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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Exodus 1

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Exodus 1 – Israel Multiplies in Egypt

A. Israel’s affliction in Egypt.

1. (Exo 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. Now these are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt: The first verses of Exodus reach back some 430 years. The story of the Exodus begins where the story Genesis ends: a large family with a crucial place in God’s plan of the ages and their migration to Egypt.

i. The Hebrew title for the Book of Exodus is taken from its first words: And These are the Names Of. In the original language, the first word of Exodus is and, marking its continuity from the Genesis account.

b. And Joseph died: Joseph was the remarkable great-grandson of Abraham who saved Egypt – and the world – 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. Yet eventually, Joseph died and the status his family enjoyed died with him.

2. (Exo 1:7) 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.

i. At Exodus 1:7, “The Hebrew deliberately repeats three verbs used in Genesis 1:21, 22 which may be translated ‘were fruitful…swarmed…became numerous’.” (Cole)

b. The children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly: This family started with five people back in Haran: Jacob, Rachel, Leah, Zilphah, and Bilhah. Blessed by God, the family of Israel grew rapidly in their years in Egypt.

3. (Exo 1:8-11) 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 ancient 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 as if it would not be a minority very long.

b. In the event of war, that they also join our enemies and fight against us: 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 security.

c. They set taskmasters over them…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.

i. There is a famous wall painting on an ancient tomb from Thebes, Egypt (modern Luxor) – the tomb of the overseer of brick-making slaves during the reign of Thutmose III. “The painting shows such overseers armed with heavy whips. Their rank is denoted by the long staff held in their hands and the Egyptian hieroglyphic determinative of the head and neck of a giraffe.” (Kaiser)

4. (Exo 1:12-14) 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 it was practically impossible to avoid intermarriage with the pagan and wicked inhabitants of Canaan. Egypt was so racially biased and had such an entrenched system of racial separation that Israel could grow there over several centuries without being assimilated.

ii. This growth in the face of affliction has consistently 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.”

iii. Suffering and persecution are like a great wave that comes upon a ship and looks as if it will destroy it; but the ship catches the wave and just uses it to speed along.

b. They made their lives bitter with hard bondage: Because God’s purpose was to bless Israel, and fulfill His role for them in His eternal plan, no amount of affliction could defeat His purpose. The Egyptians tried their best through cruel slavery; but it did not work. 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. Pharaoh thought it best to not kill them; but he did want them to be slaves.

ii. 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. (Exo 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 leaders of some association of midwives.

i. “Shiphrah and Puah are two good Semitic names, of an archaic type….meaning something like ‘beauty’ and ‘splendour’ respectively.” (Cole)

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.

i. We may see the command of Pharaoh as consistent with Satan’s plan of Jew-hatred 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.

2. (Exo 1:17) 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: They probably feared Pharaoh and his power; but they feared God more. For them, 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 men.

b. Saved the male children alive: They 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. (Exo 1:18-22) 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)

ii. “We are not told whether the midwives were lying, or whether the quick delivery of ‘Hebrew’ babies was a biological fact…Even if they lied, it is not for their deceit that they are commended, but for their refusal to take infant lives.” (Cole)

b. Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: Even if the 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. This is a wonderful example of the goodness and the power of God. Pharaoh said, “less” and God said, “more.” Pharaoh said, “stop” and God said, “go.”

i. If the battle were just between Pharaoh and the people of Israel, Pharaoh would have clearly won. But the real battle included God in the equation, and that changed everything.

ii. God obviously won this battle; but He won His victory through some courageous individuals who were willing to stand up to the power of Pharaoh and do what was right.

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 did not work, Pharaoh made a far more radical command, that all male children should be killed – apparently even Egyptian boys (Pharaoh commanded all his people).

i. The method Pharaoh commanded for the death of the male children of Israel became the divine provision for training the deliverer of Israel.

©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
[A previous revision of this page can be found here]

Study Guide for Genesis 1 ← Prior Book
Study Guide for Leviticus 1 Next Book →
Study Guide for Genesis 50 ← Prior Chapter
Study Guide for Exodus 2 Next Chapter →
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