When the Israelites first came into Egypt around 1698 BC they numbered 70. By the time we start to Exodus it is around the year 1488 BC and the Israelites had multiplied so much that we are not even given a number. Verse 7 says, "the land became filled with them".
After 210 years and many Pharaohs had come and gone, one Pharaoh (king) had risen to power who knew nothing of Joseph. How could the Egyptians forget about a family who was once part of their history? They multiplied fast! The name of Joseph had probably become synonymous with Isra'el and Isra'el had become so numerous that each individual become less important to the Egyptians who would still see these people as foreigners (non-Egyptian). Joseph's name was lost in the crowd. This was also a time of confusion for the Egyptians called the 2nd Intermediate Period. The Hyksos came to power and the kingdom became divided for awhile. The Hyksos controlled the Delta area while native Egyptians controlled from Thebes. Perhaps during this period the Egyptians weren't really in charge of their own country and that is why the new Pharaoh did not know of Joseph.
If the Israelites though were a nuisance to the Egyptians why did they allow them to stay so long? Apparently the Israelites were prosperous for the Egyptians and maybe God had blessed Egypt due to their presence. Verses 9-10 (NAS):
- 9 He said to his people, "Behold, the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we.
- 10 "Come, let us deal wisely with them, or else they will multiply and in the event of war, they will also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us and depart from the land."
The Israelites were more powerful than the Egyptians, yet they did not want them to leave the land. Why? Again, apparently the Israelites had made the Egyptians prosperous. So one way to keep them in the land but to keep them less powerful and to dehumanize them was to make them slaves. Verse 11 says that Egypt put slave masters over them and oppressed them with forced labor. But this action backfired; the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied putting even more fear into the minds of Egyptians. This could be where many will get the idea that the Israelites were builders of some of the pyramids. Verse 13 says that they were forced to work with mortar and brick, maybe eluding to the pyramids, at least some of them. It may have been for Egyptian history and glory. It may have been Egyptian architecture but they probably wouldn't have done the work, especially if they had slaves. The point is apparently this did not work to destroy the Israelites either. So, Pharaoh devised another plan: kill all the babies that were born male. But as you will read later...it didn't work either. God used two midwives to attend to this request by Pharaoh who secretly refused to carry out the action and God allowed them to be prosperous as well. And because of their actions, Isra'el became more numerous and powerful. So, Pharaoh had to try and carry out the order some other way...but...
Nothing man can do can stop the power of God. In the end, Pharaoh kept trying to wipe out the name of Isra'el, but with every decision came a backfire and the hand of God kept the name of Isra'el alive. Hence, the name of Isra'el means "protected by God". Who is protected by God? Isra'el, that's who.