There’s a new king in Egypt and he’s concerned about the Hebrew population growth. This isn’t entirely unwarranted since the Hebrew women are having, on average, 51.6 children each. One might assume that the Egyptians were circulating videos like this one on EgyptTube.

Pharaoh decrees the drowning of every new male offspring among the Israelites by Michiel van der Borch, 1332

Pharaoh decrees the drowning of every new male offspring among the Israelites by Michiel van der Borch, 1332

So this pharaoh is concerned that if the Hebrew population keeps expanding, they might fight on the non-Egyptian side in a war against Egypt, or they might “escape from the land” (Exod. 1:10). So the rhetoric is slightly different from what one hears at the modern TeaParty rally…

His solution to the ‘Hebrew problem’ is to set “taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens” (Exod. 1:11). He has them build the cities of Pithom and Ramses. But this doesn’t seem to work. “The more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad” (Exod. 1:12).

Since making them “serve with rigor” (Exod. 1:14) didn’t curb the Hebrew population, he goes to the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, and tells them to kill all the male babies they deliver. I just want to take a moment to point out that there is a Hebrew population large enough to get Pharaoh’s knickers in a twist and there’s only two, two, midwives to service them all. This is a serious midwife shortage!

Well, Shiphrah and Puah are decent human beings – or, you know, they “feared God” (Exod. 1:17), cause being afraid is really the only reason not to kill babies – and they spare the boys. The Pharaoh catches on pretty quickly and asks the midwives what’s going on, to which they reply: “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and are delivered before the midwife comes to them” (Exod. 1:19), which is just absolutely brilliant! Perhaps if Pharaoh didn’t work them with such rigour, they wouldn’t be so vigorous!

God’s so happy that Shiphrah and Puah fear him that he gives them families. This isn’t a reward for saving all the babies, this is just because they fear him sufficiently. Blwerk!

Pharaoh decides to step things up a notch and he commands all his people to throw any baby boys born to the Hebrews into the Nile, allowing only the girls to live.

David Plotz has an interesting article over at Blogging the Bible about this chapter. He finds it interesting that the Hebrew people are enslaved after Joseph’s brothers enslave him, and how the Egyptian sons will be killed after they kill the Hebrew sons… He also brings up an interesting observation that totally flew by me – that the word “slave” isn’t mentioned anywhere in this chapter. The Hebrews are worked hard, but they aren’t called slaves. He finds this strange considering how liberally the word is used elsewhere in the text.