Chapter 5 begins a new major section of the book of Exodus. In the previous section (1:1 – 4:31), the LORD prepared both His deliverer and those to be delivered from bondage. Now that Moses and Aaron are back in Egypt, the deliverance can take place.
This section (5:1 – 12:36) is characterized by numerous confrontations between Moses and Pharaoh, the LORD’s continual encouragement of Moses, Pharaoh’s obstinacy, and finally the plagues on Egypt that convinced Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. It can be outlined as follows:
Chapter 5 is an account of the first confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh and its results. Chapter 5 has the following structure:
Verses 1 – 5 contain the account of Moses’ confrontation with Pharaoh. Moses begins by demanding that Pharaoh allow the Israelites to go into the wilderness to worship the LORD. Pharaoh flatly denies their request. Moses and the others try to convince Pharaoh that it is a matter of life-and-death. Pharaoh then concludes that this is just an excuse to avoid their labor.
Pharaoh immediately retaliated against the Israelites by making the already oppressive work even worse. He commanded that no straw be given to the Israelites, making them have to gather it themselves. On top of that, the quotas that the Israelites had to meet were not adjusted for the new task, so it simply made their plight much worse. When the daily quotas were not met, the Israelite foremen were beaten by their Egyptian taskmasters.
The burden of the new work rules was so bad that the Israelite foremen came before Pharaoh himself to inquire as to why this added work of gathering their own straw was imposed on them. Pharaoh told them they were lazy for and commanded them to go back to work. They then confronted Moses and Aaron, wishing the LORD’s judgment upon them. Moses then inquired of the LORD about this apparent failure.
Moses was upset by the confrontation with the foremen and the possible repercussions. He prayed to the LORD, asking why He caused things to be worse for His people. In other words, Moses blamed the LORD for his failure and for the Israelites’ situation going from bad to worse.