Exodus 5:1-9 (ESV)
Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’” But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” Then 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, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work? Get back to your burdens.” And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest from their burdens!” The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But the number of bricks that they made in the past you shall impose on them, you shall by no means reduce it, for they are idle. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.”
This is a case where translating God’s name, YHVH, as “the LORD” doesn’t work well. Moses and Aaron actually say to Pharaoh, “Thus says YHVH, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’” That doesn’t impress Pharaoh.
The Egyptian polytheistic religion has lots of Gods. Here are some of the best known ones.
From Pharaoh’s point of view, YHVH is just another God to add to the list – one he may not have even heard of. Moses and Aaron don’t call Him “the LORD” and Pharaoh isn’t thinking of Him that way. To Pharaoh, an unheard of God can’t be a very powerful one. That's why he ends his response with, “pay no regard to lying words.”
Pharaoh’s skepticism is understandable but his meanness isn’t. His response to their request is tyrannical. He punishes them for even daring to ask for three days off. This guy makes Ebenezer Scrooge look like Mother Theresa.
And that’s the point. Pharaoh is sealing his fate. He’s about to have a very bad year and this sets the stage for all that. It will be a teachable moment – for someone who could really use the teaching.
Pharaoh’s mistake is not being in awe of God. Christians are often accused of the same thing.
Being adopted and calling God daddy (abba) can make us too buddy-buddy with Him. God is not our buddy; He’s our Lord. Take a look at this video displaying the size and complexity of what He created.
It’s amazing that the author of all that pays us any mind at all, much less loves us.
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