Book of Exodus Chapter Five Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Let My People Go
Many would expect that the words given to Moses would bring a quick and positive result: The people would go free! And in Verse 1, that is the hope of these brothers in this audience with the king of all Egypt: "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.'" This is a continuation of Chapter 4, right after Moses and Aaron were reunited and the excited people of Israel worshipped the Lord. These words, given to Moses and expressed by Aaron, contained good advice and much like the wisdom presented to us in our lives, the Pharaoh should have listened and responded. But he did not, as seen in Verse 2: "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.'" We are looking at the proud words of a man who believed he was in utter control of all the people and situations within his country. Like so many, he wanted life HIS way, and the Lord ALWAYS has a different idea.
The dialogue between Pharaoh and Aaron and Moses, men he felt were his slaves, continues in Verse 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.'" So far, the conversation was genial, at least in the words of these brothers, but the Pharaoh was having none of it. In Verses 4-5, "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!' Again Pharaoh said, 'Look, the people of the land are now many, and you would have them cease from their labors!'" Isn't the arrogance of humanity amazing? We didn't create ourselves, but often act as though we did. Whatever attributes or offices people have were gifts to those who have them. And just like this Pharaoh, many act like petty little slave masters, attempting to dominate those who are around them. It's been true of all groups throughout history, in nations, in families and in the workplace...this Pharaoh needed to LEARN, as do we all.
It's often said in war, in sports and in diplomacy, "The best offense is a good defense," but the reverse is more often the way people try to live. Verses 6-9 reflect Pharaoh's next offensive tactic: "So the same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters over the people and their foremen, saying, 'You are no longer to give the people straw to make brick as previously; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But the quota of bricks which they were making previously, you shall impose on them; you are not to reduce any of it. Because they are lazy, therefore they cry out, Let us go and sacrifice to our God. Let the labor be heavier on the men, and let them work at it so that they will pay no attention to false words.'" People often put heavy burdens on others, and then blame them when things don't work out. Pharaoh was punishing the Hebrew people by ordering them to produce the same number of bricks, but without the straw needed to do the job. Have you acted like Pharaoh? That's not the way of God. We should all ponder the Lord's words in the familar verses of Matthew 11:28-30: "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." The Lord gives us work to perform in His name, as Pharaoh did to the Hebrews, but with an important difference. We may seem to do the work outwardly, but the Lord does it in and through us. The prophet, the teacher, the missionary, the pastor, ALL who truly are the Lord's service must ultimately (and the sooner the better) recognize that whatever we do for Him, He is the One who does the real work. When we understand that, we will begin to know His "rest."
The "taskmasters" of the next few verses were subject to the Pharaoh's wishes and did not wish to cross him in any way, as reflected in Verses 10-11: "So the taskmasters of the people and their foremen went out and spoke to the people, saying, Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I am not going to give you any straw. You go and get straw for yourselves wherever you can find it, but none of your labor will be reduced.'" It was, humanly speaking, a clever tactic, designed to turn the Hebrew people against the brothers, Aaron and Moses. Straw was needed to make strong bricks out of the mud of Egypt and Verse 12 reports, "So the people scattered through all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw." The Hebrews went in every direction in a desperate attempt to appease the Pharaoh and achieve his quota. But every minute spent in seeking straw was a moment away from constructing the bricks themselves.
I once read a disturbing article called "Bosses From Hell" and that's what Pharaoh and his minions had become. In Verse 13, "The taskmasters pressed them, saying, 'Complete your work quota, your daily amount, just as when you had straw.'" The desperate Hebrew workers were helpless in relation to Egypt's Pharaoh and the "taskmasters" knew it, who confidently and arrogantly drove the people even more. The situation for Israel became even worse in Verse 14, as, "the foremen of the sons of Israel, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten and were asked, 'Why have you not completed your required amount either yesterday or today in making brick as previously?'"
What a different time and place it was! If you or I were to show up at the White House to visit the president or Buckingham Palace and ask for the sovereign, we would be turned away, but in Verses 15-16 were concerned Hebrews speaking directly to the Pharaoh of Egypt: "Then the foremen of the sons of Israel came and cried out to Pharaoh, saying, 'Why do you deal this way with your servants? There is no straw given to your servants, yet they keep saying to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are being beaten; but it is the fault of your own people.'" Here was one group, the Egyptians, who had enslaved another group, the Israelis, and it was the Egyptians who said to Israel: It's your fault! How often do we as people blame others for what we have done wrong? Pharaoh spoke to the "foremen of the sons of Israel" with scorn in Verses 17-18: "You are lazy, very lazy; therefore you say, Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord. So go now and work; for you will be given no straw, yet you must deliver the quota of bricks." Pharaoh did not care for people...he merely used them. Make sure you care about others, for God does care and He holds us responsible when we don't.
The Lord has a purpose in your life and mine that is very different than ours. He points out, "as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts..." (Isaiah 55:9), but like the men of Israel at that moment, we often only see that trouble has come. Verses 19-21 state, "The foremen of the sons of Israel saw that they were in trouble because they were told, 'You must not reduce your daily amount of bricks.' When they left Pharaoh’s presence, they met Moses and Aaron as they were waiting for them. They said to them, 'May the Lord look upon you and judge you, for you have made us odious in Pharaoh’s sight and in the sight of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to kill us.'" The Israelis did what we have done: passed the blame onto somebody else!
All this was very upsetting to Moses, and when things go wrong, as it did for him, we should do what he did: pray! Verses 22 -23 are exactly that...a prayer! "Moses returned to the Lord and said, 'O Lord, why have You brought harm to this people? Why did You ever send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done harm to this people, and You have not delivered Your people at all." This may seem more like a complaint than prayer, and it is, except for this: You have every right to express your concerns to God, just like Moses did. God listens to your every thought, even before you do, because the future is like today to Him and He knows what you will think and say before you do it. Go ahead and pray—He is God.
Lord, at some point, all of us are trapped in circumstances that are beyond our control. I accept Your will for my life, even when I do not understand. Please forgive my failures. I trust in You now. In Jesus Name. Amen.