Exodus 5:1-23 Step One

This is the first of many visits with Pharaoh.

Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh for the first time with God’s command. He DOES NOT respond favorably to their visit, just as God had said he wouldn’t. The heat gets turned up on the children of Israel.

When we left Moses and Aaron yesterday they had met up at Mt. Horeb. I should have followed them back to Egypt where they met with the elders. That was actually part of yesterday’s reading but I’m going to include that in today’s story instead. Let’s catch up to them as they make their way towards their first step in the chain of release for God’s people.

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Evening was falling by the time Aaron and Moses came back to join Zipporah and the boys. Traveling at night was not safe so the group decided to wait until morning to continue their journey. It was hard for Aaron to sleep that night as he contemplated all that God had in store for him. It was less than a week ago that he was making bricks alongside the rest of his people. Now he was expected to stand before them and deliver Moses’ message from God. He was honored beyond words to be involved but was wondering why Moses didn’t take this task on himself. He would have to ask him tomorrow as there would be plenty of time to talk on the road.

Morning dawned bright and clear. The whole family was eager to get underway so a quick breakfast was served and the gear stowed long before the first hour of the morning was spent. After traveling for several hours Aaron finally worked up the courage to ask Moses the question that plagued him last night.

“Moses, how is it that God chose me to speak for Him when it was you He met with?”

“Ah, I had hoped that detail would have escaped your notice” replies Moses.

When walked on in silence for so long after his short reply that Aaron began to wonder if he had somehow offended him. “Moses, is everything alright? I didn’t mean to offend you. I am honored to be asked by the Lord to assist you. I was just wondering about it.”

“No brother. You didn’t offend me. I was just trying to think of the best way to share the answer with you. I am actually ashamed of my behavior before the Lord but also grateful for its result.”

“What do you mean?”

“I argued with the Lord over His desire to send me to the people. Yes. He originally told me to go but I was afraid no one would believe me. I was also concerned that I would not be able to convey His message with authority and the proper words.”

“You were able to convey all of it to me with so much excitement that I couldn’t help but believe you.”

“I know. But the elders of our tribes are a bit different. I was raised in an Egyptian household. My speech patterns are different than theirs. I wasn’t even raised in a home that worshiped the God of our fathers. They might have dismissed me on those grounds alone. So I asked the Lord to send someone else.”

“Did you ask Him to send me instead?”

“No. I just asked for anyone else to take on this task. But He refused to let me walk away. He told me that you would speak for me and stand in between the people and myself. I was to still carry His messages but I would pass them on to you for final delivery to the people.”

“Thank you for sharing that with me. I’m honored the Lord saw fit to use me as your servant. I will do my best to honor both of you.”

“I know you will brother. The Lord made a wise choice in picking you to as the spokesperson.”

Silence reigned between the two brothers for some time as the two men contemplated their future roles. Zipporah had listened in on their conversation as Moses was leading the donkeys. She was proud her husband had been chosen by the God of his fathers for such an important task. She understood Moses’ reluctance. He had never liked to stand in the place of authority but he seemed different since coming back from his encounter with his God. “Who knows what the new Moses is capable of” muses Zipporah.

The sounds of slavery can be heard before even reaching Egypt. The loud cries of the task masters, the snap of the whips and the cry of the Israelite whose backs the whips were intended for carry across the plain. Moses tries to shield his sons from the sights as they enter Egypt but the sights are all about them. Moses and Aaron quickly lead the group to the family home.

Miriam meets them as they arrive. She was in the kitchen baking when she heard Aaron’s voice as they approached. She quickly set aside her work and ran out to greet them. Upon seeing Moses and his family she stops short. She immediately sees the resemblance between the two men but this is not the same look Moses wore when he left 40 years ago.

“Greetings brother. Whom have you brought home with you today?”

“Miriam, do you not recognize me? Have I changed that much that you don’t even know your own brother? It is I, Moses” Moses says with a twinkle in his eye.

“Moses! It is you! I knew I saw a resemblance to the brother I watched over so carefully but I dared not get my hopes up. Where have you been? What have you been doing? What…”

“Hold up sister. I will answer all your questions, in due time, but first let me introduce you to my family. This is my wife Zipporah and my sons Gershom and Eliezer.”

“I’m very pleased to meet you” responds Miriam. “Oh! Where are my manners! You must be tired and hungry. Come in the house and rest while I prepare you something to eat.”

“Thank you for your kindness. Is there anything I can do to help?” asks Zipporah.

“No. It won’t take but a moment. You just rest.” Miriam smiles as she ushers the family inside. “There is water in the basin for washing and you can take those cushions over there. They are the plumpest. I’m sure they will be much more comfortable than those donkeys.”

Aaron laughs as he watches Miriam scurry about. She is the consummate hostess. She will make sure everyone is well taken care of.

“Miriam, Moses and I have an errand we have to attend to. May we leave his family in your capable hands? We must speak with the elders before evening meal. We will return as soon as possible.”

“I’m sure I can find something to entertain everyone.”

Zipporah looks over at Moses with fear in her eyes. “It will be fine. Miriam will take good care of you and I will be back soon” he soothes. He embraces her with gentleness then follows Aaron to the door.

Moses and Aaron make the rounds quietly to the elders. They do not want to alert the Egyptians to this meeting but neither do they want any of the elders left out of it. Moses and Aaron lend a hand in the daily tasks as they share the news of the gathering. It is agreed that they will meet in Aaron’s garden after evening meal. Once the messages have all been delivered Moses makes his way back to the family home and his family. Aaron stays to speak with some of his fellow workers.

Men start gathering in Aaron’s garden while Miriam and Zipporah are cleaning up from the evening meal. The two women had prepared drinks and dates to serve those gathered. It is simple fare but everyone has certainly already enjoyed their own meal before coming.

Moses and Aaron get straight to the business God commanded of them. “The God of our fathers has heard our suffering. He spoke to Moses on His holy mountain. He says that He is going to bring us out from under Pharaoh’s hand. He promised to bring us to the land He swore to our fathers to give us as an inheritance.”

“How do we know this is real? How do we know that it was really the God of our fathers and not some god of Pharaoh’s who sent this message?”

“First of all, none of Pharaoh’s gods would promise to free the children of Israel. Second, the Lord knew you would have doubts so He instructed Moses regarding signs he was to show you. Moses would you please show these esteemed elders the signs the Lord God gave to you?”

Moses took his staff and dropped it on the ground in the middle of the gathering. Immediately it became a serpent. Several of the elders jumped to their feet and moved away from the snake. Moses then reached down and grabbed the snake by its tail and it became his staff again.

“Very impressive” said the leader of the tribe if Benjamin.

“I’ve heard Pharaoh’s magicians can do the same trick” offered the elder of the tribe of Reuben.

“Fair enough” replied Aaron. “The Lord said you might not believe after this first sign. Moses, can you show them the second sign please?”

Moses holds his hands out in front of him so they will be visible to all. He then places his right hand inside his robe. A moment later he removes it from his robe and again stretches both hands out towards the group of elders. Gasps are heard around the room and those closest to Moses move back a bit. Moses then puts his right hand back under his robe. After another moment he removes it and stretches both hands towards the group again.

“Amazing” breaths Zebulon’s elder.

“I agree! That is amazing but still…” ventures the elder of Judah.

“Wait” commands Aaron. “There is one final sign that the Lord gave to Moses as proof. Brother Joran, would you please go and fill this pitcher with water from the Nile and bring it back to us?”

Joran, the elder from the tribe of Simeon leaves the group for a short time. Aaron’s home is near enough to the Nile that it only takes about ten minutes for Joran to return with the pitcher.

“I asked Joran to do this task so that none of you could claim Moses or I somehow manufactured this sign for you. Brother Joran, is this water indeed from the Nile river?”

“Yes Aaron. I will swear to that as I just drew it myself.”

“Thank you brother. Moses if you would please show us the final sign the God of our fathers has given to His people?”

Aaron hands Moses the water jar Joran had just filled. Moses holds it above his head and says; “So that you will KNOW that the Lord God; the I AM, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob has truly sent me to you to carry His message of freedom; behold!” Moses then begins to pour the content of the water jar onto the ground in the midst of the group of elders. Out of the mouth of the jar blood, not water flows. Its smell is unmistakable. This is not just colored water but pure blood. At this sign ALL are convinced of the truth of Moses and Aaron’s words.

The entire group falls to their knees and begins worshiping God! Praises can be heard ringing in the night as the group rejoices. Neighbors begin to appear at their gates to see what is going on. The group is so excited that they quickly thank Moses and Aaron and start to head home. Aaron stops them before they can share this news with their others. “I think it would be wise to keep in mind that our Egyptian masters are not going to be pleased with our freedom so we need to be careful not to alert them to the Lord’s plan until it is the proper time.” Heads nod in agreement and it is decided that for now, the people will only be told that the Lord has heard their prayers.

The next day Moses and Aaron rise early to take their second step in following God’s command. They dress with care and go to meet with Pharaoh. They went with bold hearts to the court of Pharaoh and requested audience. After waiting to be properly admitted, Aaron and Moses stand before Pharaoh.

“Moses. I see you have returned from your travels. The years appear to have been kind to you but I no longer see the mark of the Egyptian upon you. You appear more like the Hebrews now.”

“Yes. They are my brothers by birth, as you well knew. We bring a message from the God of the Hebrews.”

“Really? And just what is this message?”

Aaron advances one step beyond Moses. “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness’” (verse 1b).

Pharaoh shakes his head and a frown appears on his face. “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will NOT let Israel go” (verse 2).

Aaron is a little surprised by Pharaoh’s reply. “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest He fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword” (verse 3).

Pharaoh’s face reddens as his anger rises. “Moses and Aaron, you are taking the people away from their work with this talk. There are many people in the land and you are getting them all excited about taking a ‘journey to worship their God’. They are neglecting their work and being idle! NO! I will NOT let them go! Get out of my presence.”

Moses and Aaron are roughly escorted from Pharaoh’s court and deposited back on the streets of the city. “Well, that didn’t go how I had envisioned it” says Aaron.

“The Lord did say that Pharaoh would not easily release our people. Maybe He will visit him in a dream or something during the night. We must be patient and see what the Lord will do. Besides that, the Lord said that we would perform the signs before Pharaoh and that has not happened yet.”

Meanwhile in Pharaoh’s throne room Pharaoh is muttering to himself about the arrogance of Moses and Aaron to make such a request. “Who do they think they are? I am the god of Egypt! ‘Let my people go’ they say. I’ll show them what I will to do MY slaves!” Pharaoh looks over at his guard and motions for him to approach. “Bring me a scribe immediately and then stand ready to dispatch a command from me to all the taskmasters over the Hebrew people.”

The guard bows and then rushes off to do as he was commanded. Only moments pass between his departure and his return with Pharaoh’s most trusted scribe. “You sent for me my lord” offers the scribe as he bows before Pharaoh.

“Take this down. This is to the taskmasters over the Hebrew slaves. ‘You shall no longer give the people strew to make bricks as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But the number of bricks they are to make will NOT be reduced for they are a lazy and idle people. They are crying for time to go into the wilderness and offer sacrifice to their God. Let heavier work be laid on them so they won’t even have time to THINK about the words of Moses and Aaron and their God.’” Pharaoh nods his head in appreciation of his own cleverness and sits back in his throne. “Let’s see how they like that!”

As soon as the ink was blotted and dry on the parchment the guard rushed to deliver Pharaoh’s message. By noon all the taskmasters had been apprised of Pharaoh’s edict. The Egyptian taskmasters called the foremen of the people and told them that Pharaoh would not be supplying straw to them any longer. In every instance the foremen cried out for mercy for the people. “How are we to continue to make bricks without straw?”

“Oh you will have straw all right. You will just have to go and get it for yourselves. And the same number of bricks required for each day WILL be met without exception. Now let’s go tell your people the wonderful news!” This engendered a look of glee on the faces of the taskmasters and one of fear on that of the foremen.

All the people were assembled so that no one could claim confusion or ignorance of Pharaoh’s command. The taskmasters and foremen stood before the people. The lead taskmaster stepped forward to address the people. “This is what Pharaoh says to you, ‘I will not give you straw. Go and get your stray yourselves wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced in the least.’ Now get busy! There is work to be done!”

Grumbling could be heard throughout the crowd but the people set about the task of finding straw. They quickly assigned the new task of straw gathering to their various groups and began to scour the country for the materials they needed. Initially they tried going to the storehouses but those were off limits through Pharaoh’s command. Apparently not only was he not going to have straw delivered but they were not to access any straw the Egyptians had stored either. They had to gather stubble for straw; the leavings after the reaping.

Those gathering straw could not keep up with the demand. The brick makers were falling further and further behind. They initially tried stretching the amount of straw they had by using less of it for each brick but the quality of the brick declined to the point that they were not acceptable.

In the beginning the people buoyed themselves with the promises of Moses and Aaron. Yes, the news had spread throughout the people, in spite of Aaron’s warning. As day after day of Pharaoh’s new demands heaped upon the backs of the people they began to lose hope.

Three days into this new oppression, beatings became so common place that they were expected at every turn. The taskmasters beat the foreman demanding they meet their quotas. The foremen then turned on the people under them.

By day five the people knew there was no way they could ever recover from the loss of straw for meeting their daily quota. They were behind by more than a full day’s work and that gap continued to grow with each hour they were denied the required supplies. Finally they decided to appeal to Pharaoh as a group. They prayed he would have mercy on them and return their straw or at least decrease their production demands.

Pharaoh hears the angry mob outside his palace and calls for his guards. “What is this noise? What is going on out there?”

“It is a group of Hebrew foremen and slaves. They are asking for audience with you. They wish to discuss your latest command regarding straw.”

“Is that so? Have them come in but I insist they do so in an orderly fashion. If they cannot abide by that then they can simply return to work.”

The people enter quietly into Pharaoh’s presence. Their leader steps forward to address Pharaoh when commanded to do so.

“What is it Pharaoh, your god, can do for you?”

“Lord Pharaoh, why do you treat your servants so harshly? You give us no straw but we are told to ‘Make bricks!’ Then we are beaten when we cannot fill your quotas. It is not the fault of your servants we are falling behind but of your own people for withholding necessary supplies.”

“You are a lazy and idle people! You have so much time on your hands that you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ I am the god of Egypt! Meet MY demands! Sacrifice yourselves to ME! Go back to work! No straw will be given to you and not one brick will be lifted from your daily quota!”

The foremen and workers knew their hope was lost. There would be no arguing with Pharaoh. Why had Moses and Aaron gone to Pharaoh in the first place? This wasn’t the beginning of freedom as they had been promised but the beginning of their death.

During this whole time under Pharaoh’s new demands, Moses and Aaron had been laboring right beside their brothers. They had felt the weight of the absent supplies as well. When the delegation went to Pharaoh to plead their case Moses and Aaron had followed. They waited outside Pharaoh’s court to hear how the group had faired for the people. They also prayed while their brothers stood in Pharaoh’s presence.

As the delegation of workers are escorted from Pharaoh’s palace they notice Moses and Aaron waiting for them. The two men have an expectant look on their faces as the first of the group emerge. As the remaining group leaves Pharaoh’s palace it is clear that they have not met with success. Anger is written on each face where hope once lingered.

“You made Pharaoh HATE us! It is your fault that he has turned on us like this! He is trying to kill us and you put the sword in his hands with your demands! May the Lord rain down judgement on you for what you have done to us!”

The people pushed past Moses and Aaron nearly knocking them down. Moses hung his head in shame. The two men returned to the family home with heavy hearts. As soon as Moses was alone in the garden he began to call out to God.

“O Lord, why have You done evil to this people? Why did You ever send me? Since I came to Pharaoh to speak in You name he had done evil to this people, and You have not delivered Your people at all” (verses 22-23).

(to be continued)

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I feel for the people. To have a promise and then have all vestiges of it snatched away from you and your situation made even worse is beyond disheartening. And yet, those of us on the other side of the story judge those living in it. I know I have on many occasions. My harshest judgements are reserved for their attitudes AFTER leaving Egypt, but that is for another day. Today I’m right there with them as they cry out for mercy from Pharaoh. The god who had none. I feel their anger with Moses for getting their hopes up only to be pushed down even further.

My husband and I had something disheartening happen to him. It wasn’t on the scale of what Israel was going through but it was very difficult for us nonetheless. He had been suffering in pain for nearly 18 years when one doctor finally offered him hope. He was told of a surgery that could hopefully reduce his pain. We were ecstatic! We did every test and preparation required to receive the surgery. And then we were told to wait. We waited and Waited and WAITED. It felt like years during this stage but really it was only months. When hope was finally on the horizon it was snatched away again but the doctor saying that maybe this wasn’t the best option and that my husband should see another doctor for an alternate option.

The other doctor was consulted and a better course of action was decided. Things moved fast from that point, until the insurance company got involved. They stopped this option in its tracks. I appealed their decision. The doctor appealed their decision. Finally it was decided that we had to go route number three. This route would require the doctor to get special permission to operate in a hospital that had the right equipment for the third surgical, and most complicated option. We waited and Waited and WAITED again. This time it did take years instead of months! Three years to be exact. When hope finally was on the horizon again my husband’s medical status changed. He was no longer a candidate for this surgery. We felt defeated.

I let a couple months go by before broaching the prospect of the original surgery with my husband’s doctor. The doctor agreed to move forward with that one. It took several months before the process was completed but that surgery NEARLY eliminated his pain. After more than 22 years in pain, he is reasonably pain free.

At one point in all this waiting I quoted Proverbs 13:12 to the doctor. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” We made it through the “sickness” and are now enjoying the “tree of life.” Israel will too, just not yet.

Another thing that got my attention was Moses’ reaction. He went to God with his problem, as he should have, but his cry raised my eyebrows. “Why did You send me?” He tried to get out of this mission from the beginning. I don’t know if it really was because he didn’t feel qualified or if he didn’t want the responsibility if something went wrong. This was a HUGE burden to carry. He didn’t even bring up the fact that Aaron stood right beside him when addressing Pharaoh.

The second phrase that caught my attention was when Moses complained that God did set the Israelites free. “You have not delivered Your people at all.” Didn’t God tell Moses IN THE BEGINNING that Pharaoh was going to fight against this? He told him that He was going to have to do some mighty works in-between the first proclamation and eventual freedom. Moses hadn’t even performed any of the signs God had given him for Pharaoh. He sounds like he was already giving up. I guess that Moses had as much growing in faith as Israel had to do at this point.

Father God, I’m SO glad You lead me by the hand in seasons of doubt. You didn’t give up on Moses. You insisted he stay the course. The difference between his reaction and the people’s is where he turned. The people turned to Moses and saw his inability to save them. He turned to You. You had the ability to intervene immediately but that wouldn’t have brought about the growth that was needed.

I’m SO glad You have the full picture to work from! Who knows how life would turn out if Israel got their answer immediately; or me. You know just how much growth/waiting I can stand too. Thank You for never stretching me beyond that point. And that “point” has moved over the years as You brought about growth.

I’m wondering if this is my growing time again with all that has happened with my blog lately. Thank You for reminding me that this is OUR time together too! Not just something I go through as a “service” to You. It is OUR story time. Help me remember to cherish it EVERY DAY! Who knows what You have in store for us up ahead.

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