Exodus 5


Moses and Aaron open their commission to Pharaoh, 1.

He insultingly asks who Jehovah is, in whose name they require him

to dismiss the people, 2.

They explain, 3.

He charges them with making the people disaffected, 4, 5;

and commands the task-masters to increase their work, and lessen

their means of performing it, 6-9.

The task-masters do as commanded, and refuse to give the people

straw to assist them in making brick, and yet require the fulfilment

of their daily tasks as formerly, when furnished with all the

necessary means, 10-13.

The Israelites failing to produce the ordinary quantity of brick,

their own officers, set over them by the task-masters, are cruelly

insulted and beaten, 14.

The officers complain to Pharaoh, 15, 16;

but find no redress, 17, 18.

The officers, finding their case desperate, bitterly reproach Moses

and Aaron for bringing them into their present circumstances, 19-21.

Moses retires, and lays the matter before the Lord, and pleads

with him, 22, 23.


Verse 1. And afterward Moses and Aaron went] This chapter is

properly a continuation of the preceding, as the succeeding is a

continuation of this; and to preserve the connection of the facts

they should be read together.

How simply, and yet with what authority, does Moses deliver his

message to the Egyptian king! Thus saith JEHOVAH, GOD of ISRAEL,

Let my people go. It is well in this, as in almost every other

case where Jehovah occurs, to preserve the original word: our

using the word LORD is not sufficiently expressive, and often

leaves the sense indistinct.

Verse 2. Who is the Lord] Who is Jehovah, that I should obey

his voice? What claims has he on me? I am under no obligation to

him. Pharaoh spoke here under the common persuasion that every

place and people had a tutelary deity, and he supposed that this

Jehovah might be the tutelary deity of the Israelites, to whom he,

as an Egyptian, could be under no kind of obligation. It is not

judicious to bring this question as a proof that Pharaoh was an

atheist: of this the text affords no evidence.

Verse 3. Three days' journey] The distance from Goshen to

Sinai; see Ex 3:18.

And sacrifice unto the Lord] Great stress is laid on this

circumstance. God required sacrifice; no religious acts which

they performed could be acceptable to him without this. He had

now showed them that it was their indispensable duty thus to

worship him, and that if they did not they might expect him to

send the pestilence-some plague or death proceeding immediately

from himself, or the sword-extermination by the hands of an enemy.

The original word deber, from dabar, to drive off,

draw under, &c., which we translate pestilence from the Latin

pestis, the plague, signifies any kind of disease by which an

extraordinary mortality is occasioned, and which appears from the

circumstances of the case to come immediately from God. The

Israelites could not sacrifice in the land of Egypt, because the

animals they were to offer to God were held sacred by the

Egyptians; and they could not omit this duty, because it was

essential to religion even before the giving of the law. Thus we

find that Divine justice required the life of the animal for the

life of the transgressor, and the people were conscious, if this

were not done, that God would consume them with the pestilence or

the sword. From the foundation of the world the true religion

required sacrifice. Before, under, and after the law, this was

deemed essential to salvation. Under the Christian dispensation

Jesus is the lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world;

and being still the Lamb newly slain before the throne, no man

cometh unto the Father but by him.

"In this first application to Pharaoh, we observe," says Dr.

Dodd, "that proper respectful submission which is due from

subjects to their sovereign. They represent to him the danger

they should be in by disobeying their God, but do not so much as

hint at any punishment that would follow to Pharaoh."

Verse 4. Wherefore do ye, Moses and Aaron] He hints that the

Hebrews are in a state of revolt, and charges Moses and Aaron as

being ringleaders of the sedition. This unprincipled charge has

been, in nearly similar circumstances, often repeated since. Men

who have laboured to bring the mass of the common people from

ignorance, irreligion, and general profligacy of manners, to an

acquaintance with themselves and God, and to a proper knowledge of

their duty to him and to each other, have been often branded as

being disaffected to the state, and as movers of sedition among

the people! See Clarke on Ex 5:17.

Let the people] taphriu, from para, to

loose or disengage, which we translate to let, from the

Anglo-Saxon [Anglo-Saxon] lettan, to hinder. Ye hinder the people

from working. Get ye to your burdens. "Let religion alone, and

mind your work." The language not only of tyranny, but of the

basest irreligion also.

Verse 5. The people of the land now are many] The sanguinary

edict had no doubt been long before repealed, or they could not

have multiplied so greatly.

Verse 6. The task-masters of the people and their officers] The

task-masters were Egyptians, (See Clarke on Ex 1:11,) the

officers were Hebrews; See Clarke on Ex 5:14. But it is

probable that the task-masters Ex 1:11, who are called

sarey missim, princes of the burdens or taxes, were different

from those termed taskmasters here, as the words are different;

nogesim signifies exactors or oppressors-persons who

exacted from them an unreasonable proportion either of labour or


Officers.- shoterim; those seem to have been an inferior

sort of officers, who attended on superior officers or magistrates

to execute their orders. They are supposed to have been something

like our sheriffs.

Verse 7. Straw to make brick] There have been many conjectures

concerning the use of straw in making bricks. Some suppose it was

used merely for burning them, but this is unfounded. The eastern

bricks are often made of clay and straw kneaded together, and then

not burned, but thoroughly dried in the sun. This is expressly

mentioned by Philo in his life of Moses, who says, describing the

oppression of the Israelites in Egypt, that some were obliged to

work in clay for the formation of bricks, and others to gather

straw for the same purpose, because straw is the bond by which the

brick is held together, πλινθουγαραχοραδεσμος.-PHIL. Oper.,

edit. MANG., vol. ii., p. 86. And Philo's account is confirmed by

the most intelligent travellers. Dr. Shaw says that the straw in

the bricks still preserves its original colour, which is a proof

that the bricks were never burned. Some of these are still to be

seen in the cabinets of the curious; and there are several from

ancient Babylon now before me, where the straw which was

amalgamated with the clay is still perfectly visible. From this

we may see the reason of the complaint made to Pharaoh, Ex 5:16:

the Egyptians refused to give the necessary portion of straw for

kneading the bricks, and yet they required that the full tale or

number of bricks should be produced each day as they did when all

the necessary materials were brought to hand; so the people were

obliged to go over all the cornfields, and pluck up the stubble,

which they were obliged to substitute for straw. See Ex 5:12.

Verse 8. And the tale of the bricks] Tale signifies the number,

from the Anglo-Saxon [Anglo-Saxon], to number, to count, &c.

For they be idle; therefore they cry-Let us go and sacrifice]

Thus their desire to worship the true God in a proper manner was

attributed to their unwillingness to work; a reflection which the

Egyptians (in principle) of the present day cast on these who,

while they are fervent in spirit serving the Lord, are not

slothful in business. See Clarke on Ex 5:17.

Verse 14. And the officers-were beaten] Probably bastinadoed;

for this is the common punishment in Egypt to the present day for

minor offences. The manner of it is this: the culprit lies on his

belly, his legs being turned up behind erect, and the executioner

gives him so many blows on the soles of the feet with a stick.

This is a very severe punishment, the sufferer not being able to

walk for many weeks after, and some are lamed by it through the

whole of their lives.

Verse 16. The fault is in thine own people.] chatath,

the SIN, is in thy own people. 1st. Because they require

impossibilities; and 2dly, because they punish us for not doing

what cannot be performed.

Verse 17. Ye are idle-therefore ye say, Let us go and do

sacrifice] It is common for those who feel unconcerned about

their own souls to attribute the religious earnestness of others,

who feel the importance of eternal things, to idleness or a

disregard of their secular concerns. Strange that they cannot see

there is a medium! He who has commanded them to be diligent in

business, has also commanded them to be fervent in spirit,

serving the Lord. He whose diligence in business is not connected

with a true religious fervour of spirit, is a lover of the world;

and whatever form he may have he has not the power of godliness,

and therefore is completely out of the road to salvation.

Verse 19. Did see that they were in evil case] They saw that

they could neither expect justice nor mercy; that their

deliverance was very doubtful, and their case almost hopeless.

Verse 21. The Lord look upon you, and judge] These were hasty

and unkind expressions; but the afflicted must be allowed the

privilege of complaining; it is all the solace that such sorrow

can find; and if in such distress words are spoken which should

not be justified, yet the considerate and benevolent will hear

them with indulgence. God is merciful; and the stroke of this

people was heavier even than their groaning.

Put a sword in their hand] Given them a pretence which they had

not before, to oppress us even unto death.

Verse 22. And Moses returned unto the Lord] This may imply,

either that there was a particular place into which Moses

ordinarily went to commune with Jehovah; or it may mean that kind

of turning of heart and affection to God, which every pious mind

feels itself disposed to practise in any time or place. The old

adage will apply here: "A praying heart never lacks a praying


Lord, wherefore hast thou so evil entreated this people?] It

is certain that in this address Moses uses great plainness of

speech. Whether the offspring of a testy impatience and undue

familiarity, or of strong faith which gave him more than ordinary

access to the throne of his gracious Sovereign, it would be

difficult to say. The latter appears to be the most probable, as

we do not find, from the succeeding chapter, that God was

displeased with his freedom; we may therefore suppose that it was

kept within due bounds, and that the principles and motives were

all pure and good. However, it should be noted, that such freedom

of speech with the Most High should never be used but on very

special occasions, and then only by his extraordinary messengers.

Verse 23. He hath done evil to this people] Their misery is

increased instead of being diminished.

Neither hast thou delivered thy people at all.] The marginal

reading is both literal and correct: And delivering thou hast not

delivered. Thou hast begun the work by giving us counsels and a

commission, but thou hast not brought the people from under their

bondage. Thou hast signified thy pleasure relative to their

deliverance, but thou hast not brought them out of the hands of

their enemies.

1. IT is no certain proof of the displeasure of God that a whole

people, or an individual, may be found in a state of great

oppression and distress; nor are affluence and prosperity any

certain signs of his approbation. God certainly loved the

Israelites better than he did the Egyptians; yet the former were

in the deepest adversity, while the latter were in the height of

prosperity. Luther once observed, that if secular prosperity were

to be considered as a criterion of the Divine approbation, then

the grand Turk must be the highest in the favour of God, as he was

at that time the most prosperous sovereign on the earth. An

observation of this kind, on a case so obvious, was really well

calculated to repress hasty conclusions drawn from these external

states, and to lay down a correct rule of judgment for all such


2. In all our addresses to God we should ever remember that we

have sinned against him, and deserve nothing but punishment from

his hand. We should therefore bow before him with the deepest

humiliation of soul, and take that caution of the wise man, "Be

not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter

any thing before God; for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth;

therefore let thy words be few," Ec 5:2. There is the more need

to attend to this caution, because many ignorant though

well-meaning people use very improper, not to say indecent,

freedoms in their addresses to the throne of grace. With such

proceedings God cannot be well pleased; and he who has not a

proper impression of the dignity and excellence of the Divine

Nature, is not in such a disposition as it is essentially

necessary to feel in order to receive help from God. He who knows

he has sinned, and feels that he is less than the least of all

God's mercies, will pray with the deepest humility, and even

rejoice before God with trembling. A solemn AWE of the Divine

Majesty is not less requisite to successful praying, than faith in

our Lord Jesus Christ. When we have such a commission as that of

Moses, we may make use of his freedom of speech; but till then,

the publican's prayer will best suit the generality of those who

are even dignified by the name of Christian-Lord, be merciful to


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