Exodus 5:3
And they said, The God of the Hebrews has met with us: let us go, we pray you, three days' journey into the desert, and sacrifice to the LORD our God; lest he fall on us with pestilence, or with the sword.
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(3) The God of the Hebrews.—Moses accepts Pharaoh’s view, and does not insist on the authority of Jehovah over Egyptians, but makes an appeal ad misericordiam. He has, at any rate, authority over Hebrews; and, having made a requirement, He will be angered if they neglect it. Will not Pharaoh allow them to escape His anger?

With the sword.—Egypt was very open to invasion on its eastern frontier; and the brunt of an invasion in this quarter would fall upon the Hebrews. In the time of the nineteenth dynasty, Hittite incursions were especially feared.

Exodus 5:3. Three days’ journey into the desert — And that on a good errand, and unexceptionable: we will sacrifice to the Lord our God — As other people do to theirs; lest if we quite cast off his worship, he fall upon us — With one judgment or other, and then Pharaoh will lose his vassals.

Though it was the intention of the Israelites quite to leave Egypt; yet the request was made only to go three days’ journey into the desert to sacrifice, probably to set the tyranny of the king in a stronger light, who would not indulge them in this small liberty even for the performance of religious rites. And as this demand was made by the express order of God, who knew that Pharaoh would not grant it, all appearance of there being any artful design in it to deceive Pharaoh is taken away.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.Three days' journey - See the Exodus 3:18 note.

With pestilence, or with the sword - This shows that the plague was well known to the ancient Egyptians. The reference to the sword is equally natural, since the Israelites occupied the eastern district, which was frequently disturbed by the neighboring Shasous.

3. The God of the Hebrews hath met with us—Instead of being provoked into reproaches or threats, they mildly assured him that it was not a proposal originating among themselves, but a duty enjoined on them by their God. They had for a long series of years been debarred from the privilege of religious worship, and as there was reason to fear that a continued neglect of divine ordinances would draw down upon them the judgments of offended heaven, they begged permission to go three days' journey into the desert—a place of seclusion—where their sacrificial observances would neither suffer interruption nor give umbrage to the Egyptians. In saying this, they concealed their ultimate design of abandoning the kingdom, and by making this partial request at first, they probably wished to try the king's temper before they disclosed their intentions any farther. But they said only what God had put in their mouths (Ex 3:12, 18), and this "legalizes the specific act, while it gives no sanction to the general habit of dissimulation" [Chalmers]. Hath met with us, i.e. hath appeared to us lately, and laid this command upon us. Others, is called upon us, i.e. his name is called upon us, or we are called by his name. But why should Moses so solemnly tell that to Pharaoh which all the people knew, to wit, that the Hebrews did worship the God of the Hebrews? And our translation is confirmed by comparing this with Exodus 3:18, where this very message is prescribed.

Lest he fall upon us; lest he punish, either us, if we disobey his command, or thee, if thou hinderest us from obeying it: but this latter they only imply, as being easily gathered from the former. And they said, the God of the Hebrews hath met with us,.... Perceiving that the name Jehovah was unknown to him, and treated by him in a scornful manner, they leave it out, and only say, "the God of the Hebrews": a people that dwelt in his country, he well knew by this name, and could not be ignorant that their God was different from his; and it was he that had met Moses and Aaron; they did not seek to him to be sent on this errand, but he appeared to them as he did to Moses at Horeb, and to Aaron in Egypt. Some render it, "the God of the Hebrews is called upon us" (f); his name was called upon them, or they were called by his name; they were his servants and worshippers, and therefore under obligation to attend to what he enjoined them:

let us go, we pray thee, three days' journey into the desert: a request which was made in a very humble and modest manner, and not at all extravagant, nor anything dangerous and disadvantageous to him; for now they speak as of themselves, and therefore humbly entreat him; they do not ask to be wholly and for ever set free, only to go for three days; they do not propose to meet and have their rendezvous in any part of his country, much less in his metropolis, where he night fear they would rise in a body, and seize upon his person and treasure, only to go into the wilderness, to Mount Sinai there. And hence it appears, that the distance between Egypt and Mount Sinai was three days' journey, to go the straightest way, as Aben Ezra observes:

and sacrifice unto the Lord our God: which is what was meant by keeping a feast; some sacrifices the people, as well as the priests, feasted on; this was not a civil, but a religious concern:

lest he fall upon us with pestilence, or with the sword: this they urge as a reason to have their request granted, taken from the danger they should be exposed unto, should they not be allowed to go and offer sacrifice to God; though by this they might suggest both loss and danger to Pharaoh, in order to stir him up the more to listen to their request; for should they be smitten with pestilence, or the sword, he would lose the benefit of their bond service, which would be a considerable decline in his revenues; and besides, if God would be so displeased with the Israelites for not going, and not sacrificing, when they were detained, how much more displeased would he be with Pharaoh and the Egyptians for hindering them?

(f) "est invocatus super nos", Montanus. So some in Vatablus, Drusius.

And they said, The God of the Hebrews hath met with us: let us go, we pray thee, three days' journey into the desert, and sacrifice unto the LORD our God; lest he fall upon us with pestilence, or with the sword.
3. The request itself, as far as ‘our God,’ is repeated almost verbatim from Exodus 3:18 (J). ‘God of the Hebrews’ is J’s standing expression (see the note ibid.); contrast ‘God of Israel,’ v. 1.

lest he fall upon us, &c.] for neglecting the duty laid upon us.Verse 3. - And they said. Moses and Aaron are not abashed by a single refusal. They expostulate, and urge fresh reasons why Pharaoh should accede to their request. But first they explain that Jehovah is the God of the Hebrews, by which name the Israelites seem to have been generally known to the Egyptians (See Exodus 1:15, 16, 19; Exodus 2:6, 7.) Their God, they say, has met with them - made, that is. a special revelation of himself to them - an idea quite familiar to the king, and which he could not pretend to misunderstand and he has laid on them an express command. They are to go a three days' journey into the desert - to be quite clear of interruption from the Egyptians. Will not Pharaoh allow them to obey the order? If they do not obey it, their God will be angry, and will punish them, either by sending a pestilence among them, or causing an invader to fall upon them with the sword. The eastern frontier of Egypt was at this time very open to invasion, and was actually threatened by a vast army some ten or fifteen years later (Brugsch, 'History of Egypt,' vol. 2, pp. 147-9). After the removal of the sin, which had excited the threatening wrath of Jehovah, Moses once more received a token of the divine favour in the arrival of Aaron, under the direction of God, to meet him at the Mount of God (Exodus 3:1). To Aaron he related all the words of Jehovah, with which He had sent (commissioned) him (שׁלח with a double accusative, as in 2 Samuel 11:22; Jeremiah 42:5), and all the signs which He had commanded him (צוּה also with a double accusative, as in Genesis 6:22). Another proof of the favour of God consisted of the believing reception of his mission on the part of the elders and the people of Israel. "The people believed" (ויּאמן) when Aaron communicated to them the words of Jehovah to Moses, and did the signs in their presence. "And when they heard that Jehovah had visited the children of Israel, and had looked upon their affliction, they bowed and worshipped." (Knobel is wrong in proposing to alter ישׁמעוּ into ישׂמחוּ, according to the Sept. rendering, καὶ ἐχάρη). The faith of the people, and the worship by which their faith was expressed, proved that the promise of the fathers still lived in their hearts. And although this faith did not stand the subsequent test (Exodus 5), yet, as the first expression of their feelings, it bore witness to the fact that Israel was willing to follow the call of God.
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