The Hebrew title for this book, ‘Shemoth’ , means ‘names’ since Exodus begins where Genesis ends. Genesis 46 recalls the names of those who went into Egypt and closes with the death of Joseph, whilst Exodus 1 gives us the names of the children of Israel and references the death of Joseph, his brothers, and that generation. Exodus means ‘departure’, ‘exit’ or ‘going out’ and is highly descriptive of the Israelite exodus from Egypt.
For the past couple of hundred years, many university faculties offering theology courses have attempted to discredit Moses as being the sole author of the Torah through the documentary hypothesis. These so- called experts invariably gain an audience with the BBC and seldom provide a balanced argument. They claim multiple authors for one book based purely on conjecture and different ‘styles’ of writing contained within the same book as supposedly evidence of several author’s contributions. Students are taught to read the text and list apparent discrepancies. However the Bible affirms that Moses wrote the law (Deuteronomy 31:9) and Yeshua referred to Exodus as the book of Moses (Mark 12:26) and “Did not Moses give you the law (John 7:19)?”
The overriding theme of Exodus is redemption which involves deliverance from sin and paying a debt to purchase freedom. Redemption is a personal matter since we cannot save ourselves or pay the debt for our sin which enslaves us, nor can we rely on the faith of our family, Rabbi, mentor, or inspiration. The conduct and behaviour of Joseph’s brothers shows that the change needs to be from within though predicated by God.
The Increase of Israel
Genesis 12:2 tells us that Abraham’s descendants would become a great nation. It was remarkable that despite their great age, Abraham and Sarah produced a son and that 70 individuals would become a great nation four hundred years later amidst Egyptian oppression. Nonetheless, God had already given the prophecy in Genesis 15:12-16, hence this was history written in advance.
Exodus 1:8 draws our attention to a new king in Egypt who did not know Joseph. This is a paradigm shift in the Egyptian rulership and to understand the present we need to investigate the past. In Genesis 12, Abram went into Egypt during the famine. Although he was worried about being killed for them desiring to possess Sarah, they treated him well for her sake and in Genesis 26 the scenario is repeated with Isaac and Rebekah. Amazingly, Isaac sowed and reaped a hundred- fold (Genesis 26:12) and though Joseph initially had a rocky start in Egypt, he eventually became Prime Minister.
Previously, the Hyksos ruled. These were a mixed people, yet predominately north western Semites who looked on them favourably. ‘Shem’ means ‘name’ in Hebrew, ‘Shemoth’ means ‘names’ and they were partly Semite hence our terms Semitism and anti-Semitism. Exodus 1 is the initial and classic emergence of anti-Semitism by the Egyptian Pharaoh. Upper and Lower Egypt were now one kingdom and they saw the Israelites as a threat.
Pharaoh enslaved the children of Israel since he feared them joining other nations against Egypt. The ancient world was brutal and tactical, hence alliances were quickly made and just as easily broken, just like the realm of politics today. In order to survive, small nations would need to make pacts with other nations to avoid being subjugated by stronger powers. Ultimately Pharaoh’s actions are motivated by fear, and at times fear influences people to do terrible things. He was also concerned about Israel leaving the land (Exodus 1:10), although that was God’s plan all along.
Before we consider the spiritual application in Exodus 1:11-14, let us consider the archaeological debate about the pharaohs. Those favouring the late date say that Rameses II was the pharaoh of the oppression and reference Exodus 1:11 in support and deduce that the city Rameses, was then built in his honour. Nonetheless that is guesswork whereas the Bible confirms names, dates, and remarkable chronologies throughout.
I kings 6:1 helps us to clarify the date since the exodus occurred four hundred and eighty years before the fourth year of King Solomon’s reign which brings us to 1446BC. This means it is almost certain that either Tuthmosis III or Amenhotep II was the pharaoh of the exodus. Dr Nelson Glueck was a renowned Rabbi and archaeologist who famously stated that no archaeological discovery has ever contradicted the Bible. Is it a coincidence or actually a providence, that today there are reliefs and statues of Tuthmosis III found in such places as the British Museum, Petrie Museum and Cleopatra’s needle?
What is the spiritual application here? Taskmasters are like the sinful directors of our lives which we need to be freed from. We want to flee, escape, and destroy sin yet it afflicts us and makes our lives bitter. Sin entraps us and keeps us occupied. The lie is that sin is worth it, yet it has a bitter aftertaste. Egypt is a type of the world, Pharaoh a type of Satan and the taskmaster is like sin. The only way to be freed from sin is to be redeemed by the Saviour. That means coming out of the world since we cannot serve two masters. God and Satan are at enmity from ancient times.
The weight of sin is a load too heavy for us and one which we cannot bear and need to be freed from. But the Lord has paid the price when Yeshua made atonement for sin through His death and resurrection. He is our redemption and our only hope. Nowadays if you visit a zoo there are questions on boards enquiring which animal is the most dangerous? When you lift the flap you do not come face to face with a hippopotamus or mosquito, but you see your reflection in the mirror. Now of course we are not animals and are created in the image of God, but the point is this. One day we will all stand before a holy God and be judged, and our sin is a greater foe that the world (Egypt) and Satan (Pharaoh).
But where was God during the oppression of the Israelites? If we retrace our steps, we have seen God’s plan revealed from Genesis 15 and in the last section of this chapter there is even encouragement. If we consider Joseph’s story and his response to his brother’s in Genesis 50:20, we discover that God can use evil for good. Joseph could testify that what his brothers meant for evil, God meant it for good. Furthermore, many people were saved in the famine through Joseph’s actions.
Why did God allow Pharaoh to rise up and even harden his heart? “But indeed for this purpose have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth (Exodus 9:16).”
How do we make sense of the political map today? We must remember that the Lord is sovereign and knows the end from the beginning, establishes His work and both raises and pulls down nations. He is also providential. He has a divine plan and purpose, and we are somewhat limited in our comprehension. God intervenes not just with word leaders but humble individuals as we will see shortly.
What difference can I make in this world? If you fear God above men, you can make a big difference. Shiphrah and Puah were the two midwives who dared to outwit Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the world at that time. They feared God and the way to deal with the fear of anything is the fear of the Lord. They knew that and interestingly it is the first example of civil disobedience reminding us that when rulers are clearly contravening God’s laws, we ought to obey God and not man (c.f. Acts 5:29).
Israel’s Providential God
Pharaoh commanded the midwives to kill the baby boys. What was happening behind the scenes? In Genesis 3:15, we have the protoevangelium, the first promise of a Saviour who would be of the seed of the woman and who would crush the serpent. In Genesis 4 Cain killed Abel in an attempt to thwart that plan of redemption. In Genesis 49:10 we learn that the Messiah would come through Judah. In Exodus Chapter 1 Satan was attempting to eradicate the Hebrews and prevent Messiah from being born. Is it any surprise that King Herod did the same and had the Hebrew boys killed in Bethlehem in an attempt to prevent the Messiah from being born or to supposedly kill Him?
Where is the most dangerous place to live in this country? A mother’s womb, which should be the safest and most secure place to reside. Is it any surprise that those opposing abortion are sometimes loathed today? Nevertheless, we can write to our members of parliament and support the work of the Christian Institute and Christian Concern in this area.
Let us consider the wisdom of the Hebrew midwives and what they said, did not say and how they spoke. They could have said to Pharaoh, ‘Do you not fear God?’ though that would have been to little avail since Exodus 5:2 tells us that Pharaoh did not know God. A straight- forward explanation was given that Hebrew women were lively and delivered quickly. Some say that the midwives were ‘slow’ on arrival. The crucial point was that they feared God and were wise.
Sometimes believers are not always wise whilst dealing with authorities and can find themselves in unnecessary difficulties. There is little point condemning authorities to their face who do not hold a biblical worldview. More often, respect, tact and a wise answer goes a long way, and we can learn much from Shiphrah and Puah.
There is a wonderful outcome in the most trying of circumstances. God provided them with families, or in some versions, households despite Pharaoh’s command. Pharaoh means “Great House” and ironically, he tried to tear down their houses though the Lord built them up. The Psalmist reminds us that unless the Lord builds the house we labour in vain (Psalm 127:6). Moreover, it was as if a giant game of cosmic chess were in play and God used Shiphrah and Puah to outmanoeuvre Pharaoh.
If our lives could be compared with a train completing a circuit, then the Lord knows each and every stage of the journey of our lives, who we will meet, what will happen and when the train stops. Believers in the Lord Jesus are on a journey to the Promised Land which is a type of heaven to come.
Then, the world, the desires of the flesh will not plague us and there will be no more sin and no more taskmasters. The journey may be rough, and we might suffer affliction, but for those who know the Lord, the outcome is certain. The One who led the Israelites with a pillar of cloud and fire will go with us and before us. We will then be finally free and enjoy the unspoilt company of our Lord and Redeemer.