“These are the names.” Thus begins Exodus in the original text. Exodus is the continuation of the narrative Moses began in Genesis. It begins with the names of the small group that migrated to Egypt. From them, God would fulfill his covenant promises and make Abraham a father of nations. He would bring the Messiah into the world through Abraham’s family. “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:24). It did not look as if this would be the case. Egypt and its leaders soon forgot the debt they owed to Joseph and his family. Filled with envy at Jacob’s prosperity and fear that the Hebrews would join with foreigners in the event of an invasion, they enslaved and tried to exterminate them. Nothing looked less likely than that God would cause these people to grow and bring salvation to all the families of the earth.
As Jacob’s family was at that time God’s church on the earth, Egypt was in fact making war against God and his purposes. They were also “forsaking their own mercy” (Jon. 2:8), for Egypt was delivered from certain destruction because it listened to Joseph. God’s people have always been the world’s only light and salt, but the world does not understand this and attacks the very ones to whom it owes its preservation in the world. Egypt and its leaders did not think of themselves as attacking God’s church but as preserving their national hegemony, likely tinged with envy at Israel’s prosperity. Yet, Satan lurked behind Egypt’s idolatry and emperor worship. Statism was as destructive to men’s lives and freedom then as it is now. Satan is a murderer, but he is particularly filled with malice against God and his church. If he cannot prevent men from being redeemed, he will do all he can to make the Lord’s redeemed miserable. In the extermination policy the Egyptians began implementing against Israel, we see the hand of the devil. He was making war against God. Ever faithful, God brought Egypt and its so-called gods to their collective knees.
He is the leading character of Exodus as he was of Genesis – the Lord of Hosts, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In all that follows, we see his hand, first triumphing over the gods of Egypt. He fulfilled his covenant promises to Abraham given some four hundred year earlier (Gen. 15:13-16). Then, he formed his people into his holy nation, gave them his righteous laws by which to frame their lives and civil polity, and showed them the way to worship him acceptably. Israel, the Church, needed more than political liberty from Egyptian oppression. They must learn to live and worship by the Lord’s word alone. Their salvation depended upon his presence with them, and thus the latter third of Exodus is concerned with the tabernacle and its worship. Israel had seen the abominations of the Egyptians, and they had been influenced by them. They must be delivered from this also. In every way, then, God shows himself to be the Savior of his people – from evil societies, from the sins of our own heart, and from the superstitions that prevent us from enjoying his presence with us. In this, he was preparing Israel of old for the coming of his Son into the world, the true Emmanuel, God with us.
Small Beginnings but Blessed and Prosperous (vv. 1-7)
1 Now these are the names of the children of Israel, which came into Egypt; every man and his household came with Jacob. 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, 3 Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, 4 Dan, and Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. 5 And all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls: for Joseph was in Egypt already. 6 And Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation. 7 And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them.
These Are the Names (vv. 1-5)
Although antiquarians and egalitarians decry all Israel-centric reading of history, the fact remains that the Holy Spirit is far more concerned with the sons of Jacob and their family than with all the impressive names of Egypt’s Pharaohs. Men will dig in the sand and unwrap one thousand mummies to discover the secrets of men who walked in darkness and whom the Lord judged for their wickedness. They will hardly give a second thought to his wonderful grace in preserving his truth and covenant in the little family of Jacob. This is one of the church’s crosses in the world. She is despised and hated. Satan would tempt her to draw attention to herself through worldly displays of power, but the quiet word of the Holy Spirit reminds us that “what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). God’s eye was upon those seventy souls that left Canaan with Jacob. The LXX and Stephen read seventy-five, but this likely counted Joseph and his family. What is most important for us to remember throughout the trials that quickly descended upon Israel after Joseph’s death is that his people were the apple of his eye. He is the great Shepherd of Israel, and he knows his people by name. They are not lost in the multitudes of Egyptians or forgotten in their troubles. He is always with us and always working to effect deliverances and bring blessings to us. We can therefore be at peace and have great joy in our trials, as James says, if we will but follow our Savior’s example: “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles” (Ps. 34:6; Heb. 5:7)
Egypt Overrun by Israel (vv. 6-7)
The death of a godly leader is a critical time. Will the next generation serve the Lord? We are not followers of men, but we also recognize that God uses men to accomplish his purposes. Our Savior distributes gifts to men as the fruit of his victorious ascension and reign at the Father’s right hand. Thus, the death of Joseph marked the end of an era and exposed God’s people to new challenges. He was likely one of the last of his brothers to die. During this life and in the years that followed after the death of his generation, Israel greatly prospered. Their positioning in the fruitful plains of Goshen contributed to this, and God blessed them in fulfillment of his promises. They grew wealthy and numerous. They spread throughout the land of Egypt. They became a nation within a nation, although their organization into God’s holy nation required first that they pass through a fiery crucible of suffering.
This is God’s usual way. He seems to work most when we are brought lowest and forced to feel our dependence upon him. Had Israel not endured bitter bondage, would their prosperity have driven out the memory of their unique destiny and God’s covenant with them? It is likely. Many who left Egypt with Moses never left Egypt in their hearts. God refined the believing remnant through horrible sufferings in order to wean their hearts away from the world and to teach them to cry to him for deliverance. Let us remember this in all our troubles. When all is well, we are forgetful and grow complacent. The troubles God sends are intentional and gracious – your home is not here! Look to my promises. Do not forget who you are in Christ. Set your affections on him and my eternal kingdom, not earthly prosperity and peace. These are wonderful gifts of God, but they can also become through our abuse of them shackles that burden the soul and lead it away from its true hope in God and his word.
Enslaved Out of Fear and Envy (vv. 8-14)
8 Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. 9 And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: 10 Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land. 11 Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses. 12 But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel. 13 And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigor: 14 And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field: all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigor.
Pharaoh’s First Scheme against Israel (vv. 8-10)
The intertwining histories of Egypt and Israel are a fascinating study. Who was the Pharaoh of the Exodus? When did the Exodus occur? If names and dates could be ascertained with certainty, then would this not put an end to skepticism of the biblical record? Yes and no. Many and abundant have been the archeological confirmations of many of the most astounding events recorded in Scripture, from the Flood to the Exodus and Conquest of Palestine, but this has not inclined the majority of skeptics to faith, for they are not looking for truth as much as for confirmation of their governing commitments that they had prior to any fact. The evidence is clear, but the veracity of Scripture has caused many a skeptic to search for new reasons not to believe. This is as we should expect. Some of the Jews who witnessed Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead reported the fact to the Jewish leaders, who then redoubled their efforts to exterminate the Lord of glory. Facts, responses, and interpretations are always determined by governing commitments. As Abraham said to the rich man in hell, “If they will hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:31). We must believe in order to understand. Some are always trying to invert this divinely imposed condition of knowledge and certainty. “In thy light, we see light” (Ps. 36:9). “By faith we understand” (Heb. 11:3).
We would like to have the name for the Pharaoh of the exodus. We have a firm date from 1 Kings 6:1 and Judges 11:26 – approximately 1447 B.C. Moses might have given us the name of the Pharaoh, but he did not. The Holy Spirit is concerned with only one name in his encounter with the gods of Egypt – Yahweh, the Lord of the covenant (Ex. 3:14). Whether one adopts the traditional chronology and identifies Thutmose III as the Pharaoh of the exodus, or follows the newer chronology and opts for Sobekhotep or Khenephres, the simple fact is that Egyptian chronology is problematic and has traditionally made false assumptions, greatly inflated the duration of the various dynasties, and ignored co-regencies. It is enough for us to know that men have short memories and often disrespect and persecute those who have done them the greatest good. Do we not see this today in the West’s hatred of Christians, when there would not be a West or any of the prosperity we have enjoyed without the very Bible that social revolutionaries are now trying to expunge from public memory?
Public pressure was likely great for Pharaoh to crack down upon the Hebrews. My guess is that Egyptian prosperity after the famine had not paralleled Israel prosperity. Jacob’s family was in covenant with God; Pharaoh’s family was not. Under the Lord’s blessing, Israel had grown more powerful than the Egyptians, and this posed in their mind a national threat. Foreign invasion was always a danger in their military states, and Egypt feared that Israel might join with its foes. They adopted a “wise” policy of population reduction and control. This would not be the last time that political powers have turned a jaundiced eye upon the blessed Church of the Lord. Not understanding the reason for her blessedness and not wanting to embrace her faith, they have turned against her. The very presence of the church in an unbelieving nation – with her own government and ability to self-govern, her misunderstand role and aims in the world, and her inexplicable happiness and often service to her neighbors – creates unrest in unbelieving hearts. There is no peace for the wicked. The Christians must go to the lions.
Taskmasters, Treasure Cities, and Bitter Bondage (vv. 11-14)
Pharaoh set taskmasters over the children of Israel. Throughout the land, he organized them into work crews and built enormous treasure cities of Pithom and Raamses. Were the Hebrews unable to resist these measures? Remember that they had settled quietly in Egypt. From the beginning, Joseph had endeavored to avoid any activity that would arouse Egyptian suspicion or discomfort with their presence. Thus, as the years passed, the Jews were numerous, industrious, and likely integral to overall Egyptian prosperity, but they were not integrated into Egyptian life. They were easy targets of aggression and eventual enslavement. And yet, the more harshly the Egyptians treated them, the more the Israelites multiplied and prospered. Their fecundity and their wealth are clearly miraculous. There was no caste system among them, as with the Egyptians, with the priest and soldier class being wealthy and the masses living in virtual squalor. The famine had basically institutionalized this division in Egyptian society, but blessings abounded through the Jewish people. God was with them. The Egyptians could not understand this and greatly scared of their presence. Finally, the Egyptians enslaved the Hebrews so completely that their lives were nothing but a bitter slavery.
God ordained these events so that he might humble Egypt. It is remarkable that he had already judged the land by the famine and greatly impoverished the masses. As a result of Joseph’s preservative efforts, most of the land had come under Pharaoh’s ownership and direct control. This did not, however, humble the ruling class. It filled the hungry class with envy, for the Jews were largely exempt from these measures. But God was not finished judging Egypt, its Pharaohs and its gods. By enslaving the Lord’s people, Egypt was setting itself for a decisive judgment that brought its glory and influence to a virtual eclipse that lasted long after the Jews departed. As for God’s people, they were becoming a mixed rabble, sadly, as we learn at the time of the Exodus. There existed, however, a believing remnant, that kept the older faith alive during those centuries and believed God’s promises. As with Moses’ family, this was a time of suffering and also of believing. As in the days of the patriarchs, God threw the faith of his church into the fire to purify it and to set it longing for his promises. The same is true for the church when she is mistreated, hated, and shamefully ignored by modern men. We must patiently bear the cross and count it a joy to suffer for the name of our Savior. God will not forget his promises, and his plans are so much bigger than we can conceive. Therefore, we must wait patiently for him and not think ourselves competent to sit in judgment of his working. He will build Messiah’s kingdom and make it the highest mountain, even on the back of a persecuted church. Remember that his kingdom does not progress as the world’s fated kingdoms do. God uses the low and despised things to bring down the high and mighty – just as he did in Egypt 3,500 years ago.
Israel’s Survival Threatened by Genocide (vv. 15-22)
15 And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah: 16 And he said, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him: but if it be a daughter, then she shall live. 17 But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive. 18 And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men children alive? 19 And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them. 20 Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty. 21 And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them houses. 22 And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive.
Pharaoh’s Second Scheme against Israel (vv. 15-16)
As if stealing their strength, dignity, and work were not evil enough, Pharaoh later determined to kill the Hebrews’ male children. We should not think that this was the policy of one Pharaoh only; this was an evil that persisted and grew over generations and centuries. Eighty years before the Exodus, a Pharaoh called two Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, and told them to kill the male children and spare the female. This would destroy and amalgamate the Hebrews within one generation. He chose these two women either because they were the leading midwives or as is equally likely, that they seemed to be the most amenable to his plan. If he could get them to agree to his evil scheme, the rest might more easily follow. Pharaoh might simply have killed the male babies, as Herod later did, but we should remember that the Hebrews were scattered throughout the land, and any official genocide would have required an army of butchers. Even so, he was restrained from doing all that he would. He even cowardly left his murderous plan to the Hebrew midwives. However painful and terrifying the wicked can be in their determination to make war against God and to destroy his people, we should also remember that God laughs at his enemies. They are laughable in their puny attempts to cast him down from his throne, and we are not to be afraid of them.
The Godliness of the Midwives (vv. 17-21)
True faith and godliness were by no means dead among the Hebrews. Whatever the midwives may have said to Pharaoh, likely as little as possible, they feared God and would not join his evil league against God and against God’s chosen people. Like the apostles, they “obeyed God rather than men.” They saved the male babies alive, in many instances hiding them. When Pharaoh called them to give an account, they responded that the Hebrew women gave birth before the midwives arrived. This may have been an absolutely true statement, with no lie either told or intended. Yet, let us say that they withheld all or part of the truth from Pharaoh, or that they told him a direct misstatement, a lie. Remember that the Hebrews were in fact at war with the Egyptians. They had no leader yet, but their very existence was threatened. Therefore, in a time of war, combatants may legitimately and directly deceive in ways not permitted in peace time.
What should not be taken from this is an utterly misguided theology of lying, as some fools have done, who almost seem to be looking for a justification for lying, as if the Holy Spirit would descend into the pit of our falseness. Rather, God honored the midwives for siding with him rather than Pharaoh, for fearing him in an extremely dangerous time when their own lives were in jeopardy. He honored them for protecting life. We need go no farther, as if we are to look for vindication in everything they said or did. Their heart was right with him and obedient to his will; whatever missteps they took in following him, he forgave. By far the most pertinent lesson is that we must never fear the wicked decrees of men against us. If we have any influence or place, we should not follow but resist evil men and their schemes. We must actively look for ways to circumvent man’s wickedness. We may not help butchers execute their bloodthirsty decrees. As a result of the midwives’ faithfulness, God gave them families of their own, which was another insult in the face of Pharaoh. It also teaches us that God often uses the schemes of the wicked men to forward his purposes, so that what they hate they wind up promoting. Those who trust the Lord simply cannot lose, but we must wait upon him and obey him patiently.
A Monster’s Decree (v. 22)
Sometime later, Pharaoh and his agents determine to make the extermination of the Hebrews a national policy. All Egyptians were directed to throw Hebrew male children into the Nile. Remember this whenever you read of the world’s awe with Egyptian death masks, tombs, and god-statuary. This was a society that was willing to commit wholesale ethnic murder against a people to whom they owed their very existence. This is Satan at work, for he was endeavoring to kill the mother before it could give birth to the son, the Church and her Messiah. This was a monstrous decree that ranks with the vilest actions of the Herods, Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, Mussolini, and American abortion. There are no limits, however, to Satan’s malice and his working in the children of disobedience – other than that he is restrained by God’s will and providence so that he cannot exceed the bounds of his chains. “Surely the wrath of man will praise thee, and the rest thou wilt restrain” (Ps. 76:10). God will restrain and work in the most evil of circumstances. For the Hebrews, this put them on the highest alert and set them groaning over their bondage and crying to God for deliverance. God heard their cries. Years passed and the evil continued, but the Lord had not forgotten his people. Neither will he forget us, if we cry to him day and night, for our Savior now rules over all at God’s right hand. We are engraved upon his hands, and he is persecuted along with his Bride’s sufferings.
Thus, the church was brought to recognize that God was her only deliverer. She had no human helps. Perhaps some wanted to make their peace with the Egyptians, but the Egyptians wanted none of it. They wanted to kill their guests – all of them. And yet, God works through these horrible times to lead us to cry to him. We have never lived in such times, but many ages of the church have known life or death struggle with tyrants and murderers. Where has she turned when the executioner’s sword has risen to strike or when there was but a step between her and death? To the Lord. And he often waits until things are very bad before delivering. He is always restraining and directing his enemies, but from our perspective, he seems to be giving the wicked free rein. He does this to exercise our faith, for every one of us would fall fast asleep did not the Lord stir us up through troubles to seek him. Thus, when he allows the wicked to prosper and seems to give us little gospel victory, remember that he is calling us to seek him with greater faith and fervency. He will hear. He will save. He will hear and save those who cry to him day and night for deliverance, for his glory, and for his will to be done. Through these pressures, he makes us more like our Head and his Son.
Profiting from the Word and Searching Our Hearts
1. Why should it be emphasized that Satan was trying to kill the church in Egypt?
2. How did so few men become so wealthy and populous?
3. Why did God bring an end to Israel’s prosperity in Egypt?
4. What is the biblical order of faith and reason?
5. When is the approximate date of Israel’s exodus from Egypt?
6. Since Moses knew the name of the Pharaoh whom God humbled, why is the name not given?
7. Why would the Egyptians have turned so violently against the Hebrews? Modern day parallels?
8. What are some reasons that the Lord would allow his people to be so horribly afflicted?
9. Why does the Lord seem to wait to work and deliver until things are at their worst?