Having been encouraged by his brother, Aaron, the belief of the Israelites, Moses now seems ready to serve as Yahweh’s ambassador to Pharaoh’s court. He did not receive the same favorable response there that he did from his fellow Israelites. Exodus 5:1-2—
Afterwards Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: `Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.'” Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go.”
Finally, CONFRONTATION! The combatants are face to face. THIS IS WHAT THE LORD SAYS or THUS SAITH THE LORD launches the confrontation. It puts their words into the prophetic mode.
The divine command the two brothers deliver on their first meeting with Pharaoh is simple and direct— “LET MY PEOPLE GO.” This command is given seven times to Pharaoh and it has continued to punctuate history’s cries for freedom like a stirring refrain down to the present. God’s purpose is clear— SO THAT THEY MAY HOLD A FESTIVAL TO ME IN THE DESERT—that is, “so that they may worship Me.” Freedom to worship—the most basic of all freedoms—is in view in God’s demand.
I think Moses might have been surprised by the king’s response. He didn’t ask, “WHO ARE YOU THAT I SHOULD LET ISRAEL GO?” That is what Moses thought Pharaoh would say. At least he made that excuse to God in 3:11—
But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
It did not pay Moses to worry about how Pharaoh might respond. Few things we worry about ever occur. And worry never helps! It was not Moses that Pharaoh rejected it was Yahweh. He gave two reasons for refusing the brother’s request. First, he did not acknowledge the sovereignty of the God of the Israelites over the Egyptians. Secondly, he did not want to lose his enormous pool of slave labor. He suspected that Moses was using a three-day journey into the desert as a ply to gain total freedom for the Israelites.
According to 8:26, Moses’ rationale for wanting to sacrifice to Yahweh in an area far away from the main Egyptian population was that Israelite sacrifices would be detestable to the Egyptians.
Pharaoh’s retort to this affront to his sole right to command these slaves was crisp and cynical—”WHO IS THE LORD, THAT I SHOULD OBEY HIM AND LET ISRAEL GO? I DO NOT KNOW THE LORD AND I WILL NOT LET ISRAEL GO.” Obviously, his tone displays insolence and arrogance.
Ironically, Pharaoh gets the question right—“Who is Yahweh?” This question will go ringing through the events that follow. The very name I AM WHO I AM promises that the identity of this God of Israel will become more fully known as events unfold, both to Israel and to Egypt.
Pharaoh’s question and declaration state the most important issue a person of Adam’s race will ever consider. His response begins the unfolding of a major underlying theme of the Exodus Experience— Who is man to worship and obey? Pharaoh, Egyptians and Israelites must answer. Evidently, many Egyptians decide for Yahweh, for we are told in 12:38 that many other people left Egypt with the Israelites.
Moses and Aaron are taken back by Pharaoh’s arrogant reply and try a milder approach with their own twist in Exodus 5:3-5—
Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Now let us take a three-day
journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God, or he may strike us with
plagues or with the sword.”
But the king of Egypt said, “Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from
their labor? Get back to your work!” Then Pharaoh said, “Look, the people of the land are now numerous, and you are stopping them from working.”
Notice Moses and Aaron’s twist—“OR HE MAY STRIKE US WITH PLAGUES OR WITH THE SWORD.” They exaggerate God’s words, perhaps in the hope that Pharaoh would be more responsive to such rhetoric.
If he should he disallow this temporary release, he could suffer untold losses; for this God might allow all sorts of pestilence to break out, or he might even send an invader across the eastern frontier where Israel lived in vulnerable exposure. Pharaoh does not even bother to respond to their warning.
As it turns out, the demand of Moses and Aaron backfired. Unmoved by any of these requests or threats, Pharaoh decides to use it as an excuse for making the work of the Israelites harder than before. Exodus 5:6-14—
That same day Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and foremen in charge of the
people: “You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, `Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ Make the work harder for the men so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies.”
Then the slave drivers and the foremen went out and said to the people, “This is what
Pharaoh says: `I will not give you any more straw. Go and get your own straw wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced at all.'” So the people scattered all over Egypt to gather stubble to use for straw. The slave drivers kept pressing them, saying, “Complete the work required of you for each day, just as when you had straw.” The Israelite foremen appointed by Pharaoh’s slave drivers were beaten and were asked, “Why didn’t you meet your quota of bricks yesterday or today, as before?”
In Pharaoh’s judgment, the Israelites are too lazy or too idle. Moses and Aaron are disturbers of the peace at best and plotters of sedition against the throne at worst. His question to them was in essence, “Why are you encouraging this?”
Moses had said in 5:1—“This is what Yahweh, the God of Israel, says.” Now, the king of Egypt counters in Exodus 5:10—“This is what Pharaoh says: `I will not give you any more straw.”
Brick quotas are abundantly documented in Egypt. The 15th Century B.C. Thebes tomb painting of Rekh-mi-Re depicts brick-making. Clay bricks, especially of the sun-dried variety, do not hold up well without using something like straw as binder. Chopped straw was mixed in with the clay to make the bricks more pliable and stronger. The STUBBLE the Israelites gathered was poorer and coarser than straw, making their work even more difficult. But in spite of everything they were not permitted to reduce their daily production quota.
If you work or have worked for a boss like Pharaoh—who makes unreasonable demands—you understand the gnawing and bedeviling that is taking place.
Unaware of the total deterioration of their position due to Moses and Aaron’s request, the Israelite Foremen personally appeal the “NO STRAW POLICY” in Exodus 5:15-19—
Then the Israelite foremen went and appealed to Pharaoh: “Why have you treated your
servants this way? Your servants are given no straw, yet we are told, `Make bricks!’ Your servants are being beaten, but the fault is with your own people.” Pharaoh said, “Lazy, that’s what you are—lazy! That is why you keep saying, `Let us go and sacrifice to the LORD.’ Now get to work. You will not be given any straw, yet you must produce your full quota of bricks.” The Israelite foremen realized they were in trouble when they were told, “You are not to reduce the number of bricks required of you for each day.”
Apparently, the foremen actually believed that the slave drivers were exceeding their authority. Not So! Pharaoh’s analysis of the whole situation was reduced to one word—LAZY! With this one word, the hopelessness of their position begins to come home to the foremen. Pharaoh has intensified his demands and he places the blame on Israel’s own leaders.
Oh No! Guess who these upset foremen bump into? Verses 20-21—
When they left Pharaoh, they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them, and they said, “May the LORD look upon you and judge you! You have made us a stench to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”
Unfortunately, the foremen looked to Pharaoh for help rather than to the LORD who had promised to deliver them. No wonder they accused the brothers instead of encouraging them. People who are out of fellowship with God bring grief to their leaders instead of help.
This is not a happy scene. “MAY THE LORD LOOK UPON YOU AND JUDGE YOU!” are words of heated-anger. Almost like the prayer voiced by two men who hardly trusted one another—“MAY THE LORD WATCH BETWEEN YOU AND ME”—in the Mizpah benediction of Genesis 31:49. The foremen asked God to look and judge these two troublemakers, for they had made Israel’s reputation stink. Justice calls for Moses and Aaron to suffer the consequences of what they have done.
Their accusations must have hurt. Instead of striking the Egyptian oppressors with a sword, you have put a sword in their hand to kill us. We were much better off before you showed up! The Jewish religious leaders felt about Jesus that way! Again, Moses foreshadows Christ.
“Any pie in the sky by and by” hopes are shattered. There is an utter sense of helplessness before the highly organized machinery of Pharaoh’s system. Pharaoh’s teaching them: Don’t mess with the system or you’ll get hurt!
The Hebrew foremen were walking examples of taking advantage of every opportunity to improve their standard of living by accepting the system of exploitation, and participating in it, according to the oppressor’s rules. They had comprised with Satan’s world and the narrow road into the future look too difficult. Don’t miss the fact that these foremen buy into Pharaoh’s explanation. They turn to their own leaders as the source of the problem., laying the blame on them.
Behind the scenes, Satan is at work. He is using three of his most effective tools: Persecution, Discouragement and Bitterness. He has combined all three to break the will of the Israelites and Moses as well.
Now, everything is going Satan’s way. Israel’s sufferings have intensified and Moses and Aaron come under fire of their own people. Pharaoh has succeeded in sharply dividing the Israelite community. The leadership of Moses and Aaron is in jeopardy. To divide and conquer has been Satan’s tactic from the beginning to time.
Where does one go when chaos hits? Where do you go when everything goes wrong? Exodus 5:22-23 becomes Moses pattern for handling disappointment, discouragement and bitterness—
Moses returned to the LORD and said, “O Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this
people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.”
Notice that confrontation moves up and down the chain of command between Pharaoh, his slave drivers, and Israelite foremen, back to Moses and Aaron, and finally to God. Moses is quite disenchanted with his task, but he is not willing to shoulder the blame for lack of results. The blame lies squarely on God, perhaps for not anticipating these developments.
Again, Moses faith hesitates—it takes a step backwards. WHY ME? IT’S NOT FAIR LORD! YOU HAVE NOT KEPT YOUR WORD! YOU HAVE BROUGHT TROUBLE UPON THIS PEOPLE. TROUBLE is the Hebrew word RA’ often translated EVIL. Evil is anything in life that makes for less than total well-being. It is used of God in times of judgment.
Both God and Pharaoh are responsible for this evil the people are suffering; if God had not set Moses to say what he did, this would not have happened. This is an excellent text for seeing the multiple agency of God and human beings at work in a given situation.
Both God and Pharaoh have been active in their own ways as to lead to this single result—evil is being done to Israel. Deliverance from evil may entail the experience of even more evil. Overcoming oppression is a matter for struggle, even for God. Evil will not give up without a fight and God will not wave a magic wand and make it all go away in an instant. The way from death to life will pass through many a Gethsemane.
What Moses has forgotten, however, is that he also is a causative factor at work in all of this. In addition, Moses does not have a clear picture of his task. He erroneously thought that God would deliver Israel with this one brief encounter with Pharaoh. He is much like Christ’s disciples. He does not listen clearly. Words go in one ear and out the other because he is too concerned about his own dignity and position rather than being concerned about what God is planning. Aren’t we all like that at times? The LORD must have a tremendous amount of patience.
Light must have been shinning through one ear to the other, when God outlined His plan back in Exodus 4:21-23—
The LORD said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. Then say to Pharaoh, `This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, “Let my son go, so that he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.'”
Obviously, Moses has not performed the wonders God gave him. He has not told Pharaoh that the LORD is going to kill his firstborn son. See what happens when we do not pay close attention to what God is saying in His Word. We end up just as dejected and confused as Moses.
Confrontation is not an easy road to travel. God has made it clear that Israel is to worship Him. Pharaoh has countered that claim, the Israelites are angry at Moses and Moses is angry with God. That is clear from his complaint—EVER SINCE I WENT TO PHARAOH TO SPEAK IN YOUR NAME. It is all your fault Yahweh! What a mess! But the LORD has the answer. He affirms Moses’ COMMISSION in Exodus 6:1-5—
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.”
God also said to Moses, “I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they lived as aliens. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.
Even though Moses is wrestling with his old objections, God does not give him any direct answer to his questions. Instead, God gives him fresh revelations of His nature and character. He did the same thing with Job. When that saint wrestled with the question, “Why am I suffering?”
God reveals Himself as EL SHADDAI (GOD ALMIGHTY) thirty times in the Book of Job. It is EL SHADDAI who creates everything and controls nature. The patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, only knew God by this name. EL SHADDAI reflects the might and power of God to work miracles.
Exodus is not saying that the patriarchs were totally ignorant of the name YAHWEH. Verses such as Exodus 3:13-14 go out of their way to equate the God of the patriarchs with Yahweh. Recently interpreted evidence from Amorite texts dating to patriarchal period makes it likely that the equivalent of the name Yahweh was known among the Amorites and it appears in earlier tablets from Ebla in northern Syria in names such as Mi-ka-ya, which means, “Who is like Yah?” We read that earlier still, when the human race was in Genesis 4:26—
Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh. At that time men began to call on the name of the LORD [YAHWEH].
But the patriarchs did not KNOW God by His name YAHWEH. The key to understanding this puzzling problem is the basic meaning of the word KNOWS. Knowledge is of two kinds: CASUAL (knowledge by acquaintance) and INTIMATE (knowledge by experience). The patriarchs (and doubtless others before them) had a more or less casual knowledge of the name YAHWEH, but not until the time of Moses would the descendants of the patriarchs come to know that name by experience in all of its rich meaning and application. The patriarchs did not know the full significance of the name YAHWEH.
Yahweh (I AM WHO I AM) is the God who would be personally, dynamically, and faithfully BE PRESENT to fulfill the Covenant he made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Bible says that the patriarchs had only the promises, not THE THINGS promised.
Yahweh says, BECAUSE OF MY MIGHTY HAND HE WILL LET THEM GO, BECAUSE OF MY MIGHTY HAND, HE WILL DRIVE THEM OUT OF HIS COUNTRY. This is a polemic against the Pharaohs, who routinely professed to be the POSSESSOR OF THE MIGHTY ARM. It is the Mighty Hand and Arm of God against the Mighty Arm of Pharaoh and God’s will prove mightier.
Reaffirmation is needed because of the important charges that have occurred with Moses, the people, Pharaoh, and God. Exodus 6:6-8—
“Therefore, say to the Israelites: `I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD.'”
No matter how much the Enemy may roar and rage against us, he is unable to thwart the Almighty. WILL is the high ground of God’s promise and it occurs seven times in verses 6-8. I WILL is to encourage the drooping heart of God’s despondent servant.
The seven promises God makes to Moses explain what “I AM THE LORD” means. These promises are the matrix of the Bible: COVENANT—RELATIONAL EXPERIENCE—QUEST FOR PLACE.
Yahweh’s first three promises reflect COVENANT:
I will bring you out
I will free you
I will redeem you
God had promised to Abraham in Genesis 15:14—
But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterwards they will come out with great possessions.
The name YAHWEH was to become rich in meaning and application. One who would redeem His people, and that fact could only be fully understood by the Israelites who were about to experience the Exodus. From the very moment of Israel’s emancipation from Egyptian slavery, the name YAHWEH would signify REDEEMER to God’s people.
God still brings out, frees and redeems people from the bondage of sin, of Satan, of the fear of death through the precious blood of the Lamb. We are not our own, but bought (redeemed) with a price.
Yahweh’s next two promises reflect PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP:
I will take you as my own people
I will be your God
God will bring out, free and redeem Israel in order that they might have a personal relationship with Him. Yahweh is adopting Israel as His own people and already has called them MY FIRSTBORN SON in Exodus 4:22-23. We, too, belong to God as His people. 1 Peter 2:9 declares to Christians—
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
Yahweh’s final two promises reflect QUEST FOR PLACE.
I will bring you to the land
I will give it to you
The two land promises were to give a strong encouragement and a solid confidence in the future. Hebrews 6:17-18 sates—
Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged.
The land we are looking forward to is the heavenly one. God did bring Israel into the Promised Land and He will bring each of us, His blood-bought ones, safely to Heaven.
Then as if to remind Israel once again, God concludes with His signature: I AM THE LORD. Thus, the Exodus becomes supreme example of God’s activity as Redeemer in the OT. It is God’s intention to bring His people out of slavery in Egypt in order to bring them into freedom in the Promised Land. As so we are reminded that redemption is not only release from slavery and suffering but also deliverance to freedom and joy.
Encouraged, Moses does not object to this commission to speak God’s Word to the Israelites, as he did at the burning bush. Unfortunately, the results are very different. Exodus 6:9—
Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and cruel bondage.
The people’s response to Moses reveals a BROKEN SPIRIT—the HEART OF THE UNREGENERATE. They are in desperate straits. Satan’s weapons of discouragement and persecution have hindered the Word of God—the Israelites would not listen to it.
This is powerful testimony that the ability to hear the Word of God can be adversely affected by lack of faith (discouragement) and the conditions in which people live (cruel bondage). Until the conditions are bettered, the Good News of God cannot break through into the minds and hearts of the people. Hence no further attempt is made to speak to the people until the very eve of liberation. Their future must come from outside themselves.
At this point Satan is winning the Battle. Yahweh wants His people to take a break and worship Him but Satan is making sure they will have to work longer and harder hours. Satan’s plan worked. The Israelites are too tired and busy to make any effort to worship. That is a commentary on today. Did Jesus say, “Seek first work and all these things will be added unto you?”
Life becomes discouraging and a cruel bondage when the kingdom of God is relegated to a secondary place. If Satan can get a person to sell their soul to a job, he has won the spiritual battle. That person is already defeated, whether they realize it or not! Satan does not want anyone to enjoy the abundant life! One of his most effective tools is having us replace worship of the LORD with work.
Having failed with the Israelites, God speaks to Moses again in Exodus 6:10-12—
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the Israelites go out of his country.” But Moses said to the LORD, “If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips?”
Sounds like a good point, Moses! However, it is the same old excuse, which God had answered at the burning bush. FALTERING LIPS is literally UNCIRCUMCISED LIPS, a vivid way of describing dysfunctional speech. God gave Aaron to Moses so the excuse is difficult to understand. Moses apparently has not been pleased with the arrangements with Aaron; for Moses alone spoke to the Israelites in 6:9.
Moses is certainly uncertain, but God has removed the discouragement. He did what is always best when discouraged. He took his problem to the LORD. God encouraged Moses in Chapter 6 by reminding him of His Name, His Covenant, His Personal Concern, and His Faithful Promises. God’s “I AM” and “I WILL” are enough to overcome the Enemy! Be strong and of good courage, for God is WITH YOU.