Sermon: The Hard Blessing In Egypt

Exodus 1:1-22

20130828FBCQC & 20130905FBCTH

 

1 Now these are the names of the children of Israel, which came into Egypt; every man and his household came with Jacob. 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, 3 Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, 4 Dan, and Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. 5 And all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls: for Joseph was in Egypt already. 6 And Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation. 7 And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them. 

 

8 Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. 9 And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: 10 Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land. 11 Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses. 12 But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel. 13 And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour: 14 And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in morter, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field: all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour. 

 

15 And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah: 16 And he said, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him: but if it be a daughter, then she shall live. 17 But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive. 18 And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men children alive? 19 And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them. 20 Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty. 21 And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them houses. 22 And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive. 

 

I. GOD’S PROMISE TO ABRAHAM KEPT

 

Exodus 1:1 NOW these are the names of the children of Israel, which came into Egypt; every man and his household came with Jacob. 

Exodus 1:2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, 

Exodus 1:3 Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, 

Exodus 1:4 Dan, and Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. 

Exodus 1:5 And all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls: for Joseph was in Egypt already. 

Exodus 1:6 And Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation. 

 

Exodus begins in what we would think the most boring way possible: listing a bunch of names. But when God had Moses write this book, he definitely had a reason for starting with a list of names.

 

A. Exodus Is A Sequel To Genesis

 

One reason is that Exodus is the sequel to the book of Genesis. Sometimes a television show that you watch will begin by saying, “Last time on [Whatever show you are watching]” and then give you a jumble of scenes from the last episode or even several episodes. If you haven’t seen the show before, it’s confusing; but if you’ve have seen it, it’s a useful reminder.

 

That’s one thing that’s going on here. Moses is reminding the reader that Genesis ended with the Jacob’s family forming the beginnings of what would be the nation of Israel.

 

It also tells us that Jacob and his family were in Egypt and mentions Joseph as the key figure in making that happen. So the scene is set for us.


 

B. God Blessed Israel With Population

 

But another reason that God had Moses begin with this list of names is to remind us that he is faithful to keep his promises. God had promised to Abraham that he would have descendants:

 

2 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: (Genesis 12:2)

 

Now, at the beginning of the book of Exodus, we see that God had kept his promise. Jacob, who was Abraham’s grandson, had a family of 70 people at the end of Genesis (which is all the more amazing because Abraham and Sarah only had one son together, Isaac, and that was only in their old age. Isaac had only two sons).

 

Side note: Acts 7:14 mentions that the number was 75 (the number comes from the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint). There’s a number of ways to resolve this problem, one is noting that the Septuagint doesn’t list Jacob and Joseph’s names, but includes Joseph’s seven grandchildren.

 

This is amazing. At the time that Moses wrote Exodus, scholars estimate that Israel had something like two million people. In four centuries, they grew from 70 to a couple million! 

 

Exodus 1:7 And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them.

 

The Hebrew literally reads, “As for the Israelites, they grew, they were fruitful, they swarmed, they increased, they got powerful more and more, and the land was filled with them” (Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, vol. 2, The New American Commentary [Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006], 61.). Sounds like grasshoppers! I am sure many of the Egyptians felt like that was the case.

 

What’s more amazing is that happened against all odds. Not only did they live in a time when most infants would have died because of the dangers of childbirth,, they also found themselves in a land where the government wanted to wipe them all out.

 

II. EGYPT’S ANTI-ISRAEL SOLUTION

 

A. The Fear Of The Egyptians

 

Exodus 1:8 Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. 

Exodus 1:9 And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: 

Exodus 1:10 Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land. 

 

1. Is This A Myth?

 

We aren’t sure which Pharaoh this “new king over Egypt” was (scholars have put forth several guesses). One reason for the difficulty in identifying him is that there are no Egyptian record of the Israelites (although there are some vague references that might point to the Israelites). 

 

Some people use this to claim that the story is just a myth, but when you consider that the Egyptians hated the Israelites and it would have been quite embarrassing to remember what had happened to Egypt at the hands of the Lord, it’s no wonder that they didn’t leave any records of Israel being in the land. 

 

Remember also that most people were illiterate, and only those in power or controlled by the powers that be, were educated. So you wouldn’t find Aunt Sally’s diary about how she used to have Israelite neighbors and one day they all left and crossed the Red Sea on dry ground!

 

2. Foreigners Often Hated

 

What is important here is that this new Pharaoh did “knew not Joseph.” He only saw that these Israelites were growing in number. In any nation, the increase of foreigners makes the natives nervous. In every nation, there is often a bias against those who are new to the land, or who remain different from everyone else.

 

In Egypt, this bias turned into a fear that the Israelites would “join also unto our enemies, and fight against us.” Pharaoh, using this fear, would create a national policy to put an end to the Israelites.

 

B. The First Solution: Enslavement

 

1. Enslavement As A Means Of Elimination

 

Exodus 1:11 Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses. 

 

The first step was to enslave them. For years, the Israelites had lived in northern Egypt, in the land of Goshen. They had been free citizens who were shepherds and farmers. Life was good. The Lord had blessed them with one baby boom after another.

 

Suddenly, that was all taken away. The men especially were forced into slave labor. Egypt’s great pyramids and other monuments did not come from contractors and hired workforces. 

 

In many ways the enslavement was meant to be a long-term extermination of the Israelites. The labor was hard and dangerous, many would have died in accidents or overwork. Families would have been separated when the men were sent off to work on the “treasure cities,” giving fewer opportunities to conceive children and keeping the fathers out of the home so as to make raising good children harder. It’s also harder to run a farm and raise food when you are away doing slave labor, so eventually the amount and quality of food would suffer.

 

Now granted, those are just ideas based on what we can surmise about slave labor in the ancient world. But it’s clear that Pharaoh wanted them eliminated or at least reduced in population. Was that the result?

 

2. Enslavement As A Means Of Blessing

 

Exodus 1:12 But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel. 

 

Instead of the Israelite population being reduced, the exact opposite happened, “they multiplied and grew.” Obviously God was involved and blessing the Israelites. How he did, we don’t know. Perhaps he allowed more infants to survive the rigors of ancient childbirth and infancy. Perhaps he kept the Israelite workers healthy and safe.

 

What we do learn is that trials do not mean that God is not with us. He can still bless us in the midst of trials and, in fact, the trials themselves could be a blessing.

 

2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. 4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. (James 1:2–4)

 

Trials can teach us to have a stronger faith in God through the trials, so much so that we consider it to be a good thing when we enter trials because we know that we’re going to grow.

 

Did the Egyptians give up? Did they see that God was on the side of the Israelites?

 

Exodus 1:13 And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour: 

Exodus 1:14 And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in morter, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field: all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour. 

 

Far from giving up, the Egyptians made the work even harder. Life is not necessarily easy when God is on your side. 

 

An old saying is that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” One country where that has been proved to be very true is China. Samuel Lamb was one of the prominent pastors of the house-church movement in China (he died August, 2013 at the age of 88). 

 

Pastor Lamb spent twenty-two of his eighty-eight years in prison doing forced labor for his faith in Christ. Lamb was famous for a phrase he repeated, “more persecution, more growth.” Indeed, the church in China has skyrocketed—from a few million in the 1950’s, when it became illegal, to over eighty million today (http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2013/august/died-samuel-lamb-china-house-church-pastor.html).

 

For us personally, the lesson is that we mustn’t think that a trial means that we aren’t being blessed by the Lord. It very well may be that the trial is an opportunity for more growth.

 

The good news for us as Christians is this: God kept his promise to Abraham to make him into a great nation even though there were many trials that nation had to go through.

 

Jesus also will keep his promise to you, no matter what you are going through. No trial will remove your salvation. No trial can take away the promise of a better place called Heaven.

 

38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38–39)

 

Once you receive Jesus as your Savior, he will be with you forever.

 

C. The Second Solution: Infant Extermination 

 

It appears that when the enslavement solution did not bring about the extermination of the Israelites or even a reduction in their population, the Pharaoh turned to another idea: eliminate the male infants.

 

1. Pharaoh Commands The Midwives

 

Exodus 1:15 And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah: 

Exodus 1:16 And he said, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him: but if it be a daughter, then she shall live. 

 

It might seem strange that the mighty Pharaoh had a conversation with two lowly Hebrew midwives, but there are a couple considerations here.

 

First, when you see that someone “spake to” another person, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they spoke in person, especially if the one is a king. It could just mean that he sent a messenger to them.

 

Second, it’s possible that he did speak in person as a means of impressing upon them the extreme importance of the matter. The personal presence of the great leader of Egypt would have had a psychological effect on the midwives. Fear and awe would “encourage” them to do their duty.

 

His command to them was to kill the male infants as so as they were born. This was probably to be done without the mother’s knowledge, to make it look as if the child died in childbirth. Otherwise, no mother would let the midwife close to her!

 

Were there only two midwives for the entire population of Israel, numbering a couple million? No, especially when you consider there would be no way for them to travel the distances fast enough. But the numbers of babies to attend would also be too great, as a midwife could only attend a few hundred births a year.

 

Rather, it’s possible that these two midwives were either the senior midwives or that this is one example of midwives being instructed by the Pharaoh or some government official. 

 

Why did the Pharaoh command them to kill just the baby boys? Would that not deprive the nation of a workforce? 

 

(1) I don’t think Pharaoh wanted a workforce; he wanted the Israelites eliminated. The slave labor was a means to that end.

 

(2) The men were the ones who fought in wars, so it would be like declawing a cat. Remember the concern was that the Israelites would fight against them (Exodus 1:11)

 

(3) The women were dependent on men in Bible times for survival, so eventually they would die out also.

 

2. The Midwives Disobey Pharaoh

 

Exodus 1:17 But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive. 

 

The “midwives feared God” not in the sense of being afraid of him, but being afraid of the consequences of disobeying him. This phrase tells us several things about them spiritually.

 

(1) They believed in God. They would not fear the consequences disobeying God if they didn’t believe in God.

 

(2) They believed in an afterlife. Disobeying Pharaoh (and being caught) would certainly cause their own deaths. So they must have had a hope in a life after this one. 

 

(3) They believed in a final judgment. They believed that it mattered what they did here on earth; that they would be judged for the actions they did during their lives.

 

We need also to remember that what we do now matters. It’s not just forgotten the next day. It’s not something that is only a secret in our own hearts.

 

13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. (1 Corinthians 3:13)

 

These ladies knew it was wrong to kill babies and were ready to risk their lives to avoid the sin of doing such a thing.

 

We live in a culture where it is possible that the government or the business that you work for will order you to do something that is wrong. Christian photographers have been told that they must photograph homosexual weddings or suffer the consequences, even though by doing so they are promoting and approving something unbiblical with their pictures (see http://radio.foxnews.com/toddstarnes/top-stories/nm-court-says-christian-photographers-must-compromise-beliefs.html/print/).

 

When that happens to you or me, will we think of these midwives? Will we think of Peter when he stood before the Jewish leaders who told him to be quiet about Jesus and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29)?

 

3. The Tactic Of The Midwives

 

Now let’s not take this to mean that we must run foolishly into disobeying an authority without giving thought to a plan or a tactic to do it in a shrewd way. Jesus said: 

 

16 Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. (Matthew 10:16)

 

What was the tactic of the midwives? Later, how much later we don’t know, the Pharaoh calls them in. He has noticed no decline in the male infant population, and demands an explanation from the midwives:

 

Exodus 1:18 And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men children alive? 

Exodus 1:19 And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them.

 

The big question here is always: did they lie and did God bless them for lying?

 

There’s no reason to say that they lied. They very well could have been telling the truth when they said “the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively.” 

 

This possibly could be referring to some cultural difference in how the women went through labor and childbirth. The Egyptian women may have been more dependent on midwives, while the Israelite women were more “lively” or independent.

 

It could also be how God was blessing the Israelites through this time, by providing easier labors for the women. This would certainly explain the population explosion of the Israelites. Easier labors would presumably mean fewer infant deaths at birth.

 

So part of the tactic of the midwives was to trust the Lord to work things out.

 

But we find that God blesses the midwives and gives them families of their own:

 

Exodus 1:20 Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty. 

Exodus 1:21 And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them houses. 

 

Now, the implication is that they did more than simply letting the Lord make the births go faster. Otherwise, why would the Lord bless them for doing nothing? There was something they did, that if they got caught, would have put them in danger. There must have been a reason that had to place their faith in God.

 

What they might have done is made it a point to go slowly to the homes of women giving birth. What they might have done is told women that they shouldn’t call them until labor had progressed for a time—that they didn’t have time for false alarms, so make sure the baby is really coming before calling for them.

 

Whatever tactic they used, they knew it was better to obey God and fear the consequences of disobeying him than it was to commit sin and excuse themselves by saying that the government or the boss made me do it.

 

Pharaoh, finding nothing chargeable to execute them with, let them go and they found themselves blessed by God.

 

Pharaoh, on the other hand, escalated his war against the foreign Hebrew population:

 

4. The Public Ordered To Kill Infant Males

 

Exodus 1:22 And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive. 

 

By now, the Pharaoh must have felt comfortable that the public would condone the wholesale killing of Hebrew infant males. 

 

How could a nation allow the wholesale killing of infants? The same reason that our nation condones the wholesale killing of infants through abortion: pure selfishness.

 

The selfishness of the Egyptians was that they didn’t want foreigners (who had been around at least a couple hundred years by now) to live in their nation.

 

The selfishness of pro-choice Americans is that they don’t want children changing their lives because of the sexual sin that they want to be free to commit.

 

CONCLUSION

 

What we must remember is that God is a God of love and mercy and grace; he will forgive us when we repent. But God is also a God of justice to those who are unrepentant.

 

Some years later, the firstborn of the Egyptians would be wiped out in the tenth plague. But not only that, Pharaoh would attempt to have his army follow the Israelites across the Red Sea. What would happen?

 

27 And Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to his strength when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled against it; and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. 28 And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them. (Exodus 14:27–28)

 

Chapter one is a sad, hard chapter for the Israelites. But it is a reminder to us that when we face trials, God has not forgotten us, indeed, he may be blessing us through the trial, and he certainly will deliver justice to those who don’t repent and receive Jesus as their Savior.

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