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the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 5

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

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.

Moses and Aaron went. As representatives of the Hebrews, they were entitled to ask an audience of the king, and their thorough Egyptian training taught them how and when to seek it.

And told Pharaoh. When introduced, they delivered a message in the name of the God of Israel. This is the first time He is mentioned by that national appellation in Scripture. It seems to have been used by divine direction (Exodus 4:22), and designed to put honour on the Hebrews in their depressed condition (Hebrews 11:16).

Verse 2

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.

Pharaoh said, Who is the Lord? - rather, "Yahweh." Lord was a common name applied to objects of worship; but Yahweh was a name the king of Egypt had never heard of. He estimated the character and power of this God by the abject and miserable condition of the worshippers, and concluded that He held as low a rank among the gods as His people did in the nation. To demonstrate the supremacy of the true God over all the gods of Egypt was the design of the plagues that were inflicted on the land.

Neither will I let Israel go. Since Pharaoh's honour and interest were both involved, he determined to crush this attempt, and, in a tone of insolence, or perhaps profanity, rejected the request for the release of the Hebrew slaves.

Verse 3

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.

The God of the Hebrews hath met with us. Instead of being provoked into reproaches or threats, they mildly assured him that it was not a proposal originating among themselves, but a duty enjoined on them by their God. They had for a long series of years been debarred from the privilege of religious worship, and as there was reason to fear that a continued neglect of divine ordinances would draw down upon them the judgments of offended Heaven, they begged permission to go three days' journey into the desert-a place of seclusion-where their sacrificial observances would neither suffer interruption nor give umbrage to the Egyptians. In saying this, they concealed their ultimate design of abandoning the kingdom; and by making this partial request at first, they probably wished to try the king's temper before they disclosed their intentions any further. But they said only what God had put in their mouths (Exodus 3:12; Exodus 3:18), and 'this legalizes the specific act, while it gives no sanction to the general habit of dissimulation' (Chalmers).

Verse 4

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.

Wherefore do ye, Moses and Aaron, let the people from their works .... Without taking any notice of

what they had said, the king treated them as turbulent demagogues, who were appealing to the superstitious feelings of the people, to stir up sedition, and diffuse a spirit of discontent, which, spreading through so vast a body of slaves, might endanger the peace of the country.

Verse 5

And Pharaoh said, Behold, the people of the land now are many, and ye make them rest from their burdens.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 6

And Pharaoh commanded the same day the taskmasters of the people, and their officers, saying,

Pharaoh commanded. It was a natural consequence of the high displeasure created by this interview that he should put additional burdens on the oppressed Israelites.

Taskmasters - Egyptian overseers, appointed to exact labour of the Israelites.

Officers, [ shotªriym (H7860)] - Hebrews placed over their brethren, under the taskmasters, precisely analogous to the Arab officers set over the Arab Fellahs-the poor labourers in modern Egypt-and acting as intermediate agents between the government and the people. It is their duty to see that the men perform the prescribed labour, and collect from them the taxes which the government imposes upon them. These Sheikh-el-Beleds, as they are called, are themselves often seen under the stick of the Kaimmakam, the Kashif, or the Mamoor, in the place of some individual of the common people, of whom he in turn afterward takes vengeance (Hengstenberg's 'Egypt and Books of Moses').

Verse 7

Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick, as heretofore: let them go and gather straw for themselves.

Ye shall no more give the people straw. The making of bricks appears to have been a government monopoly, as the ancient bricks are nearly all stamped with the name of a king, and they were formed, as they are still in Lower Egypt, of clay mixed with chopped straw, and dried or hardened in the sun. The Israelites were employed in this drudgery; and though many of them still dwelt in Goshen, and held property in flocks and herds, others were compelled in rotation to serve in the brick fields, pressed in alternating groups, just as the fellaheen, or peasants, are marched by press-gangs in the same country still. Go ... gather straw ... The enraged despot did not issue orders to do an impracticable thing. The Egyptian reapers in the grain-harvest were accustomed merely to cut off the ears, and leave the stalk standing.

Verse 8

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.

Tale - an appointed number of bricks. The materials of their labour were to be no longer supplied; and yet, as the same amount of produce was exacted daily, it is impossible to imagine more aggravated cruelty-a more perfect specimen of Oriental despotism.

Verses 9-11

Let there more work be laid upon the men, that they may labour therein; and let them not regard vain words.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 12

So the people were scattered abroad throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble instead of straw.

So the people were scattered. It was an immense grievance to the labourers individually, but there would be no hindrance from the farmers whose fields they entered, as almost all the lands of Egypt were in the possession of the crown (Genesis 47:20). The season of harvest in Egypt corresponds nearly to May in our calendar (Osburn's 'Mon. Hist.,' 2:, p. 576).

Verses 13-19

And the taskmasters hasted them, saying, Fulfil your works, your daily tasks, as when there was straw.

Taskmasters hasted ... officers ... beaten. Since the nearest fields were bared, and the people had to go further for stubble, it was impossible for them to meet the demand by the usual tale of bricks. 'The beating of the officers is just what might have been expected from an Eastern tyrant, especially in the valley of the Nile, as it appears from the monuments, that ancient Egypt, like modern China, was principally governed by the stick (Taylor). The mode of beating was by the offender being laid flat on the ground, and generally held by the hands and feet while the chastisement was being administered.' (Wilkinson's 'Ancient Egypt') (Deuteronomy 25:2).

Verses 20-21

And they met Moses and Aaron, who stood in the way, as they came forth from Pharaoh:

They met Moses ... The Lord look upon you, and judge. Thus the deliverer of Israel found that his patriotic interference did, in the first instance, only aggravate the evil he wished to remove, and that instead of receiving the gratitude, he was loaded with the reproaches, of his countrymen. But as the greatest darkness is immediately before the dawn, so the people of God are often plunged into the deepest affliction when on the eve of their deliverance, and so it was in this case.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Exodus 5". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/exodus-5.html. 1871-8.
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