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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 5

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Verses 1-3

First Meeting with Pharaoh

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 give God’s message 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 them. 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 was 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. He considers it foolishness to listen to the LORD. For him the LORD does not exist. This is pride at its peak. The flesh does not submit to God (Romans 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 than Egypt. God has determined that His people will sacrifice to 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 days’ journey into the wilderness. The number three speaks of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. That forms their separation from the world. A feast is characterized by gladness. Joy is part of being in God’s presence. Man’s approach to God is on the basis of sacrifice (pointing forward to Christ’s sacrifice). A heart that is free to enjoy God’s presence is on this foundation. The sacrifice averts judgment and allows the heart to be in God’s presence without fear.

Moses and Aaron do not speak to them of going on to the promised land after the feast in the wilderness. That is not 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 in their midst.

Verses 4-14

Increase of Hard Labor

Pharaoh sends 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” (Exodus 5:6). What the Israelites get first, straw, is now being withheld from them. They have to gather 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. Satan comes only “to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). He is “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). 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 speak 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” (John 8:44).

Verses 15-19

The Request for Relieve Rejected

In their distress, the Israelites cry out to Pharaoh, but he is not the right one to appeal to. 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 relief from slavery, he answers with ruthless harshness. He makes unreasonable demands on them. 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 experience the redemption God offers. A sinner is not really set free if he is redeemed by God at the first sigh for 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 would have thanked him. Where then would be their honor of God? Only God can set the captive free. John 8:36

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” (Romans 7:24)? Then he is where he should be, for immediately afterwards comes thanks: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25). He is ready to believe the gospel in its fullness. Now he is free. Romans 8 describes the situation in which he found himself (Romans 8:1-Leviticus :; Romans 8:10-2 Chronicles :).

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 had established his control.

The slavery of Israel in Egypt is an appropriate type of our slavery to sin (Romans 6:17; Titus 3:3). Being dominated by sin is fatally exhausting. No matter how we beg for relief, it does not come, rather desperation. In the gospel comes relief, liberation, freedom. 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”” (Luke 4:18-Psalms :).

Verses 20-21

Moses and Aaron Are Blamed

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.

Verses 22-23

Moses Complains to the LORD

The people grumble at Pharaoh, but also at 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 believed that the people would appreciate his ministry, but is disappointed. 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 wonderful powers have been demonstrated do not repent. He praises His Father (Matthew 11:20; Matthew 11:25). He does not look at success or at opposition, but at the Father. We must follow His example and keep our eye on Him.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Exodus 5". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/exodus-5.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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