You are on page 1of 9


Redeemer Bible Church

Unreserved Accountability to Christ. Undeserved Acceptance from Christ.
Pharaoh vs. Yahweh
Exodus 5:1-21

Š In Acts 14, the Apostle Paul and Barnabas tell the churches of Lystra, Iconium, and
Antioch that it is through many tribulations that we must enter the kingdom of God
(Acts 14:22).
Š Paul tells Timothy that all those who want to live godly Christian lives will be persecuted
(2 Tim 3:12).
Š The Apostle Peter tells his distressed audience not to be surprised at the fiery trial that
they are undergoing as though it were strange (1 Pet 4:12). No, he says, it is to be
Š James says that we ought to consider it sheer joy when we encounter various trials. He
doesn’t say “if we encounter various trials,” but “when we encounter them” (Jas 1:2).
Š Of course, all of this is not new revelation for the apostles. It is something that Jesus
clearly indicated throughout his earthly ministry:

If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If
you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the
world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.
Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they
persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours
also (John 15:18-20).

For those of us who have been Christians for some time, this may seem very
familiar. It may not seem strange at all to think that as believers we will suffer. But it
should. God has granted us to many magnificent promises indicating that we have been
granted his precious and magnificent promises, that we have been granted every spiritual
blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, that we have (right now) the down-payment of
the Spirit’s blessings through Christ, and on and on.

When we come to know of our deliverance in Jesus Christ things may actually
get worse! In fact, they most often do get worse. We have come to know that God
cares for us in ways we never knew, that he’s always loved us even before we’d ever
heard the gospel. And we hear Jesus’ words that he came that we might know the
more abundant life, and we wonder where all the abundance is. Rather than feeling like
the richest men and women in the world, we feel like the poorest, bereft of all good

And our experience can often leave us reeling. What is going on? Where is the
Lord who promised good to me? More than that, we can find ourselves in a position

Sermon Notes for Exod 5:1-21: Pharaoh vs. Yahweh © 2004 by R W Glenn

where we are downright angry that we are experiencing such things. All we can see is
our suffering and ringing in our ears are the promises for blessing. What is going on?
How could you do this to us, Lord?

These kinds of questions and their corresponding attitude mark the behavior of
the Israelites, the church of the wilderness, in this morning’s meditation. <Read the text>

1. Careful summary of the narrative

A. First appeal (5:1-2)

1. Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice (v 2)

Pharaoh’s response is likely rooted in his belief that he himself was a manifestation, an
incarnation of an Egyptian deity. “This divine status meant that his power was unlimited, that
his will was incontestable law, and that his utterances possessed divine force.”1

2. I do not know the Lord (v 2)

B. Second appeal, revised (vv 3-5)

Here in v 3, Moses and Aaron take a different approach. Rather than command
Pharaoh, they make an appeal to him. “If you don’t let us go, we’ll all die.” And though
Pharaoh certainly wants to contain Israel, he does not want his human tools to be

1. Pestilence or with the sword (v 3)

The language is stock language used to refer to fearful calamities. They express
to Pharaoh that they are under enormous pressure to lead the people to worship their
God. They have no option but to ask Pharaoh. They are conventional symbols of divine
judgment cf. Lev 26:25; Jer 14:12; 21:7, 9; 24:10; 27:8, 13.

In addition, Moses and Aaron’s words could represent a sly way of saying that
Egypt would not be spared either.

2. Get back to your labors (v 4): Speaking to the people generally through
Moses and Aaron their representatives.

3. The people of the land are now many, and you would have them cease from
their labors (v 5)

C. Pharaoh’s plan: bricks without supplying straw (vv 6-9)

Nahum M Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1991), 27.

Sermon Notes for Exod 5:1-21: Pharaoh vs. Yahweh © 2004 by R W Glenn

1. Their foreman (v 6)

The foremen were selected from among the enslaved people. They were
expected to keep careful logs of their wards and the activities of each. Several of these
logs are still in existence and date to the time of Ramses II.2

2. You are no longer to give the people straw to make brick (v 7)

The Israelites were not required to make brick without straw. This would have been
next to impossible. Rather, as the text tells us, they were to gather the straw themselves.
“Chopped straw or stubble was a crucial ingredient in the manufacture of bricks. It was added
to the mud from the Nile, then shaped in a mold and left to dry in the sun. The straw acted as
a binder, and the acid released by the decay of the vegetable matter greatly enhanced the plastic
and cohesive properties of the brick, thus preventing shrinking, cracking, and loss of shape.”3

3. Because they are lazy (v 8)

This policy a calculated maneuver by Pharaoh; it is intended to drive a wedge between

Moses and Aaron and the people.

His is a pyramidal system whereby the few benefit from the labor of the many.
By depleting the energy of the oppressed, the threat of organized resistance is lessened.
Petitions and demands are dismissed out of hand; giving in at any point is a sign of
weakness. Any sign of resistance occasions a tightening of the grip. The oppressed
must learn that their well-being depends exclusively on Pharaoh’s goodwill; don’t mess
with the system. Get them to thinking that things could never be better than they are.
As they say, don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Help them to see that those who claim
to be their liberators are actually making the oppression much worse than it would
otherwise be!4

D. The implementation of Pharaoh’s plan (vv 10-14)

1. Scattered through all the land of Egypt (v 12)

2. Stubble for straw (v 12)

In the absence of straw they have to find suitable substitute material: in this case it is
stubble or chaff that they use for their bricks.

The difficulty of gathering stubble for straw is emphasized by the language of v 12: the
people scattered (lit. swarmed) through all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw.

Ibid., 28.
Terrence E Fretheim, Exodus (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1991), 84.

Sermon Notes for Exod 5:1-21: Pharaoh vs. Yahweh © 2004 by R W Glenn

Rather than using the chopped straw prepared for brick-making, the Israelites were lift to use
the “trashy stubble blown about by the wind.”5

E. The foremen appeal to Pharaoh (vv 15-16)

F. Pharaoh responds with characteristic cruelty (vv 17-19)

1. You are lazy, very lazy ( v 17)

G. The foremen blame Moses and Aaron and ultimately the Lord for their
predicament (vv 20-21)

1. When they left Pharaoh’s presence, they met Moses and Aaron as they were
waiting for them (v 20)

2. May the Lord look upon you and judge you (v 21)

3. Odious in Pharaoh’s sight (v 21)

odious: (lit.) stink a stinking odor! The phrase is used metaphorically in the sense of
“made us the object of hatred,” “disgraced our reputation,” “brought us into contempt.” It is
clearly a metaphor, and a mixed one on the part of the narrator. You cannot be smelly in
someone’s sight! The ability to smell does not reside in one’s eyes!

Despite the presence of the divine messenger the condition of the people as significantly

Their desire is that the Lord would hold Moses and Aaron responsible for the
intensification of Israel’s problems. After all, everything was fine until Moses and Aaron

Moses and Aaron do not respond to the people. We read in vv 22-23 that Moses
concurs with the people’s assessment of the situation and therefore calls upon God for an

4. To put a sword in their hand to kill us (v 21): This is hyperbole, all they have
done is beaten them; the Egyptians have not gone to this extreme. Yet
nothing is stopping them.

The people’s situation is more trying than before; God doesn’t seem to be acting
on their behalf as he promised, and so they blame their leaders and the Lord who sent
them for their trouble.

John I Durham, Exodus (Waco, TX: Word, 1987), 65.

Sermon Notes for Exod 5:1-21: Pharaoh vs. Yahweh © 2004 by R W Glenn

On one level it seems as if God is slow about his promise to deliver Israel.
While it is true that God promised that Pharaoh would be recalcitrant with respect to
the Lord’s demands, he did not say that things would get worse before they would get

But there is another layer to the narrative beyond the development of the plot
that helps the readers to see something that the people are failing to see. Pharaoh has
arrayed himself against the Lord of hosts. By his behavior toward God’s people, he has
declared war on Yahweh.

2. Pharaoh vs. Yahweh

A. (v 2) The Lord, the God of Israel

The appellation the Lord, the God of Israel is used elsewhere in the Pentateuch only
in Exod 32:27. This description of the Lord helps to illustrate the predicament into which
Pharaoh is caught. Since Israel and his God are inseparably linked, then whatever dealings
Pharaoh will have with Israel will necessarily entail dealings with the God of Israel. He is as yet
unaware of the danger of treating Israel and his God with such contempt.

B. (v 2) Who is the Lord?

The interrogative pronoun is used here to express insult cf. 1 Sam 17:26; 25:10.6
1 Samuel 17:26 Then David spoke to the men who were standing by him, saying, "What
will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For
who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?"
1 Samuel 25:10 But Nabal answered David's servants and said, "Who is David? And who
is the son of Jesse? There are many servants today who are each breaking away from his

The question is not one that is intended to acquire information. Pharaoh would have
been acquainted with Israel’s God, just as he would have known of all of the other gods of the
Egyptian pantheon. By asking this question, he sets forth that he has no regard for Israel’s God;
firmly establishing himself as the force to be reckoned with in the life of Israel, not their
invisible God.

Who is the Lord? This, ironically, is the question that the Lord himself will answer. In
fact, it is the question that he is bent on answering cf. 7:17; 9:14, 29; 10:2; 11:7; 14:4, 17.

His words are an expression of overwhelming arrogance. And it is important to

distinguish what arrogance is.

Waltke-O’Connor, 322.

Sermon Notes for Exod 5:1-21: Pharaoh vs. Yahweh © 2004 by R W Glenn

By today’s standards, Moses would be considered arrogant. He spoke the truth with
conviction; he believed what he preached. But what makes a man humble is that he recognizes
that God is God and that his estimation of himself is rooted in God’s gifts and graces in his life.
It never ceases to amaze me how men like Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones, MacArthur, Sproul and
others have been considered arrogant because they preached as if they knew what the Bible
said. We think that if anyone thinks that he knows the truth—not perfectly, but truly and
really—that if he thinks he knows the truth and communicates to others he is certainly and
automatically an arrogant man.

This is preposterous. Moses was posthumously called the humblest man who ever lived.
Yet he spoke to the most powerful man in the known world in no uncertain terms about what
the truth was. It was Pharaoh who was arrogant, willing to cast off the truth of God, thinking
that he was not responsible to YHWH. It is most often the person who calls Moses-like
conviction arrogance that is truly arrogant. They are offended by the truth and unwilling to
submit to its demands. This is arrogance at its apex. “He blithely dismisses a command of
YHWH and denies the YHWH has any authority over him.”

C. (v 5) The people of the land are now many

We also have the theme of the multiplication of the people reintroduced here cf. 1:7, 8-

This text helps to solidify the anti-God character of Egypt’s Pharaohs. The king
of Egypt emerges as one who is raised up not against Moses or even the Israelite people,
per se, but as one raised up against God. This first Pharaoh recommends enslavement
and brutality and murder in order to solve the problem of Israel’s population explosion.
As sensitive readers we know that Israel’s astonishing growth manifests the fulfillment of
God’s creation mandate, and the promise he made to the patriarchs: to fill the earth and
subdue it, to be fruitful and multiply, to have descendants as numerous as the stars in
the sky and the sand on the seashore. So for Egypt’s Pharaoh there is a latent anti-God
tendency. His policy of oppression and extermination directed against the Hebrew’s
reveals a deep-seated desire to overthrow the God of the universe.

D. (v 5) And you would have them cease from their labors

The language of resting from labors is reminiscent of Gen 2:2-3. This passage, no doubt,
anticipates the Sabbath. For one of the reasons the Lord gives for observing the Sabbath is to
commemorate the Exodus.

We see that Pharaoh is unwittingly, yet rebelliously, putting himself in the way of God
accomplishing his promise for his people.

E. (v 8) Because they are lazy therefore they cry out

Cornelis Houtman, Exodus (Kampen, Netherlands: Kok Publishing House, 1993), 1.462.

Sermon Notes for Exod 5:1-21: Pharaoh vs. Yahweh © 2004 by R W Glenn

By responding to Israel’s cries by belittling their suffering, Pharaoh again acts in a way
diametrically opposed to the way in which God has responded to Israel’s cries cf. 2:23-25; 3:7,
9, 16-17; 4:31.

F. (v 9) Let the labor be heavier

Here again Pharaoh’s rebellion against God is clearly seen. God is commanding that the
people stop working so that they may serve him in the wilderness; Pharaoh is commanding that
the people increase their work so that they may serve him in Egypt.

In addition, there is a play on words that cannot be appreciated in English. The word
translated heavier is the same word that is used throughout the Exodus narrative to describe
Pharaoh’s hardheartedness.8 The irony is that as Pharaoh makes the work hard for God’s
people; his own heart is hardened, resulting in his punishment. Just as the plan to kill children
and increase the people’s labor only resulted in the increase of the population, so the plan to
punish the Israelites results in his own punishment. The Pharaohs of Egypt consistently shoot
themselves in the foot, so to speak.

The play on words is found with the word labor as well cf. 4:23 (“serve”).9 Pharaoh
and Yahweh are competing with each other for Israel’s service.

G. (v 10) Thus says Pharaoh

Clearly there is a comparison between the Thus says the Lord of v 1. Pharaoh is on a
collision course with the God of Israel.10

H. (vv 15, 17) The foremen of the sons of Israel cried out to Pharaoh…You are
lazy, very lazy.

This is the second time in the passage that the word translated cried out has been used
in the passage (see v 8). Once again the Israelites cry out and once again Pharaoh does not
“hear” their cries cf. 2:23-25. More than that, he repeats his accusation of v 8 that the Israelites
are nothing but lazy. He is suggesting that they have brought these problems on themselves,
like the abusive husband who says that if only his wife hadn’t burned his toast he wouldn’t have
had to hurt her. The cruelty is severe.

I. (v 18) So go now and work

This language is loaded with irony because later in the narrative Pharaoh will be
forced to use identical language so as to rid himself of the Israelites in response to
God’s mighty acts cf. 10:8, 11, 24; 12:31.

dbK: This is the root from which the words are derived.
I am indebted to Sarna, Exodus, 29 for my language here.

Sermon Notes for Exod 5:1-21: Pharaoh vs. Yahweh © 2004 by R W Glenn

So matters are worse, they are worse for God’s people, but only because they
are much worse for Pharaoh. The intensification of Pharaoh’s behavior represents
God’s wrath against him. Pharaoh’s heart is being hardened. God is letting him go in his
sin so that he may unleash his just judgment upon Egypt.

So the increase in Israel’s oppression is not taking place because God is no

longer interested in their plight. On the contrary, it is taking place precisely because he
is interested in it! Pharaoh’s willingness to defy Yahweh means that Pharaoh is finished!
It is only a matter of time.

For now, the people do not yet see this. All they see is their suffering, intense as
it is. As readers of the narrative, we can see that there is something deeper taking place
than Israel’s suffering: God is at work in Pharaoh in the early stages of Pharaoh’s

Pharaoh isn’t the only one who has arrayed himself against Yahweh, the people
have as well. Their unbelief in the face of the Lord’s magnificent promises is rank. It is
their unbelief that is truly odious. They are odious all by themselves cf. v 21.

“What perversity of the natural heart! They call upon God to judge, whilst by their very
complaining they show that they have no confidence in God and His power to save.”11

They blame Moses and Aaron because the Israelites lack faith. Calvin describes their
lack of faith like this: “[T]hey measure the favour [sic.] of God by their immediate success.”12
The people of God had recently bowed low and worshiped God when they heard of his
compassion toward them and his plans to deliver them through Moses and Aaron. Now they
are spurning the promised instruments of God’s promised salvation. Nothing is sweeter than
hearing that God knows our troubles; and nothing is so easily abandoned when God chooses to
fulfill his promises through temporary, light affliction.

The people need to trust in the Lord. Their enemies are God’s. He will judge
all who oppose him and his purposes in salvation. If the people see this, then, they will
not be unbelieving even in the midst of their terrible trial; a trial with which none of us
in this room can begin to empathize. When God’s people begin to come to terms with
God’s sovereignty in the outworking of his own good purposes, then they will more
readily undergo suffering as they wait for their vindication.

We need to see our own response to difficulty in the Christian life in the same
way. Though we may never suffer to the extent and to the degree they did, we will
suffer. And when we do, we need to handle it with a gracious and humble attitude.

C F Keil and F Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament: The Pentateuch, Vol 1 (Grand Rapids, MI:
Eerdmans, 1971 reprint), 466.
John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol 2.1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996 reprint), 122.

Sermon Notes for Exod 5:1-21: Pharaoh vs. Yahweh © 2004 by R W Glenn

God is operating for us on his own timetable, and he will prevail against all his
enemies. In fact, in Jesus Christ, he already has.

The ultimate anti-God figure for all time is Satan. Satan has arrayed himself against the
Lord and his anointed, and though we for a brief time feel the difficulty, though it seems as if
matters are worse, we need to stand back and read the narrative of our Christian experience.

We know that we have overcome the evil one; we know that Satan has been defeated;
we know that the ruler of this world has been judged. Then we need to remember that ours is
momentary light affliction as we await the consummation of the ages. We suffer for a little
while, for a short time, and then the new day will dawn cf. 2 Cor 4:17; 1 Pet 1:6; 5:10; John

Redeemer Bible Church

16205 Highway 7
Minnetonka, MN 55345
Office: 952.935.2425
Fax: 952.938.8299

Sermon Notes for Exod 5:1-21: Pharaoh vs. Yahweh © 2004 by R W Glenn