Exodus 1:1-7 use almost the same works as Genesis 46:8. Interestingly, in Hebrew, the first word of the book of Exodus is the equivalent of our word “And.” Thus, the author links Exodus to the story that unfolded in Genesis, especially the chapters 12-50, the story of Abraham and Abraham’s family.
Verse six says, “And Joseph died, all his brothers, and all that generation.” What is interesting is the fulfillment of the divine promises of numerous offspring. Joseph was the first son of Jacob’s beloved wife, Rachel. Jealousy of Joseph by his ten older brothers caused them to threaten to kill Joseph but instead sold him into slavery.
In Egypt, Joseph was sold by his cousins the Ishmaelites to Potiphar, the Pharoah’s royal guard captain. Joseph, having been falsely accused of molesting Potiphar’s wife, was thrown into prison. He soon was a trusted aid for the jail keeper as he had been to Potiphar. Joseph eventually interprets a dream Pharoah had. The dream predicted that there would be seven years of plentiful harvest followed by seven years of devastating drought. What this amounted to was Pharaoh gave complete control of the kingdom over to Joseph. Which eventually resulted in Joseph’s family moving from Palestine to Egypt and settling in Goshen.
In the past, as we saw by their selling Joseph into slavery, his brothers were a bit lawless. Exodus opened with verse six, stating that Joseph and all that generation had died. But the descendants of these 12 brothers multiplied and grew strong in numbers until the land was filled with them (Exodus 1:7).
It has taken quite a bit of time to build up to verse eight. Verse eight states something exciting. “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” Wait, Joseph rose to become the second in command of all of Egypt. Yet, this Pharoah doesn’t know who Joseph was. Did this Pharoah not know his history, or is there another meaning within this text?
Joseph, when sold into slavery, had determined to follow God with all his heart. Indeed, life in Egypt was not always easy, for as we have discovered, he was falsely accused and put in prison. Finally, he interprets the king’s dreams and is promoted to second in command. By carefully planning and building storehouses and taxation of the crops of the Egyptians to store up food, Joseph saved Egypt and the surrounding area from starvation during the seven years of horrible drought and famine. How then could this Pharoah not know of Joseph?
When the Pharoah looked back at the history, he understood the life and the person Joseph was and the wonderful things he had done for Egypt. He then looked upon the rest of the descendants of Jacob. He was troubled. These descendants of Jacob were not peace-loving, kind, and gentile people, as Jacob and Joseph had been. Therefore by saying the “Pharoah did not know Joseph,” it is saying that there was little among the descendants of Jacob that was the same as Joseph. The resemblance was minimal. Joseph had honored God and lived by his commandments. But since the time that generation had died, the descendants of Jacob acted more like the Egyptians around them than they resembled Joseph. Therefore, when the author of Exodus says that Pharoah did not know Joseph, it means the children of Israel were living in such a way that they did not resemble the same God-like character as Joseph had.
Why is this important? Because it gives us a better understanding of what happened in the rest of Exodus, but especially the reasoning behind the Pharaoh’s actions from verses 9-22 of chapter 1.