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Israel Multiplies in Egypt Israel's Suffering in Egypt Israel's Bondage in Egypt The Israelites are Treated Cruelly in Egypt The Prosperity of The Hebrews in Egypt
1:1-7 1:1-7 1:1-7 1:1-7 1:1-7
The Hebrews Oppressed
1:8-14 1:8-14 1:8-14 1:8-14 1:8-14
1:15-22 1:15-22 1:15-22 1:15-18 1:15-21

* Although they are not inspired, paragraph divisions are the key to understanding and following the original author's intent. Each modern translation has divided and summarized the paragraphs. Every paragraph has one central topic, truth, or thought. Each version encapsulates that topic in its own distinct way. As you read the text, ask yourself which translation fits your understanding of the subject and verse divisions.
In every chapter we must read the Bible first and try to identify its subjects (paragraphs), then compare our understanding with the modern versions. Only when we understand the original author's intent by following his logic and presentation can we truly understand the Bible. Only the original author is inspired - readers have no right to change or modify the message. Bible readers do have the responsibility of applying the inspired truth to their day and their lives.
Note that all technical terms and abbreviations are explained fully in the following documents: Hebrew Grammatical Tems, Textual Criticism, and Glossary.

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Third paragraph
  4. Etc.


  1. Exodus 1 sets forth the plan of God for Abraham and his descendants (cf. Gen. 15:12-21).
    1. prosperity/blessings of God
    2. opposition

  2. Exodus continues the history of God's special covenant people which began in Genesis 12. A proper reading of Exodus assumes one has previously known Genesis.

  3. The Exodus is seen by Jewish people as the major event and miracle of God in the OT. It is foundational for their understanding of themselves and their God. It shows God's power and the certainty of God's covenant promises.
    Exodus 1 sets the literary stage for the rest of the book.


 1Now these are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob; they came each one with his household: 2Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah; 3Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; 4Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. 5All the persons who came from the loins of Jacob were seventy in number, but Joseph was already in Egypt. 6Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. 7But the sons of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly, and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them.

1:1 "these are the names" This very phrase is used in Gen. 46:8, describing those who traveled to Egypt. This shows the close literary connection between Genesis and Exodus. Exodus also starts with the Hebrew CONJUNCTION, "and."


▣ "Jacob" Jacob, the second son of Isaac, has a life-changing encounter with God in Genesis 32, and in Gen. 32:27-28 his name is changed to "Israel."

▣ "household" This would include all relatives and slaves/servants.

1:2-4 This is a list of Jacob's sons by means of their mothers, but Joseph's two sons who will inherit (i.e., Ephraim and Manasseh) are not included in this list because Joseph and his family were already in Egypt (cf. Exod. 1:5). Because they both inherit, there are thirteen tribes.

  1. from Leah
    1. Reuben
    2. Simeon
    3. Levi
    4. Judah
  2. from Rachel
    1. Joseph (already in Egypt but not named)
    2. Benjamin (the youngest of the sons but from the favorite wife)
  3. from Bilhah (Rachel's maid)
    1. Dan
    2. Naphtali
  4. from Zilpah (Leah's maid)
    1. Gad
    2. Asher

1:5 "persons" This is the Hebrew NOUN nephesh (BDB 659; see note at Gen. 2:7 online).

▣ "who came from the loins of Jacob" This is a Hebrew idiom (lit. "come out," BDB 422, KB 425, Qal PARTICIPLE) for children from

  1. a father - Gen. 35:11; 46:26Jdgs. 8:30; 2 Sam. 7:12; 16:11; 1 Kgs. 8:19; 2 Kgs. 20:18
  2. a mother - Num. 12:12; Job 3:11; Jer. 1:5; 20:18
NASB, NKJV, NRSV, TEV, NJB  "seventy"
LXX, DSS (4QExa)  "seventy-five"
The LXX and DSS reflect Gen. 46:26 and Acts 7:14. However, most English translations follow the MT, "seventy" (cf. Deut. 10:22). The UBS Text Project (p. 88) gives "seventy-five" a "B" rating (some doubt), but does not explain why.
It is a round number (see SPECIAL TOPIC: SYMBOLIC NUMBERS IN SCRIPTURE). The later rabbis suggested it reflected all the languages of the world (cf. LXX, Deut. 32:8).

1:7 This numerical expansion of Israel in Egypt fulfilled:

  1. command of God in Gen. 1:28; 9:1,7
  2. the prophecy of God to Abraham about his descendants
    1. "great nation"
      (1) Gen. 12:2a

      (2) Gen. 17:4,5

      (3) Gen. 18:18
    2. "too many to count"
      (1) Gen. 16:10

      (2) Gen. 17:20
    3. "as the dust of the earth"
      (1) Gen. 13:16

      (2) Gen. 28:14
    4. "as the sand on the sea shore"
      (1) Gen. 22:17

      (2) Gen. 32:12
    5. "as the stars of heaven"
      (1) Gen. 15:5

      (2) Gen. 22:17

      (3) Gen. 26:4

      (4) Exod. 32:13

      (5) Deut. 1:10

      (6) Deut. 28:62
It will also be the reason for their persecution.
Notice the repetition of terms to describe Israel's growth.
  1. "were fruitful" - BDB 826, KB 963, Qal PERFECT
  2. "increased greatly" - BDB 1056, KB 1655, Qal IMPERFECT with waw (lit. "swarmed," cf. Gen. 1:20,21)
  3. "multiplied" - BDB 915, KB 1176, Qal IMPERFECT with waw
  4. "became exceedingly mighty" - BDB 782 I, KB 868, Qal IMPERFECT with waw, plus the ADVERB (BDB 547)
  5. the land was filled with them - BDB 569, KB 583, Niphal IMPERFECT with waw

▣ "the land" This probably refers to the land of Goshen in the delta region, where the Israelites settled (cf. Gen. 45:10; 46:28,29,34; 47:1,4,6,27; 50:8). It was also the seat of government (i.e., Gen. 45:10).

8Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9He said to his people, "Behold, the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we. 10Come, let us deal wisely with them, or else they will multiply and in the event of war, they will also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us and depart from the land." 11So they appointed taskmasters over them to afflict them with hard labor. And they built for Pharaoh storage cities, Pithom and Raamses. 12But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread out, so that they were in dread of the sons of Israel. 13The Egyptians compelled the sons of Israel to labor rigorously; 14and they made their lives bitter with hard labor in mortar and bricks and at all kinds of labor in the field, all their labors which they rigorously imposed on them.

1:8 "Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph" This represents a time gap of about two hundred years. Israel was in Egypt for four hundred thirty years (cf. Exod. 12:40).
This could be understood in two ways.

  1. It refers to a new Egyptian dynasty (i.e., Amosis, 1570-1546 B.C.) who threw off the yoke of the Hyksos kings (Semites, possibly Hurrians).
  2. It refers to a new king who had not personally experienced the God-given administrative powers of Joseph, or was possibly jealous of his influence (i.e., "know" in sense of personal relationship; see SPECIAL TOPIC: KNOW).

1:9 Again, depending on one's opinion about Exod. 1:8, this could refer to

  1. Israel's numbers
  2. Israel's Semitic ethnic identity (cf. Exod. 1:10)

1:10 "Come" This is a Qal IMPERATIVE (BDB 396, KB 393), meaning in this text, "grant" or "give attention to." This new Pharaoh wants to act immediately to deal with a perceived problem.

  1. Israel's numbers
  2. Israel's Semitic origins
  3. Israel's possible revolt and exodus

▣ "Let us deal wisely with them" This is a Hithpael COHORTATIVE (BDB 314, KB 314). It means, "let us take actions to preemptively deal with the potential problem" (i.e., Israel's growth or ethnicity).
For a Hebrew hearer this would be irony. There is no wisdom apart from knowing and following YHWH.

1:11 Pharaoh's (title first used in Exod. 3:10, BDB 829; here called "King") first attempt at solving his perceived problem was to make the Israelite slaves work harder.
What a change has occurred from a welcomed guest to slaves!

▣ "taskmasters" This term (BDB 978 CONSTRUCT BDB 586 I) refers to labor unit directors. See Walter Duckat's, Beggar to King: All the Occupations of Biblical Times, p. 251.

▣ "storage cities of Pithom and Raamses" These two cities are probably located in the delta region (possibly linked to Gen. 46:28). The name "Pithom" (BDB 837) is from the Egyptian phrase, "the house of Atum" (i.e., Egypt's sun god, and high god). "House" could relate to a

  1. temple
  2. fortress
It seems to be one of several fortresses on the eastern highway along the Mediterranean, called "the Way of the Philistines."
The name "Raamses" (or "Rameses") was a royal name (i.e., the father of Seti I) for Egyptian kings. The Pharaoh of the exodus may have been Rameses II. It is also another name for the delta region (cf. Gen. 47:11).
This city was a royal residence and fortress on one of the main outlets of the Nile (i.e., Pelusail branch). It was a large, impressive city. There is even a papyrus (i.e., Papyrus Leiden 348) that mentions the stones for one temple were brought by "Apiru" slaves, which may be referring to the Hebrew slaves.
NASB, NKJV, NRSV, JPSOA  "in dread"
TEV, NJB  "fear"
NEB, REB  "loathe"
LXX  "disgusted with"
KJV, Peshitta  "grieved"
The Hebrew VERB (BDB 880 I, KB 1089, Qal IMPERFECT with waw) means "to feel a loathing," "abhorrence," or "sickening dread." This last option of BDB is how the VERB is used in this context (also note Num. 22:3; Isa. 7:16). Usually the word denotes an abhorrence (i.e., Lev. 20:23; Num. 21:5).

1:14 Notice how the Israeli's taskmasters did their assigned task.

  1. made their lives bitter (BDB 600 I)
  2. hard (BDB 904) labor (BDB 715; notice Exod. 2:11; 5:4,5; 6:6,7)
  3. with vigor (LXX, BDB 827)

This was done in two areas.

  1. building projects
  2. agricultural projects

15Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other was named Puah; 16and he said, "When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, then you shall put him to death; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live." 17But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live. 18So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, "Why have you done this thing, and let the boys live?" 19The midwives said to Pharaoh, "Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife can get to them." 20So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty. 21Because the midwives feared God, He established households for them. 22Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying, "Every son who is born you are to cast into the Nile, and every daughter you are to keep alive."

1:15 After the first attempt to limit the Israelites failed (cf. Exod. 1:12-13), they devised a new and terrible second plan (i.e., killing the male children, Exod. 1:16,22; Acts 7:19).
The term "bear," "bring forth," "beget" (BDB 408, KB 411) is used eight times in this paragraph (i.e., Exod. 1:15-22).

▣ "Hebrew" The term (BDB 720 I) is used in the OT to designate the people of God apart from other ethnic groups.
It is possible to see this term as

  1. defining the midwives ethnicity (i.e., their names are Semitic, not Egyptian)
  2. referring to the people they served (LXX, Vulgate, Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews 2.9.2; this would make the non-Israelite midwives' faith all the more wonderful)

▣ "Shiphrah. . .Puah" These are Semitic names (i.e., "beauty" and "splendor"). It is surprising that only two midwives are mentioned serving so many Israelites. Possibly they are examples of what occurred in other places. These would have been close to, or in, the capital of Pharaoh in the delta. These were brave, believing followers of YHWH (cf. Exod. 1:17, "feared God"); see SPECIAL TOPIC: FEAR (OT). God honored them in Exod. 1:21.
Notice the name of Pharaoh is omitted but the names of these two midwives are recorded. This account is theological more than historical!
Remember, Scripture is an eastern history, not a western, cause-effect, chronological history. It is selective, theological history. See OT HISTORICAL NARRATIVE and OT HISTORIOGRAPHY COMPARED TO NEAR EASTERN CULTURES. Also note the new book on the initial orality of the OT by Walton and Sandy, The Lost World of Scripture.

▣ "birthstool" This is a MASCULINE NOUN (BDB 7), which usually refers to a potter's wheel (cf. Jer. 18:3). Apparently, this involved two stones (Hebrew PLURAL).

  1. One laid flat and one lifted up. A woman would squat on one and hold on to the other.
  2. One stone under each thigh with a gap in between on which the pregnant woman sat (ZPEB, vol. 1, p. 617). The Syriac has "the two knees."
  3. It is possible that this word refers to the stool on which the midwives sat (KB 16).
  4. The LXX has "at the birthing stage" (Knox Translation).
  5. Possibly it refers to the male genitalia (Edgar Goodspeed, Rotherhams Emphasized Bible; i.e., look out for the sex of the child; the FEMININE form of the Hebrew root means "stone," BDB 6).

1:17 "God" This is the name Elohim (BDB 43, KB 52), which is common in Genesis and Exodus. See SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY.
Exodus will use several names for Deity.

  1. El
  2. Elohim
  3. Adon
  4. YHWH
Many scholars have seen this variety as reflecting different authors whose works were combined by editors into the Pentateuch (i.e., J,E,P,D, sources; see SPECIAL TOPIC: PENTATEUCH SOURCE CRITICISM ). However, I think this says more about modern, western, literary theory than Hebrew usage. Each of these names carry a different characteristic of God. See notes at Genesis 1:1.

1:19 The Hebrew midwives lied and God blessed them for it (Exod. 1:20-21). This is ethically similar to Rahab and the spies in Jos. 2:1-7. It reminds me of those who lied to Nazi soldiers looking for Jews in WW II. It was a lie to save a life. Which ethic is more valuable? Their "fear" of God was greater than their fear of Pharaoh.
For a fuller discussion of the ethics, see Hard Sayings of the Bible, p. 137 and Gleason Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, pp. 109-110.

1:22 "cast into the Nile" The Nile was one of the chief gods of Egypt (i.e., Hapi, god of the annual flood which brought life to Egypt). In a sense, these deaths were sacrifices. It is uncertain exactly what this verse implies as the means of death.

  1. drowning immediately
  2. attacked by animals
  3. floating away in a basket like Moses and death by malnutrition
I think number 1 is more likely. Number 3 was an attempt to save Moses, not the general procedure.


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. How is Exod. 1:7 related to Gen. 12:1-3?
  2. Was Israel in Egypt as a punishment?
  3. Why were the Egyptians afraid of the Hebrews?
  4. Were there only two midwives?
  5. Why were the Hebrew children cast into the Nile?

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