If I am correct that the main point of Exodus is to ask, and then answer, the question, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice?” (Ex 5:2)—we should expect chapter 1 to somehow set up this main idea. And in fact, it does so, by establishing the characters and creating the conditions under which the question must be posed.
Observation of Exodus 1
Of course, there are many, many observations to be made. For the sake of space, my list will have to be selective. But in these sample Bible studies, I plan to mention what appears to be most important.
Significant repeated words in ESV: Egypt (7 times), Israel (7x), people (7x), all (6x), midwives (6x), live/lives (5x), Hebrews (4x), multiply (4x), sons (3x).
- This passage has much to say about the “people” and their experience in Egypt.
- And the “people” are closely connected to the “sons.” They are called “sons of Israel” in Ex 1:1, but “people of Israel” in Ex 1:7 (though a quick look at an original language reference tool will reveal that the identical Hebrew phrase is used in both verses).
- The passage ends with multiple attacks on the “sons” of Israel. God blesses the midwives with “families,” which presumably include sons.
- In addition, the thread of “multiplication” carries through every paragraph.
Names and titles:
- The most repeated words (see above) are specific names of the two primary nations.
- The opening line highlights the names of characters: “These are the names of the sons of Israel…”
- The narrator goes out of his way to name the two Hebrew midwives in Ex 1:15 – Shiphrah and Puah.
- But he never bothers to name the hostile king. He’s referred to only as “king of Egypt” (4x) or “Pharaoh” (3x).
- Paragraph 1 (Ex 1:1-7): Joseph, his brothers, and all his generation died in Egypt. But death could not prevent them from multiplying.
- The language of these verses remind us of Genesis (sons of Israel, 70 persons, generation), especially Genesis 1: fruitful, increased greatly, multiplied, land was filled with them.
- Paragraph 2 (Ex 1:8-10): A new king over Egypt wants to deal shrewdly in order to prevent further multiplication, and to keep the people of Israel in one place.
- The language of these verses remind us of the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9): unnamed figures hostile to God, “come, let us,” prevent multiplication and scattering.
- Paragraph 3 (Ex 1:11-14): Shrewd dealing #1: Afflict them with heavy burdens. But they keep multiplying (Ex 1:12).
- Paragraph 4 (Ex 1:15-21): Shrewd dealing #2: Murder the sons. But they keep multiplying (Ex 1:20), and the midwives get families (Ex 1:21).
- Paragraph 5 (Ex 1:22): Shrewd dealing #3: Drown the sons.
- This final dealing leaves us with a lingering question: Will they keep multiplying?
Interpretation of Exodus 1
A few possible questions:
- Why are the names such an important part of the chapter?
- Why does it matter so much that the sons of Israel keep multiplying?
- Why does the king of Egypt want to prevent them from multiplying?
- Are the midwives lying to Pharaoh, and is it okay for us to lie to evil dictators?
- Will the king of Egypt succeed in his shrewd dealing?
- So what should God’s people expect as they live in God’s world and trust in God’s promises to the saints of old?
Answers (numbers correspond to the preceding questions):
- The new king of Egypt didn’t know Joseph (Ex 1:8). If we read Genesis—and this chapter seriously suggests we should read Genesis to understand what’s going on here—we can know Joseph. And God knows Joseph. And his father Jacob, and Isaac, Abraham, Noah, and Adam. God knows, and God remembers. But the king of Egypt? He’s nobody. He’s a no-name. We can’t remember him (scholars still debate over which Pharaoh this was). He can’t take God’s place or stand in God’s way.
- God’s people will complete God’s original mission to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it (Gen 1:28). If death can’t stop them (Ex 1:1-7), a devilish king of Egypt certainly won’t have any better success (Ex 1:8-22).
- Ex 1:8-10 portray him like one of the Babelites from Gen 11:1-9. He wants to take God’s place. He wants to have power over life and death, creation and recreation, justice and injustice. He wants the knowledge of good and evil (the authority to make his own decisions). He will work against God’s stated purposes, and keep these people in his land, in so far as it suits him if war breaks out.
- I have an opinion here. But, honestly, the question is so far removed from the author’s intention that it’s not worth as much time as we usually spend on it. Suffice it to say that one who deals shrewdly against God’s purposes will have shrewd dealings done against him. Such divine irony carries through the book of Exodus.
- You’ll have to keep reading Exodus, but (SPOILER ALERT) no. Pharaoh’s 3 shrewd dealings turn against him, as the Lord afflicts him with heavy burdens (Ex 7-10), murders his sons (Ex 11-13), and drowns his sons (Ex 14-15).
- There exist forces hostile to God’s promises and plans. But they will not succeed. Death cannot win. And devils (such as Pharaoh) run rampant and must rise up against us. Only in the context of such hostility will we truly find out who the LORD is, and why we should obey his voice!
Train of thought:
- We pick up right where Genesis left off. Everyone dies, but God’s plans for fruitful multiplication prevail.
- A new devil arises to claim God’s place.
- He makes 3 attempts to bring an end to God’s plans for fruitful multiplication.
- We’re waiting to discover what follows the decree to drown the sons
Main Point: The sons of God have many enemies, but none can prevent God’s promises from being fulfilled.
Connection to Christ: The Son of God himself had many enemies. None could prevent him from winning many brothers. If they had known what they were doing, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Cor 2:8). Their own tactics (persecution and murder) have turned against them to bring about the Lord’s greatest triumph.
Application of Exodus 1
Here is my application. You’re a different person in a different context, so you may have to come up with your own. And if yours look very different from mine, that’s okay!
Inward: When I face trials of many kinds, do I allow them to shake my confidence in the Lord?
- Head: Don’t be surprised when hostile forces (the world, the flesh, or the devil) work against my attempts to honor the Lord. Expect this to happen.
- Heart: Fear the Lord God more than I fear any this-worldly powers.
- Hands: Memorize Scripture, remind myself of the truth, and keep living the Christian life. Don’t stop doing what I know to do as a Christian, just because it becomes hard to do them.
Outward: When others face trials of many kinds, encourage them not to lose confidence in the Lord.
- Head: Encourage my children and others I disciple to expect many trials. Help them learn to interpret these trials as having no power against God’s promises.
- Heart: Train others to fear the Lord more than they fear this-worldly powers.
- Hands: Keep preaching the gospel and making more disciples. It’s worth it to fight for traditional marriage, religious freedom, and the uniqueness of Christ. Political nations will rise and fall, but none can stop the gospel’s advance to all tribes and peoples
Click here to see what I’m doing with this sample Bible study and why I’m doing it.