Reading: Exodus 5
1 Afterward 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.'” 2 But 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.” 3 Then 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.” 4 But 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.” 5 And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest from their burdens!”
6 The 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. 8 But 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.’ 9 Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.”
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.”
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.”
In chapter 4, God had to move Moses from unwillingness to obedience, but it seems like the people of Israel were ready to be free of their predicament. In the last verse of the chapter we find them believing and worshipping God. That was good.
Now things go badly. In the Bible, as in life, it often seems like the plans of God get off to a difficult start. As you get to know the Lord you discover that this is normal, it is how things go. You can just about count on it.
This chapter is again structured around conversations:
vss. 1-5 Moses and Aaron speak with Pharaoh.
vss. 6-9 Pharaoh speaks to his taskmasters and the foremen of Israel.
vss. 10-14 The taskmasters and the foremen speak to the people.
vss. 15-19 The foremen of Israel speak with Pharaoh.
vss. 20-21 The foremen speak to Moses and Aaron.
vss. 22-23 Moses speaks to the Lord.
For the first time Moses speaks with Pharaoh. It does not go well. Or, rather, it goes just as the Lord has said it will according to chapters 3-4. Moses is asking Pharaoh to let the people have three days in the wilderness to worship God. It is a reasonable request considering what we already know that the Lord is going to do.
Verse 2 is the summation of the unbelieving mind in response to God. It is said by so many people in so many ways. “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice? I do not know the Lord, and besides, I want to do what I want.”
The important question to think over right now is this: How does this attitude end up serving Pharaoh? What about you? Do you know God? What is your attitude toward God?
Because of God things get harder. Again, this is how it usually goes before God reveals His power. In fact, the people of Israel now blame Moses for their suffering, and Moses blames God. “Why did You ever send me? You have not delivered Your people at all.”
Have you ever prayed a prayer like this to God? It is a common sentiment for the people of God. Think of Elijah or Ezekiel or Jeremiah or John the Baptist. Many pastors and missionaries have prayed this prayer. There is no harm in speaking to God like this if you are prepared for the answer.
God will do things His way. One must come to terms with this fact and accept it, even rejoice in it. It is what it means to follow the Lord, rather than insisting that He follow me (which does not work).
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9