Exodus 1: 1-22

The first verse of Exodus in Hebrew is waw.  Apparently waw means and.  The first word is not insignificant because it shows how Exodus should be read as a chapter in the larger story of the Pentateuch.  To understand Exodus 1 we must understand Genesis.  Of course, we can glean meaning by dropping in in the middle of the story.  However, the unfolding account of who God is is progressive.  We need to see already that he is The Creator; that he has mastery over reproduction; and that the people of Israel are in Egypt by God’s design.  Yet God is quite passive in chapters one and two.  Even when we are not conscious of exactly what God is doing, he is working.

Exodus 1: 1-22

 1 These are the names of the sons of Israel who went to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family: 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah; 3 Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; 4 Dan and Naphtali; Gad and Asher. 5 The descendants of Jacob numbered seventy [a] in all; Joseph was already in Egypt.

 6 Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, 7 but the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them.

 8 Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt. 9 “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become much too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”

 11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly. 14 They made their lives bitter with hard labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their hard labor the Egyptians used them ruthlessly.

 15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth and observe them on the delivery stool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”

 19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”

 20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.

 22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every boy that is born [b] you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”


  1. Which characters are named at the beginning of the book?
  2. What was the new king’s knowledge of Joseph?
  3. What word is repeated in vv. 7, 9, 20?
  4. What is God’s plan for the people of Israel?
  5. What does God plan for Christians today?  What can thwart his grand plan?

Going Deeper


  • How exactly does the Bible describe how numerous the people of Israel became soon after Joseph?
  • What does Pharaoh deduce this numerous people will do?
  • What is the Egyptian view of the Israelites (v. 12)?
  • What word is repeated in 13 and 14 to describe how the Egyptians worked the Israelites?
  • How did the midwives explain how the boys were living in spite of Pharaoh’s orders?


  • Which Pharaoh was this in history?  Does it matter?
  • How is God inactive in the text?
  • Does God condone the lies of the midwives?
  • How is God’s blessing to Abraham still shown?
  • Why would people exiting Egypt and entering Canaan need to know this story?


  • How do Americans treat illegal Mexican immigrants?
  • How has being enslaved shaped black America?
  • Do white Americans treat Spanish speakers and blacks as lesser beings?
  • If God is God of history, what has been achieved/learned by allowing blacks to endure slavery and hispanics to work below minimum wage?
  • How has God been passive while observing your life unfold?  What might be his purpose?

About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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