Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 3. And Benjamin. He is mentioned here, because he was the son of Rachel, as the preceding were the children of Lia. The offspring of the handmaids follow. (Haydock)
Ver. 5. Seventy: Septuagint, “75,” including the offspring of Joseph. See Genesis xlvi. 26.
Ver. 6. Generation, or race of mortals who had seen his wonderful works. The tyrant, who knew not Joseph, began his reign about 58 years after that patriarch’s death. (Calmet) — His name was Pharao Amenophis, (Pererius) or Ramesses Miamum. (Usher)
Ver. 9. Numerous. Calvisius observes, that from Ephraim alone might have sprung 4,112,323,729 people. See St. Augustine, q. 43, &c. (Haydock) — In the space of 215 years, 70 people may produce an immense multitude, as Bonfrere shews by an accurate calculation. God also was pleased to bless the Hebrews with fecundity, so that they sprung up (ebullierunt) like frogs or fishes, ver. 7. In Egypt, the women had sometimes seven at a birth (Pliny, Natural History vii. 3,) and Aristotle (Anim. vii. 4,) mentions one woman who had 20 children at four births. (Tirinus) — Stronger. This might easily be true, if this king had only Thebais under his command. But if he was king of all Egypt, it seems an exaggeration. (Calmet) — Indeed, human policy often gives birth to all kinds of wickedness. The king justifies his cruelty on this pretext of self-defence. He wishes to keep the Hebrews under; yet he is not willing to let them depart, as he knew they intended, according to Joseph’s prediction. (Haydock) — God permitted this disposition, in order to punish his people for their idolatry, (Ezechiel xxiii. 8,) to admonish them not to fix their abode in Egypt, and to manifest his power and glory in the destruction of the impious. (Menochius)
Ver. 11. Masters. Cruel like himself, who not only made them build without proper materials, (ver. 14, and chap. v. 10, Haydock,) but oppressed them with heavy burdens of brick and tile. Hence Aristophanes calls the Hebrews in derision Plinthophoroi. This servitude is styled the iron furnace of Egypt, Deuteronomy iv. 20; Jeremias xi. 4. — Of tabernacles, or of storehouses. (Challoner) — To keep his treasures, Chaldean, or “fortresses,” Septuagint. It may also be the name of a city, Miscenoth, chap. xii. 37. Phithom, perhaps the same as the town of Heroum, where the Septuagint say Joseph first met his father, Genesis xlvi. 28. Ramesses was the capital, and situate in the Arabic nome. (Calmet)
Ver. 14. Service. They were forced to till the land, reap, &c. (Menochius)
Ver. 15. Midwives. Egyptian women, who assisted all of that district. (Josephus, [Antiquities] xi. 5.) There were others under them. Some think all these midwives were of Hebrew extraction, as their names are Hebrew, &c. (Calmet)
Ver. 16. The time, &c. Hebrew, “and you shall see them upon the two stones.” Abenaim. Jeremias (xviii. 3,) uses the same expression, speaking of a potter hard at work. (Calmet) — A woman, from whom nothing could be feared, to be reserved for service and for pleasure. (Menochius) — We must not obey princes in their unjust commands. (Acts iv, and Matthew x. 28.) (Worthington)
Ver. 19. Skilful, &c. Hebrew Caioth means midwives: or they are full of vigour, or bring forth alive, like brutes. By this allusion they not only excuse themselves, but seem also to enter into the king’s sentiments of hatred and scorn for the Hebrews. (Menochius) — Women in Egypt, and in the eastern regions, are easily delivered, and hardly stand in need of any assistance. (Ludolf) (1 Kings iv. 19.) Perhaps, therefore, the midwives spoke truth, with regard to the generality of the Hebrew women. But they gave way to a lie of excuse, with regard to some, (ver. 17,) which St. Augustine would not allow, even to save all the Hebrew children. (contra Mend. 15.) It was not so easy to discover this delusion, as women in that country seldom appear in public; and hence Jochabed was enabled to hide Moses so long. (Calmet)
Ver. 21. Because the midwives feared God, &c. The midwives were rewarded, not for their lie, which was a venial sin; but for their fear of God, and their humanity; but this reward was only temporal, in building them houses, that is, in establishing and enriching their families. (Challoner) — This alone the Scripture specifies, though they might also be filled with heavenly graces. (Worthington) — Some conclude from this verse, that the midwives embraced the true religion. The Hebrew refers built them to the Hebrews, as if they multiplied in consequence of the humanity of these women; (Calmet) and the Vulgate may be explained in the same sense. (Haydock) De Muis supposes, that Pharao ordered houses to be built for the midwives, where the Hebrew women were forced to appear when they were to be delivered, in the presence of commissaries.
Ver. 22. The river Nile, where the persecuting successor of this king found his end. (Haydock) — It seems this inhuman decree was not published till after Aaron was born, and it was probably revoked soon after the birth of Moses; for if it had been rigorously put in execution, there would have been nothing but old men 80 years after, when Moses led the people out of Egypt. (Calmet) — But perhaps even the Egyptians abhorred and refused to execute this edict. (Menochius)
Bible Text & Commentary:
The Israelites are multiplied in Egypt. They are oppressed by a new king, who commandeth all their male children to be killed.
1 These are the names of the children of Israel, *that went into Egypt with Jacob: they went in every man with his household:
2 Ruben, Simeon, Levi, Juda,
3 Issachar, Zabulon, and Benjamin,
4 Dan, and Nephthali, Gad and Aser.
5 And all the souls that came out of Jacob’s thigh, were seventy:* but Joseph was in Egypt.
6 After he was dead, and all his brethren, and all that generation,
7 *The children of Israel increased, and sprung up into multitudes, and growing exceedingly strong they filled the land.
8 In the mean time there arose a new king over Egypt, that knew not Joseph:
9 And he said to his people: Behold the people of the children of Israel are numerous and stronger than we.
10 Come let us wisely oppress them, lest they multiply: and if any war shall rise against us, join with our enemies, and having overcome us, depart out of the land.
11 Therefore he set over them masters of the works, to afflict them with burdens: and they built for Pharao cities of tabernacles, Phithom, and Ramesses.
12 But the more they oppressed them, the more they were multiplied and increased.
13 And the Egyptians hated the children of Israel, and afflicted them and mocked them:
14 And they made their life bitter with hard works in clay and brick, and with all manner of service, wherewith they were overcharged in the works of the earth.
15 And the king of Egypt spoke to the midwives of the Hebrews: of whom one was called Sephora, the other Phua,
16 Commanding them: When you shall do the office of midwives to the Hebrew women, and the time of delivery is come: if it be a man child, kill it: if a woman, keep it alive.
17 But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded, but saved the men children.
18 And the king called for them and said: What is that you meant to do, that you would save the men children?
19 They answered: The Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women: for they themselves are skilful in the office of a midwife; and they are delivered before we come to them.
20 Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied and grew exceedingly strong.
21 And because the midwives feared God, he built them houses.
22 Pharao therefore charged all his people, saying: Whatsoever shall be born of the male sex, ye shall cast into the river: whatsoever of the female, ye shall save alive.
1: Genesis xlvi. 8.
5: Genesis xlvi. 27.
7: Acts vii. 17.