Exodus 5:1

I know not Jehovah, etc.: Exodus 5:2. We now come face to face with the king. As the king here becomes very prominent, we will keep him conspicuous in the outlining of this address.

I. AUDIENCE WITH THE KING. This is a convenient moment for introducing Pharaoh as the terrestrial representative of the Sun, as the vicegerent of Deity upon earth. Does it seem wonderful that men should receive a man in this capacity? But millions of professed Christians in this nineteenth century so receive the Pope. We will take the suggestions of the story in the time-order of the narrative. We have -

1. A lesson in courage. The two went to their audience with the king at the peril of their lives. Some might have remembered Moses. Their demand touched the honour and revenues of the king. Courage in facing responsibility is the lesson; leave consequences to our poor selves to God.

2. A suggestion as to the method of evangelic grace. Jehovah here calls himself for the first time in relation to the nation, as distinguished from the man Jacob, "the God of Israel." A crowd was just becoming a State and a Church, when Jehovah calls himself their God. First he is their God: then all possibilities are before them. Their history begins well. So now: first adopted children, and then the obedience of children.

3. A warning against want of catholicity. The tone of Pharaoh is that of the vicegerent of Deity, as against a tutelary god he deigned not to acknowledge. But he was wrong even on the principles of enlightened pagandom, which was forward to acknowledge the gods of all nations. Compare the policy of imperial Rome.

4. Teaching as to gradation in God's demands. Here may be discussed the nature and propriety of the first demand for three days' absence. Looking at things after the events, it may appear to some that here was a demand which concealed the real intention, viz. to return no more. But this would be to impeach the veracity of God! The demand really was for "a whole day's prayer-meeting," with a day to go, a day to return. In the desert, as in consideration of Egyptian feeling; but probably within the frontier, for there were Egyptian garrisons in Forts of the desert of Sinai. A moderate demand! One that Pharaoh might well have complied with. Compliance might have led to further negotiation; and this Pharaoh might have stood out in history as co-operating in the deliverance and formation of the Church of God. Instead of that he set himself against the small demand, and was unready for the greater (Exodus 6:11) when it came. And so we see him through the mist of ages, "moving ghost-like to his doom." It is a picture of the method of God. He asks first for the simple, reasonable, easy etc. etc.

II. ORDERS FROM THE KING. "The very same day!" Such is the restlessness of the tyrant-spirit. The orders were addressed to the "drivers," Egyptians, and to the "clerks" of the works, Hebrews. Note the large employment of "clerks," as evidenced by the monuments. The appointment of these "clerks" would contribute much to the organisation of Israel, and so prepare for the Exodus. As to the orders - explain them. Bricks a government monopoly; witness the royal mark on many to this day. Same number of bricks as before, but people to gather in the corn-fields the straw (in harvest only the ear cut off) previously allowed by the government, chop it, and mix it with the clay. Terrible cruelty of these orders-in-council in such a climate.

III. OBEDIENCE TO THE KING. For the sake of vividly and pictorially bringing up the condition of the people, note the time of straw-collecting: time of harvest - end of April; then a hot pestilential sand-wind often blows over the land of Egypt for fifty days; the effects on health, tone, skin, eyes (in the land of ophthalmia), of so working in blazing sun, in clouds of dust, in hopeless slavery. They return to the horrid brickfields; fail; fierce punishments, as to this day in the same land.

IV. EXPOSTULATION WITH THE KING, The "clerks" of the works constitute a deputation to the king, perhaps by virtue of a "right of petition." The king accuses them of being "idle." To understand this, think of the gigantic public works, the terrific labour, the perishing of thousands, the likelihood that such a taunt would spring to tyrannical lips. The king refuses, perhaps threatens the lives of the "clerks." See ver. 21 - "to put a sword," etc. Here again, that which seemed most against the people made for them. The treatment of the "clerks" brought them into sympathy with their enslaved brethren. Israel closed its ranks. The fellowship of suffering prepared for the companionship of pilgrimage. There was, too, a present blessing. Spiritual feelings were quickened, heaven came nearer, the pitying love of God became more precious. One can imagine such scenes as those in which the slaves of the Southern States, through horrid swamps and over mighty rivers, in the dead of night "stole away to Jesus."

"In that hour, when night is calmest,
Sing they from some Sacred Psalmist,
In a voice so sweet and clear
That I cannot choose but hear.

"And the voice of their devotion
Fills my soul with strange emotion;
For its tones by turns are glad,
Sweetly solemn, wildly sad."

[Adapted from LONGFELLOW.]

V. CONSEQUENCES TO THE AMBASSADORS OF THE KING OF KINGS. Moses and Aaron, somewhere near the palace, were waiting to know the result of the audience of the "clerks" with the king. The "clerks," irritated and angry, turned on the God-given leaders: ver. 21. [Note in the Hebrews the expression "to stink in the eyes," and the fact that pungent odours do affect the eyes! A dreadful trouble to Moses and Aaron! In conclusion, observe -

1. The cruelty that is ever incident to sin. "Man's inhumanity to man" a universal fact. "The dark places of the earth are full," etc.; so places alight with modern civilisation. The incidents of any gin-palace! There is, too, a cruelty of word and manner. Soul-wounds deeper than sword-gashes. No cure save under the sanctifying power of the Cross of self-abnegating love.

2. The pain that attends all emancipations. The first efforts of Moses and Aaron led to nothing but disaster. See 6:9. So with the agony of emancipation in America. So always and everywhere. So with reforms within the Church. So with crises of soul-history.

3. The discouragement that may fall to leaders.

4. The encouragement we all have. Note here -

(1) The appointment of the "clerks;"

(2) The personal danger into which they came;

(3) The uniting all Israel into a fellowship of grief that they might dare the desert. All this came out of the oppression; but tended to salvation. Our darkest experiences rosy be our best friends.

5. Through what sorrow all come to the final emancipation. - R.

Let My people go.
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.

I. 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."

II. 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.


(Bp. Harvey Goodwin.)

I. 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.

II. 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.

III. 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.)

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.)

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.)

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.)

1. Earnestly desired.

2. Effectively undertaken.

3. Divinely approved.

4. Successfully achieved.

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

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."

I. 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.

II. 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.

III. 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."

IV. 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.)


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.

II. 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.)

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.



III. 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!

IV. 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?


VI. 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.)

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.)

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

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.


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.


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

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


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.)

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