Opening Prayer: Almighty and Gracious God, you have gathered us here in your presence. We have heard many words this week: many of them ugly, many of them wicked, many of them shallow and meaningless, and many of them lies. But we have come now to hear your Word. Speak to us now with your life-giving word: your good word, your true word, and your faithful word. Strengthen and comfort us; equip us for the journey before us. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!
This is the first Sunday in the season of Lent. As we have pointed out previously, Sundays are not technically included in the 40 days of Lent. Yet, as we journey through the days and weeks leading up to our Savior’s death and resurrection, these Sundays are significant to the fight just as every Sunday is strength and encouragement for the battle. Today we also begin our study of the book of Exodus.
Picking up with Genesis
The book of Exodus begins recapping the end of Genesis, but the recap is worded such that it assumes that the readers/hearers know all about Genesis. The house of Jacob is reviewed (vv. 1-5) emphasizing the number 70 which reminds us of the seventy nations of Genesis 10 descended from Noah. Israel has become a nation. Joseph is mentioned as one “already in Egypt” (v. 5), and it is assumed that the reader/hearer understands the significance of Joseph dying (v. 6, 8). Another connection to Noah is the fulfillment of the commands to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 9:1, 7). Israel has been faithful to this extent in Egypt. This of course reminds us of Genesis 1-2, and verse 7 makes the connection even closer: (literally) “And the sons of Israel were fruitful and they swarmed/teemed and they multiplied and they became mighty/numerous…” This “teeming” is what the fish and sea creatures are said to have done on day five in Genesis 1; this is what God commands Noah and his sons to do in 9:7, and it is what the frogs will do in Exodus 7:28. The fact that Pharaoh is trying to stop this growth means he is fighting Yahweh. Finally, if we look back at the end of Genesis, there seems to be some indication that things were already in decline at the end of Joseph’s life (50:24-25). At the very least, God references Joseph’s prophecy when he begins to act (Ex. 3:16).
Come Let us Deal Wisely
Interestingly, the word “Pharaoh” is not used until the very end of this first episode in Exodus. The Pharaoh is referred to as the “king” four times before he is named “Pharaoh” (1:8, 15, 17, 18). “Pharaoh” itself seems to be a title for the ruling house of Israel. One commentator suggests that it is the name of the literal house where the king ruled, somewhat equivalent to us referring to “Washington” or the “White House.” It is this “new king” who did not know Joseph who calls his people to be “wise” (1:10). Prior to this, the word “wise” has only been used three times and all (ironically) in connection to the Joseph narrative (Gen. 41:8, 33, 39). It is the “wise men” of Egypt who are unable to tell Pharaoh what his dreams mean, and it is Joseph who suggests (after interpreting his dreams) that Pharaoh put a “wise” man over Egypt to prepare for the coming famine. Pharaoh declares that Joseph is the only one “wise” enough for the job. Thus it is hardly surprising that this “new king” who does not know Joseph should suggest this sort of “wisdom” to his people. Where the Pharaoh who knew Joseph cooperates with Joseph to save many lives, the new Pharaoh is determined to end many.
The Hebrew Midwives
We should note the king of Egypt makes three attempts to diminish the “Hebrew problem” in Egypt. First, he introduces task masters who afflict them with burdens (v. 11), but that results in the Hebrews multiplying and growing even stronger (v. 12). Secondly, the king intensifies the slave labor, making them serve with “rigor” (v. 13-14), and he instructed the midwives to kill the baby boys of Hebrew women (v. 16). But when the midwives disobey the king, Israel multiplies even more and grows even stronger (v. 20). Thus, finally, Pharaoh makes a universal edict to all of his people, ordering them to throw any male Hebrew babies into the Nile River (v. 22). We should note that Pharaoh is going after the “sons” of Israel. This is the same title given in 1:1 to the descendents of Jacob, and in fact, the word “son” is used 7 times in the first chapter. We know what is coming in the book of Exodus, but it is worth noting now that the “sons” of Israel are being oppressed and drowned in the river and God will visit this same judgment on Egypt shortly. Finally, it’s worth pointing out that the midwives are blessed for their civil disobedience and lying (vv. 19-21). The reason given for their integrity is that they “feared God.” This reminds us of Abraham’s somewhat similar situation with Abimelech (Gen. 20:11). There, Abraham lied to Abimelech because there was no “fear of God” in Gerar. Just as God blessed Abraham’s wisdom and faith with great riches (Gen. 2:14-16) so too here, God is good to the midwives, and Shiphrah and Puah are blessed with households (1:20-21) like Jacob’s sons (1:1).
Conclusions and Applications
One of the things that we do not see here, but which we learn about later is that Israel fell into idolatry in Egypt (Josh. 24:14). The blessing of Israel was the result of Joseph’s great wisdom and faithfulness and refusal to compromise, but the covenant curses fell upon Israel for their great disobedience as well (which we can see coming cf. ch. 37-38, 50:15-18). We must always remember the lessons of Job and Ecclesiastes, but this does not negate the way the world works: people reap what they sow. And consequences have generational effects. It is not enough to see our children faithful; our goal is our grand children and great-grand children. As we live between the great Easters, it will not do to throw up our arms and hope for the best. We are called to live by faith, trusting and believing that God does bless faithful obedience, and even in the midst of broader covenantal curses, God gives households to faithful midwives.
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Our great and merciful God, so often we have lived presuming upon your goodness and grace, but you have called us to faith. Lord we believe, but help our unbelief. Rescue us from the pits that we have dug for ourselves. Grant us grace to live with open eyes and ready minds, living before you with faithfulness. Make us hungry for your blessing, believing with every ounce of strength within us that your blessings are far better than we can even imagine.