PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Exodus 5:1-19; Whose Word Will Stand?

9/12 Exodus 5:1-19 Whose Word Will Stand?


God has declared over and over that he cares about his people.

-Exodus 2:23 During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.

-Exodus 3:7 Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.

-Exodus 3:16 Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, 17 and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.”’

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.

-Exodus 4:21 And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. 22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, 23 and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’”

-Exodus 3:18 … you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.’

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

-Jeremiah 14:14 And the LORD said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds. 15 Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name although I did not send them, and who say, ‘Sword and famine shall not come upon this land’: By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed.

-Ezekiel 22:28 And her prophets have smeared whitewash for them, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD,’ when the LORD has not spoken. …31 Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord GOD.”

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.

Deuteronomy 18:18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. 20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ 21 And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’– 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.

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.

Hebrews 1:1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

So Moses is foreshadowing Jesus when he comes to set the captives free. Jesus read God’s words about himself:

Luke 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Isaiah 61:1-2)

God’s Demands

Moses declares the word of God boldly to the Pharaoh:

5:1 Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.”’

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:

Deuteronomy 12:6 and there you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, your vow offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock. 7 And there you shall eat before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your households, in all that you undertake, in which the LORD your God has blessed you.

… 11 then to the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, and all your finest vow offerings that you vow to the LORD. 12 And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your male servants and your female servants, and the Levite that is within your towns, since he has no portion or inheritance with you.

… 17 You may not eat within your towns the tithe of your grain or of your wine or of your oil, or the firstborn of your herd or of your flock, or any of your vow offerings that you vow, or your freewill offerings or the contribution that you present, 18 but you shall eat them before the LORD your God in the place that the LORD your God will choose, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, and the Levite who is within your towns. And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God in all that you undertake.

… 26 But the holy things that are due from you, and your vow offerings, you shall take, and you shall go to the place that the LORD will choose, 27 and offer your burnt offerings, the flesh and the blood, on the altar of the LORD your God. The blood of your sacrifices shall be poured out on the altar of the LORD your God, but the flesh you may eat.

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:

Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 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.

God is planning rest for his people.

5:1 Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.”’

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.

2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.”

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:

-Exodus 3:19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go.

-Exodus 4:21 And the LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.

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.

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, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.”

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.

4 But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work? Get back to your burdens.” 5 And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest from their burdens!”

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.

Pharaoh’s Demands

6 The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, 7 “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. 8 But the number of bricks that they made in the past you shall impose on them, you shall by no means reduce it, for they are idle. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ 9 Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.”

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.

10 So the taskmasters and the foremen of the people went out and said to the people, “Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I will not give you straw. 11 Go and get your straw yourselves wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced in the least.”’ 12 So the people were scattered throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw. 13 The taskmasters were urgent, saying, “Complete your work, your daily task each day, as when there was straw.” 14 And the foremen of the people of Israel, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten and were asked, “Why have you not done all your task of making bricks today and yesterday, as in the past?”

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

15 Then the foremen of the people of Israel came and cried to Pharaoh, “Why do you treat your servants like this? 16 No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are beaten; but the fault is in your own people.” 17 But he said, “You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the LORD.’ 18 Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks.” 19 The foremen of the people of Israel saw that they were in trouble when they said, “You shall by no means reduce your number of bricks, your daily task each day.”

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.

Psalm 14:1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (cf. Psalm 53:1)

The Pharaoh has set himself against God.

Psalm 2:2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his anointed, …2:4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. 2:5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, 2:6 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”

It is God’s word that will stand in the end.

1 Peter 1:24 for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

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.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~


September 12, 2010 - Posted by | Exodus, podcast | , , , , , , , ,

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