Living in Egypt (Exodus 1:1-2:10)

Chatswood Baptist Church
Things change

Things change. Things can be going well, and life can seem good and everything might seem like it is going fine. But things can change, and our lives can be turned upside down.

You might lose a job and find yourself out of work unable to afford the life you once lived. You might lose a loved one and find yourself alone when you thought you would be together.

You might be betrayed by someone close to you who you thought would be there for you. Or you might be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease or cancer and find yourself in and out of hospital. Our lives can change without warning and sometimes life can move from being fairly carefree and plain sailing to become troubled and hard and difficult to navigate and at those times we need to know how to maintain our course in life.

Today we begin the story of Exodus and how God rescued the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. Life had dramatically changed for the Israelites living in Egypt over the years. You probably remember that the Israelites were the descendants of Jacob who was the grandson of Abraham who could had promised to bless. God had given Jacob the name, Israel and his descendants became known as Israelites.

In the first chapter of Exodus what we see is how things dramatically changed for the Israelites while living in Egypt. Initially they had been welcomed by the Egyptians and favourably treated but in this first chapter what we see is that by this changed. There were two reasons why things changed for the Israelites in Egypt.

Exceedingly fruitful

The first is they became exceeding fruitful. This was a good thing and God fulfilling his promise.

In verse 1 to 5 of chapter 1 we are told the names of the sons of Israel and that they had gone down to Egypt with their families and how they had numbered 70 at the time. This is a little recap of where the story of Genesis ends. The book of Exodus is the sequel. But what the next two verses then explain was that they weren’t 70 for long. In verses 6 and 7 we are told that they became exceedingly fruitful.

Exodus 1:6-7

6 Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, 7 but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them[1].

The Lord had blessed the Israelites while in Egypt. The words used in verse 7 for this fruitfulness are reminiscent of the words that the Lord used in Genesis chapter one and verse 28 when he blessed the man and the woman and commanded them to be fruitful and increase in number and to fill the earth and subdue it. In chapter 3 of Genesis, humanity rebelled against God and his purposes for them in creation and they came under God’s judgment. In chapter 11 humanity band together to resist being scattered and filling the earth. But God didn’t abandon them or his purposes for them. He made a promise to bless Abraham and to make him into a great nation and through him to bless all the peoples of the earth (see Gen. 12:1-3). He promised to make his descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the beach (Gen. 15:5, 22:17;26:14).

By the end of the book of Genesis the direct descendants of Abraham that went down into Egypt numbered 70 (see also Gen. 46:26-27). They were hardly a great nation as numerous as the stars in the sky or the sand on the beach. However, in Genesis 46:1-4 God told Jacob (Abraham’s grandson) to not be afraid to go down to Egypt with his family because the Lord would go down there with him and it would be there that he would make him into a great nation. The book of Exodus is the continuation of the story and the report of the exceeding fruitfulness highlights the fact that the Lord was present with his people in Egypt blessing them and that he was well on the way to fulfilling his promise to multiply them and make them a great nation.

A new king

The second thing that led to things changing for the Israelites was a new king coming to power who didn’t know Joseph or for whom Joseph meant nothing.

Originally the Israelites had been welcomed into Egypt by the Egyptians because they were extremely grateful to Joseph who was an Israelite (see Gen. 45:16-18). As I mentioned, the book of Exodus is the sequel to Genesis and the assumption is that you know the story of Joseph and how Jacob’s favourite son came to be in Egypt and how the Lord used him to deliver both the Egyptians and the Israelites from a terrible famine. At the time Pharaoh had not only put Joseph in charge of all of Egypt but he also had shown his appreciation to Joseph by allowing him to settle his family in the land of Goshen so that they could enjoy the fat of the land.  But time had passed, and a new king had come to power for whom Joseph meant nothing. And he saw the exceeding fruitfulness of the Israelites as a threat that needed to be ruthlessly dealt with. Whether he knew it or not, this king was setting himself against the purposes and the promise of God. In chapter 1 we see his attempts to oppose God and his purpose to bless the Israelites and through them all the families of the earth.

Plan 1: Ruthless oppression

In verses 11 to 14 we see the first of this king’s plans to curb the fruitfulness of the Israelites. The first plan that he came up with was to ruthlessly oppress the Israelites by enslaving them and subjecting them to harsh labour.

Exodus 1:11-14

11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labour, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly. 14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labour in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labour the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.

The new king enslaved the Israelites forcing them to work as slaves. He put slave masters over them to work them ruthlessly. The Israelites were cruelly treated and forced to work on Pharaoh’s store cities. But the plan didn’t work. The more the Israelites were oppressed, the more they multiplied.

Despite sometimes appearances to the contrary, the Lord is in charge and his purposes and plans are working out for his people as he has promised them. Even though there is no mention of the Lord in these verses, the Lord was there in Egypt with his people just as he had promised Jacob he would be. The Israelites became even more numerous and they spread out so much so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites (v12).

One thing that we should note here is that even though God was with the Israelites and his promise was working out, it didn’t mean that the Israelites didn’t suffer or experience hardship while in Egypt. We are told they were worked ruthlessly. It was harsh labour. They were treated unfairly, and their lives were made bitter. God has not promised that we won’t have to suffer and go through hardship while we wait for his promises to work out and be fulfilled. He has promised to be with us and that he can make us stand and promised to one day to put all things right through Jesus. In fact, we are told to not be surprised by trouble. Jesus said to his disciples:

John 16:33.

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Later the apostle Peter would write…

1 Peter 4:12-14

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

In this world we will have trouble. There will be those who will oppose God and his plan and those who put their hope in him. We aren’t to be surprised by it or somehow think that God isn’t with us or that his blessing doesn’t rest upon us. Indeed Peter says that you are blessed for God is with us, his Spirit rest upon us.

Plan 2. Midwives told to murder newborn boys

With his first scheme not achieving the results that he was looking for, the king of Egypt came up with another plan. His second plan was for the midwives to murder all the newborn boys. Perhaps he thought that the death of these newborns might have been able to pass as an unfortunate complication of birth rather than murder if only these women went along.

Exodus 1:15-16

15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.”

Calling in the midwives to appear before the king was probably meant to intimidate them and frighten them into doing what he wanted them to do. They were living in a land where the people regarded Pharaoh as if he was a god and his court was set up to impress people of his power. But these women understood who really was in charge and they didn’t obey Pharaoh because they feared the Lord. They did what was right in God’s eyes and spared the boys and did not carry out his plan and God blessed these women for their faithfulness.

Exodus 1:20-21

20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.

The king of Egypt’s second plan also failed as the Israelites continued to increase and become more numerous. Even the midwives ended up having families of their own. Again, we see that the Lord’s purposes are sure and the plans and schemes of those who want to thwart his purposes won’t succeed. We are assured that we can depend on God’s promises and instead of fearing what others might do to us in this world we are to trust in the Lord.

Despite how powerful the opposition might sometimes appear to be or what threats they might make or how they might want to intimidate us, we aren’t to fear the people around us, but we are to fear the Lord and walk by faith in his promises. We aren’t to give into our fears of what others might do to us even if they seem to be the powerful and influential of this world. We are to keep doing good and fearing the Lord. The apostle Peter wrote in chapter 3 and verse 14 and 15 of his first letter that

But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.

We must remember who it is that we belong to and revere him and keep doing what is right in his eyes and not fear those who pretend to be more than they. Our lives are in our maker’s hands only that which he ordains can befall us. Peter will go on to say it is better to suffering for doing good than for doing evil (1 Peter 3:17).

The one we are to revere in this world is the Lord Jesus Christ to whom every knee will one day bow. No matter what the situation that we find ourselves in or how much things change around us we are keep on doing the good that we know pleases him rather than conforming to what our world wants us to do or to be.

In our own world over the last generation, things have greatly changed for us. Being a Christian is not as welcome as it used to be. It isn’t accepted in the way that it once was in our own society. In fact, our beliefs and values are more and more regarded with suspicion and even as a threat to the values of the society in which we live. But we are to keep on fearing the Lord, learning to live the Maker’s way, doing the good as defined by him, knowing that he is with us, working out his plan and purpose through the Lord Jesus.

Plan 3. Drown every newborn boy

With the midwives frustrating the second attempt of Pharaoh to cull the numbers of the Israelites, he came up with his final insidious plan. Pharaoh ordered all his people to drown every newborn Hebrew boy in the Nile. Now we aren’t exactly told how effective this last scheme was but in chapter 2 we are told the story of Moses and how at least with his birth the plan was unsuccessful.

The birth of Moses (2:1-10)

The first chapter of Exodus tell us how things dramatically changed for the Israelites. By the end of the chapter they were not only enslaved and oppressed but Pharaoh had given the command for all his people to drown the Hebrew newborn boys. This was the situation that Moses was born into and the first ten verses of chapter 2 recount his birth and how he was rescued.

Hidden by his mother

Moses was born to a Levite woman who like the midwives in chapter 1 was willing to defy the orders of the king. For three months she hid her baby and when he got too big to hide at home instead of drowning him in the Nile, she placed him in a papyrus basket that she coated with tar and pitch and hide him among the reeds. This is another echo of the story of Genesis.

The word for basket here is the same as that which was used in the story of Noah for the ark (Gen 6:14) and just as the ark was to be the means by which the Lord would save Noah, this basket was also the means by which this Levite woman meant to save her son. But again although God is not mentioned here in the story I think we are meant to understand that he wasn’t absent, rather he was providentially working behind the scenes to fulfil his good purpose for his people and his plan included this child who, 80 years later, he would send to save his people.

Adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter

It wasn’t chance that the one person who could possibly get away with openly defying Pharaoh’s orders, his daughter, found and decided to rescue the baby Moses. In verse 5 we are told that she had come down to the Nile to bath and that when she saw the basket among the reeds, she sent her female slave to get it. When she opened it, the baby was crying, and she felt compassion for him. She knew who he was, but instead of following her father’s orders and drowning him, she decided to preserve and protected him.

If that wasn’t enough the baby’s own mother, the Levite woman,  ended up being paid by Pharaoh’s household to nurse her own child. Eventually the boy was returned to Pharaoh’s daughter and this Israelite, who was given the name Moses, found himself growing up in the court of the very one who had ordered his death.

Saved by God

As one commentator says, “This narrative does not mention God at all. God is working behind the scenes through the actions of ordinary and extraordinary people.”[2] His mother refused to give up her son and hid him away. She put him in the basket. The Lord used his sister who was watching at distance and even Pharaoh’s own daughter to preserve the life of the one that Lord would eventually use to bring his people out of Egypt. I don’t know who exactly the commentator thinks are the ordinary and the extraordinary people, but what I think that we see in this story is that when ordinary people refuse to give into fear and instead trust and fear the Lord extraordinary things can happen for we have a God who can do more than we can even ask or imagine.

There was no way that Moses’ mother could have ever imagined that by putting her son in that basket that he would end up being rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter and adopted as her son. But the Lord can do more than we can imagine, and he is working out his purposes in ways that we often cannot foresee. What these early chapters highlight is that despite the opposition that sometimes this world has to God and what he is doing through his promise, the Lord is still working out his plan to bless his people. It does not matter how things might seem on the surface, or who the influential people of this world might seem to be, God is working out his plan to save his people using ordinary people along the way, like the midwives in chapter 1 and Moses mother and sister and Pharaoh’s daughter.

Things had changed

This first part of the story of Exodus does a couple of things. It firstly helps us to understand why the Israelites needed rescuing out of Egypt. Things had changed. The Egyptians had enslaved the Israelites and they were being oppressed and treated ruthlessly. They’d been forced into harsh labour by the Egyptians and their newborn boys were under the sentence of death. Life in Egypt was extremely bitter for the Israelites.

But God doesn’t

However, although things had changed in Egypt for the Israelites with this new Pharaoh, there were some things that remained the same. God hadn’t changed. He hadn’t forgotten his people and his plan to bless them and through them to make them a blessing to others. The more the people were oppressed the more that they multiplied. Of course, this only caused the Egyptians to dread them even more, but I think this was because it was obvious to them that the Israelite were being blessed, that the Lord was with them.

God’s promise doesn’t change

Of course, what doesn’t change is God’s promise and his faithfulness to it. God had made Israel exceedingly fruitful. He was making them into a great nation and even Pharaoh would not prevent this from happening. When the Lord told Jacob to not be afraid to go down to Egypt for he would make him a great nation there, he not only promised to go with him but to surely bring him back again. He had also promised Abraham that though his descendants would live in a foreign land and be enslaved that he would bring his people out of Egypt 15:14-15). The story of Exodus is the story of of how our God delivers on his promises and how we are to trust him as his people.

Fear the Lord and walk by faith

In this story, we see two women stand up to Pharaoh and refuse to what he told them to do because they feared the Lord and trusted him. They knew who they belonged to. They knew who they were to honour in Egypt. Instead of letting Egypt conform them to it ways they believed that fearing the Lord and honouring him was what they were to do no matter what trouble it might have brought them.

We also live in a world that sometimes wants to pressure us into its mould and its ways. But we need to remember who we belong to and who it is that we are to fear and honour and what he has promised us. We are to resist the pressure to conform to this world and its ways that are sometimes in opposition to God and his plans and purposes for us. We are to trust him and know that he will deliver on his promises. You will have trouble in this world says Jesus, but we are to take heart for that he has overcome the world. We are to fear the Lord and walk by faith in this world trusting in his promise that is working out in Jesus.

You know we too live in a world of change but what will keep us on course is if we hold to what God has promised us and trust in the one who really is in control. We are to trust that he has the power to rescue us whether it be in this life from the present danger or be it when all things are put right when the Lord Jesus returns to restore all things.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture citations are taken from The New International Version. (2011). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] James K Bruckner, Exodus. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series,2008, Location 693 of Kindle version.