Exodus 1 conceals several relevant teachings with practical applications for political analysis and also for the understanding of religious persecution.
The scene is the following. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, but through a God-led turn of events he became the second most powerful man in Egypt after the Pharaoh. When famine struck Egypt, he brought Jacob and his other sons to Egypt, where they were settled in the Land of Goshen. Years later, a new king “to whom Joseph meant nothing”, comes to power, and feels threatened by the presence of the descendants of Jacob who are so numerous that they risk to become more powerful than the Egyptians. That’s when he decides to oppress the descendants as slaves, to be able to dominate them. However, this strategy doesn’t work because “the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread.” So, the king thinks of another strategy, an evil policy to kill all male babies to weaken the Hebrew people. This didn’t work either: “the people increased and became even more numerous.”
Five things are to be noted here. First, glory does not last forever. Joseph was first sold as a slave. He becomes an important official in Egypt and a much celebrated political leader who followed God’s instructions and saved the people of Egypt, his own people, and many other people from the world from famine. The fact that Joseph didn’t mean anything to the new king, should be a reminder to us, that in spite of all the good works we do, we might not always be remembered and appreciated. It’s only for God’s glory that we should be working.
Second, the consequences of our mistakes are inevitable. Joseph was sold as a slave by his own brothers. God rescues him from slavery and gives him a ministry within the Egyptian leadership. Joseph also forgives his brothers and invites them to live with him in Egypt. But years later, Jacob’s descendants are once again forced into slavery. There seems to be a relationship between both events. Joseph’s brothers sold Joseph as a slave, but although they were forgiven by Joseph himself, their descendants faced the consequences of the mistake of their ancestors and became slaves themselves.
Third, people are primarily oppressed because they are seen as a threat. The descendants of Jacob who were living in Egypt were not oppressed because of their religious beliefs, their traditions or their Hebrew identity. They were oppressed because they were considered a threat by the ruling powers. Often this is the core explanation of any persecution dynamic. God’s people are seen as a threat to the political system and therefore become vulnerable.
Fourth, oppression leads to growth. Jacob’s descendants were enslaved and oppressed, but instead of weakening, they actually get stronger and became even more fruitful then they were. The Almighty is still present with His people, amidst their suffering. Although this may sound paradoxical, this is a deep spiritual truth: oppression leads to growth in all meanings of the word. This is also what the Persecuted Church teaches us. Wherever there is persecution, there is huge pressure on believers to leave their faith. But by God’s grace, persecution is often what makes them grow; it deepens their faith and their numbers increase. It’s never a wise thing to persecute God’s people: instead of weakening them, they’ll grow stronger. It’s a testimony of God’s presence and power.
Fifth, this section is a warning against population control. Exodus 1 presents a screwed strategy to make it impossible for the descendants of Jacob to transmit life to a new generation, the first massive population control campaign in history. Boys are requested to be killed and then thrown into the Nile. This history repeats itself in the New Testament when King Herod requests all boys in Bethlehem to be killed, in a failed attempt to kill Jesus as well. This history repeats itself again today, with the broadening opportunities for abortion and massive birth control campaigns. Let’s read Exodus 1 as a warning, a political statement, against abortion and population control. It’s against the defined order of creation that was defined by the Creator. Population control is rebellious in the way it limits the transmission of Life, which was breathed in by God Himself.