Slavery in Egypt
The great need for the emancipating work of Moses is made very clear in the first chapter of Exodus. This chapter reports that Israel was under the bondage of an extremely cruel slavery in the land of Egypt. Their very existence was being threatened by the murderous oppression from the Egyptians. A deliverer was desperately needed. And as God always does, a deliverer was raised up by Him in due time to bring about the rescue of the children of Israel from their terrible slavery. That deliverer, the great emancipator of Israel, was Moses.
To help us appreciate the oppressive circumstances of Israel in Egypt and, thereof
re, their great need of deliverance, we will in this first chapter of our study on Moses look in detail at what the Bible says about Israel’s condition in Egypt. It is not a pretty picture. Unfortunately, the picture is not unique. We can write chapters like Exodus 1 about every age of man. When man turns from God and serves his own base passions, he can become like a brute beast in his treatment of his fellow man. Though society be educated, sophisticated, and computerized, without God it can become a jungle in morals and manners.
In the study of this first chapter of Exodus, a chapter that serves as an introduction to the coming of Moses, we will consider the souls in slavery (vv. 1–7), the sovereign of slavery (vv. 8–14), and the slaying in slavery (vv. 15–22).
A. THE SOULS IN SLAVERY
Here we take a look at the Israelites, the people who will be emancipated by Moses. We learn of their presence, their productivity, and their pollution in Egypt.
1. Their Presence in Egypt
"Now these are the names of the children of Israel, who came into Egypt; every man and his household came with Jacob" (v. 1). We note three things about Israel’s presence in Egypt: the reason for it, the region of it, and the ratification of it.
The reason for it. What is Israel doing in Egypt? Even a casual reader of the Bible knows the answer. The last quarter of the book of Genesis gives us the explanation for why Israel is in Egypt (for a detailed study of this section of Genesis, see the author’s book on Joseph). Joseph, the favorite son of Jacob, was sold by his cruel brothers to slave traders. They took Joseph to Egypt and Joseph was sold into slavery there. He was the first of the Israelites to experience slavery in Egypt. But Joseph did not remain a slave. Though his slavery led to prison, one day he came out of the prison to be the number two ruler in Egypt and to save Egypt from being destroyed in a severe seven year famine. The famine brought Joseph’s brothers to Egypt for food which eventually led to Jacob and all his family in Canaan moving to Egypt to be under the care of Joseph. What started out as a great tragedy ended up a great blessing. God is a Master at causing our dark circumstances to bring us great light.
The region of it. Joseph desired that his brethren dwell in Goshen, and he succeeded in obtaining orders from Pharaoh for his brethren to dwell there (Genesis 46:28 – 47:6). The region of Goshen was located on the eastern side of Egypt. It was a most fertile area of land, being watered by the delta of the Nile River. This made it a great place for Israel with all their flocks. It provided them land that was most helpful to their prospering and growing into a great nation. Israel settled there and remained in Egypt for some four hundred years before their emancipation under the leadership of Moses. God knows where to put us to provide for our specific needs at the time they are especially needed.
The ratification of it. Israel’s presence in Egypt was under the approval of God (Genesis 46:3). We need to make that clear, for generally a trip to Egypt by the patriarchs evidenced disobedience. Egypt spoke of the world. Full of paganism and materialism, its effect upon the character and spirituality of God’s people was generally most negative. Egypt does not represent spiritual life but spiritual death. Abraham’s trip to Egypt (Genesis 12:10–20), the first such trip by God’s chosen people to Egypt, was an act of unbelief and resulted in lying and many other problems (such as the acquiring of Hagar, the Egyptian maid that plagued him all his life). Later in Israel’s national history, their alliances with Egypt (Isaiah 30) and the emigration by some to Egypt (Jeremiah 43) evidenced their rejection of God and always cost them plenty. But there were exceptions when Israel’s being in Egypt did not reflect disobedience. One case was that of Jacob and his family going to Egypt in Joseph’s time. Another was when Joseph and Mary of the New Testament were ordered to take the Christ Child to Egypt for several years for protection from Herod (Matthew 2:13–15). Carnality would like to make the exception the rule, but spirituality knows better and does not go to Egypt unless there is a clear, unmistakable command from God. Such was the case in Jacob going to Egypt with his family and in Joseph taking Mary and the Christ Child to Egypt.
2. Their Productivity in Egypt
"And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed [became] exceedingly mighty; and the land was filled with them" (v. 7). The productivity of Israel in Egypt was the fulfillment of a promise which God had given Jacob when Jacob and his family were moving to Egypt. God promised Jacob, "I will there make of thee a great nation" (Genesis 46:3). The fulfillment of this promise gives us some good lessons about the fulfillment of all Divine promises. We especially note the lessons concerning the place, problems, and patience involved in the fulfillment.
The place of fulfillment. "I will there make of thee a great nation" (Genesis 46:3). "There" was the place of fulfillment. "There" in Jacob’s case meant Egypt. God’s promise specified the place for its fulfillment. Had Jacob and his family not abode in Egypt as instructed, they would have missed the blessing of this fulfillment.
Not every place is the Divinely appointed place of blessing. It is, therefore, very important that we be in the particular place where God said the blessing would be if we expect to receive the promised blessing. We can see this truth in other incidences in Scripture as well as in the case of Jacob. As an example, the prophet Jeremiah was instructed to go to the potter’s house to hear from God. Jeremiah was told, "There I will cause thee to hear my words" (Jeremiah 18:1). Had Jeremiah not gone to the potter’s house as instructed, he would not have received the blessing of hearing God’s Word.
Those who complain they are coming up short on the promised blessings of God are often those who are not careful about being "there" in the place of blessing. Promises are not apart from responsibilities. One of the great responsibilities is to be "there" in the appointed place of blessing. For those who have difficulty with knowing where "there" is (and many church people evidence they have much trouble here), we can give some help. As an example, "there" will be church on Sunday morning, not the beach or the lake or home watching TV or mowing the lawn.
"There" may not be where we necessarily want to go. But wherever God’s "there" is, that is where the promised blessing will be; and it is, therefore, the best place for us to be. We need to be "there" no matter what our feelings.
The problems of fulfillment. As we noted at the start of this chapter, Exodus 1 records some of the great persecution problems which confronted Israel in Egypt which threatened to destroy them. Yet, in spite of these great persecution problems, the Israelites still grew and multiplied. God’s promise proved, as always, to be stronger than man’s problems. If God said He would make Israel a great nation in Egypt, He would do it in spite of the problems which slavery brought upon the Israelites. The devil really fights the promises of God, and at times the saints in viewing their current circumstances may wonder if God’s promises will prevail. But have no fear. If God promised, God will fulfill! How encouraging this should be to God’s people. If God can fulfill the promise of productivity for Israel amidst the opposition that abounded in Egypt, He can also fulfill His promises to us in spite of the opposition of our enemy who so discourages us at times by making our circumstances very negative.
The patience of fulfillment. This productivity of Israel did not occur overnight. It took several hundred years before they became a great people and nation. In fact, Israel was in Egypt for some four hundred years before they left the land as a nation. There were just seventy souls (v. 5) when they moved to Egypt—few compared to a nation. But year after year the number increased until finally they were a great people and nation.
The flesh is so impatient regarding God’s promises. It wants total fulfillment of the promise moments after the promise is made. If the promise is not fulfilled quickly, it complains quickly. But the writer of Hebrews spoke the exhortation we so often need regarding God’s promises. He said, "Ye have need of patience that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise" (Hebrews 10:36). Having to wait for the fulfillment of the promise will test our faith, of course. But this gives us opportunity to strengthen our faith and to give greater proof of the sincerity of our faith. These are two things we indeed need a lot more of today. We need stronger faith in order to live more victoriously, to overcome temptation, and to serve faithfully. And we need greater proof of the sincerity of our faith in order to have a better testimony to the world.
3. Their Pollution in Egypt
The Israelites did not maintain a strong stand in the faith in Egypt. Some, of course, stood true, such as the parents of Moses. But a great portion of Israel was polluted spiritually and morally. We learn of this pollution of the Israelites in Egypt by looking at several passages of Scripture outside of Exodus, specifically Joshua 24:14 and Ezekiel 20:6–8. In the Joshua text, Joshua told the Israelites after they had arrived in Canaan, "Put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood [the Euphrates], and in Egypt, and serve ye the Lord" (Joshua 24:14). The phrase, "and in Egypt," in this text reveals the fact that idolatry was practiced by the Israelites in Egypt. This fact is confirmed in the Ezekiel text in which God is reported as saying to Israel when they were about to leave Egypt, "Cast ye away every man the abominations of his eyes, and defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt" (Ezekiel 20:7). Israel did not heed well what God said on that occasion, however; for the next verse in Ezekiel says, "But they rebelled against me, and would not hearken unto me; they did not every man cast away the abominations of their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt" (Ezekiel 20:8). Israel’s rebellion is hard to believe. You would think they would have been glad to do anything to get out of the hard bondage in Egypt, but sin had a grip on them. "The worship of the calf, the lusting of Kibroth-hataavah [Numbers 11:34], the outbreak of iniquity on the frontiers of Moab, all proved how deeply the taint of Egyptian idolatry and impurity had wrought" (F. B. Meyer). Israel not only needed to be taken out of Egypt, but Egypt needed to be taken out of Israel. Unfortunately, Israel was taken out of Egypt much easier and quicker than Egypt was taken out of Israel, though removing Israel from Egypt was no easy and quick task.
Egypt being a land of ease and luxury would encourage spiritual and moral decay in undisciplined souls. Goshen, which "is to this day considered the richest province of Egypt" (Edersheim), would especially provide ease and luxury, for the fertileness of the land and the warm climate prevailed there. "Beneath the seductive influences of the Egyptian climate . . . their character became greatly relaxed. The ideals of Abraham’s monotheistic faith and strenuous hardihood grew dim and faint" (F. B. Meyer).
God had located Israel in a choice place in Egypt to make it conducive for them to prosper and grow. But like so many folk in every age, material advantages instead of being used to help one spiritually were used to degrade. In our land this condition prevails so obviously in our churches. Church members have nice houses, automobiles, clothes, many luxuries—all of which should give them more time and convenience and means for serving the Lord. But instead, these material advantages have often taken the members away from the Lord and His service. These folk are so busy spending their time and material gain on fleshly pleasures, that they have little time for God. This explains why many folk are off pleasure seeking on Sunday instead of being in church. It also explains why our churches are shot through with moral degradation. Divorce, children born out of wedlock, and moral scandals of numerous kinds permeate the membership of many churches. Material blessings and advantages are not wrong in themselves; but when they are used to pamper the flesh instead of promote the spirit, character will be destroyed. When this happens, God is forced to bring many and mighty afflictions upon folk in order to bring them back to Him even as He afflicted Israel in Egypt—which we will note much about in this chapter.
B. THE SOVEREIGN OF SLAVERY
"Now there arose a new king over Egypt" (v. 8). This statement indicates that more than just a different person became king; for the words "new king" indicate "a king who follows different principles of government from his predecessors" (Keil). Acts 7:18 speaks similarly when it describes the change as "another" king. "There are in the Greek two different words for ‘another’: allos, which means ‘another of the same kind’; heteros, which signifies ‘another of a different kind.’ It is the latter word which is used in Acts 7:18" (A. W. Pink). All of this tells us that this new king was not of the same dynasty that had ruled when Joseph was the number two ruler in Egypt. Some believe the new king was a foreigner who had conquered Egypt. But whoever he was or wherever he came from, the coming of this new king to the Egyptian throne signaled a big and hostile change in the policy of the Egyptian government towards Israel. We will examine this change of policy by noting the deficiency, deduction, and design of the sovereign.
1. The Deficiency of the Sovereign
The great deficiency of the new sovereign was in the fact that he "knew not Joseph" (v. 8). Though Joseph was such a great man, yet he was forgotten. How often mankind forgets the best and noblest of people and deeds. "Within seventeen years of Waterloo the Duke of Wellington [the victorious leader over Napoleon] was compelled to protect the windows of Apsley House with iron shutters" (F. B. Meyer). Solomon, in Ecclesiastes 9:14,15, also gives us an illustration of this failure of mankind. However, though man forgets noble deeds, those who serve the Lord can be comforted by the fact that "God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have shown toward his name" (Hebrews 6:10).
This deficiency of the king in not knowing about Joseph would bring about the ruin of Egypt. The king could know ten thousand other things, but it would not make up for his failure to know about Joseph. Where this king was raised and trained, the knowledge of Joseph was not honored or thought necessary to learn. This king was obviously trained in many ways about government or he would not be king. He knew how to gain control of a nation. He had political power. He would have respect by many. But his lack of knowing about Joseph would curse him and his nation.
This ignorance of the king about Joseph illustrates the peril of ignorance in spiritual matters. The prophet Hosea spoke of this peril when he said, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" (Hosea 4:6). Israel lacked in spiritual knowledge in Hosea’s day, and it ruined them. It ruined their character and brought Divine judgment upon them. They eventually went into captivity; and for several thousand years the Jews had no national status. All because they lacked in spiritual knowledge.
Times have not changed. The most important knowledge is spiritual. Specifically, we need to know Jesus Christ. As the failure to know Joseph resulted in the ruin of Egypt, so the failure to know Jesus Christ will result in the ruin of the soul which means eternal damnation for the soul in hell fire. You may be well learned in many areas; but if you do not know Jesus Christ, you will experience the worst fate a human can possibly experience. Yet, in spite of this fact, our land mocks and dishonors this spiritual knowledge today. You cannot teach about Jesus Christ and His Redemption in our public schools. You cannot teach from the Bible, the greatest book ever to come to mankind. You can learn many things in our public schools, but you will never learn the truth about Jesus Christ. And no ignorance is so great and so perilous. How deficient our education system is today because it will not teach about Christ and the Bible.
2. The Deduction of the Sovereign
"And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we. Come on, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when war occurs, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land" (vv. 9, 10). Because the king knew not Joseph, he made some very unwarranted deductions concerning the Israelites. Summed up, he viewed Israel as a liability and not as an asset. He feared that in war they would side with the enemy (which would give the enemy an advantage in attacking Egypt), and he feared they were large enough in number to leave the land though Egypt opposed. But his fears not justified. His deduction that Israel was "more and mightier than we" (v. 9) was hardly correct at this point in time. "The expression is no doubt an exaggerated one . . . the sort of exaggeration in which unprincipled persons indulge when they would justify themselves for taking an extreme and unusual course" (George Rawlinson).
This king is not the first nor the last ruler to view Israel in a negative way. A number of rulers and their nations have viewed Israel this way, and all have suffered as a result. God’s promise concerning His people is, "I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed" (Genesis 12:3). Beware of talk and national policy which is anti-Jew. It will destroy a nation. This does not mean, of course, that all that the Jews and the nation of Israel do is right. Rather, it exhorts an attitude towards the Jews that in national relationship is that of an ally, not an enemy; and in personal relationship is that of respect and honor, not ridicule and persecution. This attitude is mandated by God’s Word.
When men do not know Jesus Christ, as the king did not know Joseph, they will have difficulty in discerning situations correctly and making proper deductions of them. What God calls good, they will call evil. What God condemns, they will commend and justify. What God forbids, they will require. And what God requires, they will forbid. Does not this explain the strange thinking that permeates our society. Our society forbids prayer in school but permits and encourages the favorable teaching of homosexuality to the students. Through environmental laws, we protect the eggs of animals; but at the same time we permit and promote abortion of humans. Furthermore, God’s people, like Israel in Egypt, are being represented as dangerous to society. Liberals speak of conservative Christianity in terms of "dangerous" and "harmful." As Matthew Henry said, "It has been the policy of persecutors to represent God’s Israel [God’s people in general] as a dangerous people, hurtful to kings and provinces, not fit to be trusted, nay, not fit to be tolerated." Oh, how messed up the mind and judgment of man becomes when he is plagued by spiritual ignorance.
3. The Design of the Sovereign
"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. Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens" (vv. 10, 11). The design of the new king was to put Israel under such a severe slavery that it would keep them from multiplying and thus not be, as he feared, a threat to join up with Egypt’s enemies or be strong enough in numbers to be able to leave the land though Egypt opposed it. We note the folly of the design, the foulness of the design, the failure in the design, and the feelings from the design.
The folly of the design. "Let us deal wisely with them" (v. 10) sounds so noble. But what the new king said and what he did were two different things. What he called "wisely" is called "subtilly" in Acts 7:19. "Subtilly" here means crafty. Dealing "craftily" is never true wisdom. But evil men are forever wrongly characterizing their evil actions as "wise’’ and "smart.’’ As Matthew Henry said, "When men deal wickedly, it is common for them to imagine that they deal wisely." But the new king’s actions were not wise. They were very foolish and stupid. They alienated the very people he ought to have sought as allies.
Men may think they are so smart to engage in some evil plan. They may think that through it they will gain much in possessions or prestige or power or pleasure. But when it violates the law of God, it will one day evidence itself as complete folly. Yet, men argue craftily against God’s ways. Even professing believers become very clever in arguing against the will of God at times. With crafty arguments, they to try to justify divorcing their mates, decreasing their giving at church, skipping church services, cheating in business, and marrying the unsaved. But this is not wisdom. Rather, it is great folly; and time will prove it so. Their craftiness will turn on them and ruin them.
The foulness of the design. "They did set over them task-masters to afflict them with their burdens" (v. 11). They made "the children of Israel to serve with rigor" (v. 13). The meaning of the word "rigor" in verse 13 summarizes the cruelness and purpose of the slavery. "The word translated ‘rigor’ is a very rare one. It is derived from a root which means ‘to break in pieces, to crush.’" (Rawlinson). Israel’s slavery was inhumane. They were treated in the same beastly manner as the war prisoners of the Nazis, communists, and other cruel peoples were treated. Under this cruel, forced labor, the Israelite slaves "built for Pharaoh treasure cities [storage cities for supplies for the army], Pithom and Raamses" (v. 11); and they worked "in all manner of service in the field" (v. 14). The work conditions were terrible, for "There is not such exhausting toil as that of working under the hot Egyptian sun . . . from sunrise to sunset, as forced laborers are generally required to do" (Rawlinson).
It is instructive to note that the slavery which was imposed upon the Israelites gives a good picture of the work of sin upon mankind. We see the work of sin in three ways here: sin enslaves, embitters, and extracts.
First, sin enslaves. The sin of the king of Egypt enslaved multitudes of Israelites. Sin ever enslaves. It does not bring freedom. Sin enslaves to evil and destructive habits. Sinners often think that godly people lack freedom to do as they please because the godly do not indulge in evil habits. But it is the sinner, not the godly, who lacks freedom.
Second, sin embitters. "They made their lives bitter" (v. 14). Sin does not make people happy. Sin advertises itself as that which brings great fun to one’s life (beer advertisements especially emphasize this lie). It is true that sin does bring pleasure for a season (Hebrews 11:25). But that season is mighty short; and after it is over, bitterness sets in on a permanent basis unless one comes to Christ for cleansing from sin.
Third, sin extracts. When the taskmasters were done with the slaves each day, the slaves would have little strength left for anything else. Sin always takes the best from us. It extracts a great price. It bankrupts us morally and spiritually. It takes our energy, our time, our possessions, our character, our interests, our health, our happiness, and finally our soul. When church members allow sin to gain control of their lives, they no longer have much interest and time and energy and means by which to serve the Lord. Sin has extracted it all from them.
The failure in the design. "But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew" (v. 12). Slavery failed to diminish the number of Israelites. Though the death rate among the Jews might increase through slavery, the birth rate increased even more. "The multiplication of Israel went on just in proportion to the amount of the oppression" (Keil). How this reflects the work of affliction. Affliction often looks to destroy us. But instead it builds us up. Afflictions are not pleasant experiences. They are bitter and painful. But God uses them to benefit us.
The affliction that came upon the Israelites through slavery in Egypt fulfilled another promise God made about His people in Egypt (Genesis 15:13). We noted earlier that God had promised that Israel would be fruitful and multiply to become a great people and nation in Egypt (Genesis 46:3). Now here we note God also promised them affliction in Egypt. We like the promises about fruitfulness, but we do not like the promises about affliction. But affliction and fruitfulness are not unrelated. Affliction brings fruitfulness; yea it is often necessary for fruitfulness. The Psalmist expresses some of the benefits of affliction when he says, "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now have I kept thy word" (Psalm 119:67) and "It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statues" (Psalm 119:71). How often God has to employ affliction as a disciplinary measure to cause people to finally turn from their wicked ways. All affliction is not chastisement for sin, of course; but a lot of it is. But whether it is for chastisement or not, it can benefit us much in our faith and character.
Israel’s affliction would help them to improve in faith and character—something they greatly needed. We noted a bit earlier that Israel had become involved in heathen idolatry and its licentious practices while in Egypt. Affliction purifies and would, therefore, help Israel to clean up. It helped to get Egypt out of Israel as well as give Israel a desire to get out of Egypt. It would help them to turn to God. "In their affliction they will seek me early"(Hosea 5:15). Affliction would also toughen them for the rugged wilderness journey. Living in ease and luxury in Egypt would not fit them for the journey ahead. But affliction would correct that problem.
The feelings from the design. "And they were grieved because of the children of Israel" (v. 12). The Hebrew word translated "grieved" in our text means "to loathe, abhor, to be weary of; implying mingled chagrin and abhorrence" (William Wilson). These were most unhealthy feelings to have about the Jews. But when you mistreat anything, you will eventually come to abhor it. If you do not give God due honor, you will end up scorning God and loathing the things of God. If you do not honor your church, you will scorn it. This explains why many professing Christians have so little interest in church. Also, we would add here that when a husband and wife mistreat each other, they will discover their love for each other will diminish and their marriage will be imperiled. In our land we have mistreated so many things we ought to be honoring, and the results have been very ugly. We now loathe virtue, integrity, industry, religion, authority, and godliness because we have not honored these things. But on the other hand we give respect and honor to the vilest of practices because we refuse to take a strong stand against these evils.
C. THE SLAYING IN SLAVERY
Since the hard bondage which the Israelites had been put under had failed to stop their multiplication, the king of Egypt devised another murderous plan to eliminate the Jews—kill the male babies. He did not stop the savage slavery but simply added more cruelty to the slaves.
If the king of Egypt had his way, there would not have been any people left for Moses to emancipate. But he was fighting God and would not win. You may be able to eliminate some other races, but you will never eliminate the Jews. God said through Jeremiah, "Though I make a full end of all nations to which I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee" (Jeremiah 30:11). To emphasize the indestructibility of the Jews, God also gave through Jeremiah the impossible formula for eliminating the Jews: "Thus saith the Lord, who giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, who divideth the sea when its waves roar; The Lord of hosts is his name: If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me forever" (Jeremiah 31:35,36). The only way the king of Egypt will get rid of the Jews is to get rid of the universe—and that he cannot do! As Dean Inge of England said, "The Jew has stood at the graveside of every persecutor."
The plan to kill the male Jewish babies made infanticide the law of the land for the Jews. Does this not sound familiar? Yes, indeed. We do not call it infanticide; but we call it abortion or as the liberals prefer, "prochoice." But it is no different—it is still murder, and God will judge it as murder. As did the king of Egypt, many countries today practice killing the innocent babe to control population. Abortion, not drowning, is the usual method of killing today. But like the drowning, abortion is so barbaric, so cruel, and so terribly unjust. We marvel that God’s judgment has not descended in devastating ways on America already for our abortion practices. But it will! Egypt went many years before they suffered the Divine hand of judgment upon them. But it eventually came, and how heavy it was. If you think America will escape with light judgment, you have not read the Bible or history books.
In examining this slaying of the Jewish infants, we will note the orders for the slaying, the obstacles to the slaying, the obstinacy in the slaying, and the objectives in the slaying.
1. The Orders for the Slaying
"And the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives . . . 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" (vv. 15, 16). The order to slay the male Jewish babies involved betrayal and brutality.
Betrayal. The midwives’ work was to assist women to have a successful birthing experience. Their work was to help preserve life. This was fundamental, basic. Yet, the Egyptian king ordered them to do just the opposite. Hence, the midwives were ordered to betray the trust that women had in them. The midwives were to pretend they were helping save life when, in fact, they were to trying to kill. How deplorable the orders—and they were government sanctioned.
Abortion is the same. It operates under gross deceit. First, the doctors who abort betray their medical oath to save life. They are suppose to be saving life, not killing it. However, abortion takes that which is living and kills it. That is completely contrary to the fundamental principle of being a physician. Second, women who come for abortion are told terrible lies. They are told that the abortion will not hurt physically, but how untrue! We have read testimony in which women have confessed that abortion hurt worse than the worst childbirth pain. Women are also told that abortion will not hurt them emotionally. That, too, is a great untruth. We have read testimony that informs us of the heavy guilt which comes upon the woman who has aborted her baby. It is a guilt which destroys all the joys of living. And the guilt hangs on forever. According to the testimony of those who have experienced an abortion, they have a tendency to size up the age of children who are in their presence and to especially focus on the child that is of the age their aborted one would have been if not aborted. Yes, abortion, like the infanticide in Egypt, is filled with great deceit.
Brutality. The cruelty of the proposed infanticide in Egypt is unthinkable to decent people. No one is so innocent as a new born child. Yet, without defense, the child is to be murdered. The midwife was to do whatever was necessary to kill the male child. Suffocation, unstopped bleeding, or a blow to the head could all be easily resorted to in order to quickly slay the child. And these things could be done in a manner that the mother would not know that the midwife was killing the child.
In our hardened day of abortion, many will not be repulsed in this brutal slaying of the new born Jewish boys. But sin is brutal whether the heart is hardened to it or not—and abortionists are indeed hardened to it. They are so hardened to their brutal, bloody, barbaric, and beastly practice that they can go on with their murdering day after day. However, if one of the abortionist people is shot down by a gun, suddenly the abortionist people become very compassionate and full of feeling and righteous indignation against the gunman’s deed. But in this they are so grossly hypocritical! They are the last people in the world who have a right to complain about brutal death! Also, it needs to be noted that the gunman killed a murderer when he killed an abortionist, whereas the abortionists kill the innocent.
2. The Obstacles to the Slaying
"But the midwives . . . did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive" (v. 17). The king’s carefully laid plans to slay the infants ran into a big obstacle—the midwives. We note the fear, failure, and favoring of the midwives.
Fear. The midwives "feared God" (v. 17). They may have also feared the cruel, wicked king. But they feared God more. The One they feared the most was the One who could kill the soul, not just the body (cp. Luke 12:4,5). And that fear purified their conduct! Because they "feared God," they "did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive" (v. 17). The fear of God will give man character, but the fear of man will corrupt man. A big problem in the world today is that we have great fear of man but little fear of God. We are so concerned about what man thinks of us and what man will do to us that we adjust our conduct to try and please man even though that conduct may be grossly wicked. Those who fear God will adjust their conduct to please Him regardless of whether or not it pleases man.
Failure. When the king found out things were not going as he planned, he "called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men children alive? And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered before the midwives come in unto them" (vv. 18, 19). Though what the midwives said had some basis for truth, yet they lied, for their intention was to deceive the king. The midwives had refused to do what the king said to do; but when asked about it, they offered an excuse that was not true. The true reason why the male babies had not been killed was that the midwives had simply refused to kill them.
While the midwives refusal to obey the king’s murderous decree is so very commendable, it does not justify their lying. Some may argue that if they had not lied, they would have lost their lives. Maybe so, but dishonest living is not better or more honorable than honest dying. Furthermore, do not discredit the results of telling the truth. Telling the king the truth may have so shamed the king that he would have changed his ways. And if the midwives had told the truth, what a great influence this would have had in promoting integrity in many people over the years.
We need to promote truth, not lying. Truth is not so weak that we must resort to lying at times to advance the cause of God. We have an obligation before God to be truthful. That obligation does not cease when our life is on the line. But, of course, it takes much spiritual strength to stand true at all times. The midwives were not as strong spiritually as they ought to have been. They, of course, did not have the spiritual advantages we do today. But that does not excuse their lying. It does, however, shame many saints of our day; for the midwives performed far better in the faith even with their failure than most saints perform today with all the spiritual advantages that are present in our land.
Favoring. "God dealt well with the midwives . . . And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them houses" (vv. 20, 21). The midwives conduct brought them much favor from God. This favor was a faithful, family, and fitting reward for their not killing the Jewish male babies.
First, it was a faithful reward. God is faithful to always give due reward for our service to Him. Joseph Parker rightly said, "They who serve God serve a good Master . . . No honest man or woman can do a work for God without receiving a great reward." The midwives’ failure regarding the truth did not prevent their reward. If God were to withhold reward until we were perfect, none would be rewarded. When the coach says, "Nice game," he is not justifying the player’s mistakes. Later he will go over those mistakes. But the "nice game" compliment still stands. God never condones evil, but neither does He withhold due blessings. The blessing would have been greater, of course, had the midwives not lied.
Second, it was a family reward. The phrase "made them houses" (v. 21) means God gave them families. The blessing of families given the midwives was a great blessing, but it is would not be cherished much in our day, for families are not valued much in our time. But God values them, and the midwives valued them. Families are indeed choice blessings. They bring great strength to society, the nation, and the church. Weaken the family and you will weaken society, the nation, and the church.
Third, it was a fitting reward. The midwives being blessed with families reminds us that service done for God is often repaid in kind. These midwives had preserved families by their daring disobedience of the king’s command, and God in turn gave them families. We sow and reap, and we reap what we sow not only in our evil conduct but also in our good conduct.
3. The Obstinacy in the Slaying
"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" (v. 22). The king of Egypt is obstinate in wanting to kill off Israel. If one plan fails, he will adopt another. This new plan was a drowning, disheartening, and a demanding plan.
Drowning plan. Drowning the babies sounded so easy and efficient. Joseph Parker described it in a sanctified sarcastic way, as he is so skilled in doing, when he said, "Pharaoh did not charge the people to cut the sod, and lay the murdered children in the ground; the sight would have been unpleasant, the reminders would have been too numerous; he said, Throw the intruders into the river: there will be but a splash, a few bubbles on the surface, and the whole thing will be over. The river will carry no marks; will tell no stories; will sustain no tombstones; it will roll on as if its waters had never been divided by the hand of the murderer."
Abortionists are like this. While they do not throw their dead babies in the river, they do virtually the same thing when they throw them in trash containers lined with plastic bags. These bags are picked up by garbage trucks and then taken to landfills. There they are dumped in the deep ditches of the landfill and covered over with dirt. In due time the landfill is made like a green field. No tombstones, no markers. Just a nice green field. But God sees in the river, God sees under the surface of the landfill, God sees in the hearts, and God will judge! Men often think they can conceal their sins; but to the contrary, "Be sure your sin will find you out" (Numbers 32:23).
Disheartening plan. This plan had to be very disheartening to the Israelites. It made what normally would be a time of great rejoicing a time of great sorrow instead. How well this unhappy situation shows the vile work of evil. "The Divine gift [newborn child] becomes a trial through the wickedness of man. Sin turns blessings into curses, and joy into sorrow"(J. C. Gray). Few things are as delightful as the coming of a newborn into a family. Yet, in our society, many children are being born unwanted by their parents. Birth is unwelcomed; it brings no joy, only unhappiness. Abortion tries to solve the birth problem but only creates worse problems. Why this attitude about new babies? The answer is sin. Mankind cannot live a foul, immoral lifestyle and maintain the delights of childbirth.
Demanding plan. "And Pharaoh charged all his people" (v. 22). Drowning the male Jewish babies became the law of the land for all the people of Egypt, for they were commanded by the king to kill the innocent. How wicked an evil government can become. And, unfortunately, we are seeing this in our own nation today. When police officers are ordered to guard an abortion clinic so it can continue to operate, it is the government ordering men to help murder the innocent infants. The king of Egypt has nothing on our own government. Our government may be a bit more sophisticated in the way it kills the infants, but it does not change the vile character of the government or make the killing any less than brutal murder. In fact, abortion is more painful for the infant than a quick drowning in the Nile River. Any abortionist who is critical of the king of Egypt for ordering the drowning of babies is an extreme hypocrite.
When a nation stoops to ordering evil, it has stooped to a despicable and destructive low. And our nation is doing it more and more and in many ways. Abortion is not the only way our government forces citizens to do evil, to kill that which is good. Citizens are also forced to do evil by laws which favor homosexuality and gambling and alcohol and tobacco and atheists—laws that slay virtue. A nation either protects righteousness or evil. There is no middle ground. The laws of the land honor good or they honor evil. May God give us the courage to scorn and disobey all evil laws.
4. The Objectives in the Slaying
The immediate objective of the king of Egypt was to stop Israel from multiplying so they would not side with Egypt’s enemy in fighting against Egypt and so they would not by their strength in numbers have the power to leave Egypt and head back to Canaan. In this objective, there are two primary objectives. These primary objectives are to stop the work of God and the Son of God.
Stopping the work of God. God had promised that Israel would go back to Canaan. Satan would endeavor to stop that plan. His business is to always oppose the work of God. He is often devious in doing it, however, so much so that the spiritually naïve frequently fail to see the devil working. But he is always masterminding the opposition to God’s work. So it is when church troublemakers stir up trouble at church. The ultimate purpose of the troublemaking is to stop the work of God. But so many in the church are so spiritually undiscerning that they never catch on and see the real cause. They end up defending the troublemakers and condemning church officials who the troublemakers are attacking. These undiscerning folks never catch on that the reason the troublemakers are upset is that the work of God is being promoted by these church people and programs the troublemakers so ardently attack. All the complaints and fussings and threatenings are nothing but a smoke screen for the real goal of stopping God’s work. The troublemakers may even disguise their complaints as concern for the work of God. But it is wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Stopping the Son of God. Behind this attack upon the Jewish race, was the attack of Satan upon the Son of God. "It is not difficult to peer behind the scenes and behold one who was seeking to use Pharaoh as an instrument with which to accomplish his fiendish design. Surely we can discover here an outbreaking of the Serpent’s enmity against the Seed of the woman. Suppose this effort had succeeded, what then? Why, the channel through which the promised Redeemer was to come had been destroyed. If all the male children of the Hebrews were destroyed there had been no David, and if no David, no David’s son" (A. W. Pink). We can follow this attack of Satan upon the Son of God all the way through the Scriptures. Satan tried to so corrupt the human race in Noah’s time that Christ would not be able to come through the human race as promised. He tried to eliminate the Jewish race in Egypt. He tried to kill David through Saul to eliminate the line of David. He tried to kill Christ in Bethlehem through Herod’s decree. In a number of incidences in the ministry of Christ, Satan tried to kill Christ before He reached the cross. Revelation 12 portrays it well when it tells of the great red dragon going after the male child born of the woman. But every attempt by Satan to eliminate the Son of God failed. God reigns supreme. The attack in Egypt will not succeed. The Jews will not be eliminated nor will the Son of God be stopped.