Exodus 5: Lessons in Faith From Pharaoh’s Retaliation Against the Jews

Introduction: Exodus Chapter 5 recounts Pharaoh’s initial confrontation with Moses and the punishment he inflicted on the Jews in retaliation for Moses’ demands. The themes of suffering are similar to the suffering described in Exodus Chapter 1. Both chapters reveal how God tests His people to sharpen and refine their faith. But the focus of Chapter 5 deals more with the persecution believers should expect in response to their faith. Christ does not promise a trouble free life when you accept Him. To the contrary, He promises persecution. While you cannot avoid this persecution when you are doing His will, you can control how you react to it. From this chapter, God reveals seven lessons of faith for every believer when confronting persecution.

First, Moses boldly told Pharaoh to let Jews go and worship God. From this, God reveals that true faith gives you the power to speak boldly for God and against evil. Second, from Pharaoh’s refusal to submit to the God he did not know, He reveals that faith trusts in the God who remains unseen. Third, from Moses’ warning that Egypt will face judgment if the Jews were not allowed to worship, He reveals that true faith seeks out worship before all else, even freedom. Fourth, although God could have stopped Pharaoh’s retaliation, He reveals He allows evil to happen to teach believers to put their trust in Him. Fifth, from the Jews’ pleas to Pharaoh to reverse his punishment, He reveals that He wants you to put your trust in Him, not the things of the world. Sixth, from the Jews’ angry reaction toward Moses and Aaron in response to Pharaoh’s retaliation, He reveals that He wants you to trust in His promises to deliver you from evil. Finally, from Moses’ doubts even after God had warned Moses what Pharaoh would do, He reveals that He wants believers to trust in His Word.

1. Faith Gives You the Power to Speak Boldly for God and Against Evil. Ex. 5:1.

  • Moses’ demand for Pharaoh to free the Jews. Moses’ initial words to Pharaoh were direct and simple. He did not bow or submit to Pharaoh. He instead ordered Pharaoh on behalf of God to let the Jews go and worship God in the wilderness: “1 And afterward Moses and Aaron came and said to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness.’” (Ex. 5:1). Although Moses felt the need to let Aaron talk for him, his faith in confronting Pharaoh was still remarkable for two reasons. First, he knew that Pharaoh could have seized him and executed him for killing an Egyptian taskmaster 40 years earlier (Ex. 2:12). Second, Pharaoh and his Egyptian subjects considered Pharaoh to be a god. Pharaoh could have also tried to execute Moses for having the audacity to make demands of him. Instead of punishing the Jews, Pharaoh could have tried to make an example out of Moses. There are lessons for every believer from Moses’ faith in confronting Pharaoh.

Moses and Aaron requested that Pharaoh let God’s people worship Him in the wilderness1

  • Speak boldly for God and against evil. The Holy Spirit also gives you the power to speak boldly for God and against evil: “[P]ray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Eph. 6:19-20). “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence,” (Acts 4:29). “Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech,” (2 Cor. 3:12). Are you boldly speaking in faith and through the Spirit for God against what is evil in the world?

2. Faith Requires Submission to the Unseen God. Ex. 5:2.

  • Pharaoh’s denial of the sovereignty of the unseen God. Pharaoh denied knowing the unseen God. He added that, even if he knew the unseen God, he would not submit to Him: “But Pharaoh said, ‘Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and besides, I will not let Israel go.’” (Ex. 5:2). According to Matthew Henry: “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.” (Matthew Henry on Exodus chapter 5). Yet, in God’s eyes, all who refuse to acknowledge and submit to Him share in Pharaoh’s sin: “[The wicked] spend their days in prosperity, and suddenly they go down to Sheol. They say to God, ‘Depart from us! We do not even desire the knowledge of Your ways. ‘Who is the Almighty, that we should serve Him, and what would we gain if we entreat Him?’”’ (Job 21:13-15). Are you warning those around you who deny God what awaits them?

  • God’s people are also prone to forget the Lord. Denying God is not a problem that is unique to non-believers like Pharaoh. After delivering the Jews to the Promised Land, the next generation forgot what God had done for them: “All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel.” (Judges 2:10). “An ox knows its owner, and a donkey its master's manger, but Israel does not know, My people do not understand.” (Is. 1:3). ‘“For they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know Me,’ declares the LORD.” (Jer. 9:3(b)). “Even the stork in the sky knows her seasons; and the turtledove and the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration; but My people do not know the ordinance of the LORD.” (Jer. 8:7). Do you know what ordinance in the Bible that God wants you to follow out of devotion, not obligation?

  • Judgment ultimately comes to those who deny God. Because God is patient, He waited to answer Pharaoh’s question regarding how he would know God. Eventually, the answer came in the form of judgment: “Thus says the LORD, ‘By this you shall know that I am the LORD: behold, I will strike the water that is in the Nile with the staff that is in my hand, and it will be turned to blood.’” (Ex. 7:17). In the end times, God will also make Himself known to all who deny Him through judgment (Rev. 20:11-15).

3. Faith Seeks Out Worship Before Freedom. Ex. 5:3.

  • Moses’ warning to Pharaoh. Moses responded with a warning. Pharaoh could either let the Jews go and worship or Egypt would face punishment: “Then they said, ‘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, otherwise He will fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.’” (Ex. 5:3). Some might find it interesting that God did not initially direct Pharaoh to let the Jews go in freedom. He also could have simply struck Pharaoh down when he rebuffed God’s demands. Through this encounter, God reveals how He confronts evil and what each believer should desire to achieve when delivered from evil. First, before God tested the Jews, He tested Pharaoh with a small request. It was only after Pharaoh rejected God’s request that He judged Pharaoh. Second, He reveals that the goal of freedom is worship and fellowship with God. He does not free you merely to have you pursue after your own self interests. Do you prioritize seeking out opportunities to worship God over your own self interests?

4. Faith Trusts in God For Protection From the Enemy. Ex. 5:4-9.

  • Pharaoh’s retaliation against God’s people. Pharaoh not only rejected the requests of Moses and Aaron, he sought to punish the Jews by forcing them to make bricks without straw: “But the king of Egypt said to them, ‘Moses and Aaron, why do you draw the people away from their work? Get back to your labors!’ Again Pharaoh said, ‘Look, the people of the land are now many, and you would have them cease from their labors!’ So the same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters over the people and their foremen, saying, ‘You are no longer to give the people straw to make brick as previously; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But the quota of bricks which they were making previously, you shall impose on them; you are not to reduce any of it. Because they are lazy, therefore they cry out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ Let the labor be heavier on the men, and let them work at it so that they will pay no attention to false words.” (Ex. 5:4-9). The straw was an important bonding agent to help the bricks harden and stick together. Without the straw, the bricks could easily break. Thus, because bricks without straw would break more easily while being transported and used for building, the Jews would have to create more bricks to make their daily quota.

Pharoah rejects Yahweh’s call to let His people go2

  • God is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. The enemy will also seek to oppress you when you do God’s will. Thus, Jesus warns that you will experience tribulation in the world (Jo. 16:33). But, when you obey Jesus, He promises you the peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7). This peace may not allow you to control your environment. But it does allow you to control your response to it. For those who are obedient and take refuge in God when attacked, He also promises to be a shield against the enemy: “He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.” (Prov. 30:5(b); 2 Sam. 22:31). For those who are obedient and do His will in faith, He further promises victory over your enemies (Lev. 26:7-8; Ex. 23:22, Nu 10:9, 35; Dt. 28:7; Isa. 54:17; Gen. 22:17). If you stay true to your faith in Christ in the face of persecution, He also promises that you will be “blessed” and receive “rewards” in heaven (Matt. 5:11). Are you taking refuge in Jesus and turning the battle to Him when the enemy attacks?

5. Faith Turns to God, Not the Things of the World, During Times of Testing. Ex. 5:10-18.

  • God’s testing of His people. Because God is sovereign, He could have stopped the Egyptian slave masters before they beat the Jews for failing to make their same quota of bricks without straw. Instead, He allowed this evil to happen to test the hearts of His people. As they would do many more times in the future, they failed this test. Instead of turning to God, they turned to Pharaoh for help: “10 So the taskmasters of the people and their foremen went out and spoke to the people, saying, ‘Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I am not going to give you any straw. 11 You go and get straw for yourselves wherever you can find it, but none of your labor will be reduced.’’ 12 So the people scattered through all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw. 13 The taskmasters pressed them, saying, ‘Complete your work quota, your daily amount, just as when you had straw.’ 14 Moreover, the foremen of the sons of Israel, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten and were asked, ‘Why have you not completed your required amount either yesterday or today in making brick as previously?’ 15 Then the foremen of the sons of Israel came and cried out to Pharaoh, saying, ‘Why do you deal this way with your servants? 16 There is no straw given to your servants, yet they keep saying to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are being beaten; but it is the fault of your own people.” 17 But he said, ‘You are lazy, very lazy; therefore you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’’ 18 So go now and work; for you will be given no straw, yet you must deliver the quota of bricks.” (Ex. 5:10-18). There are again lessons for every believer when faced with a time of testing; welcome them as growth opportunities.

  • Accept God’s testing as a way for Him to correct your walk. After the Jews had escaped from Egypt, Moses explained that God frequently tests His people: “for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” (Ex. 20:20(b)). “You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.” (Dt. 8:2). David warned that even the righteous are not beyond God’s testing: “The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked . . .” (Ps. 11:5). “I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, . . .” (Jer. 17:10). God’s testing and discipline is done out of love (Heb. 12:6). When you are tested, you may find that your heart has hidden anger, lust, or covetousness. When God exposes wickedness, He expects you to repent of it: “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). David invited God’s testing to show him where he needed to change (Ps. 139:23). Your trials produce perseverance and endurance: “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;” (Ro. 5:3). “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (Jam. 1:2-3). Are you using God’s testing as spiritual growth opportunities to grow closer to Him and turn away from the false things of the flesh?

  • God allows for testing to show that the idols of the world provide false comfort. God also uses testing to show where you are relying upon false idols: “For the Lord will vindicate His people, and will have compassion on His servants, when He sees that their strength is gone, and there is none remaining, bond or free. 37 And He will say, ‘Where are their gods, the rock in which they sought refuge? 38 Who ate the fat of their sacrifices, and drank the wine of their drink offering? Let them rise up and help you, let them be your hiding place! 39 See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; it is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, and there is no one who can deliver from My hand.’” (Dt. 32:36-39). Are there things of the world that you are turning to instead of God to find comfort and protection?

  • If your heart is still in bondage, you will return to Satan’s deceit. Because the Jews never fully trusted God, they later chose their oppression at the hands of Pharaoh over the chance to conquer the Promised Land. When faced with the prospect of fighting the people of the Promised Land, the Jews even tried to select a leader to head back to Egypt: “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.” (Nu. 14:4). They had forgotten how Pharaoh tried to kill every firstborn son and how he had the Jews beaten when they were unable to meet their normal quota of bricks when forced to make them without straw. When someone constantly chooses an addiction over God, He will eventually hand that person over to their addiction (Ro. 1:24). An addict lives for their next drink or chemical high. They become blinded to the suffering they impose upon themselves and others around them. Is there any sin in your life that you are returning to?

6. Faith Trusts in God’s Deliverance from Evil. Ex. 5:19-21.

  • The Jews’ lack faith in God’s deliverance. After the Jews’ attempts to convince Pharaoh to cancel his punishment failed, they again failed to turn to God. Instead, they turned on Moses and Aaron: “19 The foremen of the sons of Israel saw that they were in trouble because they were told, ‘You must not reduce your daily amount of bricks.’ 20 When they left Pharaoh’s presence, they met Moses and Aaron as they were waiting for them. 21 They said to them, ‘May the Lord look upon you and judge you, for you have made us odious in Pharaoh’s sight and in the sight of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to kill us.’” (Ex. 5:19-21). The Jews’ attacks against Moses and Aaron were attacks against God because they were His messengers. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught that your daily prayers should include a request that He deliver you from evil: “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.'” (Matt. 6:13). “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15). “then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment,” (2 Pet. 2:9). Are you petitioning God to deliver you from the evil one?

The elders of Israel complain to Moses3

7. Faith Trusts in God’s Word. Ex. 5:22-23.

  • Moses’ continued lack of faith in God’s promises. God also tested Moses in his faith after the Jews rebelled against him. Moses also failed His test. He again doubted God’s plan in sending him: “22 Then Moses returned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have You brought harm to this people? Why did You ever send me? 23 Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done harm to this people, and You have not delivered Your people at all.” (Ex. 5:22-23). Pharaoh’s refusal to let the Jews go should have come as no surprise to Moses. Almost immediately before this confrontation, God told Moses the Pharaoh would not let the Jews go voluntarily: “But I know that the king of Egypt will not permit you to go, except under compulsion.” (Ex. 3:19). God even told Moses what to say after Pharaoh refused to let the Jews go: “So I said to you, ‘Let My son go that he may serve Me’; but you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your firstborn.’” (Ex. 4:23). God further warned Moses before he left for Egypt, that He would further harden Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 4:21). Moses’ sin was failing to believe in God’s Word. Are there portions of the Word that you have trouble believing?

  • God is faithful to keep His promises. God promised that He would give the Jews the Promised Land (Gen. 12:6-7; 13:14-15; 15:7; 17:8; 26:4; 28:13-15; 50:24). He further advised them to take the land without fear: “Do not fear or be dismayed.’” (Dt. 1:21). As God once told Abraham: “Is there anything too difficult for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14). The Lord is the only being that you are to fear (Prov. 1:7). The fear of the Lord is hating evil (Prov. 8:12). “The fear of man brings a snare. But he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.” (Prov. 29:25). The last time you felt fear, did you take your eyes off the Lord? Are you trusting in yourself or fearing others?