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Israel's Labor Increased First Encounter with Pharaoh The First Audience with Pharaoh Fails (5:1-6:1) Moses and Aaron Before the King of Egypt The First Audience with Pharaoh
5:1-9 5:1-9 5:1-9 5:1 5:1-5
5:4-5 Instructions to the Taskmasters
5:6-9 5:6-9
5:10-14 5:10-14 5:10-14 5:10-14 5:10-14
The Hebrew Scribes Complain
5:15-21 5:15-19 5:15-21 5:15-16 5:15-18
5:17-19 Recrimination of the People - Prayer of Moses
5:20-21 5:20-21
Israel's Deliverance Assured (5:22-6:13) Moses Complains to the Lord
5:22-23 5:22-23 5:22-6:1 5:22-6:1

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Third paragraph
  4. Etc.


  1. This is the account of Moses' and Aaron's first meeting with Pharaoh and its result.
  2. Notice the different NOUNS and PHRASES used of Israel's Deity.
    1. the Lord (YHWH), Exod. 5:1,2,3,17,21,22
    2. the God (Elohim) of Israel, Exod. 5:1
    3. the God (Elohim) of the Hebrews, Exod. 5:3
    4. the Lord our God (YHWH, Elohim), Exod. 5:3
    5. our God, Exod. 5:8
    6. Your Name (BDB 1027), Exod. 5:23
    For YHWH and Elohim see SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY. C. and D.

  3. Notice the number of different words used to describe the task of making sun dried bricks.
    1. work, Exod. 5:4,13 - BDB 795
    2. burdens, Exod. 5:4,5,13 - BDB 688
    3. make bricks, Exod. 5:7 - BDB 527 CONSTRUCT BDB 527 (INFINITIVE and NOUN)
    4. work, Exod. 5:9,11 - BDB 715
    5. labor, Exod. 5:9,16 - BDB 793 (VERB)
    6. daily task, Exod. 5:13,19 - BDB 182 CONSTRUCT BDB 398
    7. task, Exod. 5:14 - BDB 349 (of making bricks, BDB 527, Exod. 5:7,14)
    8. work, Exod. 5:18 - BDB 712 (VERB)
    9. quota of bricks, Exod. 5:18 - BDB 527 and BDB 670 (VERB)


1And 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.'" 2But 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." 3Then 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." 4But 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!" 5Again Pharaoh said, "Look, the people of the land are now many, and you would have them cease from their labors!" 6So the same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters over the people and their foremen, saying, 7"You are no longer to give the people straw to make brick as previously; let them go and gather straw for themselves. 8But 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.' 9Let the labor be heavier on the men, and let them work at it so that they will pay no attention to false words."

5:1 "Pharaoh" This title originally meant "great house" (BDB 829). This became the title for all Egyptian rulers, which relates to the Egyptian concept of the deity of the Pharaoh. He was believed to be the son of the sun god, Ra. Because Seti I is the first Pharaoh to move his capital close to the delta region, many believe (me included) that this Pharaoh, mentioned in Exodus 5, must have been his successor, Rameses II, who began reigning in 1290 B.C.

▣ "YHWH, the God of Israel" Here are the two names for God combined with the title of the nation. The term "YHWH" stands for the covenant name for God, and from Exod. 3:14, it relates to the Hebrew VERB "to be."
The term "God" is Elohim, which is the PLURAL of the general name for God in the ANE, El. See SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY. These two named first appear together in Gen. 2:4.

▣ "that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness" The following phrase, "Let My people go" (BDB 1018, KB 1511, Piel IMPERATIVE), shows the connection between YHWH and His covenant people. Egypt had many gods; Israel had but One (see SPECIAL TOPIC: MONOTHEISM). These were God's people, not Pharaoh's.
The feast refers to a religious pilgrimage which included a sacrifice (cf. Exod. 5:3). It is quite possible that nomadic Semites had regular festivals. This may imply only a few days' celebration, but it really was meant to refer to a much longer period of time. It is obvious that God wanted to permanently deliver Israel from Egypt and not just for a short period.

5:2 "and Pharaoh said, 'Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice'" Pharaoh considered himself to be a god. Every national entity had its own gods during this period of time. Pharaoh's question reflects his obvious abhorrence to being "bossed around" by a god of a slave people. If this god was so powerful, how did his people get to be in slavery in the first place?

▣ "I do not know the Lord" This VERB (BDB 393, KB 390, Qal PERFECT) implies

  1. a knowledge of
  2. a relationship with
See SPECIAL TOPIC: KNOW. YHWH will reveal Himself to Pharaoh in the plagues which depreciate Egypt's deities and worldview. The theological purpose of the confrontation was to vividly demonstrate to the ANE the power, majesty, and glory of Israel's God. There was no more powerful nation at this time than Egypt!

5:3 "The God of the Hebrews has met with us" The original meaning of the term "Hebrews" is uncertain. Some Jews say that it goes back to an ancient relative, Eber, Gen. 10:21. It may be related to the nomadic Semites of the period, Habiru, which seems to mean "beyond the river." We know that in the second millennium B.C. a large group of nomadic Semites crossed the Euphrates River and a large number of them, call the Hyksos (or shepherd kings), were believed to have controlled even the land of Egypt during the 1700-1500 B.C. period.

▣ "Please, let us go a three days' journey" This is either

  1. literal, and if so, Mt. Sinai cannot be in its traditional location in the southern Sinai peninsula
  2. figurative, if so, it refers to a much longer period of time which Pharaoh would have understood (i.e., Oriental dialogue)
  3. a ruse
Jewish commentators spend very little time at all on this subject but Christian commentators agonize over #3.

▣ "lest He fall upon them with pestilence or with the sword" This is the only place this VERB (BDB 803, KB 910) is used with God as the subject. This is a veiled threat to Pharaoh. If God's people would be punished for not obeying His voice, even when they were not responsible, how much more would God's anger fall on Pharaoh?

NASB  "draw the people away"
NKJV, NRSV  "take the people from"
TEV  "making the people neglect"
NJB, JPSOA, REB  "distracting the people"
LXX  "diverting my people"
The VERB (BDB 828 III, KB 970, Hiphil IMPERFECT) means "let go," or "let alone." Only here in Hiphil does it mean "cause people to refrain."
I wonder if there is a play on words here. This VERB is from the root פרע . The title "Pharaoh" is רעהפ. Pharaoh's will for the Hebrew slaves is "the" only will!

▣ "Get back to your labors" Pharaoh sees the Hebrews as slave laborers for his bidding (BDB 229, KB 246, Qal IMPERATIVE).

5:5 "the people of the land" This phrase has a wide range of meaning in the OT (see Roland deVaux, Ancient Israel, vol. 1, p. 70). It can be used of non-Israelites.

  1. in Gen. 23:12-13 it is used of the Hittites
  2. in Gen. 42:6 it is used of Egyptians
  3. in Num. 14:9 it is used of Canaanites
It was also used of the children of Israel but in various ways during particular stages of their national development.
  1. it was used of the citizenry vs. the ruling aristocracy (monarchy)
  2. it was used of non-kosher common folk vs. kosher religious groups (NT)
In this context the JPSOA (Jewish Study Bible, p. 114) suggests an emendation from the Samaritan Pentateuch, which reads, "Even now they are more numerous than the people of the land" (i.e., Egyptians). This fits the context better (cf. TEV, NRSV, REB).

▣ "are many, and you would have them cease from their labor" This same fear of the number of the Hebrews is referred to in Exod. 1:10. Not only was there fear of their number in size (and possibly their ethnic origin) but also fear of the loss of their economic value.
The VERB (BDB 991, KB 1407, Hiphil PERFECT) is the same root as "Sabbath." Both mean "rest" or "cessation of labor."

5:6 "their foremen" The term "taskmasters" (BDB 620) refers to Egyptian supervisors, while the term "foremen" (BDB 1009) refers to Hebrew supervisors (cf. Exod. 5:14). It seems that this is an attempt to drive a wedge between Moses and the Hebrew leadership by demanding extra hard labor. Pharaoh is not going to discredit Moses directly, but indirectly, by his treatment of the Hebrews (cf. Exod. 5:15-21).

5:7 The lack of good straw would make Pharaoh's building projects weaker! He is afraid of the Hebrews' numbers and he will soon be afraid of their God! Josephus (Antiq. 2.13.4) says they had to make bricks by day and gather straw by night.

5:8 Pharaoh accused the Hebrews of being lazy when it seems that the real problem was his fear of their numbers and possibly of their aligning themselves with another Semite power (i.e., Hittites).

NASB, NRSV, NJB, REB  "lazy"
NKJV, Peshitta  "idle"
JPSOA  "shirkers"
This same term (BDB 951, KB 1276, Niphal PARTICIPLE) is doubled in Exod. 5:17. Its basic meaning is "to sink," "to drop," or "to relax." The Niphal is found only in this context.
This is a false charge to cause division between Moses/Aaron and the Hebrew workers.

5:9 "false words" This is Pharaoh's characterization of the request of Moses and Aaron.

10So 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. 11You go and get straw for yourselves wherever you can find it, but none of your labor will be reduced.'" 12So the people scattered through all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw. 13The taskmasters pressed them, saying, "Complete your work quota, your daily amount, just as when you had straw." 14Moreover, 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?"

5:12 This is a hyperbolic statement. The Hebrews lived only in the delta region. The store cities were built here.

▣ "gather stubble for straw" This term "stubble" (BDB 905, NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 996) means "small pieces," which implies a poor grade of straw.

5:14 The persons beaten (BDB 645, KB 697, Hophal IMPERFECT with waw) were the Hebrew foremen.

15Then the foremen of the sons of Israel came and cried out to Pharaoh, saying, "Why do you deal this way with your servants? 16There 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." 17But he said, "You are lazy, very lazy; therefore you say, 'Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.' 18So go now and work; for you will be given no straw, yet you must deliver the quota of bricks." 19The 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." 20When they left Pharaoh's presence, they met Moses and Aaron as they were waiting for them. 21They 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."

5:16 Pharaoh blames the extra work and beatings on Moses (cf. Exod. 5:8,17). The MT has a VERB (BDB 306, KB 305, Qal PERFECT) for "sin," but this does not fit the context. The NASB's "fault" changes the meaning (cf. Gen. 41:9). The LXX and Syriac have, "you sin against your own people," putting the blame on Moses.

5:21 The foremen express a desire (JUSSIVES) that God

  1. take notice of
  2. judge
the actions/message of Moses/Aaron. They even fear for their lives (Exod. 5:21).

22Then Moses returned to the Lord and said, "O Lord, why have You brought harm to this people? Why did You ever send me? 23Ever 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."

5:22 "O Lord, why have You brought harm to this people?" It is theologically significant that in parts of the OT, God is attributed with not only good and blessings, but also with evil. One needs to compare 2 Sam. 24:1 and 1 Chr. 21:1 to see the relationship of this understanding. Also, 1 Sam. 16:14 is helpful at this point. The Hebrews believed that God was the only God, and therefore, He was the only causality (cf. Isa. 45:7; Jer. 20:7; Ezek. 14:9; Amos 3:6). God's plans are above our understanding. He has long term good plans for His people, but this world of sin and rebellion (see SPECIAL TOPIC: THE FALL) confuses the issue (cf. Isa. 55:6-13).

5:23 "You have not delivered Your people at all" The statement is grammatically reinforced by the use of the Hiphil INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and the Hiphil PERFECT VERB of the same root (BDB 664, KB 717).
Moses cannot understand how the powerful God of Exodus 3-4 has now seemingly failed to deliver Israel. He has even made things worse (Exod. 5:22).
It is good advice for all believers to take the long look! God is sovereign and there is a plan!
This will not be the last time the people of Israel grumble and complain to Moses!


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. What is the purpose of the confrontation between Israel and Egypt?
  2. Is the end of Exod. 5:3 a warning or a forecast?
  3. Exodus 5:22-23 is the first intercession of Moses. Why is Moses so confused with God's silence and inactivity?

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