Exodus: Israel becomes a nation

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Exodus: Israel becomes a nation

The *Israelites leave Egypt

An EasyEnglish Bible Version and Commentary (2800 word vocabulary) on Exodus chapters 1 to 18


Hilda Bright and Kitty Pride

This commentary has been through Advanced Checking.

Words in boxes are from the Bible.

A word list at the end explains words with a *star by them.

About the Book of Exodus

Exodus is one of the first 5 books of the *Old Testament. We speak about these 5 books together as ‘the Pentateuch’. The *Greek translation gave this book its name ‘Exodus’. It means ‘to go out’. God helped the *Israelites ‘to go out’ from *Egypt. The book is in two parts:

Chapters 1-18: the first part of Moses’ life; the *Israelites’ troubles in Egypt; the events and the *plagues that led the *Israelites to leave Egypt.

Chapters 19-40: how God gave the Law to Moses; how they built the special holy tent (*Tabernacle); the rules for *worship.

Moses was the most important person in all these events. He was the main person who recorded the events. Exodus 24:4 has these words. ‘Then Moses wrote down everything that the *LORD had said.’ Later, when Joshua built an *altar, he followed Moses’ instructions for it (Joshua 8:31).

Moses’ name appears 804 times in the Bible. It appears in the books of both the *Old Testament and the *New Testament. Numbers 12:3 describes Moses as ‘a very humble man. He was more humble than anyone else on the earth’. But Moses was a great leader. He had great courage and he had a very close relationship with God. Without Moses, the *Israelites might not have escaped from the country called Egypt. They might not have reached the country that God had promised to them.

God had prepared Moses. And he chose Moses to act on his behalf (Exodus 3:8-10). God does not change, and he carries out his promises. Many years before that time, God had spoken to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He had told them that the number of people in their families would increase. And they would become great nations in the future. God had told them that he would give to them the country called *Canaan (Genesis 17:3-8). God rescued his people from Egypt, because he controls history. *Pharaoh, Egypt’s ruler, was powerful, but he could not stop God’s plans. God carried out his promise to guide the *Israelites in the *desert. The *desert was a wild place where there are small bushes and not much water. It has poor soil and people cannot grow crops there. Then God brought them to the country called *Canaan.

This book, Exodus, emphasises that God is holy. He looks after his people but he is separate from them. The *Israelites had to stay away from *Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:12). Not even Moses could see God himself (Exodus 33:18-20). They used many objects when they *worshipped God. And each of those objects was special and holy. Each thing reminded the *Israelites that nobody should approach God in a careless way. God expected his people to be holy. ‘Be holy, because I, the *LORD your God, am holy’ (Leviticus 19:2). God’s 10 *commandments and the other rules are in Exodus chapters 20-23. They show what God demands from his people. He wants moral behaviour all the time in people’s ordinary lives.

God is the *LORD (in *Hebrew his name is ‘Yahweh’). His name means: ‘the Person who lives for all time’. And he called himself ‘I AM’ (Exodus 3:14). Nobody can understand his nature completely. But he shows himself to us by means of his acts and his *commandments. He loves and he forgives. Also he acts to punish *sin (Exodus 34:5-7). People gained a more complete knowledge about God when Jesus came to earth. Jesus showed us what God is like (John 1:14 and 14:9).

Chapter 1

This chapter describes how the *Israelites became slaves. They were living in the country called Egypt. Egypt’s king was called the *Pharaoh. He wanted to control the *Israelites because they had become so many people. He wanted to kill some of them because he was afraid. He thought that they might start to fight against him.

The *Israelites – verses 1-7

v1 These are the names of Israel’s sons who entered Egypt with him. (Israel’s other name was Jacob.) Each son had his family with him. v2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah; v3 Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; v4 Dan and Naphtali; Gad and Asher. v5 The total number of Jacob’s children and grandchildren was 70. His other son, Joseph, was already in Egypt.

v6 As time passed, Joseph and his brothers all died. And their children died after them. v7 But their families continued to increase greatly in numbers as the years passed. People called them *Israelites and they filled the country.

Verses 1-4 The *Hebrew word ‘and’ begins verse 1. This word and the list of names show that this book continues the record in Genesis. God had given the name ‘Israel’ to Jacob (Genesis 32:28). So ‘Israel’s sons’ refers to Jacob’s own family. Egypt’s ruler had invited Jacob and his family to live in Egypt. He gave land to them in the region called Goshen. And they had plenty of room for their sheep and other animals there (Genesis 47:1-6). Jacob had 4 wives and he had sons with each wife. This book records names of Jacob’s sons. They appear in the same order as in Genesis 35:23-26. His first wife was Leah. Her sons were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun. Then Rachel’s sons were Joseph and Benjamin. Dan and Naphtali were the sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s servant. Gad and Asher were the sons of Zilpah, Leah’s servant.

The list in verses 2-4 does not include Joseph because he was already in Egypt. Many years before these events, his brothers had sold him as a slave. But he became powerful in Egypt (Genesis chapters 37; 39-41).

Verse 5 The number 70 is the number of males in the family who came to Egypt. The *Greek translation of Genesis 46:27 includes 5 more names. They were Joseph’s grandsons. They were the sons of Ephraim and Manasseh, Joseph’s sons. They make the number 75. And Stephen mentioned 75 in his speech (Acts 7:9-15).

Verse 7 God had promised Abraham that his family would increase. His family would become a great nation (Genesis 12:2 and 17:2). That promise was becoming true in Egypt. The *Israelites became so many people that they ‘filled the country’. ‘The country’ may mean the region called Goshen. Or ‘the country’ may mean the whole country called Egypt. ‘Filled’ describes how the *Egyptians felt about it. They did not want so many *Israelites to live in their country.

*Pharaoh’s fear – verses 8-10

v8 Then a new king became ruler in Egypt. He did not know about the good things that Joseph had done. v9 The king spoke to his people. ‘Look, there are too many *Israelites in our country now. v10 We must do something to reduce them. We do not want the number of *Israelites to increase even more. If another country starts a war with us, they might join up with our enemies. Then they would fight against us and they would leave our country.’

Verse 8 The word ‘*Pharaoh’ means ‘ruler’. ‘A new king became ruler’. That suggests that he did not become king in the usual way. He was not the previous ruler’s son. He may have been a man called Ahmose. Ahmose made himself king instead of the Hyksos kings. The Hyksos were foreigners who had ruled Egypt for many years. Exodus 12:40 records that the *Israelites lived in Egypt for 430 years. So they were there for hundreds of years after Joseph’s death.

Verses 9-10 Enemies lived on Egypt’s borders. So *Pharaoh was afraid that a great many *Israelites might join up with these enemies. Then they would fight against the *Egyptians. Also he would lose valuable workers.

Hard labour – verses 11-14

v11 So the *Egyptians made the *Israelites be their slaves. The *Egyptians appointed cruel masters over them. And they forced the *Israelites to work very hard. They had to build the cities called Pithom and Ramses, where *Pharaoh stored his supplies. v12 But the *Israelites’ numbers still increased, although the masters of the slaves were very cruel to them. The *Israelites spread over more and more land. So the *Egyptians became very afraid of the *Israelites. v13 The *Egyptians forced them to work very hard. They did not pity the *Israelites. v14 So their lives were very miserable. The *Egyptians forced them to mix mud. And they forced them to make bricks. They forced the *Israelites to do all kinds of hard work in the fields too. The *Israelites had become the *Egyptians’ slaves. And the *Egyptians did not pity them.

Verse 11-12 The masters of the slaves were important *Egyptian officials who organised public works. They appointed some *Israelite slaves to be masters over the other slaves. And each of these masters was responsible for a group of workers (Exodus 5:6, 10 and 14).

‘Pithom’ means ‘the Sun’s House’. The ruler called Ramses 2nd (about 1290-1225 before Christ’s birth) ordered work on these cities. But we do not know if he was the same *Pharaoh as the one in this verse. Either he built or improved these cities. Later, King Solomon built similar cities in *Israel where he stored provisions. Some of these provisions were supplies to use in war.

Verse 14 To make bricks was dirty, difficult work. A great river called the River Nile flows through Egypt. Every year the River Nile floods. When the floods go down, the waters leave plenty of mud. But the *Hebrew workers had to dig out the mud. Then they had to mix it with straw. They placed the mixture in wooden boxes. Then they dried these in the sun. There is a painting on the wall of an *Egyptian building in the city called Thebes. It shows people who are making bricks out of mud. Also there is a record from King Rameses’ time. It gives details about the number of bricks that slaves must produce. It tells about 40 slaves, and each man had to produce 2 000 bricks. One man made only 1 360 bricks, so they punished him. But there is no other record to tell us more about the punishment.

The *Israelites also had to do hard agricultural work. They needed to bring water to the fields. Probably they dug canals to bring water from the River Nile. That was very hard work too. Notice the phrases ‘hard work’ and ‘did not pity’. Those words emphasise that the *Israelites had many difficulties.

The order to kill boys at birth – verses 15-21

v15 There were *Hebrew women who helped other women to have their babies. These women’s names were Shiphrah and Puah. Then the king spoke to them. v16 ‘You help other *Hebrew women when they have their babies’, he said to them. ‘You must watch them carefully when they give birth. If the baby is a boy, kill him. If the baby is a girl, let her live.’ v17 But Shiphrah and Puah respected God. So they did not do what Egypt’s king had told them. They let the boys live.

v18 Then the king sent for them again. ‘Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?’ he asked them.

v19 ‘*Hebrew women are not like *Egyptian women’, they answered *Pharaoh. ‘*Hebrew women are strong. And their babies are born quickly, before we can arrive.’

v20 So God was kind to these women. The number of *Israelites increased more and more. v21 And because Shiphrah and Puah respected God, he gave to them families of their own too.

Verses 15-16 Other nations referred to the *Israelites as ‘*Hebrews’. Usually the name *Hebrew appears in the early part of *Israel’s history. The name for women who help other women during birth is ‘midwives’. The king or ‘*Pharaoh’ may have been powerful, but there is no name for him in Exodus. Moses uses just his title, *Pharaoh. But Moses names the *Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah. They respected God. So they had the courage not to obey the *Pharaoh’s orders. *Hebrew women sat on a special place ‘between two stones’ in order to give birth. Most translations have the words ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ for the babies. But the *Hebrew words are ‘son’ and ‘daughter’. The king’s order was to kill ‘sons’ at birth. That shows more clearly how the *Israelites would have terrible loss and unhappiness. The daughters would remain alive. Probably the girls would marry *Egyptian men later, if there were no young *Israelite men. Then their children would become *Egyptians.

Verses 19-21 Shiphrah and Puah did not obey the king’s cruel order. Their excuse to him was not completely true. But the king believed them. God gave them a reward because they respected him. He gave to them children of their own.

*Pharaoh’s order to the *Egyptians – verse 22

v22 Then *Pharaoh gave this order to all his people. ‘You must throw every *Hebrew baby boy into the River Nile. But let every baby girl live.’

Verse 22 That was *Pharaoh’s final effort to kill the *Israelites. The easiest way to kill all the male babies was to drown them. *Pharaoh was ordering all the *Egyptians to support his terrible plot. They had to kill all these babies. Centuries afterwards, a similar thing happened again. At the time when Jesus was born, King Herod decided to kill all the babies in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16). But neither *Pharaoh’s plan nor Herod’s plan succeeded.

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