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I. Introduction: The Oppression of the Israelites in Egypt

Chapter 1

Jacob’s Descendants in Egypt. These are the names of the sons of Israel[a] who, accompanied by their households, entered into Egypt with Jacob: [b]Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah; Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; Dan and Naphtali; Gad and Asher. The total number of Jacob’s direct descendants[c] was seventy.(A) Joseph was already in Egypt.

Now Joseph and all his brothers and that whole generation died.(B) But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific. They multiplied and became so very numerous that the land was filled with them.[d]

The Oppression. (C)Then a new king, who knew nothing of Joseph,[e] rose to power in Egypt. He said to his people, “See! The Israelite people have multiplied and become more numerous than we are! 10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them to stop their increase;[f] otherwise, in time of war they too may join our enemies to fight against us, and so leave the land.”

11 Accordingly, they set supervisors over the Israelites to oppress them with forced labor.(D) Thus they had to build for Pharaoh[g] the garrison cities of Pithom and Raamses. 12 Yet the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians began to loathe the Israelites. 13 So the Egyptians reduced the Israelites to cruel slavery, 14 making life bitter for them with hard labor, at mortar[h] and brick and all kinds of field work—cruelly oppressed in all their labor.

Command to the Midwives. 15 The king of Egypt told the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was called Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16 “When you act as midwives for the Hebrew women, look on the birthstool:[i] if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she may live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt had ordered them, but let the boys live. 18 So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this, allowing the boys to live?” 19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women. They are robust and give birth before the midwife arrives.” 20 Therefore God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and grew very numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, God built up families for them. 22 Pharaoh then commanded all his people, “Throw into the Nile every boy that is born,(E) but you may let all the girls live.”

Footnotes

  1. 1:1 Sons of Israel: here literally the first-generation sons of Jacob/Israel. Cf. v. 5. However, beginning with v. 7 the same Hebrew phrase refers to Jacob’s more remote descendants; hence, from there on, it is ordinarily rendered “the Israelites.” Households: the family in its fullest sense, including wives, children and servants.
  2. 1:2 Jacob’s sons are listed here according to their respective mothers. Cf. Gn 29:31; 30:20; 35:16–26.
  3. 1:5 Direct descendants: lit., “persons coming from Jacob’s loins”; hence, wives of Jacob’s sons and servants are not included. Cf. Gn 46:26. Seventy: Gn 46:26, along with the Septuagint for the verse, agrees on a total of sixty-six coming down to Egypt with Jacob, but in v. 27 the Hebrew text adds the two sons born to Joseph in Egypt and presupposes Jacob himself and Joseph for a total of seventy; the Septuagint adds “nine sons” born to Joseph to get a total of seventy-five. This is the figure the Septuagint and 4QExa have here in Ex 1:5.
  4. 1:7 Fruitful…multiplied…the land was filled with them: the language used here to indicate the fecundity of the Israelite population echoes the divine blessing bestowed upon humanity at creation (Gn 1:28) and after the flood (Gn 9:1) as well as suggesting fulfillment of the promises to the ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gn 12:2; 13:16; 15:5; 28:14; passim).
  5. 1:8 Who knew nothing of Joseph: the nuance intended by the Hebrew verb “know” here goes beyond precise determination. The idea may be not simply that a new king came to power who had not heard of Joseph but that this king ignored the services that Joseph had rendered to Egypt, repudiating the special relationship that existed between Joseph and his predecessor on the throne.
  6. 1:10 Increase: Pharaoh’s actions thereby immediately pit him against God’s will for the Israelites to multiply; see note on v. 7 above.
  7. 1:11 Pharaoh: not a personal name, but a title common to all the kings of Egypt.
  8. 1:14 Mortar: either the wet clay with which the bricks were made, as in Na 3:14, or the cement used between the bricks in building, as in Gn 11:3.
  9. 1:16 Birthstool: apparently a pair of stones on which the mother is seated for childbirth opposite the midwife. The Hebrew word elsewhere is used to refer to the stones of a potter’s wheel.

The Israelites Oppressed

These are the names of the sons of Israel(A) who went to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family: Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah; Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; Dan and Naphtali; Gad and Asher.(B) The descendants of Jacob numbered seventy[a] in all;(C) Joseph was already in Egypt.

Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died,(D) but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers(E) and became so numerous that the land was filled with them.

Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt.(F) “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous(G) for us.(H) 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly(I) with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”(J)

11 So they put slave masters(K) over them to oppress them with forced labor,(L) and they built Pithom and Rameses(M) as store cities(N) for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly.(O) 14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labor(P) in brick(Q) and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.(R)

15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives,(S) whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.”(T) 17 The midwives, however, feared(U) God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do;(V) they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”

19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”(W)

20 So God was kind to the midwives(X) and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared(Y) God, he gave them families(Z) of their own.

22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile,(AA) but let every girl live.”(AB)

Footnotes

  1. Exodus 1:5 Masoretic Text (see also Gen. 46:27); Dead Sea Scrolls and Septuagint (see also Acts 7:14 and note at Gen. 46:27) seventy-five

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