There will possibly be questions raised about numbers of people and dates. I have given my best shots for these but it’s probably best to avoid getting bogged down in them!

Read Exodus 1:1-22

1 These are the names of the sons of Israel who went to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family: 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah; 3 Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; 4 Dan and Naphtali; Gad and Asher. 5 The descendants of Jacob numbered seventy in all; Joseph was already in Egypt. (Some versions have 75, but see my comment in the study on Genesis 46:27.)

6 Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, 7 but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them.

The twelve sons had fifty-one sons between them when they arrived in Egypt (say 50, and an average of 4 each to make the calculation easier!). Assuming each son also had 4 boys, if there was a new generation every 40 years, after the first 40 years there would be 200 new boys; after 80 years, 800. After 320 years there could be 3,276,800!

Moses would have been born in this last generation, he was 80 when he went to confront Pharaoh (Exodus 7:7), and the Israelites had been in the land 430 years when they left (Exodus 12:40,41).

We are told in Exodus 38:26 that there were 603,550 men aged 20 and over who came out of Egypt (Exodus 12:37 – ‘about six hundred thousand men’).

But how many women, and boys and girls? We can probably assume there was the same number of women, and we could guess at least another 300,000 boys and girls, giving a total of around one and a half million people.

(603,550 men + 603,550 women =1,207,100 adults. Assume ages are split into 5 age bands: 0-20, 20-40, 40-60, 60-80, 80-100.

The oldest four bands total 1.2m people. Divide by 4 for the 0-20 range = 301,775. This gives a total of 1,508,875 people)

By now the Israelites were no longer a large family; they had become a small nation. And the Egyptians were quite justifiably concerned

8 Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. 

There is a lot of speculation concerning the identity of this Pharaoh, with some students associating him with the Hyskos – a people who took over Egypt for a while. But firm evidence is missing! Suffice it to say, This Pharaoh not only thought nothing of Joseph, but he regarded him and his people as a potential threat.   

9 ‘Look,’ he said to his people, ‘the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.’

Although they felt threatened by the Israelites, what do you understand by the last phrase ‘and leave the country’?

(It seems they already saw the Israelites as a resource they could exploit.)

11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labour, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly. 14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labour in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labour, the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.

It would be good to have archaeological evidence from Pithom and Rameses but hard facts are difficult to find! What is certain is that ‘the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites’. It was obvious that the population growth of the Israelite people seemed noticeably greater than normal, even though their living conditions were harsh (v12).

We know about their brickmaking but what other work did they have to do (v14)?

15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah,16 ‘When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.’ 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, ‘Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?’

19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, ‘Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.’

20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous.21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.

From our calculations it suggests that there were 40 babies born every day – far too many for two midwives! We can only assume that either they were only called to the difficult births, or perhaps to those of a higher social standing – tribal chiefs; or perhaps they simply represented all the midwives.

That is not the point. What should we notice in verses 17 and 21?

Midwives were usually unmarried women. Here, because they were God-fearing we read that God rewarded them with families of their own.

We might be surprised that Pharaoh accepted their explanation at face value, but God also had a hand in that – v20 ‘God was kind to the midwives’.

22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: ‘Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.’

Exodus 2

1 Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, 

It would be the Levites who were chosen to be the priests – but Moses wouldn’t know that!

2 and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son.

Not her first child: she had already had Aaron, now aged three, and a daughter Miriam, probably aged about five; but faced with this new directive from the Pharaoh, she had to obey. But

When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months.

I think that every mother would feel the same, and respond in the same way!

But after three months all the neighbours would know she had kept a baby boy, and the Egyptian overseers would soon find out. He had to go in the river.

3 But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. 4 His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.

Would you say that was an inspired solution?

5 Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the river-bank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. 6 She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. ‘This is one of the Hebrew babies,’ she said.

7 Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?’

Miriam, Moses sister, was probably the oldest of the three children, but not old enough to be given any work to do. This young girl would probably be the only person who could approach a Pharaoh’s daughter and speak to her without anyone bothering to stop her. Can we see the Lord’s hand in that too?

8 ‘Yes, go,’ she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother. 9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.’ So the woman took the baby and nursed him.

Now she is given her baby back, and paid to bring him up!

10 When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, ‘I drew him out of the water.’

We will leave this first study here, but before we go we should remind ourselves of what the Lord said to Abraham after he had rescued Lot.

Genesis 15:12-16

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, ‘Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and ill-treated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterwards they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.’

God is working his purposes out. Sometimes we wonder how events in our own lives can possibly be going the way God might intend, but from his perspective, we can be assured that he is always in control!

Maybe someone has a testimony to that that they could share?

Exodus 2

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Exodus  1:1-22, 2:1-8  
From Joseph to the birth of Moses