By Edward Dennett
THESE two chapters occupy a special place in the narrative. They are really of a prefatory nature, introductory to Jehovah's conflict with Pharaoh by judgments. They are at the same time most instructive as illustrating the ways of God. The message is delivered in grace, the opportunity for obedience is proffered - God waiting in patience and long-suffering before His hand is lifted up in judgment. It is even so with the world at the present time. Now is the time of God's forbearance and grace, during which the message of His mercy is proclaimed far and wide, and whosoever will may hear, believe, and be saved. But this day of grace is hastening on to its close, and the moment the Lord Jesus rises from His seat at the Father's right hand, the door will be shut, and judgments will begin to fall. In like manner these two chapters describe, so to speak, the day of grace for Pharaoh. But while the king of Egypt was a man, he was also, in the position he occupied, as already pointed out, a type of Satan as the god of this world. There is, therefore, further instruction to be gleaned from these chapters in this aspect, and it is this aspect indeed that occupies the prominent place. This will be seen as we proceed.
"And afterward Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness and Pharaoh said, Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go. And they said, The God of the Hebrews hath met with us: let us go, we pray thee, three days' journey into the desert, and sacrifice unto the Lord our God; lest He fall upon us with pestilence, or with the sword. And the king of Egypt said unto them, Wherefore do ye, Moses and Aaron, let (hinder) the people from their works? get you unto your burdens. And Pharaoh said, Behold, the people of the land now are many, and we make them rest from their burdens" (v.1-5)
The question, be it remembered, is that of the redemption of Israel ; and hence it is one in which the people could have no part. God must act for them; and He it is consequently that enters into controversy with Pharaoh. Pharaoh, as the god of this world, Satan, holds the people in bondage. It is God's purpose to deliver them; the message therefore entrusted to Moses is for the ear of the Egyptian king. And what is the object of God in the emancipation of Israel ? "That they may hold a feast unto Me in the wilderness." It is for His own joy, His own joy in the joy of His redeemed. It is for the satisfaction of His own heart. How marvellous that the joy of God is concerned in our salvation! The delivery of the message brings out the true character of Pharaoh: " Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go." He thus places himself in direct and complete antagonism with God. Solemn position! And this antagonism was never lessened, but went on until it ended in the overthrow and destruction of Pharaoh and his legions. A warning lesson, surely; for all who are unreconciled to God, as well as a revelation of the awful corruption of human nature, which can thus impiously confront, and audaciously defy, the power of God. Nor was this the transient expression of an irritated mind. For, in reply to the continued appeal of Moses and Aaron, he charged them with interfering with the work of the people. The god of this world is the incarnation of selfishness, and must therefore hate God. This was exemplified at Philippi. The moment the preaching and action of the apostle interfered with the gains of the masters of the damsel who was possessed with the spirit of divination, it drew down upon him and his companion their bitterest enmity. So with Pharaoh. The prospect of losing the service of his slaves fills him with anger. The effect was that he increased the tasks of the people, laid upon them heavier burdens, in order to rivet more firmly than ever the fetters of their bondage. It is ever so. But spite of the power and subtlety of Satan, he always defeats himself. Indeed he has no foresight. He cannot see into the future any more than ourselves, and as a consequence he is continually overreaching himself. The people were idle (Pharaoh said), and "therefore they cry, saying, Let us go and sacrifice to our God" (v.8). He desired accordingly that increased work should drive all such thoughts out of their minds. Ah! Satan will compass land and sea to prevent even one of his poor slaves escaping from his service. Hence if a soul is convicted of sin, and begins to yearn after liberty and peace with God, to escape from Egypt and to be saved, Satan will surround that soul with a thousand snares, fascinations, and entanglements. He will seek, just as Pharaoh did with the children of Israel, by increased occupation, by decoying him into a whirl of excitement or activity, to expel all such desires from his mind. If one such should read these pages, let him beware of these subtleties of the evil one, and let him turn resolutely away from all these wiles which are but intended to lure him to destruction; yea, let him, in the consciousness of all his need, and all his helplessness, look away to Him who through death has abrogated the rights of him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, that He might deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage (Heb.2:14,15). Believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, all such will be turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.
The officers of Pharaoh were faithful, and mercilessly discharged their merciless duty (v.10-14). The iron of oppression entered into the souls of the children of Israel, and in the bitterness of their hearts they "cried unto Pharaoh, saying, Wherefore dealest thou thus with thy servants?" etc (v.15-18). But they cried in vain; for mercy is unknown to Satan, to him whose pleasure is found even in the sorrows of his servants. Disappointed in not finding relief at the hands of Pharaoh, they turned in their anger upon Moses and Aaron, and charged them with being the occasion of increasing the pressure of their servitude. "The Lord look upon you, and judge" (they said), "because ye have made our savour to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to slay us" (v.21). How true this is also in individual experience. In the bitter exercises through which the awakened sinner often passes, when he is overwhelmed by the sense of his guilt, and is made at the same time to feel the heavier weight of Satan's hand, how often he is tempted to wish for the days when he was free from all such conflicts and sorrows, not seeing that they are the pathway to deliverance.
Even Moses bows for the moment before the storm. Yearning, as he doubtless did, for the welfare and redemption of his people, and stung by their reproaches, doubt springs up before this new phase of Pharaoh's policy, and becoming impatient, he said, "Lord, wherefore hast Thou so evil entreated this people? Why is it that Thou hast sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Thy name, he hath done evil to this people; neither hast Thou delivered Thy people at all" (v.22,23). Moses thus shared in the disappointment and impatience of the people. He had not yet learned to walk by faith and not by sight, nor to rest in the Lord and to wait patiently for Him. But yet even his failure arose from sympathy with the oppressed Israelites; and one of the first qualifications to help others is identification with their condition.
So far Moses had fellowship with the mind of the Lord; and He understood the thoughts of His servant's heart. He therefore commissions him anew, and again declares His purposes of grace and mercy, announcing His immutable fidelity to His covenant Already He had accomplished two things; He had taught both Moses and the people the character of their oppressor, and the nature of their yoke. He had seemingly shut them up into Pharaoh's hand, and thereby produced in them a conviction of the hopelessness of their condition. This is uniformly His method. He never presents Himself as a Saviour until men know that they are guilty and undone. The Lord Jesus said, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." As soon as men are willing to acknowledge themselves lost, then the Saviour stands before their souls. It is so here. The children of Israel are apparently in a worse case than before; they are despairing, and so is Moses. Thereon we have the blessed presentation and announcement of chapter 6. The Lord therefore was but bringing His people through necessary discipline in chapter 5. He does this for two reasons; to separate His people from the Egyptians, to produce between them an irreparable breach, and to pave the way for the display of His own power, that the children of Israel, indeed, might know that it was His hand alone that could bring them out of the land of Egypt. First, He declares that Pharaoh shall, under His hand, drive them out of his land (v.1). Next, we have a revelation of great significance:
"And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am JEHOVAH: and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty; but by My name JEHOVAH was I not known to them" (v.2,3).
This by no means implies that the name Jehovah was not used before; on the contrary, it is often found. But He had never yet taken it in relationship with His servants. Now He formally adopts it as His name of relationship with Israel, and it is only with Israel that it is thus employed. Believers of this dispensation know Him as their God and Father; and hence it would betray ignorance of their true position and relationship, as well as a confusion of dispensations, for them to use the term Jehovah. It is a name reserved for Israel, and consequently it will again be employed when they are brought back to a knowledge of their relationship with God in the millennium. That Jehovah of the Old Testament is the Jesus of the New is another question, but a question of exceeding moment and importance. He was really Jehovah in the midst of Israel, and as such forgave their iniquities and healed their diseases (Ps.103:3); but He is never Jehovah for Christians. He has deigned to bring them into more intimate relationships; as indeed He revealed to Mary, and to His disciples through her, when He said, "Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God" (John 20:17).
Having now formally entered into relationship with the children of Israel, He recalls the covenant, with its terms, which He had established with their fathers (v.4; compare Genesis 17:7,8); and then expressly states that it is in pursuance of His covenant (for He is faithful) that He has "heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage" (v.5). It is on this foundation that He will deliver; viz., on what He is for them as Jehovah in the covenant which He made with their fathers, and the message which He now sends is accordingly most complete and comprehensive. It embraces His whole purpose for the nation. It gives, first of all, the name He has taken, Jehovah - "I am Jehovah;" it declares redemption - they shall be emancipated and redeemed, they shall be brought into relationship with Himself, - they shall be His people, and He will be their God; they shall know Him as their Redeemer, as the Lord their God, which brought them out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and they shall be brought into the land which He had sworn to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, and they should possess it for an heritage. And everything is made to depend upon what He is, the whole concluding with the repetition of the announcement, "I am Jehovah." He is thus both the Yea and the Amen, the Alpha and Omega, of their redemption. Surely a message of exceeding beauty. As everything is founded upon, so everything is completed by, what He is in Himself. All that He is therefore guarantees the commencement, and also the accomplishment of the redemption of His people.
Moses carried and delivered the message he had received unto the children of Israel : "but they hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage" (v.9). Thus reduced to utter hopelessness, with their misery darkening all their souls, they are deaf to the gracious voice that proclaimed liberty and blessing. Moses is then sent again to Pharaoh to demand the liberty of the people; but disappointed at the fruitlessness of his mission to the Israelites, he replies, "Behold, the children of Israel have not hearkened unto me; how then shall Pharaoh hear me, who am of uncircumcised lips?" (v.12). There is therefore nothing but failure. Pharaoh had rejected the Lord's demand; the children of Israel, stupefied by their heavy yoke, will not hearken to the glad tidings of grace, and Moses is unwilling to proceed; for he recalls his old objection, showing that, while he knew something of his own natural incompetency, he had not yet learnt that his all-sufficiency was to be found in the Lord. It is ever a fatal mistake when we measure the difficulties of service by what we are. The question is what God is; and the difficulties that appear as mountains, looming through the mists of our unbelief, are nothing to Him but the occasion for the display of His omnipotent power.
The section ends, as far as appearances are concerned, with utter failure. But the Lord is not affected by human weakness or human resistance; His purposes, flowing from His own heart, and accomplished by His own power, are unchangeable. It is therefore exceedingly beautiful to note the action recorded in verse 13. "And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, and gave them a charge unto the children of Israel, and unto Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt." Unmoved by the deafness of His people, the failure of His servant, or the open antagonism of Pharaoh, He calmly proceeds to effect the redemption of His people. It will be observed that from the thirteenth to the thirtieth verse is a parenthesis. It would seem to be introduced for two reasons. It constitutes, in the first place, a new point of departure. Chapter 5, and the first part of chapter 6 are, as we explained, preliminary - a kind of preface. On the one hand, the period embraced in it is a kind of day of grace for Pharaoh, when looked at simply as a man; on the other, it brings to light the real character of the conflict on which Jehovah was about to enter, and reveals the exact position and condition of all the parties concerned - Pharaoh, the children of Israel, and Moses. At the same time, the foundations on which Jehovah was about to act for His people, are laid broad and deep in His own character and covenant. That period now passed, the Lord commences anew, and hence the repetition of the charge to Moses and Aaron, embracing the object and scope of their mission. This gives the opportunity, in the second place, for the introduction of the genealogy of the people to be redeemed. The point of interest for us lies in the parentage of Moses and Aaron. "And Amram took him Jochebed, his father's sister, to wife; and she bare him Aaron and Moses" (v.20). "These are that Aaron and Moses, to whom the Lord said, Bring out the children of Israel from the land of Egypt, according to their armies. These are they which spake to Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring out the children of Israel from Egypt : these are that Moses and Aaron" (v.26,27). Aaron was thus the elder brother, and it is interesting to notice that pious Amram and Jochebed were blessed in the preservation of both their children spite of the edict of the king. Aaron had in nature priority over Moses; but grace never follows the order of nature. It recognizes all the natural relationships which God has formed, and it can only bring sorrow if not dishonour where this truth is not tenaciously held; but as it is above, and outside nature altogether, it acts in its own sphere and according to its own laws. God therefore, acting according to His own sovereign rights, chose Moses, and not Aaron, though in consequence of the failure of Moses, and from tenderness to his weakness, He afterwards associated his brother with him in his work. But the divine order is, Moses and Aaron, while the natural order, as seen in the genealogy and in verse 26, is Aaron and Moses. The last three verses simply connect the narrative with verse 10. For the objection of Moses in verse 30 is evidently the same as that in verse 12. And yet there is reason for its repetition. In chapters 3 and 4 Moses makes five difficulties in reply to the Lord; here in the sixth are two, making seven together. It was therefore the perfect exhibition of the weakness and unbelief of Moses. How it magnifies the grace and goodness of the Lord; for if in His presence man is revealed, it also brings to light what He is in all the perfection of His grace, love, mercy, and truth. Blessed be His name!