When Moses finally rolled up into Pharaoh’s palace, he had a little swag going, riding the momentum of a great first meeting. The Israelites saw the signs and faith surged in their hearts. They bowed their heads, believed, and worshipped the Lord.
Without hesitation, Moses started strong with Pharaoh, declaring, “Thus says the Lord!” Notice Exodus 5:1, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness.’” He could see a round one knock out punch.
Time out. Was Moses deceptive in asking for a festival, instead of full deliverance? Here we see God’s love. Instead of overwhelming Pharaoh with total liberation, God started small to soften his heart. If the door cracked a little, maybe he would become agreeable to a full release. God was hoping to spare Pharaoh from the judgment that would come. Walter Kaiser, Jr. writes, “Here we can see God’s tender love and concern for Pharaoh” (Kaiser, et al., Hard Sayings of the Bible, Downers Grove, IL, 1996, 138).
But notice Pharaoh’s response. Exodus 5:2, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.” The Egyptian religion was polytheistic and proud of it. For them, their strength was in the numbers. Among their many deities, Pharaoh was also worshipped as a god. To acknowledge and submit to the foreign god of his slaves was unthinkable.
Taken back, Moses swung again in Exodus 5:3, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Now let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God, or he may strike us with plagues or with the sword.” Notice the subtle threat, “…or he may strike us with plagues or with the sword.” He tried to strong arm Pharaoh – “If you don’t let us go for a three-day reprieve, you just might lose your entire labor force. And if he takes us, he will come after you too.”
But the Egyptian king countered in Exodus 5:4, “Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their labor?” His response was brilliant. To crush their plans he attacked the visionary, and made Moses the problem, “You’re taking the people away from their work, selling them a hopeless fantasy!” To destroy any faith in Moses, he punished the Israelites for being lazy.
Thanks to Moses, no more complimentary straw for making bricks. The tired slaves must scour the land for every scrap while not lessening the quota of bricks. When they fell short, the Israelite foremen were beaten. Their oppressors mocked, “Why haven’t you met your quota of bricks yesterday or today, as before?” The dispirited overseers found Moses and pronounced a curse on him in Exodus 5:21, “May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”
What if you asked your boss for a raise, but instead he docked your pay and told you to start cleaning the toilets. Or, think of the church planter meeting in a school. He asks the principal for an empty classroom for storage but hears, “You guys are lazy, lazy, lazy, lazy. No room and I’m doubling you’re rent.” When Moses stepped out to pursue God’s call things went downhill.