1 These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, 3 Is'sachar, Zeb'ulun, and Benjamin, 4 Dan and Naph'tali, Gad and Asher. 5 All the offspring of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. 6 Then Joseph died, and all his brothers, and all that generation. 7 But the descendants of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong; so that the land was filled with them. 8 Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.Meditation: Exodus opens with a description of the extended family of Jacob who migrated from Caanan to Egypt because of famine. They were welcomed in Egypt because of their brother Joseph whom they had sold as a slave into Egypt many years before. God had told Abraham that his descendants would be exiled in a strange land and treated as slaves and oppressed for four hundred years. It seems a strange twist of providence that God would lead his people into Egypt only to be left there in bondage. Why did God do this? First, he wanted to establish them as a nation. They went to Egypt as a large family and came out of it as a nation.
9 And he said to his people, "Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. 10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war befall us, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land." 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens; and they built for Pharaoh store-cities, Pithom and Ra-am'ses. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. 13 So they made the people of Israel serve with rigor, 14 and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field; in all their work they made them serve with rigor.
15 Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiph'rah and the other Pu'ah, 16 "When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the birth stool, if it is a son, you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, she shall live." 17 But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. 18 So the king of Egypt called the midwives, and said to them, "Why have you done this, and let the male children live?" 19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, "Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and are delivered before the midwife comes to them." 20 So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and grew very strong. 21 And because the midwives feared God he gave them families. 22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, "Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live."
Second, the suffering they experienced in Egypt made them detached from it when their deliverance came. Don't we become attached to our possessions and land until God weans us and shows us that we belong to another land, another kingdom in heaven? We struggle to hold on to what we have; but suffering gives us a different perspective. It helps us to see beyond the immediate to what is beyond life, to eternity. Suffering made the people of Israel strong in Egypt. Do you allow God to strengthen you through suffering and trials?
There is another possible reason the Lord allowed the Iraelites to suffer in Egypt. "You will sow what you reap." The sons of Jacob had to reap the results of their own action in selling their brother Joseph into slavery. We often do not see the seriousness of our wrong actions until the consequences reveal how sinful they were.
The bondange of the people of Israel is a type of human bondage to sin (see 1 Peter 1:14-18). The whole human race has gone into slavery to sin, in our father Adam. In the making of the nation of Israel, the children of Jacob were born outside the Promised Land in slavery. We, too, are born in a foreign land, under Satan's dominion, and enslaved to sin until Christ sets us free through a new birth in baptism and the Holy Spirit. We, too are pilgrims on our way to the Promised Land, the New Jerusalem.
"Lord Jesus, help me to live as a
pilgrim bound for Heaven. Reveal to me the sin that keeps me from perfect
union with your holy will. Free me from pride and wilfulness and give me
a humble and contrite heart that is ready to do your will."