We call the book Exodus because that was the Latin transliteration for the Greek word for “the way out.” In Hebrew, the book is called “These Are the Names” based on the first two Hebrew words of the book.
1:1 We use the term “children of Israel” to refer to Jews before the captivity, but here it is quite literally the children of Jacob, also known as Israel, who went to Egypt with him.
1:2-4 This is a list of the 11 sons of Jacob plus Joseph.
1:5 The numbering of 70 souls here creates an interesting dilemma when compared to Stephen’s speech in Acts 7:12-14 where he notes 75 instead of 70. He was quoting the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Tanakh), which mentions the extra family members. Various suggestions have been made as to who the five extra people are, but none of them fully add up. Remember that the Bible is theological history, so it’s accurate but it also has a point to get across. Seventy is a significant number, and it’s a round number. Sometimes the Bible uses round numbers. Our culture is obsessed with fact-checking exact details. Most ancient cultures weren’t as concerned with that as we are. Their information is still accurate; it’s just a different emphasis. We focus on trying to get all the numbers to add up. They were more focused on the overall point trying to be made.
1:7 This is Eden language. Even in a land that was becoming like a new Babylon, God blessed them like they were in Eden.
1:8 All the attempts to learn exactly who this Pharaoh was miss the point. For someone who wanted to build up his own name so much, it is ironic and (I believe) purposeful that we never learn his. The Pharaohs would wear a snake on their crown. The author is cluing us in that the cosmic fight from the previous book is still ongoing. Yet God would take the seed of the woman and place him right in the palace of the seed of the serpent. This story shows the contrast between two similar people who treat God’s people in different ways. The Pharaoh from Joseph’s story got Eden in the wilderness. This Pharaoh rained death and destruction on his entire land. We are also called God’s people. Let me ask you, how do you treat God’s people (other Christians)? Are you more like Joseph’s Pharaoh or Moses’ Pharaoh? We would all do well to be a bit kinder, even to or perhaps especially to people who are different than us.
1:9 We make mistakes when we become reactionary. Be careful to not make decisions when you’re forced to react quickly.
1:10 “Deal wisely” sounds like the serpent in the garden. The Bible is not very subtle in getting across what kind of person this Pharaoh is.
1:11 “Taskmaster” is the word for an official of the king. These cities were far from Goshen. Then men would not have been able to mate, raise families, or farm. The Israelite situation appeared to be totally hopeless.
1:12 The Egyptians were disgusted. Is there anyone who disgusts you when you see their apparent success in the midst of hardship? The Egyptians were basically jealous of the Jews. It was a complete role reversal.
1:13 Originally, humanity was supposed to do this to the land. We were supposed to toil, to work at expanding the Garden. But this becomes an expansion of the curse, of toil to death. They are now made to work a land that is not theirs.
1:14 This was an entirely different creation order (worldview) than the Jews had. The Egyptians owned everything about them. When God freed the Jews, He was giving them an opportunity to order creation in a way that did not enslave others (literally and metaphorically). Instead they chose to become little Pharaohs as soon as they got out from under him. The only other city to use this technology so far in the Biblical narrative was Babel. Egypt is becoming Babylon, the antagonist in the Biblical story, now.
1:15 How counter-cultural for the time for Yahweh to use women to save a nation. The Bible is not as patriarchal as it’s often accused of being. It was set in a patriarchal culture, but it transcends and works to improve the culture in which it was written. How significant that we learn their names but not the Pharaoh's.
1:16 The term translated “birthstool” in pretty much every English translation actually means “potter’s wheel.” That sounds confusing until you know a little Egyptian mythology. “The “potter’s wheel” is regularly linked to pregnancy in ancient Egyptian religious literature and art. The implement was associated with the creator-god, Khnum, a ram-headed deity who was depicted as an artisan. In mythopoetic texts, Khnum would mold and shape each human being at conception “upon his wheel,” with the potential child being granted the physical and psychological traits that would define it as an individual—obviously including characteristics of gender. During this time of fashioning, the developing infant was said to be “upon the potter’s wheel” from which it would hopefully be delivered [whole] and healthy. What is significant, is that the metaphor refers to a gestating fetus prior to parturition. We suggest that the Hebrew is an adaptation of the idiom and refers to a child still forming in the womb that has not yet come to full term… So the point would be when you look at the child The pharaoh is telling them, “Now look, you go visit the house, and you’re doing a prenatal examination. What’s inside the womb there is upon the potter’s wheel of Khnum. Khnum is forming what’s inside there.” He’s a pharaoh, he’s an Egyptian. This is Egyptian religion. When you undertake this prenatal examination… “If it is a son, then terminate him; if it is a daughter, she shall live.” Such a procedure would have been within the scope of ancient Egyptian knowledge and practice. Medical texts contain prognostic recipes for determining the sex of an unborn child, as well as prescriptions for ending a pregnancy through draughts and potions. In other words, abortion. The Egyptians had abortifacients. They had a means to determine the gender of a fetus still in utero.” -Michael Heiser
1:17 In doing this, the midwives become like new Eves, mothers of life.
1:19 Perhaps the Pharaoh was superstitious about what kinds of people these Hebrews were if they had longevity and such quick birthing abilities (based on what the midwives had said). It seems like these were midwives to the Hebrews, not of Jewish descent themselves. Either is possible. Here they say “they,” not “we,” so that suggests a diff nationality.
1:21 Although we’ve often been taught that a half truth is a whole lie and lying is always a sin, God seems to disagree. The Torah forbids lying under oath in a courtroom setting (bearing false witness). It does not forbid lying in desperate situations of life or death. The overall message of Scripture is that honesty is the best policy whenever possible, especially when dealing with someone who isn’t trying to perform evil in the moment. But there are some exceptions in which the Bible presents lying as ok and even approved of by God.
1:22 This is arguably the most disgusting thing we’ve seen in the Biblical story so far. Pharaoh's not shaping up to have a good end to his story.
Amram’s dysfunctional family, Moses as messiah, a pagan priest who serves Yahweh, and God decides to execute the Exodus Initiative—all this and more in Exodus chapter 2.
God can make Eden in Babylon. Do you have any situation that feels hopeless or completely overwhelming lately? What if you purposefully looked for little Eden blessings even there? An early morning walk, a favorite cup of coffee, a favorite song on the way to work, a call or dinner with a friend, a day with no rushing, a purpose to be nice to people around you no matter how they treat you? How can you work to find little bits of Eden where you are today?