Opening Prayer: Almighty and gracious God, You are the King of the universe. You speak, and life bursts out of death. You speak and light rushes out of the blackness. And You in your infinite wisdom, have called us here this morning on purpose. We are here in your presence because you desire to speak to us. And so we pray: give us ears to hear and have your way with us. Overwhelm us with your mercy and break our hard hearts until we shine with your glory. Through Jesus our Savior and Lord, Amen!
The Exodus was the great event of the Old Testament era. It is the basis for the law (e.g. 20:1), the feasts (e.g. 12:26ff), and is the beginning of the story of Israel as a people. It is also the great revelation that the God of Israel is the God who saves (6:1-9), and this faithful Savior saves with His mighty arm, using the weak and foolish things of this world to bring down the mighty and wise.
Picking up with Genesis
The book of Exodus begins where Genesis left off “And these are the names…” (compare 1:1 to Gen. 46:8). 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 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 1:20-21; this is what God expects the animals to do after the flood (8:17), and He commands Noah and his sons to do the same (9:7), and it is what the frogs will do in Exodus 7:28. The text underlines this abundance with five verbs and two adverbs piling up like the seven days of the first creation week. The fact that Pharaoh is trying to stop this growth means he is fighting Yahweh. He is fighting the God who spoke this abundance into existence. Finally, amidst all of this blessing, the end of Genesis suggests 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 (1:8, 15, 17, 18) before he is named “Pharaoh” (1:22). “Pharaoh” itself is not a proper name but a title for the ruling house of Israel, perhaps the name of the literal house where the king ruled, 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 were unable to tell Pharaoh what his dreams meant, and it was Joseph who suggested (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
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), making them serve with “rigor” (v. 13-14), and here the intensity of the work is matched with the alliterative effect of seven repetitions of a preposition attached to words describing the work, framed with the word “service/work.” But this “wisdom” results in the Hebrews multiplying and growing even stronger (v. 12). The king’s word (1:9) is answered with the exact opposite of what he intended. Secondly, the “king” speaks and instructs 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 this 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. As God blessed Abraham’s wisdom and faith with great riches (Gen. 20:14-16), 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
Exodus begins where Genesis left off, and thus, Exodus begins with the original plan of Genesis in mind: the creation of a world with a nobility ruling at the right hand of God. The repeated “sevens” underline this intent. The anonymous “king” however, is a satan in the garden, fighting the word of God, fighting the plan of the King of the universe, a futile mission if there ever was one.
And we know that Israel was not completely faithful while in Egypt. They had fallen into idolatry (Josh. 24:14) and were facing the consequences of that. But that darkness is ripe for the creative light of God. But God creates with the power of His word, and this word does not need swords or whips or bulldozers to accomplish its task. And so God’s power and might is evidenced preeminently in the “wise” midwives who are honored with “names” (1:15) and “houses” (1:21) like the “sons of Israel.” The Pharaoh’s word is nothing before the word of God. Pharaoh has no name, and his “house” will end in darkness and death (12:31). But we serve the God who still gives names and houses to his people, the God who still plans to bring every nation down through the wisdom of faithful midwives.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: O God our Father, give us eyes to see and hearts full of courage and wisdom. We praise you that you have given us names and houses. Teach us to fear you like the faithful midwives, and teach us your wisdom that undermines kings and kingdoms who fight against You. Through Jesus our King, Amen!