Scripture: Exodus 1:8-22
8 Now a new king came to power in Egypt who didn’t know Joseph. 9 He said to his people, “The Israelite people are now larger in number and stronger than we are. 10 Come on, let’s be smart and deal with them. Otherwise, they will only grow in number. And if war breaks out, they will join our enemies, fight against us, and then escape from the land.” 11 As a result, the Egyptians put foremen of forced work gangs over the Israelites to harass them with hard work. They had to build storage cities named Pithom and Rameses for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they grew and spread, so much so that the Egyptians started to look at the Israelites with disgust and dread. 13 So the Egyptians enslaved the Israelites. 14 They made their lives miserable with hard labor, making mortar and bricks, doing field work, and by forcing them to do all kinds of other cruel work.
15 The king of Egypt spoke to two Hebrew midwives named Shiphrah and Puah: 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women give birth and you see the baby being born, if it’s a boy, kill him. But if it’s a girl, you can let her live.” 17 Now the two midwives respected God so they didn’t obey the Egyptian king’s order. Instead, they let the baby boys live.
18 So the king of Egypt called the two midwives and said to them, “Why are you doing this? Why are you letting the baby boys live?”
19 The two midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because Hebrew women aren’t like Egyptian women. They’re much stronger and give birth before any midwives can get to them.” 20 So God treated the midwives well, and the people kept on multiplying and became very strong. 21 And because the midwives respected God, God gave them households of their own.
22 Then Pharaoh gave an order to all his people: “Throw every baby boy born to the Hebrews into the Nile River, but you can let all the girls live.”
Theme- God blesses Israel and now others have to choose how to relate to Abraham’s family
- What, if anything, can we learn about the pharaoh’s character from this passage?
- Why do the Egyptians assume the Israelites would fight against them and why would there be fear Israel would leave, further how does oppressing Israel solve this dilemma?
- Who were these midwives and why are they the only ones who seem to encounter God in this passage?
Related Texts: Genesis 15, Acts 7, Hebrews 11:23
The Pharaoh’s of Exodus are never named yet the midwives are showing God elevates the name of the righteous people and hides the names of the proud.
All five verbs in verse 7 about Israel’s flourishing mirror the language of the Genesis creation account.
The new Pharaoh does not “know” Joseph this is not simply was ignorant or had never learned that part of history but was unconcerned, this unconcern that leads to the oppression of Israel.
The term pharaoh means “the great house” and is both the term used to identify Egypt’s king and can be used as a metaphor to describe Egypt’s power.
For more background check out my video here
Genesis ended with a cautious optimism, Joseph and his brothers were reconciled and the groundwork had been laid for God to work with Abraham’s children. Exodus’ opening reminds us of this sequence of events, but quickly transitions to reveal a new threat to God’s plan. Abraham’s family, now united, has begun to grow exponentially; 1:7 uses five verbs all related to the blessings of the Creation accounts to display how abundantly Israel has been blessed. The subtle message of the first seven verses of Exodus 1 is that now that Jacob’s sons are learning to live as a family, they are living in the Divine blessing of Genesis 1, in other words, God is blessing their faithfulness. It is easy for modern readers of the Bible to cheer the blessings poured out on Abraham’s family, but to the Egyptians these blessings were a threat. When the Egyptian king sees the blessings the Israelites receive his impulse is to Israel’s growth as a threat to his power. Notice that the king’s response is not logically coherent, if the Israelites were going to leave the land of Egypt they would not need to wait for war. Israel was a rather stable minority community within Egypt, they were living at peace with Egypt but if they wanted to leave they could. The Pharaoh sees Israel’s material growth and reasons that it is in some way a threat to him, and further carefully plans a way to usurp Israel’s blessings.
Notice how Pharaoh’s first move is to merely conscript the people of Israel into forced labor, he uses the potential threat as a pretense to exploit this minority group. Pharaoh has no legitimate reason to fear Israel, in fact, there seems to be more reason to think that a prospering group like Israel could be a valuable resource to him. This is an early indication of Pharaoh’s character, a character that of contrasted by the midwives. These women are the first in recorded history to participate in a show of civil disobedience purely motivated by moral convictions. The midwives and Pharaoh show a perfect contrast of reactions to the Israelite community, one reacts from fear and a need to retain power, the other responds from a desire to be a participant in the blessings God provides. The result is the midwives are blesses—the simply fact their names are remembered while pharaoh’s is forgotten highlights this point. The midwives are given honors while Pharaoh’s schemes though seemingly profitable are each undermined. God’s promise to Abraham is being fulfilled, people are being blessed or cursed depending on how they respond to God’s blessings. The midwives chose to participate with God and value the lives of the Hebrew children and they are rewarded despite Pharaoh’s displeasure. Pharaoh chooses to curse Israel with forced labor and planned infanticide and only produces the seeds of his own destruction. As hard as Pharaoh tries, he cannot prevent God’s blessings from helping Israel, and the more effort he places on thwarting Israel’s blessing the less successful he becomes to the point that as he tries t kill individual children one ends up in his house.
There is much we can learn in this passage from the examples of the Pharaoh and the midwives. The midwives sought to live lives based on morality and so were prepared to help increase God’s blessing on the people. Pharaoh was scared the blessings given to others would harm his power and wealth so he took steps to cut off the blessings. I think it is interesting that in the opening chapters of Exodus we are not giving insight into the thoughts of the Israelite community, we are simply told how specific people respond to their blessings. I think this is an opportunity for us to ask ourselves how we are going to respond when we are on the outside. Are we going to respond to people like pharaoh does, in fear and oppression or are we going to respond like the midwives with a distinct focus on God? Are we going to placate the oppressors and tyrants or are we going to stand for a moral center given to us by God.
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