Book of Exodus Chapter One Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
The Birth Of Israel
"Exodus" is from a Greek word meaning "Gone Out," a reference to Exodus 19:1—"Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt." The original Hebrew name for this book was "Now These Are the Names," based on Exodus 1:1—"Now these are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob; they came each one with his household." The nation's Exodus from Egypt, the key event in this book, was likely in 1445 BC, and the author Moses would have written the Book of Exodus a little at a time between that date and 1405 BC, during the subsequent Wilderness Journey of the nation Israel.
Genesis 29, 30 & 35 contain records of the odd methodology God allowed in bringing Jacob's twelve sons and daughters into the world through four mothers. Eleven are listed in Verses 2-4, and they include: "Reuben (behold a son), Simeon (hearing), Levi (a joining), and Judah (let God be praised);" along with "Issachar (God gave heed), Zebulun (dwelling), and Benjamin (son of the right hand);" and note that Benjamin's birth came later, as recorded in Genesis 35:16-20. Finally there was "Dan (God has procurred for me justice), and Napthali (my wrestling), Gad (good fortune), and Asher (my happiness)." These were men of questionable character, not unlike today's families and organizations that are flawed also, along with the people involved...but God was utilizing the seventy or so men and their families in Verse 5 to build a nation of His choosing that would produce the Messiah who would die for the sins of the world. It has been said about our modern church organizations that "just like hospitals are full of sick people, it should not be a surprise to find that churches are full of sinners." In that context we should be encouraged...God used Jacob's sons for a great purpose and He is likely to accept and use us also.
Jacob and his sons arrived in Egypt in 1875 BC, as in Verse 5: "All the persons who came from the loins of Jacob were seventy in number, but Joseph was already in Egypt." Stephen in Acts 7:14 refers to "seventy-five people," but these figures are much like saying "seventy or so" people did this or that, and may not be intended as precise numbers. The difference can also be attributed to the 200 BC Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, in wide usage at the time of the speaker in Acts 7:14...that translation added additional men to the Exodus account.
Verses 6-8 are both a historical account and a warning to us all. Those verses state, "Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the sons of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly, and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them. Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph." The people of Israel were WELCOMED into Egypt and in spite of God's promise that they would have Canaan for a home, not Egypt, it looked to them like they could be comfortable in Egypt forever. But note that "Joseph died." If we place our confidence in any human being, including ourselves, we will be disappointed...God intends that our faith will be in Him, not merely in people, nations or earthly circumstances. The people correctly saw that God was with them, for they "were fruitful and increased greatly, and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty." But the popular Joseph was gone.
They might still be in Egypt at the present time, except that, as we saw in Verse 8, a new Pharaoh "who did not know Joseph" came to power and viewed Israel as a threat. In Verse 9 we find that "He said to his people, 'Behold, the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we.'" He was considering a terrible future for the people of Israel and as is the custom of many rulers, he sought popular support. His public statement continued into Verse 10: "Come, let us deal wisely with them, or else they will multiply and in the event of war, they will also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us and depart from the land." He was creating public sympathy among his subjects, alerting them to a possible threat that a former minority group among them was growing rapidly and might side with a hostile neighbor and take Egypt away from its native people. His concept of wisdom was to stamp out the people he feared.
Verse 11—"So they appointed taskmasters over them to afflict them with hard labor. And they built for Pharaoh storage cities, Pithom and Raamses." In a very short time after the Pharaoh's edict, the people of Israel went from the status of a favored minority that was rapidly becoming a majority, into abject slavery. The "taskmasters" were uninvited and unwelcome managers who drove the people without mercy. "Pithom and Raamses" were cities in northern Egypt built by the Israelites as supply hubs for royal, military and Egyptian religious purposes.
For all their shortcomings, Jacob's (Israel's) sons did have faith in the Lord. They believed in Him and were called to become a nation that would exist for God's purposes. So when you read Verses 12-14, keep Romans 8:28 in mind, which reads, "We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." In these verses we find that the Israelites became abject slaves who suffered at the hands of their Egyptian masters. "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. The Egyptians compelled the sons of Israel to labor rigorously; 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" (Verses 12-14). And note, as to all who have faith in the Lord, there is an enemy who longs to make your life "bitter" in one way or another...but there is also a God who takes the bad and turns it into "good" for people who love Him...ordinary people like you and me.
The "king," the Pharaoh of all Egypt, was disappointed in the results and tried a new tactic...he decided to have all the newborn boy babies of Israel killed immediately after their birth. Births at that time were normally attended by "midwives," two of whom were summoned into the presence of pharaoh himself, as seen in Verses 15-16. "Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other was named Puah; 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.'" What the king demanded would have been frightening to them. Down inside, all know that to murder someone is a crime against humanity and these were ladies who "feared God" as in Verse 17, and they additionally saw the king's order as asking them to commit a crime against God. Verse 17 in its entirety reads, "But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live." Through the centuries there has been pressure to remove certain individuals from the world. Included have been the elderly, those considered "not fit," and currently a target is unborn children.
It takes courage to go against the culture you live in, even on solid moral grounds, and in Verses 18-19, the midwives, "Shiphrah (beauty) and... Puah (girl)" as named in Verse 15 were called before the king once more—"So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, 'Why have you done this thing, and let the boys live?'" Their answer was, "Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife can get to them." I personally like that answer and though some would condemn the response on the ground it was a lie, nevertheless it reminds me of the thousands of Bibles smuggled into the Soviet Union and China in years past. Yes, it was illegal, but the Bibles led many people to the Lord. And yes, the midwives lied to pharaoh, but boys lived that would have otherwise died. One of those boys was to be Moses, chosen by God to deliver the people and to be the author of this book.
God emphatically agreed with their decision, as recorded in Verses 20-21—"So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty. Because the midwives feared God, He established households for them." Isn't it interesting? God makes it clear that material possessions in this world are nothing compared to knowing the Lord and entering the Kingdom of God, but at the same time He will demonstrate His acceptance of those who respond to Him in faith, fear and love, by blessing them in various ways...sometimes materially, other times by His Presence.
Pharaoh was not done with his displeasure, as the chapter concludes in Verse 22—"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.'" This could be viewed as referring to all newborn sons in the land of Egypt, but the context is clear that it was about the Hebrew people only. Our prayer should be that our fear will not lead us into bad decisions like it did Pharaoh. We must trust in the Lord and look to His Holy Spirit, or we could end up like this king who became a killer of children.
Father, like those midwives, every one of us is faced with decisions in which we do not know what to do. Forgive us for the times we have failed. Only the Word of God and the Holy Spirit of God will show the right way. Help us, Lord. We trust in Your Word, we trust in You. In Jesus Name. Amen.