And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty…
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. ver. 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. Vers. 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 ver. 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. 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.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them.