After Jacob’s eleven sons had returned to their homes in Goshen, some of them began to worry about how Joseph might treat them. They still felt guilty about some of their past actions. Anxious to do everything they could to make up for the wrong ways in which they had treated Joseph when he was young, they sent him a message in which they asked for his forgiveness.
Joseph felt even more kindly toward his brothers after he received the message. Later, when they came to bow humbly before him, he broke into tears.
“You did evil to me,” he reminded them. “But don’t worry about it anymore. It was part of God’s plan to get me into Egypt and use me to help many people. Don’t have any fear of me because I am next to Pharaoh in power. I want to help you and your families” (Gen. 50:15-21).
After governing Egypt for many more years, Joseph died in Egypt at the age of one hundred and ten. Before he died he told his brothers that God would surely take their people back to Canaan some day, because that was the land that was promised to the Israelites. He asked them to take his body back to Canaan.
His body was embalmed, as was that of his father. But it was not taken back to Canaan then. Instead, it was put in an Egyptian coffin, where it remained for many, many years (vs. 22-26).
The Bible doesn’t tell what happened in Egypt in the next two centuries after Joseph died. But during that time, the Israelites steadily grew in numbers until there were two million of them in Egypt. Most of them lived in the rich farming lands and grazing areas close to where the Nile River flowed into the Mediterranean Sea (Ex. 1:6-7).
Meanwhile, there were many changes in the kind of people who ruled Egypt. Several kings ruled and died in the century after Joseph’s death. The next Pharaoh the Bible mentions after Joseph’s time lived so many years later that they had little or no knowledge of the good things Joseph had done for Egypt (v. 8).
This Pharaoh didn’t care for the Israelites. He noticed that there were many of them, and he feared that they would one day become so powerful that they would start a war and take over the whole Egyptian nation.
“We must act before there are more Israelites than there are Egyptians,” Pharaoh said at a meeting of Egyptian high officials. “But if we try to drive them out or kill them, it could result in a long, costly war,” said one of Pharaoh’s officers.
“It would indeed,” agreed the king. “I have a better plan to get rid of these shepherd people and, at the same time increase the size and beauty of our cities. Let us hire them to help build great buildings, courtyards, walls and houses. Once they are working for us, they will lose the freedom they have long enjoyed.”
“But these people are not builders,” said another of Pharaoh’s men of high rank. “They wouldn’t be very willing to leave their flocks to go make bricks.”
“Many of them will,” said Pharaoh, “when we offer them good wages and plenty of good food. Thousands upon thousands of them will be willing to work for these things. Then, when we have them divided, we can force the other healthy males into slave labor gangs. From then on these Israelites will be under our control.”
The Egyptian king and his men planned matters well. Gradually the Israelites went into the jobs of building and preparing the materials for building. At first the Israelites thought they were merely changing from farm work to building work. But before long they found that they had actually become slaves to Pharaoh, and that they would not be paid the good wages that had been offered.
Pharaoh thought that if the Israelites became slaves, they would not increase in numbers. But it didn’t turn out that way. The Israelites increased more than ever in number.
“Work them harder!” Pharaoh ordered his taskmasters and guards. “Work them till they drop! Use whips and sticks on those who won’t obey!”
After these harsher rules were used on them, the Israelites became harder to handle. To keep them under control, they were divided into slave gangs with cruel Egyptian foreman over them, but they were well fed to keep them from rebelling. Little by little they fell into complete slavery to the Egyptians. It was too late to escape. Divided, they were powerless to overcome their masters.
Year after year of miserable hard labor followed for them. By the thousands and tens of thousands they were herded over the land to dig massive water canals. Other thousands built stone banks to cover the mud banks of the Nile. Other gangs built great walls and forts and many pyramids. Perhaps the greatest number of them worked at digging clay and making it into large heavy bricks (Ex. 1:9-14).
Yet through all their misery, they continued to grow and grow in number! Pharaoh at last knew that working the Israelites in a cruel manner would not cause them to grow less in number. He thought up a new scheme, therefore. Before long a decree was sent out to all Hebrew midwives, the women who were skilled to help at the birth of Hebrew children.
“From now on,” the decree read, “you Hebrew midwives must kill every boy baby that is born to the Israelites. It you fail to obey, your punishment will be swift and terrible” (vs. 15-16).
Many of the Israelites knew at least something of God’s laws. These laws had been known and obeyed by good men from Adam’s time to the Great Flood, and from Noah on down through time. One of those laws said that no person should kill another person. The midwives knew it would be a terrible sin to take the lives of little babies, and they refused to obey the command from the Egyptian king.
When Pharaoh heard that he had been disobeyed, he was very angry. He called the head midwives of the Israelites to come to him, and demanded to know why they hadn’t done as he had told them.
“The Hebrew women,” replied the midwives, “are not like the Egyptian women. Hebrew women are stronger and more active. They give birth to babies even without our help. We aren’t called to give aid, and therefore we don’t know about most of the births.”
Probably this answer didn’t satisfy Pharaoh. But because the midwives obeyed God’s law not to kill, God gave protection to them. Pharaoh decided not to punish them. In fact, they were treated with more respect than ever because the Egyptians wanted to know why the Israelites were so healthy. So the midwives were given good houses to live in (vs. 17-21).
But Pharaoh was not to be so easily turned from what he wanted to do. He sent out a new decree. This one went to his police and soldiers: “Watch the Israelites closely. Whenever you learn that a male baby has been born to any of them, seize that baby and throw it into the Nile River. Spare only the female babies” (v. 22).
There is no way of knowing how many little boy babies were drowned in the Nile River, but there must have been many. The Israelites were filled with dismay. Their longing to become free of the Egyptians was greater than ever. But they were too well guarded to escape. All they could see was a dismal future of continuing to slave for Pharaoh.
No doubt they would have felt much more hopeful – at least for their children-- if they could have known that God was preparing to send a man through whom they would be greatly helped.
In those days a certain Israelite boy was born to parents who lived near the palace of the king of Egypt. This baby’s mother and father kept his birth a secret for three months. During those three months they were always fearful that Egyptian police would find out about him, and would take him away from them and drown him in the Nile River (Ex. 2:1) They were so anxious to keep him alive that they thought up a fantastic plan to try to save him. It was actually God who put the plan into their minds, because this baby boy was to do some very great things.
“I have learned that Pharaoh’s daughter and her servants will come down to the river to bathe tomorrow,” said the father of the child. “They will surely be there, because it is an Egyptian religious ceremony,”
“That is well,” exclaimed the mother. “This is the day we have waited for. I have a water-proof basket prepared. We shall put our son in it, push it out into the Nile, and pray that it will float downstream to the right place to be seen and rescued.”
Next day the mother and father sadly parted with the infant son, who was an unusually pretty child. The current of the river carried the little pitch-smeared basket downstream toward the spot where Pharaoh’s daughter and her girl attendants were to dip into the Nile according to rules of their pagan religion (v. 3).
Meanwhile, the parents of the baby boy sent their daughter, who was about eleven years old, to run along the bank of the river and see what became of the baby.
Matters worked out even better than the worried parents hoped. Pharaoh’s daughter saw the basket floating among the tall reeds lining the banks of the Nile. She called for one of her girl servants who could swim, and sent that girl out after the basket (v. 5).
All were surprised when they saw that a baby was in the basket. Pharaoh’s daughter could see at once that it was an Israelite baby. But when she heard it cry, she felt very sorry for it.
The baby’s sister saw all that happened. She hurried along the river bank to where her baby brother had been rescued, and bowed down before Pharaoh’s daughter. “I saw what happened,” she said. “If this baby needs an Israelite nurse, I know where I can get one for you right away” (v. 7)!
Pharaoh’s daughter liked the little girl’s suggestion. She was so struck with the handsomeness of this little baby that she decided right there to save it from her father’s cruel command to drown all Israelite boy babies.
“Go and bring this nurse you speak of,” said Pharaoh’s daughter to the little girl. The girl hurried to get her mother, who was indeed happy to know that her baby boy had been found just the way she and her husband had prayed that the baby would be rescued.
“I will pay you well if you will take this baby and care for it for a while,” Pharaoh’s daughter said to the mother. Of course Pharaoh’s daughter had no idea that she was speaking to the real mother. But even if she had known that she was speaking to the real mother, probably she would have said what she did. “Later, I will want you to bring this baby to me. Meanwhile, don’t worry about my father’s police finding it. I will make sure that they will pay no attention to your home.”
After making certain where this woman lived, Pharaoh’s daughter left the baby with her. When the woman’s husband saw her bringing his little son back, he was very happy, too. They had done all they could to save the baby, and they trusted God to help them do it. God awarded their faith by bringing the baby right back into their keeping.
Several years passed, and Moses grew into a lad. His parents brought him up according to what they knew of God’s laws. Most Israelites, having lived with pagan nations for so many years, were getting further and further away from the right ways of living. Moses’ parents hoped that in the years after he had been taken away, he would remember the good things he had been taught. Perhaps they felt that there was a great purpose in his being taken by Pharaoh’s daughter, though they were unhappy at the thought of it. But at last when servants were sent to bring the boy to her, they thanked God that he had allowed them to have a son for the years he had been with them.
Pharaoh’s daughter adopted the boy and named him Moses (Ex. 2:20).From then on he was trained and educated by the best instructors in the land. Pharaoh’s daughter was hopeful that some day he would become a man of high standing in the nation.
Certain writers of ancient history have stated that Egypt was later invaded by Africans from the south, and that Moses, then a grown man and general of the Egyptian army, drove the invaders out. That is not mentioned in the Bible, but perhaps it is true. It is very likely that Moses became a very important man in Egypt.
When Moses was about forty years old, he became more and more thoughtful and concerned about the Israelites, his own people. The more he looked around, the more he could understand how they were being mistreated. Even though he had been raised and educated as an Egyptian, it was plain to him that the Egyptians were being very cruel.
One day he decided to go out and see for himself how matters were in a slave labor gang. Moses was very upset when he saw how the Israelites were treated. At one place where they were working, he saw an Egyptian guard brutally clubbing a man who was too weak to stand up and do any more work. This took place out on the edge of the desert, where the workers were scattered and there were few people around.
But Moses saw what was happening. He was so angry that he rushed forward and snatched the club from the cruel Egyptian guard. He struck the guard in the same way the guard had struck the Israelite, who probably died.
Unhappily, the guard also fell dead from the blows from his own club. When Moses saw that the man was dead, his feeling of guilt almost overcame him. He buried the guard in the sand at a spot where he felt to one was looking (Ex. 2:11-12).
Next day Moses again went out to see more of what was going on with the same slave labor gang he had watched the day before. This time he saw many more things that weren’t as they should be. Among other things, he noticed two Israelite laborers quarreling over something. The quarrel led to blows, and when Moses saw one Israelite strike another, he thought it was time to do something about it.
“Why did you hit your fellow man?” asked Moses, as he stepped up to the one who had started the fight. “Is this any of your business?” growled the Israelite. “Maybe now you plan to club me to death just as you clubbed that Egyptian guard yesterday” (Vs. 13-14)?
These words were shocking to Moses, who supposed that no one had seen what he had done to the cruel Egyptian guard. Moses knew that news of this thing would get to Pharaoh’s police before long. The only thing to do was to get out of Egypt.
When Pharaoh heard what Moses had done, he sent soldiers to find him and kill him (v. 15). But Moses escaped from Egypt just in time. He traveled eastward and took refuge in a mountainous land called Midian (v. 15), where one of Abraham’s sons had started a tribe of shepherds many years before.
While he was traveling through the country, he happened to arrive about noon at a well. As he rested there and sipped the cool water, seven young women herding flocks came to the well to water their animals. While the thirsty creatures gathered around the well, they drew up water and poured it into troughs. Just at that moment some rude shepherds rushed over a nearby hill. They shouted and screamed so loudly that the girl’s flocks were frightened away.
Moses became so angry when he saw what happened that he boldly walked up to the rude men and reminded them that the young women were first with their flocks, and that only unmannerly or dull-witted persons would be so unfair and mean as to edge in ahead of those who were there first.
Before the rude shepherds could say anything, Moses rushed in among their flocks and frightened them away from the watering troughs. But by this time, the flocks of the selfish shepherds had drunk most of the water the young women had drawn up from the well. Moses then worked hard to bring up more water for the flocks of the seven young women (Ex. 2:16-20).
After their animals had been watered, the seven shepherdesses took their flocks to the house of their father, Reuel, a priest, a man of very high rank in that country.
Be watching for the next installment of The Story of the Bible.