As we begin our journey through the book of Exodus, we’re introduced first to the twelve patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Jacob, Israel. The opening five verses say, “These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt.” It doesn’t recognize the order of their birth except for the first four sons of Leah: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaiden, then gave birth to Dan and Naphtali. Zilpah, Leah’s handmaiden, then birthed Gad and Asher. Leah again has two sons herself. They are Issachar and Zebulon. Finally, God opens the womb of Rachel, and she brings forth the two favorite sons of their father, Jacob: Joseph and Benjamin. Except for the last two, we know a lot about them. They were a motley crew and as they were starving to death during a famine in Canaan, there was very little to commend them. Ryken says they were not very powerful in comparison to the people around them “Nor could this ‘dirty dozen’ claim to be any more righteous than anyone else. Their family history was a sordid tale of treachery, philandering, and violence. Their father Jacob had betrayed his brother Esau by tricking him out of his birthright. Like father, like sons: By getting rid of Joseph, Jacob’s boys had tried to deny their father’s blessing. The most despicable of all was Judah, who had sex with his daughter-in-law Tamar. The sons of Israel were all sinners—ordinary mortals.”[1] They were very much like the rest of us.

70 people went down to Egypt. In the Book of Acts, Steven says there were 75 people. The Septuagint has a different figure. No one can count the number of words written about this detail. They are like stars in the sky! Skeptics use it to support their contention that there are errors in the Bible so many apologists go to great lengths to explain the differences. One web blogger does an excellent job and deals with every possible scenario. It is a horribly boring read! But his conclusion is priceless, “I say somewhat tongue in cheek: If this question were posed to me by a Bible skeptic, I feel sure that upon recounting all of the minute details of the various arguments to vindicate Stephen and/or reconcile the numbers, said skeptic would have fallen asleep or at least daydreamed through half so that they could not adequately counter my arguments. In the event that said skeptic had remained alert and still offered objection, I would point out the fact that the actual number of Jacob’s direct descendants that went to Egypt (66) is agreed upon by both the Greek and the Hebrew. The only thing that is disputed is whether or not Joseph’s extended family should be included, and if so, which ones. I’d also point out that the number doesn’t matter in the overall scheme of things anyway.”[2]

Verse five ends with the statement that all the descendants of Israel, Jacob, were now in Egypt along with Joseph. The original readers of this book were most likely the whole company of the Exodus that Moses took with him from Egypt to the wilderness. This was a massive number. Stuart says, “The main point of the first part of the verse being simply to inform the reader that the great nation of Israel that came out of Egypt numbering many tens of thousands had gone into Egypt numbering only seventy. The first readers of the book were people who belonged to the huge exodus nation, for whom Moses composed the narrative. This little detail was a reminder of the faithfulness of God to his promises. The background of this great host was traceable to a single man’s family.”[3] That single man was Israel who had come from the promises of God to Isaac and Abraham. God is faithful to keep his promises. John Piper concludes one of his sermons, “Nothing, not even nature, can cut the suffocating bands of anxiety from our soul, except one thing, the promises of God. Neither valium nor any other tranquilizer can compare to hearing God say, “Be content with what you have, for I will never fail you nor forsake you.”[4]

[1] Ryken, Philip Graham, and R. Kent Hughes. 2005. Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.


[3] Stuart, Douglas K. 2006. Exodus. Vol. 2. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[4] Piper, John. 2007. Sermons from John Piper (1980–1989). Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God.