For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2005 James Melough

5:1. “And afterwards Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness.”


As was discussed in our study of 4:27, Moses, the law-giver, represents God’s Law; and Aaron, meaning light-bringer, represents the written Word.  Their coming therefore to Pharaoh translates into the truth that God was speaking to the king in law and in grace, as He does to every sinner through the Gospel, for no one can be saved until he first hears the warning of God’s broken law thundering the condemnation of the transgressor, and the merciful invitation of grace assuring him of pardon and blessing in response to acknowledgement of sin, and confession of faith in Christ as Savior.


God had been willing to save Pharaoh, as He is to save every sinner, but the king had hardened his heart, and now God was making that hardening irrevocable.  Pharaoh had crossed the invisible line that separates God’s mercy from His wrath, the warning relative to that crossing being declared in Genesis 6:3, “My spirit shall not always strive with man,” and again in Proverbs 29:1 “He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy,” and yet again, in Hebrews 10:31, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” the word fearful here having the meaning of terrible fear.


God viewed Pharaoh’s persecution of Israel as injury done to Himself, the principle being annunciated explicitly by the Lord Jesus Christ when He said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me,” Matthew 25:40.


“... that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness.”  Since a feast is a joyful event, God’s directing His people to hold a feast unto Him, is the further assurance that He desired them to be happy, but Pharaoh’s refusal to permit them to hold the feast reflects the attitude of Satan, who seeks man’s misery, not his blessing, and of whom Pharaoh is almost invariably the type, the one exception being the Pharaoh of Genesis 41 who appointed Joseph ruler of Egypt, next only to himself, he in this instance being a type of God the Father. 


As has been discussed already, the wilderness, in which that generation of Israel spent forty years, reminds us that communion with God is possible only when the believer occupies a place of separation from the busy activity of this sinful world, whose residents view that place of separation as an inhospitable desert.


5:2.  “And Pharaoh said, Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go?  I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go.”


His language is the expression of what is in the heart of every unbeliever, for underneath the religious facade of professing, but unbelieving Christendom, lies the same ignorance of God, and the same adamant rebellion against His authority.  Pharaoh’s refusal to release Israel from the cruel bondage in which he held them reflects also the same bitter hatred lurking in the heart of every unbeliever against every true child of God.  There can be harmony between a believer and an unbeliever only when the believer refuses to be a faithful witness for God.


5:3.  “And they said, the God of the Hebrews hath met with us: let us go, we pray thee, three days’ journey into the desert, and sacrifice unto the Lord our God; lest he fall upon us with pestilence, or with the sword.”


Hebrew means the other side (as having crossed over), and as there is in Christendom a small believing minority in the midst of a professing but unbelieving majority, so was it in Israel: the whole nation professed to believe in God, but the true believers were a small minority.  The significance of the meaning of the name lies in the fact that the Hebrews were distinct from all the other people on the earth, God having placed a dividing line between them and the nations, thus marking them as a peculiar separated people, the word peculiar having here the meaning of wealth closely shut up as treasured or guarded: a jewel: special treasure.


For the significance of the “three days’ journey,” see comments on 3:18.


“lest he fall upon us with pestilence, or with the sword,” was the explanation for their request, and the lesson being taught here is that God will punish the disobedience of His own just as surely as He will that of the unbeliever, the great difference however, being that His chastiement of the believer is the correction of a loving Father for His child, rather than the judgment of an angry God against a rebel subject.


5:4.  “And the king of Egypt said unto them, Wherefore do ye, Moses and Aaron, let the people from their works? get you unto your burdens.”


Pharaoh’s question might be paraphrased, “Why do you distract the people, and hinder them from their work?” and since no answer was expected he was thus prepared to dismiss them summarily from his presence, knowing not that the God they served could not be thus silenced or ignored.


5:5.  “And Pharaoh said, Behold, the people of the land now are many, and ye make them rest from their burdens.”


He continued his complaint by declaring that the Israelites had multiplied phenomenally, and that Moses and Aaron were encouraging them either not to work at all, or to be less productive.


5:6.  “And Pharaoh commanded the same day the taskmasters of the people, and their officers, saying,”


5:7.  “Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick, as heretofore: let them go and gather straw for themselves.”


5:8.  “And the tale of the bricks, which they did make heretofore, ye shall lay upon them; ye shall not diminish ought thereof: for they be idle; therefore they cry, saying, Let us go and sacrifice to our God.”


His punishment of this imagined offence was to cease supplying the straw that was used in the manufacture of the bricks produced by the enslaved Israelites, so that the hapless people were compelled to find the straw themselves, and at the same time to produce the same number of bricks as formerly.


“...tale” is an archaic term meaning number: amount: quota.


Satan is indeed a hard taskmaster.


5:9.  “Let there be more work laid upon the men, that they may labor therein; and let them not regard vain words.”


It was Pharaoh’s intention to work the Hebrews so hard that they would have neither time nor desire to listen to Moses and Aaron; nor has time changed anything.  Pharaoh was simply the tool of Satan who employs the same method today, but with greater subtlety.  By enticing his unwitting dupes to pursue the world’s wealth, and the imagined pleasure it will buy, he keeps them too busy to read the Bible, to think about death, about heaven and hell, or in fact, to think of anything except what pertains to this present earthly life, their dreadful awakening coming only when they have dropped into the terrible torment of hell, without any hope of deliverance from its unquenchable flame.


5:10.  “And the taskmasters of the people went out, and their officers, and they spake to the people, saying, Thus saith Pharaoh, I will not give you straw.”


5:11.  “Go ye, get you straw where you can find it: yet not ought of your work shall be diminished.”


This began the implementation of Pharaoh’s evil scheme which made the toil of the Israelites even more onerous than before; and an interesting lesson may be learnt if we consider that the toiling Hebrew is an example of the man who tries to fit himself for heaven by good works.  No matter how much he does he is always haunted by the nagging fear that it may not be enough, so he is driven to ever more strenuous but futile effort.


5:12.  “So the people were scattered abroad throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble instead of straw.”


Stubble is the small part of the stem that protrudes about an inch above the ground after the stalk of grain has been cut, whereas straw is the much longer cut stalk remaining after the kernels of grain have been separated from it by threshing.  The stubble would be far more irksome to gather because it would have to be cut at ground level, and would also be very difficult to gather up and work with after being cut, because of its short length.  The people were indeed in extraordinarily trying straits.


5:13.  “And the taskmasters hasted them, saying, Fulfill your works, your daily tasks, as when there was straw.”


The pressure to produce the same number of bricks as formerly was relentless, and spiritual minds will have no difficulty seeing in the plight of the oppressed the symbolic portrait of the state of those who serve Satan.


5:14.  “And the officers of the children of Israel, which Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten, and demanded, Wherefore have ye not fulfilled your task in making brick both yesterday and today, as heretofore?”


Clearly some of the Israelites had been made overseers to superintend the work, possibly because of the language barrier between Hebrews and Egyptians, and now they were beaten - a word that is also translated flogged, lashed, thrashed - for failure to maintain the same production of bricks as when they were given straw.


5:15.  “Then the officers of the children of Israel came and cried unto Pharaoh, saying, Wherefore dealest thou thus with thy servants?”


5:16.  “There is no straw given unto thy servants, and they say to us, Make brick: and, behold, thy servants are beaten; but the fault is in thine own people.”


Driven apparently to desperation by Pharaoh’s utterly unreasonable demands, they presented themselves before him in an attempt to make him see that what he was demanding was beyond human ability to perform.


5:17.  “But he said, Ye are idle, ye are idle: therefore ye say, Let us go and do sacrifice to the Lord.”


Pharaoh’s insolent sarcastic response was to declare that their request for permission to go three days into the wilderness to worship Jehovah was impelled by idleness because they hadn’t enough work to do.  The sinister spirit who prompted his reply was Satan, and as it was envy of God that caused his downfall, so does that same jealousy prompt his activity still.


5:18.  “Go therefore now, and work; for there shall no straw be given you, yet shall ye deliver the tale of bricks.”


He was adamant in his refusal to permit them to worship Jehovah, and in his determination to demand the same production of bricks, without providing the necessary straw.  The Devil whom he unwittingly served is an alien to any human sentiment except pitiless hatred.


5:19.  “And the officers of the children of Israel did see that they were in evil case, after it was said, ye shall not minish ought from your bricks of your daily task.”


“... evil case” is an archaic way of saying that they were in a sorry plight, an impossible situation, from which they could see no way of escape.


“...minish” is an archaic diminutive form of diminish or reduce.


5:20.  “And they met Moses and Aaron, who stood in the way, as they came forth from Pharaoh:”


5:21.  “And they said unto them, The Lord look upon you, and judge; because ye have made our savor to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to slay us.”


“...judge” as used here means punish.  They were saying that they wanted God to punish Moses and Aaron for having aroused the anger of the Egyptians against the Hebrews.


5:22.  “And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said, Lord, wherefore hast thou so evil entreated this people? why is it that thou hast sent me?”


5:23.  “For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in thy name, he hath done evil to this people; neither hast thou delivered thy people at all.”


We can empathize with Moses, for we must confess that all too often we have adopted the same attitude towards God; but surely we must also confess that it has been before He has completed His ultimate purpose, which is always to bless us.  Instead of doubting and complaining in the midst of trial we should remember the assurance given us in Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God....”  That assurance should silence complaint, and inspire the patience to wait for God to finish working.

[Exodus 6]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough