DESPITE OPPOSITION AND FRUSTRATION, THE SERVANT OF GOD MUST CONTINUE TO LOOK TO THE LORD FOR ULTIMATE SUCCESS
When the divine mission is clear and the commitment has been made to boldly step out in faith and obey, the expectation is that God will grant success. When instead you are faced with increased opposition and the situation actually deteriorates it is easy to become frustrated and question whether God is really committed to the mission. Our problem is one of timing and perspective. Only God sees the big picture and understands how He is sovereignly working to accomplish His kingdom agenda. We need to continue to look to God for the ultimate success of the mission. We need to trust Him to remain faithful to His covenant commitments even when the immediate circumstances look bleak. We need to learn how to properly respond to setbacks in serving the Lord – because there will be opposition and tough times.
I. (:1-14) OPPRESSION (BY PHARAOH AND HIS TASKMASTERS) INTENSIFIES AS INITIAL REQUESTS TO LEAVE EGYPT ARE DENIED
A. (:1-5) Two Requests of Pharaoh: “Let My People Go” –
Issue = Ultimate Authority
1. (:1-2) First Request Directed to Pharaoh
a. (:1) Reason: Celebrate a Feast to the Lord
“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.’”
b. (:2) Response: The Lord is Nobody to Me
“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.’”
Wiersbe: This was a reasonable question because the Egyptian people considered Pharaoh to be a god, and why should their king obey a strange god that neither Pharaoh nor the Egyptians know? Furthermore, what right did this new god have to call the Israelites “My people” when the Jews were the slaves of Pharaoh? If Pharaoh obeyed the edict, he would be acknowledging a deity greater than himself, and he wasn’t about to do that. In his pride and false security, Pharaoh wouldn’t listen to the words of the living God.
Constable: Thus as the plague narratives begin, the purpose of the plagues is clearly stated: “so that the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD” (Exodus 7:5). Throughout the plague narratives we see the Egyptians learning precisely this lesson (Exodus 8:19; Exodus 9:20; Exodus 9:27; Exodus 10:7). As the narratives progress, the larger purpose also emerges. The plagues which God had sent against the Egyptians were “to be recounted to your son and your son’s son … so that you may know that I am the LORD.” [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., pp249-50.]
Ryken: First, the unbeliever is ignorant of God’s identity. Pharaoh confessed his ignorance by raising a question. It was not an honest question but a rhetorical one, asked with sneering sarcasm: “Who is the Lord?” Far from seeking to find out who God really was, Pharaoh denied that God had any claim on his life: “I do not know the Lord.” . . .
In the second place, Pharaoh was resistant to God’s authority. Unbelief is not merely an intellectual problem but also a spiritual problem. It affects the heart as well as the mind. After Pharaoh admitted his ignorance (saying, “Who is the Lord …?”), he went on to assert his defiance: “… that I should obey him?” (Exod. 5:2).
Oswalt: Pharaoh clearly understood the nature of the contest (5:2); it was one of ultimate authority. Was there someone superior to him who had the right to tell him what to do with his slaves? There could not be. He refused to acknowledge any such authority, and he would not bow to it. It was not a question of knowledge but of recognition of authority.
2. (:3-5) Second Request Directed to Pharaoh
a. (:3) Reason: Divine Authority and Avoidance of Judgment
“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.’”
Walter Kaiser Jr.: Perhaps stunned by Pharaoh’s insolence and arrogance, Moses and Aaron recast their request in somewhat milder terms. . . Acting now as representatives of the people (rather than ambassadors . . .) the demand is changed to a humble request
Wiersbe: Moses mentioned that the Israelites might be in danger of being killed if they failed to obey the Lord. Why bring that up? Perhaps Moses was hinting that Pharaoh’s stubbornness might cost him his slaves and that he’d be better off to give the Jews a week off and thereby protect his cheap labor. However, there’s another factor involved: Moses was telling Pharaoh that the God of the Hebrews was a powerful God who could kill the Egyptians as well as the Jews. Pharaoh needed to understand that the demands Moses and Aaron were making were not to be taken lightly, for this was a matter of life and death.
b. (:4-5) Response: Avoidance of Distractions
1) (:4) Get Back to Work
“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!’”
2) (:5) Their Work is Needed Even More Now that They are Many
“Again Pharaoh said, ‘Look, the people of the land are now many, and you would have them cease from their labors!’”
John Hannah: Pharaoh reacted in three ways:
1) He repudiated the God of Israel as having no authority (5:2).
2) He was calloused to the possibility of any harm that might come on the Israelites for disobeying their God (5:2-3).
3) He was concerned for his own loss of labor productivity (5:4-5).
B. (:6-9) Increased Workload = Response of Pharaoh
1. (:6-7) Increase Their Workload by Making Them Get Their Own Straw
“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.’”
2. (:8-9) Increase Their Workload by Maintaining Their Same Quota of Bricks
a. Maintain the Previous Level of Output
“But the quota of bricks which they were making previously,
you shall impose on them; you are not to reduce any of it.”
b. Recognize Their Propensity to Laziness
“Because they are lazy, therefore they cry out,
‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’”
c. Increase the Workload so There is No Time for Distractions
“Let the labor be heavier on the men, and let them work at it
that they may pay no attention to false words.”
Douglas Stuart: The remedy proposed by the king was predictable: if work was the way to keep the Israelites quiet and obedient (a method that had worked well for decades), more work was the way to restore quiet and obedience. According to 1:14, the forced labor burden on the Israelites was related mainly to brick making (“brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields”). Presumably the “work in the fields” was not originally focused on gathering the straw for the bricks but on planting, tending, and harvesting crops. The Egyptians must have used some other group for the straw. Now, ratcheting up the workload, Pharaoh ordered the Israelites to gather their own straw.
C. (:10-14) Increased Oppression = Role of the Taskmasters
1. (:10-11) Passing on Pharaoh’s Increased Demands
a. Get Your Own Straw
“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;’”
MacArthur: When combined with “foremen of the sons of Israel” (v. 15), a 3-level command structure is seen to have been in place – Egyptian section leaders and labor gang bosses, and Israelite foremen.
b. Maintain Same Quota of Bricks
“but none of your labor will be reduced.”
2. (:12-13) Pressing the People to Work Harder
“So the people scattered through all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw. And the taskmasters pressed them, saying, ‘Complete your work quota, your daily amount, just as when you had straw.’”
Oswalt: The system of “Egyptian slave drivers” (5:13) overseeing “Israelite foremen” (5:14) is a pattern that has worked in a variety of tyrannies across the centuries right up to the present. It is reminiscent of the system the Nazis used in the death camps between 1938 and 1945. The pressure flows inexorably down from the top, with the immediate enforcers of the oppression being members of the oppressed group itself. Houtman (1993:1.457) observes that the entire structure, from Pharaoh on down, was based on fear. Neither was Pharaoh himself exempt, for he was living in deadly fear of losing his power.
3. (:14) Punishing the Hebrew Foremen for Missing Daily Quotas
“Moreover, 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?’”
Douglas Stuart: Thus the situation had transformed from one of hopefulness and faith (4:31) to resentment and doubt. Why? Because of Pharaoh’s intransigence. He clearly is portrayed here as unyielding, determined to put the Israelites in their place, suggesting that the Israelites were going to need something much stronger than words to convince him to change his mind. As v. 20 indicates, Moses and Aaron did not attempt to return to the royal court to handle this appeal, suggesting that they saw no hope in it or realized that they would not have been welcome. Pharaoh was the final court of appeal, the equivalent of the supreme court of his country. Thus his final verdict had been rendered to Moses and Aaron already, and they may even have been barred from seeing him so soon again on essentially the same issue. Someone else, however, might have had the opportunity to address the king on the topic of the impossibility of fulfilling a royal edict (making a full quota of bricks without straw) under the court rules of that time (assuming the ancient Near Eastern general right of access; and it was perhaps thus that the Israelite foremen tried themselves to appeal the penalty assigned in response to Moses’ and Aaron’s representation of Yahweh’s demand.
II. (:15-21) FRUSTRATION BUILDS AS THE JEWISH FOREMEN RAISE COMPLAINTS
A. (:15-19) Complaint to Pharaoh
1. (:15-16) Impossible Expectations
a. What’s Going on Here?
“Then the foremen of the sons of Israel came and cried out to Pharaoh, saying,
‘Why do you deal this way with your servants?’”
b. Your Demands Don’t Make Sense
“There is no straw given to your servants,
yet they keep saying to us, ‘Make bricks!’”
c. We are Being Punished – But You Have Created the Problem
“And behold, your servants are being beaten;
but it is the fault of your own people.”
2. (:17-18) Insensitive Demands
“But he said, ‘You are lazy, very lazy; therefore you say, Let us go and sacrifice to the LORD. So go now and work; for you shall be given no straw, yet you must deliver the quota of bricks.’”
3. (:19) Insurmountable Trouble
“And 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.’”
B. (:20-21) Complaint to Moses and Aaron
1. (:20) Angry Confrontation
“When they left Pharaoh’s presence, they met Moses and Aaron
as they were waiting for them.”
2. (:21) Ascribing Blame to Moses and Aaron
“And 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.’”
Wiersbe: Alas, during the next forty years, complaining about God’s will and criticizing God’s leaders would be characteristic of the people of Israel; but are God’s people much different today?
Walter Kaiser Jr.: Moses and Aaron had deliberately “stationed” themselves so as apparently to be the first to debrief the men as they emerged from their meeting with Pharaoh . . . Instead of earning the respect from these Hebrew foremen for all their labors to alleviate their brutal condition, Moses and Aaron felt, in no uncertain terms, the heat of the foremen’s anger.
David Thompson: This is typically what the people of God do when things don’t work out in a seemingly good way- they blame management who may or may not be responsible for the problem. They blame the God ordained leadership. Instead of the Hebrew leadership saying, we need to get our people to cry out to God for His help; they just start blaming Moses and Aaron for the trouble. This was not Moses and Aaron’s fault.
III. (5:22 – 6:1) LAMENT OF MOSES ANSWERED BY THE LORD
A. (:22-23) Lament of Moses
1. (:22) Asking the Hard WHY Questions
a. Why Are You Increasing the Suffering?
“Then Moses returned to the LORD and said,
‘O Lord, why hast Thou brought harm to this people?’”
b. Why Did You Send Me on This Mission?
“Why didst Thou ever send me?”
2. (:23) Analyzing Present Circumstances from a Limited Perspective
a. So Far Nothing But Increased Suffering
“Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Thy name,
he has done harm to this people;”
b. So Far No Deliverance
“and Thou hast not delivered Thy people at all.”
B. (:6:1) Response of the Lord
“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for under compulsion he shall let them go,
and under compulsion he shall drive them out of his land.’”
S. Lewis Johnson: Now the first verse of the sixth chapter should really be the end of the fifth chapter, I think, and notice the reply of the Lord. Now it is for Moses, but I want to tell you something, it’s for you too. And it’s surely for me. Look at it carefully. Then the Lord said unto Moses, “Now.” Now in the Hebrew text, there is a little bit of emphasis on that word. “Now, at this time, shall Thou see what I will do to Pharaoh for with a strong hand shall he let them go and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of the land.” Because you see, God loves to bring his people into the condition in which they are unable to cope with their circumstances. Because when they are unable to cope with their circumstances, then when the deliverance comes as he has promised, they will realize it’s really from the Lord.