Chapter 1

  1. Israel Oppressed in Egypt

    • The following are the names of Israel’s (Jacob’s) sons that came with him to Egypt, each with their families: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher.

    • The total number of Jacob’s descendants was 70, including Joseph, who was already in Egypt.

      • We’ve discussed the controversy that goes along with the number 70 listed as the total number of Jacob’s descendants. The Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls both read 75, and Stephen says in the book of Acts that the number of Jacob’s descendants were 75. If you are interested in reading more on that topic, you can check out my blog post, How Many of Jacob’s Descendants Went Into Egypt- 70 or 75?

    • Over time, Joseph, all his brothers, and all of that generation died. But their descendants multiplied so rapidly and became so powerful that the land of Egypt was filled with them.

    • A new king came to power in Egypt that didn’t know anything about Joseph. He told his people, “The Israelites outnumber us and they are more powerful than we are. We have to find a way to keep them from multiplying so fast because if war breaks out, they could join forces with our enemies and escape from Egypt.”

      • The biblical writer’s use of the term ‘king’ to refer to the supreme leader of Egypt has been used as evidence that Moses could not have written the book of Exodus, since anyone familiar with Egyptian culture would have used the Egyptian term “pharaoh”. But “pharaoh” is used 185 times elsewhere in the Torah. Moses was writing this document to a Hebrew, not Egyptian, audience. In the language of the original readers the term ‘king’ (Hebrew melek) referred to the highest governmental official within a social system. Perhaps, for the sake of clarity for his readers as well as for literary variety, Moses chose to use the unusual Hebrew term.” (HCSB commentary)

      • Guzik notes, “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.”

    • The Egyptians made the Israelites slaves and assigned taskmasters over them. The Israelites built the cities of Pithom and Ramses as supply centers for the king.

      • “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.” (Guzik)

      • HCSB notes, “The mention of a city named Ramses cannot be used to prove that the events of the narrative took place during the days of Ramses II (c. 1290 BC). However, the Bible’s chronological references (see esp I Kings 6:1) suggest that the events of chapter 1 occurred at least 150 years prior to Ramses II’s reign. The city’s name literally means “Born of [the god] Ra”. Ra was one of the most popular gods in the history of Egypt, worshiped since at least the Fourth Dynasty (c. 2772 BC). It is entirely possible that a city honoring this popular god was built hundreds of years before Ramses II.”

      • NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds, “Pithom and Ramses have been identified with the modern cities of Tell-Maskhutah and Quantir, which archaeology shows to have been built during the late Bronze period (1550-1250 BC), the same period in which the Israelites were present.”

    • But the more the Israelites were oppressed, the more numerous and widespread they became. The Egyptians were alarmed.

      • “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… 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.” (Guzik)

    • The Egyptians worked the Israelites ruthlessly and made their lives difficult. They made them mix mortar, make bricks, and work in the fields.

    • The king of Egypt told the two Hebrew midwives, Shiprah and Puah, “When you are delivering the Hebrew babies, kill the boys, but the girls can live.”

      • Is it realistic to think that there were only two midwives for all of the Israelites? Guzik has this to say, “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.”

      • “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.” (Guzik)

    • But the Hebrew midwives feared God and disobeyed the king’s orders. They didn’t kill the baby boys.

    • The king called the midwives to him and asked, “Why aren’t you killing the baby boys?”

    • The midwives responded, “The Hebrew women are stronger than Egyptian women. Their labors are so short, their babies are born before we can get there.”

      • “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.” (Guzik)

    • God blessed the midwives by giving them families of their own because they feared Him. The Israelites continued to increase in number.

      • Many people point out that the midwives appear to have lied to Pharaoh, which the Bible obviously condemns, and question why God would have blessed them for their lie, but Cole makes this point, “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)

      • Guzik notes, “Usually, midwives held their occupation because they had no children of their own.” So blessing the midwives with families of their own was a great blessing indeed.

    • So Pharaoh then commanded his people to throw Hebrew baby boys into the Nile River.

* It’s interesting to note here, that the Masoretic Text omits the phrase “to the Hebrews” in verse 22 indicating that Pharaoh commanded the midwives to kill ALL the baby boys that were born- Hebrew or Egyptian. But, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Septuagint, and Jewish Targums all include the phrase “to the Hebrews” indicating only Hebrew baby boys were to be killed. So, depending on what Bible translation you read, you may be missing this phrase. The KVJ and NKJV do not include the phrase, while the NIV, ESV, HCSB, and NLT do include the phrase (just to name a few).