Exodus 5:1-19 ~ 20100912 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
9/12 Exodus 5:1-19 Whose Word Will Stand?
God has declared over and over that he cares about his people.
God has sent Moses and his brother Aaron to declare the good news that God cares and has begun to take decisive action to deliver them from their oppression in Egypt so they can serve him. Moses is afraid that the people won't listen to him or believe him, but they do listen and they do believe, just as God had promised, and they respond in worship. With the encouragement of this initial success, Moses and Aaron are now emboldened to bring God's word to the Pharaoh.
Thus Says the LORD
God had given them the words he wanted them to say to the Pharaoh.
This is the first of over 400 times the phrase 'Thus says the Lord' is used in the bible. When God gave his prophet a message to deliver – usually a message of confrontation rebuking someone who is hostile to God – he was to introduce the message this way: 'thus says the Lord'. But there are severe warnings about claiming to speak God's words when God had not spoken
God takes his word very seriously. When he speaks, he demands that we listen, and if we will not listen, he says he will require it of us. Those who lie about speaking in his name when he had not spoken, he required the death penalty.
This is a prophecy of the promised Messiah, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers”. This is the one who would fulfill perfectly the roles of prophet, priest and king. The crowning pinnacle of God's self-revelation was his own Son, the word become flesh.
So Moses is foreshadowing Jesus when he comes to set the captives free. Jesus read God's words about himself:
Moses declares the word of God boldly to the Pharaoh:
YHWH, the God of Israel claims ownership on this people that you are oppressing. You are forcing them to serve you. YHWH says 'they are mine. They are mine, and you must let them go. They are to hold a feast to me'. God is claiming the right of possession on his people.
This is worded differently than what God had said to Moses. God had said in 4:23 'let my son go that he may serve me' or in 3:18 'that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God'. Here Moses says 'let my people go that they may hold a feast to me'. The word here translated 'hold a feast' is a word that describes a feast, festival or pilgrimage. Worshiping or serving God, even sacrificing, is indeed a feast or festival – a celebration. If we picture the Old Testament sacrificial system as a heavy financial burden where animal after animal simply went up in smoke, I think we are mistaken. Certainly there were sin offerings and whole burnt offerings, and what was offered to the Lord was to be the best of the best – they were not to offer to the Lord that which cost them nothing (2 Samuel 24:24). But this was not all. Listen to how God describes the sacrifices he demands of his people:
This would be more of a worship celebration, a family bar-b-cue in the presence of the Lord. Moses was accurate in describing what God demanded of them as a 'feast'. This contrasts starkly to the service required by the Pharaoh. In this chapter the Pharaoh acknowledges that it is 'hard service' and in this chapter he makes it even harder, even to the point of being impossible. But listen to what Jesus says:
God is planning rest for his people.
Pharaoh would understand this language. Other people groups would claim to speak on behalf of their deity, and there is evidence that other groups would go on pilgrimage from Egypt to serve their gods.
All is well up to this point. Moses and Aaron have obeyed the Lord and gone to the elders of Israel, and they received the words of the Lord and responded with belief and worship. And now they have gone to Pharaoh and declared God's words. But here comes the crushing blow.
Pharaoh is not saying that he's never heard of YHWH or that he doesn't know anything about Israel's God. What he is saying is that he has no reason to respect this God or listen to what he says. He says 'Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice?' Remember Moses' question to God 'Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt? (Ex.3:11) Moses is not unsure of his own identity. He is unconvinced of his qualifications and his ability to accomplish the task. The Pharaoh was certainly aware of Israel's God YHWH, as he was aware of the many gods of the Egyptians and the gods of the surrounding nations. Simply as a matter of diplomacy he should at least acknowledge the God of his slave people. But instead he demonstrates a total disregard and lack of respect for the God of the Hebrews. He snubs their God and spits in his face. Pharaoh is saying 'I am in charge here. I am the final authority. This so called God of Israel has no right to tell me what to do with my slaves. I do not believe in your God and I will not let Israel go.'
As shocking as these words are, they should not come as a surprise. God had laid out clearly what would happen ahead of time. God had already told Moses:
Pharaoh's proud harsh response should be an indication to Moses that God is already at work, doing exactly what he promised, hardening the Pharaoh's unbelieving heart in order to set the stage for his mighty acts of deliverance. But it seems that Moses and Aaron are a bit taken aback by his defiant response. Their response is less authoritative, more reasoned, more tactful.
Their reasoning seems to be that if we are not allowed to go, the Lord may punish us for our disobedience and that would be a greater loss to Egypt's labor force than the requested pilgrimage. The irony here is that the Lord is about to fall on Egypt with pestilence and sword because of their refusal to release his son Israel.
But their persuasive speech leaves the Pharaoh unmoved.
The Pharaoh now accuses Moses and Aaron of distracting his slaves from their hard labor. Pharaoh is still on his throne and he is still calling the shots in Egypt. He refers back to the problem addressed by his predecessor – the disproportionate growth of the Hebrew people – God has made them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the land, to the point where they are a threat to the national security. They are many and they must be kept in subjection. This Pharaoh is shrewd. He institutes a plan to demoralize Israel and discredit Moses.
Cut straw was an essential ingredient for sun-dried bricks to dry properly and hold together. This was apparently provided ready to use at the job site. The new demand was that the straw would be withheld and the slaves would have to scrounge for whatever substitute they could find and still meet the same quota of finished product. Pharaoh's accusation is that they are idle. That is why they are asking to be released to offer sacrifice to their God. Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh saying 'thus says YHWH'. Pharaoh calls the words of YHWH spoken by Moses and Aaron 'lying words'. Remember the serpent in the garden? He questioned Eve 'Did God actually say...' (Gen.3:1) and then flatly contradicted God's words saying 'you will not surely die' (Gen.3:4). His tactics are the same today. He seeks to undermine the word of God and God's messengers. This hope of rest and worship that Moses and Aaron are enticing the people with are false hopes. God has not really spoken to them. I will exercise my authority to demonstrate who is really in charge by exponentially increasing the workload and demanding the impossible.
Pharaoh here directly asserts himself against the God of the Hebrews. Moses and Aaron had come to him saying 'Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel. 'Let my people go that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.' Pharaoh responds 'Thus says Pharaoh'. Whose word will stand? Moses comes in the authority of YHWH saying 'thus says the Lord' and Pharaoh responds by a proclamation 'Thus says Pharaoh'. God says that Israel is my people and they are to be released to serve me. Pharaoh says they are my slaves and I will intensify their service to me.
The Israelite foremen did their best to produce the same amount of bricks, but the demand imposed upon them was impossible. They were beaten publicly by the Egyptian taskmasters for not meeting the quota.
The Response of Israel
At the end of chapter 2, it says that the people 'groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard... and God remembered... God saw... and God knew. Here the people of Israel cry out again, but this time to the Pharaoh. Three times in these verses the Israelite foremen refer to themselves as 'your servants'. The question in this passage is whom will the people serve? Will they serve the Lord? Or is their allegiance to Pharaoh? But the Pharaoh will not hear. He does not care. He has no sympathy, no compassion. In contrast to God's heart toward the people, his heart is hard. The foremen think there must be some miscommunication. The quota has remained the same but he necessary materials to meet that quota have been withheld. 'The fault is in your own people' the foremen say to the Pharaoh. But the Pharaoh affirms their worst fears. You heard correctly. You must produce the same quantity without the necessary materials. And the reason – your request to go sacrifice to the Lord indicates that you are lazy and have too much time on your hands.
Whose Word Will Stand?
Here we begin to see the irrationality of a man who has determined to fight against God. Withholding the necessary materials will inevitably lead to reduced quality in bricks – the building materials he is using to build his kingdom. Anything built with this sub-standard product will not last as long. So he is ultimately hurting himself by his irrational and impossible demands.
The Pharaoh has set himself against God.
It is God's word that will stand in the end.
God's word is good news. Good news of freedom – freedom from oppressive bondage – freedom to joyfully serve the one true God. Feasting. Celebration. Worship. Relationship. Knowing God. Life and life abundantly. The good news of reconciliation for sinners to a holy God through the once-for-all perfect sacrifice of his own Son Jesus.