Exodus 5-7
(Let My People Go!)
January 17th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “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.’”

- Exodus 5:1 (NIV)

Summary of Chapters

Today's reading continues the story of Moses, a descendant of Levi, who through divine intervention had been raised in the house of the Pharaoh while his people toiled as slaves under the Pharaoh. Moses had fled to the desert to escape the trouble he had created and escape the conflict in his own heart. In the desert he found a wife and he encountered the one from whom none of us can ever escape. The Great I Am. Yahweh. The God of his ancestors Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham. As with Abraham, Moses was given an assignment from God that included a journey, but with a much bigger responsibility: Moses had been asked to rescue the two million Hebrews enslaved in Egypt.

Today's three chapters describe the not so promising beginning of this campaign. Instead of leading his people to freedom, Moses becomes entangled in tension and conflict across several relationships: Moses and Aaron vs. the Pharaoh, Moses and Aaron vs. their own people, and Moses vs. God. Chapter 5 opens with Moses and Aaron in the audience of the Pharaoh. They tell him that “the God of Israel says, ‘Let my people go’ (Exodus 5:1 - NIV).” Pharaoh refuses, and correctly figures that he could drive a wedge between Moses and the Israelites by responding with an increased workload for the enslaved people. His plan initially worked, as the people called for God to judge Moses and Aaron for making them “a stench to Pharaoh (Exodus 5:21 - NIV).”

This apparent failure also created tension between Moses and God (but not separation, because nothing can separate us from God). Moses explains to God that the plan back-fired, and boldly admonishes God:

    Moses went back to God and said, "My Master, why are you treating this people so badly? And why did you ever send me? From the moment I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, things have only gotten worse for this people. And rescue? Does this look like rescue to you?"

    -Exodus 5:22-23 (MSG)

Chapter 6 records that the LORD responded to Moses by reassuring him, "Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgment (Exodus 6:6 - KJV)." God then instructs Moses to return to Pharaoh with the original request, but Moses raises a new objection: “I speak with faltering lips (Exodus 6:12 and 6:30 - NIV).”

In chapter 7, God reminds Moses of the original plan to let Aaron be the spokesperson, and let God be the convincer through his unlimited ability to perform miracles. God changes a staff into a snake and then turns the Nile into blood. Pharaoh sees his magicians perform the same acts and is not impressed.

Reflection and Application

This situation does not look good for the team of Moses and Aaron. For them, it was as if they were a football team going into the locker room at halftime, down by two touchdowns, and have not even shown the ability to put points on the board. The players are challenging the coach and even the fans have turned against them, cursing them and perhaps even throwing objects in their direction.

Another analogy is the soldiers of the newly formed United States camped in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania during the winter of 1777-78. They were defeated, dejected, and demoralized, with little hope of ever defeating the great British Empire, much less surviving the ravages of nature(1):

    "An army of skeletons appeared before our eyes naked, starved, sick and discouraged," wrote New York's Governor Morris of the Continental Congress.

    The Marquis de Lafayette wrote: "The unfortunate soldiers were in want of everything; they had neither coats nor hats, nor shirts, nor shoes. Their feet and their legs froze until they were black, and it was often necessary to amputate them."

    A bitter George Washington — whose first concern was always his soldiers — would accuse the Congress of "little feeling for the naked and distressed soldiers. I feel superabundantly for them, and from my soul pity those miseries, which it is neither in my power to relieve or prevent."

Moses and Washington were both up against superior foes, but those foes had their limitations. Note that the book of Exodus says that Pharaoh’s magicians were able to create the appearance of replicating God’s miracles, but could not reverse them. That would have been an impressive trick if they could have turned the snake back into a staff or turned the bloody Nile back into blue-green water, but they could not.

The transformation of the Nile into blood was just the first of ten plagues that God would impose on Pharaoh and the Egyptians - these guys had no idea what was about to hit them! Perhaps the Egyptians were not impressed because there is a naturally forming red tide that occurs in the Nile during the annual floods in August. Modern scientists attribute this phenomenon to micro-organisms(2). Thus, perhaps Pharaoh had witnessed this bloody effect before and was not going to be easily scared.

The Moses depicted in movies is not quite as vulnerable as the one described in the book of Exodus. For example, we see an assertive and forceful Moses played by Charlton Heston in Cecil B. DeMille’s epic film Ten Commandments. Also, the Moses played by Christian Bale in Ridley Scott's 2014 release of God's and Kings is also bold and confident and is an adept swordsman. You can see a trailer for this latest movie by clicking the arrow in the YouTube object below:

Gods and Kings trailer

Kudos to Hollywood for bringing this story to the big screen on more than one occasion, but they have taken some artistic license, so it's important to separate scripture from the script. For example, the book of Exodus says that Moses had “faltering lips” so God assigned Aaron to do the talking. A more accurate film portrayal of a leader with a speech impediment can be found in the 2010 release of The King’s Speech. This movie portrays the real-life story of King George VI of the United Kingdom (1895-1952), who ruled from December 1936 until his death (4). King George had a stuttering problem and was unable to address his people without feeling inadequate, but the country needed to hear his voice as it prepared to defend itself against a foreign aggressor. In the movie, King George seeks a cure through speech therapy. You will have to see the movie or ready a historical account to find out what happens.

In contrast to King George's approach, God does not offer a cure or therapist for Moses, but sends him a helper, his brother Aaron. Jesus continued this tradition by sending pairs of his disciples on evangelistic missions with sparse supplies and the power of the Good News on their lips, as described in the Gospel of Luke:

    After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ "

    - Luke 10:1-9 (NRSV)

God sends us family members, spouses, friends, teammates, fellow soldiers, allies, and colleagues who complement our weaknesses with their strengths. For George Washington and the former colonists, it was the ally of France who helped them to overcome a stronger foe. The assistance from France may have been divine intervention or the self-serving needs of a kingdom who was also at odds with England. Regardless of the motification they were able to achieve a great victory by working together. Maybe in our jobs or volunteer work we find that we are good in one area, perhaps strategy and vision, but we have colleagues who are better at executing that vision - or vice versa. On the playground, maybe some of us are good at collecting rebounds in basketball, but we can’t hit a 3-point shot, so we pass the ball to our teammate on the perimeter who scores for the team. We can also encourage our partner and receive encouragement from him or her. We ought to welcome the partnership with these helpers and never allow ourselves to be so proud that we refuse to let them do what we can’t do.

God performed dramatic miracles to get the attention of Pharaoh. He may continue to perform big miracles today, but may more frequently employ subtle ones that are easily missed if we don’t pay attention or if we try to explain them away as natural occurrences.

Moses and Aaron were frustrated that Pharaoh was not moved by the first few miracles of God, but had not given up. Instead, Moses brought his frustrations directly to God, which is a good model for us when we fell as if life is not working out according to our plans. It's important for us to have the persistence of Moses and remember that God’s complaint window is always open, 24/7/366. God’s answer to Moses and Aaron was to keep doing what they were doing (telling Pharaoh to ‘let my people go’). This response may have surprised Moses and Aaron, but they complied.

We may be equally surprised at the answers we hear. How shall we respond?

The emotion of the desire for freedom from the Pharaoh was captured in the African-American spiritual song from the 1800s, "Go Down Moses." The original and unknown authors could relate to the situation and may have considered the Pharaoh to be a symbolic representation of their own slavemasters. Their country had declared itself free from a monarch and declared that all men were created equal. But in practice for this first hundred years some were treated as less than equal. The song "Go Down Moses" has been performed by many artists over the generations since then, including Louis Armstrong in the early 20th century and Will Smith later in that century. An excerpt of the lyrics is provided below (3):

    When Israel was in Egypt's land:
    Let my people go,
    Oppress'd so hard they could not stand,
    Let my People go.
    So the LORD said,
    Go down, Moses,
    Way down in Egypt's land,
    Tell old Pharaoh,
    Let my people go.

    -Excerpt from "Go Down Moses (Let my People Go)"

"Go Down Moses", performed by Louis Armstrong

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. How do you react when your team is losing?
    2. What complaint would you like to drop in God’s complaint box?
    3. What is one of your talent gaps that a significant person fills in for you?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father, please help us to approach you directly with our complaints and accept your offers of help.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    People around the world who are desperately seeking freedom and equality


    (1) http://www.ushistory.org/valleyforge/history/vstory.html, 16-Jan-2015
    (2) Boadt, Lawrence, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction, Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ; 1984 p. 167
    (3) "George VI of the United Kingdom," www.wikipedia.org - 1/16/2011
    (4) "Go Down Moses," Wikipedia-1/16/12

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Exodus 8-10 (Faithful Persistence)

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