Monday: “A History Lesson: Slavery in Egypt”
Homework: Read Exodus 1
Wednesday: “Shiphrah and Puah: Delivering the Deliverer”
Homework: Read Exodus 2: 1-10
Friday: “Jochebed: Show Me the Faith!”
Homework: Read Exodus 2: 11-25
I hope you came ready to think today! I should warn you, today’s kick off post is lengthy. In order to establish where we are in history and who was in power at the time, it’s going to take a bit of time and focus from all of us. Today’s first post seems a bit like a history lesson, but hang tight friends, we think we will see the fruit of trying to sort through some of these details if we can get through it! Please do not anticipate such length from each post throughout our Moses study. This study will be driven by the concept that this is a blog, and we do desire it to fit within such a format.
To jump straight into Exodus, without considering Genesis, would be a mistake. After all, Moses is considered the author who penned the inspired Word of God that constitutes these first 5 books of the Bible, and each of these books is connected and tells a story. So if we glance back at the ending of Genesis, we are able to better grasp where we are in history as we begin our journey in Exodus. As the curtain opens in our drama in Exodus 1:1, the Israelites are in Egypt. The book of Genesis teaches us that they had left Canaan due to a drought and famine in search of food. Through a series of miraculous circumstances orchestrated by God, one of their own (Joseph) is in the most prestigious position of power in Egypt under Pharaoh…and becomes their ordained rescuer. This chosen line of God is saved and Joseph’s father (Jacob) dies at an old age while in Egypt. At his own request, Jacob’s body is taken back up to Canaan for burial along side of Abraham and Jacob’s father, Isaac. Joseph and his brothers return to Egypt after burying their father, but little did they know that their people would not set eyes on their beloved Promise Land again for more than 400 years.
So now that we generally know where we are historically and geographically, let us consider what has become of the Israelites socially. As we read in Exodus 1, we quickly learn that the Israelites are no longer enjoying the benefits of having one of their own in political office. In fact, they are now enslaved by their host nation. Beginning in Exodus 1:8, we are introduced to several rulers who have come to power and begin a campaign of captivity against God’s chosen people. In an effort to better understand who these kings and pharaohs were, we did a little historical digging and here is what we learned: not much.
There seem to be two major schools of thought as to who the different kings and Pharaohs were that were involved in this chapter of Israelite history, and particularly Moses’ life. The first theory is known as the Late Date of the Exodus, which would have taken place in the 13thcentury BC and names Rameses II as the Pharaoh of the Exodus. The other school of thought would be considered the Early Dateof the Exodus. This theory suggests that the various kings and pharaohs mentioned in Exodus 1 stretch from 1730 BC to 1425 BC and makes Amenhothep II of the 18th Dynasty the Pharaoh of the Exodus.[i] Regardless of which theory is correct, this information helps us reach a few important conclusions as we read Exodus 1 and 2.
- The first ruler to oppress God’s people was “a new king who did not know about Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). This first ruler was dead long before Moses was born.
- Another Pharaoh later comes to power that orders the murder of all male babies born to the Israelites (Exodus 1:16). This is obviously who was in power when Moses was born.
- In Exodus 2:12 Moses kills an Egyptian and Pharaoh seeks to kill Moses (Exodus 2:15) throughout his 40 year stay in the wilderness. Was this the same one who ordered the deaths of the babies? It is possible, but cannot be proven definitively.
- Exodus 4:19 tells us that the king cited in Exodus 2:15 dies before Moses returns to Egypt. This would mean that the Pharaoh who refuses to let God’s people go is fairly new to the throne. Did they know each other from their childhood while Moses was being raised by the Princess? Again, debatable. However, there is one fact we can safely assume. Moses may not have known who this man was, but this reigning Pharaoh was very familiar with Moses. He had been on his dead daddy’s top ten most wanted list for 40 years.
So what does all of this mean to us? We hope it is information that will help us better understand the setting in Egypt in which Moses will eventually return. But before we find ourselves standing with Moses before the throne of a pagan king, let’s grasp the gravity of 400 years of captivity.
Webster’s defines captivity as “the state of being kept in a place (such as a prison or a cage) and not being able to leave or be free; the state or condition of being captive”.[ii] It’s a dark word, is it not? How did the Israelites go from being fruitful and multiplying (Exodus 1:7) to under the control of oppressive slave masters and in forced labor (Exodus 1:11)? There are some frightening clues surrounding these few verses that explain this demise into slavery. Additionally, several red flags surface that we can identify to keep us and others from a dangerous state of spiritual captivity.
The first is in Exodus 1:8 where we meet the “new king” of Egypt. We have already learned that no one really knows for sure who this man was; but we certainly know who he was not. He was not a follower of the God of Israel. Moses’ statement that this new king did not know Joseph implies that the era when God used Joseph to rescue the Egyptian nation from famine was ancient history. Forgotten. Buried in a tomb somewhere. How did that happen? How many generations did it take for Egyptian parents to stop telling Egyptian children about the foreign man who was given wisdom by the all-powerful, one true God who kept their ancestors from starving? There is much evidence to suggest that this “new king” was in fact from a different invading nation. But even considering this possibility, why didn’t the Egyptians protect the people representing the God who once protected them? We won’t know all of these answers this side of heaven, but there is one truth we can apply to our lives today. WE CANNOT FORGET. Just like the Israelites, we live in a culture where many do not know the Lord. We too are surrounded by idols of every kind. Relationships, lifestyles, and addictions are waiting to rule over us the same way the slave masters ruled over God’s people thousands of years ago. And what about our children? We know you join us in the struggle to protect them against the countless temptations that will lead them into their own personal prisons. The possible poisons are endless, but we have the antidote for each: knowledge of the true King! For us that means fighting for that time to spend with Jesus in His Word and in prayer. It means putting people in our life to help us grow spiritually and hold us accountable. And it means teaching our children what the Lord has done for us, lest we forget.
The second clue to the Israelites captive condition is found in Exodus 1:12. The NIV reads “But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.” The King James states the same verse “they were grieved because of the children of Israel.” The original Hebrew word used here is quts. According to the Lexical Aids to the Old Testament, this word has several meanings. One definition however is listed with reference to this particular verse in Exodus. You won’t be surprised to know that in addition to “grieved” and “dread,” the word quts also means “to fear; to terrify, to put a city in fear”.[iii] It is hard to imagine what the Egyptians were afraid of, but like so many other misled nations- they were just plain scared. The Israelites were a bunch of shepherds who had already been enslaved for years at this point; how threatening could they have been? But fear is often the key that locks the handcuffs of slavery around wrists. The Egyptians oppressed the Israelites because they feared their growing population and ultimately they would become a threat to their power.
For most of us in this country (certainly most everyone reading this blog) captivity is not going to mean physical captivity, but fear can land us in a spiritual bondage just as debilitating. But when the fear actually originates from within us, it really is evidence of lack of faith, is it not? We know this because we are professionals at doubting. When we fall victim to the fears of all of the many (usually crazy) ways our lives could fall apart at any time, we doubt the promise of God that He is in control, and regardless of our circumstances, loves us and intends to glorify Himself through our complete reliance on Him. Are you as guilty of this as we are? If it weren’t for Jesus telling us through scripture that our children are constantly under His perfect care, our fears would keep them locked away in their rooms until they were 35. We have to constantly guard against the temptation to make decisions based on fear rather than on faith, as we can become the slaves or the slave masters in a minute.
You have endured a lot more world history than you ever cared to know, I’m sure. Thanks for sticking it out! We trust that by His Grace, if we can recognize the captivity of the Israelites in the beginning of this book, we will triumph with Moses in the end. Our journey is going to be a long one, so let’s get started! Bondage in Egypt is not what God has in store for His children. Isaiah 61:1 is going to become very familiar to us throughout our study of Moses. The verse foreshadows Christ by saying, “The spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom to the captives, and release from darkness the prisoners”. Jesus himself would speak and claim these exact words many years later in His ministry, as He lived out this very prophecy. So let you and I today consider: is there something that is holding us captive, something keeping us from our Promise Land of today? If where you find yourself is in bondage, know that scripture promises that there is a better place. There is a land flowing with milk and honey, and we are getting hungry for a mighty deliverance from captivity! How about you? The One that created this Promised Land for you, is offering you a personal escort this very day. Take His hand friend.
Amy and Mary
Your homework: Read Exodus 1. See you on Wednesday!
[i] Walter C Kaiser, Jr. A History of Israel. Broadman & Holman Publishers. Nashville, Tennessee. 1998. pp. 79-91
[iii]Lexical Aids to the Old Testament as found in the Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (KJV). By AMG Publishers International, Inc. Chattanooga, TN. Copyright 1984, Revised Edition 1991.