Bible Study Review – Exodus 4:18-6:1

The Story so Far: The people of Israel settled in Egypt during the time of their ancestor Joseph, who saved both them and the people of Egypt from famine.  Generations later the people grew into a large group and a new king came to the thrown who “did not know Joseph” and forced the people into hard labor.  God took notice on the suffering of the people and was moved to act, choosing Moses, a Hebrew raised by Pharaoh’s daughter who ran away from Egypt and began a new life in Midian, as the agent through which the people would be set free.  Moses initially tried to get out of answering God’s call but God rejected Moses’ objections and Exodus 4:18 sees Moses prepared to go and do what he’s been commanded to by God. For more details about what’s happened already in Exodus check out previous Bible Study Reviews

Exodus 4: 18-31, Moses returns to Egypt

Two odd/potentially concerning things happen in this passage:

  •  First, God appears to Moses and outlines what will happen upon his return to Egypt, including that God will “harden Pharaoh’s heart” so that the people will not be let go initially.  God is going to intentionally escalate the conflict and the end result will be the death of Pharaoh’s son
    • Two concerns come from this:
      1. God seems to desire or will the death of the first born
      2. Pharaoh seems to have no free will in the matter – God is willing the actions that make Pharaoh the target of God’s wrath/punishment
    • Several solutions are traditionally put forward for these issues:
      1. The end result would be the same whether God hardened Pharaoh’s heart or not – Pharaoh’s character shows that he would have escalated the conflict regardless of what God does
      2. God needs an opportunity to showcase to the Hebrews who God is – the people are to become a nation and a means of all people being blessed, they need an awesome display of God’s power so they understand fully who it is they worship
      3. Pharaoh has placed himself on equal footing with God and has to be punished
      4. Things have to get worse before they get better – if God doesn’t escalate things the people will never realize they have to follow Moses’ lead and leave the known of Egypt for the unknown of the Promised Land
    • None of those answers make the situation any less off-putting for us today.  That’s ok, faith sometimes leads to questions and needs to be investigated
  • Second, out of the blue God tries to kill Moses, only stopping when Moses’ wife circumcises their son and performs a ritual with the foreskin.
    • Again, there are a couple of traditional explanations for this
      1. Circumcision was a sign of the people’s covenant with God and this scene demonstrates its importance.  Until Moses follows God’s command he cannot take part in God’s plan
      2. God cannot be tamed – throughout the Old Testament there are instances where God does things that seem to be out of character.  A potential explanation to this is that the writers wanted their readers to understand that God’s power meant God was and is unpredictable and uncontrollable and that sometimes things happen that do not have simple explanation
  • Both of these events seem odd and out of place with the progression of the story, because right after them Moses arrives in Egypt, meets up with his brother Aaron, meets the leaders of the Hebrews , and the stage is set for the initial meeting with Pharaoh

Exodus 5, Meeting with Pharaoh and the Aftermath

Moses and Aaron meet with Pharaoh, he dismisses both them and God and decides to increase the work load of the slaves by refusing to provide them with straw to use in brick making.  His goal is to keep them busy so that they won’t have time to be corrupted by Moses and Aaron.  The Israelites appeal to Pharaoh and then complain to Moses who in turn complains to God.  God responds in chapter 6 verse 1 with this promise “now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh; because of my mighty hand he will let them go.”

Takeaway: Pharaoh’s plan to deal with the problem of slaves asking to leave is to work them harder, arguing that their business will keep them in line.  This seems counter productive but it actually seems to work.  This begs the question, what do we miss because of our business?  How does our desire to be productive cause us to be distracted from the things God is trying to do in our lives?  So often we see “busy-ness” as a virtue, but oftentimes our quest to prove how busy we are makes our lives worse.  Second, Moses’ question to God about where God has been and what God was doing as life gets worse for the Hebrews reminds us that even when God isn’t visible God is still present.  God doesn’t work on our timing or in ways we choose, but that doesn’t mean God is not working.

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