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Exodus 5:1-5

Verses covered in this passage:

  • Exodus 5:1
  • Exodus 5:2
  • Exodus 5:3
  • Exodus 5:4
  • Exodus 5:5

The book of Exodus is the second book of the Torah (“law”). It continues the story of Genesis concerning the migration of the family of Jacob (the Israelites) to Egypt (Genesis 50). It describes the commissioning of Moses and Aaron as God’s representatives on earth to accomplish God’s deliverance of His people from slavery in Egypt and lead them to the Promised Land (the land of Canaan). It also relates the miraculous deliverance from Egypt beginning with the plagues on Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea. It then describes the journey to Mount Sinai and the establishment of the Mosaic covenant with the Israelites. The last part of the book involves the specifications and building of the tabernacle – the place where the Lord Himself dwelt amongst His people.

In the book of Exodus, the focus shifts to the deliverance of God’s people.


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:

  •      The confrontation with Pharaoh (5:1 – 7:13)
  •      The plagues on Egypt (7:14 – 12:36)

 

Chapter 5 is an account of the first confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh and its results. Chapter 5 has the following structure:

  •      Moses’ First Confrontation with Pharaoh (1 – 5)
  •      Pharaoh’s Opposition and Reaction with Oppressive Labor (6 – 14)
  •      Effects of Pharaoh’s Opposition (15 – 21)
  •      Moses’ Prayer (22 – 23)

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.

After meeting with the leaders of Israel, Moses and Aaron were allowed a meeting with Pharaoh. In his presence, they said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness.’”  They identified that the message they were bringing was from their LORD, not themselves. The message began “Let my people go.” The Hebrew term for “let go” is in such a form that it can be translated “send away,” “dismiss,” or “release.” All of these carry the sense that the one(s) “sent away” are no longer under the authority of the sovereign who did the dismissal. In other words, the LORD (through Moses) is telling Pharaoh to release His people with no expectation that they will return. So Moses is really asking Pharaoh to release the Israelites permanently from slavery.

The word “feast” signified a religious celebration. Egyptian law dictated that, while in Egypt, the Israelites legally could worship only the gods and goddesses of Egypt. To worship any other God, they would have to leave Egypt and go to the “wilderness” (i.e., beyond the Egyptian border), and this is what Moses is saying to Pharaoh.

Pharaoh’s response was in the form of a question – Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go. It is really a rhetorical question because Pharaoh was considered divine, worthy of worship and submission. So naturally, he would not recognize any authority greater than he because it would be a threat to his absolute sovereignty over Egypt. So, in Pharaoh’s mind at least, why should I obey His voice to let Israel go? The statement I do not know the Lord probably means that Pharaoh does not recognize the authority of the LORD and will not let Israel go.

Moses and Aaron, in response to this blatant denial of their request, responded by saying, The God of the Hebrews has met with us. In an attempt to be more diplomatic and less confrontational, they restated their request to Pharaoh to Please, let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God. The significance of the three days could be that it is how long it would take the Israelites to leave Egyptian territory. This is another indication that what Moses and Aaron were asking was the permanent release of the Israelites. Then, in order to give the request a sense of urgency, they added otherwise He will fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword. This was not part of the LORD’s message in 3:18. Perhaps Moses added this to inform Pharaoh that, like the gods of Egypt, the God of Israel would be angry on account of their disobedience and as a result, there would be punishment. Perhaps this was one of the lessons Moses learned from the seemingly strange incident in chapter 4 when the LORD apparently threatened to kill him for not circumcising his sons (Exodus 4:24). In this case, the punishment would be towards the Israelites. Either way, Pharaoh would lose a large contingent of his workforce.

Pharaoh had two responses to Moses’ second attempt to persuade him. In the first response, the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you draw the people away from their work? Obviously, Pharaoh became convinced that Moses was trying to excuse the Israelites from their hard labor, so his command was Get back to your labors!”  The second response explains the first – Again Pharaoh said, “Look, the people of the land are now many, and you would have them cease from their labors!” Such a cessation by a large workforce would not only undermine the Egyptian economy, it would also call into question Pharaoh’s ability to rule effectively.

Biblical Text

And afterward Moses and Aaron came and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness.’” 2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and besides, 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, otherwise He will fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” 4 But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you draw the people away from their work? Get back to your labors!” 5 Again Pharaoh said, “Look, the people of the land are now many, and you would have them cease from their labors!”

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