Israel grows in Egypt and becomes a threat to Pharaoh (Exodus 1:1 – 1:22)
Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher entered Egypt with Jacob. Seventy descendants of Jacob accompanied him (Joseph was already in Egypt).
Over time, Joseph, his brothers, and many of their generations died. The Israelites, however, were fruitful in Egypt. They greatly multiplied their numbers and became extremely strong and powerful. The land of Egypt was filled with Jacob’s descendants.
A new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power over Egypt. He said to the Egyptians, “Look at the Israelite people, more number and stronger than we are! Let’s deal with them wisely or they will continue to multiply and if war breaks out, they will ally themselves with our enemies and fight against us and leave the country.”
So the king put foremen over the Israelites to force them into hard labor. The Israelites built Pithom and Ramses as store cities for Pharaoh.
But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more they multiplied and spread throughout the land. As a result, the Egyptians loathed the Israelites. They forced them into hard, rigorous labor. They made their lives bitter by hard service with bricks and mortar and all kinds of service in the fields. Every kind of service required of the Israelites was hard.
The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you assist the Hebrew women in childbirth, if the child is a son, kill it. If it is a daughter, it may be allowed to live.”
But the midwives feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt told them. They let the male infants live.
Then the king of Egypt summoned them and said, “Why have you done this and let the boys live?”
The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women – the Hebrew women are vigorous and give birth before the midwives can get to them!”
So God treated the midwives well and the people increased in number and became more numerous. Because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.
Then the Pharaoh gave an order to all people, “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile but let every girl live.”
What the story means to us today
God’s plan advances despite resistance from Egypt’s king
As the book of Exodus begins, a few hundred years have likely passed since the story of Joseph in Genesis. Exodus first notes the names of the “sons of Israel”. This ties Exodus to Genesis and introduces the magnificent growth of the Israelites during their time in Egypt.
The extraordinary growth was foretold in Genesis 26:4 when God said the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be “as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands of the sea.”
Despite the Israel’s progress, we also see opposition to God’s promise as Egypt’s king tries to stop the Israelites from expanding further. Resistance to God’s plans are common and even occur in modern times. As we will soon see in Exodus, we must reach for God’s objectives even if it means struggling through opposition.
Additional thoughts and considerations
Who was the king of Egypt mentioned in Exodus – dating the book of Exodus
The Bible tells us a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. This king worried about the growth of the Israelites and went to great extremes to ensure they would not become too powerful.
Although determining the date of Exodus is difficult, it is generally believed the Pharaoh mentioned here ruled during the Eighteenth Dynasty (roughly 1580 – 1321 BC) or the Nineteenth Dynasty (roughly 1321 – 1205 BC). The dates are derived in two ways. Archaeological discoveries in Palestinian sites suggest Israelites became prominent there at the end of the thirteenth century BC. Also, the cities mentioned as being built by the Israelites, Pithom and Rameses, are believed to have been built during the nineteenth Dynasty of Rameses II (1290 – 1224 BC).
Below are the known kings of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Dynasties (a full list of Egyptian dynasties can be viewed here).
Rulers of the Eighteenth Dynasty:
Ahmose I (1570 – 1546 BC) Possibly the pharaoh mentioned in Exodus. Completed the conquest against Hyksos and restored Theban rule over all of Egypt. Reopened mines and trade routes and constructed the last pyramid built by native Egyptian rulers.
Amenhotep I (1551 – 1524 BC) – Likely tried to dominate surrounding nations. Began a number of temple building projects. Was deified upon death.
Tuthmosis I (1524 – 1518 BC) – Expanded the borders of Egypt even more. Completed many great building projects.
Tuthmosis II (1528 – 1504 BC) – Possibly reigned only a short time. Another popular candidate for the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Body displayed cysts, possibly from a plague.
Queen Hatshepsut (1498 – 1483 BC) – Restablished trade networks. Was one of the most prolific builders in Egypt.
Tuthmosis III (1504 – 1450 BC) – Considered a military genius, created the largest empire Egypt had ever seen. Believed to have conquered 350 cities.
Amenhotep II (1453 – 1419 BC) – Less militant that his father, was known to be open contemptuous towards non-Egyptians.
Tuthmosis IV (1419 – 1386 BC) – Died young from disease.
Amenhotep III (1386 – 1349 BC) – May have been crowned at 5 or 6 years old. Refused to allow one of his daughters to be married to a Babylonian monarch. Peaceful and relatively uneventful reign.
Amenhotep IV (Akhenaton) (1350 – 1334 BC) – Abandoned traditional Egyptian polytheism and introduced worship of Aten. This change was not popular with the Egyptian people and he was nearly wiped from Egyptian history.
Smenkhkare (1336 -1334 BC) – Had a short reign and died at a young age, around 18 years old.
Neferneferuaten (Queen Nefertiti) (1334 – 1332 BC) – Female king of Egypt.
Tutankhamun (1332 -1325 BC) – Known as King Tut. Ended the worship of Aten and restored the god Amun.
Ay (1325 – 1321 BC)
Horemheb (1321 – 1293 BC) – Was the commander in chief of the army under King Tut.
Rulers of the Nineteenth Dynasty:
Ramesses I (1291 – 1291 BC)
Seti I (1291 1278 BC)
Ramesses II (1279 – 1212 BC)
Merneptah (1212 – 1202 BC)
Amenmesses (1202 – 1199 BC)
Seti II (1199 – 1193 BC)
Amenmesse (1201 – 1198 BC)
Siptah (1197 – 1187 BC)
Queen Twosret (1187 – 1185 BC)
The seventy descendants of Jacob who accompanied Joseph to Egypt
The scriptures tell us “The descendants of Jacob numbered seventy in all (Joseph was already in Egypt). The tally of Jacob’s descendants is typically calculated as follows:
By Leah: 6 men, 25 sons and 2 grandsons: 33 total
By Rachel: 2 sons, 12 grandsons: 14 total
By Bilhah: 2 sons and 5 grandsons: 7 total
By Zilpah: 2 sons, 11 grandsons, 1 daughter, her 2 grandsons: 16 total
33 + 14 + 7 + 16 = 70
Why was Joseph overlooked in history?
It is generally believed we have no outside historical evidence of Joseph, the man. A man with such a prolific contribution to Egypt would have been recorded in their history. However, we are told, “A new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt.” Some propose this means the king was ignorant of Joseph’s contribution to Egypt. If this interpretation is correct, after only a few hundred years, Joseph disappeared from Egypt’s historical record.
Oddly, purposeful alteration of Egypt’s history is not uncommon. The Egyptians likely did not appreciate the idea of a Hebrew man saving their country from destruction and Egyptians did not make a habit of recording their defeats. Joseph would have been written out of Egypt’s history, likely by decree of a Pharaoh. This was a common practice in Egypt. Even some of the Egyptian kings virtually disappeared from the historical record, especially the kings that were foreign invaders. In fact, the king mentioned here, the one to whom “Joseph meant nothing” could be the very king who wrote Joseph out of Egypt’s historical record.
Why did the king conclude the Hebrews should be dealt with “shrewdly”?
The king tells his people, The Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous.”
Shrewdness was required to ensure the Hebrew’s growth could be constrained while still insuring enough Hebrews remained in Egypt to contribute to Egypt’s economy as workers.
When did the Exodus occur?
It’s impossible to determine when the Exodus occurred – there’s simply not enough information available. Scholars think Joseph was in Egypt prior to the Hyksos control (1720 – 1570 BC) since the narrative points to an Egyptian setting, not a Hyksos one. In fact, the enemy Egyptians feared the Israelites would help could have been the Hyksos (who would ultimately gain control of Egypt).
Exodus 12:40 tells us the Israelites were in Egypt for 430 years. We can roughly approximate the time the Exodus took place using this fact. Most scholars believe the Exodus occurred sometime between 1,300 BC and 1,500 BC. Beginning with 70 people and an average growth rate of 2.5%, the number of Israelites could have easily reached more than 2 ½ million people during those years.
The science and history behind the story
Egyptian slave masters
The historicity of Egyptian slave masters, as described in the Bible, is easily confirmed. The name “ser” appears on wall paintings throughout Egypt. This was the overseer of brick-making slaves. The painting shows the overseers holding heavy whips and carrying long staffs denoting their rank. The title has been found as early as the Sixth Dynasty.
The storehouse built for Pharaoh by the Israelites – Pithom and Rameses
Exodus 1:11 tells us “they put foremen over the Israelites to oppress them with hard labor. As a result, they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh.” These storehouses would have been used for the storage of provisions and possibly military equipment. Pithom is believed to be located at Tell er-Retabeh (“Broomhill”) or possibly Tell el-Maskhuta (“Mound of Idols”). It is often called Heroopolis or Heroonopolis.
Rameses is likely located near Qantir, a village in Egypt located about 60 miles northeast of Cairo in the Nile Delta.
Notes on Biblical translation
The official Hebrew title of Exodus is the first words in the chapter: “And these are the names of.” This is a common literary construct in ancient writing. Beginning the title with “and” shows that the narrative is a continuation of a sequence of events. Exodus continues where Genesis left off.
Pharaoh was originally the Egyptian word for “great house”. It later came to represent “royal palace” before shifting in usage to the name of the king. During the Eighteenth Dynasty, Pharaoh was designated the royal title for the king of Egypt.
1 These are the names of the sons of Israel who went to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family: 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah; 3 Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; 4 Dan and Naphtali; Gad and Asher. 5 The descendants of Jacob numbered seventy in all; Joseph was already in Egypt.
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.
8 Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. 9 “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”
11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, 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 labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.
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.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; 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, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”
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.
22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”
The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.
The NET Bible
1:1 These are the names of the sons of Israel who entered Egypt—each man with his household entered with Jacob: 1:2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, 1:3 Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, 1:4 Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. 1:5 All the people who were directly descended from Jacob numbered seventy. But Joseph was already in Egypt, 1:6 and in time Joseph and his brothers and all that generation died. 1:7 The Israelites, however, were fruitful, increased greatly, multiplied, and became extremely strong, so that the land was filled with them.
1:8 Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power over Egypt. 1:9 He said to his people, “Look at the Israelite people, more numerous and stronger than we are! 1:10 Come, let’s deal wisely with them. Otherwise they will continue to multiply, and if a war breaks out, they will ally themselves with our enemies and fight against us and leave the country.”
1:11 So they put foremen over the Israelites to oppress them with hard labor. As a result they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. 1:12 But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more they multiplied and spread. As a result the Egyptians loathed the Israelites, 1:13 and they made the Israelites serve rigorously. 1:14 They made their lives bitter by hard service with mortar and bricks and by all kinds of service in the fields. Every kind of service the Israelites were required to give was rigorous.
1:15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 1:16 “When you assist the Hebrew women in childbirth, observe at the delivery: If it is a son, kill him, but if it is a daughter, she may live.” 1:17 But the midwives feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them; they let the boys live.
1:18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this and let the boys live?” 1:19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women—for the Hebrew women are vigorous; they give birth before the midwife gets to them!” 1:20 So God treated the midwives well, and the people multiplied and became very strong. 1:21 And because the midwives feared God, he made households for them.
1:22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “All sons that are born you must throw into the river, but all daughters you may let live.”
Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.
New King James Version
1 Now these are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt; each man and his household came with Jacob: 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah; 3 Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin; 4 Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. 5 All those who were descendants of Jacob were seventy persons (for Joseph was in Egypt already). 6 And Joseph died, all his brothers, and all that generation. 7 But the children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly, multiplied and grew exceedingly mighty; and the land was filled with them.
8 Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9 And he said to his people, “Look, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we; 10 come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and it happen, in the event of war, that they also join our enemies and fight against us, and so go up out of the land.” 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh supply cities, Pithom and Raamses. 12 But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were in dread of the children of Israel. 13 So the Egyptians made the children of Israel serve with rigor. 14 And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage—in mortar, in brick, and in all manner of service in the field. All their service in which they made them serve was with rigor.
15 Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, of whom the name of one was Shiphrah and the name of the other Puah; 16 and he said, “When you do the duties of a midwife for the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstools, if it is a son, then you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.” 17 But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive. 18 So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this thing, and saved the male children alive?”
19 And the midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are lively and give birth before the midwives come to them.”
20 Therefore God dealt well with the midwives, and the people multiplied and grew very mighty. 21 And so it was, because the midwives feared God, that He provided households for them.
22 So Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying, “Every son who is born you shall cast into the river, and every daughter you shall save alive.”
The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.
5 1 These are the names of the Israelites who went to Egypt with Jacob, each bringing his family members:
Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah,
Issachar, Zebulun, and Ben-jamin,
Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher.
Seventy persons in all generated by Jacob’s seed. Joseph was already in Egypt.
6–7 Then Joseph died, and all his brothers—that whole generation. But the children of Israel kept on reproducing. They were very prolific—a population explosion in their own right—and the land was filled with them.
8–10 A new king came to power in Egypt who didn’t know Joseph. He spoke to his people in alarm, “There are way too many of these Israelites for us to handle. We’ve got to do something: Let’s devise a plan to contain them, lest if there’s a war they should join our enemies, or just walk off and leave us.”
11–14 So they organized them into work-gangs and put them to hard labor under gang-foremen. They built the storage cities Pithom and Rameses for Pharaoh. But the harder the Egyptians worked them the more children the Israelites had—children everywhere! The Egyptians got so they couldn’t stand the Israelites and treated them worse than ever, crushing them with slave labor. They made them miserable with hard labor—making bricks and mortar and back-breaking work in the fields. They piled on the work, crushing them under the cruel workload.
15–16 The king of Egypt had a talk with the two Hebrew midwives; one was named Shiphrah and the other Puah. He said, “When you deliver the Hebrew women, look at the sex of the baby. If it’s a boy, kill him; if it’s a girl, let her live.”
17–18 But the midwives had far too much respect for God and didn’t do what the king of Egypt ordered; they let the boy babies live. The king of Egypt called in the midwives. “Why didn’t you obey my orders? You’ve let those babies live!”
19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “The Hebrew women aren’t like the Egyptian women; they’re vigorous. Before the midwife can get there, they’ve already had the baby.”
20–21 God was pleased with the midwives. The people continued to increase in number—a very strong people. And because the midwives honored God, God gave them families of their own.
22 So Pharaoh issued a general order to all his people: “Every boy that is born, drown him in the Nile. But let the girls live.”
Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.
King James Version
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. 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 rigour: 14 And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in morter, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field: all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour.
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.
The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.