The Israelites Oppressed (1:1–22)
1–7 These opening verses connect the reader with what has gone before in the book of Genesis. The sons of JACOB, who went with their father to Egypt, are listed (Genesis 35:23–26). Including grandchildren, a total of seventy family members went down to Egypt at that time (Genesis 46:27). Over a period of more than two hundred years, Jacob’s family multiplied greatly in Egypt, and filled the land (verse 7). This was in fulfillment of God’s repeated promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that their descendants would be too numerous to count (Genesis 15:5; 22:17; 26:4; 28:14).
8–10 Abraham had been told by God that his descendants would be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years in a foreign country (Genesis 15:13–14). That country we now know was Egypt. Already we’ve learned that the Egyptians did not like to associate with HEBREWS (Genesis 43:32). So it is likely that after the death of Joseph, who had been ruler of Egypt, the Egyptians began to mistreat the Israelites.
Then a new king came to power who did not know about Joseph (verse 8), and he was alarmed at the large number of Israelites in Egypt (Acts 7:17–18). Egypt needed the presence of the Israelites because they brought prosperity to the land; on the other hand, they had also become a security threat.
11–14 So the new king1 began to oppress the Israelites; he made them into slave laborers. But the more he oppressed them the more God multiplied them! This result has occurred over and over again in history: when evil rulers try to persecute God’s people, God’s people usually become stronger. No ruler, no government, no army can destroy what God has chosen to preserve.
15–21 When the king of Egypt saw that the Israelites kept on increasing in number, he tried a more extreme tactic: he instructed the Hebrew (Israelite) midwives to kill all the Hebrew male babies. But the midwives feared God2 (verse 17); they chose to obey God rather than the king (Acts 5:29). When the king asked the midwives why they were ignoring his command, they quickly gave an explanation3 (verse 19). Even if their explanation stretched the truth a bit, God apparently was not displeased, because He rewarded them with children of their own (verse 21).
22 When the plan to have the midwives kill the male babies didn’t work out and the Hebrews kept on increasing, the king gave orders to all his people to throw every male Hebrew infant into the Nile River (Matthew 2:16). “Surely that will work,” thought Pharaoh.
We are not told how well it worked; it certainly didn’t work for one Hebrew infant who was about to be born: Moses. But over-all, nothing could stop the growth of the Hebrew nation in Egypt. The Hebrews started with seventy; they lived in Egypt a total of 430 years (Exodus 12:40); and when they left Egypt they numbered 600,000 men, besides women and children (Exodus 12:37). God’s purpose could not be thwarted—even by Pharaoh’s repeated efforts.