Read Exodus 1:1-2:10
Never in the history of our society have we witnessed more family crises. Unfortunately, some happen simply because of human error. The very week I wrote the introduction to this chapter, a small boy was suddenly killed when an air bag exploded in his face as his mother swerved the car she was driving and hit a curb. Sadly, the young lad wasn't wearing a seat belt, leaving his head and shoulders totally exposed to the impact. That evening as I watched a brokenhearted father share on the news what had happened, my own heart grieved for this family—especially for the mother, who will probably be tempted to blame herself the rest of her life for this accident.
Other family tragedies—perhaps most of them—are more directly related to evil and sin in the world. Oftentimes children suffer because of the decisions of wicked, selfish people who are more concerned about their own status in life than the welfare of others. Consider the horrible results of war. Nothing is more tragic than to see innocent children terribly maimed or killed. Just this week I saw a young lad who had lost his eyesight in a war-torn country. Feeling a deep sense of anxiety and loss, he whispered to his father that he would have been better off if he had been killed.
These stories, and many like them, are gripping. They demonstrate that life is fragile. But there are other stories that can be told in which God in His sovereign grace has provided miraculous care and protection—particularly in response to faith and courage. The story of Moses illustrates this wonderful reality.
The account of Moses' birth and survival is an amazing story of faith, courage, and clear thinking during a time of great political upheaval in Egypt. Amram and Jochebed, Moses' parents, faced an incredible crisis. The Pharaoh of Egypt, responding to his own sense of threat and fear, ordered that all newborn males in Israel be snatched from their mothers' breasts and thrown into the Nile River (Exod. 1:22). Jochebed gave birth to Moses during this turbulent moment in Israel's history. From a human point of view, it would be just a matter of time before Moses was discovered, facing certain death! But as we'll see, God intervened and responded to courageous faith.
Moses' story is a sequel to Joseph's life. Joseph was one of the twelve sons of Jacob, and because he was a favorite son, his brothers hated him. But rather than kill him as they originally had intended, they sold him to a band of Midianite merchants who transported him to Egypt where he was put on a slave block. Through a series of God-ordained events, Joseph was freed from slavery and rose to a position of prime minister in Egypt. In this significant role, he prepared the people of Egypt for a great famine—so widespread that it also affected his family back in Canaan. Because Joseph was respected by Pharaoh, he was able to bring his whole family, consisting of seventy people, down to Egypt. Here they settled on a beautiful and fertile section of land where they could live in peace and plenty (Gen. 45:16-20).
But life was not always to be tranquil for the children of Israel. Time has a way of blurring memories, changing circumstances, and hardening the hearts of men.
For more than four hundred years, "the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them" (Exod. 1:7). From a small beginning numbering seventy people, this little band of people became a great nation—probably numbering in excess of two million. However, as is so often true in life, what sometimes begins as a great blessing can become a great burden—even a curse.
Four hundred years is a long time. Joseph's great exploits in Egypt were forgotten, "lost" in the continuing events of history. Pharaoh's promises to Israel were also forgotten. The scriptural record is clear: "A new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt" (1:8).
The phrase "a new king" evidently refers to a monarch who differed substantially in his philosophy of leadership and who departed from his predecessors' policies and principles. In fact, the Scriptures imply he was not even interested in the "way" the previous kings ruled Egypt. Consequently, when we read that this king "did not know about Joseph," it is also implied that he really didn't care to know anything about the man whose name had become a household word in the archives of Egypt. This Pharaoh was interested in building a reputation for himself, not perpetuating the exploits of a predecessor—especially the achievements of a Hebrew named Joseph.
The new king's attitude toward Israel's growth rate allows us to peer into his personality. He was an insecure and threatened man. In typical paranoid fashion, he exaggerated and projected his fears. "'Look,' he said to his people, 'the Israelites have become much too numerous for us'" (1:9).
Actually, Pharaoh had two concerns. First, if there was a war, he was afraid Israel might join forces with Egypt's enemies. Second, if this should happen, the children of Israel might leave Egypt (1:10). For Pharaoh, this was a catch-22. He wasn't comfortable living with the Israelites, but neither was he comfortable living without them.