Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The increase of the Hebrews in Egypt, and the measures taken by the Pharaoh to check it
Now these are the names of the children of Israel, which came into Egypt; every man and his household came with Jacob.1. Now (Heb. And) these are the names of …] As Genesis 25:13; Genesis 36:40; Genesis 46:8; Exodus 6:16, &c. (all P).
1–5. Recapitulation, as the introduction to a new section, of what had been stated before respecting the sons of Jacob (Genesis 35:23-26), and the numbers of his descendants who had gone down into Egypt (Genesis 46:8; Genesis 46:26 f.).
1–7. Growth of the descendants of Jacob in Egypt, after Joseph’s death, into a great people.
Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah,
Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin,
Dan, and Naphtali, Gad, and Asher.
And all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls: for Joseph was in Egypt already.5. all the souls that came out, &c.] As Genesis 46:26 (also P).
seventy souls] The number was traditional: cf. Deuteronomy 10:22 (where ‘with’ should be as). This passage shews that P interpreted the tradition in the sense of 70 souls without Jacob: other writers interpreted it in the sense of Deuteronomy 10:22, and made the number 70 souls including Jacob (cf. Genesis 46:8; Genesis 46:27 b). See the writer’s Genesis (in the ‘Westminster Commentaries’), pp. 365, 368. Soul in the sense of ‘person,’ though found occasionally elsewhere (but never in the earlier historical books), is peculiarly frequent in P (nearly 100 times).
And Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation.6. The continuation in J of Genesis 50:14, preparing partly for the notice, now preserved fragmentarily in v. 7, of the increase of the Israelites in Egypt, and partly for v. 8.
And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them.7. The continuation in P of v. 5.
[P] were fruitful, and swarmed, [J] and multiplied, and waxed mighty, [P] exceedingly] To ‘be fruitful,’ as Genesis 1:28; Genesis 9:1; Genesis 9:7, &c., and in the promises to Abraham and Jacob of an abundant progeny, Genesis 17:6; Genesis 35:11 (Genesis 48:4), cf. Exodus 28:3 (all P). ‘Swarmed,’ as Genesis 1:20-21; Genesis 7:21; Genesis 8:17 (all P); used here of men, as Genesis 9:7 (P). ‘Multiplied and waxed mighty’ (the last expression not elsewhere in P), as v. 20: cf. the corresponding adjectives in v. 9. ‘Exceedingly,’—here, in the Heb., an expression peculiar to P and Ezek., lit. with muchness, muchness,—qualifies all the preceding verbs.
Hebrew tradition loved to tell of the wonderful increase of their ancestors in Egypt: cf., of an earlier stage of their residence there, Genesis 47:27 (P) ‘were fruitful, and multiplied greatly.’
the land] viz. of Rameses, Genesis 47:11 (P), or of Goshen, Genesis 47:4 (J).
Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph.8. there arose a new king] Implying the rise of a king whose reign began a new policy. The king, to judge from v. 11 (see the notes on Pithom and Raʿamses), will have been Rameses II, the third ruler of the 19th dynasty (b.c. 1300–1234 Petrie; 1292–1225 Breasted): set further the Introduction, § 4. According to Genesis 41:46 (P), Genesis 41:53 f., Genesis 45:6, Genesis 50:22 (E), and Exodus 7:7; Exodus 12:40 f. (P), the birth of Moses took place 430–(110–39)–80 = 279 years after Joseph’s death. But there are many indications that the chronological statements of P are of slight value (cf. on Exodus 2:23 a, Exodus 12:40, and the writer’s Genesis, pp. xxvi–xxxi).
knew not Joseph] Not only lit., was not acquainted with Joseph but also, it is implied, did not remember his services to Egypt, and have no thought or care for his people. Comp. Jdg 2:10 b.
8–14. The first measure taken to check the increase of the Israelites: they are set to do forced labour on public works in Egypt.
And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we:9. more and mightier] In the Heb. the two adjectives corresponding to the two verbs ‘increased,’ and ‘waxed mighty,’ in v. 7. The marg. is merely an alternative rendering of the Heb., bringing out more distinctly the sense intended (cf. 1 Kings 19:7, where the Heb. is similar).
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. deal wisely] I.e., in a bad sense, craftily,—paraphrased by ‘deal subtilly’ in Psalm 105:25. Such a people might be dangerous especially on the frontiers: the Pharaoh does not, however, propose to expel them from his territory: he will retain them as subjects, whose services might be profitable to him; but he will take measures to limit their freedom and check their increase.
falleth out] read, upon grammatical grounds, when any war befalleth us (תקראנו for תקראנה): so Sam. LXX. Pesh. Vulg. Onk. Di. &c.; cf. G.-K. § 47k.
unto our enemies] Egypt was particularly liable to the incursions of Shasu (Bedawin), and other Asiatic tribes, across its N.E. frontier, which indeed, as early as the time of Usertesen I, of the 12th dynasty (b.c. 1980–35 Breasted), had been strengthened against them by a line of military posts, or fortresses (Maspero, Dawn of Civil. pp. 351, 469 n., 471: cf. below, pp. 127, 141).
get them up (Heb. simply go up)] viz. from Egypt to the high ground of Canaan (which is at least in the narrator’s mind). So Genesis 13:1, and frequently; and conversely go down, Genesis 12:10; Genesis 46:3, &c.
Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses.11. They were consequently brought into a condition of virtual slavery and compelled to do forced labour. The corvée was an institution common in the despotisms of antiquity, and resorted to whenever an Oriental monarch had stone to be quarried, palaces or temples to be built, &c. Aristotle (Pol. viii. (v.) 11, p. 1313 b 18 ff., cited by Knob.) mentions it as a measure adopted by tyrants to curb the spirit of their subjects, and cites as an example the Egyptian pyramids. Solomon introduced it into Judah for the purpose of carrying out his great buildings (1 Kings 5:13-14; 1 Kings 9:15): how unpopular it was, may be judged from the fact that Adoniram, the superintendent of the corvée, was stoned to death by the people (1 Kings 12:18).
gang-masters] Lit. captains (i.e. overseers) of labour-gangs,—the word mas being the technical term for a body of men employed on forced labour: cf. 1 Kings 5:13-14; 1 Kings 9:15 (where it is rendered ‘levy’).
burdens] The word regularly used of heavy burdens, carried under compulsion: see Exodus 2:11, Exodus 5:4-5, Exodus 6:6-7; and cf. cognate words in 1Ki Exo 5:15; 1 Kings 11:28 (RVm.), Psalm 81:6.
Pharaoh] The official, not the personal, designation of the Egyptian king. The word is the Egyptian Per-‘o, which means properly the Great House, and in inscriptions of the ‘Old Kingdom’ (1–11 dynasties) denotes simply the royal house or estate; but afterwards (somewhat in the manner of the expression, ‘Sublime Porte’) it gradually became a title of the monarch himself, and finally (in the 22nd and following dynasties) it was prefixed to the king’s personal name (see F. LI. Griffith’s luminous art. Pharaoh in DB.).
store cities] For provisions, materials for war, &c., perhaps also as trade emporia: cf. 1 Kings 9:19 (= 2 Chronicles 8:6); 2 Chronicles 8:4; 2 Chronicles 16:4; 2 Chronicles 17:12.
Pithom] the ΙΙάτουμος of Hdt. ii. 158, described by him as being on the canal made partially by Necho (b.c. 610–594) for the purpose of connecting the Nile with the Red Sea. The site was discovered in 1883 by M. Naville. Excavating at a spot about 60 miles NE. of Cairo, called, from a red granite monolith of Rameses II, seated between the gods Ra and Etôm, which has long existed there, Tell el-Maskhuṭa, the ‘Mound of the statue,’ M. Naville soon met with inscriptions shewing that the ancient name of the place was P-etôm, the ‘Abode of Etôm’ (the sun-god of Heliopolis). Proceeding further he found that Pithom was a city forming a square of about 220 yds. each way, enclosed by enormous brick-walls, some 6 yds. thick, containing a Temple, and also a number of rectangular chambers, with walls 2 or 3 yds. thick, not communicating with one another, but, like the granaries depicted on the monuments, filled from above, shewing that they were store-chambers (see DB. iii. 887b, EB. iii. 3784). Inscriptions found on the spot shewed moreover that it had been founded by Rameses II,—partly, it is probable, as a store-house for supplying provisions to Egyptian armies about to cross the desert, and partly as a fortress for the protection of the exposed Eastern frontier of Egypt. P-etôm was the civil name of the capital of the 8th ‘nome,’ or administrative district, of lower Egypt (Naville, Pithom, ed. 4, 1903, p. 6): and the ancient geographical lists describe it as being ‘on the Eastern frontier of Egypt’ (EB. s.v. Pithom). No notice however was found of the Israelites as its builders.
 The canal started from a little above Bubastis (Pi-beseth) on the Tanitic branch of the Nile: it went Eastwards through the Wâdy Ṭumîlât (p. 67), till it reached the N. end of Lake Timsâḥ; it then turned to the S., and utilising the waters of Lake Timsâḥ and the Bitter Lakes (see p. 126 f.), reached the Red Sea at Klysma (a little N. of the modern Suez). It was really the reopening and extension of a canal which had been begun long before by Rameses II. Necho did not complete the canal, as he was warned by an oracle that he was ‘labouring for the foreigner.’ It was completed afterwards by Darius (Hdt. l.c.), three of whose stelae have been found between Lake Timsâḥ and Suez, one during Napoleon’s expedition in Egypt, and the two others when the present Suez canal was being constructed (cf. Rawl. Hist. of Eg. ii. 316, 473 f.).
Raʿamses] in Exodus 12:37 Raʿmeses (the difference is only in the Mass. vocalization); LXX. Ραμεσση (cf. the Eg. Raʿmesse). Not certainly identified. Pe-Ramessu is a name often given in the Papyri to Zoan (Tanis), about 30 miles NNW. of Pithom, a city which, though built much earlier, was so greatly added to by Rameses (Raʿmesse) II that he is called by M. Naville its ‘second founder’; and Brugsch, Ebers, and Budge (Hist. of Eg. v. 123–5) consider that Zoan is the place here meant. Zoan is, however, mentioned elsewhere in the OT. (e.g. Numbers 13:22) under its proper name; and as Rameses II built at many different places in the Eastern Delta, and in fact more places than one bearing his name are known (EB. ii. 1760 f., 4013), it may well have been one of these. To judge from Exodus 12:37 the Rameses of the Hebrews will have been W. of Succoth, rather than, like Zoan, N. of it. W. M. Müller (EB. ii. 1436, iv. 4013) remarks that a site such as Tell Abu-Suleimân at the W. end of the Wâdy Ṭumîlât (p. 67) would be suitable; and Petrie (The Hyksos and Israelite cities, 1906, pp. 28, 31) argues in favour of Tell er-Reṭâbeh, about 10 m. W. of Pithom, where a temple and stelae of Rameses II, and other monuments, have been excavated by him (so also Garrow Duncan, Exploration of Egypt and the O.T., 1908, p. 172 ff.). It is very probable that this was Rameses, though the arguments hitherto adduced do not prove definitely that it was.
But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel.12. But the measure proved ineffectual: the more the Israelites were oppressed, the more they increased, so that the Egyptians felt an uneasy dread of them.
spread abroad] Lit. brake through (limits): fig. for expanded, spread abroad. So Genesis 28:14; Genesis 30:30; Genesis 30:43 (all J), Isaiah 54:3 al.
were grieved because of] Render felt a loathing for. Both ‘grief’ and ‘grieve’ were used formerly (see DB. s.vv.; and cf. on Exodus 8:24) in various acceptations which have now passed out of use,—Tindale for instance uses it in Exodus 7:18 ‘shall grieve to drink of the water of the river,’ where AV. has ‘loathe.’ Here, at least to a modern reader, it conveys an entirely false idea of the meaning intended: RVm. abhorred (so Numbers 22:3 RVm.; Isaiah 7:16) is better; felt a loathing for (lit. because of) would be better still, as it would be also in Numbers 22:3, Isaiah 7:16 : cf. the same verb in Numbers 21:5 (EVV. ‘loatheth this worthless bread’).
And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour:13. with rigour] The rare word found otherwise only in v. 14, Leviticus 25:43; Leviticus 25:46; Leviticus 25:53 (all P or H); Ezekiel 34:4. The root is not in use in Heb.; in Aram. it means to rub (Luke 6:1 Pesh.), or crush small.
13, 14. The parallel, from P, to vv. 11, 12, and continuation of v. 7. P states simply the fact of the oppression, without referring to the grounds prompting it.
And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in morter, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field: all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour.14. hard service] Exodus 6:9 (P) Heb. (EVV. cruel bondage); also Deuteronomy 26:6 (EVV. hard bondage); 1 Kings 12:4 (= 2 Chronicles 10:4); Isaiah 14:3.
in mortar and in brick] for the Egyptian buildings: cf. Exodus 5:7-8. The ‘mortar’ (lit. clay, Isaiah 29:16 al.), would be the black Nile-mud, which was used in ancient Egypt not only for bricks (see on Exodus 5:6-9; Exodus 5:19), but also (Erman, Anc. Egypt, p. 419) for mortar: in the latter case it was usually mixed with potsherds.
in the field] E.g. in constructing canals and dams for conveying water from the Nile to the fields, and in the actual work of irrigation (Deuteronomy 11:10). This was laborious; for the water had to be brought to the high-lying fields artificially, by a series of shadufs, or buckets attached to long poles, worked on axles, by which it was gradually raised from one elevation to another. ‘It is hard work to be the whole day raising and emptying the pail of the shaduf, in fact nothing is so tiring in the daily work of the Egyptians as this irrigation of the fields’ (Erman, p. 427). In ancient Egypt this and other agricultural operations were carried on by serfs, slaves, and captives taken in war. The shaduf, constructed exactly as in ancient times, is still a familiar sight on the banks of the Nile: see an illustration of both the ancient and the modern type in Erman, p. 426.
all their service, &c.] The sentence is loosely attached to what precedes, and the construction with ’çth (the mark of the accus.) is very anomalous: cf. however, in the later Heb., Ezekiel 37:19, Zechariah 12:10.
And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah:15. The names were preserved by tradition (Di.) as those of two noble-minded women, who in perilous times had done their duty to God and their people, and refused to obey the inhuman command of the heathen king. Obviously if the numbers of the Israelites even remotely approached 600,000 males (Exodus 12:37), far more than two midwives must have been required: either the numbers were in reality very much less, or these were the only midwives whose names were remembered.
15–22. The second measure. The Heb. midwives are commanded to slay all male infants that are born. V. 15 connects directly with v. 12.
And he said, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him: but if it be a daughter, then she shall live.16. upon the two stones] This is the lit. rend. of the Heb.: the same word is used of the two circular stones, fixed horizontally on a vertical axle, to form the potter’s ‘wheel’ (see ill. in EB. iii. 3820). The allusion is in all probability to the two stones upon which the Hebrew women, in accordance with a custom attested for other nations, either knelt or sat at the time of their delivery: Ploss, Das Weib in der Natur u. Völkerkunde, 1887, ii. 174 f., 177 f., Schapiro, Revue des Études Juives, xl. (1900), p. 45 f. Spiegelberg (Aeg. Randglossen zum AT., 1904, p. 19 ff.) cites from old Egyptian and Coptic texts the expressions, to sit on the brick, and (once) on the two bricks, in the same connexion.
But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive.17. The midwives feared God; and would not be parties to such inhumanity.
And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men children alive?
And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them.19. Too much cannot be inferred from the midwives’ excuse with regard to the facts in question; but it is at least true that Arabian women are delivered very quickly (Knob., with references to travellers). As to whether the Egyptian women were delivered more slowly, there appears to be no independent evidence.
Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty.20b. Assigned to J, because, while agreeing with v. 7, even in expression—‘âṣam, to wax mighty, occurs elsewhere in prose only in Genesis 26:16, also J—it seems to imply a far greater people than is done by vv. 15–20a.
And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them houses.21. made them houses] i.e. gave them families, to perpetuate their names. Cf. 2 Samuel 7:11; 1 Kings 2:24; Genesis 16:2 (RVm.).
And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive.22. The third measure. As the midwives refused to carry out the Pharaoh’s wishes, a command to the same effect is issued to the whole people: the Egyptians themselves are to throw every male infant of the Hebrews into the Nile. The command, if fully carried out, would have resulted obviously in the extermination of the Hebrews; it is thus inconsistent with the intention expressed by the Pharaoh in v. 10 to retain them as his subjects. Perhaps the thwarted and angry king did not heed the inconsistency: perhaps inconsistent traditions have been combined by the compiler. However that may be, the measure seems calculated for a people numbering far fewer than 2,000,000 souls (among whom the birth-rate would be something like 80,000 a year1, i.e. more than 100 males a day), and also all living within near distance of the Nile. It is intimately connected with the narrative following (ch. 2), and indeed supplies the conditions necessary for it.
 The birth-rate in Cairo in 1900 was 41 per 1000 of the population.
that is born] Sam. LXX. add, to the Hebrews: in any case, a correct explanation, and perhaps part of the original text.
the river (Nile)] Heb. yĕ’ôr, from the Egyptian yoor, ‘river,’ often used of the Nile, yĕ’ôr is the regular name of the ‘Nile’ in Hebrew.