Last week we saw how Moses and Aaron went to the Israelites and told them what the Lord had said he was going to do for them and how he was concerned about them and was going to deliver them from their bondage in Egypt. And Aaron performed the miraculous signs the Lord had given Moses and Aaron to prove that the Lord had indeed sent them. And we read how the people believed; and they bowed down; and they worshipped. And I explained that, when we read these things, we need to place ourselves in the story, because these things are written for us and for our instruction. But instead of identifying ourselves with Moses — who points us to Christ the Redeemer — instead of identifying ourselves with Moses, we’re to identify ourselves with the people.
Just like them, we’re utterly unable to free ourselves from bondage to sin and Satan and death. But just as God was merciful to the Israelites, and sent Moses to deliver them, so he was merciful to us and he sent his Son to deliver us from our sin and misery and to lead us to the Promised Land of Eternal Life. And if that’s the case, if we’re to put ourselves in the same position as the Israelites, that means we’re to do what they did. So, like the Israelites, we’re to believe the good news of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus; and we’re to bow down before him; and we’re to worship him. And so, we come to church each Sunday; and when we come here, we’re reminded of the good news of Jesus Christ who laid down his life for us and who was raised for us in order to free us from sin and Satan and death. And we’re to believe what we hear; and having believed, we’re to bow down; and we’re to worship the Lord, because he has done for us what we could not do ourselves, and he’s set us free from Satan’s tyranny over us.
This evening we’re going to cover this passage from verse 1 of chapter 5 to verse 9 of chapter 6. And really this passage can be divided into two parts. Firstly, there’s verses 1 to 19 of chapter 5 where Moses and Aaron speak to Pharaoh on behalf of the Lord; and Pharaoh responds. And secondly, there’s verses 20 of chapter 5 to verse 9 of chapter 6 where the people complain to Moses, who complains to the Lord; and then the Lord responds to their complaint.
And so we turn to the first section, verses 1 to 21 of chapter 5. And we read in verse 1 how Moses and Aaron went to the Pharaoh. Some of the commentators discuss how they got access to the Pharaoh. After all, we can’t just go and see the queen or the Prime Minister any time we want. We can’t travel to London and pop into number 10 Downing Street for a meeting with David Cameron. We can’t even get into Stormont easily to see any of the MLAs. So, how could Moses and Aaron get access to the King of Egypt? Some suggest it was because Moses grew up in the palace and was still known by the people who worked there. You know, he still knew some of the most important people in the palace and could have asked them to let him in. Others suggest that in those days it was possible for anyone to seek an audience with the king; and kings were expected to make themselves available to all, so that anyone could seek an audience with the king and appeal to him for his help. Well, whatever the explanation, Moses and Aaron went to see the Pharaoh. And it’s clear from verse 1 that they were coming as the Lord’s ambassadors with a message from him to the Pharaoh. They said:
This is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.’
Pause there to notice that the Lord referred to the Israelites as ‘my people’. As far as the Lord is concerned, these were his people: he was their King and they were his. And so he’s telling Pharaoh that the time has come for the Pharaoh to let his people go.
Well, Pharaoh’s reply is in verse 2. He says:
Who is the Lord, that I should obey him…?
It’s not clear exactly what he means. He might be saying that he’s never heard of the Lord before; and so he’s saying:
I haven’t heard of this God before. I don’t recognise this name.
And that’s possible; he was the King of Egypt and the Egyptians didn’t worship the Lord. And, we’ve noted before that many of the Israelites had forgotten the Lord and had begun to worship idols. So, it’s quite possible that he’d never heard of the Lord before.
Or, perhaps he’s been dismissive. Perhaps what he was really saying is:
‘This is what the Lord says’. Big deal. Who care? He’s nothing to me. I don’t care what he says.
Whether he genuinely didn’t recognise the name, or whether he didn’t care what the Lord said, the effect is the same: he will not do what the Lord has said; he will not let Israel go.
Moses and Aaron have another go in verse 3; and they explain how the Lord has met with them and they’re now to take this journey into the desert to offer a sacrifice to him. And I explained before that Pharaoh would understand the implication of the phrase ‘a three-day journey’, because this was the way people negotiated in those days. You know, instead of being direct and making clear what you wanted, you were vague and really only suggested what you wanted. So Pharaoh would understand that ‘a three day journey’ meant they were never coming back. And Moses and Aaron added that, if they don’t go and offer sacrifices to the Lord, the Lord will strike them with plagues or the sword. In other words, if they don’t go, they won’t be any use to Pharaoh anyway, because God will destroy them. So, let them go.
But once again, the Pharaoh will not listen. And he began to complain that Moses and Aaron were only keeping the Israelites from their work; and he wanted them to get back to their work immediately. I suppose it’s possible that the people, having believed what Moses and Aaron had said, had already stopped their labour in the expectation that they were going to be freed immediately. And so, the Pharaoh insisted that they go back to work, because he’s not going to do what the Lord had asked; and he’s not going to set them free.
In verses 6 to 21 we see what the Pharaoh did next, because he wasn’t going to leave it like that; if the Israelites were getting restless and if they were thinking about their freedom, he was going to come down hard on them in order to keep them under his rule. And so, he was prepared to make their life even more miserable and unbearable than before. Already their life was grim. Do you remember? Back in chapter 1, we read about how the slave drivers oppressed them with forced labour in the fields and on the building sites. And we read that their lives were bitter with hard labour. And the people used to groan in their slavery. But now it was to become worse.
You see, in those days, they added straw to their bricks to make them stronger. But Pharaoh gave instructions that they shouldn’t be given any more straw when they were making the bricks they needed to do the construction work. From now on, they were to find their own straw to use. But here’s the thing, here’s the killer: they still had to produce the same number of bricks as before. And so, we read in verse 12 how they were scattered all over Egypt. And they were scattered all over Egypt in order to gather stubble to use in place of straw.
When they were given straw, it probably came to them in nice bundles, and you could pull out a long bit of straw and add it to the cement mix or whatever they used to make bricks in those days. Straw came in nice bundles. Stubble was different: stubble is what was left in the ground after the straw had been harvested. Stubble was small and thick and hard to cut. And, of course, they had to find the stubble themselves. So, they had to go here, there, and everywhere, looking for this stubble. And then, when they found it, they had to cut it, which was a pain. And then they had to bring it back to where they were making the bricks. And it probably wasn’t a good substitute for straw, so perhaps some of the bricks they made were sub-standard and they had to make them again. So, it was awful for them. It was back-breaking, soul destroying work.
And, eventually, and inevitably, they fell behind in their quotas. So, we read in verse 14 that the Israelite foremen were beaten by the slave drivers, because they were falling behind. And we can imagine the Israelites, can’t we? Weak and tired and miserable and disheartened and broken. For a brief moment, they were hoping to be set free; but their lives are now worse than ever before.
And in verse 15 we read how the foremen appealed to the Pharaoh:
Why are you treating us like this?
Will he show them compassion? Will he have mercy on them? Will he be sympathetic towards their plight? Well no, because the Pharaoh was a hard and cruel master. And when they appealed to him, he would not listen to them. In fact, instead of being sympathetic, he accused them in verse 17 of being lazy. And, instead of being merciful and compassionate, he sent them back to work, refusing to give them the straw they needed, and insisting that they meet their quota in full.
I’ve said before that the history of the Exodus reveals to us the history of what God was planning to do for us by his Son; and so, their bondage to Pharaoh in Egypt speaks to us of our bondage to Satan. And just as the Pharaoh was a cruel master, so Satan is a cruel master. Whereas the Lord Jesus invites the weary and the burdened to come to him, because he will give them rest; and whereas the Lord Jesus says that he is gentle and humble in heart, and all who come to him will find rest for their souls, whereas the Lord Jesus is a kind Master, the Devil is a cruel master.
Think of all the ways he caused Job to suffer in the Old Testament. Think of how the Devil caused Job to lose his property and to lose his family and to lose his health, all in an effort to make Job lose his faith.
And think of the suffering and misery of all those people in the gospels, who were possessed by demons. Think of that poor man who was possessed by a legion of demons, and how he used to live among the tombs and in the mountains, crying out and cutting himself. The Devil and his demons were destroying this poor man’s life.
And think of that time when the Lord said to Peter that the Devil wanted to sift him, the way a farmer sifts wheat, by crushing it into small bits. That’s what the Devil wanted to do to Peter.
And think of the way the Devil wants to prevent people in every generation from coming to know the Saviour in whom there is life and peace and joy. Think of how he blinds the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the glory of Christ.
And, of course, think of what he did at the beginning, when he deceived Eve and caused Adam and Eve and all who are descended from them to suffer death, when God had promised us life.
The Pharaoh was a cruel master; and he points us to Satan who is far, far, far worse.
But just as God sent Moses to deliver his people from Pharaoh’s tyranny, so the Lord God has sent the Lord Jesus to deliver us from Satan’s tyranny and to bring us into his own kingdom of grace, where he gives us rest, rest for our souls, where he pours out on us one spiritual blessing after another, after another, after another. The Devil is a cruel master; but God sent his Son who gives us rest.
Back in Egypt, the people were still suffering under Pharaoh’s oppression. And we see the reaction of the Israelite foremen in verses 20 and 21 of chapter 5. They went to Moses and Aaron and complained to them about all the suffering they had caused the people. And the foremen said to Moses and Aaron:
May the Lord look upon you and judge you!
Those were terrible, stinging words to say to the men who had come in the name of the Lord to save them. But, of course, when the Lord God sent his Son into the world to deliver us from our sin and misery, the people often did not believe or understand; and they often spoke against the Lord Jesus. And instead of welcoming him, they rejected him. And in their hatred for him, they took him and beat him and nailed him to the cross. And so, it’s no surprise that the Israelite foremen turned on Moses and Aaron whom God had sent to save them, because it’s what the people did to the Lord Jesus.
But look how Moses responded to their stinging words. What did he do? He turned to God in prayer, which, of course, is what we always need to do. And he said to God:
Why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.
One of the Psalms I often read when I visit people in hospital is Psalm 62 where the Psalmist says:
Trust in the Lord at all times, O people; pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge.
That’s what Moses was doing: he was pouring out his heart to the Lord. And the Lord answered him by saying to him the marvellous words of verses 1 to 8 of chapter 6, where the Lord replies very simply and says:
Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh. Because of my mighty hand he will let you go. Because of my mighty hand, he will drive them out of his country.
He was saying:
Stand back and see what I’m about to do.
And in verses 2 to 5 he reminds Moses of the promise he made to Abraham and to Isaac and to Jacob in the past. But before we get to the promise, he says something interesting here about his name. He says that he appeared to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob as God Almighty. But then he adds that he didn’t reveal to them his special, covenant name which is ‘the Lord’ in capital letters. Now, that’s puzzling, because the name ‘Lord’ in capital letters appears in the book of Genesis 148 times. Eve used it. Lamech, the father of Noah, used it. Noah used it. Abraham used it, Sarah used it. God himself used it when he addressed his people in the book of Genesis. So, why does the Lord say here that he didn’t reveal this name before?
One suggestion is that the verse should be translated as a question:
Didn’t I make myself known to them by my name ‘the Lord’? I did, didn’t I?
However, another suggestion is that, while he revealed to them this special name, so that they knew his special, covenant name, nevertheless he didn’t reveal to them what this special, covenant name signified. Yes, they knew him as ‘Lord’ and they confessed that the Lord is their God. But they didn’t know him as the Lord who would deliver them from their bondage by signs and wonders and with a powerful hand. They didn’t know he was like that! But Moses and Aaron and the Israelites were about to discover that’s exactly who he is.
And why could they count on him to help them? Well, that’s the significance of the covenant which he mentions in verse 4. God made a covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. And by this covenant, he bound himself to them and he committed himself to them to be their God and the God of their children. And furthermore — and he mentions this in verse 4 — by this covenant, he promised that he would give them the land of Canaan. He promised it. He swore himself to it. He bound himself to it.
And, since that’s the case, then they could count on him to do everything necessary to bring them into the land of Canaan. He would do whatever was necessary.
So, what would it take to bring them into the land of Canaan? Well, that’s what verses 6 to 8 are about. Here’s what God was going to do for them in order to keep his promise to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. He said:
I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people. I will be your God. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession.
In other words:
I will do all of these things for you, because I promised Abraham and Isaac and Jacob to give you the land of Canaan. And since I made that promise to them, I will do whatever is necessary.
What the Lord did for the Israelites was nothing compared to what he had done for us and for all his people by his Son Jesus Christ. Because he has brought us out from under the yoke of Satan. And he has redeemed us with mighty acts of judgment, because the judgment that we deserve for our sins fell on Christ. And he has also redeemed us with an outstretched arm, because by his mighty power, he has raised us up from spiritual death to new life in Christ. And by his Spirit, he has set us apart to belong to him so that we have become his people and he has become our God. And while we going on living on the earth, we know that will keep us and shield us and guard us until we come at last to the Promised Land of Eternal Life, and to the new heavens and the new earth which all of God’s people will possess for ever and for ever.
Here in Exodus 6, the Lord was re-assuring Moses of all he intended to do for his people to deliver them from their bondage to bring them to the Promised Land. And through all of these events he was revealing what he intended to do for us and for all his people to deliver us from sin and Satan and death and to give us everlasting life in his presence.
But look at verse 9: when Moses reported these things to the Israelites, they did not listen to him. And they didn’t listen to him because of their discouragement and cruel bondage.
We were thinking last Sunday morning about what the Apostle Peter said in 1 Peter 1 about suffering grief in all kinds of trial. God has given us a great hope, just as he gave the Israelites a great hope: he’s given us the hope of the resurrection of our bodies and everlasting life in the presence of God. And while we can rejoice in that hope, nevertheless in this life we often have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. The Israelites would have understood this, because of all the grief they suffered at the hands of the Pharaoh. But the Israelites allowed their grief to overwhelm them; and they doubted God’s word and they stopped listening to all of his promises to them of better things to come. Instead of setting their mind on the things to come, which God had promised them, they only thought about all that they were presently suffering.
And so, we ought to be careful lest we become like them and stop listening to God’s word and stop believing his promises. Like them, we may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials; and the Devil may come at us with his wicked schemes; and he may try to sift us like wheat as he wanted to do with Peter; and he may try to stir up all kinds of opposition against us so that we will give up believing. But we need to listen to God’s word and believe all his promises to us of better things to come. We need to listen to God’s word and believe all his promises to us of the joy of heaven. We need to listen to God’s word and believe all his promises to us and set our minds on things above, where Christ our Saviour is, and where we belong. And we must stand firm while we wait for our Saviour to come again to bring us at last into the new heavens and the new earth, and into that perfect peace and rest which he has promised all of his people. We must stand firm; and we must keep believing, because our God the Lord will do for us all that he has promised.