Exodus 1 – The blessing of multiplication
There’s a lot of maths in this chapter! It starts in v5, with Jacob’s seventy descendants (the full list is given in Gen. 46:8-27). Then we are repeatedly told that the people of Israel are ‘multiplying greatly’, ‘increasing in number’ and ‘becoming numerous’ (v7, 9, 10, 12, 20). These phrases have an important and significant history in the book of Genesis. For starters, in Gen. 1:28 God creates mankind in his image, blesses them and tells them to ‘be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.’ After the disruption of the Fall and the Flood, this creation blessing/command/promise is restated to Noah in Gen. 9:1 (‘God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.’)
This same blessing/command/promise/covenant is later repeated to Abraham (Gen. 17:1), Isaac (Gen. 26:24) and Jacob (Gen. 35:11). So Exodus ch. 1 looks all the way back to the creation story, God’s blessing upon his creatures, his blessing upon Noah and his family, and upon Abraham and his descendants. All this multiplication, this increase in numbers of the people of Israel is not merely a mathematical fact, but hugely significant. It tells us that the creator God is at work – his creation blessing/command/promise/covenant is still in force. His creation purpose is being worked out and fulfilled in and through his people. At this point in their history, his people were a long way from the Promised Land, but God was still amongst them. They weren’t merely existing in Egypt, they were flourishing, thriving, and growing – a sure sign of God’s blessing and presence. See what Luke does with this idea of numerical growth in Acts (6:1,7; 9:31; 12:34), and then John in Revelation (7:9; 19:1,7).
v11-14 are fascinating. Because the Egyptians were concerned about how numerous Israel has become, they oppress them with forced/harsh labour, working them ruthlessly in an attempt to stop them multiplying. But look at v12: ‘the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread’. Ultimately human oppression can do nothing against the blessing of God! According to Open Doors, the Christian church in Iran has grown from roughly 500 known believers in 1979, to around 500,000 in 2019. More Iranians have become Christians in the last 20 years than in the previous 13 centuries.
This is such a glorious encouragement! God’s good and gracious purpose is for a countless multitude to live for eternity in his presence. Perhaps we sometimes lose sight of that. In the UK at least, Christians are at present a minority, and some sections of the wider Christian church are in such a mess, but God’s church is still growing and multiplying, increasing in number, and it will continue to do so, until the end of the age. How wonderful to have been chosen by God’s grace to be part of that!