The land of Egypt here, at length, becomes to Israel a house of bondage, though hitherto it had been a happy shelter and settlement for them. Note, The place of our satisfaction 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. Those may prove our sworn enemies whose parents were our faithful friends; nay, the same persons that loved us may possibly turn to hate us: therefore cease from man, and say not concerning any place on this side heaven, This is my rest for ever. Observe here,
I. The obligations they lay under to Israel upon Joseph’s account were forgotten: There arose a new king, after several successions in Joseph’s time, who knew not Joseph, Exod. 1:8. All that knew him loved him, and were kind to his relations for his sake; but when he was dead he was soon forgotten, and the remembrance of the good offices he had done was either not retained or not regarded, nor had it any influence upon their councils. Note, the best and the most useful and acceptable services done to men are seldom remembered, so as to be recompensed to those that did them, in the notice taken either of their memory, or of their posterity, after their death, Eccl. 9:5, 15. Therefore our great care should be to serve God, and please him, who is not unrighteous, whatever men are, to forget our work and labour of love, Heb. 6:10. If we work for men only, our works, at furthest, will die with us; if for God, they will follow us, Rev. 14:13. This king of Egypt knew not Joseph; and after him arose one that had the impudence to say, I knownot the Lord, Exod. 5:2. Note, Those that are unmindful of their other benefactors, it is to be feared, will forget the supreme benefactor, 1 John 4:20.
II. Reasons of state were suggested for their dealing hardly with Israel, Exod. 1:9, 10. 1. They are represented as more and mightier than the Egyptians; certainly they were not so, but the king of Egypt, when he resolved to oppress them, would have them thought so, and looked on as a formidable body. 2. Hence it is inferred that if care were not taken to keep them under they would become dangerous to the government, and in time of war would side with their enemies and revolt from their allegiance to the crown of Egypt. Note, It has been the policy of persecutors to represent God’s Israel as a dangerous people, hurtful to kings and provinces, not fit to be trusted, nay, not fit to be tolerated, that they may have some pretence for the barbarous treatment they design them, Ezra 4:12; Est. 3:8. Observe, The thing they feared was lest they should get them up out of the land, probably having heard them speak of the promise made to their fathers that they should settle in Canaan. Note, The policies of the church’s enemies aim to defeat the promises of the church’s God, but in vain; God’s counsels shall stand. 3. It is therefore proposed that a course be taken to prevent their increase: Come on, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply. Note, (1.) The growth of Israel is the grief of Egypt, and that against which the powers and policies of hell are levelled. (2.) When men deal wickedly, it is common for them to imagine that they deal wisely; but the folly of sin will, at last, be manifested before all men.
III. The method they took to suppress them, and check their growth, Exod. 1:11, 13, 14. The Israelites behaved themselves so peaceably and inoffensively that they could not find any occasion of making war upon them, and weakening them by that means: and therefore, 1. They took care to keep them poor, by charging them with heavy taxes, which, some think, is included in the burdens with which they afflicted them. 2. By this means they took an effectual course to make them slaves. The Israelites, it should seem, were much more industrious laborious people than the Egyptians, and therefore Pharaoh took care to find them work, both in building (they built him treasure-cities), and in husbandry, even all manner of service in the field: and this was exacted from them with the utmost rigour and severity. Here are many expressions used, to affect us with the condition of God’s people. They had taskmasters set over them, who were directed, not only to burden them, but, as much as might be, to afflict them with their burdens, and contrive how to make them grievous. They not only made them serve, which was sufficient for Pharaoh’s profit, but they made them serve with rigour, so that their lives became bitter to them, intending hereby, (1.) To break their spirits, and rob them of every thing in them that was ingenuous and generous. (2.) To ruin their health and shorten their days, and so diminish their numbers. (3.) To discourage them from marrying, since their children would be born to slavery. (4.) To oblige them to desert the Hebrews, and incorporate themselves with the Egyptians. Thus he hoped to cut off the name of Israel, that it might be no more in remembrance. And it is to be feared that the oppression they were under had this bad effect upon them, that it brought over many of them to join with the Egyptians in their idolatrous worship; for we read (Josh. 24:14) that they served other gods in Egypt; and, though it is not mentioned here in this history, yet we find (Ezek. 20:8) that God had threatened to destroy them for it, even while they were in the land of Egypt: however, they were kept a distinct body, unmingled with the Egyptians, and by their other customs separated from them, which was the Lord’s doing, and marvellous.
IV. The wonderful increase of the Israelites, notwithstanding the oppressions they groaned under (Exod. 1:12): The more they afflicted them the more they multiplied, sorely to the grief and vexation of the Egyptians. Note, 1. Times of affliction have often been the church’s growing times, Sub pondere crescit—Being pressed, it grows. Christianity spread most when it was persecuted: the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church. 2. Those that take counsel against the Lord and his Israel do but imagine a vain thing (Ps. 2:1), and create so much the greater vexation to themselves: hell and earth cannot diminish those whom Heaven will increase.