Exodus 5:1 It seems unusual that Moses and Aaron would have the right to see the king personally. However, it was in keeping with the traditional legal system of the ancient world that kings were expected to be available to the low and great alike, a requirement that Israel’s prophets used to confront kings as well. This is the first use in the Bible of the prophetic formula “Thus says the LORD”. “The God of Israel” is added to define to Pharaoh who the Lord is. Later prophets also added the term, following the pattern of Moses, the foremost prophet. Moses used the expression “Thus says the LORD” regularly when he confronted Pharaoh. God’s demanded that his people be released to “hold a festival” (hag) to him in the wilderness.
Exodus 5:2 Pharaoh not knowing the Lord follows a progression from this point to the end of the plagues. Pharaoh moves from ignorance to recognition of His name until he was confronted with full reality of who He is. Sooner or later all men will acknowledge the Lord. Part of the daily prayers of Israel is the Aleinu (“it is our duty”) or Aleinu leshabei’ach (“it is our duty to praise God”). The Aleinu is recited at the three daily gatherings for prayer and is second most frequently recited prayer in synagogue liturgy. It includes the confession that every knee will bow the Lord, the God of Israel which comes from Isa. 45:23. Pharaoh came to understand that truth the hard way. There are two meanings to “Who is the LORD?” (1) “Who are you talking about? I don’t recognize that name.” (2) “What makes you think I would care about obeying The Lord?” Ignorance of the Lord is no excuse to rebel or defy Him.
Exodus 5:3–5 Moses and Aaron said “The God of the Hebrews has met with us” (v. 3), they used “Hebrews” rather than “Israelites” which is how they identified themselves to foreigners. Hebrew in Hebrew means “crossed over” so this designates that they are the people who crossed over the Nile from Israel. Abraham crossed over the Euphrates and thus was a Hebrew, leaving to follow the leading of the Lord. All of God’s people are called and identified as people who have crossed over. Most of what was said to Pharaoh was what they were told to say in Exodus 3:18, with the added statement “or he may strike us with plagues or with the sword,” obedience was not optional.
However, it would be the Egyptians, not Israel, who would be struck with plagues and the sword. The statement “Why are you taking the people away from their labor?” suggests that Israel had been failing in their labor since Moses and Aaron began God’s work among them. They were beginning to be the Lord’s servants rather than Pharaoh. Reports likely had come to him telling that Israel was not working as they had before. It seems clear from Exodus 5:4 that most or all of Israel may have stopped working waiting to see the results of Moses and Aaron’s encounter with Pharaoh. Pharaoh’s words in Exodus 5:5 seem to express Egypt’s fear of Israel rising up against them as described in Exodus 1:9-14, where the growing population of Israel is seen as a threat against them. It was that fear that motivated Pharaoh to issue an increased workload in Exodus5:7. It brings to mind Arbeit macht frei meaning “work sets you free”. The slogan appearing on the entrance of Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps.
Exodus 5:6–9 According to Exodus 1:14, the forced labor was mainly brick making (“brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields”). The “work in the fields” was not for gathering straw for the bricks but planting and harvesting crops. The Egyptians must have used some other group for the straw. Now Pharaoh ordered Israel to gather their own straw. The “slave drivers” were likely Egyptian; and the “foremen” were Israelites (Exodus 5:14-15, 19). Hearing the Lord’s demands, “that same day” Pharaoh responded by making his demands on the Lord’s servants. He demanded the same brick output but without supplying the straw as he did before. When Pharaoh considered their request to “sacrifice to our God,” he ignores God’s name, will remember it in Exodus 8:8, when he desperately requests Moses to pray to the Lord to relieve the plague of frogs. To Pharaoh the Lord’s words were just lies. This is the belief of the nonbeliever: God’s words are lies that keep us from conforming to the world we live in and from enjoying life on our own terms.
Exodus 5:10–14 Israel seems to believe in the Lord, and Moses and Aaron faithfully spoke his word to Pharaoh, but things got worse rather than better. This is often the case in our lives when we start believing and obeying the Lord. The increased workload and the suffering it produced makes the point that God’s people should not assume that carrying out God’s commands will bring personal comfort. Moses had been warned that Pharaoh would be resist (Exodus 3:19; 4:21), but the severity of the suffering his resistance would cause was not stated. Moses, Aaron and Israel probably did not expect the workload increase in response to serving the Lord. Now they were forced to glean the remnant of what was left from the straw harvests. Pharaoh had made their work virtually impossible making the situation intolerable. So Israel pleads with Pharaoh to lighten their loads.
Exodus 5:15–21 Their situation is transformed from hopefulness and faith (Exodus 4:31) to resentment and doubt. It is coming from the work of the devil. We have here a foreshadowing of Yeshua’s trials in the wilderness with Satan. Pharaoh is a type of the devil and in fact a son of the devil. He is portrayed here as unyielding, determined to put the Israel in their place. This is setting the stage for how God was going to provide for them. Pharaoh is going to need something stronger than words to convince him to change his mind. Rather than trusting the Lord’s anointed leaders, Moses and Aaron they look to their foremen to appeal to Pharaoh which he rejects. After leaving him they find Moses and Aaron outside. Filled with anger and they tell them “You have made us a stench to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us,” Exodus5:21. They are convinced that Moses and Aaron mishandled what the Lord has told them. We see this in their words “May the LORD look upon you and judge you!”. They believe the Lord would not have let such a thing happen except for the failure of Moses and Aaron. The idea that a good God never lets harmful events happen to his people has always been around. Even Moses has his doubts when he asks “Why have you done evil to this people?” …you have not delivered your people at all.”
Exodus 5:22–23 The wording “Moses then turned to the LORD” is a description of prayer such as we see throughout the Scriptures (2 Kgs 23:25; 2 Chr 15:4; Ps 78:34; Dan 9:3; Acts 9:35; 11:21). Moses suggested that it was God who has brought evil on His people”. The foremen blamed Moses and Aaron and now Moses blames God. We always seek to shift blame from its rightful place. Moses had been told to anticipate pharaoh’s stubbornness, but the harsh retaliation by Pharaoh took him by surprise. By ending his prayer with “you have not rescued your people at all,” Moses reveals his thinking: that God’s deliverance would occur quickly not involve setbacks and disappointments. Moses shows his impatience, but it is only through trials that we learn patience. God’s timing rarely conforms to our expectations, and that we often need to go through trials to get to where He is leading. There is a bigger plan at work (James 1:2-4).