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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Exodus Chapter 5


exo 5:0

Moses and Aaron Sent to Pharaoh - Exodus 5-7:7

The two events which form the contents of this section - viz., (1) the visit of Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh to make known the commands of their God, with the harsh refusal of their request on the part of Pharaoh, by an increase of the tributary labours of Israel (Exo 5); and (2) the further revelations of Jehovah to Moses, with the insertion of the genealogies of Moses and Aaron-not only hang closely together so far as the subject-matter is concerned, inasmuch as the fresh declarations of Jehovah to Moses were occasioned by the complaint of Moses that his first attempt had so signally failed, but both of them belong to the complete equipment of Moses for his divine mission. Their visit to Pharaoh was only preliminary in its character. Moses and Aaron simply made known to the king the will of their God, without accrediting themselves by miraculous signs as the messengers of Jehovah, or laying any particular emphasis upon His demand. For this first step was only intended to enlighten Moses as to the attitude of Pharaoh and the people of Israel in relation to the work of God, which He was about to perform. Pharaoh answered the demand addressed to him, that he would let the people go for a few days to hold a sacrificial festival in the desert, by increasing their labours; and the Israelites complained in consequence that their good name had been made abhorrent to the king, and their situation made worse than it was. Moses might have despaired on this account; but he laid his trouble before the Lord, and the Lord filled his despondent heart with fresh courage through the renewed and strengthened promise that He would now for the first time display His name Jehovah perfectly - that He would redeem the children of Israel with outstretched arm and with great judgments - would harden Pharaoh's heart, and do many signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, that the Egyptians might learn through the deliverance of Israel that He was Jehovah, i.e., the absolute God, who works with unlimited freedom. At the same time God removed the difficulty which once more arose in the mind of Moses, namely, that Pharaoh would not listen to him because of his want of oratorical power, by the assurance, "I make thee a god for Pharaoh, and Aaron shall be thy prophet" (Exo 7:1), which could not fail to remove all doubt as to his own incompetency for so great and severe a task. With this promise Pharaoh was completely given up into Moses' power, and Moses invested with all the plenipotentiary authority that was requisite for the performance of the work entrusted to him.

Exodus 5:1

exo 5:1

Pharaoh's Answer to the Request of Moses and Aaron. - Exo 5:1-5. When the elders of Israel had listened with gladness and gratitude to the communications of Moses and Aaron respecting the revelation which Moses had received from Jehovah, that He was now about to deliver His people out of their bondage in Egypt; Moses and Aaron proceeded to Pharaoh, and requested in the name of the God of Israel, that he would let the people of Israel go and celebrate a festival in the wilderness in honour of their God. When we consider that every nation presented sacrifices to its deities, and celebrated festivals in their honour, and that they had all their own modes of worship, which were supposed to be appointed by the gods themselves, so that a god could not be worshipped acceptably in every place; the demand presented to Pharaoh on the part of the God of the Israelites, that he would let His people go into the wilderness and sacrifice to Him, appears so natural and reasonable, that Pharaoh could not have refused their request, if there had been a single trace of the fear of God in his heart. But what was his answer? "Who is Jehovah, that I should listen to His voice, to let Israel go? I know not Jehovah." There was a certain truth in these last words. The God of Israel had not yet made Himself known to him. But this was no justification. Although as a heathen he might naturally measure the power of the God by the existing condition of His people, and infer from the impotence of the Israelites that their God must be also weak, he would not have dared to refuse the petition of the Israelites, to be allowed to sacrifice to their God or celebrate a sacrificial festival, if he had had any faith in gods at all.

Exodus 5:3

exo 5:3

The messengers founded their request upon the fact that the God of the Hebrews had met them (נקרא, vid., Exo 3:18), and referred to the punishment which the neglect of the sacrificial festival demanded by God might bring upon the nation. פּן־יפגּענוּ: "lest He strike us (attack us) with pestilence or sword." פּגע: to strike, hit against any one, either by accident or with a hostile intent; ordinarily construed with בּ, also with an accusative, Sa1 10:5, and chosen here probably with reference to נקרא = נקרה. "Pestilence or sword:" these are mentioned as expressive of a violent death, and as the means employed by the deities, according to the ordinary belief of the nations, to punish the neglect of their worship. The expression "God of the Hebrews," for "God of Israel" (Exo 5:1), is not chosen as being "more intelligible to the king, because the Israelites were called Hebrews by foreigners, more especially by the Egyptians (Exo 1:16; Exo 2:6)," as Knobel supposes, but to convince Pharaoh of the necessity for their going into the desert to keep the festival demanded by their God. In Egypt they might sacrifice to the gods of Egypt, but not to the God of the Hebrews.

Exodus 5:4

exo 5:4

But Pharaoh would hear nothing of any worship. He believed that the wish was simply an excuse for procuring holidays for the people, or days of rest from their labours, and ordered the messengers off to their slave duties: "Get you unto your burdens." For as the people were very numerous, he would necessarily lose by their keeping holiday. He called the Israelites "the people of the land," not "as being his own property, because he was the lord of the land" (Baumgarten), but as the working class, "land-people," equivalent to "common people," in distinction from the ruling castes of the Egyptians (vid., Jer 52:25 : Eze 7:27).

Exodus 5:6

exo 5:6

As Pharaoh possessed neither fear of God (εὐσέβεια) nor fear of the gods, but, in the proud security of his might, determined to keep the Israelites as slaves, and to use them as tools for the glorifying of his kingdom by the erection of magnificent buildings, he suspected that their wish to go into the desert was nothing but an excuse invented by idlers, and prompted by a thirst for freedom, which might become dangerous to his kingdom, on account of the numerical strength of the people. He therefore thought that he could best extinguish such desires and attempts by increasing the oppression and adding to their labours. For this reason he instructed his bailiffs to abstain from delivering straw to the Israelites who were engaged in making bricks, and to let them gather it for themselves; but yet not to make the least abatement in the number (מתכּנת) to be delivered every day. בּעם הנּגשׂים, "those who urged the people on," were the bailiffs selected from the Egyptians and placed over the Israelitish workmen, the general managers of the work. Under them there were the שׁטרים (lit., writers, γραμματεῖς lxx, from שׁטר to write), who were chosen from the Israelites (vid., Exo 5:14), and had to distribute the work among the people, and hand it over, when finished, to the royal officers. לבנים לבן: to make bricks, not to burn them; for the bricks in the ancient monuments of Egypt, and in many of the pyramids, are not burnt but dried in the sun (Herod. ii. 136; Hengst. Egypt and Books of Moses, pp. 2 and 79ff.). קשׁשׁ: a denom. verb from קשׁ, to gather stubble, then to stubble, to gather (Num 15:32-33). תּבן, of uncertain etymology, is chopped straw; here, the stubble that was left standing when the corn was reaped, or the straw that lay upon the ground. This they chopped up and mixed with the clay, to give greater durability to the bricks, as may be seen in bricks found in the oldest monuments (cf. Hgst. p. 79).

Exodus 5:9

exo 5:9

"Let the work be heavy (press heavily) upon the people, and they shall make with it (i.e., stick to their work), and not look at lying words." By "lying words" the king meant the words of Moses, that the God of Israel had appeared to him, and demanded a sacrificial festival from His people. In Exo 5:11 special emphasis is laid upon אתּם "ye:" "Go, ye yourselves, fetch your straw," not others for you as heretofore; "for nothing is taken (diminished) from your work." The word כּי for has been correctly explained by Kimchi as supposing a parenthetical thought, et quidem alacriter vobis eundum est.

Exodus 5:12

exo 5:12

ק לקשׁשׁ: "to gather stubble for straw;" not "stubble for, in the sense of instead of straw," for ל is not equivalent to תּחת but to gather the stubble left in the fields for the chopped straw required for the bricks.

Exodus 5:13

exo 5:13

בּיומו יום דּבר, the quantity fixed for every day, "just as when the straw was (there)," i.e., was given out for the work.

Exodus 5:14

exo 5:14

As the Israelites could not do the work appointed them, their overlookers were beaten by the Egyptian bailiffs; and when they complained to the king of this treatment, they were repulsed with harshness, and told "Ye are idle, idle; therefore ye say, Let us go and sacrifice to Jehovah." עמּך וחטאת: "and thy people sin;" i.e., not "thy people (the Israelites) must be sinners," which might be the meaning of חטא according to Gen 43:9, but "thy (Egyptian) people sin." "Thy people" must be understood as applying to the Egyptians, on account of the antithesis to "thy servants," which not only refers to the Israelitish overlookers, but includes all the Israelites, especially in the first clause. חטאת is an unusual feminine form, for חטאה (vid., Gen 33:11); and עם is construed as a feminine, as in Jdg 18:7 and Jer 8:5.

Exodus 5:19

exo 5:19

When the Israelitish overlookers saw that they were in evil (בּרע as in Psa 10:6, i.e., in an evil condition), they came to meet Moses and Aaron, waiting for them as they came out from the king, and reproaching them with only making the circumstances of the people worse.

Exodus 5:21

exo 5:21

"Jehovah look upon you and judge" (i.e., punish you, because) "ye have made the smell of us to stink in the eyes of Pharaoh and his servants," i.e., destroyed our good name with the king and his servants, and turned it into hatred and disgust. ריח, a pleasant smell, is a figure employed for a good name or repute, and the figurative use of the word explains the connection with the eyes instead of the nose. "To give a sword into their hand to kill us." Moses and Aaron, they imagined, through their appeal to Pharaoh had made the king and his counsellors suspect them of being restless people, and so had put a weapon into their hands for their oppression and destruction. What perversity of the natural heart! They call upon God to judge, whilst by their very complaining they show that they have no confidence in God and His power to save. Moses turned (ויּשׁב Exo 5:22) to Jehovah with the question, "Why hast Thou done evil to this people," - increased their oppression by my mission to Pharaoh, and yet not delivered them? "These are not words of contumacy or indignation, but of inquiry and prayer" (Aug. quaest. 14). The question and complaint proceeded from faith, which flies to God when it cannot understand the dealings of God, to point out to Him how incomprehensible are His ways, to appeal to Him to help in the time of need, and to remove what seems opposed to His nature and His will.

Next: Exodus Chapter 6