Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, all wisdom is found in you. In you are all the depths and mysteries of all wisdom and knowledge. And yet we know that you are near to us; and your word is not far off. It is right here in front of us. Therefore show us your favor now by feeding us with your Word. Give us your Spirit who searches the deep things of God, and feed us with your good Word, O Lord. Through Jesus Christ, and Amen!
Many things in life are exciting at the beginning. The first few years of marriage, a new baby, a new job, a new home, etc. But every good gift comes with challenges. Maturity means growth which means growing pains. But God calls us to faithfulness even in these growing pains; he calls us to faithfulness we hit those first bumps. Moses’ experience here with Pharaoh is no exception.
To Feast and Sacrifice
Notice that the dialogue here is set up to present Yahweh speaking directly to Pharaoh. They speak as the mouth of Yahweh. Pharaoh even understands this in his response by questioning why he should listen to his “voice” (5:2). Aaron/Moses is the voice of Yahweh (cf. 4:16). This is why the church has always taught that preaching the gospel is the word of God (Rom. 10:14, 2nd Helvetic Confession). This is why a “quiet time” is not enough. God works through his Church.
The reason given to Pharaoh for letting Israel go is initially so that Israel can go “feast” before Yahweh (5:1). After Pharaoh’s rebuff they elaborate that they are to go only three days’ journey into the wilderness to have a sacrifice (5:3). This second request is more closely the actual wording that was given by God (3:18). Their reasoning is that they must obey Yahweh lest you strike them with sword or pestilence (cf. 9:3, 15). But the Pharaoh immediately changes the subject: why are Moses and Aaron interrupting the work of the Hebrews (5:4)? We assume that the elders of the people were with Aaron and Moses (3:18), and therefore Pharaoh was not just referring to Moses and Aaron.
Bricks without Straw
Pharaoh’s strategy is actually quite brilliant. His plan is to turn the people against Moses and Aaron. He does this at two levels: first he assigns the taskmasters not to give the usual rations of hay for making the bricks without lessening the number they have to make. He accuses them of laziness (5:8-9). They have too much time on their hands; that’s why they are listening to Moses and Aaron, “gazing on false words” (v. 9). The task masters go out and call the people together and announce “thus says Pharaoh” which is the exact same words that Yahweh has brought to Pharaoh (5:1). This is a battle for authority; whose word must be obeyed? This takes us back to the garden (Gen.3:1). The text says that the people “scattered” to gather straw over the “whole land” much like God scattered the nations at Babel (Gen. 11:4-9). Secondly, Pharaoh knows or suspects that this won’t work out very well and the officers are beaten for not producing the same number of bricks, for not completing the “ordinance/command” of Pharaoh (5:14). Not only are the voices competing, but there are two competing laws (e.g. 12:24, 15:26). The officers respond by pleading with Pharaoh as abused “servants.” Pharaoh has made Israel “serve” him (1:13-14), but Yahweh demands that his people “serve” him (3:12, 4:23). But the officers are pleading with Pharaoh as though he is their rightful master. Pharaoh’s response reveals what kind of master he is: he is a cruel taskmaster (5:17-19). This not only turns the people against Moses, but it also turns their officers against him (5:21).
Let Yahweh Judge
When the officers come out of the presence of Pharaoh, they “meet” and “encounter” Moses and Aaron, the very same words used to describe how Yahweh has or will come to Israel (v. 3). This is exactly what will happen shortly: Israel will go out from Pharaoh and “meet” and “encounter” Yahweh, but in the mean time, Moses is God to them (4:16). Their pleas for mercy having been rejected, they utter what is probably meant to be a curse, asking Yahweh to look on Moses and judge given what has happened to them. They say that their “smell stinks in the eyes of Pharaoh.” This will not be the last time God causes Pharaoh to be offended with foul smells (7:18, 8:14). In fact they have become such a bad smell they fear that there is sword in the hand of Pharaoh’s servants to slay them (5:21). Interestingly, the very things that Moses and Aaron warned of in verse 3 are symbolically fulfilled. The sword and pestilence have come.
Conclusion & Application
Moses immediately returns to Yahweh and asks why he has done evil to this people and why he has sent him (5:22). And his final complaint is that Yahweh has not delivered his people since Moses has gone to Pharaoh and things have only gotten worse (5:23). Of course we remember that God has already promised that Pharaoh will need lots of convincing (3:19, 4:21). One good thing to remember is that this whole story probably took place over a considerable period of time. The Exodus was not over in two weeks. The entire story is probably a period of at least a number of months. Time has a way of making us doubt the Word of God.
While Moses uses very strong words, his prayer assumes a deep faith. The officers pray that God look and judge their case against Moses. And Moses turns and brings the lawsuit against God. Moses is the prosecuting attorney. This chapter presents the struggle between masters, between laws, and ultimately between words. Whose word is Israel bound to obey? Moses pleads with God according to God’s Word (cf. 3:8). The application is two fold: First, you are called to patience. Wait on the Lord. Do what is right today. Be faithful with the task in front of you, and wait on the Lord. Secondly, as Christians we must learn to pray biblically. Prayer is speaking to the judge of earth and heaven on behalf of the world. We stand in the righteousness of Christ by faith, and therefore we must learn to plead with God and bring our cases before him confidently.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Great judge of heaven and earth, you are good and righteous and holy. And we are your people. Therefore we plead with you to be true to your Word. Plant your Word deep in our lives, produce fruit in our lives that is lovely and pleasing in your sight, and deliver us from all evil.