Jacob’s Descendants in Egypt. 1These are the names of the sons of Israel* who, accompanied by their households, entered into Egypt with Jacob: 2* Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah; 3Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; 4Dan and Naphtali; Gad and Asher. 5The total number of Jacob’s direct descendants* was seventy.a Joseph was already in Egypt.
6Now Joseph and all his brothers and that whole generation died.b 7But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific. They multiplied and became so very numerous that the land was filled with them.*
The Oppression. 8c Then a new king, who knew nothing of Joseph,* rose to power in Egypt. 9He said to his people, “See! The Israelite people have multiplied and become more numerous than we are! 10Come, let us deal shrewdly with them to stop their increase;* otherwise, in time of war they too may join our enemies to fight against us, and so leave the land.”
11Accordingly, they set supervisors over the Israelites to oppress them with forced labor.d Thus they had to build for Pharaoh* the garrison cities of Pithom and Raamses. 12Yet the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians began to loathe the Israelites. 13So the Egyptians reduced the Israelites to cruel slavery, 14making life bitter for them with hard labor, at mortar* and brick and all kinds of field work—cruelly oppressed in all their labor.
Command to the Midwives. 15The king of Egypt told the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was called Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16“When you act as midwives for the Hebrew women, look on the birthstool:* if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she may live.” 17The midwives, however, feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt had ordered them, but let the boys live. 18So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this, allowing the boys to live?” 19The midwives answered Pharaoh, “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women. They are robust and give birth before the midwife arrives.” 20Therefore God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and grew very numerous. 21And because the midwives feared God, God built up families for them. 22Pharaoh then commanded all his people, “Throw into the Nile every boy that is born,e but you may let all the girls live.”
* [1:1] Sons of Israel: here literally the first-generation sons of Jacob/Israel. Cf. v. 5. However, beginning with v. 7 the same Hebrew phrase refers to Jacob’s more remote descendants; hence, from there on, it is ordinarily rendered “the Israelites.” Households: the family in its fullest sense, including wives, children and servants.
* [1:2] Jacob’s sons are listed here according to their respective mothers. Cf. Gn 29:31; 30:20; 35:16–26.
* [1:5] Direct descendants: lit., “persons coming from Jacob’s loins”; hence, wives of Jacob’s sons and servants are not included. Cf. Gn 46:26. Seventy: Gn 46:26, along with the Septuagint for the verse, agrees on a total of sixty-six coming down to Egypt with Jacob, but in v. 27 the Hebrew text adds the two sons born to Joseph in Egypt and presupposes Jacob himself and Joseph for a total of seventy; the Septuagint adds “nine sons” born to Joseph to get a total of seventy-five. This is the figure the Septuagint and 4QExa have here in Ex 1:5.
* [1:7] Fruitful…multiplied…the land was filled with them: the language used here to indicate the fecundity of the Israelite population echoes the divine blessing bestowed upon humanity at creation (Gn 1:28) and after the flood (Gn 9:1) as well as suggesting fulfillment of the promises to the ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gn 12:2; 13:16; 15:5; 28:14; passim).
* [1:8] Who knew nothing of Joseph: the nuance intended by the Hebrew verb “know” here goes beyond precise determination. The idea may be not simply that a new king came to power who had not heard of Joseph but that this king ignored the services that Joseph had rendered to Egypt, repudiating the special relationship that existed between Joseph and his predecessor on the throne.
* [1:10] Increase: Pharaoh’s actions thereby immediately pit him against God’s will for the Israelites to multiply; see note on v. 7 above.
* [1:11] Pharaoh: not a personal name, but a title common to all the kings of Egypt.
* [1:14] Mortar: either the wet clay with which the bricks were made, as in Na 3:14, or the cement used between the bricks in building, as in Gn 11:3.
* [1:16] Birthstool: apparently a pair of stones on which the mother is seated for childbirth opposite the midwife. The Hebrew word elsewhere is used to refer to the stones of a potter’s wheel.
a. [1:5] Gn 46:26–27; Dt 10:22; Acts 7:14.