Exodus 1 - Israel Multiplies in Egypt
A. Israel's affliction in Egypt.
1. (1-6) The twelve sons of Jacob who came into Egypt.
Now these are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt; each man and his household came with Jacob: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah; Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin; Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. All those who were descendants of Jacob were seventy persons (for Joseph was in Egypt already). And Joseph died, all his brothers, and all that generation.
a. The names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt: The first few verses of Exodus reach back some 430 years. The story of the Exodus begins where the Book of Genesis ends: with this large family with a crucial place in God's plan of the ages and their migration to Egypt.
b. And Joseph died: Joseph was the remarkable great-grandson of Abraham who saved Egypt from terrible famine because he listened to God's voice speaking through Pharaoh's dream. Because of his wisdom and administration, he was lifted to high and honored office in Egypt - but eventually, Joseph died and the status his family enjoyed died with him.
2. (7) The rapid multiplication of the children of Israel in Egypt.
But the children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly, multiplied and grew exceedingly mighty; and the land was filled with them.
a. The land was filled with them: Genesis 47:27 says, So Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the country of Goshen; and they had possessions there and grew and multiplied exceedingly. They did indeed multiply exceedingly over the generations - so that the land was filled with them.
b. Increased abundantly: This family started with five people back in Haran: Jacob, Rachel, Leah, Zilphah, and Bilhah. It grew into a clan of about 100 people in 50 years (the 100 includes the seventy of Genesis 46:27 and Exodus 1:5 plus a few wives of the sons not mentioned and grandchildren). This represents a growth rate of just over 6% per year. At that rate there would be several million descendants by the time of Exodus, 430 years later.
3. (8-11) Afraid of their growing presence, the Egyptians oppress the Israelites.
Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, "Look, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we; come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and it happen, in the event of war, that they also join our enemies and fight against us, and so go up out of the land." Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh supply cities, Pithom and Raamses.
a. Look, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we; come, let us deal shrewdly with them: The Egyptians were famous - or infamous - for their proud sense of racial superiority towards all other people. It isn't surprising to see them afraid and discriminating against this strong minority group in their midst, which looked like it would not be a minority very long.
b. In the event of war: At the time, the Egyptians feared invasion from the Hittites of the north. If the Hebrews among them joined with the Hittites, it posed a significant threat to their national security.
c. They built for Pharaoh supply cities: When the children of Israel were set to slave labor they built many of the great cities and monuments in Egypt - though not the pyramids, which were built much earlier. Since we don't know exactly when this forced labor began, we don't know how long it lasted. Some estimate the slavery lasted 284 years, others 134 years.
4. (12-14) Israel prospers and grows despite the hard bondage of the Egyptians.
But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were in dread of the children of Israel. So the Egyptians made the children of Israel serve with rigor. And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage; in mortar, in brick, and in all manner of service in the field. All their service in which they made them serve was with rigor.
a. The more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew: This was God's purpose for Israel's time in Egypt. Egypt served as a "mother's womb" for Israel, a place where they rapidly grew from a large clan to a mighty nation.
i. The nation could not grow this way in Canaan, because they was practically impossible to avoid intermarriage with the pagan and wicked inhabitants of Canaan. Egypt was so racist and had such an entrenched system of apartheid that Israel could grow there over several centuries without being assimilated.
ii. This kind of growth in the face of affliction has always been the story of God's people, throughout all ages - the more they are afflicted, the more they grow. As the ancient Christian writer Tertullian said, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."
b. They made their lives bitter with hard bondage: Because this was God's purpose, it could not be defeated - even though the Egyptians tried their best through cruel slavery. The principle of Isaiah 54:17 proved true: No weapon formed against you shall prosper. The wickedness of the Egyptians could hurt the children of Israel, but could never defeat God's plan for them.
i. In the midst of their cruel and harsh service, life must have seemed hopeless to the children of Israel, and the idea that God was working out His plan must have seemed very far away - yet it was true nonetheless.
B. The Hebrew midwives obey God.
1. (15-16) The king of Egypt tries to destroy Israel by ordering the death of all male babies.
Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, of whom the name of one was Shiphrah and the name of the other Puah; and he said, "When you do the duties of a midwife for the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstools, if it is a son, then you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live."
a. Of whom the name of one was Shiphrah and the name of the other Puah: We shouldn't expect that these two women were the only midwives for all the children of Israel. They were probably the "presidents" of the "association of midwives."
b. If it is a son, then you shall kill him: The king of Egypt commanded them to kill all the male babies, to utterly weaken and practically destroy the people of Israel within a generation.
2. (17) The midwives bravely obey God rather than men.
But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive.
a. But the midwives feared God: This was a case when the choice was clear. The civil government commanded something that was clearly against God's command. The midwives did the only right thing: they obeyed God rather than man.
b. Saved the male children alive: The acted on the same principle as did the persecuted apostles in Acts 4:19, when Peter asked the civil authorities: Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge.
i. Though generally we are called to obey the government and honor civic rulers (Romans 13:1-5), we are never called to put government in the place of God. Therefore if the government tells us to do something against God's will, we are to obey God first.
3. (18-22) God blesses the efforts of the midwives.
So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, "Why have you done this thing, and saved the male children alive?" And the midwives said to Pharaoh, "Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are lively and give birth before the midwives come to them." Therefore God dealt well with the midwives, and the people multiplied and grew very mighty. And so it was, because the midwives feared God, that He provided households for them. So Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying, "Every son who is born you shall cast into the river, and every daughter you shall save alive."
a. Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women: Many people assume that the Hebrew midwives lied to Pharaoh when they said this. However, this may not be the case. The midwives may have told the truth, - perhaps indeed the Hebrew women were heartier than the Egyptian women, yet the midwives did not explain all the reasons why the babies were spared.
i. "This might be no lie, as many suppose, but a truth concerning many of them, and they do not affirm it to be so with all . . . So here was nothing but truth, though they did not speak the whole truth, which they were not obliged to do." (Poole)
b. Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: Even if they midwives deceived Pharaoh, that was not what God blessed; He blessed their godly bravery in obeying God before man.
c. The people multiplied and grew very mightily: The worse the persecution against God's plan to multiply the children of Israel in Egypt, the more God made sure the plan succeeded.
i. We may see the command of Pharaoh as consistent with Satan's plan of anti-Semitism through the centuries, as an attack against God's Messiah and ultimate plan for Israel in His plan of redemption. Satan knew that the Messiah - the Seed of the Woman, the One who would crush his head (Genesis 3:15) - would come from the children of Israel. Therefore he tried to destroy the whole nation in one generation by ordering all the male children killed.
d. He provided households for them: This was God's blessing on the midwives - He enabled them to have children of their own. Usually, midwives held their occupation because they had no children of their own.
e. Every son who is born you shall cast into the river: Seeing that his plan is not working, Pharaoh makes a far more radical command, that all male children should be killed - even Egyptian boys (Pharaoh commanded all his people).
©2006 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission.