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Exodus 5:1-21

Read Exodus 5 here.

And so Moses and Aaron, fearing the weakening of the modern family, the slow but steady erosion of Israelite values in public life and their worsening working conditions decided to do the only thing upstanding, God-fearing folk can do - they formed a political pressure group.  They called it CHANGE:  Campaigning Hebrews for A Nicer Gentler Egypt.

They got the best legal advice, produced petitions by the armful and exploited every political contact they knew.  In time they broadened their support base and went 'co-belligerent' with several other non-Israelite lobbies.  Out of this was birthed the Campaigning Religious Interest-groups for a Nicer Gentler Egypt.

Some claimed that this rainbow coalition weakened their position but others insisted that CRINGE struck exactly the right note for the multicultural sensibilities of modern Egypt.

The combination of Moses' wisdom, his knowledge of Egyptian philosophy, his family connections and his brother's gift of the gab, make for a considerable force in Egyptian politics.  Maybe this way Egypt will be straightened out a little and God's people will not suffer so much.

But no.  As we saw in chapter 2 - the LORD rejects the way of earthly power, whether that be political or military.  Instead Moses and Aaron (aged 80 and 83 respectively!) are to stand in front of the world's most powerful man and to simply speak the word of the LORD.

They don't make arguments from the common good, from common sense, from common commitments.  They say to Pharaoh, 'Yahweh - the scandalously particular God of Israel - demands you let us go.'

Pharaoh says, "Who's this Yahweh?  Never heard of him!"

If ever there was a time for Moses and Aaron to do some consensus building it was now.  Something like: "Oh, right, umm.  Well, you know Osiris?  Well Yahweh is kinda like Osiris.  But bigger and less green."

Or: "You know that funny feeling in your stomach after a beautiful sunset?  That's Yahweh."

Or: "Right sorry, let's forget about Yahweh for now.  Instead let's agree that there's a Higher Power and work from that."

Moses and Aaron do none of this.  Instead the one thing they agree on is that Pharaoh does not in fact know the LORD.

Verse 3: the LORD is "The God of the Hebrews."  'Hebrew' is usually the description a foreigner uses of an Israelite. (eg Gen 39:14; Ex 2:6; 1 Sam 4:6).   Literally it means 'one from beyond'.  So it could mean 'one from beyond the river' as a foreigner would view it.  But there's also a big sense in which even the Hebrews in their midst are 'from beyond'.  And their God is the God of those from beyond.  He cannot be reduced to a familiar object of knowledge.  Instead He must be declared as 'One from beyond' by His people who are similarly strange and 'from beyond'.

And if they don't know the One of Whom we speak - they will come to know Him as the Word is declared with accompanying signs.

The drum beat of the plagues will be: "Then the Egyptians (and Israelites!) will know that I am the LORD."  (Ex 6:7; 7:5,17; 8:10,22; 9:29; 10:2; 11:7; 14:4,18).  And afterwards in the wilderness 'knowing the LORD' seems to be the goal for all His words and works: 16:6,8,12; 18:11; 29:46; 31:13.

But Christ's strategy has always been for weak people to proclaim a weak message, but to do so on His authority.  We are not to bolster it with anything except the signs the LORD Jesus has given to accompany it.  Wherever His redemption occurs it's clear that human wisdom and power has played no part whatsoever.

Of course this strategy won't bring earthly security.  If we want a nicer, gentler Egypt then we should join the lobby groups and the unions.  Christ's way - declaring His word on His authority - will often make things worse (from the viewpoint of worldly comfort). 

That's what the rest of the chapter documents.  And the suffering of the Israelites is documented in detail here.

Pharaoh has only work for the Israelites and burdens and labour and taskmasters and beatings and unyielding and ever-increasing targets.  All the while he accuses them "You are idle! You are idle!"  (v17)

Why are these terrible conditions emphasized here?  Well one reason might be because later on the Israelites will absurdly use some rose-tinted glasses on their time in Egypt.  When facing the deprivations of the wilderness they'd look back longingly on the "flesh pots" of Egypt (Ex 16:3), the free fish and cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic of their slavery (Num 11:5).  They'd even describe the country carrying out a genocide on their people as as a land flowing with milk and honey (Num 16:13).

In a sense Exodus 5 is telling believers of every age - No matter how hard life is in the wilderness with the LORD Jesus, do not be tempted to re-imagine your slavery.  Egypt is not the land of milk and honey.  Egypt is the place where harsh taskmasters make you work harder and harder for less and less.  And even as you do more and more, they brand you as idle.  Our bondage to sin and Satan is just like this.  We chase after moving targets and never get the verdict we're looking for.

So however much you're tempted to re-imagine life in sin - realize it's not milk and honey, it's slavery.

Hear the word of Pharaoh:

Get back to your burdens... the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest from their burdens!  (v4-5)

And now hear the word of the LORD:

Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness. (v1)

Satan is a murderous slave-master.  And all the while the LORD Jesus calls you to rest (v5) at the place of sacrifice (v3) and feasting (v1).  Give up on Egypt.  Give up on trying to make it nicer.  Give up on compromises with this old order.  Leave behind your burdens and join Jesus in the wilderness.  He'll take you to the true land of promise.


4 thoughts on “Exodus 5:1-21

  1. Pingback: politically speaking « ninetysix and ten

  2. peacecrusader

    The Israelites had been in Egypt for 430 years. They were in bondage. They were maltreated. They were numerous, even outnumbering the Egyptians. Did they protest? Did they rally? Did they rebel? No, they did not. They had faith in the true God that one day, they will be liberated. And it happened, that is why we have the exodus, didn’t it? The powerful true God liberated them.

    Please read my write-up on who this true God is at

    Aristeo Canlas Fernando, Peace Crusader and Echo of the Holy Spirit

  3. Dave K

    I feel like I've not commented for a while, so I thought I'd break the silence to mention that I'm enjoying and benefiting from this series... Thank you.

    I just haven't got anything to add!

  4. Paul Blackham

    I love this point. It is so easy to confuse political campaigns with actually loving and caring for people. It is so easy to sign a petition, but so hard to give up time and energy and affection for real people who live in my street. It's so easy to be outraged about strip clubs and 'sex workers' [as an old school feminist I prefer the word 'prostitutes' because I refuse to see this as a legitimate 'industry'], but so hard to make friends with people struggling in that world. It's so easy to complain about society rather than making sure our own lives are imitations of Jesus: as Anne Graham-Lotz says, the greatest protest about the decline of marriage would be if the churches were filled with faithful, devoted marriages that reflected Jesus and the church.

    In other words it's so easy to make a show of treating the symptoms without really bothering with the disease.

    It always struck me that the ancient Christians changed the world when their gospel living, their sheer 'unreasonable' love for Jesus was so intense and so 'impractical' that it could not be ignored. By trusting the Spirit and obeying Jesus even when it seems impossible or foolish... By trusting the Spirit to really change the world to the pattern of Jesus... we aim for something much more than a re-adjustment of the furniture on the sinking ship... we join Jesus in aiming for a really new world where sorrow, injustice and death are illegal and impossible.

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