The latter years of Israel's bondage in Egypt were the worst. To punish Pharaoh for his cruelty toward the children of Israel, God afflicted him with a plague of leprosy, which covered his whole body, from the crown of his bead to the soles of his feet. Instead of being chastened by his disease, Pharaoh remained stiffnecked, and he tried to restore his health by murdering Israelitish children. He took counsel with his three advisers, Balaam, Jethro, and Job, how he might be healed of the awful malady that had seized upon him. Balaam spoke, saying, "Thou canst regain thy health only if thou wilt slaughter Israelitish children and bathe in their blood." Jethro, averse from having a share in such an atrocity, left the king and fled to Midian. Job, on the other hand, though he also disapproved of Balaam's counsel, kept silence, and in no wise protested against it, wherefor God punished him with a year's suffering. But afterward He loaded him down with all the felicities of this life, and granted him many years, so that this pious Gentile might be rewarded in this world for his good deeds and not have the right to urge a claim upon the beatitude of the future life.
In pursuance of the sanguinary advice given by Balaam, Pharaoh had his bailiffs snatch Israelitish babes from their mothers' breasts, and slaughter them, and in the blood of these innocents he bathed. His disease afflicted him for ten years, and every day an Israelitish child was killed for him. It was all in vain; indeed, at the end of the time his leprosy changed into boils, and he suffered more than before.
While he was in this agony, the report was brought to him that the children of Israel in Goshen were careless and idle in their forced labor. The news aggravated his suffering, and he said: "Now that I am ill, they turn and scoff at me. Harness my chariot, and I will betake myself to Goshen, and see the derision wherewith the children of Israel deride me." And they took and put him upon a horse, for he was not able to mount it himself. When he and his men had come to the border between Egypt and Goshen, the king's steed passed into a narrow place. The other horses, running rapidly through the pass, pressed upon each other until the king's horse fell while he sate upon it, and when it fell, the chariot turned over on his face, and also the horse lay upon him. The king's flesh was torn from him, for this thing was from the Lord, He had heard the cries of His people and their affliction. The king's servants carried him upon their shoulders, brought him back to Egypt, and placed him on his bed.
He knew that his end was come to die, and the queen Alfar'anit and his nobles gathered about his bed, and they wept a great weeping with him.
The princes and his counsellors advised the king to make choice of a successor, to reign in his stead, whomsoever he would choose from among his sons. He had three sons and two daughters by the queen Alfar'anit, beside children from concubines. The name of his first-born was Atro, the name of the second Adikam, and of the third Moryon. The name of the older daughter was Bithiah, and of the other, Akuzit. The first-born of the sons of the king was an idiot, precipitate and heedless in all his actions. Adikam, the second son, was a cunning and clever man, and versed in all the wisdom of Egypt, but ungainly in appearance, fleshy and short of stature; his height was a cubit and a space, and his beard flowed down to his ankles.
The king resolved that Adikam should reign in his stead after his death. When this second son of his was but ten years old, he had given him Gedidah, the daughter of Abilat, to wife, and she bore him four sons. Afterward Adikam went and took three other wives, and begot eight sons and three daughters.
The king's malady increased upon him greatly, and his flesh emitted a stench like a carcass cast into the field in summer time in the heat of the sun. When he saw that his disorder bad seized upon him with a strong grip, he commanded his son Adikam to be brought to him, and they made him king over the land in his place.
At the end of three years the old king died in shame and disgrace, a loathing to all that saw him, and they buried him in the sepulchre of the kings of Egypt in Zoan, but they did not embalm him, as was usual with kings, for his flesh was putrid, and they could not approach his body on account of the stench, and they buried him in haste. Thus the Lord requited him with evil for the evil he had done in his days to Israel, and he died in terror and shame after having reigned ninety-four years.
Adikam was twenty years old when he succeeded his father, and he reigned four years. The people of Egypt called him Pharaoh, as was their custom with all their kings, but his wise men called him Akuz, for Akuz is the word for "short" in the Egyptian language, and Adikam was exceedingly awkward and undersized. The new Pharaoh surpassed his father Malol and all the former kings in wickedness, and he made heavier the yoke upon the children of Israel. He went to Goshen with his servants, and increased their labor, and he said unto them, "Complete your work, each day's task, and let not your hands slacken from the work from this day forward, as you did in the day of my father." He placed officers over them from amongst the children of Israel, and over these officers he placed taskmasters from amongst his servants. And he put before them a measure for bricks, according to the number they were to make day by day, and whenever any deficiency was discovered in the measure of their daily bricks, the taskmasters of Pharaoh would go to the women of the children of Israel, and take their infants from them, as many as the number of bricks lacking in the measure, and these babes they put into the building instead of the missing bricks. The taskmasters forced each man of the Israelites to put his own child in the building. The father would place his son in the wall, and cover him over with mortar, all the while weeping, his tears running down upon his child.
The children of Israel sighed every day on account of their dire suffering, for they had thought that after Pharaoh's death his son would lighten their toil, but the new king was worse than his father. And God saw the burden of the children of Israel, and their heavy work, and He determined to deliver them.
However, it was not for their own sake that God resolved upon the deliverance of the children of Israel, for they were empty of good deeds, and the Lord foreknew that, once they were redeemed, they would rise up against Him, and even worship the golden calf. Yet He took mercy upon them, for He remembered His covenant with the Fathers, and He looked upon their repentance for their sins, and accepted their promise, to fulfil the word of God after their going forth from Egypt even before they should hear it.
After all, the children of Israel were not wholly without
merits. In a high degree they possessed qualities of
excellence. There were no incestuous relations among them, they were not evil-tongued, they did not change their names, they clung to the Hebrew language, never giving it up, and great fraternal affection prevailed among them. If one happened to finish the tale of his bricks before his neighbors, he was in the habit of helping the others. Therefore God spake, "They deserve that I should have mercy upon them, for if a man shows mercy unto another, I have mercy upon him."