Poole on Exodus 1:11-14: Growth in the midst of Affliction

Updated: May 23, 2019

Verse 11:[1] Therefore they did set over them taskmasters (Gen. 15:13; Ex. 3:7; Deut. 26:6) to afflict them with their (Ex. 2:11; 5:4, 5; Ps. 81:6) burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom (Gen. 47:11) and Raamses.



[They set over them masters of works] Thus the Septuagint, ἐργοδιώκτας (the Scholiast), that is, one that presses labors (Drusius); prefects over compulsory services (Junius and Tremellius); most unkind masters (Syriac), or malefactors (Chaldean), namely, who were vexing the people (Fagius), so that they might shatter their strength and impair their fertility (Junius, Piscator).


[שָׂרֵ֣י מִסִּ֔ים] Some: masters of griefs,[2] or of meltings[3] (Malvenda), or dissolutions; that is, those that force them to liquefy earth to make bricks (Oleaster). Masters of tribute (thus the Samaritan Text, Arabic, Munster, Montanus, Pagnine,[4] Oleaster, Rabbi Salomon and all the Hebrews in Fagius’ Comparison of the Principal Translations), that is, those that exacted from them tribute and wealth. The king willed that they be burdened with labor and tribute, so that they might be increased neither in number, nor in wealth (Fagius). Collectors of tribute, not of money, but of bricks (Menochius, Lapide, Oleaster). They were forced, therefore, to mold bricks, verse 14, to build cities and pyramids, to draw off the Nile through trenches into meadows and fields (Menochius).


[So that they might afflict them with burdens, בְּסִבְלֹתָם] That is, with great tribute (Vatablus). The idle hands of soldiers readily sport, says Tacitus[5] in Concerning Germany.[6] He says the same in Annals 1, and in The Life and Character of Julius Agricola.[7] For this evil remedies was sought by the princes: The walls, trenches, etc., they had made: Annals 1. For a like cause, Tarquinius[8] immersed the Roman lower class in ditches and sewers to be drained. See Aristotle’s Politics 5:11: καὶ τὸ πένητας ποιεῖν, etc., and to make laborers, etc. The Israelites were laboring ἐν ταῖς λατομίαις, in the stone quarries, says Manetho.[9] For the sake of the pyramids to be made for the kings of Egypt, lest the lower class should be idle: Pliny’s Natural History 36:12 (Grotius).


Taskmasters; Hebrew, 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.



[They built, וַיִּבֶן] All render it in the plural; but it is singular, he built (Fagius’ Comparison of the Principal Translations). That is, either the people of Israel, as it is evident from Genesis 30:30, 43 (Piscator), or Pharaoh, that is, the king built for himself (Fagius’ Comparison of the Principal Translations).


[Cities of tabernacles, עָרֵ֤י מִסְכְּנוֹת֙] As if he had read, סוּכוֹת/tabernacles (Fagius, Vatablus). Cities of enclosures, that is, enclosed by walls (Oleaster); fortified cities (Septuagint), that is, garrisons, strongholds (Fagius, Cajetan[10]). Others: treasure cities (thus the Chaldean and all the Hebrews in Fagius’ Comparison of the Principal Translations, thus Fagius, Vatablus, Kimchi[11] in Munster, Samaritan Text, Pagnine, Montanus, Oleaster, Ainsworth), that is, cities for holdings and granaries of crops. For crops are reckoned among treasures. Thus the word is taken in 2 Chronicles 17:12;[12] 32:27, 28.[13] These repositories are thus called on account of their usefulness, from סָכַן, to benefit, to be useful (Vatablus out of Fagius). It signifies the storehouses in which the year’s produce or the royal wealth might be stored (Menochius). Cities, storehouses (Syriac, Arabic).


[Pithom and Raamses] These were two cities on the borders of the kingdom (Menochius): Lest either Israel should be able to go out, or some one of the foreigners to come in (Lyra). Targum Jerusalem has Tunis (read Tanis[14]) and Pelusium.[15] The Hebrews report that the Jews had hitherto labored half-heartedly in the building of them, so that it might pass into a proverb concerning the lazy, slow, and half-heartedly laboring, He is Pisom Veraamses (Fagius).


[Pithom] Pathomus near Bubastis,[16] according to Herodotus.[17] Whence the Pathmetic mouth[18] in Ptolemy[19] (Grotius). Patumon, allotted to Arabia Petra, in the borders of Egypt, along which a trench was brought from the Nile unto the Red Sea, which work was of the Israelites; the author of which Herodotus, in History “Euterpe”, falsely establishes to be Necos.[20] Consult the passage (Junius).


Treasure cities, where they laid the king’s money or corn, which is reckoned among treasures, 2 Chronicles 17:12; 32:27, 28, 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 Rameses, which in Hebrew consists of the same letters with this Raamses,[21] 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.


Verse 12:[22] But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied (Heb. and as they afflicted them, so they multiplied,[23] etc.) and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel.

[The more they increased, יִפְרֹץ] They were bursting forth (Ainsworth, Lapide). See Genesis 30:30,[24] 43[25] (Ainsworth). With greater force, just like water, which, the more it is compressed, the more vehemently it presses its causeway (Lapide).



They multiplied, through God’s overruling providence and singular blessing, which God gave them purposely to hasten first their sorer affliction, and next, and by that means, their glorious deliverance.


[To such a degree that it wearied them[26] on account of the children of Israel] That is, with their prosperity having been witnessed (Vatablus). And they were pricked with thorns (Oleaster). They were like thorns in their eyes. For קוֹץ is a thorn, says Rabbi Salomon (Drusius).


[And they hated, etc., וַיָּקֻ֕צוּ מִפְּנֵ֖י בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃] And they were distressed (were caused grief [Samaritan Text, Syriac in Nobilius[27]]) on account of the children of Israel (Montanus, Pagnine, Oleaster, Samaritan Text). The Egyptians had trouble on account of the children of Israel (Chaldean). The Egyptians were averse to the children of Israel (Septuagint). They felt an aversion to the children of Israel (Arabic).


They were grieved, through envy and fear.


Verse 13:[28] And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour…



[Mocking, etc., בְּפָרֶךְ] With cruelty (Syriac, Tigurinus,[29] Junius and Tremellius), or, rigor (Ainsworth), or tyranny (Munster); with violence (Septuagint); with ferocity (Malvenda); with superciliousness (Oleaster); harshly (Chaldean, Samaritan Text, Pagnine); with hardness (Montanus, Oleaster, Vatablus), without regard to any clemency or mercy (Vatablus).


Rigour, or, cruelty, or, tyranny; with hard words and cruel usage, without mercy or mitigation. This God permitted for wise and just reasons. 1. As a punishment of their idolatry, into which divers of them fell there, Joshua 24:14; Ezekiel 20:5, 7, 8; 23:8. 2. To wean them from the land of Egypt, which otherwise was a plentiful and desirable land, and to quicken their desires after Canaan. 3. To prepare the way for God’s glorious works, and Israel’s deliverance.


Verse 14:[30] And they (Ex. 2:23; 6:9; Num. 20:15; Acts 7:19, 34) made their lives bitter with hard bondage, (Ps. 81:6) 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.


[And in all service, etc., בַּשָּׂדֶה[31]] In the field; that is, rural and rustic service (Vatablus). Hence it is evident that they were compelled unto all the labors, even the rural labors, of slaves (Menochius). They were also compelled to carry out of the cities the dregs and uncleannesses (Josephus in Lyra).


Service in the field was the basest and most laborious of all their services.


[With which they were pressed, אֲשֶׁר־עָבְד֥וּ בָהֶ֖ם[32]] They render it in a variety of ways. The labors with which they were slavishly oppressing them (Septuagint, similarly the Chaldean); servitude which they were exacting from those of the house (Junius and Tremellius); work which they violently pressed upon them (Samaritan Text); the servitude which they served to them (Munster), or, with which they were pressing them (Tigurinus, Syriac); the servitude for which they made use of them (Arabic); the work in which they were made to serve them (certain interpreters in Vatablus); in which their works they were exhausted (Pagnine). There is a similar expression in Jeremiah 25:14, where עָבַד is constructed with a ב:[33] which, as often as it occurs, signifies servitude which lords exact (to exercise cruelty against a slave, to exhaust him with his slavery, Jeremiah 25:14; 27:7;[34] 30:8;[35] 34:10;[36] Ezekiel 29:20[37] [Malvenda]); otherwise it signifies the servitude expended by slaves (Vatablus).

[1] Hebrew: וַיָּשִׂ֤ימוּ עָלָיו֙ שָׂרֵ֣י מִסִּ֔ים לְמַ֥עַן עַנֹּת֖וֹ בְּסִבְלֹתָ֑ם וַיִּ֜בֶן עָרֵ֤י מִסְכְּנוֹת֙ לְפַרְעֹ֔ה אֶת־פִּתֹ֖ם וְאֶת־רַעַמְסֵֽס׃


[2] מַסָּה signifies despair.


[3] מַס is here related to the verbal root מָסַס, to melt.


[4] Pagnine (1466-1541) was an Italian Dominican. He was gifted as a Hebraist, exegete, and preacher. He was commissioned by Pope Leo X to produce a new Latin translation of the Scripture.


[5] Publius Cornelius Tacitus (c. 56-c. 117) was a Roman historian. The information that he preserves about his era and its emperors is invaluable.


[6] De Germania.


[7] In Vita Agricolæ.


[8] This appears to be Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, whom legend holds to have been the seventh king of Rome (ruling from 535-510 BC). His reign is remembered for its violence and bloodshed.


[9] Preserved in Josephus’ Against Apion 2.


[10] Thomas Cajetan (1469-1534) was an Italian cardinal and one of the more able opponents of the Reformation. He wrote a commentary on the Pentateuch, In Quinque Libros Mosis.


[11] David Kimchi (c. 1160-1235) was a famous Spanish Rabbi. He wrote a commentary on the entire Old Testament and a Hebrew grammar, as a result of which he has long been respected for his profound scholarship.


[12] 2 Chronicles 17:12: “And Jehoshaphat waxed great exceedingly; and he built in Judah castles, and cities of store (וְעָרֵ֥י מִסְכְּנֽוֹת׃).”


[13] 2 Chronicles 32:27b, 28a: “…and he made himself treasuries for silver, and for gold…storehouses (וּמִסְכְּנוֹת) also for the increase of corn, and wine, and oil…”


[14] Tanis was on the Mediterranean coast, just west of the Tanitic mouth of the Nile.


[15] Pelusium was east of the Nile Delta, as one passes into Arabia.


[16] Bubastis was the capital of the eighteenth nome of lower Egypt, in the heart of the Nile Delta.


[17] Histories 2. Herodotus (c. 484-c. 425) was a Greek historian, sometimes called “The Father of History”.


[18] The Nile delta formerly divided into seven distributaries; now, only two, of which the eastern one is called Damietta, the old Pathmetic mouth.


[19] Claudius Ptolemæus (c. 90-c. 168) is that famous Ptolemy, who has had such a great impact upon the fields of geography and astronomy in the Western world.


[20] Pharaoh Nechoh was a contemporary of King Josiah (seventh century BC).


[21] In Genesis 47:11, רַעְמְסֵס; in Exodus 1:11, רַעַמְסֵס.


[22] Hebrew: וְכַאֲשֶׁר֙ יְעַנּ֣וּ אֹת֔וֹ כֵּ֥ן יִרְבֶּ֖ה וְכֵ֣ן יִפְרֹ֑ץ וַיָּקֻ֕צוּ מִפְּנֵ֖י בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃


[23] Hebrew: וְכַאֲשֶׁר֙ יְעַנּ֣וּ אֹת֔וֹ כֵּ֥ן יִרְבֶּ֖ה.


[24] Genesis 30:30a: “For it was little which thou hadst before I came, and it is now increased (וַיִּפְרֹץ) unto a multitude…”


[25] Genesis 30:43a: “And the man increased (וַיִּפְרֹץ) exceedingly…”


[26] וַיָּקֻצוּ is the third person, plural Qal of קוּץ, to feel abhorrence.


[27] Flaminius Nobilius (died 1590) was a Roman Catholic text critic, who labored in the reconstruction of the Itala, the Old Latin version.


[28] Hebrew: וַיַּעֲבִ֧דוּ מִצְרַ֛יִם אֶת־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל בְּפָֽרֶךְ׃


[29] Leo Jud (1482-1542) was a co-laborer of Ulrich Zwingli during the time of the Swiss Reformation. His translation work might be his most important contribution to the reformation of Zurich. He labored with other divines to produce a vernacular version for the Swiss people, and he produced a Latin version of the Old Testament, usually known as “Tigurinus”, which would be translated, “of Zurich”.


[30] Hebrew: וַיְמָרְר֙וּ אֶת־חַיֵּיהֶ֜ם בַּעֲבֹדָ֣ה קָשָׁ֗ה בְּחֹ֙מֶר֙ וּבִלְבֵנִ֔ים וּבְכָל־עֲבֹדָ֖ה בַּשָּׂדֶ֑ה אֵ֚ת כָּל־עֲבֹ֣דָתָ֔ם אֲשֶׁר־עָבְד֥וּ בָהֶ֖ם בְּפָֽרֶךְ׃


[31] Exodus 1:14a: “And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in morter, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field (בַּשָּׂדֶה)…” The Vulgate simply omits בַּשָּׂדֶה, in the field.


[32] Exodus 1:14b: “…all their service, wherein they made them serve (אֲשֶׁר־עָבְד֥וּ בָהֶ֖ם), was with rigour.”


[33] עָבַר constructed with the ב appears to signify to work by means of another. Jeremiah 25:14a: “For many nations and great kings shall serve themselves of them also (עבְדוּ־בָ֤ם גַּם־הֵ֙מָּה֙)…”


[34] Jeremiah 27:7b: “…and then many nations and great kings shall serve themselves of him (וְעָ֤בְדוּ בוֹ֙ גּוֹיִ֣ם רַבִּ֔ים וּמְלָכִ֖ים גְּדֹלִֽים׃).”


[35] Jeremiah 30:8b: “…and strangers shall no more serve themselves of him (וְלֹא־יַעַבְדוּ־ב֥וֹ ע֖וֹד זָרִֽים׃).”


[36] Jeremiah 34:10b: “…that none should serve themselves of them (עֲבָד־בָּ֖ם ע֑וֹד) any more…”


[37] Ezekiel 29:20a: “I have given him the land of Egypt for his labour wherewith he served against it (אֲשֶׁר־עָ֣בַד בָּ֔הּ)…”

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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