Exodus 1:1-22 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. When a new king ascends the throne of Egypt, how does he view the people of Israel? See Exodus 1:8-10 (printed below)

Now a new king came to power in Egypt, one who did not know Joseph. (9) He said to his people, Look, the people of Israel have become more numerous and mightier than us! (10) Come, we must deal wisely with them or else they will continue to multiply and, if a war breaks out, they will align themselves with our enemies, fight against us, and leave the country. (Exodus 1:8-10)

This new king views Israel as a foreign element and a threat to the security of Egypt. Israel had become a very large population in the midst of Egypt, and there was the fear that they would ally themselves with an invading enemy and depart from the land (verses 9-10). Note: “a new king” signifies one who follows different principles and policies from those of his predecessors. The statement, he “did not know Joseph,” means that he did not acknowledge Joseph’s contributions to Egypt (Commentaries on the Old Testament, The Pentateuch, Vol. 1, Keil and Delitzsch, pp. 419-420).

2. What measure does the new king institute to combat the threat that Israel posed? See Exodus 1:11-14 (printed below)

Therefore the Egyptians appointed taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor—they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. (12) But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more the Israelites multiplied and spread throughout the land. So the Egyptians came to dread the children of Israel. (13) The Egyptians subjected the children of Israel to rigorous labor; (14) they made their lives bitter with hard labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of field work. In all their hard labor the Egyptians ruthlessly exploited them. (Exodus 1:11-14)

Because he views Israel as a foreign element—a people not assimilated into the Egyptian culture, one holding onto a unique religion and identity—and a threat, this new king institutes official measures against Israel. The first policy instituted to contain and control the growing Hebrew nation was to subject it to taskmasters (verses 11-14). The Egyptians’ purpose was to “oppress them with forced labor;” i.e., to make them serfs (Keil and Delitzsch, p.422). The goal was not only to break down their physical strength, but to convey (and reinforce) the notion that they were subservient aliens living under the dominant Egyptian culture—i.e.; to designate them as “second class citizens” without rights and whose very existence was for the benefit of the State.

3. When the initial measure taken against the Israelites failed, what was the next measure instituted by the Egyptian government? See Exodus 1:15-16 (printed below)

The king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other was named Puah. (16) He said to them, When you are helping the Hebrew women in childbirth and observe them on the delivery stool, if they deliver a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live. (Exodus 1:15-16)

A second intensified policy instituted against Israel was that of official government-ordered infanticide (verses 15-21). The midwives (i.e.; the Egyptian women assigned to help deliver Hebrew babies) were privately instructed to kill the newborn Hebrew male infants. The goal was that the Hebrew females would eventually have to marry Egyptians and thus the Hebrew nation would lose its identity by becoming assimilated into the Egyptian race and culture.

4. How did the Hebrew midwives (i.e.; the Egyptian women assigned to help deliver Hebrew babies) respond to Pharaoh’s order? Why? What happened to them? See Exodus 1:17-21 (printed below)

But the midwives feared God, so they did not do what the king of Egypt commanded them; they let the boys live. (18) Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live? (19) The midwives answered Pharaoh, The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; they are robust and deliver their babies before the midwife arrives. (20) God was good to the midwives, and the people of Israel continued to multiply and became even more numerous. (21) Because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own. (Exodus 1:17-21)

When the Hebrew midwives were instructed by the king to kill the Hebrew male infants, they did not carry out his order. The reason given for their non-compliance was the fact that they feared God (verse 17). Their fear of God caused them to take a moral stand: to refuse to carry out an official command that was contrary to the law of God and would cause them to violate that divine and moral law. Note that Scripture indicates God blessed the midwives because of their godly fear (verse 21)—but Scripture does not condone their deceit. Their obedience, even though it was less than perfect, was rewarded. Though they are an example of Christian conduct (in standing in opposition to ungodly demands), they are a less than perfect example (as seen by the fact that they resorted to deceit in an effort to conceal the true reason for their non-compliance with the king’s command).

5. When this second measure also fails, what does the Egyptian government do? See Exodus 1:22 (printed below)

Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you must throw into the River, but you must let every girl live. (Exodus 1:22)

The third policy instituted against Israel by the Egyptian government was one of all-out persecution (verse 22). Now every Egyptian citizen was enlisted in the campaign to exterminate the future generation of Hebrew males (who would be potential leaders and propagators of the race). It now became a public responsibility to report the birth of a Hebrew male and a civic duty to kill such infants.