God’s people become slaves
Moving to Egypt1 When Jacob moved to Egypt, he brought his extended family with him. These are the names of the sons who came with him. Each son brought his own family. 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, 3 Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, 4 Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. 5 There were 70 people in all, counting Joseph, who got there years earlier. 6 As time passed, that first generation of Jacob’s family eventually died in Egypt—Joseph and all his brothers. 7 But they made a lot of babies. So, they left behind a huge and growing family of descendants that started to fill up the land around them.
Hebrew guests become slaves8 Egypt got a new king. This one didn’t know anything about Joseph. 9 The king met with his officials and said, “There are too many Hebrew people here. 10 Let’s get smart and figure out how to control their population. If we don’t, they could leave here and join forces with some of our enemies. Then they could come back and fight against us.” 11 So the Egyptians enslaved them and put slave drivers in charge of them. Egyptians forced the Hebrews to build two of Pharaoh’s warehouse cities: Pithom and Rameses. 12 Oddly, the harder the Egyptians pressed the Hebrews, the more babies the Hebrews produced. That put fear into the Egyptians. 13 So Egyptians got ruthless with them. 14 And they made life miserable for the people of Israel, violently forcing them into all kinds of hard labor with dirty work in the fields. That included making bricks along with mortar to hold the bricks in place.
King’s order: “Kill baby boys”15 Egypt’s king called in two of the Hebrew women who delivered babies: Shiphrah and Puah. 16 He told these two midwives, “When Hebrew women are giving birth, look at the baby when it’s coming, there at the birth stool. If it’s a boy, end its life. Girls, however, can live.” 17 The midwives did no such thing. They were more afraid of God than the king. So, they let the boys live. 18 Egypt’s king called them in to explain themselves. He said, “What do you think you’re doing, letting all those baby boys live?” 19 The midwives told Pharaoh, “It’s not our fault. Hebrew women aren’t like dainty Egyptian women. They’re strong. They get right to it and give birth before we can get there.” 20 God treated the midwives kindly for doing that. Hebrews continued to populate Egypt and grow even stronger. 21 Because the midwives sided with God, he gave them families of their own. 22 So, Pharaoh made his appeal to everyone. “I want all Hebrew baby boys thrown into the Nile River. Boys only. No girls.”
Joseph’s brothers had sold him to slave traders who took him to Egypt, some 20 years earlier. See Genesis 37:28.
The king in Joseph’s time invited Joseph’s family to move to Egypt and to live on the prime grazing fields in Goshen, the Nile River Delta, where the river breaks into many streams that irrigate the land as the water flows down into the Mediterranean Sea.
Hebrews were ancestors of today’s Jewish people, also known as Israelites.
The literal phrase behind “leave” is “rise from the ground.” It’s unclear what that means. Some scholars say it means to leave the country. Others say it could mean to rise up from poverty and low social status. Or it might mean to gain control of the country. It’s anybody’s educated guess.
“Pharaoh” was the king’s title, not his name. Egyptians used that title for about 3,000 years, until Romans invaded and took over in 30 BC.
Pithom and Rameses were cities strategically placed and fortified to guard popular routes into the Nile River Valley. Egyptian soldiers would greet people arriving from what are now Middle Eastern nations such as Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. The city know as Pi-Rameses, meaning “House of Rameses,” was built in roughly 1300 BC by Rameses I, but was expanded into a huge capital during 1200s BC under Pharaoh Rameses II. He became famous for his building projects and was known as Rameses the Great. He also liked to put his face and name on statues built to honor others.
Women sat or crouched on a stool, which resembled sitting on a toilet seat. They delivered their babies from that position, rather than lying in a bed. Stools were sometimes made of stone or of bricks. “Birth stool” is more literally “double stones.” This may refer to two stones a woman sat on or held onto as she gave birth in a crouched or kneeling position. However, given that the context here was to identify the sex of the infant, it may be a reference to the infant’s testicles.
Killing the boys would help reduce the risk of Hebrews raising a generation of warriors who could rebel and fight against the Egyptians.
BY ROBERT V. HUBER
Exodus is a dramatic story that starts with what some would consider a boring list of names. Jacob and his extended family of 11 sons, with their wives and children, move to Egypt to reconnect with Jacob’s other son, Joseph—a top administrator in Pharaoh’s government. Why do you suppose the Book of Exodus starts this way? And especially why list all those names? It seems an odd way to start a book.
The story jumps from the time of Jacob to the time of Moses. By this time, Egypt’s new king—identified only by his title, Pharaoh—knew nothing about Joseph. Joseph had helped Egypt survive a long and devastating famine, stretching over many years. You would think Egypt’s kings would have remembered him. Why do you think this king didn’t seem to know anything about him or that a previous king had invited the Israelites to migrate there?
When the new king finally did take notice of the Hebrews, he saw them as a threat. There were so many of them that he worried they may group together, join with Egypt’s enemies, and make war on Egypt. So, he decreed that the Hebrews be made slaves and work under cruel overseers, who would force them to build two cities containing warehouses to store the king’s apparently abundant provisions. When the Hebrews kept on producing offspring, the king tried to tamp down their libidos by forcing them to work harder and longer. They were already making the bricks they were using for building the cities, but he gave them the added chore of finding their own materials for making the bricks, scavenging for straw in the fields. For those who stayed awake during history class, do you see any more recent parallels to how Pharaoh treated the Hebrews?
When all Pharaoh’s other tactics failed to reduce the number of Hebrews in Egypt, the king came up with a simple but final solution: Drown all Hebrew baby boys in the Nile. Again, we may reluctantly be able to draw a few ugly near parallels to history. So, give it a try. We learn from history when we remember history.
The king wanted desperately to get the Hebrew people out of Egypt, even to the point of drowning Hebrew babies. Why do you think he didn’t just execute them all, or have his army escort them to the border?
LIFE APPLICATION. The king ordered the two Hebrew midwives to kill any Hebrew male infants that were born. The midwives quietly refused and devised a cover story to save their jobs (or maybe even their lives). The problem the midwives faced has not gone away. Being told to act improperly on the job pops up frequently these days for working people who need their jobs to support their families. Does this hit close to home? If so, how did you or someone you know react when ordered by a supervisor to do something everyone knew was wrong—perhaps illegal or immoral or just plain mean?