At first glance, Exodus may not excite you. I remember thinking at one time how difficult some Old Testament books, such as Exodus, were to study and I even found it confusing in parts, too. Why were there so many rules? Why so much fighting and war? In 2010, I studied the book of Exodus. My bestie, Alisha, recommended a commentary to me (Gleanings in Exodus by Arthur Pink) and I went and bought it. Day after day I sat down and studied each chapter; it was the first time I had personally studied a book verse by verse without using a pre-written Bible study. During my study of the book of Exodus, the Lord stirred in me a deep desire for His Word and it actually made sense!
As we begin this voyage of studying Exodus, my prayer is that it will come alive to you just as it did to me. This book has sentimental meaning to me because of the wonderful connection and relationship I built with the Lord throughout the study. My desire is that you will experience an even greater measure of Him than I did as you study this book and also that you will understand the beauty of His grace and the reasoning behind all the suffering, bondage, laws, and wars the Israelites fought. You are about to see how what was physical in the Old Testament has spiritual meaning and application for New Testament believers. Blessings on you as the Lord brings you out of Egypt and into His promised land!
Now these are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt; each man and his household came with Jacob: 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah; 3 Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin; 4 Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. 5 All those who were descendants of Jacob were seventy persons (for Joseph was in Egypt already). 6 And Joseph died, all his brothers, and all that generation. 7 But the children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly, multiplied and grew exceedingly mighty; and the land was filled with them.
Not all books of the Bible flow as this, but Exodus 1 picks up where Genesis 50 left off. The end of Genesis 50 is about the death of Joseph and the beginning Exodus 1 strums that same chord. For those of you who enjoy the “buts” of the Bible (“but God…”), I hope you develop an equally passionate love for another common conjunction – “and.” We’ll see it quite a bit throughout Exodus. In the Hebrew text, the book of Exodus begins with the word “and,” for God was carrying on the story he began in Genesis (Wiersbe). When I noticed this connection it made me think about how God is continual. He’s constantly linking the lives of believers together. As children of God, we’re not each a separate “book” – we are all interconnected in some aspect and our individual life stories all roll up into His master plan of redemption. Pretty cool.
When verse seven says “…the children of Israel were fruitful” that was no understatement. Over the course of about 400 years, the 12 tribes (or 12 sons) of Israel (aka: Jacob) multiplied to about two million. The Lord wasn’t kidding when He told Abraham his descendants would be as numerous as the sands!
8 Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9 And he said to his people, “Look, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we; 10 come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and it happen, in the event of war, that they also join our enemies and fight against us, and so go up out of the land.” 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh supply cities, Pithom and Raamses. 12 But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were in dread of the children of Israel. 13 So the Egyptians made the children of Israel serve with rigor. 14 And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage—in mortar, in brick, and in all manner of service in the field. All their service in which they made them serve was with rigor.
This was the beginning of the Israelite slavery. Out of fear of revolt, the king oppressed the people in order to keep them “under control.” I love how it says, “…the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew.” That is how God’s kingdom works! It’s why Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 that we are “hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck-down, but not destroyed…” Even when life beats us with its stick, God desires that we multiply (spiritually speaking) and grow!
Many of the Israelites were probably thinking, “What have we done to deserve this? Why is God allowing us to be treated like animals?” Even when negative things occur, we can always trust that God is working it out for good (Romans 8:28). Egypt, in the Old Testament, was a place of bondage and heartache. All of us have experienced bondage. Just like the Israelites experienced an oppressing power over them, we can experience the same thing. It’s that habitual sin we can’t shake, those lies we chose to believe about ourselves or others, the inability to manage finances properly, and that busy schedule of ours which distracts us. There are countless forms of bondage and we’ve all been enslaved at some point. Praise God that the story doesn’t end here! God allowed the Israelites to suffer for a time so that He could: 1) make them tough; and 2) make the deliverance process all the sweeter! And oftentimes, that’s His purpose in allowing challenges and hard times in our life, too.
15 Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, of whom the name of one was Shiphrah and the name of the other Puah; 16 and he said, “When you do the duties of a midwife for the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstools, if it is a son, then you shall kill him; 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 commanded them, but saved the male children alive. 18 So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this thing, and saved the male children alive?”
Obedience to God should always take precedence over obedience to man. Yes, Shiprah and Puah disobeyed the king; however, they were being faithful to God. We are called to be submissive to those over us (1 Peter 2:13), but we are never called to submit to sin. These two women knew that their lives were at stake by disobeying the king; yet they chose life anyways.
19 And the midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are lively and give birth before the midwives come to them.”
20 Therefore God dealt well with the midwives, and the people multiplied and grew very mighty. 21 And so it was, because the midwives feared God, that He provided households for them.
If you fear that the midwives lied to the king about the Hebrew women giving birth, I love how Wiersbe puts it: "Were the midwives lying to Pharaoh? Probably not. The babies were born before the midwives arrived because Shiphrah and Puah had told their assistants to be late!" Sometimes, it does pay to be late!
Note that the reward for Shiphrah and Puah's obedience was more children! Psalm 127:3 tells us that "children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward." This doesn't mean that everyone is to marry and have children, but everyone is called to value, teach, and prepare the next generation. Don't miss your calling!
22 So Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying, “Every son who is born you shall cast into the river, and every daughter you shall save alive.”
Pharaoh had to come up with a "Plan B" since the midwife trick didn't work. His next extreme measure was to throw all sons in the Nile River. One thing I want to challenge you on as you read Exodus (especially these first several chapters which are more familiar) is to not allow it to be a Sunday school story. Think for a moment about what the Nile River looked like during this time. If Pharaoh's "police" were tossing the baby boys in the river, I'm sure that was an excoriating site to see even if it wasn't your child. The bodies of babes floating lifelessly down the river; washing up on the riverside, bloated and unrecognizable. I'm not writing this to make you sick - I'm writing this to make you think.
I remember when I was a youngster, Nintendo was the big thing. I had this Nintendo game where the objective was to rescue baby Moses and get him in his basket and safely to the Nile River to be rescued by the princess. It was fun and cute, but as I study the book of Exodus now, I must resist the urge to just read it and view it like it's a game or a fun story on a felt board that I was told when I was younger. "Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regards to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults" (1 Corinthians 14:20).
Exodus is where we begin to see God's deliverance take place. The pain, heartache, and hideous acts the Israelites were subjected to were very real. Allow this study to be real in your heart, too. May God stretch us to see the story as it truly was; to feel not only the pain the Israelites felt, but to fully experience the deliverance they were about to know. Amen.