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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Exodus 5

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Exodus 5 – Moses Meets Pharaoh; Israel’s Burdens Are Increased

A. Pharaoh 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. Moses and Aaron went in and told Pharaoh: This confrontation took tremendous courage, and Moses and Aaron should be commended for their obedience to God in doing it.

i. 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.

ii. The Pharaohs were said to be the children of the sun; they were friends to the greatest gods of Egypt and sat with them in their own temples to receive worship alongside them.

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

iv. Having grown up in the royal courts of Egypt, Moses knew this well; but he also knew that Pharaoh was just a man. With the authority of the living God, Moses confronted Pharaoh.

b. Let My people go: The fundamental demand of God to Pharaoh (through His messengers Moses and Aaron) was freedom for His people. God asserted that Israel belonged to Him, not Pharaoh; and therefore, that they should be free. Those who belong to God should be free, not bound.

c. 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: Pharaoh knew of many gods, but did not recognize the Lord or His ownership of Israel. Therefore he refused the request.

i. 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 questions were not about the identity of Moses or Pharaoh, but who is the Lord?If Pharaoh really knew who the Lord was, he would have gladly released Israel.

d. Please, let us go three days’ journey into the desert and sacrifice to the Lord our God: Moses relayed the demand God first gave him back at Exodus 3:18. God presented the smaller request to Pharaoh first so that the request would be as appealing and as easy to accept as possible. He did this so Pharaoh would have no excuse at all for refusing God and hardening his heart.

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. The people of the land are many now: Pharaoh knew that the previous attempts to cut the population of Israel had failed. They continued to multiply. This was good for Israel, but bad for Pharaoh.

c. 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 commanded that the Israelites must gather their own materials (specifically, straw) for making bricks.

i. 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. “Chopped straw was mixed in with the clay to make the bricks more pliable and stronger by first binding the clay together and then by decaying and releasing a humic acid.” (Kaiser)

iii. “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…yet none of your work will be reduced: The immediate effect of the work of Moses was to make it worse for Israel, not better. Confronting the evil of Egyptian bondage would not be quick or easy. This was a significant test of Moses and Israel.

b. And the taskmasters forced them to hurry… Also the officers of the children of Israel…were beaten: The freedom of all Israel was the goal; all Israel endured the difficult struggle before liberty was gained. The workers and their leaders didn’t confront Pharaoh, but were still connected to this work of freeing Israel from Egypt.

i. “Things commonly go backward with the saints before they come forward, so the corn growth downward ere it grow upward.” (Trapp)

B. Pharaoh troubles the children of Israel.

1. (Exo 5:15-19) Pharaoh rebukes the officers 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 for help. They felt that their previous bondage was better than their current increased misery.

i. It is wrong to simply say that Israel loved their slavery. Exodus 2:23 says, the children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and the cried out; and their cry came up to God because of their bondage. Yet what God allows and even performs in the work of bringing freedom made it feel worse, at least for a time.

b. You are idle! Idle! Pharaoh was absolutely unsympathetic and cruel. He believed the problem was that Israel was lazy; more work and harder work would cure them of laziness. Pharaoh hated Israel and wanted them in perpetual bondage to him.

i. “Thus, they would be kept quiet and agitation would cease.” (Thomas)

ii. Your daily quota: “Brick quotas are abundantly documented in Egypt.” (Kaiser)

2. (Exo 5:20-21) The officers 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.

b. Let the Lord look on you and judge: The officers of Israel were certain that God was on their side, and anything that made the immediate condition of Israel worse was not of the Lord.

c. You have made us abhorrent in the sight of Pharaoh: They believed this was the wrong Moses did. When Israel was an obedient slave to Pharaoh, they thought he was their friend. Now that the idea of freedom had entered, Pharaoh showed how he felt about them all along.

i. Satan sometimes 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.

ii. 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. After the counter-attack of Pharaoh, the faith, excitement, and worship of Exodus 4:31 was gone pretty quickly.

iii. God allowed all this; in fact you could say that He designed it. In theory, God could have freed Israel from Egypt without a struggle on their part. Yet He knew that was not good or best for them; that for them to make the transition from slaves to free people of the promised land, that some testing and stretching was absolutely necessary.

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? It was a good question, and Moses did well to so boldly speak his heart to God. Yet Moses had already forgotten what God told him at the burning bush, that Pharaoh would not easily let go of Israel.

i. Moses did right in speaking his heart to God. “Happy is the man who when he cannot understand the divine movement and, indeed, doubts it has yet faith enough in God Himself to tell Him all his doubt. Those who face men, having the right to say to them, ‘Thus saith Jehovah’ have also the right to return to Jehovah and state the difficulties, and expose openly their own doubts and fears.” (Morgan)

ii. Moses did wrong in forgetting what God had said. The Lord told him, 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)

iii. If God were to give Moses an extended explanation to answer the question, it might go like this: “Moses, I brought trouble because I am interested in more than simply freeing Israel from slavery; I want to transform them from a slave people into a people fit for My promised land. This doesn’t happen quickly or easily, and it involves countless expressions of both trust and surrender. Trust Me in this trouble, and I will use it for Israel’s good and My glory.”

b. Why is it You have sent me? In this season of testing, 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 worked 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.

c. Neither have You delivered Your people at all: It seems that despite God’s previous warning, something in Moses hoped that it would all come rather easy. Yet God’s deliverance was real, and would soon be seen for Israel. Israel felt that it was sometimes difficult to be in God’s will; but they would see how much worse it was to be against God’s will.

©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
[A previous revision of this page can be found here]

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