Exodus 1: The Israelites are oppressed
At the end of the book of Genesis, the Israelites were living in Goshen, which was the best part of Egypt. Joseph had been second in command of all of Egypt, until he died at the age of 110. Because of Joseph’s help, Egypt survived a terrible drought—although they were now all slaves of the Pharaoh. But still, at least they were alive.
Unfortunately, time passed, the Hebrews increased in number, and a new king came to power in Egypt, “who did not know about Joseph” (verse 8). He wasn’t happy that the Hebrews were so numerous in the land:
“Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become much too numerous for us. 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.” (verses 9–10)
I’m not sure why he assumed that the Hebrews would side with Egypt’s theoretical enemies, but hey, what do I know? I’m not a Pharaoh…
So the Egyptians put slave masters over the Hebrews, to oppress them, but, unfortunately for the Egyptians, the more the Hebrews were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread! But, under the theory that if it doesn’t work, you should keep doing it—but even more—the Egyptians worked them all the more ruthlessly.
But, since it wasn’t working, the king decided to try something harsher: He instructed the Hebrew midwives to kill any male children born to the Hebrews. The midwives refused to do it, however, and when the king asked them what was gong on, they told him that the Hebrew women were so “vigorous” that they always gave birth before the midwives could even arrive (verse 19). So—you guessed it—God blessed the Hebrews, and they increased even more.
So the Pharaoh gave up on the midwives, and commanded his people: “Every boy that is born [to the Hebrews] you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live” (verse 22). (Note that the translation that shows up in the NIV is simply “Every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile”, but in the footnote it mentions that other texts specify the “to the Hebrews” part. I’m assuming that this is what the Pharaoh meant, so that’s why I’m including it—otherwise, he was so desperate that he ordered all boys, Hebrew or Egyptian, to be killed.)
This chapter keeps referring to the leader of Egypt as “the king”, instead of “the Pharaoh”. I don’t know if there is a reason for that, or if they both just mean the same thing, and so the author used one or the other interchangeably. I assume that the terms are interchangeable, so I’m using them that way.