And afterward 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.Exodus 5:1. Thus saith the Lord God of Israel — Moses, in treating with the elders of Israel, is directed to call God the God of their fathers; but in treating with Pharaoh, he and Aaron call him the God of Israel, and it is the first time we find him called so in Scripture. He is called the God of Israel, the person, (Genesis 33:20,) but here it is Israel, the people. They are just beginning to be formed into a people when God is called their God. Let my people go — They were God’s people, and therefore Pharaoh ought not to detain them in bondage. And he expected services and sacrifices from them, and therefore they must have leave to go where they could freely exercise their religion, without giving offence to, or receiving offence from the Egyptians.
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.Exodus 5:2. Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice? — I am the sovereign lord of Egypt, and I own no superior here. The Hebrew name Jehovah ought to have been retained in this and the preceding verse, and not to have been translated Lord. Thus saith Jehovah — who is Jehovah — I know not Jehovah. The Egyptians, it must be observed, and other nations were at this time sunk in idolatry, and knowing nothing of the true God, the possessor of heaven and earth, each nation had a god or gods of its own. Pharaoh, therefore, did not speak as an atheist, or mean that he knew nothing of any god whom he ought to obey; but he knew nothing of the God of the Hebrews, whom they termed Jehovah, imagining him to be like one of the gods of Egypt, or of some other country, a mere local deity, whom therefore it neither concerned him to know nor to obey. Now the train of miracles which followed were intended to teach Pharaoh and his people, that Jehovah was not only the God of the Hebrews, but of all the world, having an uncontrolled and sovereign power over universal nature.
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.Exodus 5:3. Three days’ journey into the desert — And that on a good errand, and unexceptionable: we will sacrifice to the Lord our God — As other people do to theirs; lest if we quite cast off his worship, he fall upon us — With one judgment or other, and then Pharaoh will lose his vassals.
Though it was the intention of the Israelites quite to leave Egypt; yet the request was made only to go three days’ journey into the desert to sacrifice, probably to set the tyranny of the king in a stronger light, who would not indulge them in this small liberty even for the performance of religious rites. And as this demand was made by the express order of God, who knew that Pharaoh would not grant it, all appearance of there being any artful design in it to deceive Pharaoh is taken away.
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.Exodus 5:4. Get you to your burdens — These words were not addressed to Moses and Aaron, but to the Israelites, the elders of whom went with Moses, several others also probably following him, when he went in unto Pharaoh, impatient to see what the end would be.
And Pharaoh said, Behold, the people of the land now are many, and ye make them rest from their burdens.Exodus 5:5-6. The people are many — Therefore your injury to me is greater, in attempting to make them rest from their labours. The task- masters — Were Egyptians; the officers — Were Israelites employed under them, who, as appears from Exodus 5:14, were some of the heads of the people, obliged, under the penalty of punishment, to take care that a certain number of bricks were furnished by them daily.
And Pharaoh commanded the same day the taskmasters of the people, and their officers, saying,
Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick, as heretofore: let them go and gather straw for themselves.Exodus 5:7. Straw — To mix with the clay. Shaw tells us in his Travels, (p. 136,) that “the composition of bricks in Egypt was only a mixture of clay, mud, and straw, slightly blended and kneaded together, and afterward baked in the sun. Paleis cohærent lateres, says Philo in his Life of Moses. The straw which keeps these bricks together in Egypt, and still preserves its original colour, seems to be a proof that these bricks were never burned nor made in kilns.” The straw therefore, was not wanted for burning them with it.
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.Exodus 5:8. They are idle — The cities they built for Pharaoh were witnesses for them that they were not idle; yet he thus basely misrepresents them, that he might have a pretence to increase their burdens.
Let there more work be laid upon the men, that they may labour therein; and let them not regard vain words.Exodus 5:9. Vain words — Those of Moses and Aaron, which he said were vain, or false; that is, that they falsely pretended that their God had commanded them to go and worship, when it was only a crafty design of their own to advance themselves by raising sedition.
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.
Go ye, get you straw where ye can find it: yet not ought of your work shall be diminished.
So the people were scattered abroad throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble instead of straw.
And the taskmasters hasted them, saying, Fulfil your works, your daily tasks, as when there was straw.
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 to day, as heretofore?
Then the officers of the children of Israel came and cried unto Pharaoh, saying, Wherefore dealest thou thus with thy servants?
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.Exodus 5:16. The fault is in thine own people — That is, in the Egyptian task- masters; who, by sending us abroad to gather straw, hinder us from doing the work which they require; and so are both unjust and unreasonable. For if they had given us straw we should have fulfilled our tasks.
But he said, Ye are idle, ye are idle: therefore ye say, Let us go and do sacrifice to the LORD.
Go therefore now, and work; for there shall no straw be given you, yet shall ye deliver the tale of bricks.
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.
And they met Moses and Aaron, who stood in the way, as they came forth from Pharaoh:
And they said unto them, The LORD look upon you, and judge; because ye have made our savour 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.Exodus 5:21. The Lord look upon you and judge — They should have humbled themselves before God, but instead of that they fly in the face of their best friends. Those that are called to public service for God and their generation, must expect to be tried not only by the threats of proud enemies, but by the unjust and unkind censures of unthinking friends. To put a sword in their hand to slay us — To give them the occasion they have long sought for.
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?Exodus 5:22. Moses returned unto the Lord — And expostulated with him. He knew not how to reconcile the providence with the promise, and the commission he had received. Is this God’s coming down to deliver Israel? Must I, who hoped to be a blessing to them, become a scourge to them?
By this attempt to get them out of the pit, they are but sunk the farther into it. Wherefore hast thou so evil-entreated this people? — Even when God is coming toward his people in ways of mercy, yet sometimes he takes such methods that they may think themselves but ill-treated; when they think so, they should go to God by prayer, which is the way to have better treatment in God’s good time. Why is it that thou hast sent me? — Pharaoh has done evil to this people, and not one step seems to be taken toward their deliverance. It cannot but sit very heavy upon the spirits of those whom God employs for him, to see that their labour doth no good, and much more to see that it doth hurt eventually, though not designedly.
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.