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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 1

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-7

1. The growth of Jacob’s family 1:1-7

The purposes of this section are three at least.

1. These verses introduce the Israelites who are the focus of attention in Exodus.

2. They also tie the Israelites back to Jacob and explain their presence in Egypt.

3. They account for the numerical growth of the Israelites during the 360 years that elapsed between Genesis and Exodus following Joseph’s death and preceding Moses’ birth.

Moses used the round number 70 for the number of Jacob’s descendants when the patriarch entered Egypt (Exodus 1:5; cf. Genesis 46:27). [Note: For a good short history of Egypt, see Hannah, pp. 105-7; Youngblood, pp. 20-25, or Siegfried Schwantes, A Short History of the Ancient Near East, pp. 51-109.] The writer’s purpose was to contrast the small number of Israelites that entered Egypt with the large number that existed at the time Exodus begins (Exodus 1:8 ff.), about two million individuals (cf. Exodus 12:37; Exodus 38:26; Numbers 1:45-47). It is quite easy to prove mathematically that Jacob’s family of 70 that moved into Egypt could have grown into a nation of two million or more individuals in 430 years. [Note: See Ralph D. Winter, "The Growth of Israel in Egypt (The Phenomenon of Exponential Growth)," a paper published by the Institute of International Studies, Pasadena, Ca., 14 April 1993.]

The fruitfulness of the Israelites in Goshen was due to God’s blessing as He fulfilled His promises to the patriarchs (Exodus 1:7).

Verses 1-21


"The story of the first half of Exodus, in broad summary, is Rescue. The story of the second half, in equally broad summary, is Response, both immediate response and continuing response. And binding together and undergirding both Rescue and Response is Presence, the Presence of Yahweh from whom both Rescue and Response ultimately derive." [Note: Durham, p. xxiii.]

A. God’s preparation of Israel and Moses chs. 1-4

Verses 8-14

The new king (Exodus 1:8) may have been Ahmose (Greek Amosis) who founded the eighteenth dynasty and the New Kingdom and ruled from 1570 to 1546 B.C. However, he was probably one of Ahmose’s immediate successors, Amenhotep I or, most likely, Thutmose I. The Egyptian capital at this time was Zoan (Gr. Tanis). Ahmose was the first native Egyptian Pharaoh for many years. Preceding him was a series of Hyksos rulers. [Note: See Aharon Kempinski, "Jacob in History," Biblical Archaeology Review 14:1 (January-February 1988):42-47.] The name Hyksos probably means "rulers of foreign lands." [Note: John Van Seters, The Hyksos, p. 187.] They were a Semitic people from the northern part of the Fertile Crescent who had invaded Egypt about 1670 B.C. and ruled until Ahmose expelled them. The New Kingdom (ca. 1570-1085 B.C.) that Ahmose inaugurated was the period of greatest imperial might in Egypt’s long history.

"In the Late Bronze Age [ca. 1500-1200 B.C.], Egypt entered her period of Empire, during which she was unquestionably the dominant nation of the world. Architects of the Empire were the Pharaohs of the Eighteenth Dynasty, a house that was founded as the Hyksos were expelled from Egypt and that retained power for some two hundred and fifty years (ca. 1570-1310), bringing to Egypt a strength and a prestige unequaled in all her long history." [Note: John Bright, A History of Israel, p. 98.]

The title "Pharaoh" means "great house." It originally designated the Egyptian king’s residence and household. It became a title for the king himself for the first time in the eighteenth dynasty. [Note: Walter C. Kaiser Jr., "Exodus," in Genesis-Numbers, vol. 2 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 288.]

The implication of the statement that Pharaoh "did not know Joseph" in the Hebrew text is that he did not know him because he did not want to know about him. It seems that the early kings of the eighteenth dynasty wanted to solidify control of Egypt in the hands of native Egyptians. After a long period of control by foreigners, they did not want to acknowledge the greatness of Joseph who was, of course, also a foreigner and a Semite.

"Forgetfulness of Joseph brought the favour shown to the Israelites by the kings of Egypt to a close." [Note: C. F. Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament: Pentateuch, 1:421.]

Identifications of Significant Pharaohs
after Joseph and in Exodus [Note: Based on the Cambridge Ancient History. All identifications are probable.]
SECOND INTERMEDIATE PERIOD (dynasties 15-16; ca. 1674-1567 B.C.). Capital: Avaris (Raamses). Period of Hyksos rule.
NEW KINGDOM (dynasties 17-20; ca. 1570-1085 B.C.). Capital: Tanis (Zoan). Period of imperial supremacy. Ahmose (Amosis; 1570-1546 B.C.; 1st Pharaoh of 18th dynasty) expelled the Hyksos and re-established native Egyptian rule. Thutmose I (Thutmosis I; 1525-ca. 1512 B.C.; 3rd Pharaoh of 18th dynasty) practiced genocide on Hebrew male babies (Exodus 1:15-22). Hatshepsut (1503-1482 B.C.; 5th Pharaoh of the 18th dynasty) was the daughter of Pharaoh Thutmose I who drew Moses out of the Nile and later ruled as Queen (Exodus 2:5). Thutmose III (1504-1450 B.C.; 6th Pharaoh of the 18th dynasty) was the Pharaoh of the oppression who tried to kill Moses and from whom Moses fled into Midian (Exodus 2:15). Amenhotep II (1450-1425 B.C.; 7th Pharaoh of the 18th dynasty) was the Pharaoh of the plagues and the Exodus (Exodus 3:10 to Exodus 15:19).

Pharaoh launched three successive plans to reduce the threat of the sizable Hebrew population that then was larger and stronger than the Egyptian ruling class (Exodus 1:9).

The first plan (plan A) was to make the Hebrews toil hard in manual labor. Normally a population grows more slowly under oppression than in prosperous times. However the opposite took place in the case of the Israelites (Exodus 1:12). Physical oppression also tends to crush the spirit, and in this objective the Egyptians were somewhat successful (Exodus 2:23-24).

Exodus 1:10 should read as follows. "Let us (the entire Egyptian ruling class) deal wisely with them (the Israelites) lest they . . . in the event of war (with enemies, the Hyksos, or any other) . . . join themselves to those who hate us and fight against us and depart from the land." [Note: See Gleason L. Archer Jr., "Old Testament History and Recent Archaeology from Abraham to Moses," Bibliotheca Sacra 127:505 (January-March 1970):24-25.]

This plan remained in effect for some time. It probably took years to build the cities of Pithom and Raamses (Ramses, Rameses), which the Egyptians used to store goods (cf. 1 Kings 9:19; 2 Chronicles 8:6; 2 Chronicles 17:12). Pithom may be Tell er-Retabeh or Heliopolis, not Tanis; and Raamses may have been Qantir, rather than Tell el-Maskhouta, the popular critical identifications. [Note: See Longman and Dillard, p. 67; Kaiser, p. 289; and Charles F. Aling, "The Biblical City of Ramses," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 25:2 (June 1982):128-37.]

"The name ’Rameses’ for one of the store cities seems to point unquestionably to Rameses II [ca. 1300-1234 B.C.]. But it is probable that this city, which already existed under the Hyksos (the foreigners who ruled Egypt several centuries before the nineteenth dynasty), was rebuilt by Rameses II and that Exodus 1:11 refers to the city by its later name . . . ." [Note: William H. Gispen, Exodus, p. 22. Cf. Wolf, pp. 143-45. See also my note on Genesis 47:11.]

There are several instances of the writer or a later editor using more modern names for older sites in the Pentateuch, such as "Dan" in Genesis 14:14.

"The brick was the staple of Egyptian architecture, as only the temples and palaces were constructed of stone." [Note: F. B. Meyer, Devotional Commentary on Exodus, p. 19.]

This plan failed to reduce the threat that the Israelites posed to Pharaoh, so the Egyptians adopted a second approach.

Verses 8-22

2. The Israelites’ bondage in Egypt 1:8-22

This pericope serves a double purpose. It introduces the rigorous conditions under which the Egyptians forced the Israelites to live, and it sets the stage for the birth of Moses.

Verses 15-22

Plan B consisted of ordering the Hebrew midwives to kill all the male Hebrew babies at birth. Albriight confirmed that these women’s names were Semitic. [Note: W. F. Albright, "Northwest-Semitic Names in a List of Egyptian Slaves from the Eighteenth Century B.C.," Journal of the American Oriental Society 74 (1954):233.]

"They were to kill them, of course, secretly, in such a way that the parents and relatives would be unaware of the crime, and would think that the infant had died of natural causes either before or during birth." [Note: Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, p. 12.]

"Infanticide was commonly practiced by the nations of antiquity." [Note: Meyer, p. 20.]

As I mentioned, plan A (Exodus 1:9-14) may have been in effect for several years. Because of the chronology of Moses’ life many evangelical commentators felt that the Pharaoh the writer referred to in Exodus 1:15-22 was Ahmose’s successor, Amenhotep I (1546-1526 B.C.). More likely he was the man who followed him, Thutmose I (1525-ca. 1512 B.C.).

"Although the biblical term ’Hebrew’ [Exodus 1:15] is probably cognate to the similar word ’apiru (found in Egyptian, Babylonian, and Canaanite texts), the latter was applied to a population element that was ethnically diverse and that had in common only a generally inferior social status. The word ’Hebrew’ is almost always used by Gentiles to distinguish Israelites ethnically from other peoples and apparently denotes descent from Eber (Genesis 10:24-25; Genesis 11:14-17), whose ancestor was Noah’s son Shem (Genesis 10:21)." [Note: Youngblood, p. 27.]

The two midwives mentioned by name (Exodus 1:15) were probably the chief midwives who were responsible for others under them. [Note: See Watson E. Mills, "Childbearing in Ancient Times," Biblical Illustrator 13:1 (Fall 1986):54-56; and Nahum M. Sarna, "Exploring Exodus-The Oppression," Biblical Archaeologist 13:1 (June 1986):77-79.]

Ancient Near Easterners preserved national identity through the males, and it is for this reason that Pharaoh ordered their deaths. In contrast, modern Jews trace their ethnic identity through their mother. The change evidently took place during the Middle Ages. One writer suggested that Pharaoh spared the girls, "perhaps to serve later as harem girls." [Note: Gispen, p. 36.]

The midwives’ fear of God (Exodus 1:17; Exodus 1:21) led them to disobey Pharaoh’s command to practice genocide. They chose to obey God rather than man since Pharaoh’s order contradicted a fundamental divine command (cf. Genesis 1:28; Genesis 9:1; Genesis 9:7). All life belongs to God, so He is the only person who has the right to take it or to command when others should take it. The midwives’ fear of God resulted in their having reverence for human life. Their explanation of their actions (Exodus 1:19) may have been truthful or it may not have been entirely truthful.

"Even though these women lied to Pharaoh (which the Bible, as is often the case, does not stop to specifically condemn at this point), they are praised for their outright refusal to take infant lives." [Note: Kaiser, p. 306.]

God blessed these women with families of their own (Exodus 1:21) in spite of their deceit, if they practiced it, because they feared God.

This second plan "miscarried" too.

The intent of plan C was also to do away with the male Hebrew babies (Exodus 1:22). However instead of relying on the Hebrew midwives Pharaoh called on all his subjects to throw every Hebrew boy that was born into the Nile River. Since the Egyptians regarded the Nile as a manifestation of deity, perhaps Pharaoh was making obedience to his edict an act of worship for the Egyptians. This plan evidently failed too. The Egyptians do not appear to have cooperated with Pharaoh. Even Pharaoh’s daughter did not obey this command (Exodus 2:6-8). This plan, too, may very well have continued in effect for many years.

The Pharaoh Moses referred to in Exodus 1:22 was probably Thutmose I. [Note: See Davis, p. 51.]

"The central idea [in this pericope] is that God faithfully fulfills His covenant promises in spite of severe and life-threatening opposition. Even Pharaoh, the most powerful man on earth could do nothing to thwart God’s purpose. In fact, God actually used Pharaoh’s opposition as a means of carrying out His promises." [Note: Gordon H. Johnston, "I Will Multiply Your Seed [Exodus 1]," Exegesis and Exposition 1:1 (Fall 1986):27.]

"It is interesting to note that the author has placed two quite similar narratives on either side of his lengthy treatment of the Exodus and wilderness wanderings. The two narratives are Exodus 1-2, the Egyptian king’s attempt to suppress Israel, and Numbers 22-24, the Moabite king’s attempt to suppress Israel. Both narratives focus on the futility of the nations’ attempts to thwart God’s plan to bless the seed of Abraham . . ." [Note: John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative, p. 242.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Exodus 1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/exodus-1.html. 2012.
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