At the beginning of Exodus the history of Genesis is quickly summed up and it ends with the statement that “all that generation died.” Then a king “to whom Joseph meant nothing” came to power. I like that the TNIV has explained what it means that the Pharaoh “did not know Joseph.” It is a contemptuous disrespect for the memory of Joseph that leads this Pharaoh to persecute the Hebrews. The people have greatly increased in numbers and the Pharaoh is worried that they could rise up and cause trouble. What better way to prevent this than by oppressing them with forced labour and causing them to desire to rise up? Once it became obvious that forced labour was not preventing the Hebrews from increasing Pharaoh ordered the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, to kill all the Hebrew baby boys at birth. Pharaoh’s plan is thwarted because the midwives, who were probably Egyptian, feared God and refused. They claimed that the Hebrew women gave birth without assistance. Pharaoh then commanded that all Hebrew boys be thrown into the Nile River.
When Moses was born his mother hid him for three months but then did as Pharaoh commanded and threw him into the Nile River. However, before throwing him in, she placed him in an “ark.” This is the same word used in Genesis 6:14 of Noah’s ark. That old joke about Moses building the ark is only half wrong! How about this one: “How old was Moses when he got in the ark?” Answer: three months!
Pharaoh is again thwarted by two women. In this case Moses’ mother and his own daughter who finds the boy, knows full well that he is a Hebrew, but takes him as her own. When Moses grows up he has a clear desire for justice but it is unguided. He kills an Egyptian who is abusing a Hebrew slave and is forced to flee for his life when Pharaoh finds out. Moses sits down by a well in Midian and we know that his wife can’t be too far off! She soon arrives along with her six sisters and he draws water for their flocks after scaring off some shepherds. Their father invites Moses to the house and offers Zipporah to him. Interestingly, she is the daughter of a pagan priest just as with Joseph and Asenath. Moses’ father-in-law is here called Reuel but is subsequently referred to as Jethro.
Meanwhile back in Egypt, the Pharaoh whose daughter had rescued Moses died. The new Pharaoh was no better. “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them” (2:23b-25). It is interesting that they “cried out” but it doesn’t say that they cried out specifically to God. Nevertheless, God heard their cry and decided to act on it. Although it says that “God remembered,” it does not mean that he ever forgot. When God “remembers” it means that he has decided to act.
In Exodus 3, Moses sees a burning bush and goes to investigate. God speaks to him and appoints him the leader of his people. God said “I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt” (3:10). The new Pharaoh was likely the son of the previous one and therefore would have been Moses’ “brother.” It is interesting to think what their childhood relationship might have been.
Moses asks God what name he should give to the people. If they are going to call “on the name of the Lord” they need to have his name. He reveals himself as “I am who I am” which means he is the all encompassing God. The end of the chapter provides a synopsis of what will happen in the near future as he rescues the people.