Exodus 1:11
Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses.
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(11) Task-masters.—Heb., chiefs of tributes. The Egyptian system of forced labour, which it was now resolved to extend to the Israelites, involved the appointment of two sets of officers—a lower class, who personally overlooked the labourers, and forced them to perform their tasks, and a higher class of superintendents, who directed the distribution of the labour, and assigned to all the tasks which they were to execute. The “task-masters” of the present passage are these high officials.

To afflict them.—This was the object of the whole proceeding. It was hoped that severe labour under the lash would produce so much suffering that the number of the Israelites would be thinned, and their multiplication stopped. Humanly speaking, the scheme was a “wise” one—i.e., one likely to be successful.

They built for Pharaoh treasure-cities.—By “treasure-cities” we are to understand “magazines”—i.e., strongholds, where munitions of war could be laid up for use in case of an invasion. (In 1Kings 9:19, and 2Chronicles 8:4, the same expression is translated “cities of store.”) The Pharaohs of the nineteenth dynasty gave great attention to the guarding of the north-eastern frontier in this way.

Pithom.—This city is reasonably identified with the “Patumus” of Herodotus (ii. 158), which was in Lower Egypt, not far from Bubastis (Tel Basta). It is mentioned in the inscriptions of the nineteenth dynasty under the name of Pi-Tum (Brugsch, History of Egypt, vol. ii. p. 128). It was, as the name implies, a city of the sun-god, and was probably not very far from Heliopolis, the main seat of the sun-god’s worship.

Raamses.—Pi-Ramesu, the city of Rameses, was the ordinary seat of the Court during the earlier part of the nineteenth dynasty. It appears to have been a new name for Tanis, or for a suburb of Tanis, which overshadowed the old city. Rameses II. claims to have built the greater part of it; but it was probably commenced by his father, Seti, who made the defence of the north-eastern frontier one of his main cares. The name must be considered as a mere variant rendering of the Egyptian Ramessu or Ramesu. The site is marked by the mounds at San.

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.Taskmasters - The Egyptian "Chiefs of tributes." They were men of rank, superintendents of the public works, such as are often represented on Egyptian monuments, and carefully distinguished from the subordinate overseers. The Israelites were employed in forced labor, probably in detachments, but they were not reduced to slavery, properly speaking, nor treated as captives of war. Amosis had special need of such laborers, as proved by the inscriptions.

Treasure cities - "Magazines," depots of ammunition and provisions 1 Kings 9:19; 2 Chronicles 8:4; 2 Chronicles 32:28.

Pithom and Raamses - Both cities were situated on the canal which was dug or enlarged in the 12th Dynasty. The former is known to have existed under the 18th Dynasty. Both were in existence at the beginning of the reign of Rameses II, by whom they were fortified and enlarged. The name "Pithom" means "House or temple of Tum," the Sun God of Heliopolis (see Exodus 13:20). The name of Raamses, or Rameses, is generally assumed to have been derived from Rameses II, the Sesostris of the Greeks, but it was previously known as the name of the district. See Genesis 45:10; Genesis 47:11.

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].

Taskmasters, Heb. masters of tribute, who were to exact from them the tribute required, which was both money and labour; that their purses might be exhausted by the one, their strength by the other, and their spirits by both. To afflict, or, oppress, or humble; to spend their strength by excessive labours, and so disenable them for the procreation of children.

Treasure cities, where they laid the king’s money or corn, which is reckoned among treasures, 2 Chronicles 17:12 32:27, and wherein a great part of the riches of Egypt consisted; for they had corn enough, not only for themselves, but to sell to other countries; so that Egypt was accounted the granary of the Roman empire. Or,

defenced cities, in which garrisons were to be placed, which seems best to agree with the place and use of them. For they were in the borders of the land, and among the Israelites, which appears concerning the one from Genesis 47:11, (where the land in which they were placed is called Ramases, which in Hebrew consists of the same letters with this

Raamses, and seems to be so called then by anticipation from the city of that name now built in it,) and may be reasonably presumed concerning the other; and therefore it is most probable that they were built to keep the Israelites in subjection, and to hinder them from going out of the land. 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.

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[96]. 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.

[96] 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.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). To place the multiplication of the children of Israel into a strong nation in its true light, as the commencement of the realization of the promises of God, the number of the souls that went down with Jacob to Egypt is repeated from Genesis 46:27 (on the number 70, in which Jacob is included, see the notes on this passage); and the repetition of the names of the twelve sons of Jacob serves to give to the history which follows a character of completeness within itself. "With Jacob they came, every one and his house," i.e., his sons, together with their families, their wives, and their children. The sons are arranged according to their mothers, as in Genesis 35:23-26, and the sons of the two maid-servants stand last. Joseph, indeed, is not placed in the list, but brought into special prominence by the words, "for Joseph was in Egypt" (Exodus 1:5), since he did not go down to Egypt along with the house of Jacob, and occupied an exalted position in relation to them there.
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