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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Exodus 5

Verses 1-23

Exodus 5:1. Moses and Aaron, accompanied by the elders, as in Exodus 6:26, went to Pharaoh.

Exodus 5:2. Who is Jehovah? I know not JEHOVAH. The mythology of the gentiles supposed every city, and every country or nation to have its own god, or rather goddess, mothers being supposed to be more tender-hearted than fathers. Thus Minerva was supposed to be the presiding divinity over Athens; and Diana to be the goddess of the Ephesians. Thus we find Moses accommodating himself to the ideas of the Egyptians in saying, “The God of the Hebrews hath met with us.” Exodus 3:6.

Exodus 5:3. Three days’ journey, the distance to Horeb. Pharaoh was a wicked man, and therefore God proposed the emancipation of his people in the easiest form. The request was not unreasonable, for God had rights as well as the king.

Exodus 5:6. Taskmasters, or exacters. They were Egyptians; but the officers or overlookers were Israelites, as appears from the fourteenth verse.

Exodus 5:7. Ye shall no more give the people straw. In Egypt the people use straw and chaff for their ovens; the straw was here used to burn the bricks, and to preserve the mass of clay from drying too fast. Hence the tasks, by the refusal of straw, were almost doubled. The clay was mixed with straw, and often only dried in the sun; but all the bricks exposed to the weather were burned.


The grand links of the chain which led to Israel’s redemption, appear more and more in sight. In the first place, St. Paul seems to have classed Moses among those, who out of weakness waxed strong. At first he feared greatly, but now he feared not the wrath of the king. They most assuredly make the best ministers and servants of God, who enter on his ways and work with a proper degree of scrupulosity and diffidence.

In Pharaoh, who despised the Lord and rejected his servants, we have the genuine portrait of a wicked man. When addressed by ministers to abandon his unlawful gains, and reform his wicked courses; all the pride of his heart rises into high revolt. He exalts his own will above the divine law, and says, by his conduct, Who is the Lord that I should obey him? Thus he goes on, hardened the more by impunity, and setting the thunderbolts of Jehovah at defiance, till the vengeance which overtook Pharaoh falls on his head.

In Israel, groaning beneath the accumulated bondage of Egypt, we have a figure of the awakened sinner, with a law-work on his mind, groaning for deliverance. The more he sees his bondage, the more he sighs for redemption; and the more he wishes to reform, the more is the carnal mind irritated against the work of grace on his heart; and the bondage of sin is worse than the Egyptian servitude. So the arduous conflict is described in the seventh chapter of the epistle to the Romans. But let the man persevere, let him call in the aids of grace, and Jesus Christ will surely deliver him from the body of that death.

The petition, in God’s name, to let Israel go for the divine service, not only failed of effect, but it excited the anger of Pharaoh, and induced him to augment the afflictions of the people. Hence we learn, that mild measures having failed with very wicked men, there is no way to keep them in awe, but by the terrors of justice. It is just the same with regard to the corruptions of the flesh; the old man must be crucified with his deeds. The strong man armed and keeping the heart must be vanquished and bound by a stronger than himself, and all his goods or works destroyed. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth and crucify the flesh, with its affections and lusts.

In the reproachful complaints which the Hebrew officers made against Moses, we see that unregenerate men will never bear the reproach of Christ. The carnal heart ever revolts against the cross; no man will bear persecution for his sake who has not first seen his glory, and received salvation in his name.

Let not the ministers of religion be too much discouraged, though their efforts may hitherto have proved unsuccessful; let them cry again to God like Moses, and return with vigour to the charge; for the proudest sinner shall surely bow the knee to Jesus, either for mercy or judgment. The strong and mighty arm of the Lord shall clothe itself with salvation and strength.

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Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Exodus 5". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.