Exodus 1 picks up four generations after the end of Genesis. The Israelites prospered in Egypt well after Joseph and his brothers first moved there, and their numbers increase greatly, which begins to to make the Egyptians uncomfortable. Soon, they find themselves as slaves in this foreign land, as foretold to Abraham by God in Genesis.
A New King
Sometime after Joseph and his brothers pass away, a new king takes over in Egypt. This king does not know Joseph and becomes paranoid at the rapidly growing Israelite population. One explanation for both why the new king does not know Joseph, and why he is so easily convinced the Israelites are a threat is that the king during Joseph's time revolves around the Hyksos. The Hyksos were a group of Semitic people who invaded Egypt to settle around the Nile delta during 18th century BC (Joseph is estimated to have died in late 19th century bc). The Hyksos gained power in 1630bc which it kept until the rise of the 18th Dynasty in 1521BC. Since the Hyksos introduced horses and chariots to Egypt, we can assume the Hyksos already had a presence in Egypt when Joseph was granted authority, they just were not in power. After the invasion, Egyptian leaders sought to get rid of Hyksos to maintain power; the new king mentioned in Exodus was most likely the Hyksos who took over after the 12th Dynasty. Further evidence to support this could be in the switch from pharaoh to king and back to pharaoh when referring to the ruler of Egypt.
The new king is afraid that the Israelites will join his enemies and form a nation mightier than his own. To combat this, he enslaves them and sets them to work building Pithom and Raamses, two treasured cities. Carbon dating of the remains of Pithom places the unfortified post in the Hyksos period, but dates the rest of the city to 7th century bc. It is possible that they Israelites only built the post, or that whatever they built didn't stand the test of time and has faded away, or that the Egyptians dismantled the Israelites work to create their own.
Order to Kill
The new king orders two Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, to kill all the male children born to the Hebrews. However, the two midwives are God fearing women and do not follow the king's orders. When the king questions their failure to kill the Hebrew males, Shiphrah and Puah tell him that the Hebrew women give birth before they arrive. Though God probably did not approve of lying, God rewards the midwives for their faith. As a consequence of failing to kill the male babies, the Israelite population continues to grow.
Pharaoh (note the change from king in Exodus 1:15-21 to Pharaoh in Exodus 1:22) is the one who gives a public order to all Egyptians to throw male children into the river. This Pharaoh would have been Amenhotep I, who was ruler at the time of Moses' birth.
A Question for Moses
Genesis names Abimelech king of Gerar, and Melchizedek king of Salem, but never once names a Pharaoh. It would be much easier to date and confirm timelines if Moses had listed the names of the pharaohs. So why didn't he? One thing I've noticed is that both Abimelech and Melchizedek were on the same “side” as the Israelites; both would have been considered allies while Egypt was clearly an enemy and would have been the least liked nation to the Israelites at the time Moses wrote their story. Perhaps this is why the names of the Pharaohs are never given. Another possibility is how pharaohs were addressed. Kings and queens are called by their first name with the title king or queen as a prefix. Egyptian pharaohs were simply called Pharaoh. Or maybe Moses just wanted us to dig for answers...
References and Footnotes
- Byers, Gary. "Israel in Egypt". Associates for Bible Research. September 2008
- "Hyksos Egyptian Dynasty". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2015
- Aling, Charles. "Joseph in Egypt: Part I". Associates for Bible Research. February 2010
- "Pithom: ancient city of Egypt". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2015
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