of the Pyramids and the great works of Polycrates of Samos, Pisistratus of Athens, and the Cypselidae of Corinth. The constructions of the last Tarquin are thought to have had the same object. Lest, when there falleth out any war, they join also to our enemies. 'At the accession of the nineteenth dynasty, though there was peace, war threatened. While the Egyptians, under the later monarchs of the eighteenth dynasty, had been quarrelling among themselves, a great nation upon their borders "had been growing up to an importance and power which began to endanger the Egyptian supremacy in Western Asia". Both Rameses I. and his son Seti had almost immediately after their accession to engage in a war, which was rather defensive the, offensive, with the Khita, or Hittites, who were the great power of Syria. At the commencement of his reign, Seti may well have feared a renewed invasion like that of the Hyksos, which would no doubt have been greatly helped by a rising of the Israelites. And so get them up out of the land. Literally, "And go up out of the land." The Pharaoh already fears that the Israelites will quit Egypt. As men of peaceful and industrious habits, and in some cases of considerable wealth (Joseph. 'Ant. Jud.' 2.9, § 1), they at once increased the strength of Egypt and the revenue of the monarch. Egypt was always ready to receive refugees, and loth to lose them. We find in a treaty made by Rameses II; the son of Seti, with the Hittites, a proviso that any Egyptian subjects who quit the country, and transfer themselves to the dominion of the Hittite king, shall be sent back to Egypt.

Exodus 1:11

They did set over them taskmasters. Literally, "lords of tribute," or "lords of service." The term used, sarey massim, is the Egyptian official title for over-lookers of forced labour. It occurs in this sense on the monument representing brick-making, which has been supposed by some to be a picture of the Hebrews at work. To afflict them with their burdens. Among the tasks set the labourers in the representation above alluded to are the carrying of huge lumps of clay and of water-jars on one shoulder, and also the conveyance of bricks from place to place by means of a yoke. They built for Pharaoh treasure-cities, Pithom and Raamses. By "treasure-cities" we are to understand "store-cities," or "cities of store," as the same word is translated in 1 Kings 9:19 and 2 Chronicles 8:4. Such cities contained depots of provisions and magazines of arms. They were generally to be found on all assailable frontiers in ancient as in modern times. (Compare 2 Chronicles 11:5, 2 Chronicles 11:12; 2Ch 33:1-25 :28, etc.) Of the cities here mentioned, which the Israelites are said to have "built," or helped to build, Pithom is in all probability the Patumes of Herodotus (2:158), which was not far from Bubastis, now Tel-Basta. Its exact site is uncertain, but if identical with the Thou, or Thoum, of the ' Itinerary of An-tonine,' it must have lain north of the Canal of Necho, not south, where most maps place it. The word means "abode of the sun," or rather "of the setting sun," called by the Egyptians Tam, or Atum. Names formed on the model were very common under the nineteenth dynasty, Rameses II. having built a Pa-Ra, a Pa-Ammon, and a Pa-Phthah in Nubia. Pa-Tum itself has not been found among the cities of this period, but appears in the records of the twentieth dynasty as a place where the Setting-Sun god had a treasury. The name Rameses is probably put for Pa-Rameses (as Thoum for Pa-Tum), a city frequently mentioned in the inscriptions of the nineteenth dynasty, and particularly favoured by Rameses II; whose city it was especially called, and by whom it was greatly enlarged, if not wholly built. We incline to believe that the building was commenced by Seti, who named the place, as he did his great temple, the Rameseum, after his father. The city was, according to Brugsch, a sort of suburb of Tanis. It was a magnificent place, and under Rameses II. and his son Menephthah was the ordinary residence of the court. Hence the miracles of Moses are said to have been wrought "in the field of Zoan," i.e. the country about Tanis (Psalms 78:12, Psalms 78:43).

Exodus 1:12

They were grieved because of the children of Israel. The word grieved very insufficiently renders the Hebrew verb, which "expresses a mixture of loathing and alarm". Kalisch translates forcibly, if inelegantly—"They had a horror of the children of Israel."

Exodus 1:13

The Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour. The word translated rigour is a very rare one. It is derived from a root which means "to break in pieces, to crush." The "rigour" would be shown especially in the free use of the stick by the taskmaster, and in the prolongation of the hours of work.

Exodus 1:14

They made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in morter and in brick. While stone was the material chiefly employed by the Egyptians for their grand edifices, temples, palaces, treasuries, and the like, brick was also made use of to a large extent for inferior buildings, for tombs, dwelling-houses, walls of towns, forts, enclosures of temples, etc. There are examples of its employment in pyramids; but only at a time long anterior to the nineteenth and even to the eighteenth dynasty. If the Pharaoh of the present passage was Seti I; the bricks made may have been destined in the main for that great wall which he commenced, but did not live to complete, between Pelusium and Heliopolis, which was to secure his eastern frontier. All manner of labour in the field. The Israelitish colony was originally employed to a large extent in tending the royal flocks and herds (Genesis 47:6). At a later date many of them were engaged in agricultural operations (Deuteronomy 11:10). These, in Egypt, are in some respects light, e.g. preparing the land and ploughing, whence the remark of Herodotus (2.14); but in other respects exceedingly heavy. There is no country where care and labour are so constantly needed during the whole of the year. The inundation necessitates extreme watchfulness, to save cattle, to prevent the houses and the farmyards from being inundated, and the embankments from being washed away. The cultivation is continuous throughout the whole of the year; and success depends upon a system of irrigation that requires constant labour and unremitting attention. If the "labour in the field" included, as Josephus supposed (1.s.c.), the cutting of canals, their lives would indeed have been "made bitter." There is no such exhausting toil as that of working under the hot Egyptian sun, with the feet in water, in an open cutting, where there can be no shade, and scarcely a breath of air, from sunrise to sunset, as forced labourers are generally required in do. Me-hemet Ali lost 20,000 labourers out of 150,000 in the construction of the Alexandrian Canal towards the middle of the present century.


Exodus 1:7, Exodus 1:12

God the Protector of his people.

I. THE MULTIPLICATION OF ISRAEL. All increase is of God, and comes to man by his blessing. As he gave the original command, "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth" (Genesis 1:28), so he in every case gives the new lives by which the earth is replenished. "Children, and the fruit of the womb, are an heritage and gift that cometh of the Lord" (Psalms 128:3). He gives or withholds offspring as he pleases; enlarges families, tribes, nations, or causes them to decline, decay, and die out. Increase is a sign of his favour—

1. To the individual—"Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them" (Psalms 128:5);

2. To the nation—"I will multiply them and they shall not be few; I will also glorify them and they shall not be small" (Jeremiah 30:19); and

3. To churches—"Walking in the fear of the Lord, and the comfort of the Holy Ghost, they were multiplied" (Acts 9:31). A nation or church that increases has, so far at any rate, a sign of God's approval of it, of his favour, of his having in his eternal counsels work for it to do for him in the present and the future. One which dwindles has, on the contrary, a note of God's disapproval—at the very least, a warning that all is not with it as it should be. Nations, when they can no longer do God service, die out; churches, when they become effete and useless, have their candlesticks removed (Revelation 2:5).

II. EFFECT OF PERSECUTION ON IT. Note, that the effect of persecution was the very opposite of what was intended. The more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied. So is it ever with God's people. Persecutions always "fall out for the furtherance of the Gospel" (Philippians 1:12). "They which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen, travelled as far as Phoenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch preaching the word" (Acts 11:19). Persecution brought Paul to Rome, and enabled him to proclaim the Gospel and make many converts in the very citadel of Satan, the headquarters of the enemy. So marked was the prevalence of the law, that among the early Christians it became a proverb, that "the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church." After each of the ten great Imperial persecutions, the Church was found within a brief space to be more numerous than ever. And so it will be to the end. "The gates of Hell" cannot prevail against the Church. Out of the last and greatest of all the persecutions, when Antichrist shall be revealed, the Church will issue triumphant, a "great multitude, which no man can number" (Revelation 7:9).

Exodus 1:8

Joseph forgotten.

"The evil that men do lives after them—the good is oft interred with their bones." Had Joseph been a tyrant, a conqueror, an egotist who crushed down the Egyptians by servile toil for the purpose of raising a huge monument to his own glory, he would no doubt have remained fresh in the memory of the nation, and his name and acts would have been familiar even to a "new king," who was yet an Egyptian and an educated man. But as he had only been a benefactor of the nation, and especially of the kings (Genesis 47:20-26), he was utterly forgotten—as some think, within sixty-five years of his death, but according to our calculations, not till about 275 years after it. This is about the space that separates us from Queen Elizabeth, who is certainly not forgotten, as neither are her ministers. So Christian nations would seem to have better memories than heathen ones. In time, however, every man is forgotten; and Christians should therefore not make their object the praise of men, or posthumous fame, but the praise and approval of God, which will continue for ever. "God is not unrighteous to forget" (Hebrews 6:10)

Exodus 1:10-12

The wisdom of the wise brought to nought.

God is wont to "destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent" (1 Corinthians 1:19). He "makes the devices of the people of none effect" (Psalms 33:10). Humanly speaking, the Pharaoh had done "wisely," had counselled well: many a people has been crushed utterly under the yoke of an oppressor, ground down by hard labour—even after a time well-nigh exterminated. It was a clever and crafty plan to avoid the risk and discredit of a massacre of unoffending subjects, and at the same time to gain advantage by their heavy labours while effectually thinning their ranks through the severity of the toils imposed on them. Unless God had interfered, and by his secret help supported and sustained his people; enabled them to retain their health and strength under the adverse circumstances; induced them, bitter and hopeless as their lot seemed, still to contract marriages, and blessed those marriages, not only with offspring, but with superabundant offspring (see Exodus 1:12 and Exodus 1:20)—the result anticipated would without doubt have followed: the multiplication of the people would have been checked—their numbers would soon have begun to diminish. But God had determined that so it should not be. He had promised Abraham an extraordinary increase in the number of his descendants, and was not going to permit a cruel and crafty king to interfere with the carrying out of his designs, the performance of his gracious promises. So the more that Pharaoh and his obsequious subjects afflicted them, "the more they multiplied and grew"—"the little one became a thousand, and the small one a strong nation"—the Lord "hastened it in his time" (Isaiah 60:22). Christians therefore need never fear the devices of their enemies, however politic they may seem. God has the power, and if he sees fit will exert it, to turn the wisdom of the world into foolishness, to upset all human calculations, confound all prudent counsels, and make each act done in opposition to his will help to work it out. In Israel's case, the hard labour and unceasing toil which made their lives bitter (Exodus 1:14), was at once needed to wean their minds from the recollection of the "fleshpots" and other delights of Egypt, and so make them content to quit it; and also it was required to brace them for the severe life of the wilderness—the hard fare, the scant water, the scorching heat by day, the chill dews at night; to harden their frames, relaxed by a time of sensual indulgence (Exodus 16:3), and nerve their minds to endurance.


Exodus 1:7-11

A multiplying people and a king's fears.

The increase of Israel in Egypt excited Pharaoh's jealousy. They were a useful people, and he dreaded their departure (Exodus 1:10). But their staying was almost equally an occasion of uneasiness. Their position in Lower Egypt, so near the frontier, made them dangerous in case of wars. Revolutions were not infrequent, and many things were less likely than a future Hebrew dynasty. Hence the policy of breaking their power, and checking their increase, by reducing them to servitude.


1. Natural—that is, not miraculous, but due to the superabundant blessing of God on ordinary means—it was yet,

2. Extraordinary, and

3. Invincible—defying the efforts of the tyrant to check it. It may be legitimately viewed as a type of the spiritual increase of the Church. This also—

1. Excites astonishment. So great a fruitfulness had never before been known. It was a marvel to all who witnessed it. Like surprise is awakened by the facts of the history of the Church. Consider

(1) The smallness of the Church's beginnings.

(2) The rapidity of her growth.

(3) What opposition she has encountered.

(4) What efforts have been made to crush her.

(5) How she survives, and has from time to time renewed her youth.

(6) How she has even thriven in the fires of persecution.

(7) How, notwithstanding formidable resistance, and great internal lukewarmness and corruption, her progress is being steadily maintained.

2. Awakens jealousy and fear. The world does not relish the progress of the Gospel. It resents it as full of danger to itself. The filling of the land with sincere believers would mean the downfall of its power. Its spirit shown in opposition to revivals of religion, in decrying missions, in anger at bold and fearless preaching of Christ, followed by saving results, etc.

3. Can only be accounted for by ascribing it to God as its author, Naturalistic explanations have been offered. Gibbon has enumerated "secondary causes." So "secondary causes," might be pointed to in explaining the increase of Israel, yet these alone would not account for it. There was implied a Divine power, imparting to ordinary means an extraordinary efficacy. As little can the success of Christianity be explained on grounds of mere naturalism.

1. The Bible attributes it to Divine efficiency.

2. Those who experience its power unhesitatingly trace it to this source.

3. The Church is successful only as she relies on Divine assistance.

4. Naturalistic theories, one and all, break down in their attempts at explanation.

Each new one that appears founds itself on the failure of its predecessors. It, in turn, is exploded by a rival. The supernatural hypothesis is the only one which accounts for all the facts.

II. VIEW PHARAOH'S POLICY AS A TYPE OF WORLDLY POLICY GENERALLY. Leave it to describe itself, and it is—

1. Far-seeing.

2. Politic,

3. Unsentimental. Napoleon was unsentimental: "What are a hundred thousand lives, more or less, to me!"

4. A necessity of the time.

Describe it as it ought to be described, and it appears in a less favourable light.

1. Ever awake to selfish interests.

2. Acute to perceive (or imagine) danger.

3. Unrestrained by considerations of gratitude. The new king "knew not Joseph." Nations, like individuals, are often forgetful of their greatest benefactors.

4. Regardless of the rights of others.

5. Cruel—stops at nothing. It will, with Pharaoh, reduce a nation to slavery; or, with Napoleon, deluge continents with blood. Yet—

6. Is essentially short-sighted. All worldly policy is so. The King of Egypt could not have taken a more effectual means of bringing about the evils that he dreaded. He made it certain, if-it was uncertain before, that in the event of war, the Hebrews would take part with his enemies. He set in motion a train of causes, which, as it actually happened, led to the departure of the whole people from Egypt. His policy thus outwitted itself, proved suicidal, proclaimed itself to be folly. Learn—

1. The folly of trusting in man. "Beware of men" (Matthew 10:17).

2. How futile man's wisdom and cunning are when matched against God's power.

3. The short-sightedness of selfish and cruel action.—J.O.

Exodus 1:11-14

The bondage.

I. HOW EFFECTED? Doubtless, partly by craft, and partly by force. To one in Pharaoh's position, where there was the will to enslave, there would soon be found the way.

1. The Israelites were politically weak. "The patriarchal family had grown into a horde; it must have lost its domestic character, yet it had no polity a people in this state was ripe for slavery" (Maurice).

2. And Pharaoh had no scruples. Those engaged in tillage and keeping of cattle could easily be ruined by heaping on them tributes and exactions. Liberty once forfeited, they were at Pharaoh's disposal, to do with as he listed. Of the rest, large numbers were probably already employed—as forced labourers—on Pharaoh's works of construction. Over these (Exodus 1:11), it was proposed to set "taskmasters"—"chiefs of tribute"—to afflict them with their burdens.

3. Complaint was useless. The Hebrews soon found, as expressed afterwards (Exodus 5:19), that they were "in evil case"—that a general conspiracy, from the king downwards, had been entered into to rob, injure, and oppress them. Their subjugation in these circumstances was easily accomplished. Learn—

1. A nation may outgrow itself. It will do so if intelligence and morals, with suitable institutions, do not keep pace with numbers.

2. Great prosperity is not always an advantage. It

(1) excites jealousy;

(2) tempts cupidity;

(3) usually weakens by enervating.

II. WHY PERMITTED? This question may be answered by viewing the bondage

1. Is a punishment for sins. The Hebrews had doubtless greatly corrupted themselves in Egypt, and had become in their masses very like the people around them. This was in them a sin that could not pass unpunished. God cannot suspend his moral Laws even for his own people. If they do wrong, they must, no less than others, suffer for it. Nay, they will be punished with even greater severity than others are for similar offences. It is this which explains the bitter servitude of Israel. The nation is allowed to sink into a condition which is at once a fit retribution for its own sin, and an apt image of the condition of the sinner generally. For sin is slavery. It is inward bondage. It is degradation. It is rigorous service, and bitterness, and misery. God's law, the soul's own lusts, an exacting world, become in different ways taskmasters. It is unprofitable service. It sends a man to the husks, to the swine-troughs. It is slavery from which nothing but the power of God Almighty can redeem us. We bless God for our greater Moses, and the grander Exodus.

2. As a trial of faith. It would be so in a very especial degree to the godly portion of Israel. For why this long hiding of God's face—this keeping silence while his people were broiling and perishing under their terrible tasks? Did it not seem as though the promise had failed and God had forgotten to be gracious? (Psalms 77:8, Psalms 77:9.) Truly we need not wonder at anything in God's dealings with his Church when we reflect on how long and how fearfully Israel was afflicted. The faith which endured this trial must have come out of the furnace seven times purified,

3. As a moral preparation. It is now manifest, though it could hardly have been seen then, how needful was this affliction, protracted through successive generations—

(1) To wean the people's hearts from Egypt.

(2) To make them willing to leave it.

(3) To make the thought of Canaan sweet to them.

(4) To break up trust in self and man.

(5) To lead them to cry mightily to God.

The same reasons, in whole or part, serve to explain why God lays trials on ourselves; indicate at least the ends which affliction is used to subserve. Had everything been prosperous, the hearts of Israel would naturally have clung to the fleshpots; their hopes would have been forgotten; even their God would in time have been abjured.—J.O.


Exodus 1:7-14

Israel in Egypt.

The life of a people, like that of an individual, to a great extent shaped by circumstances. In Canaan the Israelites might learn hardihood, but no room for much growth; few opportunities for national organisation; the tendency would be for the families to separate, each seeking pasturage for its own flocks (cf. Abraham and Lot). To become a nation they had to be placed

(1) where they might increase and multiply, and

(2) where their slightly connected elements might coalesce and be welded into one.

To attain this object God led his people into Egypt. [Cf. (1) Hothouse where plants may strike and grow before being planted out, and (2) Deuteronomy 4:20. Furnace where metal may be smelted into one homogeneous mass and the worst of. the dross removed.] We may notice in this view—

I. PROSPERITY AND ITS USES. Cf. Deuteronomy 4:7. In Goshen life simple and the means of subsistence plentiful, ample room and ample provision. Happy years without a history, passed in a land which even now yields the largest revenue in Egypt, and where the population still increases more rapidly than in any other province. Probably no incident of more importance than some occasional skirmish with border tribes. No wonder that "they increased abundantly and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty."

Prosperity has its uses as well as adversity. The long unnoticed years through which the fruit-tree attains maturity are necessary antecedents to the fiery summers which see the fruit ripening. Not much to notice in such years. Still their existence is noteworthy. They make no small portion of the sum of human life, whether viewed in its national or individual aspect. History grows out of them even whilst it is compelled to forget them in its records. The fruit of Life draws from them its substance, though other years may give it its colour and flavour.

II. ADVERSITY AND ITS USES. Deuteronomy 4:10-14 show how trouble came to Israel, and the nature of the trouble which did come. Originating in Pharaoh's natural jealousy at the increasing influence of an alien race, it took the form of enforced labour, such as—perhaps owing to Joseph's land law (Genesis 47:23, etc.)—he clearly had the acknowledged right to levy at will from all his subjects. Pharaoh however was but the instrument which God used for the education of his people; he knew that adversity was needed to carry on the work which prosperity had begun. Notice—

1. Affliction did not hinder progress. We gather from Deuteronomy 4:12 that it really advanced it. Prosperity long continued may be a greater hindrance than adversity. It tends to produce a stagnant condition [cf. the opening poems in Tennyson's 'Maud']. The after-history shows us that Israel had, to some extent, morally deteriorated; and moral deterioration in the long run must lead to physical degradation. When the stock needs pruning the pruning process stimulates growth.

2. Affliction proved morally helpful. The people had been getting careless and slothful, forgetting God (cf. Joshua 24:14, Ezekiel 20:5-8) or paying him a merely nominal service. Now, however, of. Deuteronomy 2:23-25, God Could hear their cry because their cry was genuine; he could have respect unto them because they were learning to have respect unto him.

3. Affliction ensured national union. Hitherto the people was just a collection of families, united by a common name and common traditions. Mutual need begets mutual helpfulness, and it is by mutual help that tribes are dovetailed into one another and come to form one nation. [Isolated fragments of ore need smelting in the furnace to produce the consolidated metal.] It is in the heat of the furnace of affliction that rivalries, jealousies, and all kinds of tribal littlenesses can alone be finally dissolved. And affliction still has such uses. Prosperity is good, no doubt, but, in this world, it requires to be complemented by adversity. "Why is trouble permitted?" Because men cannot otherwise be perfected. It is just as necessary for our moral ripening as heat is necessary for the ripening of the fruit.

(1) It need not hinder any man's progress;

(2) If rightly used it should purge out the dross, from us and make us morally better;

(3) It tends to dissolve the barriers which selfishness erects between man and man, and works towards the formation of that holy brotherhood which embraces in one family all the nations of the earth.—G.


Exodus 1:8-14

Egypt's sin.

I. NATIONAL WRONG-DOING THE SEED OF NATIONAL DISASTER. The story of Egypt's suffering begins with the story of Egypt's injustice. There was wisdom in Pharaoh's statesmanship, and a sincere desire to serve his country, and yet he was his country's worst foe. The service rendered by wickedness is in the end rebuke and ruin.


1. The bondage was imposed to prevent their multiplying: "but the more they afflicted them the more they multiplied and grew."

2. The trouble was at first simply a possibility detected by the statesman's keen eye, and now all Egypt was "grieved because of the children of Israel." The way of wickedness is through a deepening flood.

III. WRONG GROWS INTO GREATER WRONG (13, 14). Egypt had gone too far to retreat. Israel's enmity was now a certainty, and they must be crushed. From being compelled to labour in the erection of strong cities, their lives are made bitter by all manner of hard bondage. Evil grows with an inward necessity. When a nation makes an unjust demand it does not mean murder, yet that is its next step. Satan dare not whisper all his counsel at first but by-and-by he can tell it all and have it all accomplished.—U.

Verses 15-22


Exodus 1:15-22

Some time—say five or six years—having elapsed and the Pharaoh's first plan having manifestly failed, it was necessary for him either to give up his purpose, or to devise something else. Persevering and tenacious, he preferred the latter course. He bethought himself that a stop might be put to the multiplication of the Israelites by means of infanticide on a large scale. Infanticide was no doubt a crime in Egypt, as in most countries except Rome; but the royal command would legitimate almost any action, since the king was recognised as a god; and the wrongs of a foreign and subject race would not sensibly move the Egyptian people, or be likely to provoke remonstrance. On looking about for suitable instruments to carry out his design, it struck the monarch that something, at any rate, might be done by means of the midwives who attended the Hebrew women in their confinements. It has been supposed that the two mentioned, Shiphrah and Puah, might be the only midwives employed by the Israelites (Canon Cook and others), and no doubt in the East a small number suffice for a large population: but what impression could the monarch expect to make on a population of from one to two millions of souls by engaging the services of two persons only, who could not possibly attend more than about one in fifty of the births? The midwives mentioned must therefore be regarded as "superintendents," chiefs of the guild or faculty, who were expected to give their orders to the rest. (So Kalisch, Knobel, Aben Ezra, etc.) It was no doubt well known that midwives were not always called in; but the king supposed that they were employed sufficiently often for the execution of his orders to produce an important result. And the narrative implies that he had not miscalculated. It was the disobedience of the midwives (Exodus 1:17) that frustrated the king's intention, not any inherent weakness in his plan. The midwives, while professing the intention of carrying out the orders given them, in reality killed none of the infants; and, when taxed by the Pharaoh with disobedience, made an untrue excuse (Exodus 1:19). Thus the king's second plan failed as completely as his first—"the people" still "multiplied and waxed very mighty" (Exodus 1:20).

Foiled a second time, the wicked king threw off all reserve and all attempt at concealment. If the midwives will not stain their hands with murder at his secret command, he will make the order a general and public one. "All his people" shall be commanded to put their hand to the business, and to assist in the massacre of the innocents—it shall he the duty of every loyal subject to cast into the waters of the Nile any Hebrew male child of whose birth he has cognisance. The object is a national one-to secure the public safety (see Exodus 1:10): the whole nation may well be called upon to aid in carrying it out.

Exodus 1:15

The Hebrew midwives. It is questioned whether the midwives were really Hebrew women, and not rather Egyptian women, whose special business it was to attend the Hebrew women in their labours. Kalisch translates, "the women who served as midwives to the Hebrews," and assumes that they were Egyptians. (So also Canon Cook.) But the names are apparently Semitic, Shiphrah being "elegant, beautiful," and Puah, "one who cries out." And the most natural rendering of the Hebrew text is that of A. V.

Exodus 1:16

The stools. The explanation furnished by a remark of Mr. Lane is more satisfactory than any other. In modern Egypt, he says, "two or three days before the expected time of delivery, the midwife conveys to the house the kursee elwiladeh, a chair of a peculiar form, upon which the patient is to be seated during the birth." A chair of the form intended is represented on the Egyptian monuments.

Exodus 1:17

The midwives feared God. The midwives had a sense of religion, feared God sufficiently to decline imbruing their hands in the innocent blood of a number of defenceless infants, and, rather than do so wicked a thing, risked being punished by the monarch. They were not, as appears by Exodus 1:19, highly religious—not of the stuff whereof martyrs are made; they did not scruple at a falsehood, believing it necessary to save their lives; and it would seem that they succeeded in deceiving the king.

Exodus 1:19

They are vigorous. Literally, "they are lively." In the East at the present day a large proportion of the women deliver themselves; and the services of professional accoucheurs are very rarely called in. The excuse of the midwives had thus a basis of fact to rest upon, and was only untrue because it was not the whole truth.

Exodus 1:20, Exodus 1:21

Therefore God did well to the midwives. Literally, "And God did well," etc. (see Exodus 1:21). Because they feared him sufficiently to disobey the king, and take their chance of a punishment, which might have been very severe-even perhaps death—God overlooked their weak and unfaithful divergence from truth, and gave them a reward. He made them houses. He Messed them by giving them children of their own, who grew up, and gave them the comfort, support, and happiness which children were intended to give. There was a manifest fitness in rewarding those who had refused to bring misery and desolation into families by granting them domestic happiness themselves.

Exodus 1:22

Every son that is born. The words are universal, and might seem to apply to the Egyptian, no less than the Hebrew, male children. But they are really limited by the context, which shows that there had never been any question as to taking the life of any Egyptian. With respect to the objection sometimes raised, that no Egyptian monarch would possibly have commanded such wholesale cold-blooded destruction of poor innocent harmless children, it is to be observed, first, that Egyptian monarchs had very little regard indeed for the lives of any persons who were not of their own nation. They constantly massacred prisoners taken in war—they put to death or enslaved persons cast upon their coasts (Diod. Sic. 1.67)—they cemented with the blood of their captives, as Lenormant says, each stone of their edifices. The sacredness of human life was not a principle with them. Secondly, that tender and compassionate regard for children which seems to us Englishmen of the present day a universal instinct is in truth the fruit of Christianity, and was almost unknown in the ancient world. Children who were "not wanted" were constantly exposed to be devoured by wild beasts, or otherwise made away with; and such exposition was defended by philosophers. In Syria and Carthage they were constantly offered to idols. At Rome, unless the father interposed to save it, every child was killed. It would probably not have cost an Egyptian Pharaoh a single pang to condemn to death a number of children, any more than a number of puppies. And the rule "Salus publica suprema lex," which, if not formulated, still practically prevailed, would have been held to justify anything. The river. Though, in the Delta, where the scene is laid throughout the early part of Exodus, there were many branches of the Nile, yet we hear constantly of "the river" (Exodus 2:3, Exodus 2:5; Exodus 7:20, Exodus 7:21; Exodus 8:3, etc.), because one branch only, the Tanitic, was readily accessible. Tanks (Zoan) was situated on it.


Exodus 1:15-22

Steps in sin.

Bad men, when their designs are frustrated, and things fall out otherwise than as they wish, are far from suspecting that it is God who opposes them and brings their counsels to nought. They find fault with themselves or their advisers, and suppose that, if their end is not to be compassed in one way, it may he obtained in another. Like Balak (Numbers 22:23.), they would outwit God; or rather, not realising his existence, they would force fortune by a combination of inventiveness, perseverance, and audacity. When one means fails, they do not lay aside their design, but seek another means. And their second plan is almost always more wicked than their first. Pharaoh follows up the cruel thought of grinding oppression by the still more cruel resolve to effect his purpose through murder. And not liking to incur the odium of open murder, he devises a secret system, a crypteia, which shall rid him of a certain number of his enemies, and yet keep him clear, even of suspicion. The midwives, had they come into his plan, would of course have said that the children they murdered were stillborn, or died from natural causes. But this crafty scheme likewise fails; and then what follows? His subtle brain invents a third plan, and it is the cruelest and wickedest of all. Grown shameless, he openly avows himself a murderer, takes his whole people into his confidence, compels them, so far as he can, to be a nation of murderers, and extends his homicidal project to all the males. "Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river." The Nile, according to his own religion, was a god, and no Egyptian corpse ever defiled it; but everything must give way that the king may work his wicked will, and the restraints of the national creed are as little regarded as those of natural morality. Facilis descensus Averni; the steps by which men go down the road to hell are easy; each is in advance of the other, a little further on in guilt; there is no startling transition; and so, by little and little, advance is made, and the neophyte becomes a graduate in the school of crime.

Exodus 1:17

Duty of opposing authority when its commands are against God's Law.

Few lessons are taught in Holy Scripture more plainly than this, that the wrongful commands of legitimate authority are to be disobeyed. "Saul spake to Jonathan his son, and to all his servants that they should kill David" (1 Samuel 19:1). But Jonathan positively refused, and rebuked his father: "Wherefore wilt thou sin against innocent blood?" (ib. Exodus 1:5). Uzziah would have usurped the priest's office; but Azariah the priest "withstood him" (2 Chronicles 26:16-21), and God signified his approval by smiting the king with leprosy. Ahasuerus commanded that a "reverence" trenching upon God's honour should be done to Haman (Esther 3:2). Mordecai "transgressed the king's commandment," and it is recorded of him to his credit. The "Three Children ' disobeyed Nebuchadnezzar when he would have had them "worship the golden image which he had set up" (Daniel 3:18) on the plain of Dura. Daniel disobeyed Darius the Mede when required to discontinue his daily prayers. The Apostles disobeyed the Sanhedrim, when forbidden "to preach at all or teach in the name of Jesus" (Acts 4:18). God's law is paramount; and no human authority may require anything to be done which it forbids, or anything to be left undone which it commands. The argument is unanswerable: "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye" (ib. verse 19). So the midwives, because they "feared God," disobeyed the king. No doubt the lesson is to be applied with caution. We are not to be always flying in the face of authority, and claiming it as a merit. More especially, in States calling themselves Christian and retaining even partially a Christian character, opposition to the law is a serious matter, and, if resorted to, should only be resorted to under a clear and distinct conviction that the Divine law and the human are in absolute opposition. "Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin." If we are not sure of the Divine obligation we must accept the human one. Still, as the good man struggling against adversity is admitted to be one of the noblest of sights, so there is nothing grander, nothing finer, nothing more heroic, than the conscientious resistance of religious persons to the wicked and tyrannical commands of men, whether they be kings, or judges, or mobs. Daniel refusing to obey Darius, Peter and John rejecting the orders of the Sanhedrim, Socrates declining to take part in the arrests of the Thirty, the Seven Bishops refusing to read the proclamation of King James If; are among the most admirable and inspiriting facts of history. The men who rightfully resist authority are "the salt of the earth." They save the world from a rapid and complete corruption. The remembrance of their acts continues, and is a warning to authorities, preventing hundreds of iniquitous laws and orders, which would otherwise have been enjoined and enacted. Their example is an undying one, and encourages others on fitting occasion to do the like. All honour then to the noble band, who, when the crisis came, have "obeyed God rather than man," and taken their chance of the consequences! Not that the final consequences to themselves can be doubtful. "But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, blessed are ye!" 1 Peter 3:14). In this life, the consequence may be success, severe punishment, or occasionally) neglect and oblivion. But in the world to come there wilt be a reward for rightful resistance undoubtedly. "God made the midwives houses." For all whom a tyrannical authority makes to suffer because they fear and obey him, he will reserve in his own house "mansions" where they will enjoy bliss eternal.

Exodus 1:18-21

God's acceptance of an imperfect obedience.

The midwives had not the courage of their convictions. They did not speak out boldly,, like Daniel, and the "Three Children," and the Apostles. They did not say, "Be it known unto thee, O king, that we fear God, and will not do this thing." They cast about for an excuse, which should absolve them of the crime of disobedience, and so perhaps save them from punishment, and they found one which was no doubt partially true, but which by a suppressio veri was a suggestio falsi. Some have exonerated them from all blame under the circumstances; but though the circumstances may extenuate, they do not justify their conduct. It was a fault, but (especially if they were heathens) a venial fault. And it was perhaps repented of. At any rate God condoned it. He was not "extreme to mark what was done amiss." He accepted their good deeds and their reverent fear of him, though it was not accompanied by high courage and a heroic love of truth; that is to say, he, accepted an imperfect obedience. And this is what he does in all cases. No man but One has rendered an obedience that was perfect. "All we, the rest, offend in many things; and if we say that we have no sin, deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." Well for us that God, for his Son's sake, and through his atonement on the cross, can condone our offences, and despite our many misdeeds reward our acts of faithfulness! (See Matthew 6:4; Matthew 10:42; Matthew 16:27; Luke 6:35; 1 Corinthians 3:14; etc.)


Exodus 1:15-22

A king's edicts.

I. THE COMMAND TO THE MIDWIVES TO DESTROY THE MALES (Exodus 1:16). This was a further stage in the persecution of the Hebrews. Happily the command was not obeyed. There is a limit even to the power of kings. Stronger than kings is—

1. The power of religion. "The midwives feared God" (Exodus 1:17).

2. The force of patriotism. They were "Hebrew midwives" (Exodus 1:15), and would not, even at the king's bidding, be murderers of their race.

3. The instincts of humanity. These came in to thwart both this and the next expedient for destroying the children.

4. The cunning of evasion. It is hopeless to attempt to force laws upon a people determined not to obey them. The midwives had only to stay away, and let the Hebrew women help themselves, to reduce the, king's decree to a dead letter. And this was probably what they did (Exodus 1:19). The result shows how much better it is, even at some risk, to obey God than to obey man. The midwives—

1. Lost nothing.

2. Retained a good conscience.

3. Were signally honoured and rewarded: God made them houses (Exodus 1:21). Kindness shown to God's people never fails of its reward.

II. THE COMMAND TO THE PEOPLE TO CAST THE MALES INTO THE RIVER (Exodus 1:22). He must indeed have been a foolish king, if he thought to secure obedience to so inhuman a decree. Parents would not obey it. The work was of a kind which would soon grow hateful even to those who might at first be willing to do it for reward. The hearts of the most abandoned ere long sicken at murder. Public sympathy does not appear to have gone with the edict, and the number of males at the Exodus makes it certain that it was not long in operation. Its chief fruit was one little contemplated by the tyrant—the salvation and courtly upbringing of Moses. Learn—

1. How one cruelty leads to another, and increasingly hardens the heart. It is told of Robespierre that when judge at Arras, half-a-dozen years before he took his place in the popular mind of France and Europe as one of the bloodiest monsters of myth or history, he resigned his post in a fit of remorse after condemning a criminal to be executed. "He is a criminal, no doubt," he kept groaning to his sister, "a criminal no doubt; but to put a man to death!" (Morley).

2. The impotence of human devices.

3. The certainty of the Church surviving under the worst that man can do against it,. The more Pharaoh persecuted, the more the people multiplied and grew (Exodus 1:12, Exodus 1:20).—J.O.

Exodus 1:8-22

The policy of Pharaoh.

I. THE PRINCIPLE OF THE POLICY. This is indicated in Exodus 1:9, Exodus 1:10. It was a policy of selfish fear, proceeding upon an unconcealed regard for the supremacy of Egypt. Whatever interfered with that supremacy was to be, if possible, swept completely out of the way. Pharaoh was dealing, not with the necessities of the present, but with the possibilities of the future. He made no pretence that Israel deserved to be dealt with in this merciless fashion. There was no attempt to cloak the cruelties of the tyrant under the aspect of needful severity against evil-doers. The fear of Pharaoh is seen in the very language he employs. It was not true as yet that the Israelites were more and mightier than the Egyptians: but Pharaoh feels that such a state of things is not improbable, and may not be remote. Something has already happened very different from what might have been expected. Who was to suppose that a handful of people from Canaan, instead of blending with the bulk of Egypt, would keep persistently separate and increase with such alarming rapidity? Seeing that such unexpected things have already happened, what may not be feared in the future? Who knows what allies Israel may ultimately find, and what escape it may achieve? Thus from this attitude and utterance of Pharaoh we learn—

1. Not to make our safety and our strength to consist in an unscrupulous weakening of others. The true strength, ever becoming more and more sufficient, is to be gained within ourselves. Pharaoh would have done more for his own safety and the safety of his people by putting away idolatry, injustice, and oppression, than by all his frantic attempts to destroy Israel. It is a sad business, if we must hold our chief possessions at the expense of others. If my gain is the loss or suffering of some one else, then by this very fact the gain is condemned, and however large and grateful it may be at present, it will end in the worst of all loss. Surely the luxuries of the few would become utterly nauseous and abhorrent, if it were only considered how often they depend on the privation and degradation of the many. Pharaoh's kingdom deserved to perish, and so deserve all kingdoms and all exalted stations of individuals, if their continuance can only be secured by turning all possible enemies into spiritless and emasculated slaves.

2. Not to set our affections on such things as lie at the mercy of others. Pharaoh had to be incessantly watching the foundations of his vast and imposing kingdom. Other nations only saw the superstructure' from a distance, and might be excused for concluding that the magnificence rested upon a solid base. But we may well believe that Pharaoh himself lived a life of incessant anxiety. The apprehensions which he here expresses must have been a fair sample of those continually passing through his mind. The world can give great possessions and many opportunities for carnal pleasure; but security, undisturbed enjoyment of the possession, it cannot give.

II. THE WORKING OUT OF THE POLICY. The thing aimed at was to keep the numbers of Israel within what were deemed safe bounds; and to this end Pharaoh began by trying to crush the spirits of the people. He judged—and perhaps not unwisely, according to the wisdom of this world—that a race oppressed as he proposed to oppress Israel would assuredly not increase to any dangerous extent. If only the rate of increase in Israel did not gain on the rate of increase in Egypt, then all would be safe. Pharaoh firmly believed that if only Egypt could keep more numerous than Israel, Egypt would be perfectly secure. Therefore he put these people into a state of bondage and oppression ever becoming more rigorous. Notice that he had peculiar advantages, from his point of view, in making this course of treatment successful. The Israelites had hitherto lived a free, wandering, pastoral life (Genesis 47:3-6), and now they were cooped-up under merciless taskmasters and set to hard manual toil. If any human policy had success in it, success seemed to be in this policy of Pharaoh. Nevertheless it utterly failed, from Pharaoh's point of view, for, whatever depressing effect it had on the spirits of the Israelites, there was no diminution in their numbers. The extraordinary and alarming increase still went on. The more the taskmasters did to hinder Israel, the more, in this particular matter of the numerical increase, it seemed to prosper. It was all very perplexing and unaccountable, but at last Pharaoh recognises the failure, even while he cannot explain it, and proceeds to a more direct method of action, which surely cannot fail in a perfectly efficacious result. He commands the men-children of Israel to be slain from the womb. But here he fails even in a more conspicuous and humiliating way than before. He was a despot, accustomed to have others go when he said "Go," and come when he said "Come" Accordingly, when he commanded men to become the agents of his harsh designs, he found obedient servants in plenty, and probably many who bettered his instructions. But now he turns to women—weak, despised women, who were reckoned to obey in the most obsequious manner—and he finds that they will not obey at all. It was an easy thing to do, if it had only been in their hearts to do it; for what is easier than to take away the breath of a new-born infant? They do not openly refuse; they even pretend compliance; but for all that they secretly disobey and effectively thwart Pharaoh's purpose. When we find others readily join with us in our evil purposes, then God interferes to disappoint both us and them; but we cannot always reckon even on the support of others. Notice lastly, that in carrying out this policy of defence against Israel, Pharaoh never seems to have thought of the one course which might have given him perfect safety. He might have expelled Israel altogether out of his coasts. But, so far from deeming this desirable, it was one of the very things he wished to guard against. Israel was a continual source of alarm and annoyance, a people beyond management, an insoluble problem; but it never occurred to him that Egypt would be better with them away. It would have had a very bad look to send them out of the land; it would have been a confession of inability and perplexity which those proud lips, so used to the privileged utterances of despotism, could not bring themselves to frame.

III. THE TOTAL RESULT OF THE POLICY. Though it failed in attaining the particular end which it had in view, it did not fail altogether; nay, it rather succeeded, and that with a most complete success, seeing that in doing so it effectually served the purpose of God. Pharaoh failed as dealing with the children of Israel. He called them the children of Israel, but in profound ignorance of all that this description involved. He did not know that Israel was the son of him who was born to Abraham and Sarah in their old age, contrary to all expectation and entirely of promise. But Pharaoh succeeded in a way he did not anticipate, in so far as he was dealing with the posterity of Jacob, the heirs of human infirmity. They did become, in the course of time, slaves in spirit as well as in body, personally so undeserving of freedom that when they had received it, they wished almost immediately to go back to the creature comforts of Egypt like a dog to its vomit, or a sow to her wallowing in the mire. Hence we see that God served himself, alike by Pharaoh's failure and Pharaoh's success. Pharaoh's failure showed how really and powerfully God was present with his people. It was another instance of the treasure being in an earthen vessel that the excellency of the power might be of God and not of men. And Pharaoh by his very success in making the iron to enter into the soul of Israel, was unconsciously working a way to make the stay of Israel in Egypt as full a type as possible of the tyrannous bondage of sin. As Egypt presented its pleasant side at first, so does sin. For a considerable time Egypt looked better than Canaan. There had been corn in Egypt; there had been a land of Goshen; there had been a reflected honour and comfort from the relation of the children of Israel to the all-powerful Joseph. But Joseph

The crime was now looked in the face, but it was so arranged that. it might be done secretly.

3. When this failed, then public proclamation was made that the murder should be deliberately and openly done (22). No man steps at first into shameless commission of sin. Every sin is a deadening of the moral sense and a deepening of shame.


1. The refusal of the midwives was service to God.

(1) It prevented secret murder.

(2) It rebuked Pharaoh's sin.

2. Their refusal was justified because it sprang from obedience to a higher authority: "they feared God." Disobedience to human law must have a higher sanction than a factious spirit.

3. God gave them inheritance among his people. In that dread of sin and heroism for the right they were fit allies for God's people. Those who separate themselves from evil God will lead into the light.

III. THOSE WHO AID BRING JUDGMENT UPON THEMSELVES. The king appeals to his people and they make his crime their own. But Egypt's sin is set at last in the light of Egypt's desolation. Obedience to unjust laws will not protect us from God's just judgment. The wrong decreed by authority becomes by obedience a nation's crime.—U.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Exodus 1". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/exodus-1.html. 1897.
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