Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Feb 9 2019 - Exodus 1:1-22 – Genocide

God promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the sea-shore. God promised Jacob that his descendants would become like the dust of the earth in number. During the many years that the Israelites had been in Egypt, God had been fulfilling his promises; the Israelites had "multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them" (Exodus 1:7).

But God's faithfulness in blessing his people created its own problems. Joseph and the blessings he brought to Egypt had long been forgotten. The current Pharaoh can only see that these foreigners are multiplying in number and could become a threat to his country – an attitude with which we are sadly all too familiar.

But threats can also become opportunities. Pharaoh decides to use these people as slave labour to build store cities for the Egyptians. Joseph had once advised Pharaoh on the building of store cities and may even have overseen their construction; his descendants, and those of his brothers, are now at the bottom of the heap in the construction of similar facilities. Moreover, they were worked ruthlessly; Pharaoh is not content simply to have them as slave labour, he wants also to break their spirit and their power.

Despite this harsh treatment, the Israelites continue to multiply to the dismay of the Egyptians. So Pharaoh decides on the time-honoured tactic of tyrants, he will murder those whom he perceives to be a threat to his own power. He does not wish to destroy his own workforce, but he does want to stop their numbers growing. He calls in the Hebrew midwives – two of their representatives are mentioned here by name. They are told to strangle every male child at birth. But the midwives are not in the business of death; they have the privilege of partnering with God and bringing new life into the world in the fulfilment of his promises. They may be afraid of the power of Pharaoh, but they have a far greater reverential fear of the God of Abraham.

Pharaoh cannot recruit the Hebrew midwives to his cause, so he decides that he will now recruit the whole population of Egypt. Anyone who sees an Israelite baby boy must throw him into the river so that the child will drown.

God is still at work to fulfil his promises and ultimately to bring blessing to all nations of the earth. But this does not mean that his people will always have an easy time. There are those who are determined to oppose the purposes of God. Such people are sometimes in positions of power and can make life hard for those who know God, even to the point of threatening their lives. Many Christians face such opposition and persecution today. They need our prayers.

We too may be called to live in challenging times and we always face the temptation to conform to the prevailing behaviour of those around us. It takes courage to stand up for what is right and good and, like the Hebrew midwives, challenge those who are in positions of power. 

Father, we pray for those of your children who today are facing persecution and the threat of death. Enable them to know that you are with them and have not abandoned them. Give them the spirit of the Hebrew midwives who feared and trusted you more than they feared the power of their oppressors. Keep us also from becoming conformed to the spirit of our age. By your Spirit, transform and renew our minds so that we might stand up for what is right and good and do what is pleasing to you.

Peter Misselbrook