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David Guzik :: Study Guide for Exodus 5

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Moses Meets Pharaoh; Israel's Burdens Are Increased

A. Pharaoh's receives Moses and Aaron and responds with a command.

1. (Exo 5:1-3) Moses asks Pharaoh to let the children of Israel go to the wilderness to worship.

Afterward Moses and Aaron went in and told Pharaoh, "Thus says the LORD God of Israel: 'Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness.'" And Pharaoh said, "Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, nor will I let Israel go." So they said, "The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please, let us go three days' journey into the desert and sacrifice to the LORD our God, lest He fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword."

a. Let My people go: To appreciate how audacious Moses' request was, we must understand the power and authority the Pharaohs claimed. Each Pharaoh was said to be the child of the sun; he was a friend to the greatest gods of Egypt and sat with them in their own temples to receive worship alongside them. Pharaoh was nothing like a public servant; the entire public lived to serve the Pharaoh. His power and authority were supreme and there was no constitution or law or legislature higher or even remotely equal to him.

i. An inscription by a Pharaoh on an ancient Egyptian temple gives us the idea: "I am that which was, and is, and shall be, and no man has lifted my veil." The Pharaoh was more than a man; he considered himself a god, and the Egyptians agreed.

b. Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, nor will I let Israel go: After Moses had the remarkable encounter at the burning bush, and after he saw God turn the hearts of the leaders of Israel towards him, Moses now had to confront the real enemy. Pharaoh was not going to give in easily.

i. This must have been a strange day for Moses. He once walked those same palaces as a prince, and perhaps was in line to sit on the same throne of the present Pharaoh. Yet, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. Moses knew both man's power and God's power, and he knew in God he was more powerful than Pharaoh.

c. Who is the LORD? Pharaoh did not have the right heart, but he did ask the right question. Moses asked Who am I? (Exodus 3:11). The relevant question isn't who Moses is, or who Pharaoh is, but who God is.

d. Please, let us go three days' journey into the desert and sacrifice to the LORD our God: It seems strange to many that Moses only asked for a three-day weekend; after all, he knew what God wanted to do. Was Moses deceptive in only asking for three days?

i. Not at all. God had Moses ask first for three days off to test Pharaoh's heart. God gave Pharaoh the chance to agree to something small and to have his heart softened before the big request came.

2. (Exo 5:4-9) Pharaoh increases the burden of the Israelites.

Then the king of Egypt said to them, "Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people from their work? Get back to your labor." And Pharaoh said, "Look, the people of the land are many now, and you make them rest from their labor!" So the same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their officers, saying, "You shall no longer give the people straw to make brick as before. Let them go and gather straw for themselves. And you shall lay on them the quota of bricks which they made before. You shall not reduce it. For they are idle; therefore they cry out, saying, 'Let us go and sacrifice to our God.' Let more work be laid on the men, that they may labor in it, and let them not regard false words."

a. Why do you take the people from their work? Pharaoh not only rejected the idea of giving the Israelites three days off, he saw the request itself as a waste of good working time.

b. For they are idle; therefore they cry out: To punish Israel for the request and to give them more work ("You seem to have enough time to make these crazy requests - then you must have enough time to work more!"), Pharaoh commands that the Israelites must gather their own materials (specifically, straw) for making bricks.

i. How was straw used in making bricks? Straw has an acidic content that makes the bricks stronger. The use of straw in making bricks in Egypt during this period is confirmed by archaeology. "Bricks of all sorts have been found in Egypt, some with regularly chopped straw, some with rough roots and oddments, some without straw at all." (Cole)

ii. "The eastern bricks are often made of clay and straw kneaded together, and then not burned, but thoroughly dried in the sun. This is expressly mentioned by Philo … 'because straw is the bond by which the brick is held together.'" (Clarke)

3. (Exo 5:10-14) The Egyptian taskmasters carry out Pharaoh's orders.

And the taskmasters of the people and their officers went out and spoke to the people, saying, "Thus says Pharaoh: 'I will not give you straw. Go, get yourselves straw where you can find it; yet none of your work will be reduced.'" So the people were scattered abroad throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble instead of straw. And the taskmasters forced them to hurry, saying, "Fulfill your work, your daily quota, as when there was straw." Also the officers of the children of Israel, whom Pharaoh's taskmasters had set over them, were beaten and were asked, "Why have you not fulfilled your task in making brick both yesterday and today, as before?"

a. I will not give you straw: Now the children of Israel are in a worse place than before. To this point, Moses' leadership hasn't made anything better at all. This was very disappointing to a people who had their hopes raised!

b. And the taskmasters forced them to hurry: We shouldn't be surprised when the greatest challenges come before the greatest victory. At this point, the victory of God for Israel over Egypt seems a long way away.

B. Pharaoh troubles the children of Israel.

1. (Exo 5:15-19) Pharaoh rebukes the children of Israel, increasing their burdens.

Then the officers of the children of Israel came and cried out to Pharaoh, saying, "Why are you dealing thus with your servants? There is no straw given to your servants, and they say to us, 'Make brick!' And indeed your servants are beaten, but the fault is in your own people." But he said, "You are idle! Idle! Therefore you say, 'Let us go and sacrifice to the LORD.' Therefore go now and work; for no straw shall be given you, yet you shall deliver the quota of bricks." And the officers of the children of Israel saw that they were in trouble after it was said, "You shall not reduce any bricks from your daily quota."

a. The officers of the children of Israel came and cried out to Pharaoh: In their trouble, the children of Israel did not turn to God; they did not turn to Moses. Instead, they looked to Pharaoh to solve their problems, and therefore they will be disappointed.

b. You are idle! Idle! The children of Israel found no relief by going to Pharaoh. Some Christians put themselves in the same place when Satan gives them grief. They respond by running to Satan for relief - and all he gives them is more bondage.

2. (Exo 5:20-21) The people cry out against Moses.

Then, as they came out from Pharaoh, they met Moses and Aaron who stood there to meet them. And they said to them, "Let the LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us abhorrent in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to kill us."

a. They met Moses and Aaron: The leaders of the children of Israel were not happy when they came from the presence of Pharaoh, and they thought it was all the fault of Moses and Aaron. Certainly, this was discouraging for Moses; but surely he thought, "It's all right. When they see all God can do, they won't complain any more. They will be on my side and support me as a leader. It's tough now, but it will get better."

b. You have made us abhorrent in the sight of Pharaoh: This was the crime of Moses and Aaron. When Israel was a docile slave to Pharaoh, they thought he was their friend. Now that the idea of freedom has entered, Pharaoh shows how he felt about them all along.

i. Again, Satan seems "friendly" to us when we accept his lordship; but when we start to be free in Jesus, he often will try to make life difficult for us.

c. Exodus 4:31 said So the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the children of Israel and that He had looked on their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped. Now, the faith, excitement, and worship of Exodus 4 is gone pretty quickly.

i. Many Christians can have joy when things are easy; but true maturity is when we can have God's peace in the battle.

3. (Exo 5:22-23) Moses complains about the problem to God.

So Moses returned to the LORD and said, "Lord, why have You brought trouble on this people? Why is it You have sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done evil to this people; neither have You delivered Your people at all."

a. Lord, why have You brought trouble on this people? Moses is good in his example of boldly pouring out his heart to God; but he fell short in remembering God's promise.

b. Neither have You delivered Your people at all: Back at the burning bush, God said: But I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go, no, not even by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My wonders which I will do in its midst; and after that he will let you go. (Exodus 3:19-20) As far as God is concerned, everything is moving according to plan.

i. Even though God warned Moses, it seems he hoped it would all come easy. Moses wished that he would ask, Pharaoh would say "yes" and God would be glorified. Why else would Moses say to God, neither have You delivered Your people at all?

c. Why is it You have sent me? In this tough time, the same old fears came crashing in on Moses: "I'm not the man God should send." "God won't come through." "Pharaoh and the Egyptians are too strong." There was still unbelief and lack of focus on God that had to be cleared out of Moses.

i. "The agony of soul through which Moses passed must have been as death to him. He died to his self-esteem, to his castle-building, to pride in his miracles, to the enthusiasm of his people, to everything that a popular leader loves. As he lay there on the ground alone before God, wishing himself back in Midian, and thinking himself hardly used, he was falling as a grain of wheat into the ground to die, no longer to abide alone, but to bear much fruit." (Meyer)

ii. Moses probably thought that the dying to himself was finished after 40 years of tending sheep in Midian, but it wasn't. It never is. God still will use adversity to train us to trust in Him until the day we go to be with Him in heaven.

©2004 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission


The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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