Prologue. These chs set the stage for the exodus by telling how the family of Jacob grew into a people in Egypt and fell into bondage
(as God foretold in Gen. 15.13
), and how Moses, the human agent of their deliverance, arose. It is composed of a combination of early narrative sources
(JE) and P material.
Transition from Genesis. A recapitulation of Gen. 46.8–27
(cf. Gen. 35.23–26
) leads to the account of how Jacob's family grew in Egypt from seventy individuals (a number signifying perfect completion)
to a huge population—indeed, from a family to a nation.
Many terms in this v. (and in vv. 12 and 20
) are also used in God's blessings and promises in Genesis, especially to the patriarchs (Gen. 1.20, 28; 9.1, 7; 17.2; 18.18; 28.14; 48.4
), implying that these ancestral promises were now being fulfilled by God, who was causing the Israelites' proliferation and
thwarting Pharaoh's attempts to check it.
This may refer to the rise of the 19th Dynasty, particularly Rameses II (ca. 1279–1213 BCE). This dynasty, founded by military officers, sought to protect Egypt's vulnerable coast and northeastern and northwestern
borders from the Sea Peoples, the Libyans, and infiltrators from the Sinai, and to protect access to Egypt's empire in western
Asia. Given the Israelites' background in Canaan and current residence in Goshen (
), adjacent to the Sinai, Pharaoh may have feared that they would ally with invaders from that direction.
Pharaoh's attempts to check the Israelite proliferation unfold in four stages, increasingly more oppressive: subjection to
corvée (forced or draft) labor (vv. 11–12
), slavery (vv. 13–14
), a secret attempt to murder newborn boys (vv. 15–21
), and a public attempt to do the same (v. 22
). The presentation of these as four successive, intensifying stages is the work of the redactor who drew them from the earlier
sources J (corvée), P (slavery), and perhaps E (one or both attempts at infanticide).
Pharaoh hopes to check the Israelites' proliferation by exhausting them. Taskmasters, foremen of corvée contingents (1 Kings 5.27–28
). Garrison cities, rather “store cities” of a type that usually served military purposes (1 Kings 9.19; 2 Chron. 8.4–6; 17.12–13; 32.27–28
). Pithom and Rameses stood at strategic points guarding the entry to Egypt from the north and northeast. Pithom, Egyptian Pir‐Atum, “House of (the god) Atum,” was probably Tel e‐Retabeh or Tel el‐Maskhutah in the Wadi Tumilat, the entrance
to Egypt from the Sinai Peninsula; both sites have archeological remains from the time of Rameses II. The city of Rameses
was Pir‐Rameses‐Meri‐Amon, “House of Rameses, beloved of [the god] Amon,” capital of the delta region under the 19th and part
of the 20th dynasties (1292–1137 BCE). It occupied a very large area that extended over Kantir and Khataana and other nearby sites. Seti I (1294–1279) built a
summer palace there, and it was considerably expanded by Rameses II.
Ruthlessly imposed…labors, reduced them to full slavery (Lev. 25.39–46
Hebrew, an old term for Israelites, usually used when contrasting Israelites with other peoples (Gen. 14.13; 39.14, 17; 40.15; Exod. 21.2; Deut. 15.12
); it is not normally used after the time of David. A relationship with the groups known as ‘Apiru (sometimes spelled H̆apiru)
in ancient Near Eastern sources has been suggested, but the connection is problematic since the latter refers to a social
class of outcasts, whereas “Hebrew” refers to an ethnic group. Hebrew midwives, the phrase could mean “midwives to the Hebrews” or midwives who were Hebrew. The former interpretation, found in LXX, Josephus,
Abravanel, and Judah he‐Ḥ, understands them as righteous Gentiles; hence their motive is said to be fear of God (v. 17
) rather than loyalty to their people.
Killing the males and leaving only females would eliminate potential Israelite military power. Pharaoh's efforts are of no
avail, as women thwart him (v. 17
) and rescue Israel's future deliverer (
). Birthstool, parturient women sat or crouched on a seat of stone or bricks.
Fearing God, restrained by an awareness that murder would bring divine retribution.
Throw into the Nile, rather “expose in the Nile,” that is, to be floated in baskets down the Nile where the babies would sink and drown. This
attempt also fails. Ironically, the Nile will become the means by which Moses is saved and raised by Pharaoh's own daughter
), and drowning will become the means of Pharaoh's ultimate defeat (Exod. 14.28
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