The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Exodus 5

Exo 5:1

God does not request His people's freedom; He demands it!

LET MY PEOPLE GO: This expression occurs 9 times (Exo 5:1; 7:16; 8:1,20,21; 9:1,13; 10:3,4). It might be more literally rendered as "Send (out) My people."

FESTIVAL: The word refers to a sacrificial feast and is often associated with a pilgrimage to a sanctuary or holy place. In Israel's case this was, of course, Mt Sinai.

Exo 5:2

WHO IS THE LORD, THAT I SHOULD OBEY HIM?: Egypt and the pride of man will bow to no one.

WHO IS THE LORD...?: The question is also found in Pro 30:9, suggesting that it is the kind of question we are liable to ask when rich and full.

Exo 5:6

"They say that the night is always darkest just before the dawn. It was like that for Israel when Moses arrived back in Egypt ready to deliver them. They had been in slavery for as long as they could remember and at last the time had come when they were about to be made free and taken to the promised land. No doubt spirits were lifted as the news got around and they thought that they were about to walk free.

"But instead of things getting better, they got worse. Pharaoh got angry and they were forced to make the same amount of bricks in the same amount of time but they also had to provide their own straw. Their anticipation turned to bitterness and anger against Moses. But nothing happens without God allowing it to happen. I wonder if it was to make them appreciate their escape even more than if they had just got up and gone from their "normal" slavery. The blacker the night, the brighter the day seems to be.

"It may be that our trials serve the same purpose. When things go from bad to worse we can rejoice in the fact that when our trials are over or when the kingdom comes, the day will be truly bright" (RP).

Exo 5:7

The "world" uses work as a means of drawing believers away from their God.

Exo 5:8

THEY ARE LAZY: As though the only reason to serve any "god" is boredom!

Exo 5:10

Vv 10,11: "Pharaoh, the tyrannical ruler loading ever greater burdens upon his people and making ever increasing demands upon them, is a fitting symbol for sin and the dominion that it exercises over mankind. Sinful life gradually takes its toll upon us, and the effects of sin and corruption are ever more visible as we age and weaken. Sin does not seem too awful or its toll so heavy at first when we are young and active, but in time the limits of our human condition make themselves all too apparent. So also now the Israelite people are ever more crushed by the burdens they must face" (MV, Tes 71:420).

Exo 5:15

THE ISRAELITE FOREMEN WENT AND APPEALED TO PHARAOH: "Pharaoh had begun to turn up the heat for the Israelites, but their immediate reaction is to turn for help, not to God, but to Pharaoh. In their desperation they turn in the very opposite direction to the one from which help might have come. They think they have more of a chance of remedying the situation by turning to Pharaoh than they do by turning to God. Only when Pharaoh refuses to budge, and all available options have been exhausted, do they turn to Moses -- and then only in complaint" (MV, Tes 71:448).

YOUR SERVANTS (and twice in the next verse): "It is all a question of how one sees oneself. The Israelite officers saw themselves primarily as Pharaoh's servants, and perhaps in some vague secondary sense [if at all!] as servants of God. By their threefold identification as Pharaoh's servants they implicitly state that for them Pharaoh's lordship takes precedence over God's.

"But this will not do. We are servants of God before we are anything else, whether it be 'company men', members of various organisations or institutions, partakers of particular social functions and roles, or even members of the family into which God has placed us. Obligations and allegiance to Him must be paid and acknowledged before any other duty is discharged. Whatever happens in our lives, He must be our first port of call. He is the One with whom we have to do and to whom we must report" (MV, Tes 71:448).

Exo 5:18

NOW GET TO WORK: The word is lit "serve" once more. The phrase will come back to bite Pharaoh, for he will use the identical words with quite different meaning in Exo 12:31, re "serving/worshiping" the LORD! The death of the firstborns will have caused him to change his perspective completely on what Israel should go and do -- yet the Heb language allows him to use the sw to describe it (cp Exo 10:8,11,24).

Exo 5:20

WAITING TO MEET THEM: AV has "stood in the way". A double entendre: Yes, Moses and Aaron were standing in the path as the officers returned from Pharaoh's palace. But this is also exactly what they had been doing metaphorically as far as the officers were concerned -- getting in the way. If not for Moses and Aaron, their burdens would not have been increased!

Exo 5:21

13 murmurings: Exo 5:21; 14:10; 15:24; 16:2; 17:2; 32:1; Num 11:1,4; 12:2; 14:2; 16:3; 20:2; 21:5. Cp Joh 6:41-43. Those who murmur without cause are soon given cause to murmur.

YOU HAVE MADE US A STENCH TO PHARAOH: Heb idiom, sig that Moses and Aaron had made Pharaoh hate them even more than he did before. But notice the later play on this word: the sw is used to describe the literal stench that filled Egypt as the fish and frogs decayed (Exo 7:21; 8:14). Pharaoh may have found the behavior and complaints of the Israelites to "stink", but God would soon give him a far greater and more literal stench to cope with!

YOU... HAVE PUT A SWORD IN THEIR HAND TO KILL US: "God had to teach the utter contrast between the appalling slavery in Egypt and the marvelous redemption of the Exodus. Though they may not have appreciated the theology of the point at the time, the officers are brought to recognise this contrast with increasing clarity... Pharaoh had said nothing about a sword, and nothing about slaying them; the men simply had to do more work, and if they did not they would be beaten.

"But the officers well knew where this was heading. The ultimate consequence of Pharaoh's new legislation would be death, whether through overwork and beating, or because Pharaoh was now set on a course in which legislation would be made stricter and stricter until keeping it became an impossibility and death became inevitable. This new Pharaoh is just like the old one in Exo 1: he is a murderer. He is a man playing at God, wielding in his hand a sword of death to which he has no right" (MV, Tes 71:449,450).

Exo 5:22

MOSES RETURNED TO THE LORD AND SAID, "O LORD, WHY HAVE YOU BROUGHT TROUBLE UPON THIS PEOPLE? IS THIS WHY YOU SENT ME?": There is no other help for us when passing through such discipline. When we see our hopes blasted, our plans miscarry, our efforts do more harm than good, while we are discredited and blamed, pursued with the taunts and hate of those for whom we were willing to lay down our lives, we may preserve an outward calm; but there will be a heartbreak underneath, and the noblest part in us will wither, unless we are able to pour out our whole complaint before God. Thus is the purpose for things going from bad to worse. As CHS puts it, "the Great Shepherd will send out the black dog to bring the sheep closer to the Shepherd."

It is a lesson for all of us. God must bring us down before He can raise us up. God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble (Jam 4:6). Emptying must precede filling. We must get to an end of ourselves before He can begin in us. But what a beginning He makes! "Then the LORD said unto Moses, Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh: for with a strong hand shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land" (Exo 6:1). And as those words of encouragement and promise broke on his ear, he must have forgotten the averted looks and bitter words of the people and risen into a new world of restful expectation. Deliverance was sure, though he had learned that it did not depend on anything that he could do, but on that all-sufficient God.

We must never let the difficulties which confront us indicate that we are not on God's path and doing His work. Indeed the contrary is generally the case. If we are willing to walk with God, He will test our sincerity. He will cause men to ride over us; He will bring us through fire and water. But out of all He will bring us into a large room and give us the very thing on which we have been taught to set our hearts. Victory on the other side of the Red Sea will wipe away the memory of those bitter disappointments in the discipline of humility. "For whom the Lord loves he chastens" (Heb 12:5-7).

O LORD: The orig "Yahweh" altered to "Adonai" by Sopherim (Com App 32).

Exo 5:23

"With hindsight, something of why God chose to work in this way may be seen. He is drawing out and protracting the clash and rivalry between Himself and Pharaoh to teach a lesson which is central to the OT: that man must wait God's time and learn to be totally dependent upon Him. 'If God wants to deliver us,' they ask, 'why doesn't He just get on and do it?' So human, so natural! But events like this in Israel's history teach that we must be rather more patient and trusting of God's faithfulness when things do not work out quite how we might expect or wish. By all means let us go to God with our feelings, communicating with Him openly and honestly when we feel things are wrong; the Scriptures set many a precedent for doing so. But let us also remember the need for faithfulness, and that God has shown Himself to know best and to have the best interests of His people at heart" (MV, Tes 71:449).

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