|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
1:8-14 The land of Egypt became to Israel a house of bondage. The place where we have been happy, may soon become the place of our affliction; and that may prove the greatest cross to us, of which we said, This same shall comfort us. Cease from man, and say not of any place on this side heaven, This is my rest. All that knew Joseph, loved him, and were kind to his brethren for his sake; but the best and most useful services a man does to others, are soon forgotten after his death. Our great care should be, to serve God, and to please him who is not unrighteous, whatever men are, to forget our work and labour of love. The offence of Israel is, that he prospers. There is no sight more hateful to a wicked man than the prosperity of the righteous. The Egyptians feared lest the children of Israel should join their enemies, and get them up out of the land. Wickedness is ever cowardly and unjust; it makes a man fear, where no fear is, and flee, when no one pursues him. And human wisdom often is foolishness, and very sinful. God's people had task-masters set over them, not only to burden them, but to afflict them with their burdens. They not only made them serve for Pharaoh's profit, but so that their lives became bitter. The Israelites wonderfully increased. Christianity spread most when it was persecuted: the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church. They that take counsel against the Lord and his Israel, do but imagine a vain thing, and create greater vexation to themselves.
Verse 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. (See Cook, in the 'Speaker's Commentary,' vol. 1. pt. 1. p. 253, and compare Brugsch, 'History of Egypt,' vol. 1. p. 376.) 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, 12; 2 Chronicles 33:28, 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 (Brugsch, 'History of Egypt,' vol. it. p. 90). Pa-Tum itself has not been found among the cities of this period (ib. p. 99), but appears in the records of the twentieth dynasty as a place where the Setting-Sun god had a treasury ('Records of the Past,' vol. 6. p. 54). 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 ('Records of the Past,' vol. it. p. 77; vol. 6. p. 13), 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 ('History of Egypt,' vol. 2 p. 94). 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 (Psalm 78:12, 43).
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Therefore they did set taskmasters over them, to afflict them with their burdens,.... This was the first scheme proposed and agreed on, and was carried into execution, to appoint taskmasters over them; or "princes", or "masters of tribute" (r), commissioners of taxes, who had power to lay heavy taxes upon them, and oblige them to pay them, which were very burdensome, and so afflictive to their minds, and tended to diminish their wealth and riches, and obliged them to harder labour in order to pay them, and so every way contributed to distress them:
and they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses; these might be built with the money they collected from them by way of tribute, and so said to be built by them, since it was chiefly in husbandry, and in keeping flocks and herds, that the Israelites were employed; or they might be concerned in building these cities, some of them understanding architecture, or however the poorer or meaner sort might be made use of in the more laborious and servile part of the work; those two cities are, in the Targums of Jonathan and Jerusalem, called Tanis and Pelusium; but Tanis was the same with Zoan, and that was built but seven years after Hebron, an ancient city, in being long before this time, see Numbers 13:22. Pelusium indeed may be one of them, but then it is not that which is here called Raamses, but Pithom, as Sir John Marsham (s) and others think: Pithom is by Junius thought to be the same with the Pathumus of Herodotus (t), a town in Arabia Petraes, upon the borders of Egypt, where a ditch was dug from the Nile to the Red sea, and supposed to be the work of the Israelites: Raamses is a place different from Ramesses, Genesis 47:11 and had its name from the then reigning Pharaoh, Ramesses Miamun, as Pithom is thought by some to be so called from his queen: Pliny (u) makes mention of some people called Ramisi and Patami, who probably were the inhabitants of these cities, whom he joins to the Arabians as bordering on Egypt: the Septuagint version adds a third city, "On", which is Hellopolls: and a learned writer (w) is of opinion that Raamses and Heliopolis are the same, and observes, that Raamses, in the Egyptian tongue, signifies the field of the sun, being consecrated to it, as Heliopolis is the city of the sun, the same with Bethshemesh, the house of the sun, Jeremiah 43:13 and he thinks these cities were not properly built by the Israelites, but repaired, ornamented, and fortified, being by them banked up against the force of the Nile, that the granaries might be safe from it, as Strabo (x) writes, particularly of Heliopolis; and the Septuagint version here calls them fortified cities; and with this agrees what Benjamin of Tudela says (y), that he came to the fountain of "Al-shemesh", or the sun, which is Raamses; and there are remains of the building of our fathers (the Jew says) even towers built of bricks, and Fium, he says (z), (which was in Goshen; see Gill on Genesis 47:11) is the same with Pithom; and there, he says, are to be seen some of the buildings of our fathers. Here these cities are said to be built for treasure cities, either to lay up the riches of the kings of Egypt in, or as granaries and storehouses for corn, or magazines for warlike stores, or for all of these: some think the "pyramids" were built by the Israelites, and there is a passage in Herodotus (a) which seems to favour it; he says, the kings that built them, the Egyptians, through hatred, name them not, but call them the pyramids of the shepherd Philitis, who at that time kept sheep in those parts; which seems to point at the Israelites, the beloved people of God, who were shepherds.
(r) "principes tributorum", Pagninus, Montanus, Fagius, Drusius, Cartwright; so Tigurine version. (s) Ut supra. (Canon Chron. Sec. 8. p. 107.) (t) Euterpe, sive, l. 2. c. 158. (u) Nat. Hist. l. 6. c. 28. (w) Jablonski de Terra Goshen, dissert. 4. sect. 8. (x) Geograph. l. 17. p. 553. (y) Itinerar. p. 120. (z) Ib. p. 114. (a) Ut supra, (t)) c. 128.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
11. Therefore they did set over them taskmasters—Having first obliged them, it is thought, to pay a ruinous rent and involved them in difficulties, that new government, in pursuance of its oppressive policy, degraded them to the condition of serfs—employing them exactly as the laboring people are in the present day (driven in companies or bands), in rearing the public works, with taskmasters, who anciently had sticks—now whips—to punish the indolent, or spur on the too languid. All public or royal buildings, in ancient Egypt, were built by captives; and on some of them was placed an inscription that no free citizen had been engaged in this servile employment.
they built for Pharaoh treasure cities—These two store-places were in the land of Goshen; and being situated near a border liable to invasion, they were fortified cities (compare 2Ch 11:1-12:16). Pithom (Greek, Patumos), lay on the eastern Pelusiac branch of the Nile, about twelve Roman miles from Heliopolis; and Raamses, called by the Septuagint Heroopolis, lay between the same branch of the Nile and the Bitter Lakes. These two fortified cities were situated, therefore, in the same valley; and the fortifications, which Pharaoh commanded to be built around both, had probably the same common object, of obstructing the entrance into Egypt, which this valley furnished the enemy from Asia [Hengstenberg].
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