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Exodus 5:1-5

1. And afterwards Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness.

1. Postea venerunt Moses et Aharon, et dixerunt Pharaoni: Sic dixit Jehova Deus Israel, Dimitte populum meum ut festum diem celebrent mihi in deserto.

2. And Pharaoh said, Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go.

2. Et dixit Pharao, Quis est Jehova, ut obediam voci ejus dimittendo Israelem? Non novi Jehovam, atque etiam Israelem non dimittam.

3. And they said, The God of the Hebrews hath met with us: let us go, we pray thee, three days’ journey into the desert, and sacrifice unto the Lord our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence, or with the sword.

3. Tunc dixerunt, Deus Hebraeorum occurrit nobis. Ergo eamus iter trium dierum in desertum, ut sacrificemus Jehovae Deo nostro, ne forte irruat in nos pestis vel gladius.

4. And the king of Egypt said unto them, Wherefore do ye, Moses and Aaron, let the people from their works? get you unto your burdens.

4. Dixit ad eos rex Aegypti, Ut quid Moses et Aharon abstrahitis populum ab operibus suis? Ite ad labores vestros.

5. And Pharaoh said, Behold, the people of the land now are many, and ye make them rest from their burdens.

5. Et dixit Pharao, En multi nunc populus terrae, et vos cessare facitis eos a laboribus suis.

1. And afterwards Moses and Aaron went in. Moses here begins to set forth how many and how great were the proofs of God’s power displayed in the deliverance of his people. For, since the pride, the madness, and the obstinacy of the king were indomitable, every door was closed, until broken down miraculously, and by various means. It was, indeed, possible for God to overwhelm him at once, by a single nod, so that he should even fall down dead at the very sight of Moses; but, as we have already briefly stated, and he will himself presently declare, He, in the first place, chose more clearly to lay open His power; for if Pharaoh had either voluntarily yielded, or had been overcome without effort, the glory of the victory would not have been so illustrious. In the second place, He wished this monument to exist of His singular love towards His elect people; for by contending so perseveringly and so forcibly against the obstinacy of this most powerful king, He gave no doubtful proof of his love towards his Church. In the third place, He wished to accustom His servants in all ages to patience, lest they should faint in their minds, if He does not immediately answer their prayers, and, at every moment, relieve them from their distresses. In the fourth place, He wished to shew that, against all the strivings and devices of Satan, against the madness of the ungodly, and all worldly hinderances, His hand must always prevail; and to leave us no room to doubt, but that whatever we see opposing us will at length be overcome by him. In the fifth place, By detecting the illusions of Satan and the magicians, He would render His Church more wary, that she might carefully watch against such devices, and that her faith might continue invincible against all the machinations of error. Finally, He would convince Pharaoh and the Egyptians, that their folly was not to be excused by any pretense of ignorance; and, at the same time, by this example, He would shew us how horrible a darkness possesses the minds of the reprobate, when He has deprived them of the light of his Spirit. These things must be attentively observed in the course of the narrative, if we desire to profit by it.

Since it is difficult to obtain access to kings, who deign not to admit to their presence any of the lower orders, Moses and Aaron must have been endued with no ordinary confidence, when they boldly approached Pharaoh. For it was a disagreeable message, and one very likely to give offense, that he should permit the people to take three days’ journey beyond the bounds of Egypt; since a suspicion must unquestionably arise that, being thus dismissed, they would no longer remain his subjects, and that thus a part of the land would be emptied of its inhabitants. Still Moses and Aaron do not fear to deliver God’s command, in which there was this additional annoyance to the proud and sensitive ears of the king, viz., that they attributed the glory of Deity to the God of Israel alone; for, by calling Him Jehovah, they imply that the gods worshipped in Egypt were false, and invented by the imaginations of man. We have said elsewhere that there was no deceit in the pretext that God called his people into the wilderness to hold a feast, although He does not reveal His counsel to the tyrant; for it was really His pleasure that a sacrifice of thanksgiving should be offered to Himself on Mount Sinai, and that they should be thus separated from the polluted nation with which they were mixed up; and, assuredly, He wished to arouse the tyrant’s wrath, by ignominiously condemning the whole of Egypt, as not capable of pure worship. For He was obliged by no law to declare openly their deliverance; but that He might draw forth from the mind of the tyrant the venom of his impiety, He asked for nothing connected with the advantage of His people, but merely demanded the worship which was due to Himself. The word which Moses uses means properly to hold a feast, but also embraces whatever is connected with it; and, therefore, by synecdoche, it is taken here, as also in other passages, for the solemn worship of God.6666     Nam festum celebrare sacrificium complectitur. — Vatablus in Pol. Syn.

2. And Pharaoh said, Who is the Lord? It is scarcely credible that there should be such madness in a mortal as, by thus wantonly scorning God, to fly, as it were, in the face of heaven!6767     Quasi in coelum conspueret. — Lat. But we must observe, that the tyrant being devoted to idolatries, thus insulted the God of Israel, that he might manifest his great piety towards his false gods. For his mockery, in scornfully bandying back the name of Jehovah, must be referred to the words of Moses, as much as to say, Why do you bring against me this unknown phantom under the title of the eternal God, as though we had no god of our own? Thus Pilate, when Christ said, “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth,” asks ironically, and not without mockery, “What is truth?”6868     Comme s’il disoit, Penses tu que je soye un petit enfant, pour ne discerner point entre le blanc et le noir? as much as to say, Do you think I am a little child unable to distinguish black from white? — Fr. (John 18:37, 38.) In short, Pharaoh did not conceive himself to be dishonoring the Deity, when he rejected this false (prodigiosum) God, as he thought. Yet his error did not avail to justify him, since it arose from insane audacity and contempt of God. Admit that he was unwilling that any should depreciate his idols, and that he thus imagined himself to perform a religious duty; still it was an act of very gross impiety, so carelessly to repudiate the name of the true God, and even to assail it with mockery. We may remark a like madness in all idolaters. Being intoxicated by their errors they boldly mock at God, and deign not to make inquiries about Him. The cry of the Papists now-a-days is, that we are imposing a new God on the world; and, applauding themselves in their wildest ravings, they do not hesitate to condemn our whole doctrine as impious; not because they are persuaded that they are themselves worshipping God aright; but they are willfully blind, that they may elude, with impunity, the sacred majesty of God, and stupify their consciences, and preserve to themselves their death-like slumber. They seem to themselves to be sharp-witted and facetious, when they are scoffing at the novelty of our doctrine; though its truth would be plain enough, if they would only open their eyes. The Epicureans, too, (of which pestilent sect the world is now full,) although they foam and rage against God, still invariably take refuge in some cloud, under which their detestable madness may be concealed: for they pretend that amidst such a multitude of opinions, it is scarcely possible to discern who is God, or what He commands. Still, however, this is their constant object, viz., that they may have nothing to do with God, and yet may conceal by jests the shame of their impiety; as if it were free for them to reject what they are willfully ignorant of. But after Pharaoh had indirectly derided the message of Moses, as a ludicrous affair, he more openly and more contemptuously vents his pride, implying that he cares not for that God, with whose name Moses and Aaron would frighten him.

3. And they said, The God of the Hebrews. Moses and Aaron proceed with their message; neither does the pride of the tyrant decrease or weaken their courage in proclaiming the glory of the One true God, who had peculiarly attached Himself to them. And, certainly, this is the attribute of faith, to trample upon everything that exalteth itself on earth; since the truth of God is superior to all human greatness. Nor could they more effectually refute that profane and impious word, “I know not the Lord,” than by again asseverating that the true God is the Protector of their nation, and that this had been disclosed to them in an open manifestation of Himself. The threatening, which they added, admonishes Pharaoh that his rebellion would not be unpunished, if he kept back the people from the worship of God; for if He would take vengeance on the people which was retained against their will, how could he escape with impunity, who professedly entered into contention with God? When, then, they declare that some calamity would befall them unless they obeyed the call of God, they intimate that Pharaoh must beware of some greater visitation.

4. And the king of Egypt said unto them. It is surprising that the king, in the excess of his arrogance, did not more cruelly entreat these servants of God, whom he accounted the ringleaders of sedition. But he was undoubtedly restrained by God from proceeding at once to destroy them. By his pertinacity in resisting their departure, he will more clearly shew by and bye how important to his interests he considered it that the people should remain in Egypt; how comes it then that he is contented with verbal reproof, and refrains from shedding their blood, if it were not that God protected his servants under the shield of His defense? He harshly reproves them, indeed, and condemns them to the same labors, by which the rest of the people were oppressed; but since it is notorious that moderate rigor never satisfies tyrants, we conclude that they were preserved under the guardianship of God, and would otherwise have died a hundred times over. But let us learn from his accusation against them, as the promoters of rebellion, to bear patiently, after their example, calumnies and false imputations; only, in reliance on God’s command, let us be fully conscious that we are unjustly accused. The next verse, wherein he says, that “the people of the land are now many,” is intended to aggravate their guilt; both because they would inflict a deeper injury on the public, than as if they had withheld a few from their work; and also, because, by inflaming a large number of people, they would bring greater danger on the country.


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