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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 5

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verse 1

Exodus 5:1

Let My people go.

The deliverance of God’s people

The history of the deliverance of God’s people from the bondage of Egypt, their pilgrimage through the wilderness, and their ultimate settlement in the Land of Promise, bears striking analogy to the history of the human soul.

The words “Let My people go,” regarded as spoken concerning human souls, may be said to contain in themselves the whole gospel history of our redemption. Even the small word “My” is emphatic.

1. We are God’s people; not Satan’s people. When God claims us we should remember that He claims His own, and that we are bound to support His claim.

2. The summons to let the people of God go implies a bondage from which they are to be delivered. That which forms the basis of Holy Scripture is the fact that man committed sin. He rebelled against his Maker, and became the slave of one to whom he owed no obedience.

3. If the words “Let My people go” imply the existence of slavery, they still more emphatically imply the way and the promise of redemption. The Gospel of Christ, as preached throughout the whole world, is just this--“Let My people go.”

The whole system of ordinances and sacraments, in which we find ourselves by God’s providence, like the system of ordinances and sacrifices which was given to Israel when they came out of Egypt, are intended to insure and perfect and turn to the best account the liberty which the Lord has given us, for the soul of man may not be content with emancipation once and for all.

The consideration of what Jesus Christ has done for us is the chief means of moving our hearts to seek that liberty which God designs us all to possess. (Bp. Harvey Goodwin.)

Freedom to serve God

Perfect freedom is not the thing demanded of Pharaoh, nor is this the prize of their high calling held out before the eyes of the Israelites. To serve God is the perfect freedom held out: to change masters, to be rid of him who had no claim to their allegiance, and to be permitted without hindrance to serve Him who was indeed their Lord and their God. This was the boon offered to the children of Israel, and demanded on their account by Moses as the ambassador of God.

This feature in the deliverance of the Israelites is worthy of special notice, when we regard it as typical of the deliverance from sin and the bondage of the devil, which our heavenly Father is willing to effect for each of us. “Let My people go,”--not that they may be free from a master, but that they may serve; let them go, because they have been redeemed by Christ, and are not their own, but His. The deliverance from sin which God works for His people is, in fact, a change from one service to another: a change from service to sin, which is perfect bondage, to service to God, which is perfect freedom.

The blessedness of the service of God is not estimated as it ought to be; men in these days are too like the children of Israel, who seemed to think that they had conferred a favour on Moses by following his guidance, and that the least reverse would be a sufficient excuse to justify them in going back again to Egypt. There is nothing in their conduct more strange or more blamable than in the conduct of men calling themselves Christians, who do not perceive that in the earnest discharge of God’s service is their highest happiness as well as their principal duty and most blessed privilege. (Bp. Harvey Goodwin.)


1. God’s ambassadors must proceed orderly in delivering their message--first to Israel, secondly to Pharaoh.

2. Order of persons as well as time is observable by God’s servants.

3. The poorest persons under God’s authority may press into the presence of the proudest kings.

4. God’s ambassadors must speak and declare His will to the greatest potentates.

5. God’s messengers must go in His authority and vouch His name,

6. The true way of making out God unto man is concretely not abstractly. Every nation acknowledgeth God, but not Israel’s God.

7. The true God hath a peculiar people whom He owneth in the world.

8. The will of God is to have His people set free from all that hinders them from Him.

9. The end of all redemption is that God’s people should serve Him.

10. The true service of God is a festival living to Him.

11. Such feasting with God is better in the wilderness than in Egypt.

12. All such feasting, sacrificing, and worship must terminate in Jehovah. (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Moses before Pharaoh

1. The sense of his high commission enabled him to discharge the duty it laid upon him with dignity and boldness. The sinking of heart that had seized him upon its first announcement had passed away; and in its place had come “the spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

2. Aaron was with him; but the relation he sustained to the work is marked, as it is throughout the narrative, by the order of the names, Moses and Aaron--never Aaron and Moses--a companion, aa associate, but only as a helper, a support, a spokesman, though Aaron was the eider. There are chords in our nature that vibrate mysteriously to another’s touch, a magnetism that works by laws imperfectly understood, by which the presence and sympathy of a companion, silent though it be, and without visible action, braces and enlivens the heart; and that, though the disparity be so great that the inferior who cares for us can only think as we think, and feel as we feel, without any contribution of useful counsel or active succour. “At my first answer,” says St. Paul, “no man stood with me, but all men forsook me.” Let us not say that we cannot help our friend because we are inferior and of small resources. It is too often but the cover of cowardice or coldness of heart. He that knows the magic there is in a look, a touch, or a word, to alleviate and quicken a pained or fainting soul, feels the falsehood. Nor let us, in our height of pride and self-sufficiency, despise the “fellowship of kindred minds” because they are below us, and, it may be, without manifest strength to aid. A little child’s sympathy is not to be despised. Moses’ commission was sole, but Aaron’s presence facilitated its execution. There is a wonderful power in company.

3. What Moses first asked of Pharaoh for his people, then, was a religious privilege--liberty to go out into the wild country beyond the bounds of Goshen, and worship God; sacrifice to that great Being in whom their fathers had trusted, but whose image, we may well believe, had grown dim among them during their long period of depression and enslavement. Moses was a religious reformer. The revival of truth, faith, and loyalty to Jehovah, lay at the bottom of all the other great things he was to do for them. The feast in the wilderness was preliminary to all that was to follow, to stand as the frontispiece of that series of wonderful events in which their deliverance was to be accomplished, the prologue of the great drama of their entrance upon national life.

4. To Pharaoh, in this call, there was a test of faith, and of that obedience in which all real faith finds its true expression. God came forth from His obscurity and spoke to him. Would he hear that voice, recognize it as the voice of Him who is “King of kings”? In humanity there is a chord that ever vibrates to God’s touch, and an ear that hears His voice. It was the call of God’s mercy to Pharaoh, Jehovah’s coming near to him to do him good. Alas! he “knew not the time of his visitation.” But if the heart of Pharaoh towards God was tested by this call, so was his heart towards man. It was an appeal to his humanity.

5. See the wisdom of acting in great matters with judgment, moderation, and patience. Many a good design has been ruined by abruptness, haste, and grasping greed. Moses did not succeed in his embassy, but he adopted fit and judicious methods to obtain success; and if they failed to secure their object, it was simply because they encountered an opposition that no power or skill could overcome. The eagerness that will have all at once, loses all. The impatience that will reach the goal at a single bound, never reaches it. To have asked the immediate emancipation of the Israelites would have been manifestly useless.

6. Finally, beware of striving against God. It can end in nothing but destruction. Its gains are losses, its successes its most ruinous failures. (R. A. Hallam, D. D.)

Reasons for sending Moses and Aaron

Why did God send Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh, when He could have destroyed Him with a stroke, and have wrought the freedom of Israel?

1. That God’s power might appear in showing His wonders.

2. That the Israelites might see the great care God had over them.

3. To exercise their patience, not being delivered at once.

4. To leave Pharaoh without excuse. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

A proclamation of God

1. His name.

2. His authority.

3. His regard for His people.

4. His desire for the freedom of man. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The freedom of men

1. Earnestly desired.

2. Effectively undertaken.

3. Divinely approved.

4. Successfully achieved. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

A Divine challenge

The slavery of Israel in Egypt was hopeless slavery; they could not get free unless God interfered and worked miracles on their behalf. And the slavery of the sinner to his sin is equally hopeless; he could never be free, unless a mind that is infinitely greater than he can ever command shall come to his assistance and help. What a blessed circumstance it is, then, for those poor chosen children of God, who are still in bondage, that the Lord has power to say, and then power to carry out what He has said--“Thus saith the Lord, let My people go, that they may serve Me.”

The fulness of the sentence. “Thus saith the Lord, let My people go, that they may serve Me.” I don’t doubt but what there are some of God’s people who have not any idea they are His people. The demand was not made to Pharaoh, “Make their tasks less heavy; make the whip less cruel; put kinder taskmasters over them.” No, but, “Let them go free.” Christ did not come into the world merely to make our sin more tolerable, but to deliver us right away from it. He did not come to make our lusts less mighty; but to put all these things far away from His people, and work out a full and complete deliverance. Again, you will mark, it says, “Let My people go.” It says nothing about their coming back again. Once gone, they are gone for ever.

The rightness of it. The voice of justice, and pity, and mercy, cries to death, and hell, and sin, “Let My people go free--Satan, keep thine own if thou wilt, but let My people go free, for they are Mine. This people have I created for Myself; they shall show forth My praise. Let My people go free, for I have bought them with My precious blood. Thou hast not bought them, nor hast thou made them: thou hast no right to them; let My people go free.” All this is our comfort about poor sinners, and we hope that some of them, though they don’t know it, are God’s people.

The repetition of this sentence. Observe now, as Pharaoh would not give up the people, the sentence had to be repeated again, and again, until at last God would bear it no longer, but brought down on him one tremendous blow. He smote the firstborn of Egypt, the chief of all their strength, and then He led forth His people like sheep by the hands of Moses and Aaron. In like manner this sentence of God has to be repeated many times in your experience and mine, “Thus, saith the Lord, let My people go free,” and if you are not quite free yet, don’t despair; God will repeat that sentence till at last you shall be brought forth with silver and gold, and there shall not be a feeble thought in all your soul; you shall go forth with gladness and with joy; you shall enter into Canaan at last, up yonder where His throne is glittering now in glorious light, that angel eyes cannot bear. It is no wonder then, if it is to be repeated in our experience, that the Church of Christ must keep on repeating it in the world as God’s message. Go, missionary, to India, and say to Juggernaut, and Kalee, and Brahma, and Vishnu, “Thus saith the Lord, let My people go free.” Go, ye servants of the Lord, to China, speak to the followers of Confucius, and say, “Thus saith the Lord, let My people go free.” Go ye to the gates of the harlot city, even Rome, and say, “Thus saith the Lord, let My people go, that they may serve Me.” Think not though you die that your message will die with you. ‘Tis for Moses to say, “Thus saith the Lord,” and if he be driven from Pharaoh’s sight, the “Thus saith the Lord” still stands, though His servant fall. Yes, brothers and sisters, the whole Church must keep on throughout every age, crying, “Thus saith the Lord, let My people go.”

The omnipotence of the command. Sin is a Pharaoh, but God is Jehovah. Your sins are hard; you cannot overcome them of yourself, but God can. There is hope yet; let that hope arouse you to action. Say to your soul tonight, “I am not in hell, though I might have been. I am still on praying ground and pleading terms, and now, God helping me, I will begin to think.” And when you begin to think you will begin to be blessed. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

God’s people

Who are these whom god calls “my people”?

1. They are a distinct and separate race. The people of God are not those who agree with each other as to certain theories--in these things they may be sundered far as the poles. It is not that they come together on certain particular occasions and observe the same ceremonies. No ceremonies however ancient, however solemn, however significant, however faithfully observed can make us His people. The distinction is one of birth. It is a difference of nature. Born of God, begotten of God, they arc the children of God. Within them is the very Spirit of God whereby they cry “Abba Father.”

2. They are Created of God by a distinct and wholly supernatural act. The children of a new life--of the resurrection. And out of that relationship to God come a thousand new relationships. There is a new authority which is ever supreme--there is a new nature, with new hopes, and new desires; and new needs; and new aspirations; and new delights; a nature which can find its only satisfaction in Him in whom it found its source; there is a new relationship to all things. Born of God, they look further; they soar higher; they find more.

But if these are His people, why does he suffer them to be here? Forsaken, wronged--has God forgotten to be gracious? Who shall deliver them out of the hand of Pharaoh?

1. That they may know that I am the Lord--this is the key to it all. They are led into the wilderness where there is neither bread nor water, that they may learn to look up to God for their help: so they are hemmed in by all possible evils in Egypt, that they may see the greatness and might of their God in their deliverance. The mightier the nation that oppressed them, the greater the glory of their deliverance. The more hopeless their condition, and the more hopeless the people, so much more room was there for God to show forth His mighty arm. The greatness of life--its breadth and depth, its expanse like heaven above us, its solidity like the earth beneath us--is exactly according to our knowledge of our God. And the deep peace and rest--the blessedness and satisfaction--these too come only from knowing Him. We are most indebted--not to those things for which it is easiest to give thanks, but to those from which we have shrunk, and which set us wondering, fearing, perhaps even doubting. The reaper is a happy man, and poets sing and artists paint the scene of harvest home. But the keen frosts that break the clods, and the patient ploughman plodding wearily behind the share with which he cleaves the soil in chill winter winds and under cheerless skies--these are apt to be forgotten and unthanked. And yet what should the reaper bring if the ploughman went not forth? “My people.” God sends them to school that they may learn to know Him.

2. Learn further that wherever His people are led, they can never get where God cannot help them. Be sure of that. Whatever clouds gather they cannot hide His child in the darkness. No circumstances can ever shut us out from His help.

3. The Lord knoweth them that are His. He leadeth them in a way that they know not, but He knoweth the way. Fear not: we too may sing--“He leadeth us in a right way to bring us to a city of habitation.”

4. Notice yet another characteristic of His people. See Israel come forth from Egypt. Every man, every woman, every child bows his head beneath a doorpost on which is sprinkled the blood--each one passes between the side posts whereon is the crimson stain. They arc the redeemed of the Lord--My people--ransomed by a great price. The people of God find their deliverance in the power of the Cross. (M. G. Pearse.)

Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh

We never heard of an insurrection against a tyrannical government, deliberately planned, for which there was not aggregated some sort of preparation in armies and munitions of war. So we inquire in this instance, What was the number of Israel’s troops now on their belligerent way to beseige the capital of Egypt? Only one organized battalion, consisting of these two old men! What were the arms they carried? These were altogether seven weapons in detail. Any one can count them at his pleasure: one shepherd’s crook, called a “rod,” one tremendous name in the Hebrew language, four promises, and a miracle. These were expected to revolutionize Egypt.

Inadequacy of conspicuous resources is no argument against success, when God in Person has sent His servants forth to do His errand.

The Almighty God has never let go His hold upon any individual of the human race, for all the spiteful rebellion some men have shown.

It is of the utmost importance that intelligent people should have a safe creed. Undoubtedly Pharaoh is very much in earnest. He does not “know” Jehovah; he knows the deities he has been educated to worship. But if we only wait a little longer, and read the story of the exodus clear through to the crossing of the Red Sea, we shall find out whether it made any difference to Pharaoh what he believed in that moment when he defied Jehovah!

See how clearly the all-wise God works up to simple issues with every wilful transgressor before He casts him utterly out. There is only one question which confronts any man, no matter how many are the forms in which it may be put: Will you, or will you not, obey God?

Those who seek to help their fellow-men in this world must expect misjudgment.

So we reach our final lesson: the natural and first result of stirring up sin is to aggravate its violence. Satan hates to lose his slaves. The heart is desperately wicked, and seems to grow more malignant than before. “It is always darkest just before day.” This does not happen so; it is the Divine rule. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

Divine condescension to Pharaoh

At the outset, we observe the more than dutiful manner in which Israel was directed to act towards Pharaoh. Absolutely speaking, Pharaoh had no right to detain the people in Egypt. Their fathers had avowedly come not to settle, but temporarily to sojourn, and on that understanding they had been received. And now they were not only wrongfully oppressed, but unrighteously detained. It was infinite condescension to Pharaoh’s weakness, on the part of God, not to insist from the first upon the immediate and entire dismissal of Israel. Less could not have been asked than was demanded of Pharaoh, nor could obedience have been made more easy. Assuredly such a man was ripe for the judgment of hardening; just as, on the other hand, if he had at the first yielded obedience to the Divine will, he would surely have been prepared to receive a further revelation of His will, and grace to submit to it. And so God in His mercy always deals with man. “He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least, is unjust also in much.” The demands of God are intended to try what is in us. It was so in the case of Adam’s obedience, of Abraham’s sacrifice, and now of Pharaoh; only that in the latter case, as in the promise to spare Sodom if even ten righteous men were found among its wicked inhabitants, the Divine forbearance went to the utmost verge of condescension. (A. Edersheim, D. D.)

Divine authority for the message

On one occasion when Whitefield was preaching, an old man fell asleep, and some of the audience became listless. Suddenly changing his manner, Whitefield broke forth in an altered tone, declaring that He had not come to speak in his own name, otherwise they might lean on their elbows and go to sleep. “No; I have come to you in the name of the Lord of Hosts, and I must and will be heard.” The sleeper started wide awake; the hearers were stripped of their apathy at once; and every word of the sermon was attended to. It was thus that Moses addressed Pharaoh; and it is thus all witness for God should address the listeners--with authority.

Hold a feast unto Me.

The first attempt at a religious service

That this first attempt at a religious service was made responsive to the call, and in harmony with the will of God.

1. Thus there was a great necessity that the work now attempted by Moses and Aaron should be accomplished.

2. Moses and Aaron were the right men to undertake this work. In the first place, Moses had been directly called by God to do it; also Aaron had been providentially conducted to this sphere of work. In this we see the different methods by which God enjoins work upon good men. Then, again, Moses and Aaron had been Divinely prepared for their work. Men are prepared in different ways. Solitude prepares one man; publicity will prepare another the preparation must be in harmony with the temperament of the man, and the work that he has to perform. The Church requires to think less of results, and more of the methods by which they are to be attained.

3. Moses and Aaron undertook this work in the proper spirit.

That our first attest at religious service is often met by open profanity and ignorance.

1. Moses and Aaron were met by a manifestation of ignorance.

2. They were met by deep profanity.

3. They were met by unwarrantable pride.

That our first attempt at service is often misunderstood, and its motive maligned.

1. Pharaoh was not sensitive to the claims of duty.

2. Pharaoh was not a disinterested interpreter of the claims urged upon him.

That sometimes our first attempt at religious service appears to be more productive of harm than good, and to have the very opposite effect to that designed. Lessons:

1. Begin at once some enterprise for the moral freedom of humanity,

2. If in the first attempt at service you meet with difficulty and rejection, do not be dismayed.

3. That you must be finally successful in your efforts.

(1) For they are appointed by God.

(2) You are upheld by heaven.

(3) You have the sympathy of all good men. (J. S. Excel, M. A.)

Verse 2

Exodus 5:2

Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice?

Pharaoh’s question answered

If we would know God as He is, we should neither take our own idea nor adopt the world’s estimates, but see Him as He has revealed Himself in His Word, especially in the Gospel which began to be spoken by His Son, the only Teacher competent to instruct us here.

1. God is One, indeed, who will punish sin, etc. As a Holy God, He hates it; and, as a Just God, He will “by no means clear the guilty,” etc.

2. But, at the same time, He is One who would rather not, and who will not unless He must. Judgment is His strange work, and He “would have all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

3. One, too, so averse to punish that He “spared not His own Son,” etc. Abraham could give no higher proof of his love to God than by his willingness to offer up his son, his only son, Isaac. “God so loved,” etc.

4. One, too, who, in addition to giving His Son, strives with men by His Word, ordinances, Spirit, Providence, to dispose them to accept that Son and find peace and joy in believing.

5. One, again, who has filled His Word with warnings to arouse, invitations to attract, directions to instruct, promises to encourage, etc.

6. One, too, who has thrown the door of hope wide open to all, and imposed no impossible, or even difficult, condition in the case of any.

7. One, in fine, who can say, “What more could I have done for My vineyard that I have not done in it?” One whose plan, provision and proffer of salvation is such that if any fail of its privileges, they can but blame themselves. This is the Lord! Not only our Creator (that itself should summon our service; see Psalms 100:1-5.), nor only our Preserver (living by His bounty, should we not live by His bidding, too?); but also our Redeemer: the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Surely, then, if there be any voice, we should obey, it is His. That voice, further, is the voice of One who knows us; knows our frame, knows what suits us, knows what will contribute to our well-being. His commands are so far from being arbitrary that in the very keeping of them there is great reward; and, following the course they indicate, we shall ever have growing reason to say, “The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places”; while, on the other hand, all experience, as well as revelation, declares, “the way of transgressors is hard.” The sinner flies from God’s voice, thinking it a voice of anger; whereas, did he but stop and listen, he would “wonder at the gracious words that proceed out of His mouth.” Only let us “acquaint ourselves with Him, and we shall be at peace, and good shall thereby come to us.” But if we follow after lying vanities, we forsake our own mercies. (David Jamison, B. A.)


1. Proud imperious spirits are hasty to reply roughly upon God’s messengers.

2. Idolaters are apt to despise God in the true revelation of Him.

3. Hardened souls vent their contempt upon God Himself more than on His Church.

4. Contempt of Jehovah suffers not men to hear His voice.

5. Disobedience to God ushers in oppression to His people.

6. Scorners of God can never come to the right knowledge of God or acknowledgment of Him.

7. Wicked wretches glory in the contempt of knowing God.

8. Denial of knowing God denieth all good commanded for His people. (G. Hughes, B. D.)

God entitled to an obedience

We ought to obey God, because He is the benevolent Creator of the universe.

We are bound to obey God, because He is the constant preserver of the creatures of His power.

We are under yet greater obligations to obey God, because He is the perfect Governor of the universe.

We are obligated in the highest degree to obey God, because He is the Merciful Redeemer of sinners. (C. Coffin, D. D.)

God’s claim on our obedience

Some particulars relative to God’s voice.

1. The persons to whom He speaks--Mankind.

(1) His favourite creatures.

(2) Ignorant creatures.

(3) Improvable creatures.

2. The means by which He speaks.

(1) His works.

(a) Of creation.

(b) Of providence.

(2) His Word.

3. What He says to us. He speaks to us variously, according to our various states, as sinful, submissive, and reclaimed creatures. As sinful creatures, who transgress His laws, He speaks to us in the language of reproof; charging us with rebellion (Isaiah 1:1-2); and ingratitude (Deuteronomy 32:6); and in the language of warning; showing us that we are rejected by Him (Proverbs 15:8; Proverbs 15:26); under His curse (Galatians 3:10); and under the sentence of eternal death (Ezekiel 18:20; Romans 6:21). As submissive creatures, who desire to obey Him, He speaks to us in the language of kind authority (Isaiah 55:6-7; Matthew 11:28-29); of encouragement (Isaiah 1:16-18); and of caution against delay. (Psalms 95:7-8). As reclaimed creatures, restored to His favour and service, He speaks in the language of instruction (Micah 6:8; Titus 2:12); and in the language of consolation, (Isaiah 40:1; Psalms 84:11).

4. With what design He speaks. This is to engage our obedience. His works teach us to glorify Him as God (Romans 1:21). His Word requires practical piety as man’s indispensable duty (1 Samuel 15:22; Matthew 7:21; James 1:22; James 1:25). The obedience thus required must be prompt, without delay (Job 22:21). Universal, without defect (Psalms 119:6). Persevering, without intermission (Romans 2:7); and humble, without arrogance. It must be humbly ascribed to Divine grace (Isaiah 26:12); humbly presented through Christ for acceptance (1 Peter 2:5); and humbly as unprofitable at best (Luke 17:10). Such being the obedience which God requires, let us consider--

His claims on our obedience to His voice. These will appear by answering the inquiry here instituted--“Who is the Lord?” etc.

1. He is our indisputable Proprietor.

2. He is our acknowledged Sovereign.

3. He is our best Friend, and kindest Benefactor.

4. He is the Disposer of our eternal destiny.

(1) Omniscient.

(2) Just.

(3) Powerful. (Sketches of Sermons.)

Pharaoh’s impious interrogation

God has spoken to mankind.

Why and how you should hear.

1. Why.

(1) Because of His right in and over you.

(2) Because of His condescension to you.

(3) Because of the design of His speaking--your present and eternal welfare.

2. How. With awe, sacred attentions, holy anxiety.

The impiety and folly of refusing to hear the voice of God.

1. It is a flagrant contempt of God.

2. It is open rebellion against authority.

3. It must be eventually ruinous to the sinner. (J. Burns, D. D.)

Scorners of God

1. They hear not His voice.

2. They perceive not His revelations.

3. They recognize not His claims.

4. They insult His servants.

5. They enslave His people.

6. They are obstinate in their denials. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Pharaoh fighting against God

A certain king used to wander about in disguise. Once he fell into a quarrel, and was getting rather roughly handled. But as soon as his assailant knew that he was pummeling the king, he dropped on his knees, asking for mercy. It is a good thing to know against whom we are fighting. Pharaoh did not realize that. When Job came to see that he was fighting against God, he said, “Behold, I am vile . . . I will lay mine hand upon mine mouth.”

“I know not the Lord”-agnosticism of the heart and will

A kind of agnosticism more prevalent than agnosticism of a scientific kind. There is an agnosticism of the heart; there is an agnosticism of the will. Men reason foolishly about this not knowing. Men imagine that because they know not the Lord, the Lord knows not them. There is a vital distinction. We do not extinguish the sun by closing our eyes. If men will not inquire for God in a spirit worthy of such an inquiry, they can never know God. Pharaoh’s no-knowledge was avowed in a tone of defiance. It was not an intellectual ignorance, but a spirit of moral denial. Pharaoh practically made himself god by denying the true God. This is the natural result of all atheism. Atheism cannot be a mere negative; if it pretend to intelligence it must, in some degree, involve the Godhead of the being who presumes to deny God; the greatest difficulty is with people who know the Lord, and do not obey Him. If they who professedly know the Lord, would carry out His will in daily obedience and sacrifice of the heart, their lives would constitute the most powerful of all arguments. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Dangerous ignorance

He says he does not know Jehovah; he does not recognize His authority or admit His claims. His soul is full of practical unbelief in God--a fact which commonly lies at the bottom of all the hardening of sinners’ hearts in every age. Pharaoh did not at first contemplate crossing swords and measuring strong arms with the Almighty God. If he had taken this view of the case he might have paused a while to consider. So it usually is with sinners. Unbelief in God conduces to launch them upon this terrible conflict. Once committed, they become more hardened; one sin leads on to more sinning till sin becomes incurable--shall we say it?--an uncontrollable madness. (H. Cowles, D. D.)

“Who is the Lord?”

This is--

1. The language of independence. “Who is the Lord?” I am the lord of Egypt, etc.

2. Of decided opposition; a setting up of his will against that of Jehovah; “Who is the Lord that I should obey Him?”

3. Of contemptuous rejection of Divine authority. He says, “Let My people go”; but I say, I will not.

4. Of insolent defiance, braving all terrors. Are we not struck with horror at the impiety of Pharaoh’s answer to the message of Jehovah?

But what, if in this congregation, there be a man or woman in whose heart the same principle of rebellion reigns!

1. I address myself first to the young--“My son, give Me thine heart.” Now what is the answer of many? is your heart either divided, or altogether devoted to worldly,pursuits and gratifications? if so then the principle, if not the words of Pharaoh is yours.

2. I would address those who are more advanced in life. Ye men of business, I have a message to you. Let me ask you if, on account of worldly gain, you do not sometimes violate your conscience? Then is not your language, “Who is the Lord”? I must mind my business first, I know not the Lord, neither will I let my gains go. (George Breay, B. A.)

Pharaoh’s ignorance self-imposed

We may think that this would be of course the language of a heathen king, of one who was not in the covenant. The Scripture does not teach us so. We are told that the Lord spoke to Laban and to Abimelech, and that they understood His voice. When Joseph told Pharaoh who was reigning in his day, that the Lord had sent him his dream, and had interpreted it, he believed the message and acted accordingly. It is never assumed in any part of Scripture that God is not declaring Himself to heathens, or that heathens may not own Him. We shall find precisely the opposite doctrine in the Old Testament as in the New. When then this Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice?” we are to understand that he had brought himself into a condition of ignorance and darkness, which did not belong to him in consequence of his position, or of any natural disadvantages. He had come to regard himself as the Lord, his will as the will which all things were to obey; therefore he said inevitably, “Who is the Lord? ‘ He had lost the sense of a righteous government and order in the world; he had come to believe in tricks and lies; he had come to think men were the mere creatures and slaves of natural agencies. Had God no voice for such a man, or for the priests and the people whom he represented, and whose feelings were the counterparts of his? We shall find that He had. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)

Verse 3

Exodus 5:3

Let us go, we pray thee, three days’ Journey.


1. God’s ambassadors must not forsake His message, upon man’s denial.

2. Further arguments must press God’s message, when the proposal is not enough.

3. The God of the Hebrews must be owned by them, though despised by Pharaoh.

4. Relation unto God, and call from Him necessitates souls to follow His commands.

5. Although God command powers, yet it beseemeth His people to entreat them.

6. To go at God’s call, and serve Him only after His will must be insisted on by His.

7. Small desires of the Church for God, leave powers on earth inexusable in denying.

8. To sacrifice to God and to feast with Him are synonymous.

9. Entreaties from powers to serve God for averting His judgments is reasonable.

10. Pestilence and sword are God’s judgments exacting the neglect of His service.

11. These plagues are incident on all that neglect God, but much more on them that forbid others to serve Him.

12. The fear of these judgments should awe souls from slighting His message to them. (G. Hughes, B. D.)

It is right to recognize the danger of disobedience to God

“Let us go . . . lest He fall upon us with pestilence, or with the sword.” It is right to have in mind the fact that God will punish us if we refuse to do as He tells us to. It may answer for other people to talk about needing no other motive to well doing than love; but you and I are not always influenced by love alone. If we knew to-day that we could do wrong with entire impunity--do a little wrong, I mean, a pet wrong, a wrong that no one would know anything about, and that wouldn’t seem to harm anybody very much any way--could do it without any suffering or any punishment; do you think we should be just as strong for the right as now, while we know that the disclosure and the punishment of sin is sure? Well, even if you and I think so, God doesn’t take that view of it. God threatens as well as entreats. He holds up the danger of punishment for sin, as welt as the rewards of loving and serving Him trustfully; and God doesn’t make any mistake in so doing. (S. S. Times.)

Verse 4

Exodus 5:4

Get you unto your burdens.

Wrong judgment

Good men are often wrongly judged:--

1. In respect to their motives.

2. Actions.

3. Writings. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The claims of religion

You will observe that God gave a command, and Pharaoh refused either to obey the command, or to pay anything like respect unto it,

Let us consider what it is that God requires. In the case of Israel we see that He requires what I may sum up in three particulars.

1. He requires that they should acknowledge Him publicly as their God; that is the first principle. “Let My people go, that they may hold,” etc.

2. He requires of Israel that there should be a marked acceptance of His way of reconciliation. “Let us go and sacrifice unto the Lord our God.” From the very first when man sinned, there was God’s revealed way by which the sinner must come near to Him; and, therefore, the feast that was to be held unto Jehovah, was a feast that was to be founded upon sacrifice.

3. God requires that everything else should give way and yield to the discharge of these required duties. They were to go at once to Pharaoh, and ask his permission to go and obey God’s commands, and to sacrifice unto Him as their Lord. They were not to be withheld from doing this by their knowledge of Pharaoh’s tyrannical disposition. They were not to be withheld by the remembrance of their worldly duties, or of the hardships and the toils connected with these duties. Now is there anything peculiar to Israel and to God’s requirements of Israel in all this? Do we not see, underlying this narrative, a principle which is universally applicable to all those to whom God’s message comes? What doth the Lord require of us, to whom the word of this salvation is sent? Does He not demand of us acknowledgment, acceptance of His salvation, and immediate decision?

But now what does man think of the requirements of God? Let us answer this question by referring to the case of Pharaoh. Pharaoh said, “Ye be idle; therefore ye say, let us go and do sacrifice to the Lord. Therefore now go and work.” And then again, “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.” And again, “Let more work be laid upon the men, that they may labour therein, and let them not regard vain words.” What is the meaning of this language? May I not render it truly, but simply, when I say that in Pharaoh’s mind there was an opinion that there was no need of so much religion? “Let them go and work”; there was no need of going to sacrifice to the Lord their God. And then when he heard God’s threatenings to those who neglected His commands, how did Pharaoh feel then? He maintains that there is no danger in neglecting the supposed commands of God in this matter. He thinks them vain words, all about God’s threatenings to those who do not acknowledge Him, and who do not accept His terms of reconciliation. “All these are vain words, pay no attention to them, go and work.” That was Pharaoh’s way of thinking. And then, further, he thought that there was no sincerity in those who professed to want to worship God. “Ye are idle; therefore ye cry, Let us go and sacrifice. You do not mean to go and sacrifice; you do not want to go and sacrifice; it is your idleness, your hypocrisy.” So that you will observe Pharaoh thought thus of God’s requirements; first, that there was no need of them; secondly, that there was no danger in neglecting them; and thirdly, that those who professed did not intend to worship, they did not mean what they said. Now is Pharaoh at all singular in the ideas which are thus attributed to him? Is it not still the case that an unconverted man acts in the same way as Pharaoh acted? And then when Pharaoh is reminded of the awful language in which God speaks to those who neglect His requirements, and His judgments against those who know not the Lord, and who obey not the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, what does Pharaoh, and what do unconverted men now say, but that in their opinion all these are vain words? Pharaoh thought they were vain words; and so do men now. (W. Cadman, M. A.)

Egyptian bondage in the metropolis

Now, dark as this picture is, I do not hesitate to say that it is faithfully reproduced at the present time. You may see the same thing any day in this metropolis. The bondsmen, whose lives are now made bitter with hard bondage, are the artizans who make the garments you now have on; the men, the women, the children, who minister to your fashions and your luxuries; the shopmen and shopwomen who wait on your convenience, the industrial classes in general, by whose toil this country is rich and luxurious, who are forced to spend the marrow of their strength, and make their lives short and bitter, in providing superfluities for others. The Pharaoh at whose bidding all this is done is the spirit of commerce, that lust of filthy lucre, that morbid and unbridled zeal of competition, which reigns supreme over so large a portion of the world of business.

Let us therefore inquire whether any remedy can be applied to these great and sore evils? Can we individually or collectively do anything towards delivering our brethren from these oppressions and wrongs? Now, it appears to me that there is but one perfect and thorough remedy, and that is the dethronement of the Pharaoh who tyrannizes so cruelly over his subjects; I mean the overthrow of that vicious commercial spirit which has enslaved the great mass of the public. If this were done, if every one traded in a fair and legitimate manner, if every one dealt by others as he would wish to be dealt by himself, if no one entered into the arena of dishonest and ruinous competition, if every employer were as determined to give fair wages to his workpeople, as to secure a fair profit to himself; if these principles were universal, then oppressions would cease in our midst, and our courts and alleys would be the abodes of happiness. But this is not to be yet. The evil and the good will be mingled together until the harvest, which is the end of the world. We can only hope at present for improvements and palliatives. Now--

1. With respect to shopkeepers, much evil might be remedied if all the members of each several trade would meet together and bind themselves by a mutual covenant not to keep their shops open beyond a certain reasonable hour.

2. To shop-assistants and operatives, I would suggest that the members of each trade or establishment might with great ]propriety express their opinions on the subject in a manly and temperate spirit to their employers.

3. And now to the large class of persons who are ordinary purchasers--the public in general--I would say, it is in supplying your wants or conveniences, that all this competition, and oppression, and cruelty is engendered. Much good might be effected by a determination on the part of purchasers never to buy after a certain reasonable hour.

The restricting of the hours of labour. Within just and reasonable limits would be the cause of immense benefit not only to the labouring man, but to all classes. I believe that the employers would be gainers even in a money point of view by the improvements now advocated. The men would work with more spirit and energy, because they would feel that they were men, because they would be in a much higher physical condition than when they were overtasked; they would labour with more cheerfulness and good will; the work would be done more skilfully, because with more sustained attention. There would be less drunkenness amongst the men, because in the intervals of labour they would feel less exhausted and have less craving for stimulus. Then, again, the public would be gainers. They would be better served; articles of commerce would not be cheaper possibly, but they would be better in quality, and therefore really cheaper in the end. Moreover, the country would be a gainer, by having a strong, energetic, and numerous race of labouring men, in the stead of thy present pale, jaded, and dyspeptic race. Lastly, the Church of Christ would gain many members. There is scarcely any greater hindrance to the progress of religion amongst our industrial classes than this Egyptian system of overtasking the strength. How can that man give due attention to his religious duties on Sunday who is exhausted and prostrate by a week of excessive toil? (J. Tagg, M. A.)

Folly of unwise exaction

The llama, or guanaco (Auchenia llama), is found among the recesses of the Andes. In the silver mines his utility is very great, as he frequently carries the metal from the mines in places where the declivities are so steep that neither asses nor mules can keep their footing. The burden carried by this useful animal, the camel of the New World, should not exceed from one hundred to one hundred and twenty-five pounds. If the load be too heavy he lies down, and no force or persuasion will induce him to resume his journey until the excess be removed. Thus he teaches us the uuwisdom of endeavouring to exact too much from those who are willing to serve us well. (Scientific Illustrations.)

Pharaoh’s complaint

That complaint has been made by a good many interested employers since the days of Pharaoh. “How these evangelists do hinder trade”! “What a clog on business this revival is!” “How much money these missionary causes do divert from the shopkeepers!” “This Sunday-go-to-meeting notion takes the profits off of the menagerie; or of the agricultural fair!” “These thanksgivings and fast-days interfere wretchedly with steady work!” “Why can’t things go on regular, week in and week out, without any bother about religion?” This is the way the Pharaoh class looks at attention to God’s service. But is it the right way? (S. S. Times.)

Verses 7-12

Exodus 5:7-12

Ye shall no more give the people straw.

Requiring the impossible

That there are some people in society who strive to make those under them do the impossible. Pharaoh tried to make the Israelites do the impossible, when he commanded them to make bricks without providing them with straw. This demand of tyranny is heard to-day, in our large factories, and amongst our agricultural population.

1. All require men to do the impossible who wish them to work beyond their capabilities.

(1) Physical strength.

(2) Intellectual ability.

(3) Moral energy.

2. All require men to do the impossible who wish them to work beyond their opportunity. Every man must have time, and a proper time to do his work. He must not be expected to do two things at once.

3. Contemplate the method employed to get men to do the impossible. These methods are various. Some will condescend to flattery and cant to get men to do that for which they are wholly unadapted. Others will use force and persecution.

(1) They set taskmasters over us. To watch our conduct. To inspect our work. To augment our burden. To darken our sorrow.

(2) They abuse us. They say we are idle, and that even after we have made the best attempt within our power to fall in with their unjust demands.

(3) They mock our religious sentiment. “Therefore, ye say, let us go and do sacrifice unto the Lord. They impeach our religious motives. These, then, are the ways and methods in which we are treated, when tyrants endeavour to compel us to do the impossible.

(4) Some people will attempt to accomplish the impossible. It will involve you in utter failure and distress at last, when you will get no sympathy from those who urged you to it.

That the people who strive to make those under them do the impossible are throwing society into an attitude of pain and complaint. “Then the officers of the Children of Israel came and cried unto Pharaoh, saying, wherefore dealest thou thus with thy servants.”

1. The requirement of the impossible tends to throw society into an attitude of pain. National happiness is to a very large extent the outcome of a free and sympathetic employment of the working classes.

2. The requirement of the impossible tends to throw society into an attitude of complaint.

That the people who strive to make those under them do the impossible, and who throw society into an attitude of pain are but little affected by the woe they occasion, and generally resent any mention of it to them. “Go therefore now, and work; for there shall no straw be given you, yet shall ye deliver the tale of bricks.”

1. Notwithstanding the outcry of the oppressed, the tyrant demands renewed work. “Go therefore now, and work.”

2. Notwithstanding the outcry of the oppressed, the tyrant adheres to his cruel measures. “There shall no straw be given you.”

3. Notwithstanding the outcry of the oppressed, the tyrant mocks their woe, and treats them with contempt.


1. Never require the impossible.

2. Never attempt the impossible.

3. Adapt methods to ends.

4. Cultivate kindly dispositions toward your employers. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Lacking the essential

Writing on the treatment of his brother, General A. S. Johnston, Mr. W. P. Johnston says: “His command was imperial in extent, and his powers and discretion as large as the theory of the Confederate Government permitted. He lacked nothing except men, munitions of war, and the means of obtaining them! He had the right to ask for anything, and the State executives had the power to withhold everything.” (H. O. Mackey.)

Strawless bricks

An illustration of the painful aggravations of the lot of the toilers of every age.

An illustration of the unsatisfactory efforts of men seeking for happiness apart from religion.

An illustration of the powerlessness of all religious systems not possessed of a living Christ.

An illustration of futile endeavours to attain Christian peace without exercising living faith. (F. Hastings.)

The world and Satan opposed to the Christian’s spiritual progress

“If thou come to serve the Lord,” saith the wisdom of the Son of Sirach, “prepare thy soul for temptation.” Have you listened to the gracious pleading of the Spirit of God, in sincere anxiety for a complete and eternal deliverance? You will meet with hindrances, one of the first will arise from those who make a mock at sin, who deride the privileges and duties of pure and undefiled religion.

The prejudices of the careless and worldly against sincere and vital godliness.

1. It is regarded as the dream and vision of a heated and enthusiastic imagination.

2. It is regarded as inconsistent with a proper attention to the duties of active life.

Another temptation which satan employs to oppose an entire devotion of the heart to God, is by exaggerating the importance of worldly pursuits. “Let there be more work laid upon the men.” What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, if he shall lose his own soul? A double caution may be deduced:

1. To those who would hinder the spiritual freedom of others whom they may control or influence; as Pharaoh would have impeded the political deliverance of Israel. You may settle from Scripture and prayer whether the resolutions and desires you oppose arise from the inspiration of God, or the imagination of men. Woe to him that striveth with his Maker.

2. You who are thus hindered, remember that Scripture addresses you with a cautionary voice Be not slothful in business. (J. R. Buddicom.)

The burdens increased

Note that--

Benefactors may expect misrepresentation. Moses was censured; Christ rejected by His own. The enemy will slander. Our hope is in working only for God.

Sin asks to be let alone. Pharaoh blamed Moses; Ahab blamed Elijah; the Jews blamed the disciples.

Sin becomes more terrible with age. Pharaoh grew more exacting, and the people weaker; he answers prayers with falsehoods and insults. Sin toys with youth, but scourges manhood.

All appeal must be made to God. Moses turned to God; he did not censure the elders.

It is darkest just before day. Sin grows worse till it breaks down. It threatens in order to drown conscience. (Dr. Fowler.)

Sin more tyrannical when men would escape from it

When Moses demanded from Pharaoh the liberation of the Hebrews, the tyrant increased their burdens; and in like manner, when the soul rises to expel evil from its domain, it then for the first time discovers the full bitterness of its bondage. Its earliest impulse thereon is to blame the truth which awakened it to a sense of its degradation, for causing the misery which it only revealed. The preacher is accounted cruel when he has been only faithful; and his hearer accuses him of personal malice when he has been only holding up a mirror wherein the angry one caught a glimpse of himself. But all these are hopeful signs. They are, indeed, when rightly regarded and fostered, the prophecies of a coming conversion. The docile slave, who is contented with his condition, is petted and made much of by his master; but if he tries to run away, he is immediately put into fetters. So, when we are roused to battle with sin, it is then that, most of all, we feel its power. Satan does his worst on the soul just as he is about to be expelled from its possession. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Means necessary to work

That man cannot accomplish work without means. A man cannot write a book without intellect, or build a church without money, or save souls without intimate communion with God. Folly to make the attempt.

That one man has often the power to intercept the means by which another man works.

that when men are robbed of their means of work, they are thrown into great straits.

Any man who intercepts the wore. Of another takes a fearful responsibility upon himself. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The Church cast upon her own resources

That the church is often cast upon her own resources. Times of dark depression.

That when human aid is thus withdrawn, men expect from the church the same amount of work that she accomplished before.

That when the church does not accomplish her work is fully and speedily under these difficult circumstances, she is persecuted and slandered by the world. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The discipline of failure

The intervention of Moses in behalf of his people was not, at first, attended with happy results. The people themselves were abject and spiritless, and Pharaoh was stubborn and unyielding. The condition of the Hebrews grew worse instead of better. And yet, it was but passing through a stage as helpful to its ultimate success as any other. Great enterprises are wont to encounter such cheeks in their initial stages. The worm that is to be a butterfly must go into the condition of a chrysalis, and lie motionless, and seemingly dead. The seed that is to be a plant must “fall into the ground and die.” Men want the rapid, the grand, and noticeable; and the “kingdom of heaven cometh not with observation.” Men desire deliverance, but they do not like the process of deliverance. Yet such checks are tests of character, trials of men’s faith and earnestness. Moses did not despair of a cause because it had met with a reverse. He believed that the cause was God’s. He believed in himself as God’s instrument to make it victorious. Now I have said that this sort of discipline is common; and doubtless it is needful and salutary. A defeat at the outset, duly used, is the security of an augmented success. Yet, at no age is the trial that is ever repeating itself, though it be with diminished force, an unprofitable subject of contemplation--the trial of an over-sanguine expectation followed by painful and disheartening failure. Such an one, starting with a full, strong confidence in his own sincerity and earnestness, looks for large and speedy results. “The strong man armed keepeth his house, and his goods are in safety.” He looks at him over the ramparts with placid contempt. And now comes the hour of despondency. His ministry is a failure. He is nothing; he can do nothing. Men will not heed his message. “The trial of your faith is more precious than of gold that perisheth.” Try it again. “Thou shalt see greater things than these.” “God will help thee, and that right early.” “And thou shalt come again with joy, and bring thy sheaves with thee.” (R. A. Hallam, D. D.)

Verses 15-16

Exodus 5:15-16

Wherefore dealest thou thus.


1. Oppressed souls cannot but complain of cruel and unjust smitings; blows make cries.

2. Addresses for relief are fittest from the afflicted to the highest power oppressing.

3. Access and cries and sad speeches are forced from oppressed to oppressors.

4. The execution by instruments is justly charged upon their lords.

5. True servants may justly expostulate about hard dealings from their rulers.

6. Unreasonable exactions will force afflicted ones to expostulate with powers oppressing them (Exodus 5:15).

7. To give no straw and to command bricks is a most unreasonable exaction.

8. To punish innocent servants when others sin is a most unjust oppression.

9. Such sad dealings make God’s servants sometimes to complain to earthly powers (Exodus 5:16). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Reasons required for moral conduct

There are times when men are required to give reasons for their method of moral conduct. Public opinion often calls a man to its tribunal. Sometimes men are the questioners. Sometimes God is the Questioner.

It is highly important that every man should be able to allege heavenly principles and motives as the basis of his conduct. Love to God and man is the only true and loyal principle and motive of human action, and only will sustain the scrutiny of infinite rectitude.

That a man who can allege heavenly principles as the basis of his conduct will be safe at any tribunal to which he may be called.

1. He will be safe at the tribunal of his own conscience.

2. He will be safe at the tribunal of God’s Book.

3. He will be safe at the tribunal of public opinion.

4. He will be safe at the final tribunal of the universe. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The expostulations of the slave

They expostulate that the means necessary to the accomplishment of their daily work were withheld. “There is no straw given to thy servants.”

They expostulate that they were brutally treated. “Thy servants are beaten.”

They expostulate that they were not morally culpable in their neglect of work. “The fault is in thine own people.” (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The tyrant

1. Unreasonable in his demands.

2. Cruel in his resentment.

3. Mistaken in his judgment of guilt. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The true object of blame

Gotthold had a little dog, which, when placed before a mirror, became instantly enraged, and barked at its own linage. He remarked on the occasion: In general, a mirror serves as an excitement to self-love, whereas it stimulates this dog to anger against itself. The animal cannot conceive that the figure it sees is only its own reflection, but fancies that it is a strange dog, and therefore will not suffer it to approach its master. This may remind us of an infirmity of our depraved hearts. We often complain of others, and take offence at the things they do against us, without reflecting that, for the most part, the blame lies with ourselves.

Verses 20-21

Exodus 5:20-21

Ye have made our savour to be abhorred.


1. Sense of evil from tyrants may make the oppressed fall foul with their best friends.

2. Providence orders His servants sometimes to meet with friends after sad usage by oppressors.

3. Ministers of salvation wait to meet God’s afflicted, when they looked not after them.

4. Instruments of deliverance may desire a good egress of the oppressed from tyrants, and not find it (Exodus 5:20).

5. Sense overcharged with oppression may make men reproach God and curse His ministers.

6. Unbelieving souls are ready to set God against His own word, and instruments sent by Him.

7. Hasty unbelievers under cross providences are ready to charge the cause upon God’s ministers.

8. It is the lot of God’s instruments of life, to be charged to be causes of death, by foolish souls.

9. Such unreasonable charges are recorded to the shame of such brutish creatures (Exodus 5:21). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Ministers blamed

There was no other to lay the blame upon; and so they charge their trouble upon Moses and Aaron. “If you had not come we should have plodded along in our bondage, bearing it as best we could; but you came and raised our hopes, not only to dash them down, but to make our already hard lot more bitter and unbearable.” They were angry, apparently not with Pharaoh, but with God’s ministers. I have heard it said, that most sinners who have been aroused out of the sleep and death of sin “wake up mad.” Indeed, I am quite sure that this is often the case. I remember the case of a man who came to me at one of our meetings in America. He was in the greatest distress of mind, fairly frantic with the conviction of sin, and with the terror of conscience working mightily under the law. At the same time he was bitterly angry with Mr. Moody, who had preceded me in those meetings, and also with me. With a terrible oath he said: “I wish to God you and Moody had never come to this city, and begun these--Gospel meetings. Before you came and began to preach I had no trouble. I used to go to church regularly on Sunday morning; but I was not troubled about my sins. What a fool I was ever to come into this rink! I have had no peace day or night since I first heard Moody preach. And you have been making it worse. You talk of peace and joy; but you have turned my soul into a perfect hell. I cannot stay away from the meetings; and to come to them only makes me worse. You promise salvation; and I only find torment. I wish to God you would clear out and leave the city; and then perhaps I could get back my old peace. If this is religion, I am sure I do not want any of it.” And thus he raved and tore about like a madman. The devil was giving him a great tearing; and he could not distinguish between what the devil and his sin were doing in him, and the grace that was even then loosing him. Let us not be discouraged or surprised if the first effect of our preaching, or labour with souls, seems to make matters worse. “I am a lost soul,” cried George Whitefield’s brother, one day, while sitting at table with Lady Huntingdon, his brother, and some other earnest Christians who were talking of the things of the Kingdom. “Thank God for that,” cried Lady Huntingdon; “for now I am sure the Lord has begun a good work in you.” Conviction of sin, and the struggle of the old man to get out of the grip of God’s law, are not pleasant experiences; but they precede conversion. (G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)

Verses 22-23

Exodus 5:22-23

Why is it that Thou hast sent me?

The sorrows of Christian service

There is a tone of unspeakable sadness in this complaint of Moses. He had been crossed in his aims, his Divinely-inspired hopes had received an unexpected reverse, and all his plans for liberating Israel lay in ruins. It was a bitter moment, and every one who knows anything of the vicissitudes of Christian work will be able to enter into his feelings on this occasion. There come times to every earnest labourer in God’s service, when his efforts seem fruitless, and he gets downcast. There are so many unforeseen contingencies to interrupt our work, that it is beyond our power to provide against them. This portion of the Great Law-giver’s history will picture to us the sorrows of Christian service arising from--

opposition. It may seem strange that any opposition at all should have to be encountered in the prosecution of God’s work; yet it has been so in every age, especially when its success affected any of the worldly interests that men hold dear. The reformer, the patriot, the philanthropist, the man who strives to battle with injustice, and to leave the world better than he found it, may always lay their account for opposition. Such is human nature, that it may be taken for granted that those whose vested interests arc to be touched will resist change. Pharaoh may, in this respect, be taken as a type of the enemies of philanthropic and Christian work. As Moses and Aaron had to contend with the selfishness of the Egyptian king, so, when our popular leaders have sought the emancipation and elevation of their fellow-men, their efforts have been thwarted by the cupidity of some time-serving official, or the prejudice of some petty aristocrat. Luther had arrayed against him all the forces of Charles V. as well as the emissaries of the Pope. Calvin had to remonstrate with the king of France in favour of religious liberty for his oppressed subjects. Savonarola manfully resisted the tyranny of the Medicean rule in Florence, and paid the penalty with his life. William of Orange contended successfully for the liberation of the Netherlands from the Pharaoh of Papal domination. Instances without number might be adduced from history illustrative of the opposition encountered in the long struggle for human rights. There was a high-handed Pharaoh ever ready to step in and say, This is not for the good of the people, and I will not let it be done. Nor need we be at all surprised at this, when we reflect that One greater than all the philanthropists, reformers, and martyrs, had to endure the contradiction of men in the discharge of the noblest mission the world has ever known. The Lord Jesus came to proclaim principles which, if acted out, would put an end to injustice and oppression. He was opposed on every hand, and so will it be with all who follow in His steps. If you oppose the evil of the world, the world will oppose you. If you resist oppression, the oppressor will resist you. Moses, from the moment he struck at Pharaoh, had trouble to his dying day, but he emancipated a nation and left an undying name. Let no opposition, then, deter you from the right.

Misrepresentation. This additional sorrow was experienced by Moses when the King of Egypt met his demand for the release of Israel by insinuating that his action was prompted by selfish ambition. “Why do ye, Moses and Aaron, let (or hinder) the people from their work?” As if he had said, The people are content, if you would only let them alone. You are stirring up this agitation for your own interest. Indolence lies at the bottom of the movement. “Ye are idle, ye are idle.” From this absurd charge it is obvious in what light Pharaoh regarded the whole question. He looked at it from the side of self-interest. He was not accustomed to look at the moral side of things. He judged every one by his own low moral standard. Now, in all this, have we not a picture of what is going on every day round about us? Some noble soul, stung at the sight of oppression and injustice, raises his voice in protest from no other motive than to see justice done. The oppressor, smarting under the rebuke, cries out in impotent rage, What have you got to do with it? Why do you hinder the people from their work? You are agitating for some selfish purpose. “Ye are idle, ye are idle.” You are interfering. Attend to your own affairs. Such is the style of argument which the philanthropist and Christian worker have oftentimes to face. They have to appeal to men destitute of religious feeling, who recognize no interest higher than their pocket. There own motives are of the earth earthy, and they judge others accordingly. One regrets that there is need for this style of remark, but the spirit here condemned is still prevalent among us. I have known a devoted evangelist well-nigh crushed in spirit on having the taunt flung in his face, that he was engaging in Christian work for a living. Such insinuations are a sore annoyance to the sensitive labourer, and well if he can bear them for conscience sake.

Ingratitude. Another discouragement which the Christian worker has often to face, arises from the ingratitude of those whom he seeks to serve. One would have thought they would have enthusiastically hailed him as their deliverer; but, instead of that, they flung back his efforts into his face, and ungratefully taunted him with making their condition more bitter than it had been. They said, Ye have put a sword into Pharaoh’s hands to slay us. But how true is all this of Christian work still. The effort to break away from old surroundings originates new pains, and the blame of the new pains is apt to be laid at the door of the man who suggested the change. It is impossible to break off from a long-established evil custom or practice without a painful wrench. It is impossible to deliver a sinner from the consequences of his sins without making disagreeable revelations to him of the wickedness of his heart, which often increases his pains a thousand-fold. The attempt to make things better has often the tendency to make them worse for the time being. And this is a great source of discouragement to the worker. It may cost the drunkard many a pang to throw aside his cups; but he must not reproach the man who led him to see the evils of intemperance. A physician is not cruel because he probes a wound deeply and pains the patient; and he would be an ungrateful patient who would reproach the physician for an operation, however painful, which saved his life. The man who aims at permanent good need not therefore be surprised if he incurs temporary reproach. In the early days of Christianity, the apostles were called men who turned the world upside down.

Failure. This is another experience for which the Christian worker has to lay his account; and it would be the saddest of all if the failure was final. But it is not final, it is temporary, and only apparent. What we call failure may arise from our--

1. Impatience to see results. From the very nature of the work, results do not readily manifest themselves. In manual labour we see the results of our exertions, and can measure our progress from time to time. Take the building of a house. The mason sees the edifice gradually rising before his eyes, and can calculate more or less exactly the time when it will be finished. But in Christian work it is altogether different. You cannot measure results. You have different kind of material to deal with, material that does not readily lend itself to a physical test. You cannot apply the moral test as you can the physical. It is true you may see fruits in changed lives and improved morals, the redress of grievances and the establishment of purer laws; but all that takes time, and the man who laid the foundation of the improvement seldom sees its completion. Now, it is this which makes us so impatient, that we are apt to misunderstand the slowness of the progress. We do not see the improvement we expected, and we draw a wrong conclusion and call it failure.

2. Inability to interpret God’s method of working. In Christian work we have not only to lament our lack of results, but in many cases present appearances are positively against us. This, too, gives our services the impression of failure. Had Moses been able to interpret the meaning of events, he would have seen that the increased burdens were the first indication of success, for if Pharaoh had not dreaded that his power was drawing to an end, he would not have demanded more work. It is not easy to acquiesce when things are going against us. Few indeed can look below the surface and read events aright, and this lack of discernment accounts for many of the fancied difficulties of Christian service. (D. Merson, M. A.)

Christian workers: their difficulties and discouragements

That Christian workers have frequently to contend with the obstinacy and ridicule of men in high positions. We imagine that ridicule is almost the severest trial the Christian worker has to endure. Thus we see that it is not the Divine plan to shield men from the ridicule and insult incurred by their effort of moral service, but rather to give grace that they may endure as serving Him who is invisible.

That Christian workers have frequently to contend with the discouragement of a first defeat, and apparent failure. Never be disheartened by apparent failure, it may be but the shutting of a door, which will open wide upon your next approach.

That Christian workers have frequently to contend with the misapprehension of those whom they seek to benefit.

That Christian workers have frequently to contend with their own misconception of the Divine method of working, and their inability to rightly interpret the meaning of events in relation thereto. Lessons:

1. Not to be discouraged by apparent failures in Christian service.

2. Not to yield to the scorn of the mighty in our attempt to improve the moral condition of men.

3. To interpret the reproach of the slave in the light of his augmented slavery, and not to be dismayed by it.

4. To prayerfully study daily events so as to find God’s purposes of freedom developing themselves therein. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The apparent failure of Christian service

Our surprise that Christian service should be a failure. It is a matter of surprise--

1. Because the workers had been Divinely sent, and prepared for their toil. They had been instructed by vision. They had been enriched by life’s discipline. They had gathered impulse from holy communion with heaven. They were invested with the power to work miracles. They were given the message which they were to deliver unto Pharaoh. We cannot but wonder at this failure.

2. Because the workers had received all the accompaniments necessary to their toil. They did not go a warfare in their own charges. All the resources of heaven went with them.

3. Because the workers had arisen to a moral fortitude needful to the work. Once they were cowardly, and shrank from the mission, but their cowardice had broken unto heroism; their tremor was removed by the promise of God. Hence we should have expected them to have succeeded at once, as a brave soul is never far from victory.

Our sorrow that Christian service should be a failure. It is a matter of sorrow, because--

1. The tyrant is unpunished.

2. The slave is unfreed.

3. The workers are disappointed.

Our hope that the failure of Christian service will not be ultimate.

1. Because the Divine call will be vindicated.

2. Because service for the good of men cannot ultimately fail.


1. Do not be alarmed at the temporary failure of Christian work.

2. The apparent failure of Christian work answers some wise purposes.

3. Those who occasion the temporary failure of Christian work are liable to the retribution of heaven.

4. Let Christian workers hold on to the word and promise of God. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)


1. Unjust incriminations from God’s people may make the ministers of God quail and recede from their duty.

2. God’s faithful instruments though they do retreat of weakness, yet it is unto the Lord.

3. God’s faithful ones under pressures may charge God foolishly for doing evil to His people.

4. In such workings of flesh, the Spirit may humbly expostulate with God by prayer.

5. Sad events in ministering may make God’s servants question their mission.

6. In such questioning, souls may humbly deprecate the frustration of their ministry (Exodus 5:22).

7. The evil doings of men may turn His servants sometimes to expostulate with God.

8. Wicked men will do worse and worse notwithstanding God’s instruments come and speak in His name.

9. Evil instruments may be permitted of God to oppress, and He not at all deliver. (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Perseverance rewarded

I once heard a gentle-man say that he remembered the making of the railway between Manchester and Liverpool, and it was constructed over ground which at first seemed to say that no line could ever be made. The soil was of a soft, peaty character, and it almost appeared as if no line could be constructed. However, they threw in oceans of stuff, of rubbish of all kinds, and gradually their perseverance was rewarded, for the foundation grew firmer and firmer, the line was built, and now you cannot go over a stronger bit of road on any line in the kingdom. And may it not be so in the cause of missions? Do not let us be in a hurry with regard to results. We may seem to be doing little or nothing, and the morass is as deep as ever. Our work may appear to be fruitless, but in reality we are laying the foundation, and driving deep the piles which prepare the basis for urgent and enduring Christian work and a highway for the Gospel.

The challenge of circumstances

All along the history of humanity there are great epochs, where some upward step marks a new era of civilization, such as the invention of the printing press. Yet the environing circumstances did not encourage such inventions. Every adventurer into the realms of the unfamiliar met at once with opposition. It was a square issue with such men whether their inward light or their outward environment was to prevail; and the greater the opposition the firmer their determination. Had Livingstone surrendered to circumstances, he would have remained a factory hand all his life; it was because he defied his surroundings and conquered them that he rose to eminence. It is a doctrine of fatalism that we are what our forefathers, our climate, and other influences have made us. One might say: “How can I be better? I am a child of godless parents, surrounded by thoughtless people, driven by business, wordly minded--such is the atmosphere in which I live.” But such was the atmosphere in which John Lawrence, Governor-General of India, found himself when he first trod the streets of Calcutta. He set his face like a flint against luxury, intrigue, profligacy. He took up the challenge of circumstances. With indomitable will he fought, crushing mutiny to-day and righting an injustice to.morrow, until his patient heroism won him the title of the Saviour of India. (Great Thoughts.)

Human shortsightedness

With every fresh movement of God’s grace in the inner life, fresh difficulties and questions are raised. If we will bring these before the Lord, though it should be with the expression of trembling and grief, yet are they not to be regarded as signs of unbelief, but rather of the struggles and contests of faith; and the Lord is patient toward the doubtings of human shortsightedness. (Otto Von Gerlach, D. D.)

Success and failure

Not unfrequently our first essays at service are encouraging: otherwise we might turn back. But we must be prepared to meet with discouragemeats further along; as we shall see that Moses did. It is hard to tell, upon the whole, which is the most profitable to the Christian worker--success, or failure. No doubt, both are useful; and in such proportion as God adjusts, they are exactly suited to our need. All failure would so discourage us, that we should turn back from the work; whereas if we never had anything but success, we should become proud and self-sufficient. Discouragements are useful in keeping us humbled and low before God, in a spirit of dependence and prayer; while successes inspire and stimulate us in the work, and give us boldness to go forward in new and more difficult enterprises. I recently met Miss Macpherson, who is doing so much for the poor waifs in London; and she told me of her early trials in getting her work started. At first she felt quite equal to it; and so sure was she that others would see it in the same light that she did, that when she went to solicit money from some of the wealthy merchants of London, with which to build her Home, she had no doubt of an immediate response. She was greatly staggered and discouraged when she found that her expected patrons kindly and politely held themselves excused. This discouragement drove her to her knees; and there she found strength in God. Presently the money came to her from other directions, and in answer to her prayers; and was really of more use to her than if she had obtained it in her own way. And now her success in rescuing children, and finding good homes for them in Canada, is so great, that she is all enthusiasm. She affords an admirable example of what a single-handed woman can do who goes down into Egypt to bring up the little ones. (G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)

God’s work not estimated according to apparent results

A missionary in China was greatly depressed by the carelessness of his hearers. One day the words of Isaiah 53:1 came to his mind as sent from above, and they were followed by a dream. He thought he was standing near a rocky boulder, and trying with all his might to break it with a sledge-hammer; but blow after blow had no effect--there was no impression made. At length he heard a voice, which said, “Never mind, go on; I will pay you all the same, whether yon break it or not.” So he went on doing the work that was given him, and was content. (W. Baxendale.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Exodus 5". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/exodus-5.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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