Exodus 5: What's Your Pharaoh?

We all have Pharaohs in our lives—maybe it’s not a person, but a situation or circumstance that we feel is insurmountable. Pharaohs serve a purpose, though, and we will begin to see that over the next several chapters. Though pain and hard times are difficult, they provide strength training for our lives so we can run a better race for Him.

1Afterward Moses and Aaron went in and told Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness.’”

At the end of chapter four, Moses and Aaron got the Israelites on board with God’s plan of deliverance. Now it was time for the big show: Pharaoh. I chuckle because Moses and Aaron wasted no time with vast introductions. They got straight to the point: “Thus says the Lord God of Israel.” That can be a very wise approach to life. No matter what “Pharaoh” you are up against, know what His word says about a situation and then proclaim that word! Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.”

2And Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go.”

Remember that Egypt represents the world, spiritually speaking. Isn’t this response typical of what we hear today? “Who is the Lord?! And why should I obey someone else? I am independent and don’t need a cane, called God, to lean upon.”

3So they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please, let us go three days’ journey into the desert and sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest He fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.”

4Then the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people from their work? Get back to your labor.” 5And Pharaoh said, “Look, the people of the land are many now, and you make them rest from their labor!”

At least the word “please” was used in the conversation this time—although courteous speech didn’t help the situation any more. Pharaoh refused, claiming that allowing the Hebrews to worship God would take away from labor. True worship will always involve a sacrifice. Exodus 34:21 (which we’ll study later) gave the command that the Israelites were only to work six days and then rest on the seventh. They had to make a sacrifice and trust God because the surrounding nations were all plugging away seven days a week.

Pharaoh was unwilling to let his slaves stop working. He wanted them busy, busy, busy. Friends, the world wants us to be busy, too. Recently the Lord has been impressing upon my heart to rid myself of the word “busy,” not only in my vocabulary but in my actions as well. I don’t want people saying to me, “I hate to bother you—I know you’re really busy.” It’s as if the word busy has morphed into this badge of honor we are to earn and wear proudly. There is no glory in being busy; our focus must be on being fruitful. It’s time for all of us to evaluate our schedules and really consider what we’re doing. Is it busy work or is it God’s work? We may find that a three days’ journey into the desert it just what we need, as well.

6So the same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their officers, saying, 7“You shall no longer give the people straw to make brick as before. Let them go and gather straw for themselves. 8And you shall lay on them the quota of bricks which they made before. You shall not reduce it. For they are idle; therefore they cry out, saying, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ 9Let more work be laid on the men, that they may labor in it, and let them not regard false words.”

10And the taskmasters of the people and their officers went out and spoke to the people, saying, “Thus says Pharaoh: ‘I will not give you straw. 11Go, get yourselves straw where you can find it; yet none of your work will be reduced.’” 12So the people were scattered abroad throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble instead of straw. 13And the taskmasters forced them to hurry, saying, “Fulfill your work, your daily quota, as when there was straw.” 14Also the officers of the children of Israel, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten and were asked, “Why have you not fulfilled your task in making brick both yesterday and today, as before?”

Interestingly enough, when you search the NKJV for the word “stubble,” it appears 14 times in the Old Testament. This verse in Exodus 5 is the first time stubble is mentioned; then in most instances after this, it’s used as a descriptive outcome of God’s wrath. For instance, Isaiah 47:14 says, “Behold, they shall be as stubble, The fire shall burn them; They shall not deliver themselves From the power of the flame; It shall not be a coal to be warmed by, Nor a fire to sit before!” Or Jeremiah 13:24, “Therefore I will scatter them like stubble That passes away by the wind of the wilderness.” As God watched His people gather that stubble, I wonder if He was saying to them, “My children, the stubble you gather for the Egyptians is soon to be the Egyptians.”

15Then the officers of the children of Israel came and cried out to Pharaoh, saying, “Why are you dealing thus with your servants? 16There is no straw given to your servants, and they say to us, ‘Make brick!’ And indeed your servants are beaten, but the fault is in your own people.”

17But he said, “You are idle! Idle! Therefore you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ 18Therefore go now and work; for no straw shall be given you, yet you shall deliver the quota of bricks.” 19And the officers of the children of Israel saw that they were in trouble after it was said, “You shall not reduce any bricks from your daily quota.”

This was definitely the reverse of what the Hebrew people expected, isn’t it? Not only did Pharaoh say no, he said, “Heck-no, no-way, nu-uh, forget it, and just for asking I’m going to make your lives even more miserable than they already are!” We all have days like this, don’t we?

20Then, as they came out from Pharaoh, they met Moses and Aaron who stood there to meet them. 21And they said to them, “Let the Lord look on you and judge, because you have made us abhorrent in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

F.B. Meyer provides such an inspiring word when we feel as though the expectations imposed on our lives have doubled: “God’s way is to bring men to an end of themselves before He arises to their help. Our efforts to deliver ourselves only end in increasing our perplexities. The tale of bricks is doubled; the burdens augment; the strength of our purpose is broken; we are brought to the edge of despair. Probably this was the darkest hour in the life of the great leader. But from all the obloquy that was heaped on him, he took refuge in God. There is no other refuge for a limited man than ‘to return unto the Lord,’ (Ex 5:22). Return unto the Lord with your story of failure! Return unto Him for fresh instructions! Return unto Him with your appeal for His interposition! Be perfectly natural with your Heavenly Father! Humble yourself under His mighty hand! Even dare to reason with Him, saying: ‘Why!’ Then the Lord will say to you, as to Moses: ‘Now thou shalt see what I will do.’”

22So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Lord, why have You brought trouble on this people? Why is it You have sent me? 23For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done evil to this people; neither have You delivered Your people at all.”

The key phrase here is that “Moses returned to the Lord” (Exodus 5:22). Fellow believers, when the world lashes out at us, disappoints us, and discourages our efforts, we must take them to Christ. Moses knew that he could find refuge in the Lord. Psalm 9:9 tells us that “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble” (NIV). We must cling to these words, especially when we are doing God’s work and the world tries to prevail. As we’re told in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, “brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings” (NIV). I doubt millions of people are murmuring and complaining against you as they were with Moses, but regardless, remember to find refuge and hold fast to Him! Amen.