In our study of Exodus chapter one, we will look at Egypt's dual role throughout the Bible. The nation would become known as a place of refuge as well as a prison for God's people. We will examine this and apply it to our lives as we walk with Christ. In Hebrew, the name for this book is Sefer Shemot which means "Book of Names" because it begins with a list of the names of the tribes of Israel.
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These are the names of the sons of Isra'el who came into Egypt with Ya'akov; each man came with his household:
At the end of the book of Genesis, we saw how Jacob (Israel) went to Egypt in search of food during a time of drought. This becoming a refuge during times of trouble is the first of Egypt's biblical roles concerning God's people. This role would be repeated as Jesus' parents would take Him to Egypt shortly after His birth to escape the king's order of death.
Re'uven, Shim'on, Levi, Y'hudah, Yissakhar, Z'vulun, Binyamin, Dan, Naftali, Gad and Asher.
Here, we have the list of the sons that traveled with Jacob to seek refuge in Egypt. The order should be noted as they are not listed in the order of birth. The children of Jacob's wives are listed first in order and then the children of their servants are listed in order. In going to Egypt, we see God's people going away from Him as a result of sin and the same thing happens in our life even as Christians. It is still true today that disobedience of God (sin) puts distance between us and the blessings of God.
All told, there were seventy descendants of Ya'akov; Yosef was already in Egypt.
The Masoretic texts have the number seventy for the descendants as they only list two sons of Joseph but the Dead Sea Scrolls reveal that he had a total of nine sons. A better translation here would be that seventy five descendants travelled to Egypt with Ya'akov (Jacob). This is significant as we see that, in the book of Luke geneaology of Jesus, we see there are 75 names listed between God and Jesus. This number 75 will be repeated throughout the Bible and it is associated with complete redemption. We see that a relatively few people entered the land of Egypt (the refuge). In the number 75, we see the promise that, at the end of a time, God will establish divine order on the earth. God's people were entering Egypt humbled by drought but, as we shall see, they will be raised up (redeemed) as His chosen people. This was a picture of the humble coming of Jesus and His being raised in honor from the grave (see Philippians 2).
Yosef died, as did all his brothers and all that generation. The descendants of Isra'el were fruitful, increased abundantly, multiplied and grew very powerful; the land became filled with them.
What started as a trip for food would become a four hundred year period of time. During that time, life and death continued but the population of Israelites went from about seventy five to between two and five million people. God had promised Avraham that his descendants would be numerous and that promise is being fulfilled. This fruitfulness of the people of God should have caused the Egyptians to see the favor of the one true God on the Hebrew people and ask why it was happening.
Now there arose a new king over Egypt. He knew nothing about Yosef but said to his people, "Look, the descendants of Isra'el have become a people too numerous and powerful for us. Come, let's use wisdom in dealing with them. Otherwise, they'll continue to multiply; and in the event of war they might ally themselves with our enemies, fight against us and leave the land altogether."
As life continued in Egypt the old king that had shown Joseph favor died and was replaced. This new king did not know what Joseph had done for Egypt and thought of the Israelites as possible enemies. This ignorance of what Joseph had done for them would have been a sign that the descendants of Israel had not reminded the Egyptians and taught them that it was because of the favor of the one true God. This ignorance brought fear and this fear caused the Egyptians to change from being a refuge to becoming a prison for the Israelites. We see that the fear was not that the Israelites would take over the land of Egypt but it was the fact that they would leave the land of Egypt. It was the Israelites' labor and the favor of God upon them that was building up Egypt into a great nation and, although they did not want to know and be obedient to God, they wanted the favor of God through His people. The same thing can happen in our walk with the Lord (if we allow it) as many people may want to be near us and sharing in the favor of God but without the personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We also must remember that fear (other than the fear of God) is not of God and, if we let it into our hearts, it can lead us to do things that we would not normally do. When we face troubles, our reaction can be to remember what God has already done on our behalf and have faith in Him or we can act in fear on our own.
So they put slavemasters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built for Pharaoh the storage cities of Pitom and Ra'amses. But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more they multiplied and expanded, until the Egyptians came to dread the people of Isra'el and worked them relentlessly, making their lives bitter with hard labor -digging clay, making bricks, all kinds of field work; and in all this toil they were shown no mercy.
Now we see the start of the fulfillment of what God said to Avraham in his dream from Genesis 15. Fear makes men do some very evil things and here we see that the Egyptians' fear drove them to abuse the people of God. Even as they abused God's people, the Israelites prospered even more and this should have caused the king of Egypt to stop and ask questions but it did not. The simple reason that the king did not stop and ask questions was that he hated God and the same is true of most people today. The king (and most people today) hate God because they do not want His will in their lives and, if God is going to meddle in their lives, He had better do what they want (their will not His). We might ask the question: Why would God allow this persecution of His people? We can look back and see that God was at work in growing His people but, at the time, they had to have been wondering what had happened and whether God had abandoned them. This same type of persecution has come before many large moves of God. We saw this same thing happen in Jerusalem after the death of Jesus Christ. God had the disciples concentrated around Jerusalem for a time to grow but, at the proper time, God allowed them to be persecuted in order to get them to leave their refuge and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. The same pattern is happening even now as it seems that persecution of Christians is happening all over the world. The bad news is that this will get worse but the good news is that a major move of God follows these periods of severe persecution. We will see this again with the 144,000 witnesses and the great revival that is described in Revelation 7.
Moreover, the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was called Shifrah and the other Pu'ah. "When you attend the Hebrew women and see them giving birth," he said, "if it's a boy, kill him; but if it's a girl, let her live."
Now we see a change in emphasis in this chapter as we see two women named yet the king of Egypt and none of the other Hebrews are named. This is a pattern that we will see throughout the Bible as, when a woman or women are brought to the forefront in scripture, it changes the context to that of redemption. At this time, midwives were usually women that were infertile with no family of their own to tend to and, instead of being bitter and jealous, they would help other women in the birth process to start their own family.
However, the midwives were God-fearing women, so they didn't do as the king of Egypt ordered but let the boys live. The king of Egypt summoned the midwives and demanded of them, "Why have you done this and let the boys live?" The midwives answered Pharaoh, "It's because the Hebrew women aren't like the Egyptian women -they go into labor and give birth before the midwife arrives." Therefore God prospered the midwives, and the people continued to multiply and grow very powerful. Indeed, because the midwives feared God, he made them founders of families.
Because the midwives feared God they disobeyed Pharaoh and let the boys live. They even went so far as to make an excuse when asked about it by the king. Because of their obedience to God, the Israelites became even more numerous and God blessed the midwives and gave them families of their own. There are some (even pastors and leaders of the church) who blindly follow the orders of the government and even tell their congregations that God expects them to do the same. Here, we see just the opposite in the fact that God blessed the midwives for their disobedience. This may not seem like such a big deal right now but, in the last days, governments are going to become more and more corrupt. Eventually, all men will have to decide to obey them or God.
Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: "Every boy that is born, throw in the river; but let all the girls live."
Pharaoh gave up on the midwives and instead decreed that the Egyptians were to watch the pregnant Hebrews and when they saw that a boy was born it was to be thrown into the Nile River. The Egyptians had many gods and this throwing the boys into the Nile to die was seen as presenting an offering to the god of prosperity and being blessed for doing so.