The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

My Notes on Exodus 1:8-14, 22

Posted by Dim Bulb on July 13, 2013

Background: It is common to refer to Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy as “books” but they are in fact parts of a major theological opus often called “The Law (Or Torah) of Moses,” or “The Pentateuch.” The five “books” form a unity and are meant to be seen in relation to one another:

“The Pentateuch…was conceived as a single book and the reader will understand and appreciate its message only if he sees and interprets each of its five parts in relation to the whole. Thus Genesis explains the origin of the people who became the first citizens of God’s theocratic kingdom of Israel. Exodus recounts the actual birth of the kingdom at Sinai. Leviticus impresses upon the reader the ‘holy’ nature of the kingdom, Numbers describes its communal organization and emphasizes the need for a hierarchy of authority. Deuteronomy inculcates the spirit of love by which the citizens of the kingdom are to be animated in relation to God and to each other.”~Ellis, Peter F. (1963). The Men and Message of the Old Testament. Collegeville, Minnesota: Order of St Benedict. Copyright 1963 Order of St Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota.

The Book of Exodus opens with these words: THESE are the names of the children of Israel, that went into Egypt with Jacob: they went in every man with his household. In this way a connection is drawn to the final major section of Genesis: the story of Jacob and his twelve sons, especially Joseph, whose brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt (see Gen 37-50). In this way God began to bring about events he had foretold to Abraham (Gen 15:13-14), the great-grandfather of Jacob’s twelve sons.  In spite of the evil of Joseph’s brothers, and, indeed, through it, God showed his providential care for his chosen people, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (see Gen 50:15-20 cf., Gen 45:5; Rom 8:28-39).

Exo 1:8  In the mean time there arose a new king over Egypt, that knew not Joseph:

In the mean time. After the death of Joseph (verses 5-6) the people of God increased in numbers in Egypt over a period of about 400 years (verse 7, and see Acts 7:6). The increase in the number of “the children of Israel” mentioned in verse 7 serves to draw a connection with the book of Genesis. The  five Hebrew verbs used in verse 7: The children of Israel increased, and sprung up into multitudes, and growing exceedingly strong they filled the land, recalls previous promises and blessings of God:

To Adam: Gen 1:28
To Noah: Gen 9:1, 7
To Abraham: Gen 13:16, 15:5, 17:2
To Jacob: Gen 28:14, 46:3

There arose a new king over Egypt. A new king is, according to ancient usage of the phrase, a king who does not continue the policies, protocols and governing principles of his predecessors. It is said that he knew not Joseph, wording that should be seen in relation to the description of him as a new king. His lack of knowledge concerning Joseph does not mean he is unaware of how the Hebrews came to be in Egypt, rather, he is guilty of a willful ignorance used to serve his new policies. He has knowing rejected knowledge of his predecessors policies regarding the Hebrews.

The unnamed king (Pharaoh) is usually identified as Seti  I. The Pharaoh at the time of the Exodus is usually identified as Ramses II.

Exo 1:9  And he said to his people: Behold the people of the children of Israel are numerous and stronger than we.
Exo 1:10  Come let us wisely oppress them, lest they multiply: and if any war shall rise against us, join with our enemies, and having overcome us, depart out of the land.

The children of Israel are numerous and stronger than we. Stephen J. Binz suggests that the Pharaoh is left unnamed so that he might become “a symbol for the forces of slavery and death which take on the God of freedom and life”~Binz, Stephen J (1993). The God of Freedom and Life. Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press. Copyright 1993 Order of St Benedict.

Come let us wisely oppress them . Wisely. The Hebrew  הִתְחַכֵּם indicates a craftiness, here political in nature. .

lest they multiply: and if any war shall rise against us, join our enemies. Excavations dating to the time of Seti and Ramses indicate that major building efforts were underway in the Nile Delta in Egypt. Slave laborers were employed for these projects which were located on the Eastern frontier of Egypt, an area prone to foreign invasion.

Lest they…depart out of the land. In verses 8-10a it is God’s blessings and promises of life, success and fertility that motivate the Pharaoh’s opposition, showing him to be anti-God. Here, in the second part of verse 10, it is Pharaoh’s fear that God’s people will leave the land of Egypt that is at odds with God’s promise to Abraham (Gen 15:7, 13-16; 17:8). slavery trumps xenophobia. Also, his fear of God’s people is at odds with the promise to Abraham in Genesis 22:18~And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed my voice.

Exo 1:11  Therefore he set over them masters of the works, to afflict them with burdens: and they built for Pharaoh cities of tabernacles, Phithom, and Ramesses.

He set over them masters of the work. The Hebrew could be translated: he set over them burdeners (i.e., men to burden them).

Exo 1:12  But the more they oppressed them, the more they were multiplied and increased. And the Egyptians hated the children of Israel,

The more they oppressed them, the more they were multiplied. Recalls Tertullian’s words in his Apologia: The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. “God is not man that he should be moved by threats, nor human, that he may be given an ultimatum” (Judith 8:16).

Exo 1:13  And  afflicted them and mocked them:
Exo 1:14  And they made their life bitter with hard works in clay and brick, and with all manner of service, wherewith they were overcharged in the works of the earth.

Affliction, work and service to Pharaoh’s designs were forced upon the people. Various forms of the Hebrew word עבד (‛âbad) are used here, denoting work and service. This forced work for Pharaoh and Egypt is to be seen in contrast to the work of service (i.e., worship) of God (Exodus 3:12, 7:16, 9:1, 9:13, 10:3, 10:24-26). In these latter passages various forms of the word עבד (‛âbad) are also used.

Exo 1:22  Pharaoh therefore charged all his people, saying: Whatsoever shall be born of the male sex, ye shall cast into the river: whatsoever of the female, ye shall save alive.

In spite of all Pharaoh’s machinations, including trying to force upon the Hebrews the complacency and complicity of killing their own male children (verses  15-21), God’s blessing and promises continued to be operative among the people who refused to play  the role of Jezebel (Rev 2:20-23) or the Nicolaitans (Rev 2:14-15), causing him to undertake more drastic measures. He turned his own people from oppressors into murderers. In this too, however, he will also be thwarted.


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