Sons of Israel
As we have begun the book of Exodus, we have pointed out that this is the second book in the Bible and thus we need to see that this story is the first chapter in the book of Exodus but the 51st chapter in the whole story. We have seen some of the promises made in the previous chapters. The beginning of the book of Exodus starts mentioning the Sons of Israel, but what we miss over the course of chapter 1 and 2 is that this word “son” or in the Hebrew “ben” appears over 11 times, in the ESV it is only translated ‘son’ six of those 11 times, but the other times it is translated people. We can see that this does not affect our translation drastically, we would not come out reading Exodus 1 and 2 in a great difference. Pharaoh is persecuting the people of God and God’s promises are being fulfilled through this persecution. However, what we might miss and what I want to show this morning is the emphasis of this. The repetition shows are the specifics of this persecution. This is more than just one nation against another nation, but we need to understand this is warfare that goes back to the start of Genesis.
The Promised Son
Right after the fall God comes down and pronounces a curse on the serpent and explains the effects of the fall to Adam and Eve for their rebellion. In Genesis 3:15 God says to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” You notice that there is a promise of conflict that is a result of the fall. Two families against one another. The offspring of the serpent and the offspring of Eve. But through the offspring of Eve will come a promised son who will crush the head of the serpent. You see this in the rest of Genesis, that Cain kills Abel, although they share the same physical parents, they are from two different lines. Abel the offspring of promise is killed by the offspring of the serpent. Then the Lord gives Adam and Eve another son to carry on the line of promise through Seth (Gen 5:1). Then you flip forward a couple of pages and you turn to Abraham and Sarah, whom God promises to them a Son which is to be born to them. This son will continue the promise of God. So, when we read in Exodus chapter one that the Sons of Israel increased, and that Pharaoh is seeking to eliminate the Sons of Israel and not the daughters, we see this is not merely a concern for the physical strength of sons, but this is a battle that goes back further than just this opening chapter. You have the seed of the promise, which is under threat, the seed of the serpent is constantly trying to eliminate the seed of promise.
But as we saw last week this does not stop God from fulling his promise, actually you see two promises in Genesis 3:15 the promise of conflict and persecution but also the promise that there will be a Son who will come from Eve’s line to crush the head of the serpent. This is why the understanding of Son helps shows the emphasis, because Pharaoh is seeking not to destroy the people of God but the promise that God made to his people. God is saving and redeeming his Son, Israel, Moses will be sent to Pharaoh to say, “Let my (God’s) son go that he may serve me” (Ex 4:23).
In the midst of this chapter of Pharaoh the great king over a great Kingdom is the story of two women, Shiphrah and Puah. Actually in the first two chapters we will see five faithful women (Shiphrah, Puah, Jochebed (Moses’ mom), Miriam (Moses’ Sister) and Pharaoh’s Daughter). Pharaoh has oppressed the sons of Israel by making them his slaves, but this only caused them to increase all the more. The backwards working in God’s ways, oppression and persecution leads to growth and multiplication not the other way. Pharaoh had tried his first plan, but now was his time to implement his second plan. Use these female midwives to try and eliminate the sons of Israel. Now much has been written about these two women, were they Israelites or Egyptians? We are not told specifically, however, we are told serval things about them.
We do not have recorded in the whole book of Exodus or the whole Bible the name of this Pharaoh we read about in chapter one but also chapter 2 and through the whole book. He clearly has a very important role to play in this story, however, we never know his name. Historians and Scholars have tried to work this out but with no avail. However, these two women, appear only this one time in the whole story of Exodus and the Bible, but the Holy Spirit through the hand of Moses recorded their names. It doesn’t matter if our names are recorded in history books but what matters is that our name has been recorded in the book of Life.
The second piece of information is that they feared God and not the Pharaoh. No matter their genetic pool comes from (Egyptian of Israelite), they fear God above Pharaoh. This is their motivation for what they do. Pharaoh’s plan was very simple, if they have a son kill them, if it is a daughter you may let them live. However, they were not concerned with what this king had told them to do, they sought only to honor God. Now this is interesting, before the giving of the ten commandments, we see clearly that the taking of a life is against God’s law, even if Pharaoh tells them. We see that this shows morality written upon their heart, from Genesis 9. But also we need to note something very important that our society does not understand, that life is life. To take the life of a newborn child is taking a life. As Dr. Suess wrote in Horton hears a who, “A persons a person no matter how small.” For these God fearing women they could not put this child to death. They would rather face death themselves than see these little ones perish.
In the end we see it doesn’t matter that Pharaoh thinks or even says. Now some have explained that the midwives lie in verse 19, however, we have no indication that they did. Maybe they were not as fast getting to the labor, or that there were only two midwives for all the people of Israel (although I believe this is unlikely, I believe they would have been representatives). Notice again what is lacking here, there is no mention of Pharaoh’s direct response to the midwives, because it does not matter. God blesses them and gives them their own family, and we are told exactly why, “Because they feared God” (vs 21). Here we see two hero’s who fear God above Pharaoh. This is exactly what happened to Peter and John in Acts chapter four and then again in chapter five, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Pharaoh’s second attempt did not work; Slavery did not stop them from multiplying, nor did commanding the midwives to kill the sons. So Pharaoh tried a third method, this is specifically get his people to destroy the Sons of Israel. He commands his people, to take every son and cast them into the Nile. Pharaoh goes to great length to be able to have the sons of Israel wiped out. This is a horrendous act which Pharaoh seeks to wipe out the promised son altogether. A horrific time of death of these young children. We need to keep this in our minds as we continue to read through the book of Exodus. We will see signs and wonders done by God as acts of judgement. The last two are found when God sends forth the angel of death to take the first born son of those who do not have the blood upon their door posts, but also the one who commanded that the sons of Israel to be thrown into the sea to drown will be thrown into the sea himself and drown.
The first time Pharaoh tried to destroy the sons of Israel was by enslaving them, but this did not work. The Second time Pharaoh tried destroying them by the midwives, but that did not work. The third time Pharaoh tired to destroy the sons of Israel it did not work either, because continue reading into chapter 2, “Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months” (Ex 2:1–2). Pharaoh said, every son must die, but yet we are told in the next line that there is a son who is born. The promise continues. Or even if you read the last verses in chapter 2, “During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people [sons] of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people [sons] of Israel—and God knew” (Ex 2:23–25). This promise is not dead but is just getting started. The promise of the snake crusher still lives on even after all of Pharaoh’s attempt to crush the promised son, the promised son will crush him.
The True Son
In all of this the truth that helps us see the impact of reading these passages seeing it as an attack against a son helps us make the clear Gospel connection to the true Son. When Jesus was Born after the wise men left and avoided Herod “an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Matt 2:13–15). The Old Testament calls Israel God’s son and yet Matthew sees this is only but a shadow of Christ, being God’s son. Jesus goes through an Exodus event. But also notice the tactic of King Herod, “Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men” (Matt 2:16). The promise of the snake crusher was still under threat. The offspring of the serpent would seek to try and eliminate the promised son. However, just as Pharaoh had failed attempts and we know that Herod’s attempt failed as well.
Christ is the snake crusher that defeated death (1 Cor 15:26). However, Paul actually states that he will ‘soon’ crush the head of the serpent (Rom 16:20). The promise in Genesis 3:15 still lives on, Christ is the true son, but God the son became a son of man, that we might be adopted as sons of God (Gal 4:4-5). Read through the book of Acts and see how the seed of the serpent is still attacking the seed of promise. See Herod’s great grandson put to death James the brother of James by the sword (Acts 12:1-2). But notice what happens the same attend through different methods, but in verse 24 we are told that, “But the word of God increased and multiplied.” (Acts 12:24). We don’t have time to be able to unpack the parallels now, but will all this in mind go and read Revelation chapter 12. But this is the glorious thing of the Bible, the image of a seed. You push that seed down into the ground. In the darkness of the dirt it begins to sprout. It pushes its way upward and outward. The ground has no power to stop it from growing. Pharaoh seeks to destroy the sons of Israel but God makes them grow. Herod seeks to destroy the king who is born, but God makes him grow, he is victorious over death. You see Christians getting forced underground, to do church in the dark, but guess what his church grows because of his promises. Over the last 40 years the church in China has grown faster than anywhere else in the world from about 1 million to now about 100 million people. In Africa there was estimated about 9 million Christians in 1900, but in 2021 there is an estimated 685 million Christians in Africa, with 760 million expected by 2025. This surpasses earlier estimates of 630 million to 700 million for 2025. The great story of Exodus shows not the power of the people, but the might and strength of the God of the people.