Monday 27 October 2014

Bible Book:

“Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we.’” (vv. 8-9)

Exodus 1:1-11 Monday 27 October 2014


At the very beginning of Israel's life as a nation, God hadpromised to Abraham that his descendants would become as numerousas the stars (Genesis 12:2; 15:5). Since at the time he had no children atall, Abraham found this hard to believe; yet God is faithful toGod's promise. By the time Jacob settled in Egypt, his family wascomplete, the number seventy (verse 5) reflecting the 'perfect'number seven. The book of Exodus tells the story of how thedescendants of Jacob grew from this (large) family into a nation,not just numerically but in their shared story and identity. Theirdevelopment as a nation echoes the fertility promised in Genesis(Genesis 1:28).

Yet the story of Israel's life together begins in oppression.Pharaoh and his entourage felt threatened by the vitality andvigour of the immigrants, and therefore took steps to ensure thatit was a struggle for them to gain their livelihood. This wasachieved through a form of slavery known as forced labour, wherewhole groups of people are forced to work (often for little or nopay) to construct buildings for the state. There has been intenseinterest in Pithom and Ramses, the store-towns which they built forPharaoh. If you google these names you will find maps and picturesof archaeological remains which may be those described here.

The names given in this story are significant. The sons ofJacob, ancestors of the twelve tribes, are carefully listed.Pharaoh may not know their names, not even the famous Joseph, butthe story keeps the names alive. It is all the more striking, then,that we are not told Pharaoh's name, just given his title. He isdehumanised, as the oppressor, by this omission, which was verylikely deliberate. In the following section, unusually, names arerecorded for two Israelite women (verses 15-21). Shiprah and Puahwere the courageous midwives who refused to obey Pharaoh's commandto kill all boy babies at birth, and gave the outrageous excusethat the Israelite women were so much stronger than the weakEgyptian ones that they gave birth too quickly for them to act.Their quick-witted courage defeats Pharaoh's obsessive hostility tothe people. Already we see that Pharaoh is wicked and stupid.

To Ponder

  • Can you think of any contemporary situations where one ethnicgroup faces oppression from another, just because they aredifferent? How does this story help you reflect on thatsituation?
  • Do you think differently about people, or treat themdifferently, when you know their name?
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