Beyond the Lectionary Text: Exodus 5

by Joel Schreurs

Comments and Observations

Ten Seconds.

I once read that this is the amount of time the CEOs of large corporations are encouraged to spend ignoring any subordinate who has the nerve to enter into his boss’s office and request a moment of her time.  How those ten seconds are spent does not matter.  A savvy CEO might shuffle through a stack of papers on her desk, call up a secretary and put in a lunch order, or simply click around on the computer for a few extra moments before looking up. The important thing is to keep one’s underlings waiting. Doing so is one more way that a shrewd CEO can establish who is in control and wields the power.  And who does not.

I am unsure how common these tactics are in corporate world.  However, it is easy to imagine that Pharaoh played similar power games when Moses and Aaron first stepped into his throne room.  Perhaps Pharaoh pretended to be extra interested in the scroll he was reading or refused to look up from his crossword puzzle.  Maybe he left the two men standing there, nervously shifting their weight from one foot to another, while he ordered a glass of lemonade and a backrub. We are not sure exactly what Pharaoh did when Moses and Aaron entered the room.  But as Exodus 5 unfolds, one thing is clear: Pharaoh is a man determined to prove that he is calling the shots in Egypt.  It is not Moses.  It is not Aaron.  And it is certainly not that God whom they claim to represent.  Pharaoh is bent on showing that he is the boss in Egypt–and that the people of Israel work for him.  (As we will see below in in our Textual Observations, this is an assertion with which the people of Israel seem all too eager to agree!)

All of this makes Exodus 5 a pivotal chapter in the drama of Exodus.  In this chapter, the battle lines are drawn. It’s Pharaoh verses YHWH, the God of Israel. Both are in competition for the allegiance and service of the people of Israel and, for the time being at least, Pharaoh appears to rule the day.  Who is the Lord? Pharaoh says with a dismissive wave of his hand.  I do not know him. Pharaoh further demonstrates his contempt for YHWH in his response to Moses’ request.  While Moses says in verse 1: Thus says the LORD, let my people rest, Pharaoh demands the opposite.  To top off the insult, Pharaoh then has his messengers offer a cruel parody of Moses in verse 10.  Thus says Pharaoh, they shout. Make my people work!

In the end, Pharaoh’s snubbing of YHWH comes back to bite him.  (His command seems to be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back!)  Pharaoh claims that he does not even know who the God of Israel is and so, over the next several chapters, God shows him.  As the narrator tells us again and again, God sends the plagues so that all of Egypt–and all of Israel–will know who He is (cf. 7:17; 8:10, 22; 9:14, 29; 10:2; 11:7; 14:4, 17.) Eventually, Pharaoh learns his lesson.  It is YHWH–and YHWH alone!–who has the rightful claim on the lives of his people!

Textual Points

Illustration Idea