Exodus 1:8 - 2:10 – Pharaoh's Rage, Women's Care
An unnamed pharaoh, fearing the growth of Israel, lurches from one futile policy to another. Women thwart his intention at every turn.
After the memory of Joseph no longer provides a protective shield for Israel, Israel's conditions in Egypt change markedly. The blessing to multiply carries over from Genesis, but the blessing is countered by the threat it poses to Pharaoh. He is beset with fear that they pose a security threat. To counter the threat of their joining an invading enemy, he seeks to limit their vitality by working them into exhaustion. But the tactic backfires. Their numbers increase and they become a dread to the Egyptians. Pharaoh looks silly. Yet, while the narrative may be mocking Pharaoh, a serious side remains; Israel's plight is becoming entrenched and is deepening.
In his next attempt to control Israel's population, Pharaoh orders that all the male children of the Hebrews (an infrequent designation for Israelites) be killed by the midwives. The policy is foolish at a number of levels. Killing the females would be a more effective way to limit the population. Second, in the long run, Pharaoh would diminish his labor pool for heavy construction work. Pharaoh's policy is undercut by the midwives who defend their action to Pharaoh by claiming that the Hebrew women are so vigorous that they give birth before the midwives can arrive. Pharaoh again looks silly, hardly an image of royal control.
Finally, Pharaoh orders that every male child that is born be thrown into the Nile. In the Hebrew text he fails to restrict the order to the Israelites. Defiance of his order comes from within his own household as his daughter takes Moses out of the river into Pharaoh's own household. At this point the reader does not know the future role of Moses, but on second reading every reader recognizes that Pharaoh is subverted from within his own household. Again, he hardly looks like a sovereign who is in royal control. Once again, the text subtly mocks the Egyptian ruler even as the threat to Israel and God's promises remains in place.