1 - 7 The Sons of Israel in Egypt
1 Now these are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob; they came each one with his household: 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah; 3 Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; 4 Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. 5 All the persons who came from the loins of Jacob were seventy in number, but Joseph was [already] in Egypt. 6 Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. 7 But the sons of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly, and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them.
The character of Egypt is different in Exodus is not the same as in Genesis. In Genesis Egypt is the picture of the world blessed by God through the reign of Joseph, the picture of the Lord Jesus. In Exodus, Egypt is the picture of the hostile world ruled by a king who did not know Joseph and who oppresses the people. The king of Egypt, Pharaoh, is in this book a picture of satan.
The oppression does not start immediately after the arrival of the “sons of Israel” in Egypt. Remarkable is that it says that they came into Egypt “with Jacob”. The expression “sons of Israel” characterizes their position, as God sees them: “sons of the prince of God” (Israel means “prince of God”). The expression “with Jacob” refers to their practice, to the discipline God must exercise over them.
They come with a total of seventy people. Under the grace of God, they are fruitful and grow into a mighty people who, at the time of their exodus alone, number about six hundred thousand men (Exo 12:37). If we include women and children, the total population will have been around three million people.
8 A New King
8 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.
A new king is going to rule Egypt. His characteristic is that he has no bond whatsoever or even a memory of Joseph (Acts 7:18).
He, to whom all of Egypt owes his life and who has done so much good for that people, is totally forgotten. So it is with the world of which satan is the god - he is called “the god of this world” (2Cor 4:4) - and of which he is also the superior - the Lord Jesus calls him “the ruler of this world” (Jn 12:31). “The Savior of the world” (Jn 4:42) has no place here, one does not think of Him. On the contrary, satan keeps the people of the world in slavery.
9 - 14 The Israelites Afflicted
9 He said to his people, “Behold, the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we. 10 Come, let us deal wisely with them, or else they will multiply and in the event of war, they will also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us and depart from the land.” 11 So they appointed taskmasters over them to afflict them with hard labor. And they built for Pharaoh storage cities, Pithom and Raamses. 12 But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread out, so that they were in dread of the sons of Israel. 13 The Egyptians compelled the sons of Israel to labor rigorously; 14 and they made their lives bitter with hard labor in mortar and bricks and at all [kinds] of labor in the field, all their labors which they rigorously imposed on them.
For the king of Egypt, this fast-growing people is a threat. He calls on his people to act “wisely” against the Israelites. This is the imagination of the world, which believes it is wise to define a strategy to nip impending danger in the bud. The Pharaoh thinks that by affliction he can keep his grip on them. He starts by afflicting the adults and makes them slaves. Later on, he attacks the children. Egypt is beginning to become the “smoking oven” of Abraham’s vision (Gen 15:12-21; cf. Deu 4:20). But God begins to fulfill the promise He made in the same vision of Abraham.
Man, who is subjected to satan in slavery helps to build the kingdom of satan, whether he is aware of it or not. He is dragged further and further along, deeper and deeper into his realm. If someone hangs on money, every dollar that he gets more is an extra link in the chain around his neck. The love of money increases with the increase of money.
Someone who wants to free himself from sin is increasingly caught in the grip of sin. That is the experience of the person in Romans 7, who is becoming increasingly desperate. Until he exclaims: “Wretched man that I am!” (Rom 7:24). Then salvation is near. In what happened to Israel in Egypt, we see a picture of this.
Pharaoh’s ‘wise’ actions do not have the effect intended by him. Quite the contrary, because the harder the affliction gets, the more the people expand. God works on His plan, using the evil plan of Pharaoh. It is not Pharaoh who has the power, but God. That God has the power is not yet visible, for the Egyptians made lives of the Israelites “bitter with hard labor”. But faith looks over it to God and that He will eventually be glorified.
15 - 22 The Midwives
15 Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other was named Puah; 16 and he said, “When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth and see [them] upon the birthstool*, if it is a son, then you shall put him to death; 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 had commanded them, but let the boys live. 18 So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this thing, and let the boys live?” 19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife can get to them.” 20 So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty. 21 Because the midwives feared God, He established households for them. 22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying, “Every son who is born you are to cast into the Nile, and every daughter you are to keep alive.”
*Literally ‘two stones’, like the ‘wheel’, literally ‘pair of stone discs’, of the potter in Jeremiah 18 (Jer 18:3), where the word ‘wheel’ is the same word as the word translated here with ‘two stones’. Presumably, the use of the birthstool points to the method of childbirth in which the woman was sitting on two stones. It may also be the custom that the woman was supporting herself on two stones in a crouching position during childbirth.
When Pharaoh sees that his ‘wise’ strategy does not have the desired effect, he turns against the newborn boys. His cruelty and ruthlessness are now clearly visible. What is more defenseless, but also more endearing than a newborn baby? Anyone who offends against it is heartless. We see this today in the blatant abortions of God-given life.
The Pharaoh demands that midwives kill the boys shortly after birth. But God makes use of these women who fear Him: they let the boys live. The midwives slyly circumvent the command of Pharaoh. They are more obedient to God than men (Acts 5:29) and God blesses their conduct. He sees what they do for His people as done to Him.
There has been speculation about whether the women have been allowed to use a ‘lie of distress’. Such speculation is not necessary for anything. It is clearly stated that God does the midwives good. Such a case we also see with Rahab who hides the spies and lies to those who want to capture the spies. But God judges it as an act of faith: “By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace” (Heb 11:31; Jam 2:25). In general, it is easy to judge certain acts of believers in circumstances we do not know. Therefore, in such situations, we must be careful when pronouncing a conviction. It may be that we turn against God.
The Pharaoh’s command to kill all the boys is reminiscent of the child murder in Bethlehem by Herod (Mt 2:16). In the actions of Herod and of Pharaoh we see the actions of satan, the dragon: “And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child” (Rev 12:4b).
If Pharaoh does not reach the goal he wants by means of the midwives, he calls upon his whole people to help in the killing of newborn boys. That must be done by throwing them into the Nile. The Nile symbolizes the natural, earthly blessings. All blessing in Egypt it owes to the Nile.
If we apply this spiritually, we see here a very strong trick of satan to suffocate the spiritual life of those who have only recently come to faith and have therefore become part of the people of God, the church, in the earthly blessings.