1 - 3 First Meeting with Pharaoh
1 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.’” 2 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.” 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.”
In their first meeting with Pharaoh, Moses and Aaron speak to him in the name of “the LORD, the God of Israel”. This name for God is mentioned here for the first time in Scripture in connection with His people. In that Name they speak and bring out God’s demand directly. It is not a request, but a command to let the people go. They stand as God’s ambassadors for Pharaoh. It is “My people”, says the LORD. The Pharaoh has no right to it. He will be told seven times “let my people go”. He is told that the people should celebrate a feast in the wilderness to the honor of God. This is not possible in Egypt.
The Pharaoh answers proudly: “Who is the LORD?” This fully indicates his character. He has no respect for God at all. Despicable he speaks of the nonsense to listen to the LORD. For him the LORD does not exist. This is the pride at its peak. The flesh does not submit to God (Rom 8:7). It also determines his reaction that he will not let the people go.
Moses and Aaron then call God “the God of the Hebrews”. Hebrew means ‘someone of the other side, that means from another country then Egypt. God has determined that His people will sacrifice Him. Any opposition is folly, both of Pharaoh and of the people themselves. If they do not listen, they will experience God’s punishment.
To celebrate the feast for the LORD, they must make a three day’s journey into the wilderness. The number three speaks of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. That forms the separation with the world. A feast is characterized by gladness. Joy is part of being in God’s presence. A heart that is free to enjoy God’s presence is at the foundation of the sacrifice. The sacrifice averts judgment and allows the heart to be in God’s presence without fear.
Moses and Aaron do not speak of them going on to the promised land after the feast in the wilderness. That is not a deception. Once liberated from Egypt, one will never return to it. The wilderness is not the goal of salvation. That is an area through which we pass. The purpose of salvation is to bring us into the enjoyment of fellowship with the Father and the Son. It can be enjoyed in the wilderness. For this purpose God has the tabernacle there as His dwelling.
4 - 14 Increase of Hard Labor
4 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!” 5 Again Pharaoh said, “Look, the people of the land are now many, and you would have them cease from their labors!” 6 So the same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters over the people and their foremen, saying, 7 “You are no longer to give the people straw to make brick as previously; let them go and gather straw for themselves. 8 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.’ 9 Let the labor be heavier on the men, and let them work at it so that they will pay no attention to false words.” 10 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. 11 You go [and] get straw for yourselves wherever you can find [it], but none of your labor will be reduced.’” 12 So the people scattered through all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw. 13 The taskmasters pressed them, saying, “Complete your work quota, [your] daily amount, just as when you had straw.” 14 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?”
Pharaoh send Moses and Aaron about their business, accusing them of avoiding their labors and of wanting to stop the people laboring. His reaction is that he makes the people work even harder. He even gives the command on “the same day” (verse 6). What the Israelites get first, straw, is now being withheld from them. They have to take care of it themselves. Pharaoh asks the impossible.
Satan works in the same way. He takes more and more. If he gives something, it is to take it back later and take much more. Every trace of charity is missing. He comes only “to steal and kill and destroy” (Jn 10:10). He is “a murderer from the beginning” (Jn 8:44a). He finds the greatest pleasure in the misery of his slaves.
Pharaoh calls what Moses and Aaron say “false words”. Here too we see how satan works. He always twists the truth of God, he reverses it. He “does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own [nature], for he is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44b).
15 - 19 The Request for Relieve Rejected
15 Then the foremen of the sons of Israel came and cried out to Pharaoh, saying, “Why do you deal this way with your servants? 16 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.” 17 But he said, “You are lazy, [very] lazy; therefore you say, ‘Let us go [and] sacrifice to the LORD.’ 18 So go now [and] work; for you will be given no straw, yet you must deliver the quota of bricks.” 19 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.”
In their distress, the Israelites cry out to Pharaoh, but that is not the right address. They have to go to the LORD. They don’t think about that yet. They subserviently call themselves “your servants” to Pharaoh several times, but all attempts by the people to get relieve from slavery, he answers with ruthless harshness. He makes them the heaviest reproaches. He shows his true nature.
The people are beginning to understand how hopeless their situation is. A person must first come to the lowest point of his misery if he wants to seize the redemption. A sinner is not served if he is redeemed by God at the first sigh of salvation. God wants to teach us what true salvation is, what His great power is, and how great salvation is. If Pharaoh had let them go straight away, they should have thanked him. Where then would be the honor of God?
It is with the people as with the man in Romans 7. There the experience is described of a man whose soul is awakened by the gospel. Then he discovers the power of sin within him and the impossibility of overcoming sin dwelling in him. The gospel, which first seemed (and is!) a happy message, seems to become a torment for him.
When he comes to the recognition that his struggle against sin in him is a hopeless struggle, he exclaims: “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free” (Rom 7:24)? Then he is where he should be, for immediately afterwards comes thanks: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:25a). He is ready to believe the gospel in its fullness. Now he is free. Romans 8 describes the situation in which he found himself (Rom 8:1-3,10-14).
The people must first discover that they have no strength to work on their own liberation. The same goes for the sinner, who has to learn that he is in the flesh and under the power of satan. God allows this to test the faith of His people and to make them accustomed to His discipline. He also allows it in order to give a glorious revelation of His power in the area where satan has established his government.
The slavery of Israel in Egypt is an appropriate type of our slavery of sin (Rom 6:17; Tit 3:3). Being dominated by sin is fatally exhausting. No matter how we beg for relieve, it does not come, rather aggravation. In the gospel comes relieve, liberation. That was brought by the Lord Jesus. It is written of Him: “THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD”” (Lk 4:18-19).
20 - 21 Moses and Aaron Are Blamed
20 When they left Pharaoh’s presence, they met Moses and Aaron as they were waiting for them. 21 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.”
Moses and Aaron are blamed. Servants of the Lord should take into account that they are misunderstood, accused, even overloaded with reproach. Moses and Aaron seem to have silently turned away to do the only right thing in this situation: turn to God.
22 - 23 Moses Complains to the LORD
22 Then Moses returned to the LORD and said, “O Lord, why have You brought harm to this people? Why did You ever send me? 23 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.”
The people grumble on Pharaoh, but also on Moses and Aaron. When Moses brings the matter before the LORD, he expresses his difficulty with the course of his mission. There is unbelief in his voice. No results have been achieved at all. On the contrary, it has all got worse. Moses’ eye is no longer focused on the LORD, but on the people. He believes that the people will appreciate his ministry, but that is disappointing. But the servant must not look at his field of work, but at his Sender.
The Lord Jesus is not discouraged either if the cities where His most powers have happened do not repent. He praises His Father (Mt 11:20,25). He does not look at success or at opposition, but at the Father. We may follow Him and keep our eye on Him.