1 These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, 3 Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, 4 Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. 5 All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. 6 Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. 7 But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.
-The first word of the Book of Exodus is “eth” which is a preposition that can mean “near, with, by, at, among”. It doesn’t directly translate to English but the King James Version often uses the word “Now” and the KJV opens with Exodus with this word. Other translations like the one I use, ESV, just removes the word as being unnecessary. In English, we don’t really need to say “now” when a sentence begins but there is strong relevance in Hebrew. That one word “eth” is saying that there is a continuation from the Book of Genesis and the Book of Exodus. Though much time has passed, it is the same story unfolding by the same author. We really should begin Exodus 1 with the word “and” in order to properly transfer this idea into English.
Pharaoh Oppresses Israel
8 Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9 And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. 10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel.
-This new Pharaoh faces a big problem. He has the people of Egypt under control and they are entirely one people, one ethnicity, one religion, completely united under their leader. Before when Israel was only seventy persons living only in Goshen, it was no big deal. Now, you have large numbers that have spread beyond Goshen that are of a different people, ethnicity, and religion. Pharaoh was seeing signs of a coming Civil war because of their differences and numbers or the risk, as it states, that the Israelites may join a foreign power. So the solution was to make a slave class out of them which had the unintended side effect of causing them to spread even more to escape the oppression. God was using Pharaoh’s fear to further the multiplication and prosperity of the Israelites. Pithom and Raamses were located approximately here: http://bibleatlas.org/area/pithom.jpg
13 So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves 14 and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves. 15 Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16 “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” 17 But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. 18 So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” 19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” 20 So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.
-Midwives are of course women who assist in the child-birthing process. As they explained, they could not kill the males because the Hebrew Women were able to help themselves without the need of an Egyptian midwife and so the midwives could not get to them. It seemed God was easing this process for them so there was no danger.
22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.”
-The Nile river was the source of everything and was viewed by the Egyptians as the “ladder” from the realm of the gods where they would send their blessings upon the Egyptians. The Nile river “overflowing” and then retreating is what kept their land so fertile and it is no surprise that without God’s direct intervening and revealing Himself, they would worship the Nile itself. By choosing to cast the male infants into the Nile, rather than just killing them and disposing of them, was the Egyptians returning them to the gods. Even these foreign people were of the gods and though Pharaoh was seen as a god in himself, this decision seem to be one that appeased their gods so that they do not get angry at them for being murderers. In other words, “let the gods deal with these Hebrews!”. Of course, God used this to His own advantage and was all part of His plan to ensure Moses’ safety. We will see every pagan action the Egyptians take only furthers God’s own plan for the Israelite people as they begin their nation.