9.And he said unto his people. That is to say, in a public assembly, such as kings are wont to hold for consultation on public affairs. As if Moses had said that this point was proposed by the king for deliberation by his estates; viz., that because it was to be apprehended that the Israelites, trusting in their multitude and strength, might rise in rebellion, or might take advantage of any public disturbance to shake off the yoke and to leave Egypt, they should be anticipated, and afflicted with heavy burdens, to prevent their making any such attempt. This Pharaoh calls (13) “dealing wisely with them;” for though the word חכם, chakam, is often taken, in a bad sense, to mean “to overreach with cunning,” still in this case he concealed under an honest pretext the injury which he proposed to do them, alleging that prudent advice should be taken lest the Egyptians might suffer great loss through their carelessness and delay. This was common with heathen nations, to profess in their counsels, that what was right should be preferred to what was profitable; but, when it comes to the point, covetousness generally so blinds everybody, that they lose their respect for what is right, and are hurried away headlong to their own advantage. They make out too that what is advantageous is necessary; and so persuade themselves that whatever they are compelled to do is right. For that specious yet fallacious pretext readily occurs, and easily deceives, that, when any danger is apprehended, it ought to be met. By the tragic poets, indeed, that detestable sentiment, occupandum esse scelus, “that we should be beforehand in crime,” is attributed to wicked and desperate characters; because our nature convinces us that it is unjust and absurd; and yet is it commonly considered the best mode of precaution, so that only those are accounted provident who consult for their own security by injuring others, if occasion requires it. From this source almost all wars proceed; because, whilst every prince fears his neighbor, this fear so fills him with apprehension, that he does not hesitate to cover the earth with human blood. Hence, too, amongst private individuals, arises the license for deceit, murder, rapine, and lying, because they think that injuries would be repelled too late, unless they respectively anticipated them. But this is a wicked kind of cunning, (however it may be varnished over with the specious name of foresight,) unjustly to molest others for our own security. I fear this or that person, because he both has the means of injuring me, and I am uncertain of his disposition towards me; therefore, in order that I may be safe from harm, I will endeavor by every possible means to oppress him. In this way the most contemptible, and imbecile, if he be inclined to mischief, will be armed for our hurt, and so we shall stand in doubt of the greater part of mankind. If thus every one should indulge his own distrust, while each will be devising to do some injury to his possible enemies, there will be no end to iniquities. Wherefore we must oppose the providence of God to these immoderate cares and anxieties which withdraw us from the course of justice. Reposing on this, no fear of danger will ever impel us to unjust deeds or crooked counsels. In the words of Pharaoh, all is otherwise; for, having given warning that the Israelites might, if they would, be injurious, he advises that their strength should in some way or other be broken. For, when we have once determined to provide for our own advantage, or quiet, or safety, we ask not the question whether we are doing right or wrong.
Behold, the people. It not unfrequently happens that the minds of the wicked are aroused to jealousy by the mercies of God, acting like fans to light up their wrath. Nevertheless, the very least proof of his favor ought not on that account to be less agreeable to us, because it is made an occasion to the wicked of dealing more cruelly with us. In fact, God thus attempers his bounty towards us, lest we should be too much taken up with earthly prosperity. Thus the blessing on which all his happiness depended banished Jacob from the home of his father, and from his promised inheritance; but yet he assuaged his grief with this single consolation, that he knew God to be reconciled to him. So also his posterity, the more they experienced of God’s goodness towards them, the more they were exposed to the enmity of the Egyptians. But Pharaoh, to render them hated, or suspected, refers to their power, and accuses them of disaffection, whereof they had given no token. Yet he does not accuse them of rebellion, as if they would take armed possession of the kingdom, but that they would depart elsewhere; whence we may conjecture, that they made no secret of the hope which God had given them of their return. But this seemed a plausible excuse enough, that it was anything but just for those, who had of their own accord sought the protection of the king, to be freely sent away; and thus (14) Isaiah speaks of it. (Isaiah 52:4.)