Post last updated on August 1, 2023
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This is the sequel post to another post, How Christ’s Toil Made Light Work.
When Jacob entered Egypt with his sons and their families, he did so according to the prophecy that was given to Abraham (Genesis 15:12-16). Abraham’s seed, it had been foretold, would dwell in a land as strangers. They would, it is added, eventually be afflicted in that same land (verse 13); but here, we also note the second half of the same prophecy: “And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance” (verse 14). The prophecy regarded Israel’s residence in Egypt, and it is observed that the affliction that is predicted in Genesis 15 could not thwart Israel’s eventual deliverance from that country; in fact, the decedents of Jacob would depart Egypt in a far better situation than when Jacob first arrived.
Israel’s improvement was not immediately apparent: It was mediated through the afflictions imposed upon them by the Egyptians. In this way, Exodus succeeds and adds to the revelatory message of Genesis, connecting the Fall of Adam to the message of Christ’s redemption. If Israel’s deliverance from Egypt eventually forecasts Christ’s redemption of sinners, it should be of no surprise that Israel’s bondage is also associated with the effects of the Fall. The significant point is that, in the end, the LORD made affliction in Egypt to become a servant to Israel’s flourishing. This ironic feature of Israel’s life in Egypt, in fact, predicts the gospel: The curse would not prevent God’s promise.
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The curses associated with Adam and Eve after the Fall become part of the condition of Israel’s bondage and deliverance in Egypt. The Israelite’s toil recalls the curse upon the ground—that which Genesis 3:17-19 connects to Adam’s sin; but Exodus’ first chapter recalls Eve’s transgression in the story of the Hebrew midwives. When Pharaoh called the Hebrew midwives and tasked them with the murder of Jewish boys, Pharaoh’s persecution touches the Hebrew women at the very point of Eve’s curse: God had said to Eve, “in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children” (Genesis 3:16).
It is also to be remembered that when God first made the Woman and brought her to Adam, Adam had named her, even as he had been given the privilege to name the many creatures in God’s creation (Genesis 2:21-25). Significantly, Adam first named Eve in relation to himself: He called her Woman, because she was taken out of the Man (Genesis 2:23). Nevertheless, after the Fall—even after Eve’s sin initiated her own death by sin—Adam gives his wife another name altogether. He renamed her Eve, the mother of all living (Genesis 3:20).
Adam’s act, of course, had the function of prophecy, for it took account of the promise that God had given them both: Eve’s seed (referring to Jesus Christ) would bruise the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). The Woman, properly speaking, became the maternal ancestor of the Lord Jesus—and so, the woman’s new name predicted this fact; and yet, it seems that something else is also in view. Adam’s new name for her is, in fact, an announcement of honor: In the very point in which Eve would have felt the greatest shame, Adam invests her with integrity and distinction—a new name that takes account of God’s gracious future, rather than the horrible past. Indeed, the past is not undone; and yet, all will be forgiven and made better than Eden through the seed of this woman. It, therefore, becomes significant that Adam does not rename his wife in relation to himself, but in regard to the great privilege that God afterward and graciously granted her: The Woman had chosen death, but God made her the mother of all living. Every time the name Eve is used, the grace of God is proclaimed. These facts allow us to return to the Hebrew midwives, as they are described in Exodus.
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Pharaoh mocks the Hebrew women in Egypt, assigning Israel’s midwives the very task of murder (Exodus 1:15-16). Hereby, we see that Pharaoh seeks the midwives’ cooperation in foiling the very promise that God in Genesis 3:15. The LORD had invested the woman with the honor of children; and now Pharaoh invites these midwives to a new shame—to the murder of children. Of course, the midwives refuse Pharaoh’s command, so that it is little surprise that God then invests them with a kind of honor: The text tells us that God, accordingly, gave them houses (Exodus 1:21). There are a few different ways that this has been understood, but it seems that the context favors one interpretation above others: When the midwives feared God, God gave the Jewish people families of descent—in other words, prospect and future.
If this presentation of the text is correct, Exodus 1 showcases the progress and blessing of the Hebrew people in Egypt, despite Pharaoh’s attempts to destroy them—and this blessing proceeds upon the faithfulness of the midwives. This progress is evident in the text itself: Exodus 1:1 reads that the sons of Jacob first entered Israel with their households; but by the end of the chapter, those twelve households are now many houses (verse 21), referring to the many households that flourish because of midwives feared their God and saved the children from murder. More to the point, when chapter 2 begins, it does so with interest in one house in particular, the house of Levi (Exodus 2:1). This becomes the house1Many readers will already understand that the Bible regularly and consistently speaks of a people in their corporate relationship. The word “house” first appears in the Bible in references to Noah’s family members, not to any physical structure, which is the more common use today (Genesis 7:1).—the household—from which Moses will arise as a deliverer for his people, Israel. The point, it seems, is not that God gave the midwives houses of their own, but that the midwives become part of Israel’s improbable increase in the time of Egypt’s persecution. The midwives become the noble descendants of Eve, but also forerunners to Mary, from whom the Savior will be born. They are the mothers of the living, for they guarded the very means by which deliverers would come—Moses and the Lord Jesus.
In this connection, it might also be noted that the practice of midwifery is not conducive to family life, and in the past midwives were often unmarried or older women, who were freer from other family obligations. It is not stated here in the text, but one might wonder, then, if the typology here does not extend further than is first evident. Perhaps these women—without occasion for families of their own—are kinds of barren women or virgin mothers, women through whom the miracle of life, nevertheless, proceeds. If so, they would, in a sense, be mothers without children of their own, yet women who join the ranks of other key women in scripture, through whom God’s promises are ironically accomplished. They differ in ways from such women as Sarah, Hannah, or Mary, but they all share in a part of the way that God’s redemptive work proceeded through them in unexpected ways.2If so, this ministry is also analogous to the kingdom’s notion of some unmarried, who remain such for kingdom of heaven’s sake but, nevertheless, are fruitful in a gospel ministry (Matthew 19:9; also, Isaiah 56:3-5).
Regardless, we can confirm that in the Exodus narrative, Eden’s history was made to serve a greater prophecy. It is significant, then, that when Pharaoh afflicts the Israelites, those afflictions regard the very same curses that were placed upon Adam and Eve after the Fall—cursed labor in the field and sorrow in conception. Even as the Israelites begin to flourish in Egypt, these afflictions are brought to bear upon the Jewish people in Egypt. These afflictions challenge but, importantly, cannot overcome the promise that God gave to Abraham.
This post is followed by another, Privilege & Purpose in the Service of God.
Notes & References
|↑1||Many readers will already understand that the Bible regularly and consistently speaks of a people in their corporate relationship. The word “house” first appears in the Bible in references to Noah’s family members, not to any physical structure, which is the more common use today (Genesis 7:1).|
|↑2||If so, this ministry is also analogous to the kingdom’s notion of some unmarried, who remain such for kingdom of heaven’s sake but, nevertheless, are fruitful in a gospel ministry (Matthew 19:9; also, Isaiah 56:3-5).|