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Exodus 5:1-5

Context
Opposition to the Plan of God

5:1 1 Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “Thus says the Lord, 2  the God of Israel, ‘Release 3  my people so that they may hold a pilgrim feast 4  to me in the desert.’” 5:2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord 5  that 6  I should obey him 7  by releasing 8  Israel? I do not know the Lord, 9  and I will not release Israel!” 5:3 And they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Let us go a three-day journey 10  into the desert so that we may sacrifice 11  to the Lord our God, so that he does not strike us with plague or the sword.” 12  5:4 The king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you cause the people to refrain from their work? 13  Return to your labor!” 5:5 Pharaoh was thinking, 14  “The people of the land are now many, and you are giving them rest from their labor.”

1 sn The enthusiasm of the worshipers in the preceding chapter turns sour in this one when Pharaoh refuses to cooperate. The point is clear that when the people of God attempt to devote their full service and allegiance to God, they encounter opposition from the world. Rather than finding instant blessing and peace, they find conflict. This is the theme that will continue through the plague narratives. But what makes chapter 5 especially interesting is how the people reacted to this opposition. The chapter has three sections: first, the confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh (vv. 1-5); then the report of the stern opposition of the king (vv. 6-14); and finally, the sad account of the effect of this opposition on the people (vv. 15-21).

2 tn Heb “Yahweh.”

3 tn The form שַׁלַּח (shallakh), the Piel imperative, has been traditionally translated “let [my people] go.” The Qal would be “send”; so the Piel “send away, release, dismiss, discharge.” B. Jacob observes, “If a person was dismissed through the use of this verb, then he ceased to be within the power or sphere of influence of the individual who had dismissed him. He was completely free and subsequently acted entirely on his own responsibility” (Exodus, 115).

4 tn The verb חָגַג (khagag) means to hold a feast or to go on a pilgrim feast. The Arabic cognate of the noun form is haj, best known for the pilgrim flight of Mohammed, the hajira. The form in the text (וְיָחֹגּוּ, vÿyakhoggu) is subordinated to the imperative and thus shows the purpose of the imperative.

5 tn Heb “Yahweh.” This is a rhetorical question, expressing doubt or indignation or simply a negative thought that Yahweh is nothing (see erotesis in E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 944-45). Pharaoh is not asking for information (cf. 1 Sam 25:5-10).

6 tn The relative pronoun introduces the consecutive clause that depends on the interrogative clause (see GKC 318-19 §107.u).

7 tn The imperfect tense here receives the classification of obligatory imperfect. The verb שָׁמַע (shama’) followed by “in the voice of” is idiomatic; rather than referring to simple audition – “that I should hear his voice” – it conveys the thought of listening that issues in action – “that I should obey him.”

sn The construction of these clauses is similar to (ironically) the words of Moses: “Who am I that I should go?” (3:11).

8 tn The Piel infinitive construct here has the epexegetical usage with lamed (ל); it explains the verb “obey.”

9 sn This absolute statement of Pharaoh is part of a motif that will develop throughout the conflict. For Pharaoh, the Lord (Yahweh) did not exist. So he said “I do not know the Lord [i.e., Yahweh].” The point of the plagues and the exodus will be “that he might know.” Pharaoh will come to know this Yahweh, but not in any pleasant way.

10 tn The word “journey” is an adverbial accusative telling the distance that Moses wanted the people to go. It is qualified by “three days.” It is not saying that they will be gone three days, but that they will go a distance that will take three days to cover (see Gen 31:22-23; Num 10:33; 33:8).

11 tn The purpose clause here is formed with a second cohortative joined with a vav (ו): “let us go…and let us sacrifice.” The purpose of the going was to sacrifice.

sn Where did Moses get the idea that they should have a pilgrim feast and make sacrifices? God had only said they would serve Him in that mountain. In the OT the pilgrim feasts to the sanctuary three times a year incorporated the ideas of serving the Lord and keeping the commands. So the words here use the more general idea of appearing before their God. They would go to the desert because there was no homeland yet. Moses later spoke of the journey as necessary to avoid offending Egyptian sensibilities (8:25-26).

12 sn The last clause of this verse is rather unexpected here: “lest he meet [afflict] us with pestilence or sword.” To fail to comply with the summons of one’s God was to invite such calamities. The Law would later incorporate many such things as the curses for disobedience. Moses is indicating to Pharaoh that there is more reason to fear Yahweh than Pharaoh.

13 sn The clause is a rhetorical question. Pharaoh is not asking them why they do this, but rather is accusing them of doing it. He suspects their request is an attempt to get people time away from their labor. In Pharaoh’s opinion, Moses and Aaron were “removing the restraint” (פָּרַע, para’) of the people in an effort to give them rest. Ironically, under the Law the people would be expected to cease their labor when they went to appear before God. He would give them the rest that Pharaoh refused to give. It should be noted also that it was not Israel who doubted that Yahweh had sent Moses, as Moses had feared – but rather Pharaoh.

14 tn Heb “And Pharaoh said.” This is not the kind of thing that Pharaoh is likely to have said to Moses, and so it probably is what he thought or reasoned within himself. Other passages (like Exod 2:14; 3:3) show that the verb “said” can do this. (See U. Cassuto, Exodus, 67.)



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