Exodus 5:1
And afterward Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus said the LORD God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
V.

FIRST APPLICATION OF MOSES TO PHARAOH, AND INCREASE OF THE OPPRESSION.

(1) Went in.—Heb., wenti.e., left their usual residence, and approached the Court, which, according to the Psalms (Psalm 78:12; Psalm 78:43), was held at Zoan (i.e., Tanis). This was the ordinary residence of Rameses II. and his son Menephthah.

Thus saith the Lord God of Israel.—Heb., Thus has said Jehovah, God of Israel. The Pharaohs claimed to hold direct communications with the Egyptian deities, and could not deny the possibility of the Hebrew leaders holding communications with their God. Menepthah himself—the probable “Pharaoh of the Exodus”—gave out that he had received a warning from Phthah in the fifth year of his reign (Brugsch, History of Egypt, vol. ii., p. 119; 1st ed.).

That they may hold a feast unto me.—God’s entire purpose is not at once revealed to Pharaoh. He is tried with a moderate demand, which he might well have granted. By refusing it he showed himself harsh, unkind, and inconsiderate, so tempting God to lay upon him a greater burthen.

In the wilderness—i.e., beyond the frontier, or, at any rate, beyond inhabited Egypt—that the Egyptians might not be driven to fury by seeing animals sacrificed which they regarded as sacred. (See Exodus 8:26, and the comment ad loc.)

Exodus 5:1. Thus saith the Lord God of Israel — Moses, in treating with the elders of Israel, is directed to call God the God of their fathers; but in treating with Pharaoh, he and Aaron call him the God of Israel, and it is the first time we find him called so in Scripture. He is called the God of Israel, the person, (Genesis 33:20,) but here it is Israel, the people. They are just beginning to be formed into a people when God is called their God. Let my people go — They were God’s people, and therefore Pharaoh ought not to detain them in bondage. And he expected services and sacrifices from them, and therefore they must have leave to go where they could freely exercise their religion, without giving offence to, or receiving offence from the Egyptians.5:1-9 God will own his people, though poor and despised, and will find a time to plead their cause. Pharaoh treated all he had heard with contempt. He had no knowledge of Jehovah, no fear of him, no love to him, and therefore refused to obey him. Thus Pharaoh's pride, ambition, covetousness, and political knowledge, hardened him to his own destruction. What Moses and Aaron ask is very reasonable, only to go three days' journey into the desert, and that on a good errand. We will sacrifice unto the Lord our God. Pharaoh was very unreasonable, in saying that the people were idle, and therefore talked of going to sacrifice. He thus misrepresents them, that he might have a pretence to add to their burdens. To this day we find many who are more disposed to find fault with their neighbours, for spending in the service of God a few hours spared from their wordly business, than to blame others, who give twice the time to sinful pleasures. Pharaoh's command was barbarous. Moses and Aaron themselves must get to the burdens. Persecutors take pleasure in putting contempt and hardship upon ministers. The usual tale of bricks must be made, without the usual allowance of straw to mix with the clay. Thus more work was to be laid upon the men, which, if they performed, they would be broken with labour; and if not, they would be punished.Pharaoh - This king, probably Tothmosis II, the great grandson of Aahmes Exodus 1:8, the original persecutor of the Israelites, must have been resident at this time in a city, probably Tanis Exodus 2:5, of Lower Egypt, situated on the Nile.

The Lord God - Yahweh God of Israel demanded the services of His people. The demand, according to the general views of the pagans, was just and natural; the Israelites could not offer the necessary sacrifices in the presence of Egyptians.

CHAPTER 5

Ex 5:1-23. First Interview with Pharaoh.

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

and told Pharaoh—When introduced, they delivered a message in the name of the God of Israel. This is the first time He is mentioned by that national appellation in Scripture. It seems to have been used by divine direction (Ex 4:2) and designed to put honor on the Hebrews in their depressed condition (Heb 11:16).Moses and Aaron entreateth Pharaoh to let the people go, Exodus 5:1. Pharaoh’s blasphemous refusal, Exodus 5:2. Chides Moses and Aaron for their request, Exodus 5:4. Pharaoh, seeing the Israelites to be many, Exodus 5:5, commands the task-masters and officers to increase their bondage, Exodus 5:6-9. The task-masters go and do as Pharaoh commands, Exodus 5:10,11. The scattering of the people throughout Egypt, Exodus 5:12. The task-masters’ cruelty to the officers of the Israelites, Exodus 5:14. The officers’ complaint to Pharaoh, Exodus 5:15,16. He upbraids them with idleness, Exodus 5:17. His harsh answer, Exodus 5:18. The officers of the children of Israel meet Moses and Aaron, and blame them, Exodus 5:20,21. Moses returns and complains to God, Exodus 5:22,23.

Moses and Aaron went in, and with them some of the elders of Israel, as may seem from Exodus 3:18, though here only the two chiefs be mentioned. Or, because Moses did not seem to be satisfied with the assistance of the elders before offered him, Exodus 3:18, God was pleased to give him a more acceptable assistant in their stead, even Aaron his brother, Exodus 4:14. Told Pharaoh: either both successively told him; or Aaron did it immediately, and with his tongue, Moses by his interpreter, and by his command. Or, offer a sacrifice, as they express it, Exodus 5:3 and Exodus 10:9. For both went together, and a good part of many sacrifices was spent in feasting before the Lord and unto the honour of the Lord. See Deu 12:6,7,11,12.

And afterwards Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh,.... Whose name, some say, was Cenchres, others Amenophis, according to Manetho and Chaeremon (h); See Gill on Exodus 3:10 went into Pharaoh's palace, and being introduced by the proper officer at court for that purpose, addressed him in the following manner:

thus saith the Lord God of Israel: as ambassadors of him, who is King of kings, and Lord of lords; and so Artapanus (i), the Heathen, says that the Egyptian king, hearing that Moses was come, sent for him to know wherefore he was come, who told him, that the Lord of the world commanded him to let the Jews go, as it follows here:

let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness; in the wilderness of Sinai or Arabia, at Horeb there, where they might keep it more freely and safely, without being disturbed by the Egyptians, and without giving any offence to them; and the demand is just; they were the people of God, and therefore he claims them, and service from them was due to him; and Pharaoh had no right to detain them, and what is required was but their reasonable service they owed to their God. This feast was to be held, not for themselves, but to God, which chiefly consisted in offering sacrifice, as is after explained; the entire dismission of them is not at once demanded, only to go a little while into the wilderness, and keep a feast there to the Lord; though it was not intended they should return, but it was put in this form to try Pharaoh, and that he might be the more inexcusable in refusing to grant what was so reasonable.

(h) Apud Joseph. contr. Apion. l. 1. c. 26. 32. (i) Apud Euseb. Praepar. Evangel. l. 9. c. 27. p. 434.

And afterward Moses and Aaron went in, and told {a} Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may {b} hold a feast unto me in the wilderness.

(a) Faith overcomes fear, and makes men bold in their calling. {b} And offer sacrifice.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1. Jehovah, the God of Israel] elsewhere in the Pent. only Exodus 32:27 (E), also with Thus saith; cf. on Exodus 4:22.

make a pilgrimage] The Heb. ḥag means not simply a religious ‘feast’ like our Easter or Christmas, for instance, but a feast accompanied by a pilgrimage to a sanctuary: such as, for instance, were the three ‘ḥaggim,’ at which every male Israelite was to appear before Jehovah (Exodus 23:14-17). The corresponding word in Arabic, ḥaj, denotes the pilgrimage to Mecca, which every faithful Mohammedan endeavours to make at least once in his life.

1–5. Moses and Aaron ask permission of the Pharaoh for the Israelites to keep a three days’ feast in the wilderness. The request is refused.Verse 1. - And afterward. The interposition of some not inconsiderable space of time seems to be implied. Menephthah resided partly at Memphis, partly at Zoan (Tanis). Moses and Aaron may have had to wait until he returned from his southern to his northern capital. Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh. Aaron was, no doubt, the sole spokesman, but as he spoke for both, the plural is used. Thus saith the Lord God of Israel. Literally, "Thus saith Jehovah, God of Israel." Pharaoh would understand Jehovah to be a proper name, parallel to his own Phthah, Ra, Ammon, etc. Let my people go. The rationale of the demand is given in ch. 8:26. The Israelites could not offer their proper sacrificial animals in the presence of the Egyptians without the risk of provoking a burst of religious animosity, since among the animals would necessarily be some which all, or many, of the Egyptians regarded as sacred, and under no circumstances to be killed. The fanaticism of the Egyptians on such occasions led to wars, tumults, and massacres. (See Plutarch, 'De Isid. et Osir.,' § 44.) To avoid this danger the "feast" must be held beyond the bounds of Egypt - in the adjacent "wilderness." But if Moses was to carry out the divine commission with success, he must first of all prove himself to be a faithful servant of Jehovah in his own house. This he was to learn from the occurrence at the inn: an occurrence which has many obscurities on account of the brevity of the narrative, and has received many different interpretations. When Moses was on the way, Jehovah met him at the resting-place (מלון, see Genesis 42:27), and sought to kill him. In what manner, is not stated: whether by a sudden seizure with some fatal disease, or, what is more probable, by some act proceeding directly from Himself, which threatened Moses with death. This hostile attitude on the part of God was occasioned by his neglect to circumcise his son; for, as soon as Zipporah cut off (circumcised) the foreskin of her son with a stone, Jehovah let him go. צור equals צוּר, a rock, or stone, here a stone knife, with which, according to hereditary custom, the circumcision commanded by Joshua was also performed; not, however, because "stone knives were regarded as less dangerous than those of metal," nor because "for symbolical reasons preference was given to them, as a simple production of nature, over the metal knives that had been prepared by human hands and were applied to daily use." For if the Jews had detected any religious or symbolical meaning in stone, they would never have given it up for iron or steel, but would have retained it, like the Ethiopian tribe of the Alnaii, who used stone knives for that purpose as late as 150 years ago; whereas, in the Talmud, the use of iron or steel knives for the purpose of circumcision is spoken of, as though they were universally employed. Stone knives belong to a time anterior to the manufacture of iron or steel; and wherever they were employed at a later period, this arose from a devoted adherence to the older and simpler custom (see my Commentary on Joshua 5:2). From the word "her son," it is evident that Zipporah only circumcised one of the two sons of Moses (Exodus 4:20); so that the other, not doubt the elder, had already been circumcised in accordance with the law. Circumcision had been enjoined upon Abraham by Jehovah as a covenant sign for all his descendants; and the sentence of death was pronounced upon any neglect of it, as being a breach of the covenant (Genesis 17:14). Although in this passage it is the uncircumcised themselves who are threatened with death, yet in the case of children the punishment fell upon the parents, and first of all upon the father, who had neglected to keep the commandment of God. Now, though Moses had probably omitted circumcision simply from regard to his Midianitish wife, who disliked this operation, he had been guilty of a capital crime, which God could not pass over in the case of one whom He had chosen to be His messenger, to establish His covenant with Israel. Hence He threatened him with death, to bring him to a consciousness of his sin, either by the voice of conscience or by some word which accompanied His attack upon Moses; and also to show him with what earnestness God demanded the keeping of His commandments. Still He did not kill him; for his sin had sprung from weakness of the flesh, from a sinful yielding to his wife, which could both be explained and excused on account of his position in the Midianite's house. That Zipporah's dislike to circumcision had been the cause of the omission, has been justly inferred by commentators from the fact, that on Jehovah's attack upon Moses, she proceeded at once to perform what had been neglected, and, as it seems, with inward repugnance. The expression, "She threw (the foreskin of her son) at his (Moses') feet," points to this (ל הגּיע, as in Isaiah 25:12). The suffix in רגליו (his feet) cannot refer to the son, not only because such an allusion would give no reasonable sense, but also because the suffix refers to Moses in the immediate context, both before (in המיתו, Exodus 4:24) and after (in ממּנּוּ, Exodus 4:26); and therefore it is simpler to refer it to Moses here. From this it follows, then, that the words, "a blood-bridegroom art thou to me," were addressed to Moses, and not to the boy. Zipporah calls Moses a blood-bridegroom, "because she had been compelled, as it were, to acquire and purchase him anew as a husband by shedding the blood of her son" (Glass). "Moses had been as good as taken from her by the deadly attack which had been made upon him. She purchased his life by the blood of her son; she received him back, as it were, from the dead, and married him anew; he was, in fact, a bridegroom of blood to her" (Kurtz). This she said, as the historian adds, after God had let Moses, go, למּוּלות, "with reference to the circumcisions." The plural is used quite generally and indefinitely, as Zipporah referred not merely to this one instance, but to circumcision generally. Moses was apparently induced by what had occurred to decide not to take his wife and children with him to Egypt, but to send them back to his father-in-law. We may infer this from the fact, that it was not till after Israel had arrived at Sinai that he brought them to him again (Exodus 18:2).
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