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Remember Jacob and Joseph from Genesis? They're back. And boy, did they have a lot of kids. The whole place is "filled" with their offspring (1:7).
Notice how the boys get names in the book, but the girls don't. Just the way it was back then.
A new god-king Pharaoh rises to power in Egypt. Yep, god-king—the Pharaohs in Egypt had divine power as kings.
Joseph was around before his time, so Pharaoh doesn't really think about the help Joseph gave his predecessor. Instead, he gets all freaked out about all these Israelites and thinks they'll turn on the Egyptians if there's a war.
Sounds familiar, right? It's kind of like the Japanese internment during World War II, when the U.S. feared that Japanese Americans would help the Japanese during an invasion.
So Pharaoh decides to make the Israelites do forced labor for Egypt in service to their new uber-civilization. Pyramids, anyone? But the Israelites just keep on multiplying. Yowza.
Pharaoh asks two Hebrew midwives, Puah and Shiphrah, to kill all the Israelite male babies. Remember, power lives in this age with men, so if there are no Hebrew men around, Pharaoh wins.
One quick historical note. Ancient Israel is caught between two dueling powers, one in Egypt and one in Mesopotamia. It's like Connecticut, where you're either a Red Sox fan or a Yankees fan depending on where you live. That means that technology comes from one or the other—like the Egyptian birthing device they're talking about in 1:16. A birthstool is kind of like ancient stirrups.
Back to the story. The midwives lie to Pharaoh about killing babies and God rewards them for preserving life.
Pharaoh gets super annoyed and orders all Egyptians to kill newborn Israelite boys.