Exodus 1

 

וְאֵלֶּה שְׁמֹות בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הַבָּאִים מִצְרָיְמָה אֵת יַעֲקֹב אִישׁ וּבֵיתֹו בָּאוּ  1:1

Exod. 1:1    Now these are the names of the sons of Israel coming in to Egypt with Jacob; each one and his household they came:

רְאוּבֵן שִׁמְעֹון לֵוִי וִיהוּדָה  1:2

Exod. 1:2    Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah,

יִשָּׂשכָר זְבוּלֻן וּבִנְיָמִן  1:3

Exod. 1:3    Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin,

The birth order of the names takes a twist in this verse, as Benjamin was the last son to be born.  Yet he is named here, out of order.  Perhaps the scribe didn’t want him to be named last and grouped him with Leah’s last two sons rather than with the handmaids’ four sons, whose names appear below in the next verse.

דָּן וְנַפְתָּלִי גָּד וְאָשֵׁר  1:4

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

וַיְהִי כָּל־נֶפֶשׁ יֹצְאֵי יֶרֶךְ־יַעֲקֹב שִׁבְעִים נָפֶשׁ וְיֹוסֵף הָיָה בְמִצְרָיִם  1:5

Exod. 1:5    And it was, all the souls forthcoming of the loins of Jacob were seventy persons, and Joseph was in Egypt.

וַיָּמָת יֹוסֵף וְכָל־אֶחָיו וְכֹל הַדֹּור הַהוּא  1:6

Exod. 1:6    And Joseph died, and all his brothers and that whole generation.

Now exactly when do you suppose this happened?  According to verses in Genesis and Exodus (cited in my remarks under v. 1:8 below), the children of Israel had lived in Goshen for thirty years before they became slaves to Pharoah.  So Joseph and his siblings must have all died during those thirty years.  In fact, since no deaths were mentioned before Jacob died, they had to all have died after Jacob.  Now we know that Jacob died seventeen years after he entered Egypt.  Then all his sons must have died in the following thirteen years after his death.

וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל פָּרוּ וַיִּשְׁרְצוּ וַיִּרְבּוּ וַיַּעַצְמוּ בִּמְאֹד מְאֹד וַתִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ אֹתָם  1:7

Exod. 1:7    And the children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly and multiplied and became mighty with exceeding might and the land was filled with them.

Presumably the land referred to here is Goshen, not all of Egypt.  There’s a problem in this verse, however.  Judging by the next verse, only a short time had transpired from Jacob’s death to the time indicated there in v. 1:8.  See my remarks pertaining to that verse.  As I show in the preceding remarks, at most thirty years could have elapsed since Jacob came to Egypt.  How could the seventy souls of Jacob’s family have increased so abundantly to have filled the land of Goshen in that short time?  As I see it, the scribe had to include this assertion, as miraculous as it is, in order to justify the Egyptian king’s statement in v. 1:9.  Consider the following:  Maybe Egypt’s population was around 20 to 30 million at the time.  For the Israelites to have become a potential threat, they must have numbered in the tens of thousands at the very least.  How could they have grown that large (from 74 -- including Joseph and his two boys -- in just about one generation?  Impossible, you say?  Not to God!

וַיָּקָם מֶלֶךְ־חָדָשׁ עַל־מִצְרָיִם אֲשֶׁר לֹא־יָדַע אֶת־יֹוסֵף  1:8

Exod. 1:8    And there arose a new king over Egypt who did not acknowledge Joseph.

The third from last word in this verse, meaning to know or recognize or acknowledge, among other related meanings, is almost universally translated in all bible translations as know.  The translation is generally something like this:  “And there arose a new king over Egypt who did not know Joseph.”  In my opinion (humble as it is), this new Pharoah came on the scene soon after Joseph had died.  He would certainly have heard of him and known of his saving the people and the land of Egypt.  So he likely knew of him, just refused to honor him and his people.  For that reason, I chose acknowledge as the appropriate translation.

How do I know that this Pharoah arose soon after Joseph had died?  I’ll have to do some arithmetic to show how I arrived at that decision.  First, we were told by God in Gene. 15:13 that the seed of Abraham will be oppressed in Egypt for four hundred years.  In Exod. 12:40, 12:41 we will learn that the Israelites had been in Egypt for a total of 430 years.  Therefore, this Pharoah had to have arisen only thirty years after Jacob had come to Egypt, because the slavery of the Israelites began soon after this new king arose.  Now Jacob arrived in Egypt when he was 130 years old (Gene. 47:7-9), and died there when he was 147 (Gene. 47:28).  So if Joseph had already died by the time indicated in this verse, he must have died (at 110 years of age) at most 13 years after Jacob (Gene. 50:22).   From this we can even surmise that it’s entirely possible that Joseph was still alive when this Pharoah arose.  How could that be?  Another mystery?  Maybe, but it’s also a possibility that this new Pharoah refused to recognize a living Israelite prince of Egypt.

וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל־עַמֹּו הִנֵּה עַם בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל רַב וְעָצוּם מִמֶּנּוּ  1:9

Exod. 1:9    And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of the children of Israel is more numerous and mighty than we.”

This had to be a gross exaggeration or imperial propaganda.  In no way could the Hebrews have been mightier than the Egyptians at this point in time.

הָבָה נִתְחַכְּמָה לֹו פֶּן־יִרְבֶּה וְהָיָה כִּי־תִקְרֶאנָה מִלְחָמָה וְנֹוסַף גַּם־הוּא עַל־שֹׂנְאֵינוּ וְנִלְחַם־בָּנוּ  1:10

וְעָלָה מִן־הָאָרֶץ

Exod. 1:10  “Come, let us be wise about it, lest they will multiply and it will be that a war comes, and it will even join with our enemies and will do battle with us, and spring up from the land.”

Notice the order of verbs in the latter part of this verse.  The Hebrews would join, then do battle, then spring up.  One would expect that the correct order of the verbs would be spring up, join, then do battle.  This is another example of how biblical descriptions sometimes reverse events (see my remarks about Gene. 1:5).

וַיָּשִׂימוּ עָלָיו שָׂרֵי מִסִּים לְמַעַן עַנֹּתֹו בְּסִבְלֹתָם וַיִּבֶן עָרֵי מִסְכְּנֹות לְפַרְעֹה אֶת־פִּתֹם וְאֶת־רַעַמְסֵס  1:11

Exod. 1:11  So they placed task masters over it in order to afflict it with their forced labor.  And they built cities of storehouses, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharoah.

וְכַאֲשֶׁר יְעַנּוּ אֹתֹו כֵּן יִרְבֶּה וְכֵן יִפְרֹץ וַיָּקֻצוּ מִפְּנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל  1:12

Exod. 1:12  But when they would afflict it, yet it would increase and yet spread abroad.  And they were distressed because of the children of Israel.

וַיַּעֲבִדוּ מִצְרַיִם אֶת־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּפָרֶךְ  1:13

Exod. 1:13  And the Egyptians made the children of Israel work with rigor.

וַיְמָרְרוּ אֶת־חַיֵּיהֶם בַּעֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה בְּחֹמֶר וּבִלְבֵנִים וּבְכָל־עֲבֹדָה בַּשָּׂדֶה אֵת כָּל־עֲבֹדָתָם אֲשֶׁר־עָבְדוּ  1:14

בָהֶם בְּפָרֶךְ

Exod. 1:14  And they made their lives bitter with severe work in mortar and in bricks and in all kinds of work in the field.  All of their work that they worked was with cruelty to them.

וַיֹּאמֶר מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם לַמְיַלְּדֹת הָעִבְרִיֹּת אֲשֶׁר שֵׁם הָאַחַת שִׁפְרָה וְשֵׁם הַשֵּׁנִית פּוּעָה  1:15

1:15  Then the king of Egypt spoke to the midwives of the Hebrews of whom the name of the one was Shiphrah and the name of the other was Puah,

If this latest narrative is following a linear timeline, then we would have to assume that about three hundred and twenty years had passed from the time the Hebrews were enslaved, and there had to have been a significant increase in their numbers, as is implied by vss. 1:7 and 1:12.  The original seventy souls must have numbered at least several hundred thousand by this time.  Could only two midwives service all those people?  It’s possible, though, perhaps likely, that there were more midwives, but these two were the ones who defied Pharoah’s decree.  Or the scribe chose these two to epitomize all of the others.  As we will see below, the midwives’ apparent success in thwarting Pharoah’s command (next verse) inspired Pharoah to tactics less easily circumvented (v. 1:22).

וַיֹּאמֶר בְּיַלֶּדְכֶן אֶת־הָעִבְרִיֹּות וּרְאִיתֶן עַל־הָאָבְנָיִם אִם־בֵּן הוּא וַהֲמִתֶּן אֹתֹו וְאִם־בַּת הִיא וָחָיָה  1:16

Exod. 1:16  and he said, “On your being midwives to the Hebrew women, then you shall look; if it be a son on the birth stools, then you shall kill it, but if it be a daughter, then she may live.”

וַתִּירֶאןָ הַמְיַלְּדֹת אֶת־הָאֱלֹהִים וְלֹא עָשׂוּ כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אֲלֵיהֶן מֶלֶךְ מִצְרָיִם וַתְּחַיֶּיןָ אֶת־הַיְלָדִים  1:17

Exod. 1:17  But the midwives feared He Who is God, so they did not do as the king of Egypt had spoken to them, and they let the male infants live.

וַיִּקְרָא מֶלֶךְ־מִצְרַיִם לַמְיַלְּדֹת וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶן מַדּוּעַ עֲשִׂיתֶן הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה וַתְּחַיֶּיןָ אֶת־הַיְלָדִים  1:18

Exod. 1:18  So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this thing and let the male infants live?”

וַתֹּאמַרְןָ הַמְיַלְּדֹת אֶל־פַּרְעֹה כִּי לֹא כַנָּשִׁים הַמִּצְרִיֹּת הָעִבְרִיֹּת כִּי־חָיֹות הֵנָּה בְּטֶרֶם תָּבֹוא אֲלֵהֶן  1:19

הַמְיַלֶּדֶת וְיָלָדוּ

Exod. 1:19  And the midwives said to Pharoah, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are energetic.  Before the midwife can come to them, then they will have delivered.”

וַיֵּיטֶב אֱלֹהִים לַמְיַלְּדֹת וַיִּרֶב הָעָם וַיַּעַצְמוּ מְאֹד  1:20

Exod. 1:20  And God did well for the midwives, and the people multiplied as they increased greatly.

וַיְהִי כִּי־יָרְאוּ הַמְיַלְּדֹת אֶת־הָאֱלֹהִים וַיַּעַשׂ לָהֶם בָּתִּים  1:21

Exod. 1:21  Then it was, because the midwives revered He Who is God, that He made houses for them.

Some sages believe that it was Pharoah who made the houses, not God, and that the purpose of the houses was to detain the two midwives so they couldn’t continue to let newborn Hebrew males live.  I find myself hard put to accept this viewpoint.  It flies in the face of the previous verse, which indicates that God favored these midwives, and the next verse.  It is far more likely that God blessed their lives and gave them families and goods.

וַיְצַו פַּרְעֹה לְכָל־עַמֹּו לֵאמֹר כָּל־הַבֵּן הַיִּלֹּוד הַיְאֹרָה תַּשְׁלִיכֻהוּ וְכָל־הַבַּת תְּחַיּוּן  1:22

Exod. 1:22  Then Pharoah gave orders to all his people saying, “Every son born, you shall cast it into the river, and every daughter you shall let live.

 

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