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Exodus 1:8-2:10

Exodus 1:8-2:10

Background to the Book of Exodus:
Historical Situation: (History within the text)
The Book of Exodus tells how God took pity on the Israelites, the means chosen to liberate them from the Egyptians, and their consequent journeys in the wilderness. The story begins after the Israelites have been in Egypt for several generations and a new Pharaoh comes to the throne who is threatened by the number of foreigners (Israelites) in the land and takes hard measures to subdue them and stop them multiplying. We read of the call of Moses by God, the confrontations with the Pharaoh and his wise men, the subsequent release and flight of the Israelites. The pivotal event was revelation of God to Moses and God giving the Law to the people via Moses. (Put picture in here with link). The covenant set up here is conditional on the people keeping their promises (Exodus 19:5-8) - note the word "if" they do ... "then" you shall be my people.

After the initial laws in Exodus 20-23 we read the story of the wooden ark in which the tablets of stone (which have the Law written on them) are to be housed and carried. Great detail is given about this Ark in Exodus 25-27 before going into further detail about the priests who will serve and the manner of the sacrifices. We read of the people's rebellion and Aaron's role in building a golden calf to worship. Moses returns once more from one of his mountain trips and castigates the people for their unfaithfulness. The Book of Exodus finishes with a further account of the building of the ark which sounds rather repetitious of the first one. Within the Book we are given the origins of such Festivals as Passover and Unleavened Bread.

Some people have tried to find evidence within the Egyptian chronicles that the Israelites were present in Egypt in this period but the lack of written material from that era limits any discoveries. What has been found in general terms is that foreigners did serve in Egyptian households, there were building programmes using 'apiru' and foreigners did attain high service in important households (Johnstone:17-27). Rather than trying to prove historical fact as in the old Western idea of 'facts', it is better to understand the Book of Exodus as 'historiography', that is, the remembered history of the Israelite people which is crucial to their identity as the people of God.
Literary Comments
The Book of Exodus is a mixture of very early oral material which has come from different traditions and been joined together in the one book. The events are pivotal to their faith and as we have four gospels telling us about Jesus Christ so the Jews have different memories of the same events. We have four different gospels, but in Exodus the traditions are all mixed in the same book which makes it difficult reading sometimes. For example, in Exodus 19 Moses goes up and down the mountain several times and one isn't sure if he is up or down.

Some people have tried to identify some of the traditions within the Book: a tradition that uses the name of Yahweh called 'J', another called 'E', the tradition written by the Priests called 'P' and the very easily identified "D' tradition mainly found in the Book of Deuteronomy. It makes sense that different communities as in the NT had different memories and emphases which had become important to them and so when the Scriptures are committed to writing there is a desire to incorporate the diverse memories of people and their experience of God within their lives.
PURPOSE of the Book of Exodus:
To tell the story of how God raised up a leader, Moses, to release the Israelites from Egypt who lead them through the wilderness where they received the Law from God via Moses. This Law showed them how to stay in relationship with God and with each other. It gives detailed instructions for building the Ark in which the Tablets will be housed. In the Book of Exodus we have demonstrated the unfaithful behaviours of the people and God's willingness to renew the covenant. The actions of the people's apostasy and God's willingness to renew the covenant is repeated many times in the history of the people.

Context of Exodus 1:8-2:10
The Book of Genesis finished with the record of Joseph's death and the promise to his brothers that God would bring them out of Egypt into the land promised to their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is an inclusio with Gen 12 in which we read for the first time of the promise of God to Abram that he will father a great nation and God will give him a new land. Not only has the promise has been stated in Gen 12 and 50, but also at significant places through the Book of Genesis. It indicates to the reader that we are following this path on which the people of Israel set out in trust to the promise of God. Exod 1:1-7 acts as a bridge between the death of Joseph and the present situation which is now the focus of the Book of Exodus. The lectionary reading set for today tells us why the Hebrews have become a threat and the ensuing hardship which befalls them. We learn of the birth of Moses and his upbringing before we read about the actions of Moses: he sees one of his own people being treated harshly by an Egyptian overseer and he kills him. This becomes the cause for his flight into Midian, his marriage to Ziporrah and his time as a sojourner in Midian. Certain events are dealt with in a brief and succinct manner, like the expansion of the Hebrews into a threat compared with the story of Moses' birth and rescue by the daughter of the Pharaoh.

Insights/Message of Exodus 1:8-2:10

Literary: This week's reading can be divided into three distinct sections:

Exod 1:8-14 = the new dynasty or first act to control the Hebrews

Exod 1:15-22 = the Pharaoh's genocide or second act to control the Hebrews

Exod 2:1-10 = the birth of a deliverer or third act to control the Hebrews

Exod 1: 8-12 (singular pronouns and verbs) are repeated in a slightly different form and intensified in Exod 1:12-15 (plural pronouns and verbs) and this may indicate the presence of two different traditions (Durham: 6). The phrase, "arose a new king" indicates to us that it is a new dynasty of Pharaohs who have no knowledge of Joseph and the important role he played in the survival of Egypt during the years of severe drought. The mention of the cities (v.11) reinforces the area in which the Israelites settled was in the delta region of Egypt. Vv.13-14 indicate the severity of the hard labour with its repetition of words such as, "toil unremitting, lives bitter, hard service,"(Durham: 8). The fulfillment of the promise to Abram in v.12 about becoming as numerous as the stars is demonstrated here and continues in v.13 because the hardship will become the catalyst for them to become a great nation. Already we have here the beginning of the conflict between God and Pharaoh. The Pharaoh failed to stop the multiplication by his hard service and cruelty and so devised the next plan of action (vv.15-22) in which the midwives were instructed to kill all male Hebrew children. The direct speech of the Pharaoh first to the midwives (x2) and then to all his people emphasises his growing need to get rid of the threat of the Hebrews. In opposition to this fear the midwifes fear in v.17 is that sense of awe/trust and not the abject subordination we associate with the word fear. In reward for their loyalty to Yahweh and willingness to thwart the orders of Pharaoh they are kept safe by Yahweh and blessed with children themselves. When this plan is thwarted Pharaoh sets in motion plan three (Exod 1:22). In v.16 the word for birth stool is literally stones and is a Hebrew dual with the meaning derived from 2 testicles and hence birth stool. It is used in the Old Testament only here and in Jer 18:3 where it is translated as a pair of stones used by the potter. The story of Moses set afloat among the reeds has parallels to the story of Sargon in the legend of Sargon of Akkad (ANET 3). Sargon was rescued by a water pitcher and brought up to become a famous Assyrian king. The Nile becomes the means of salvation for Moses and later becomes the means of defeat for the soldiers of Pharaoh. Indeed, Pharaoh is setting up his own demise, but doesn't know it as he doesn't know the identity of Joseph. Moses genealogy is established in Exod 2:1 when it mentions that both his parents are from the house of Levi which later confirms Moses as one of a priestly tribe. Furthermore, it reminds people that even although Moses has an Egyptian name (Patmose, Ahmose) and upbringing he is of the house of Levi. As opposed to the direct speech of her father, the direct speech of the Princess is to life-giving to a Hebrew not to bring death.

Message:The multiplication of the Hebrews is the sign that the promise from as far back as Gen 1:28 is coming true, but what is "a sign of blessing for Israel is a sign of disaster for Pharaoh"(Fretheim: 27). There are many opposites conjured up in these verses: as God gives life so Pharaoh wants to take it away; Pharaoh does not know Joseph (the only description given about him) compared with God who knows his people and their situation (Exod 2:25); the storage buildings instigated by Joseph were to sustain life in a time of famine, and under Pharaoh the cities are being used to try and kill people who have become a threat. The repetition of the word "to serve" in vv.13 -14 emphasises the hardship of the Hebrews, but it becomes almost a motif as it is used 97 times in the book of Exodus (Fretheim: 30). However, the Israelites will serve God and not Pharaoh.

Women play a crucial role in these events in Exod 1 & 2. The two midwifes are given names and identified as Hebrew women which is unusual in itself when so many women in stories are left nameless. Furthermore, the Pharaoh is not named and these two women outmaneuver him. The irony of the Pharaoh attempting to control the growth of the Hebrews is not only thwarted by the Hebrew midwives, but his own daughter subverts his plans. Sons might be the focus of his murderous decree, but it is daughters who are the real danger. Women play a vital role in the survival of Israel as a nation and their ongoing destiny to become a nation. God has used women in the past to forward his hopes and promises for the people of Israel (Rebekah, Rachel) and continues to do so. Women play a crucial role in the life of Moses: his mother gives birth and is then paid to suckle him; his sister has the courage to suggest the wet nurse (Exod 2:7); the Princess defies her father's decree, and later in the life of Moses his wife Zipporah, saves his life. As Moses comes to the fore so the role of the women sink into the background (Exum:82-84). He is saved for the purpose of bringing the Hebrews out of Egypt and so begins the birth of the nation.

The three attempts of Pharaoh to control the threat of the Hebrews are thwarted by means which are known to the reader as God driven - the promise to multiply, the reverence of the midwives for God and the action of Miriam where bye Moses was suckled by his own mother before joining the household of the Pharaoh's daughter. God can use the lowly and the high born to forward his purposes for the world and we all need to be reminded of this at times.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Mth 16:13-20: there are no direct allusions or quotes in these sections from the Old Testament.

Resources/Worship for Exodus 1:8-2:10
Worship: This reading lends itself to dramatisation in some form or other. The reading from the Dramatised Bible would bring the foci of the different speakers



The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the Book of Exodus (Johnstone).

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.

*Brueggemann, Walter. "The Book of Exodus: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections". In The New Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 1. Nashville: Abingdon, 1994.
Childs, Brevard S. The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary. OTL. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, [1974].
Coats, George W. The Moses Tradition. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993.
Durham, John I. Exodus. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987.
*Fretheim, Terrence E. Exodus. Int. Louisville, Ky.: John Knox Press, 1991.
Gowan, Donald E. Theology in Exodus: Biblical Theology in the Form of a Commentary. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994.
*Johnstone, W. Exodus. OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990.
Moberly, R. W. L. At the Mountain of God: Story and Theology in Exodus 32-34. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1982.
Sarna, Nahum M. Exploring Exodus: The Heritage of Biblical Israel. New York: Schocken Books, 1986.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: These links were updated 30/12/11

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