Exodus 5:2

Moses and Aaron, somehow or other, have found their way into Pharaoh's presence. All things, so far, have happened as God said they would happen. The very brevity and compactness of the record at the end of ch. 4. is an instructive comment on the way in which Moses had mistaken comparative shadows for substantial difficulties. The actual meeting of Moses with Israel is dismissed in a few satisfactory and significant words; as much as to say that enough space had already been occupied in detailing the difficulties started by Moses in his ignorance and alarm. It is when Moses and Pharaoh meet that the tug of war really begins. Moses addresses to Pharaoh the commanded request, and is met, as was to be expected, with a prompt and contemptuous defiance. Observe -

I. PHARAOH, IN HIS REJOINDER TO MOSES, PUTS A QUESTION WHICH GOD ALONE CAN PROPERLY ANSWER. "Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice to let Israel go?" This was evidently in Pharaoh's opinion a question which needed no answer at all. It had nothing interrogative about it, except the form. Taking the form of a question, it served to express more forcibly Pharaoh's defiant spirit. There was, in his opinion, really no need to consider or confer at all. "Am I not the great Pharaoh, successor to many great Pharaohs before me? Is not my power accepted and undisputed far and wide?" He could not so much as comprehend any danger unless it took the form of physical force; and not only so, but a form plainly visible - near, threatening, overwhelming. If only some great king had been approaching - strong with the strength of a large and victorious army - to demand the liberation of Israel, Pharaoh would not so have spoken. To him the invisible was as the unreal. Pharaoh listens to Moses, and what does he hear? - a claim that seems to dispute his supremacy, from this new deity, whose image he has never seen, whose name mayhap his priests have told him is not that of any deity worshipped in Canaan of which they have ever heard. Certainly it looks a large claim upon the first presentation of it, small as it is in comparison with what is to follow. This, then, is what he hears, and the audacity and presumption of it are not diminished by what he sees. There stand Moses and Aaron, completely devoid in person and surroundings of anything to impress the king with the peril of refusing their request. Surely if the men who say they are sent look so contemptible, the unseen being from whom they say they come may be safely neglected. Such is the reasoning, silently powerful, if not openly expressed, of those who despise and reject the claims of God. Christ is judged of, not as he is in himself, but by the superficial aspect of Christians. Because they are often low in station, or inconsistent in life, or lacking in disposition and ability to make much outward show, the world thinks that there is little or nothing behind them. It' is the folly of only too many to take Pharaoh's stand. For the right reception of the things of God we need all possible humility and ]PGBR> openmindedness; what then is to be done, if upon the very first approach of religion, we pooh-pooh it as mere superstition, folly, and delusion?

2. This was a question to which Moses could have given a very effective and alarming answer if only he had been allowed opportunity. Moses, fresh from the revelations and sanctities of Horeb, could have told Pharaoh such a story of the workings of Jehovah as would have been enough, and more than enough, to guide the steps of a right-minded listener. Not only his own personal experience; not only the sight of the burning bush, the rod transformed, the leprous hand, the blood where water ought to be; but also the fulness, the terrible fulness of Jehovah's power in the earlier days of the world, were within his reach to speak about. He could have told Pharaoh very admonitory things concerning Sodom and the Deluge if only he had been willing to listen. We may well believe that the effect of Pharaoh's defiant attitude would be to send Moses away striving to refresh and sustain his mind with the evidences, so available and so abundant, that in spite of this proud king's contempt, Jehovah, in his vast power and resources, was indeed no vain imagination. When the proud and self-sufficient ask this Pharaoh-question, it is for us to make such answer as may be reassuring to ourselves; not to doubt our own eyesight because others are blind, our own heating because others are deaf.

How few sometimes may know, when thousands err. The truth which we may not be able to make even probable to others, we must strive so to grasp and penetrate, that more and more it may be felt as certain and satisfying to ourselves.

3. Thus we see how the Lord himself needed to deal with this question. Knowledge of God is of many kinds, according to the disposition of the person who is to be taught, and according to the use which God purposes to make of him. Pharaoh was evidently not going to be a docile scholar in God's school - one who comes to it willing and eager, thirsting for a refreshing knowledge of the living God. But still he had to be a scholar, willingly or not. He had to learn this much at least, that he was transgressing on the peculiar possessions of God when he sported with Israel in his despotic caprice. It is for no man to say that his present real ignorance gives assurance that he will never come to some knowledge of God. It may be as pitifully true of the atheist as it is encouragingly true of the godly, that what he knows not now, he will know hereafter. Now he knows not God, but in due time he will know him; not dubiously, not distantly, but in the most practical and it may be most painful and humiliating manner. Pharaoh says, with a sneer on his face, and derision in his voice, "Who is Jehovah?" That question is duly answered by Jehovah in signs and plagues, and the last answer we hear anything about on earth comes unmistakable and sublime, amid the roll of the Red Sea's returning waters.

II. But Pharaoh not only puts this defiant question; HE UTTERS A MOST DETERMINED RESOLUTION WHICH GOD ALONE CAN ALTER. "Neither will I let Israel go." What then are Israel's chances for the future? There was every certainty that, if left to himself, Pharaoh would go on, tyrannous and oppressive as ever. From a human point of view he had everything to help him in sticking to his resolution. His fears, if he had any - the wealth which he and his people had gained from the incessant toils of Israel - the great dislocations and changes which would have been produced by even a temporary withdrawal of Israel - all these things helped to a firm maintenance of the resolution. It was a resolution which had strong and active support in all the baser feelings of his own breast. It is just in the firmness and haughtiness of such a resolution, revealing as it does the spirit of the man, that we get the reason for such an accumulation of calamities as came upon his land. Here is another significant illustration of the manifold power of God, that he could break down so much proud determination. There was no change in Pharaoh's feeling; no conversion to an equitable and compassionate mind; he simply yielded, because he could not help himself, to continuous and increasing pressure, and God alone was able to exert that pressure. Pharaoh here is but the visible and unconscious exponent of that dark Power which is behind all evil men and cruel and selfish policies. That Power, holding men in all sorts of bitter disappointments and degrading miseries, virtually says, "I will not let them go." Our confidence ought ever to be, that though we can do nothing to break this bitter bondage, God, who forced the foe of Israel to relax his voracious grasp, will by his own means force freedom for us from every interference of our spiritual foe. It was Pharaoh's sad prerogative to shut his own heart, to shut it persistently, to shut it for ever, against the authority and benedictions of Jehovah. But no one, though he be as mighty and arrogant as a thousand Pharaohs, can fasten us up from God, if so be we are willing to go to him, from whom alone we can gain a pure and eternal life. - Y.

Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice?
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 Psalm 100.), 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.)





(C. Coffin, D. D.)

Sketches of Sermons.

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, 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. (Psalm 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; Psalm 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, 25). The obedience thus required must be prompt, without delay (Job 22:21). Universal, without defect (Psalm 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 —

II. 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.




(Sketches of Sermons.)



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.


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.)

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.)

— 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."

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.)

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.)

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.)

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.)

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