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God had made a promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and in the book of Exodus we can see to beginning of God’s promise coming to fulfillment. The Israelites had moved to Egypt during a time of famine under the invitation of Joseph, the twelfth son of Jacob. Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers and through the providence of God had become second only to Pharaoh in Egypt. Now at the Israelite’s were enslaved by the Egyptians because of their vast number and the fear of the present Pharaoh that they might rebel against Egyptian rule.
The book of Exodus, which means a mass departure of people, is the story of how God miraculously delivered then from Egyptian bondage to freedom. After the Israelites escape from the Egyptians, God established a theocratic nation under His covenant with Moses on Mount Sinai.
In this book of the bible the ten plagues, the Passover, the parting of the Red Sea, the fearsome majesty of God’s presence at Mount Sinai, the giving of the Ten Commandments, the building of the tabernacle, these events from Exodus are foundational to the Jewish faith.
The importance of the book of Exodus is that is provides crucial background to help readers understand the entire bible message of redemption. Future biblical writers frequently reference verses in Exodus and even Jesus’ own words testify to its importance.
Exodus is the second book of the bible to be written by Moses. Moses received his education by being a member of Pharaoh’s family in his early years. (Acts 7:22) There is also internal evidence found within the book to support the fact that Moses is the author. Many conversations, events, and geographical details could be known only by an eyewitness or participant. For example, the text reads: “Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said,” (Exodus 24:4). Other books in the bible refer to “the Law of Moses” (Joshua 1:7 1 Kings 2:3) Jesus introduced verses from Exodus stating, “For Moses said” (Exodus 20:12 Exodus 21:17 Mark 7:10)
Exodus begins in the Egyptian region called Goshen. The people then traveled out of Egypt and, it is traditionally believed, moved toward the southern end of the Sinai Peninsula. They camped at Mount Sinai, where Moses received God’s commandments. The book covers a period of approximately eighty years, from shortly before Moses’ birth (c. 1526 BC) to the events that occurred at Mount Sinai in 1446 BC.
The theme of Exodus is redemption, how God delivered His people from Egyptian slavery and made them His chosen people. God then provided them with Law and how to become a consecrated people. Under the Mosaic Covenant, people annually sacrificed unblemished animals according to specific regulations in order to have their sins covered, or borne, by that animal.
The author of Hebrews tells us, “But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:3-4) Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross fulfilled the Law. As the perfect Lamb of God, He took away our sin permanently when He sacrificed Himself on our behalf. “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:10)
Moshe Rabbenu, which translates in Hebrew Moses our teacher, is one of Judaism’s greatest prophets. The first five books of the bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, where written by Moses. Moses was the man whom God spoke through to the Israelite people. Through Moses God gave the Israelite people a basic charter for living as God’s chosen people.
Moses was born 2368 years after creation and about 1400 years before the birth of Christ. His father was named Amram and was a member of the Israelite tribe of Levi. Amram married Yocheved, and she conceived, and she gave birth. The only unusual thing about his birth is Yocheved’s advanced age: Yocheved was born while Jacob and his family were entering Egypt, so she was 130 when Moses was born. His father named him Chaver, and his grandfather called him Avigdor, but he is known to history as Moses, a name given to him by Pharaoh’s daughter.
Little is known about Moses’ youth. The biblical narrative skips from his adoption by Pharaoh’s daughter to his killing of an Egyptian taskmaster some 40 years later. One traditional story tells that when he was a child, sitting on Pharaoh’s knee, Moses took the crown off of Pharaoh’s head and put it on. The court magicians took this as a bad sign and demanded that he be tested: they put a brazier full of gold and a brazier full of hot coals before him to see which he would take. If Moses took the gold, he would have to be killed. An angel guided Moses’ hand to the coal, and he put it into his mouth, leaving him with a life-long speech impediment.
Moses died just before the people crossed over into the Promised Land (Deut. 32:51). He completed writing the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) before he died. There is some dispute as to who physically wrote the last few verses of Deuteronomy: according to some, Moses wrote these last few verses from a vision of the future, but according to others, the last few verses were added by Joshua after Moses’ death. In any case, these verses, like everything else in the Torah, were written by God, and the actual identity of the transcriber is not important.
Preparations That Point the Way
Exodus 1:1 to 2:25
For the Israel nation, history was never just a record of events. Neither is it just the retelling of the experiences which they thought were significant. History was important to the Israelites because of how God had worked through it. This is clearly seen in the first section of Exodus. God is not often mentioned but they understood His involvement and His control can be clearly seen. The recorded events were human events, but they were under God’s divine control. The events recorded set the stage for the entire drama of redemption. The shadow of these events can be seen throughout the rest of Exodus, throughout the entire history of Israel, and even to the end of the New Testament.
The book of Exodus opens with the rounded number of Jacob’s descendants that came to Egypt as seventy. The purpose of the writer was to show the contrast between this small number to the vast number of Israelites that departed Egypt which numbered approximately two million. (Num 1:45-47) It is quite easy to prove mathematically that Jacob’s family of 70 that moved into Egypt could have grown into a nation of two million or more individuals in 430 years. The fruitfulness of the Israelites in Goshen was due to God’s blessing as He fulfilled His promises to the patriarchs.
We are reminded at the beginning of this chapter of the concluding events which led to the arrival of the Israelites into Egypt. They had come down from Canaan because famine had come to the land. Joseph because of God’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream had filled storehouses with grain and food to see the Egyptian people through the seven years of famine. At Joseph’s request Pharaoh had invited Jacob and his descendants to come and settle in Goshen during the time of famine. (Gen 47:1-6)
It is important that is was a famine that brought Jacob and his family to Egypt. They came in order to preserve their lives during the famine. It should have been a temporary visit and when the famine was over they should have returned to their home in Canaan. But they remained in Goshen. Joseph and his generation had died and three hundred sixty years had now passed from the time of their entry into Egypt. By doing so the promise of God for a Promised Land remained unfulfilled.
In verse seven is the account of the extreme fruitfulness of Jacob’s descendants in the land of Goshen and they enjoyed great prosperity. A point to be made here is that in the theology of the people of the Old Testament, is prosperity is always assumed to be evidence of God’s blessing.
The Israelite people would have naturally thought their prosperity was a testimony of God’s blessing. The trouble with this belief is that Goshen is not where Israel was supposed to be. There stay in Goshen should have been a temporary solution to a short term problem and they should have returned to Canaan the Promised Land. (Genesis 12:7 Genesis 13:14-17 Genesis 15:7 Genesis 35:12 Genesis 48:4) The Israelite had decided to settle down for a permanent stay in Goshen. Even though they prospered their prosperity was selfish. The Israelites had chosen the easy way to prosperity instead of being obedient to God. (Genesis 17:6-8 Genesis 35:11-12)
Another problem is that because of their fruitfulness and prosperity it was now to cost them too much. Their numbers of two million and their commanding wealth put fear into the Egyptians and they found themselves bound into slavery. The Israelites time of peace and prosperity had now come at a high cost to them. The Israelite people never intended to be disloyal to God or to become slaves to the Egyptians. But their intentions now did not matter for both had befallen them.
Most likely the new king referred to in verse eight is Sethi I who ruled between 1305 and 1290 B.C., who was the founder of the 19th Dynasty in Egypt. The expression “who did not know Joseph” probably is more than a poor knowledge of history. The statement that Pharaoh “did not know Joseph” is that he did want to know about Joseph. It seems that the early kings of the eighteenth dynasty wanted to solidify control of Egypt in the hands of native Egyptians. After a long period of control by foreigners, they did not want to acknowledge the greatness of Joseph who was, of course, also a foreigner and a Semite. The native Kings of Egypt were trying to forget anything that reminded them of the hated Semitic rulers.
The Pharaoh’s fear of the Hebrews was not as great as one might first think. The Israelite people were living in peace with the Egyptians in their country. Egypt had been invaded by the Hyksos rulers. Preceding him was a series of Hyksos rulers. The name Hyksos probably means “rulers of foreign lands.” They were a Semitic people from the northern part of the Fertile Crescent, from the area around Paddan-aram, where Laban, Leah and Rachel’s brother, lived. The Hyksos had invaded Egypt about 1670 B.C. and ruled until Ahmose expelled them. The Pharaoh’s fear came from the potential of the Israelite people to join with their enemies. This fear drove him to unreasonable actions.
Forced labor was common in Egypt and the Pharaoh assigned taskmasters to oversee the forced labor of the Israelite people. It would not have been possible for the Egyptian people to have built so many magnificent building projects without the forced labor of the Israelite people. The oppression of the Israelite people was twofold in purpose. First, Egypt would retain the economical benefit of having the Israelites remain in the land while removing their potential for military conflict. Occupying them with forced labor might keep them to busy and unable to stage a revolt. Second, the Pharaoh thought that the exhaustion of their labors would reduce the birth rate. The Pharaoh’s plan failed, oppressed people have always found their consolation at home.
The Israelites were building two store cities under Sethi I but they were not named until the time of his successor Ramses II. (1290-1224 B.C) These cities were probably built as either military supply depots or as centers for trade.
Still Israel continued to prosper even under these hard terms of the Pharaoh. This continued prosperity caused a feeling of dread on the part of the Egyptians and they were in awe. The Egyptians were a superstitious people and the continued fruitfulness of the Israelites was terrifying to them.
The Egyptians intensified their efforts to make the Israelites “their lives bitter with hard labor.” What had began as forced labor resulted in cruel slavery. The Israelites had finally realized that they were slaves in Egypt but it was too late for them to do anything about it.
The purpose of Pharaoh was to reduce the number of Israelite’s growth but his plan of slavery was failing as their numbers continued to increase. Now Pharaoh had devised a second plan. His intent was to weaken the Israelites by a systematic extermination of the newborn sons.
There are only two groups of midwives mentioned or remembered and their names mean “Beauty” and Splendor.” It is a fairly common practice throughout the Old Testament to name groups of midwives. The “birthstool” was a hollow stone or a pair of stones upon which women sat or knelt during the process of childbirth. This method of giving birth was common in the ancient Near East.
These Israelite midwives failed to obey Pharaoh and it was not for their compassion of the people or because of a desire to thwart Pharaoh, but because they feared God. Many a newborn was spared as the result of the midwives. When Pharaoh called for an accounting the midwives would respond saying the Israelite women “Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife can get to them.”
It has been said that the midwives deliberately lied and if this is the case we must realize that their respect for life was greater than their respect for truth. The lie may not have been correct but their values were certainly correct. Another suggestion is that the midwives delayed their arrival until after the child was born. If this is the correct interpretation they had followed Pharaoh’s command that they were to kill the male child during birth. In any event the midwives were blessed because they feared God.
With Pharaoh’s second plan thwarted he turned to his own people and commanded them to begin the extermination of all newborn Israelite sons. The Israelite daughters were spared to be allowed to furnish slave labor, concubines, and probably to be available as breeding stock if his plan was too successful in reducing the number if Israelites.
In verse 22 we read, “Every son who is born you are to cast into the Nile.” A point is missed here in translation as the Hebrew translation reads, “you shall cast in the direction of the Nile.” Drowning the newborn was a cruel but quick death. What Pharaoh was ordering was a death by exposure, which was slow, sadistic, and even more heartbreaking.
There is a parallel between this account and that of Herod’s destruction of all newborn sons in Bethlehem. (Matthew 2:16) Neither Pharaoh nor Herod could prevent the successful conclusion of God’s purpose.
Acts 7:22, Joshua 1:7, 1 Kings 2:3, Mark 7:7, Hebrews 10:3-4, Hebrews 10:10 Num 1:45-47, Gen 47:1-6, Genesis 12:7, Genesis 13:14-17, Genesis 15:7, Genesis 35:12, Genesis 48:4, Genesis 17:6-8, Genesis 35:11-12, Matthew 2:16