EXODUS 1:1-22


A great story always begins with a great problem.  That is the nature of story-telling.  The human experience may desire peace and prosperity, but it always sees its greatest achievements in the context of trials and troubles.





            Now these are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob; they came each one with his household:  2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah;  3 Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin;  4 Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher.  5 And all the persons who came from the loins of Jacob were seventy in number, but Joseph was already in Egypt. (Exodus 1:1-5).


The author takes the close of the book of Genesis and then builds a bridge for the reader to take him from Joseph’s death to the beginnings of the Moses narrative.  The book of Exodus begins where the book of Genesis leaves off.  That book ended with the Israelites having settled in Egypt.  There is now a recap of the name of those who settled there.


The summary statement tells us that all the persons who came from the loins of Jacob were seventy in number.  This is a significant number because it is the same number that we see listed in Genesis 10 in the Table of Nations (assuming that we exclude Noah and his three sons).  When we come to the book of Deuteronomy, we are told that this correspondence is deliberate:


7 Remember the days of old,

            Consider the years of all generations.

            Ask your father, and he will inform you,

            Your elders, and they will tell you.

8 When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance,

            When He separated the sons of man,

            He set the boundaries of the peoples

            According to the number of the sons of Israel.

9 For the Lord's portion is His people,

            Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance. (Deuteronomy 32:7‑9).


Moses says that the boundaries of the peoples are according to the number of the sons of Israel.  This means Israel will eventually be seen as a microcosm of the entire world.  What is true of Israel will also eventually be true for the world.  The blessing given to Israel in the Abrahamic covenant will extend outward to be a blessing to all men.


This is seen in the ministry of Jesus when He appointed seventy disciples and sent them out to every city and place where He Himself was going to come (Luke 10:1).  They were going out to the land of Israel, but that was only a precursor of the day when the disciples would be sent out to the whole world.





            6 And Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation.  7 But the sons of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly, and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them. (Exodus 1:6-7).


One generation has passed away and another generation has arisen.  If we are to take the various numberings in Genesis, Exodus, and Chronicles literally, then several hundred years intervened between the passing of Joseph and the advent of Moses.  In that time, the Israelites continued to grow and to multiply.


The narrative makes no mention of the political events in Egypt during this period.  It ignores the arrival of the Hyksos, the Semitic invaders who entered Egypt and ruled over the country for 150 years before being driven out.  Instead our attention is drawn to the experience of the Israelites and their numerical expansion in the land.  This expansion would lead to problems with the Egyptian rulers.





            8 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.  9 And he said to his people, "Behold, the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we.  10 "Come, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply and in the event of war, they also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us, and depart from the land."  11 So they appointed taskmasters over them to afflict them with hard labor. And they built for Pharaoh storage cities, Pithom and Raamses.  12 But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread out, so that they were in dread of the sons of Israel.  13 And the Egyptians compelled the sons of Israel to labor rigorously;  14 and they made their lives bitter with hard labor in mortar and bricks and at all kinds of labor in the field, all their labors which they rigorously imposed on them. (Exodus 1:8-14).


The Israelites had enjoyed great favor in the days of Joseph, but it was an imposed favor that was brought about by Joseph’s exalted position.  Even in his day, there were the foundations of anti-Semitism at work in Egypt.  This was due to several factors:


First, the Israelites were shepherds by trade.  This was a profession that was looked upon with disdain by the Egyptians.  Genesis 46:34 tells us that shepherds were loathsome to the Egyptians.


Furthermore, the Israelites were Semitics and therefore considered to be akin to the Hyksos, the Semitic invaders who had entered Egypt during the First Intermediate Period and who ruled the land as conquerors before being driven off by the pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty.


Finally, the Israelites were located in Goshen on the eastern side of the Nile Delta.  As such, they held the doorway to the west and were in a position to assist any foreign invaders.





            15 Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah, and the other was named Puah;  16 and he said, “When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, then you shall put him to death; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.” (Exodus 1:15-16).

Shiphrah and Puah were probably the head of the midwife guild and, as such, represented all the other midwives.


The pharaoh hit upon a plan to keep the Israelites helpless in their subjugation.  The plan was that all male children be put to death.  This was the first Jewish holocaust.  To accomplish this, the pharaoh sought to enlist the aid of two of the midwives.  The actions of this pharaoh are echoed in the actions of another king who sought to put male children to death.  I am speaking of Herod who tried to have the Christ assassinated by gaining the unknowing participation of the magi.  As in that case, these Gentiles did not align themselves with the enemies of God’s people.  Instead, they took a deliberate stance to align themselves with the people of God.


A number of years ago, I saw a Christian berated and heckled by an unbeliever.  It happened rather quickly and without warning and was over almost before it began, but I watched and did nothing.  Upon reflection, I determined that whenever I saw a Christian taking a stand, I would stand with him.





            17 But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live.  18 So the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said to them, “Why have you done this thing, and let the boys live?”  19 And the midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous, and they give birth before the midwife can get to them.”  20 So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty.  21 And it came about because the midwives feared God, that He established households for them. (Exodus 1:17-21).


We are told at the outset that the motivating factor in the actions of these midwives is that they feared God.  Their disobedient actions with respect to the Egyptian king was not as a result of a disrespect for authority, but rather because they saw a higher authority.  They took the stance described by Peter in Acts 5:29 when he said, “We must obey God rather than men.”


At the same time, we must ask whether it was right for them to lie.  They told a deliberate deception.  They lied.  Is this a case of situational ethics in which it is okay to do wrong for the right reason?  I don’t believe it to be necessary to take such a stance.


At the outset, we must point out that the Scriptures in this case make no specific judgment about whether their action was right or wrong.  We are told the facts of the matter without any corresponding moral commentary.  On the other hand, we can see in verses 20-21 that the Lord blessed the midwives and established households for them.  However, we are not told that this blessing came because of their lie, but rather because of their fear and respect of God.  Here is the principle.  God sees the heart and blesses accordingly, even when the actions are not necessarily correct.





            Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying, “Every son who is born you are to cast into the Nile, and every daughter you are to keep alive.” (Exodus 1:22).


Now the Pharaoh takes a more direct approach.  He had previously moved in secret; now his oposition to the people of God is made public as it takes the form of a royal edict.  The edict is that all baby boys are to be put to death by throwing them into the Nile.


This passage prepares us to hear the story of Moses.  God was going to move in this dark episode of history to send His deliverer who would rescue the people from their bondage.  We will see the birth of Moses in the next chapter and will compare his birth and deliverance with the birth of the Greater Deliverer, Jesus Christ.




Born of simple parents

Born of simple parents

The pharaoh issues a decree to kill all male children

Herod issued a decree to put all the male children in Bethlehem under two years of age to death

Moses would grow up to be the deliverer of his people

Jesus would grow up to be the Deliverer of all men


It is in this last contrast that we see the true greatness of Jesus.  While Moses became the deliverer of all the Israelites, the deliverance of Jesus is such that it reaches out to all mankind, even to those who were guilty of trying to put the Chosen One to death.


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