1Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’ ” 2But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” 3Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” 4But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work? Get back to your burdens.” 5And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest from their burdens!” 6The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, 7“You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. 8But the number of bricks that they made in the past you shall impose on them, you shall by no means reduce it, for they are idle. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ 9Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.” – Exodus 5:1-9 ESV
The Let Down
As last weeks chapter came to an end, the Hebrew slaves and their leaders had heard about what God conveyed to Moses and Aaron. They were excited, they were committed. They worshipped in the new hope they had heard. The troops have been rallied and the engagement begins this week. Note how focused and straight forward the opening message was as this chapter opens; “Let my people go”.
In this opening statement we see that Aaron and Moses reference the LORD:
“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’ ” – Exodus 5:1 ESV
The message was “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel”. But at this time who was Israel?
When we reflect back on Genesis 32:28 we see the story of Jacob wrestling with God, and as a result, Jacob is given the name Israel.
Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed. – Genesis 32:28 ESV
But Pharaoh’s slaves at this time are referred as Hebrews. So when Aaron and Moses say the God of Israel, what it was interpreted as is the God of a person named Israel. So the statement really did not hold much weight with Pharaoh, regardless of his dedication and commitment. From Pharaoh’s perspective it would be like someone coming into our life and say “The God of Joe says ‘buy me a coffee'”. That statement really does not hold any value unless we know Joe and he has any significance in our life.
Say what you mean, mean what you say
We know that Aaron and Moses’ intention was to come in with a bold introduction and proclaim that the God, in power of everything, Yahweh, has told them to “let the people go so that might hold a festival in the wilderness”.
Is that really what God instructed Moses to tell Pharaoh?
In Exodus chapter 3 we can refer to the instructions God gave Moses:
16 “Now go and call together all the elders of Israel. Tell them, ‘Yahweh, the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—has appeared to me. He told me, “I have been watching closely, and I see how the Egyptians are treating you. 17 I have promised to rescue you from your oppression in Egypt. I will lead you to a land flowing with milk and honey—the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites now live.” ’ – Exodus 3:16-17 NLT
God directly told them that he was going to free his people and deliver them from the oppression of the Egyptians. Their message to Pharaoh was a narrowed down statement, kind of indicating that they just wanted a weekend pass and that they would come back and work again.
Moses makes the request to allow the Hebrews to have a three-day weekend, but what is the consequence if Pharaoh does not oblige?
Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword. – Exodus 5:3 ESV
Once again this is not the same message that God instructed Moses.
What do you think was the motivation in this approach by Moses? Have you ever had a similar situation where you have changed the message that you truly knew to be different or that of your group or team?
How do you think the atmosphere was for Aaron and the other Hebrews that had rallied behind this effort? The all-powerful God sends them to tell Pharaoh to release the captives, but it doesn’t go that well. Doubt can set in. Anxiety, despair, disappointment and concern.
What are some of the ways you personally deal with doubt and discouragement?
Have you ever felt let down by God? Have you been faced with the reality that your plans and hopes were not really God’s plans and hopes?
A powerful message involving John the baptist leads us into a similar situation…
1When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. 2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” – Matthew 11:1-6 ESV
In this dialog, Jesus is quoting some old testament prophesy, can you identify it?
What is omitted in the quote, now noted as a paraphrase, and why is it significant?
When we anticipate our story to go a certain way and it doesn’t we can be surprised. We can be concerned. We can even feel disappointed. For some of us, we may even get some condemnation coming in. The thoughts that we have been let down by God and that our hopes and dreams are worthless.
How about David? He was identified by God to go and conquer the Philistines. The take on the mighty Goliath. Yet, in the end when it was time to build the temple for his God, what was he told?
But the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘You have shed much blood and have waged great wars. You shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood before me on the earth. – 1 Chronicles 22:8 ESV
Who was the one the instructed and led David in all the wars and fighting? Who gave him the ability to overcome such great opposition? We can almost see the blooper in the story play out in our mind. “But God, you shed the blood for me!!
When we get in moments of despair there is one key thing to do…
Hold on to God’s truth
I know in my life when I begin to doubt, the enemy cranks up the volume of misconception. It seems like all I hear is one side of the story. We need to gain the assurance from God’s word, this includes correction and understanding, as well as avoiding idle speculation. Paul mentors Timothy on this exact situation:
14continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:14-17 ESV
We don’t know for sure if Moses informed Aaron and the other Hebrew leaders all the details of God’s instructions. He might have paraphrased and put it into his own words and thoughts, just like we read he did with Pharaoh. We could easily understand it if the Hebrews had some doubts. The thought of going in and declaring their God has instructed Pharaoh to let them go, but feeling of hope may have just slipped away when he only asks for 3 days.
You cannot be disappointed if you don’t have hope!
We are sure that the Hebrew slaves definitely had a desire for freedom and this message from Moses was their hope. As we will see in the coming chapters this is just the beginning of the Hebrews decline in confidence of Moses. It will be noted several times where they just want to abandon Moses’ direction. We see numerous times throughout the bible about people being encouraged and yet let down.
Get the job done with less
Most likely each of us have been in situations where we have been involved with some team or group and then we are inevitably faced with the notion, well we have less people now, but you can get the job done in the same amount of time. Isn’t it crazy how we have apprehension towards the idea and sometimes even rebel against the notion, but time after time, we do get the job done with less resources. Well, that is the same situation the Hebrew slaves get confronted with.
After Moses and Aaron’s great idea, the pharaoh puts the pressure on the slaves as a sign of punishment…
10 So the taskmasters and the foremen of the people went out and said to the people, “Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I will not give you straw. 11 Go and get your straw yourselves wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced in the least.’ ” 12 So the people were scattered throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw. 13 The taskmasters were urgent, saying, “Complete your work, your daily task each day, as when there was straw.” 14 And the foremen of the people of Israel, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten and were asked, “Why have you not done all your task of making bricks today and yesterday, as in the past?”
15 Then the foremen of the people of Israel came and cried to Pharaoh, “Why do you treat your servants like this? 16 No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are beaten; but the fault is in your own people.” 17 But he said, “You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ 18 Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks.” 19 The foremen of the people of Israel saw that they were in trouble when they said, “You shall by no means reduce your number of bricks, your daily task each day.” 20 They met Moses and Aaron, who were waiting for them, as they came out from Pharaoh; 21 and they said to them, “The Lord look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”
The taskmasters are Egyptian and the foreman of the people were actually Hebrew leaders within the slave community. They had responsibilities in leading the Hebrews under the authority of the Egyptian taskmasters. Pharaoh uses this demand from Moses to inflict even more harsh circumstances on the slaves. He reduces the assistance from the Egyptian people by making the slaves get their own straw to make bricks. The production of bricks is not decreased, but the work efforts increase because they have to get their own straw. When the productivity does not meet expectations, the foreman of the people and the slaves are beaten. As this plays out, Moses and Aaron are blamed for the cruel punishment being handed out by Pharaoh.
When the times get tough, who do the Hebrews turn to?
The painful truth is that God said that Moses needed to demand to Pharaoh to let his people go, and that pharaoh would have a hardened heart and then God would strike the Egyptian people. But in Moses statement, as we identified, Moses says God will torture the Hebrews if they don’t go worship for 3 days at a festival in the wilderness.
Who is being tortured, the Egyptians or the Hebrews?
22 Then Moses turned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? 23 For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.” – Exodus 5:22-23 ESV
In the face of this rejection Moses turned in despair to God. Why had he permitted things to develop like this? We can get ourselves in a similar situation. We can learn from our own examples or even in this one that many times we get instructions, head off and try to do what is right and it just becomes a mess. One thing that is evident in this chapter is that there is not much dialog or relationship between Moses and God. He gets instructions and then comes back and complains about the results.
This week let’s move forward with God’s instruction, but let us check in with him often. Let us get insight, further details and guidance as we walk out His plans for our life. The greatest benefit we have that Moses did not have is the Holy Spirit. Let us be wise in our actions, confident in our assignments and humble in our execution. When things are not seeming to go well, let us pause and talk it over with God. We don’t know, but maybe in the initial opening dialog Moses may had been reminded of the actual request that was supposed to be given. He might have clarified to pharaoh that the Egyptians would be punished. We are not sure of that, but one things is for sure, God was with them the whole time and he is with us each and every moment as well.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society
- Tyndale House Publishers. (2013). Holy Bible: New Living Translation. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
- Alexander, T. D. (1994). Exodus. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 99). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.