Moses and Aaron are here dealing with Pharaoh, to get leave of
him to go and worship in the wilderness. I. They demand leave in the name of God
(v. 1), and he answers their demand with a defiance of God (v. 2). II. They beg
leave in the name of Israel (v. 3), and he answers their request with further
orders to oppress Israel (v. 4-9). These cruel orders were, 1. Executed by the
task-masters (v. 10-14). 2. Complained of to Pharaoh, but in vain (v. 15-19).
3. Complained of by the people to Moses (v. 20, 21), and by him to God (v. 22,
Moses and Aaron, having delivered their message to the elders of
Israel, with whom they found good acceptance, are now to deal with Pharaoh, to
whom they come in peril of their livesMoses particularly, who perhaps
was out-lawed for killing the Egyptian forty years before, so that if any of the
old courtiers should happen to remember that against him now it might cost him
his head. Their message itself was displeasing, and touch Pharaoh both in his
honour and in his profit, two tender points; yet these faithful ambassadors
boldly deliver it, whether he will hear or whether he will forbear.
I. Their demand is piously bold: Thus saith the Lord God of
Israel, Let my people go, v. 1. Moses, in treating with the elders of
Israel, is directed to call God the God of their fathers; but, in
treating with Pharaoh, they call him the God of Israel, and it is the
first time we find him called so in scripture: he is called the God of
Israel, the person (Gen. 33:20); but here it is Israel, the people.
They are just beginning to be formed into a people when God is called their God.
Moses, it is likely, was directed to call him so, at least it might be inferred
from ch. 9:22, Israel is my son. In this great name they deliver their
message: Let my people go. 1. They were God's people, and therefore
Pharaoh ought not to detain them in bondage. Note, God will own his own people,
though ever so poor and despicable, and will find a time to plead their cause.
"The Israelites are slaves in Egypt, but they are my people," says
God, "and I will not suffer them to be always trampled upon." See Isa.
52:4, 5. 2. He expected services and sacrifices from them, and therefore they
must have leave to go where they could freely exercise their religion, without
giving offence to, or receiving offence from, the Egyptians. Note, God delivers
his people out of the hand of their enemies, that they may serve him, and serve
him cheerfully, that they may hold a feast to him, which they may do, while they
have his favour and presence, even in a wilderness, a dry and barren land.
II. Pharaoh's answer is impiously bold: Who is the Lord,
that I should obey his voice? v. 2. Being summoned to surrender, he thus
hangs out the flag of defiance, hectors Moses and the God that sends him, and
peremptorily refuses to let Israel go; he will not treat about it, nor so much
as bear the mention of it. Observe, 1. How scornfully he speaks of the God of
Israel: "Who is Jehovah? I neither know him nor care for him,
neither value him nor fear him:" it is a hard name that he never heard of
before, but he resolves it shall be no bug-bear to him. Israel was now a
despised oppressed people, looked on as the tail of the nation, and, by the
character they bore, Pharaoh makes his estimate of their God, and concludes that
he made no better a figure among the gods than his people did among the nations.
Note, Hardened persecutors are more malicious against God himself than they are
against his people. See Isa. 37:23. Again, Ignorance and contempt of God are at
the bottom of all the wickedness that is in the world. Men know not the Lord, or
have very low and mean thoughts of him, and therefore they obey not his voice,
nor will let any thing go for him. 2. How proudly he speaks of himself: "That
I should obey his voice; I, the king of Egypt, a great people, obey the God
of Israel, a poor enslaved people? Shall I, that rule the Israel of God, obey
the God of Israel? No, it is below me; I scorn to answer his summons."
Note, Those are the children of pride that are the children of disobedience,
Job 41:34; Eph. 5:6. Proud men think themselves too good to stoop even to God
himself, and would not be under control, Jer. 43:2. Here is the core of the
controversy: God must rule, but man will not be ruled. "I will have my will
done," says God: "But I will do my own will," says the sinner. 3.
How resolutely he denies the demand: Neither will I let Israel go. Note,
Of all sinners none are so obstinate, nor so hardly persuaded to leave their
sin, as persecutors are.
Finding that Pharaoh had no veneration at all for God, Moses and
Aaron next try whether he had any compassion for Israel, and become humble
suitors to him for leave to go and sacrifice, but in vain.
I. Their request is very humble and modest, v. 3. They make no
complaint of the rigour they were ruled with. They plead that the journey they
designed was not a project formed among themselves, but that their God had met
with them, and called them to it. They beg with all submission: We pray thee.
The poor useth entreaties; though God may summon princes that oppress, it
becomes us to beseech and make supplication to them. What they ask is very
reasonable, only for a short vacation, while they went three days' journey
into the desert, and that on a good errand, and unexceptionable: "We
will sacrifice unto the Lord our God, as other people do to theirs;"
and, lastly, they give a very good reason, "Lest, if we quite cast
off his worship, he fall upon us with one judgment or other, and then Pharaoh
will lose his vassals."
II. Pharaoh's denial of their request is very barbarous and
unreasonable, v. 4-9.
1. His suggestions were very unreasonable. (1.) That the people
were idle, and that therefore they talked of going to sacrifice. The cities they
built for Pharaoh, and the other fruit of their labours, were witnesses for them
that they were not idle; yet he thus basely misrepresents them, that he might
have a pretence to increase their burdens. (2.) That Moses and Aaron made them
idle with vain words, v. 9. God's words are here called vain words; and those
that called them to the best and most needful business are accused of making
them idle. Note, The malice of Satan has often represented the service and
worship of God as fit employment for those only that have nothing else to do,
and the business only of the idle; whereas indeed it is the indispensable duty
of those that are most busy in the world.
2. His resolutions hereupon were most barbarous. (1.) Moses and
Aaron themselves must get to their burdens (v. 4); they are Israelites,
and, however God had distinguished them from the rest, Pharaoh makes no
difference: they must share in the common slavery of their nation. Persecutors
have always taken a particular pleasure in putting contempt and hardship upon
the ministers of the churches. (2.) The usual tale of bricks must be exacted,
without the usual allowance of straw to mix with the clay, or to burn the bricks
with, that thus more work might be laid upon the men, which if they performed,
they would be broken with labour; and, if not, they would be exposed to
Pharaoh's orders are here put in execution; straw is denied,
and yet the work not diminished. 1. The Egyptian task-masters were very severe.
Pharaoh having decreed unrighteous decrees, the task-masters were ready to write
the grievousness that he had prescribed, Isa. 10:1. Cruel princes will never
want cruel instruments to be employed under them, who will justify them in that
which is most unreasonable. These task-masters insisted upon the daily tasks, as
when there was straw, v. 13. See what need we have to pray that we may be
delivered from unreasonable and wicked men, 2 Th. 3:2. The enmity of the
serpent's seed against the seed of the woman is such as breaks through all the
laws of reason, honour, humanity, and common justice. 2. The people hereby were
dispersed throughout all the land of Egypt, to gather stubble, v. 12. By this
means Pharaoh's unjust and barbarous usage of them came to be known to all the
kingdom, and perhaps caused them to be pitied by their neighbours, and made
Pharaoh's government less acceptable even to his own subjects: good-will is
never got by persecution. 3. The Israelite-officers were used with particular
harshness, v. 14. Those that were the fathers of the houses of Israel paid
dearly for their honour; for from them immediately the service was exacted, and
they were beaten when it was not performed. See here, (1.) What a miserable
thing slavery is, and what reason we have to be thankful to God that we are a
free people, and not oppressed. Liberty and property are valuable jewels in the
eyes of those whose services and possessions lie at the mercy of an arbitrary
power. (2.) What disappointments we often meet with after the raising of our
expectations. The Israelites were now lately encouraged to hope for enlargement,
but behold greater distresses. This teaches us always to rejoice with trembling.
(3.) What strange steps God sometimes takes in delivering his people; he often
brings them to the utmost straits when he is just ready to appear for them. The
lowest ebbs go before the highest tides; and very cloudy mornings commonly
introduce the fairest days, Deu. 32:36. God's time to help is when things are
at the worst; and Providence verifies the paradox, The worse the better.
It was a great strait that the head-workmen were in, when they
must either abuse those that were under them or be abused by those that were
over them; yet, it should seem, rather than they would tyrannize, they would be
tyrannized over; and they were so. In this evil case (v. 19), observe,
I. How justly they complained to Pharaoh: They came and cried
unto Pharaoh, v. 15. Whither should they go with a remonstrance of their
grievances but to the supreme power, which is ordained for the protection of the
injured? As bad as Pharaoh was his oppressed subjects had liberty to complain to
him; there was no law against petitioning: it was a very modest, but moving,
representation that they made of their condition (v. 16): Thy servants are
beaten (severely enough, no doubt, when things were in such a ferment), and
yet the fault is in thy own people, the task-masters, who deny us what is
necessary for carrying on our work. Note, It is common for those to be most
rigorous in blaming others who are most blameworthy themselves. But what did
they get by this complaint? It did but make bad worse. 1. Pharaoh taunted them
(v. 17); when they were almost killed with working, he told them they were idle:
they underwent the fatigue of industry, and yet lay under the imputation of
slothfulness, while nothing appeared to ground the charge upon but this, that
they said, Let us go and do sacrifice. Note, It is common for the best
actions to be mentioned under the worst names; holy diligence in the best
business is censured by many as a culpable carelessness in the business of the
world. It is well for us that men are not to be our judges, but a God who knows
what the principles are on which we act. Those that are diligent in doing
sacrifice to the Lord will, with God, escape the doom of the slothful servant,
though, with men, they do not. 2. He bound on their burdens: Go now and work.
v. 18. Note, Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked; what can be expected from
unrighteous men but more unrighteousness?
II. How unjustly they complained of Moses and Aaron: The Lord
look upon you, and judge, v. 21. This was not fair. Moses and Aaron had
given sufficient evidence of their hearty good-will to the liberties of Israel;
and yet, because things succeed not immediately as they hoped, they are
reproached as accessaries to their slavery. They should have humbled themselves
before God, and taken to themselves the shame of their sin, which turned away
good things from them; but, instead of this, they fly in the face of their best
friends, and quarrel with the instruments of their deliverance, because of some
little difficulties and obstructions they met with in effecting it. Note, Those
that are called out to public service for God and their generation must expect
to be tried, not only by the malicious threats of proud enemies, but by the
unjust and unkind censures of unthinking friends, who judge only by outward
appearance and look but a little way before them. Now what did Moses do in this
strait? It grieved him to the heart that the event did not answer, but rather
contradict, his expectation; and their upbraidings were very cutting, and like a
sword in his bones; but, 1. He returned to the Lord (v. 22), to acquaint him
with it, and to represent the case to him: he knew that what he had said and
done was by divine direction; and therefore what blame is laid upon him for it
he considers as reflecting upon God, and, like Hezekiah, spreads it before him
as interested in the cause, and appeals to him. Compare this with Jer. 20:7-9.
Note, When we find ourselves, at any time, perplexed and embarrassed in the way
of our duty, we ought to have recourse to God, and lay open our case before him
by faithful and fervent prayer. If we retreat, let us retreat to him, and no
further. 2. He expostulated with him, v. 22, 23. He knew not how to reconcile
the providence with the promise and the commission which he had received.
"Is this God's coming down to deliver Israel? Must I, who hoped to be a
blessing to them, become a scourge to them? By this attempt to get them out of
the pit, they are but sunk the deeper into it." Now he asks, (1.) Wherefore
hast thou so evil entreated this people? Note, Even when God is coming
towards his people in ways of mercy, he sometimes takes such methods as that
they may think themselves but ill treated. The instruments of deliverance, when
they aim to help, are found to hinder, and that becomes a trap which, it was
hoped, would have been for their welfare, God suffering it to be so that we may
learn to cease from man, and may come off from a dependence upon second causes.
Note, further, When the people of God think themselves ill treated, they should
go to God by prayer, and plead with him, and that is the way to have better
treatment in God's good time. (2.) Why is it thou hast sent me? Thus,
[1.] He complains of his ill success: "Pharaoh has done evil to this
people, and not one step seems to be taken towards their deliverance."
Note, It cannot but sit very heavily upon the spirits of those whom God employs
for him to see that their labour does no good, and much more to see that it does
hurt eventually, though not designedly. It is uncomfortable to a good minister
to perceive that his endeavours for men's conviction and conversion do but
exasperate their corruptions, confirm their prejudices, harden their hearts, and
seal them up under unbelief. This makes them go in the bitterness of their
souls, as the prophet, Eze. 3:14. Or, [2.] He enquires what was further to be
done: Why hast thou sent me? that is, "What other method shall I
take in pursuance of my commission?" Note, Disappointments in our work must
not drive us from our God, but still we must consider why we are sent.