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35 - From Pasture to Brickyard (Exodus 1:1–21)

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Exodus 1:1–21

We arrive today at the book of Exodus, written by Moses under the guidance of the Holy Spirit nearly 3,500 years ago. But let me tell you, this book is filled with wisdom for today just as much as it was back then.

 

The title, Exodus, comes from a Greek word that gives us our English word exit—and that’s exactly what Exodus is about—it’s going to tell us about Israel’s exit from Egypt. Now Genesis told us how the Israelites got into Egypt; the book of Exodus tells us how they get out. This is the sequel to the book of Genesis—it tells us what happened next.

 

As the Exodus begins, we read in verse 7 that “the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.” In Genesis, Jacob moved to Egypt with around seventy members of his little family; but over the years this little family has grown into a vast nation of several million people. And that’s when the problem begins.

 

Look at verse 8:

 

Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them [literally, ‘let’s outsmart them’].” 

 

In other words, “We’d better do something to suppress them and keep them from ruling over us.” 

 

So, Pharaoh puts into motion what we will call Plan A, which forces the Israelites into slave labor. Verse 11 tells us they“set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens [literally, ‘with hard labor’). They built for Pharaoh storeage cities, Pithom and Raamses.” These ancient cities have been excavated, and archeologists have discovered large storage facilities, just like the Bible says. The archaeologist’s shovel just keeps on affirming the record of Scripture. 

 

One mural was excavated that showed laborers making bricks. That’s exactly what verse 14 describes here. The taskmasters “made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick.”

 

So, Plan A was to work these Israelites so hard that the last thing they would want to do is bring more children into the world. But it doesn’t work. Verse 12 says, “The more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad.”

 

Several years later, another pharaoh comes along and implements Plan B: 

 

The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah, and the other Puah. “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” (verses 15-16)

 

We’re not absolutely certain what the name of this pharaoh was, though we’re pretty sure it was Thutmose I. But we do know the names of these two women, which have gone down in history. Shiphrah means “beautiful,” and Puah means “splendid”—and they certainly were. 

 

So, what exactly did Miss Beautiful and Miss Splendid do here? Verse 17 says, “But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.”

 

This isn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last time, that Satan tries to eliminate the people of Israel and nullify God’s covenant of a promised land and a promised Messiah. But Satan fails every single time, and he’s going to fail here in Egypt.

 

This phrase here—“let the male children live”—is a strong expression that literally means the midwives redoubled their efforts to keep these babies alive. Eventually the news gets back to Pharaoh that baby clothes for boys are flying off the shelves, and he wants an explanation. 

 

He calls in the midwives and asks why they have let the male children live. And in verse 19 the midwives tell him, “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” In other words, they are saying, “Hebrew mothers are so physically strong that their baby boys are born before we can pedal our bicycles over to help.”

 

It’s true that the Hebrew women were involved in manual labor and stronger than the pampered Egyptian women of the day. But the other part of their answer surely isn’t true. So, what they are telling is a half-truth, and a half-truth is a whole lie.

 

The Bible doesn’t commend their lie, and it never suggests that we lie to stay out of hot water. In fact, had they told the truth, God could have supernaturally protected them in some manner.

 

But what we do know is that these women courageously defied the command of Pharaoh. Plan B isn’t working either.

 

So, Pharaoh institutes Plan C. Now there’s no hiding his intentions. He just comes out in the open and calls for genocide: 

 

Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.” (verse 22)

 

He wants his people to spy on the Israelites and literally throw baby boys into the Nile River. 

 

By the way, one of the chief gods of Egypt was the Nile River. It was infested with crocodiles, and the Egyptians believed these crocodiles were the servants of the Nile god. So, Pharaoh is essentially turning murder into a religious act: “Let’s offer their children to our god as a sacrifice.” 

 

Keep in mind that this command, while probably not widely and consistently carried out by the Egyptian people, will continue for the next eighty years, until the people follow Moses out of the land of Egypt. In the meantime, Israel must have been wondering, “Where is God? Doesn’t God see what’s happening? Does God even care?”

 

Yes, God sees—and He has a plan. There’s a newborn by the name of Moses who will lead the people to freedom. 

 

Even when God seems absent, He is active. Even when He seems distant—as perhaps He does in your life right now—God is always present. Even when the world has its plans, God has His plans.

 

Later, over in Exodus 3:7, God says to Moses, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people . . . and have heard their cry . . . I know their sufferings.”

 

I read recently about a little boy in the grocery store with his daddy. He was carrying one of those grocery baskets, and as he walked down the aisle, his daddy would take an item off the shelf and put it in his basket. As his basket began to fill up, one of the customers felt sympathetic and said to him, “Isn’t your basket getting kind of heavy for you, son?” The little boy looked up and said, “Oh, don’t worry. My daddy knows how much I can carry.” 

 

And so does your Heavenly Father. He knows where you are right now; He knows how heavy the burden is that you’re carrying. He has strength for you today and plans for you today—and tomorrow.

 

 

Pharaohs of Exodus

  • Thutmose I (1525–1512 BC) practiced genocide on Hebrew male babies (Exodus 1:15-22).
  • Hatshepsut (1503–1482 BC) was the daughter of Pharaoh Thutmose I who drew Moses out of the Nile and later ruled as Queen (Exodus 2:5).
  • Thutmose III (1504–1450 BC) was the pharaoh of the oppression who tried to kill Moses and from whom Moses fled into Midian (Exodus 2:15).
  • Amenhotep II (1450–1425 BC) was the pharaoh of the plagues and the Exodus (Exodus 3:10—15:19)