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Exodus 1:8-11

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

8. Surrexit autem rex novus super Aegyptum, qui non noverat Joseph.

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

9. Dixitque ad populum suum, Ecce, populus filiorum Israel multus et robustus prae nobis.

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

10. Agedum, prudenter nos geramus erga illum, ne multiplicetur; ne accidat, si obvenerit bellum, jungatur ipse quoque hostibus nostris, et pugnet contra nos, ascendatque e terra.

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

11. Constituerunt igitur super illum praefectos vectigalium,1010     שרי סמים S M., Buxtorf, and most of the modern lexicographers, agree with C. in rendering these words officers over the tributes; though the LXX., and the V., and the 21. A V., render מסם here labors, or tasks W ut affligerent illum oneribus suis: extruxeruntque urbes munitas Pharaoni Pithom et Rhameses.1111     Vel recondendae annonae, C., or for storing corn.

8. Now there arose a new king. When more than one hundred years had been happily passed in freedom and repose, the condition of the elect people began to be changed. Moses relates that the commencement of their troubles proceeded from jealousy, and from the groundless fear of the Egyptians, because they conceived that danger might arise from this strange nation, unless they hastened to oppress it. But before he comes to this, he premises that the remembrance of the benefits received from Joseph had departed, because it might have in some measure mitigated their cruelty, had it still been unimpaired. It is probable that this oblivion of the gratitude due to him arose from the moderation of Joseph; for if he had demanded great privileges for his people, and immunity from tributes and burdens, the remembrances of the saving of the country by an Israelite would have been famous for many ages; but it appears that he was content with the kind hospitality afforded them, that his brethren might dwell comfortably, and without molestation in the land of Goshen, because he wished them to be sojourners there until the time of deliverance arrived. And in this way he best provided for their safety, lest being thus ensnared, they might have fallen into the nets of destruction. But in proportion as the moderation of the holy man exposed them not to jealousy and complaint, so was the ingratitude of the Egyptians less excusable in forgetting, after little more than a single century, that remarkable benefit, which should have been everywhere preserved in their public monuments, lest the name of Joseph should ever perish. Their unkindness, then, was intolerable, in refusing that his kindred and descendants should sojourn with them, since they ought to have ascribed the safety of themselves and their country, after God, to him, or rather under the hand and with the blessing of God. But this disease has always been flagrant in the world; and certainly it is good for us that evil should ever be our reward from men for our kindnesses, that we may learn in the performance of our duty to look to God alone, since otherwise we are unduly addicted to conciliate favor and applause for ourselves, or to seek after more earthly advantages. Still it was no common return which the Israelites had liberally received during more than 100 years for Joseph’s sake, that they lived comfortably in a proud, avaricious, and cruel nation. Nevertheless, whatever happens, although we are not only defrauded of all recompense, but even although many of whom we have deserved well conspire for our destruction, let us never regret having done rightly; and, in the meantime, let us learn that nothing is more effective to restrain the desire of doing wrong, than those ties of mutual connection, by which God has bound us together.1212     “Nous faisant servir les uns aux autres;” causing us to serve one another. — French. But, although the favor conferred by Joseph had been forgotten by all, the shame and sin of ingratitude cleaves especially to the king; in whom it was more than base to forget by whose industry and care he received so rich a yearly revenue. For the holy Patriarch, by buying up the land, had obtained a fifth part of the produce as a yearly tribute for the king. But so are tyrants accustomed to engulf whatever is paid them, without considering by what right it is acquired.

9. And he said unto his people. That is to say, in a public assembly, such as kings are wont to hold for consultation on public affairs. As if Moses had said that this point was proposed by the king for deliberation by his estates; viz., that because it was to be apprehended that the Israelites, trusting in their multitude and strength, might rise in rebellion, or might take advantage of any public disturbance to shake off the yoke and to leave Egypt, they should be anticipated, and afflicted with heavy burdens, to prevent their making any such attempt. This Pharaoh calls1313     נתחכמה. In A V., Let us deal wisely If C. be justified in saying that חכם if often employed for the wisdom which is evil, it is very much more often used for wisdom in a favorable sense. — W “dealing wisely with them;” for though the word חכם, chakam, is often taken, in a bad sense, to mean “to overreach with cunning,” still in this case he concealed under an honest pretext the injury which he proposed to do them, alleging that prudent advice should be taken lest the Egyptians might suffer great loss through their carelessness and delay. This was common with heathen nations, to profess in their counsels, that what was right should be preferred to what was profitable; but, when it comes to the point, covetousness generally so blinds everybody, that they lose their respect for what is right, and are hurried away headlong to their own advantage. They make out too that what is advantageous is necessary; and so persuade themselves that whatever they are compelled to do is right. For that specious yet fallacious pretext readily occurs, and easily deceives, that, when any danger is apprehended, it ought to be met. By the tragic poets, indeed, that detestable sentiment, occupandum esse scelus, “that we should be beforehand in crime,” is attributed to wicked and desperate characters; because our nature convinces us that it is unjust and absurd; and yet is it commonly considered the best mode of precaution, so that only those are accounted provident who consult for their own security by injuring others, if occasion requires it. From this source almost all wars proceed; because, whilst every prince fears his neighbor, this fear so fills him with apprehension, that he does not hesitate to cover the earth with human blood. Hence, too, amongst private individuals, arises the license for deceit, murder, rapine, and lying, because they think that injuries would be repelled too late, unless they respectively anticipated them. But this is a wicked kind of cunning, (however it may be varnished over with the specious name of foresight,) unjustly to molest others for our own security. I fear this or that person, because he both has the means of injuring me, and I am uncertain of his disposition towards me; therefore, in order that I may be safe from harm, I will endeavor by every possible means to oppress him. In this way the most contemptible, and imbecile, if he be inclined to mischief, will be armed for our hurt, and so we shall stand in doubt of the greater part of mankind. If thus every one should indulge his own distrust, while each will be devising to do some injury to his possible enemies, there will be no end to iniquities. Wherefore we must oppose the providence of God to these immoderate cares and anxieties which withdraw us from the course of justice. Reposing on this, no fear of danger will ever impel us to unjust deeds or crooked counsels. In the words of Pharaoh, all is otherwise; for, having given warning that the Israelites might, if they would, be injurious, he advises that their strength should in some way or other be broken. For, when we have once determined to provide for our own advantage, or quiet, or safety, we ask not the question whether we are doing right or wrong.

Behold, the people. It not unfrequently happens that the minds of the wicked are aroused to jealousy by the mercies of God, acting like fans to light up their wrath. Nevertheless, the very least proof of his favor ought not on that account to be less agreeable to us, because it is made an occasion to the wicked of dealing more cruelly with us. In fact, God thus attempers his bounty towards us, lest we should be too much taken up with earthly prosperity. Thus the blessing on which all his happiness depended banished Jacob from the home of his father, and from his promised inheritance; but yet he assuaged his grief with this single consolation, that he knew God to be reconciled to him. So also his posterity, the more they experienced of God’s goodness towards them, the more they were exposed to the enmity of the Egyptians. But Pharaoh, to render them hated, or suspected, refers to their power, and accuses them of disaffection, whereof they had given no token. Yet he does not accuse them of rebellion, as if they would take armed possession of the kingdom, but that they would depart elsewhere; whence we may conjecture, that they made no secret of the hope which God had given them of their return. But this seemed a plausible excuse enough, that it was anything but just for those, who had of their own accord sought the protection of the king, to be freely sent away; and thus1414     “Comme de faict Isaie dit que les Egyptiens ont eu plus de couleur de tenir le peuple de Dieu en servitude, que les Assyriens, qui les sont venus molester sans titre;” as, in fact, Isaiah says that the Egyptians had more excuse for keeping God’s people in servitude than the Assyrians, who came to molest them without pretext. — Fr. Isaiah speaks of it. (Isaiah 52:4.)

11. Therefore they did set over them. The Egyptians devised this remedy for gradually diminishing the children of Israel. Since they are subjects, they may afflict them with burdens, to depress them; and this slavery will weaken and decrease them. But their power over them as subjects should not have been carried so far as to impose upon inoffensive persons, to whom they had granted free permission to reside among them, these new tributes; for they ought first to have considered upon what conditions they had been admitted. The exaction, then, by which Pharaoh broke faith with them, was in itself unjust; but the crime to which he proceeded was still greater, because he did not simply seek for pecuniary advantage, but desired to afflict the wretched people by the heaviness of their burdens. For the Israelites were not only compelled to pay tribute, but were put to servile labor, as Moses immediately adds. As to the two cities, it is doubtful in what sense they were called miscenoth1515     מסכנות, miscenoth The LXX. alone gives some countenance to C.’s last interpretation of this word, by rendering it πόλεις ὀχυρὰς. — W This word is sometimes taken for cellars and granaries, or repositories of all things necessary as provision; but, as it sometimes signifies “fortresses,” it will not be an unsuitable meaning, that they were commanded to build with their own hands the prisons, which might prevent them from departing. For it is clear from many passages (Genesis 47:11; Exodus 12:37; Numbers 33:3) that Rhameses was situated in that part of the country, and we shall presently see that the children of Israel went out from Rhameses.


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