Session 4 – Exodus 5-6
Session 4 – Exodus 5-6
A study on Exodus 5:1-6:30 from the team at St Ebbe's Oxford

Bible Passages

Exodus 5:1-6:30

Brief Notes

Chapter 4 ended so positively: the Israelites recognise Moses’ God-given authority and bow in worship before the God they hear is concerned for them in their misery and acting to save them. But in these chapters   any confidence and optimism Moses may have had takes a battering. Pharaoh won’t listen to him, and then nor will the Israelites. God’s ways seem strange, but they are not untypical, as he leads his people to a deeper sense of need and a deeper trust. 

“Who is the LORD?”   Chapter 5  

Confidently Moses announces “This is what the LORD says”, only to be rebuffed by Pharaoh’s dismissive “Who is the LORD? … I don’t know the LORD”. One of the outcomes in the ensuing story will be that Pharaoh and Egyptians will come to know the LORD (so for example 7:5). For Pharaoh to let the Israelites go to worship the LORD would be to recognise they were beholden to the LORD, that He had a rightful claim on them, but Pharaoh sees them as entirely his own, to serve and work for him. He will admit no rival. A clash therefore is being set up between Pharaoh and LORD.  

Notice how the slave drivers’ announcement in verse 10 (“This is what Pharaoh says”) mirrors Moses’ announcement in verse 1. At this stage it seems as though the LORD’s word has no weight, it can be easily dismissed, even as “lies” (v.9), whereas Pharaoh’s word has very clear effect, and the effect is that the Israelites situation gets even more oppressive. Pharaoh manages to drive a wedge between Moses and the people, with the Israelite overseers blaming Moses for their worsening conditions (vv.20-21), and Moses blames God (vv.22-23). Far from the promised redemption coming closer, their trouble has increased, and as the Pharaoh’s grip tightens, so their rescue seems even more unlikely. 

One might ask, why does God allow this to happen? There are a few answers one might give: so that God might all the more show his power as he overcomes even greater odds; conversely to make clear their utter helplessness, there was no way they could free themselves; and perhaps too to show the misery of life under Pharaoh (something in actual fact they seem quickly to forget). Of course this should cause us to reflect on the redemption Christ has won for us from the power of sin and death. We too can forget how grim that slavery to sin was and how firm its grip. And when in our own lives, God’s intervention seems slow in coming, this should encourage us to wait patiently for him. 

“I am the LORD”.  Chapter 6  

So far it has seemed that Pharaoh’s hand is the one with all the power, but God is now to reveal his hand (v.1) and indeed reveal himself. Verses 2-8 are bracketed by the statement “I am the LORD”, and it frames the message to the Israelites in verse6-8 too. This name it seems was used by the patriarchs, but its significance was not then revealed. They may have called him LORD, but they didn’t know Him as LORD, because only now would God more fully make himself known through what he was about to do. What it means for him to be the LORD is essentially that he is the God of the Exodus: not a new God, for he is the God of their forebears, the God who made a covenant and who will fulfil his covenant promise. As LORD he is especially the God who liberates, the God who redeems (in and through judgment), who graciously takes us as his own, and faithfully gives all he has promised. At the heart of who God is not simply that he is “God Almighty”, a God of power, but that he is the God who saves, a God of grace. 

God’s sevenfold “I will” in vv.6-8 is essentially answered with a “we won’t!” from the Israelites, though. In their discouragement they will not listen to God’s word. And Moses’ own discouragement makes him reluctant to obey God’s word when God again sends him to Pharaoh. Once again he feels his own inadequacy (“faltering lips”), but the stronger Pharaoh seems to be and the more aware Moses is of his own weakness, the more clearly God’s power will be displayed.  

I suspect it would be wise not to try to cover 6:13-30. Verses 28-30 essentially repeat vv.10-12, so the intervening genealogy seems to be inserted there as part of an answer to Moses’ complaint. It is a far from complete listing of the heads of the families, focussing quickly on Aaron, looking back to his forebear Levi and ahead to his grandson Phineas as a way it seems of showing God’s good provision of a helper. But I don’t think it is worth trying to get your groups to see the point of these verses. Better to stop at 6:12. 

Discussion Questions