AFTER Jacob's eleven sons returned to their homes in Goshen, some of them began to worry that Joseph might yet deal harshly with them because of the way they had treated him when he was younger. They sent a message to him asking for his forgiveness. Joseph was moved by the message, but even more when they came to ask for his pardon. He assured them that he wanted only to help them, and that God had used them to get him into Egypt to help many people. (Gen. 50:15-21.)
After governing Egypt for many years, Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten. Before his death he told his brothers that God would some day take the Israelites back to Canaan. He asked that his body be taken back there. However, he remained in a coffin in Egypt for many years. (Verses 22-26.) For the next two centuries, the Israelites in Egypt increased to two million, most of whom continued to live in the Nile delta area. (Exodus 1:6-7.) Several pharaohs ruled and died meanwhile. The next one mentioned in the Bible after Joseph's time hardly knew who Joseph was. (Verse 8.) He disliked the Israelites. He planned to prevent them from increasing by turning them to hard labor.
The Israelites Are Enslaved
By being promised good wages, the Israelites were drawn from their farms and pastures to construction jobs. Soon they realized that they were being maneuvered into forced labor. The Egyptians supposed that in these miserable circumstances the Israelites would decrease. Surprisingly, they increased even more.
"Work them harder!" Pharaoh ordered his taskmasters. "Work them till they drop! Use whips and sticks on them!" Under increasingly harsh treatment, and divided into gangs to keep them under control, the Israelites became hopeless slaves to the Egyptians. They were herded over the land to dig long canal beds, line the banks of the Nile with stone and build fortresses and pyramids. Most of them slaved long hours making huge bricks from clay and straw. (Ex. 1:9-14.) All this failed to decrease them. The cruel Pharaoh therefore decreed that all Hebrew midwives would be expected to kill baby boys born to the Israelites. Failure to obey was punishable by death. (Verses 15-16.) The midwives had no intention of committing murder. On hearing that they refused, Pharaoh angrily called them to come to him to explain why. "Israelite women are stronger than Egyptian ones," they said.
"They so seldom need our help that we never know about many births." Pharaoh had intended to punish the midwives for their disobedience toward him, but because the midwives obeyed God, God caused him to change his mind. (Verses 17-21.) Pharaoh then moved in another direction. He instructed his police and soldiers to watch for and seize newlyborn male babies and throw them in the Nile. (Verse 22.) There probably were babies who escaped this inhuman fate. Unhappily, most were drowned. The Israelites were filled with dismay. They longed to flee from Egypt, but they were too well guarded. They could see only a dismal future of servitude. There was no way of knowing that through one of those babies God was going to bring about a great change.
The Birth of Moses
At that time a boy was born to an Israelite couple living north of Pharaoh's palace near the Nile. They managed to hide the child from the police for three months. Then, because they knew the authorities were suspicious, they put the baby in a pitch-smeared basket and set him afloat in the river, trusting that God would cause someone to find him who would keep him safe. This was risky, they realized, but they reasoned that God had inspired their decision. As God willed it, Pharaoh's daughter came to the river to bathe, and found the basket and its live cargo. (Ex. 2:5-6.) She was so impressed by the appearance of the infant, which she recognized as an Israelite, that she decided to try to keep it in her protection. At that point a little girl surprisingly appeared and courteously told the Egyptian princess that she knew of an Israelite nurse who could help. (Verse 7.) Pharaoh's daughter approved, whereupon the girl raced off to the nearby home of her mother, who was also the Israelite boy's mother, to tell her what had happened. She was relieved at the turn of events, having sent her little daughter to try to find out what would happen to her floating baby. She quickly joined the princess, who asked her to take care of the baby for her for an indefinite time.
"While you have this child, don't worry about my father's police bothering you," she was told. "When I'm ready to keep the boy safely, I'll send for him." Pharaoh's daughter sent servants to learn where the overjoyed woman lived. Her husband was suspicious of their presence, but when he later learned what had happened, he and his wife were thankful for God's intervention. Several years passed. The beautiful baby grew into a handsome little boy. When at last Pharaoh's daughter's servants came for him, his parents grudgingly but promptly gave him up, admonishing him to carefully remember the laws of God he had been taught.
Moses Adopted by Pharaoh's Daughter
The Egyptian princess adopted the little lad and called him Moses. (Ex. 2:10.) Educated by the best instructors in the nation, he grew up to attain prominence and high rank in outstanding Egyptian pursuits. By the time he was forty years old, he became less interested in Egyptian matters and more concerned about the welfare of his mistreated Israelite kinsmen. Brutality by the Egyptians angered him increasingly. In one case he intervened to try to save the life of an Israelite who was being beaten to death. As a result, the cruel Egyptian guard died, too. (Verses 11-12.) Moses later learned that the fight had been seen by at least one Egyptian, and that Pharaoh's police would seek to arrest him for murder. (Verse 15.) He managed to flee Egypt and escape to a mountainous region of the land of Midian to the east. The first people he had anything to do with were some young shepherdesses he befriended by helping them obtain water for their sheep. To show their appreciation to a person who obviously was a poor, wandering stranger, the young women took him to their father, an important man in that area.