I have always been inclined to read this "the land of your enslavement" however it struck me that there might be more to it, if taken literally.

JPS Exodus 20:2 I am the LORD thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.

Rashi comments on this phrase, suggesting other interpretations:

out of the house of bondage:

Literally, out of the house of slaves. [I.e.,] from Pharaoh’s house, where you were slaves to him. Or perhaps [Scripture] means only: from the house of slaves, that they were slaves to [other] slaves? Therefore, Scripture says: “and He redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt” (Deut. 7:8). Consequently, you must say that they were slaves to Pharaoh, but not slaves to [other] slaves. — [from Exod. Rabbah 43:5]

Does the lexicon evidence recommend one interpretation above the others?


3 Answers 3


The ESV, like most English translations, has "house of slavery:"

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

אָֽנֹכִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר הֹוצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִֽים

Others, like the King James, prefer "house of bondage:"

I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

Some, like the Contemporary English Version avoid the issue by focusing on the historical reality:

I am the LORD your God, the one who brought you out of Egypt where you were slaves.

Both are true. Those whom the LORD God brought out of Egypt had been slaves in Egypt, which was the house of slavery or bondage. The phrase is מִבֵּית עֲבָדִֽים where עֲבָדִֽ֑ים is the plural of עֶבֶד which means slave or servant. The first use is when Noah curses his grandson:

When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.” (Genesis 9:24-25) [ESV]

The lexicon is straightforward: Canaan would be a servant of servants, עֶ֥בֶד עֲבָדִ֖ים, to his brothers. Likewise, the LORD brought people out of the land of Egypt which was a house of עֲבָדִ֖ים.

Egypt, Pharaoh's House of Bondage
The LORD used Joseph to save the world from the seven years of famine.

Pharaoh placed Joseph in command over all of Egypt and he used his authority to store up grain during the seven years of plenty. When the famine struck, Joseph sold the grain. First, he accepted money as payment (Genesis 47:14-15). When the money ran out, he accepted livestock (Genesis 47-16-17). When those were gone, the people offered themselves and their land as payment (Genesis 47:18-22). They voluntarily sold themselves into slavery:

Then Joseph said to the people, “Behold, I have this day bought you and your land for Pharaoh... (Genesis 47:23)

With the exception of the priests and the Israelites, Joseph bought the people and their land for Pharaoh. These transactions "legally" brought the land and people of Egypt into Pharaoh's house, and yet it was a house of voluntary servant hood.

The Israelites were not party to these transactions. In fact, Pharaoh allowed them to settle in the land of Goshen where Joseph provided food (Genesis 47:12), and Pharaoh placed them in charge of his livestock (Genesis 47:5-6). Effectively, Pharaoh "hired" the Israelites to take care of the livestock which Joseph acquired on his behalf: their "wages" were a place to live and food.

Later, when a Pharaoh who did not know Joseph came to power, he (illegally) enslaved the Israelites. This added element made Egypt a house of bondage. Therefore, historically, Egypt was Pharaoh's house of slavery which he legally acquired and it became his house of bondage when he forced the Israelites into building storage cities (Exodus 1:11). The LORD then brought the people out of the land of Egypt which had been a house of slavery and had become a house of bondage.

  1. With 'house of slavery/bondage' coming right after "Egypt", it seems fitting that it applies to Egypt.

  2. Many commentaries consider Joseph's enslavement of the Egyptians as 'illegal' or 'morally unjust'. However, I wonder 2 things:

a. Does it have anything to do with Joseph being a type of Japheth, whereby Knon/Canaan was to be servents of Japheth? "Egypt is Ham". Canaan's children included Mizraim, who populated Egypt. Was it the fulfillment of prophecy for the Egyptians to become servants of Joseph? In Gen. 45:8, Joseph declares himself to be 'father to Pharaoh, lord of his household, and ruler in all the land of Egypt'.

b. What if arrangement of giving of 1/5 of produce to Pharaoh was the provision that would feed the Israelites during their captivity?

  1. If this is all connected with Noah's curse, it's interesting that to humble the Israelites, they were made slaves that were ranked lower than the position of Canaan.

God had Joseph's ear throughout and I think Joseph knew the Israelite captivity was coming. God provided.


Exodus 20 is where God speaks to the people and tells them basically look I’ll forgive you all as long as you follow these rules... (commandments) and live by them. Living by them would mean being opposite of what Egypt was doing since they were making statues of half man/animal gods when there’s only one, Him. Making statues like Egyptians were and worshiping them sacrificing animals people for these gods to give them better lives but asking any other angel or demon that has appeared promising your wish will come true is what ended the Egyptian civilization, the greed adultery murder idolatry behavior was not what we are here for.... we are here by choice to learn to be more god like. Exodus 20:5 He tells them He is the LORD in the second line he says for I the lord thy God am a jealous God visiting the iniquity of the fathers unto the children...... basically haters raising haters will be punished by the Lord. Basically we are to be good to each other as we are all equal in Gods eyes therefore we are all equally in this life. Be nice.

Too bad people think physical appearance is what to use as a gage to find good people. Looks are secondary in the grand scheme but being human means our attraction to each other is started on what we see. Your not gonna go to the least attractive person and say hi unless it’s family. We need to see past what we see to who others really are. I know I’ve dated some hot guys that made me miserable, and basically broke me. If I would have dated the nerdy guys I had more in common with that were nice to me I would have had a completely different life... lesson learned.

  • Hello Jacke, welcome to BHSE! We're a little different from other sites that you may know, so if you have time make sure you take our tour (hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/tour). Thanks!
    – sara
    Sep 14, 2019 at 6:10

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.