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Exodus 1:8-14

Context

1:8 Then a new king, 1  who did not know about 2  Joseph, came to power 3  over Egypt. 1:9 He said 4  to his people, “Look at 5  the Israelite people, more numerous and stronger than we are! 1:10 Come, let’s deal wisely 6  with them. Otherwise 7  they will continue to multiply, 8  and if 9  a war breaks out, they will ally themselves with 10  our enemies and fight against us and leave 11  the country.”

1:11 So they put foremen 12  over the Israelites 13  to oppress 14  them with hard labor. As a result 15  they built Pithom and Rameses 16  as store cities for Pharaoh. 1:12 But the more the Egyptians 17  oppressed them, the more they multiplied and spread. 18  As a result the Egyptians loathed 19  the Israelites, 1:13 and they 20  made the Israelites serve rigorously. 21  1:14 They made their lives bitter 22  by 23  hard service with mortar and bricks and by all kinds of service 24  in the fields. Every kind of service the Israelites were required to give was rigorous. 25 

1 sn It would be difficult to identify who this “new king” might be, since the chronology of ancient Israel and Egypt is continually debated. Scholars who take the numbers in the Bible more or less at face value would place the time of Jacob’s going down to Egypt in about 1876 b.c. This would put Joseph’s experience in the period prior to the Hyksos control of Egypt (1720-1570’s), and everything in the narrative about Joseph points to a native Egyptian setting and not a Hyksos one. Joseph’s death, then, would have been around 1806 b.c., just a few years prior to the end of the 12th Dynasty of Egypt. This marked the end of the mighty Middle Kingdom of Egypt. The relationship between the Hyksos (also Semites) and the Israelites may have been amicable, and the Hyksos then might very well be the enemies that the Egyptians feared in Exodus 1:10. It makes good sense to see the new king who did not know Joseph as either the founder (Amosis, 1570-1546) or an early king of the powerful 18th Dynasty (like Thutmose I). Egypt under this new leadership drove out the Hyksos and reestablished Egyptian sovereignty. The new rulers certainly would have been concerned about an increasing Semite population in their territory (see E. H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, 49-55).

2 tn The relative clause comes last in the verse in Hebrew. It simply clarifies that the new king had no knowledge about Joseph. It also introduces a major theme in the early portion of Exodus, as a later Pharaoh will claim not to know who Yahweh is. The Lord, however, will work to make sure that Pharaoh and all Egypt will know that he is the true God.

3 tn Heb “arose.”

4 tn Heb “and he said.”

5 tn The particle הִנֵּה (hinneh) introduces the foundational clause for the exhortation to follow by drawing the listeners’ attention to the Israelites. In other words, the exhortation that follows is based on this observation. The connection could be rendered “since, because,” or the like.

6 tn The verb is the Hitpael cohortative of חָכַם (khakam, “to be wise”). This verb has the idea of acting shrewdly, dealing wisely. The basic idea in the word group is that of skill. So a skillful decision is required to prevent the Israelites from multiplying any more.

sn Pharaoh’s speech invites evaluation. How wise did his plans prove to be?

7 tn The word פֶּן (pen) expresses fear or precaution and can also be translated “lest” or “else” (R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 75-76, §461).

8 tn The verb can be translated simply “will multiply,” but since Pharaoh has already indicated that he is aware they were doing that, the nuance here must mean to multiply all the more, or to continue to multiply. Cf. NIV “will become even more numerous.”

9 tn The words וְהָיָה כִּי (vÿhayah ki) introduce a conditional clause – “if” (see GKC 335 §112.y).

10 tn Heb “and [lest] he [Israel] also be joined to.”

11 tn Heb “and go up from.” All the verbs coming after the particle פֶּן (pen, “otherwise, lest” in v. 10) have the same force and are therefore parallel. These are the fears of the Egyptians. This explains why a shrewd policy of population control was required. They wanted to keep Israel enslaved; they did not want them to become too numerous and escape.

12 tn Heb “princes of work.” The word שָׂרֵי (sare, “princes”) has been translated using words such as “ruler,” “prince,” “leader,” “official,” “chief,” “commander,” and “captain” in different contexts. It appears again in 2:14 and 18:21 and 25. Hebrew מַס (mas) refers to a labor gang organized to provide unpaid labor, or corvée (Deut 20:11; Josh 17:13; 1 Kgs 9:15, 21). The entire phrase has been translated “foremen,” which combines the idea of oversight and labor. Cf. KJV, NAB, NASB, NRSV “taskmasters”; NIV “slave masters”; NLT “slave drivers.”

13 tn Heb “over them”; the referent (the Israelites) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

14 sn The verb עַנֹּתוֹ (’annoto) is the Piel infinitive construct from עָנָה (’anah, “to oppress”). The word has a wide range of meanings. Here it would include physical abuse, forced subjugation, and humiliation. This king was trying to crush the spirit of Israel by increasing their slave labor. Other terms in the passage that describe this intent include “bitter” and “crushing.”

15 tn The form is a preterite with the vav (ו) consecutive, וַיִּבֶן (vayyiven). The sequence expressed in this context includes the idea of result.

16 sn Many scholars assume that because this city was named Rameses, the Pharaoh had to be Rameses II, and hence that a late date for the exodus (and a late time for the sojourn in Egypt) is proved. But if the details of the context are taken as seriously as the mention of this name, this cannot be the case. If one grants for the sake of discussion that Rameses II was on the throne and oppressing Israel, it is necessary to note that Moses is not born yet. It would take about twenty or more years to build the city, then eighty more years before Moses appears before Pharaoh (Rameses), and then a couple of years for the plagues – this man would have been Pharaoh for over a hundred years. That is clearly not the case for the historical Rameses II. But even more determining is the fact that whoever the Pharaoh was for whom the Israelites built the treasure cities, he died before Moses began the plagues. The Bible says that when Moses grew up and killed the Egyptian, he fled from Pharaoh (whoever that was) and remained in exile until he heard that that Pharaoh had died. So this verse cannot be used for a date of the exodus in the days of Rameses, unless many other details in the chapters are ignored. If it is argued that Rameses was the Pharaoh of the oppression, then his successor would have been the Pharaoh of the exodus. Rameses reigned from 1304 b.c. until 1236 and then was succeeded by Merneptah. That would put the exodus far too late in time, for the Merneptah stela refers to Israel as a settled nation in their land. One would have to say that the name Rameses in this chapter may either refer to an earlier king, or, more likely, reflect an updating in the narrative to name the city according to its later name (it was called something else when they built it, but later Rameses finished it and named it after himself [see B. Jacob, Exodus, 14]). For further discussion see G. L. Archer, “An 18th Dynasty Ramses,” JETS 17 (1974): 49-50; and C. F. Aling, “The Biblical City of Ramses,” JETS 25 (1982): 129-37. Furthermore, for vv. 11-14, see K. A. Kitchen, “From the Brick Fields of Egypt,” TynBul 27 (1976): 137-47.

17 tn Heb “they”; the referent (the Egyptians) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

18 tn The imperfect tenses in this verse are customary uses, expressing continual action in past time (see GKC 315 §107.e). For other examples of כַּאֲשֶׁר (kaasher) with כֵּן (ken) expressing a comparison (“just as…so”) see Gen 41:13; Judg 1:7; Isa 31:4.

sn Nothing in the oppression caused this, of course. Rather, the blessing of God (Gen 12:1-3) was on Israel in spite of the efforts of Egypt to hinder it. According to Gen 15 God had foretold that there would be this period of oppression (עָנָה [’anah] in Gen 15:13). In other words, God had decreed and predicted both their becoming a great nation and the oppression to show that he could fulfill his promise to Abraham in spite of the bondage.

19 tn Heb “they felt a loathing before/because of”; the referent (the Egyptians) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

20 tn Heb “the Egyptians.” For stylistic reasons this has been replaced by the pronoun “they” in the translation.

21 tn Heb “with rigor, oppression.”

22 sn The verb מָרַר (marar) anticipates the introduction of the theme of bitterness in the instructions for the Passover.

23 tn The preposition bet (ב) in this verse has the instrumental use: “by means of” (see GKC 380 §119.o).

24 tn Heb “and in all service.”

25 tn The line could be more literally translated, “All their service in which they served them [was] with rigor.” This takes the referent of בָּהֶם (bahem) to be the Egyptians. The pronoun may also resume the reference to the kinds of service and so not be needed in English: “All their service in which they served [was] with rigor.”



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