Exodus 5 sets restates for the audience one of the key purposes of the book. Remember back in chapter 3:13 Moses asked what the name of God is so that he could tell the people of Israel when they asked. God spends the rest of chapter 3 declaring his name and what his name means for his people. Chapter 5 sets us up to learn about God also. Notice in Exodus 5:1 Moses and Aaron enter the presence of Pharaoh and declare, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’”
Listen to Pharaoh’s response in verse 2: “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” Exodus is teaching who God is. But we must recognize that Pharaoh is not asking this as a legitimate question. Rather, Pharaoh is asking with a heart of rebellion, “Who is the Lord to tell me what to do?” “Who is the Lord that I should listen or obey?” “Who is this God to tell me what to do?”
We must recognize that this is an important question. In fact, these are questions that are asked by hundreds of millions of people today. When we speak to people about God and about the scriptures, telling people what God has told them to do, their response is the same. Who is this God to tell me what to do? Pharaoh thinks he has no reason to listen to this God. People today likewise think that they have no reason to listen to this God. This section of Exodus is going to answer this question: Who is the Lord that I should obey? As God answers this question, God is also going to continue to reveal his way of redemption. Exodus is the picture book of God’s redemption and God is revealing the way he will save his people.
Difficulties In Deliverance (5:3-23)
Now we should imagine the excitement of the people because Moses and Aaron are going before Pharaoh, calling for their deliverance. God had told Moses that he would harden Pharaoh’s heart and he would not let the people go. But what happens is unexpected to Moses, Aaron, and the people of Israel.
In verse 3 Moses and Aaron tell Pharaoh that God has met with them and they need to go into the wilderness to worship him. If they do not, God is going to bring judgment upon them. Pharaoh would have understood this request. Pagan worshipers believed that if their gods were not pleased, they would bring consequences upon them. God is giving Pharaoh a simple opportunity to submit to his authority. This is a simple opportunity for Pharaoh to obey the Lord. Will Pharaoh be willing to let Israel to serve God for three days or not? Notice that Moses does not say that the people are leaving for good. They are only going to leave for three days. Will Pharaoh accept God’s authority and allow this to happen, or will he see himself as the ultimate authority, an authority above God, and reject God’s command? Pharaoh, as God declared, does not listen to Moses and Aaron. Pharaoh rejects God’s authority and sees himself as the ultimate authority. What Pharaoh sees is that Moses and Aaron are not doing their work as slaves in Egypt (5:4-5).
Pharaoh now makes the lives of the people of Israel even more difficult. Remember that the people were already suffering severely (1:11-14; 3:7). Now Pharaoh makes it worse. They have to do even more work in the same amount of time. Pharaoh says that the reason the people want to worship their God is because they are idle and lazy and need more work to do (5:8-9). Notice what the foremen of the people of Israel tell Moses and Aaron in 5:21.
“The Lord look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.” (Exodus 5:21 ESV)
Then look at what Moses tells God in verses 22-23:
Then Moses turned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.” (Exodus 5:22–23 ESV)
They complain that God is making things worse, not better. This is not the plan! How often we can have a vision of what life is supposed to be like as God’s people! All that Moses has done is what God told him to do and now everyone is yelling at him because he is making things worse. Have you ever done the will of God and felt like all that it did was make things worse for yourself or for others? But we see this often happen in the scriptures and should not be alarmed because life gets harder while trying to do God’s will. John the Baptizer is preaching the kingdom of God and he is imprisoned and loses his life for it. Yet, recall that he sent messengers to Jesus asking if he really was the one (Matthew 11:2). We read of Christians being persecuted and killed in Revelation for doing the will of God. Prophets like Jeremiah and preachers like Stephen are persecuted or killed because they are proclaiming God’s message. When trouble comes, we often left to wonder what God is doing. This is the way Moses feels at this moment. But we must acknowledge that our lives can become far more difficult because we are doing God’s will. We must be prepared for this reality and not lose hope or faith when our efforts to do God’s will cause difficulty in our lives.
Who Is In Charge?
Exodus 5 sets the narrative as a showdown between God’s authority and Pharaoh’s authority. Notice how Exodus has set up this showdown. Look at verse 1: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel.” Look at verse 10: “Thus says Pharaoh.” Pharaoh sets himself up as God just as we do when we say, “Thus says me” rather than obeying “Thus says the Lord.”
God is revealing something here that the scriptures repeatedly reveal. Unbelief is rebellion. Unbelief is not a lack of information. Unbelief is rebellion, a refusal to obey. The scriptures always connect together the concepts that our desire to listen to ourselves and refuse to obey God shows unbelief. I will show one of those places in the scriptures where these two concepts are connected together.
As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:15–19 ESV)
Why did the people of Israel rebel? Why did they provoke the Lord? Why did they sin? Why were they disobedient? The answer is unbelief. Unbelief is rebellion. We want to listen to ourselves and not God. That is why we disobey and sin. In our hearts we are saying, “Who is the Lord that I should have to listen to him?” God is going to answer us as he answers Pharaoh in the coming chapters of Exodus. Let us consider the Lord’s response in Exodus 6.
God’s Answer (6:1-8)
God’s answer is you are going to see what I am going to do. In fact, here is the summary of God’s answer, which is found in verse 2: “I am the Lord.” Notice God says this in verses 2, 6, 7, 8, and 29. Remember what we learned about the name of the Lord, Yahweh, the I AM in chapter 3. I AM means my presence is there to rescue and save. God’s name means that he sees his people, rules over the earth, and is here, there, and everywhere with his presence to deliver with power. This is what God is saying to Moses. I told you my name and you are going to see what my name means.
Some people are thrown off by 6:3 where God says that he did not make himself known to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by this name. But if we read Genesis we do see God called the Lord, Yahweh, by them. The point God is making is that it is now, before the eyes of Moses, that what the name means is going to be revealed. Yes, others called God by the name “the Lord” before. That is not God’s point. God’s point is you are going to see what this name means when he acts against Pharaoh. God is the covenantal God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (6:3). He is God Almighty, the God of power (6:3). God gave them a covenant and he keeps his covenant (6:4). God heard the groaning of his people and he has remembered his covenant (6:5). God always remembers his covenant (Psalm 105:8) and when he remembers his covenant, then he is about to act. Israel is about to see what the name of the Lord means when he powerfully saves his people.
So say to the people of Israel, “I am the Lord” (6:6). Listen to what this means in verses 6-8. I will bring you out from the burdens of the Egyptians. I will deliver you from slavery. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people. I will be your God. I will bring you into the land I swore to give. I will give it to you for a possession. Notice how this ends in verse 8. “I am the Lord.” This is who God is. Who is the Lord that you should obey him? This is a description of who God is and why you should obey him. Seven times God says, “I will.” It is all God. It was nothing about the people. It was all God and all he was going to do because he is the Lord. I want you to hear all that God says he is about to do. Now is the time of deliverance. God is going to save. “I am the Lord.” I will deliver you, redeem you, take you to be my people, be your God, and bring you into the land. How exciting! God tells Moses to go tell the people this.
The People’s Response (6:9)
Moses tells all of these things to the people of Israel. But look at what the people do in verse 9. “Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses.” The people did not listen to Moses. Why not? Why would they not listen to the amazing message of God? Look at verse 9: “Because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.” Their slavery was the reason why they could not hear the call for freedom.
Isn’t this sad? How sad that people would give up on God because life had become difficult! How sad that people would ignore God’s message of redemption and rescue because life was not going according to plan and God was not acting in the way they thought God should! Friends, we are to believe in God’s word even when our spirits are broken and we are disappointed by life. How sad to be on the cusp of rescue but to not believe or listen to God because life was hard! Friends, God has made all the same promises to us. God has promised to bring us out from our burdens, deliver us from slavery, redeem us with a mighty arm, be taken to be God’s people, and bring us into the promised land. Yet we will allow the difficulties of to cause us to not take hold of these precious promises! There comes a time where every faithful person wonders if God sees them and cares for them, just like these people of Israel as they are in Egypt. But God says, “I am your God and you are my people!” We are to believe even when life disappoints. Who is this God that we should listen to him? He is the God who loves you and rescues you from your troubles. You should listen to him because he is God Almighty and he has not forgotten you.
This scene is set for us in the New Testament also. When Zechariah and Elizabeth have their son named John, who we come to know as John the Baptizer, Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and gave this prophecy:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:68–79 ESV)
Notice all the same language of what God has done. He has visited and redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation that we should be saved from our enemies. Look at verse 72: “To remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham.” What does this mean for us? Look at verse 74: “That we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” Who is this God that we should obey him? Look at this God and how can you not obey him! Serving God will not be easy. But he is worthy of our service. He is worthy of our worship. He is worthy of our obedience because of all he has done for you. May we bow our knees in praise and worship.