DIG: Carefully read verses 2 and 3. Compare and contrast Pharaoh’s response to that of Moses in 3:4 and 11, 4:1 and 10, 13, 19-20, and of Abraham in Genesis 12:1-4, 22:1-3, after each one hears a word from God.
REFLECT: When have you ever tried to serve God faithfully, only to have things seemingly blow up in your face? How did you handle it? Did you blame God or Satan? Did you retreat or carry on? Did you put on the armor of God (Galatians 6:10-18) or turn to the world?
This must have been an exciting meeting. Moses and Aaron fully expected a quick end to Pharaoh’s destructive plan. But that’s not what happened. Things would get worse before they got better.77 The Egyptian ruler, an absolute monarch, was proud and unyielding, and believed that he was a god. Therefore, he refused to listen to God and His servant Moses. As his resistance stiffened, the way was prepared for the horror of the ten plagues.78
Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said confidently: This is what ADONAI, the God of Isra'el says: Let My people go, so that they may hold a festival to Me in the desert (5:1). But where are the elders of Isra'el who were to accompany Moses and Aaron to the Egyptian court (3:18)? Their failure to show up was in direct disobedience to the command of God. Maybe this was a foreshadowing of their unbelief. The request, Let My people go, will be made seven times (5:1, 7:16, 8:1 and 20, 9:1 and 13, 10:3).
The ultimate purpose of God was the total freedom of Isra'el from the slavery of Egypt. But at this point Moses presents a very understated request, just a three-day journey to Mount Sinai to sacrifice to ADONAI in the desert. Work-lists from Deir el-Medina in Thebes reveal that workers had days off for a variety or reasons, including offering to one’s god. Thus, the request made by Moses and Aaron was not all that remarkable or unexpected.79 The purpose of this request was to show the unreasonableness of Pharaoh. He would not grant even that very minimal request, let alone the freedom of the entire nation. Therefore, he deserved the punishment that would be given to him.
Pharaoh, of course, paid no attention to their demands and responded: Who is ADONAI that I should obey Him and let Isra'el go? I do not know ADONAI and I will not let Isra'el go (5:2 CJB). This is a rhetorical question with no answer expected. Pharaoh simply regarded himself as the true god of Egypt and was far superior to the God of the Hebrews. Yet, the LORD will introduce Himself by bringing the ten plagues upon the land of Egypt (7:5).
Did he not know the God of Isra'el? Of course he did. They had ruled the Hebrews for some time, and the Egyptians, while not agreeing with them, knew exactly what and Whom they believed in. However, unlike other rulers in the ancient Near East, the Egyptian Pharaoh did not merely rule for the gods, but he was in a literal sense one of the gods. His birth was considered a divine act. In light of this, it is not difficult to see why Pharaoh reacted as he did to the initial request of Moses and Aaron. The king, as a god, was to have sole rule over his people. In fact, the Egyptians well-being was directly associated with that of the king. It was his duty to maintain Ma’at, which would bring justice, peace and prosperity in the land.80
Then they said: The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Now let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to ADONAI our God, or He may strike you with plagues or with the sword (5:3). It is almost as if the two Hebrew leaders were throwing themselves on the mercy of the Egyptian king.81 Unfortunately, the demand of Moses and Aaron backfired. Pharaoh decided to use it as an excuse for making the work of the Israelites harder. Now they had to find the straw to make the bricks on their own.
But kings do not respond well to threats, and here Amenhotep II makes no concessions whatsoever. In fact, he becomes the accuser. He said: Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their labor? Get back to your work (5:4)!
Then Pharaoh said: Look, the people of the land are now numerous, and you are stopping them from working (5:5). Literally, your people are now more numerous than the Egyptians. The Hebrews were so numerous that they posed a military threat. If they stopped their work, they would have time to align themselves with an enemy or plot sedition. He thought that he could smother their desire to leave Egypt by increasing their workload.
So that same day Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and foremen in charge of the people (5:6). There were three levels of the slave labor supervision. First there were the slave masters, who oversaw the labor camps (1:11), and they were all Egyptians. Secondly, underneath them there were the slave drivers (5:10, 13-14), or overseers, who were also Egyptian. Thirdly, below the slave drivers were the foremen (5:14-15), or Hebrews who were in charge of the different labor groups doing the actual work.
He said: You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw (5:7). Straw was the glue that held the bricks together. They made bricks by combining mud from the Nile Valley with straw and chaff, placing the mixture in rectangular molds. Then they let them bake in the sun.82 Up to this point the straw had been provided to the Hebrews for the purpose of making bricks.
But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy; this is why they are crying out: Let us go and sacrifice to our God (5:8). Pharaoh doesn’t even consider the possibility that there is any truth or reality in the God of the Hebrews. In his mind he was a god and will not tolerate any other. They had the same quota of bricks, but then they had to find their own straw. This amounted to more work, with less time to do it. Pharaoh was going to show Moses and his God who was in charge!
Make the work harder, or heavy, for the men so that they will keep working and not have time for what he perceived to be the lies of the two brothers (5:9). He accused Moses and Aaron of lying about their encounter with ADONAI. They were false prophets in his eyes, promising a salvation that could not be delivered. The actual verb used here for heavy is kabed. It is the same verb used later in 10:1, where God hardens Pharaoh’s heart. The king of Egypt sensed that the Hebrews had hope in the message of Moses and Aaron, so he wanted to stop it before it began. Because Amenhotep II oppressed the Hebrews, the LORD oppressed him.
Like the king of Egypt, today there are those who say that they don’t know God or can’t find God. They use this as an excuse to carry on with their sinful ways and suppress the truth by their wickedness. But the Bible says that what may be known about God is plain to them. For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men and women are without excuse (Romans 1:18b-20). Every time we see a sunset, every time we hear the waves crashing and smell the salty air, we see Him from what has been made. Pharaoh was blinded because he thought he was a god. Do you have an excuse to reject Him?
The Teaching Ministry of Jay Mack 2006-2017