Exodus chapter one unites the events of Genesis and the story of God’s redemption in history. It is a reminder that the story is continuing and that the promises of salvation from Genesis are now worked out in the events that follow. This chapter of Exodus introduces us to the storyline of the book and sets the context for us by explaining the situation of God’s people. They needed rescuing, and their situation seemed hopeless. God would bring his power and grace to provide them with a way out. The chapter is connected with what precedes using the names of Jacob’s children, the number of Jacob’s descendants who went down into Egypt, and the death of Joseph. Joseph’s brothers had also died in Egypt and for some time after Joseph’s death the Israelites had increased in accordance with God’s promise to Abraham.

A new Egyptian regime inaugurated a new policy toward the Israelites. These kings were especially sensitive to the possibility that a foreign adversary might attempt to push into Egypt. Their fear was that the Israelites might assist potential invaders. The persecution consistently intensified. Exodus portrays the struggle between a Pharaoh, who would attempt to destroy God’s people and the heavenly King, who would preserve them. In spite of every Egyptian effort to thwart them, the Israelites continued to increase. The miraculous growth of Israel was God’s countermeasure in support of his people. 

Taskmasters were appointed to supervise forced labor. The Israelites were required to build the store cities of Pithom and Raamses. Despite the rigorous labor, the Israelites continued to multiply. As the persecution of the forced labor intensified, the Egyptians worked the Israelites ruthlessly. Not only were they engaged in hard labor in bricks and mortar, but also in the fields. Josephus indicates that they were also forced to dig canals and work on irrigation projects. 

The Egyptians even resorted to population control. Two Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah, and Puah were ordered by Pharaoh to kill all male infants at the birth stools. The birth stools were nothing more than two stones over which the women would crouch at the time of birth. These two women could not bring themselves to commit infanticide, and when Pharaoh called them to account, they excused themselves by pointing to the vigor of the Hebrew women in childbirth. They protested that the children were already delivered by the time they arrived. Perhaps there was some truth in what the midwives said, but certainly it was not the whole truth. God blesses these two courageous midwives with families of their own, and the Israelites continued to increase in Egypt. Finally the persecution becomes so severe that Pharaoh gave the order to throw Israelite male infants into the river, and the Israelites themselves were subject to this order, and no doubt they were under a death sentence if they did not carry it out. 

Thing To Consider:

  • Why do you think God allowed his people to become slaves to Pharaoh? 
  • Why do you think he allows difficult situations into the lives of those whom he loves?  
  • How did God's people thrive under persecution?  
  • What does the incident with the midwives have to say to us about current debates over abortion?