Confronting Pharaoh

Moses and Aaron have made an appeal to the Elders of Israel telling them everything the Lord had spoken to Moses.  They fall down to worship the Lord after hearing of His great concern for their misery under Pharaoh’s hand. They have accepted Moses and Aaron as God’s messenger and deliverer.


Moses and Aaron Before Pharaoh. Painting by James Tissot

Exodus 5: 1-3 Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness.'”

Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.”

Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Now let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God, or he may strike us with plagues or with the sword.”

Pharaoh reveals the truth of who he is.  Remembering that Pharaoh considered himself a god, it is not a surprise at his reaction to their request.  It was expected.  Pharaoh states he does not know the God of the Hebrews and doesn’t care to know Him. Yahweh has already told Moses what response Pharaoh would make and so he does.  The ultimatum is this: either let the Israelites go on a three day journey to sacrifice unto the Lord or this same God will strike Egypt with plagues and with the sword.  Pharaoh is not impressed and thinking more about the work that would be lost in the production of bricks for his monuments and cities that he is building in his name, he refuses to let them go into the desert.   His continued response is this:

Exodus 5: 4-5  But the king of Egypt said, “Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their labor? Get back to your work!” Then Pharaoh said, “Look, the people of the land are now numerous and you are stopping them from working.”

Pharaoh’s defiant attitude to God Himself is shown in what happens next.  He increases the work load of the Israelite slaves, making it increasingly more difficult for them to meet the quota of bricks set for them. He instructs the Egyptian slave drives and overseers to stop providing straw for the Israelites to use in making bricks.  The slaves must now find a way to obtain the straw themselves while maintaining the required number of bricks.

Exodus 5: 6-14 That same day Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and overseers in charge of the people: “You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But required them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ Make the work harder for the people so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies.”

Then the slave drivers and the overseers went out and said to the people, “This is what Pharaoh says: ‘I will not give you any more straw. Go and get your own straw wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced at all.’” So the people scattered all over Egypt to gather stubble to use for straw. The slave drivers kept pressing them, saying, “Complete the work required of you for each day, just as when you had straw.” And Pharaoh’s slave drivers beat the Israelite overseers they had appointed, demanding, “Why haven’t you met your quota of bricks yesterday or today, as before?”


The process of brick making.


brick mold

A brick mold for making a single brick.

mud bricks

Bricks made from mud and straw.


Modern day example of the original brick making process.


Brick making was common during this period in Egyptian history.  Archeological evidence has been discovered proving the use of mud and straw in Egyptian brick making.  Ancient Egyptians have left us many examples of the life they led.  Brick molds have been found as well as pictures drawn on the walls of tombs to show us evidence that Biblical stories are indeed true.

Bricks could be made of mud only but adding straw to the mud mixture gave it three times more strength than mud without straw.  It also helped keep the bricks from sticking to the molds.  The mud was placed into molds of equal size to conform them to a specific size and then dried in the hot sun.  The standard size brick used during the Middle Kingdom was 30x15x7.5 cm.  It took approximately 5 days work to make 5000 bricks for a small one story house.  The number of bricks used to build the pyramid numbered in the millions.  No small task for a group of people who had to now gather their own straw in addition to making the bricks.

As you can imagine, life was now more difficult that ever before.  Gathering straw became impossible so they had to gather stubble instead. Stubble is the short stub of the stalk left in the field after harvest.  It was used in place of straw and when mixed with mud makes the brick rough and uneven. To follow Pharaoh’s orders, men, women and children were sent out to gather all they could as quickly as they could.  It took an enormous amount of time to gather what was needed.  When the stress of being unable to meet Pharaoh’s quota grew great, Israelite overseers went to Pharaoh to appeal for mercy.

Exodus 5:15-21 ” Then the Israelite overseers went and appealed to Pharaoh: “Why have you treated your servants this way? Your servants are given no straw, yet we are told, ‘Make bricks!’  

Your servants are being beaten, but the fault is with your own people.” Pharaoh said, “Lazy, that’s what you are—lazy! That is why you keep saying, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ Now get to work. You will not be given any straw, yet you must produce your full quota of bricks.”

The Israelite overseers realized they were in trouble when they were told, “You are not to reduce the number of bricks required of you for each day.” When they left Pharaoh, they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them, and they said, “May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

The overseers headed straight to Moses and Aaron to complain. They blame Moses.  Moses in turn heads straight to the presence of God.  Moses blames God.

God Promises Deliverance

Exodus 5: 22-23 “Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.”

Exodus 6: 1-12  Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.”

God also said to Moses, “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself fully known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they resided as foreigners. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.

“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.’”

 Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and harsh labor. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the Israelites go out of his country.”

But Moses said to the Lord, “If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips?””

Go back and examine the discourse between Moses and God. In verses 6-8, God speaks seven “I wills”.

  1.  I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.
  2. I will free you from being slaves to them.
  3. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm with mighty acts of judgment.
  4. I will take you as my own people.
  5. I will be your God.
  6. I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.
  7. I will give it to you as a possession.

Notice also in the previous passage who God is and what He has done.

Once again Moses feels inadequate to speak for God.  He focused on himself instead of what God could do through him. So typical for us as humans. We look at ourselves and try to do things in our own strength.  When will we learn to rely totally on God who has all strength instead upon our own weaknesses.

Family Record of Moses and Aaron

Read Exodus 6: 13-25 for a genealogy of Moses and Aaron in the lineage of Levi.  These verses name the heads of the Levite families, clan by clan.

Exodus 6: 26-27 It was this Aaron and Moses to whom the Lord said, “Bring the Israelites out of Egypt by their divisions.” They were the ones who spoke to Pharaoh king of Egypt about bringing the Israelites out of Egypt—this same Moses and Aaron.”

Moses was eighty years old when he began his mission for the Lord.  Aaron was eighty-three years old.  What does this tell you about when and how the Lord can use His people?

God Speaks to Moses

 Exodus 6: 28-30 “Now when the Lord spoke to Moses in Egypt, He said to him, “I am the Lord. Tell Pharaoh king of Egypt everything I tell you.” But Moses said to the Lord, “Since I speak with faltering lips, why would Pharaoh listen to me?”

Moses still feels inadequate to carry out the Lord’s commands before Pharaoh. Perhaps he also felt a great deal of fear.   Because of God’s compassion for Moses, He offers Aaron as Moses’ mouth piece thus reminding Moses once again what He has already told him.  

Exodus 7: 1-7 Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like god to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet.  You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country.  But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt,  he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites.  And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.” Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord commanded them.  Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh.”

At this point, Moses knows that obedience is what is expected by God.  God has told Moses he would be “like a god to Pharaoh” and Aaron would be his prophet.  While this phrase may seem a little strange to us, one commentator has suggested the phase simply means that Pharaoh would consider Moses as a powerful person deserving to be listened to and treated like a peer. 

God also tells Moses that He will ” harden” Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to what Moses and Aaron had to say.  Because of this, God would multiply the signs and wonders to show His strength and power and bring judgment upon Egypt.  God Himself would bring Israel out of Egypt to the Promised Land. Pharaoh has already shown his arrogance toward God by his proclamation that he did not know this God and who is He that Pharaoh should obey Him.  Pride and arrogance caused Pharaoh, who considered himself a god, to deny the sovereign One God named Yahweh “I AM WHO I AM”.

How did Pharaoh’s heart become this way?  Did God make it hard? Something can become hard just by leaving it alone.  For example, a loaf of bread will become hard just by setting it on the counter without a cover.  Likewise, Pharaoh had removed the protective covering from his heart by his arrogance and pride. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart by removing what little presence of his grace that was in Pharaoh’s heart in the first place.

Ephesians 4: 18 – Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.”

When the heart is hard through pridefulness and arrogance, sin causes the heart to grow hard.  We lose the ability to see, understand, hear and remember the truth. 

Aaron’s Staff Becomes a Snake

Exodus 7: 8-13 “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron,  “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Perform a miracle,’ then say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh,’ and it will become a snake.” So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake. Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts:  Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. Yet Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had said.”

In the ancient Egyptian world, magicians schooled in the “secret arts”.  This could mean they used supernatural powers demonic powers or trickery and sleight of hand to impress their audience.  Many time such magicians and pagan priest perform some sort of trickery to deceive gullible people.  For example, standing in a hollowed out pagan statue of a god and speak as if the statue were speaking.  Another example of such trickery was the practice of  snake charming that allowed them to put snakes into a kind of “trance” where they would remain stiff as a rod until awakened (a practice still used today in Egypt).

We know that God is greater than any such power that Egypt and its magicians might possess.  Moses’s snake swallowing Egypt’s snake had a greater meaning than the simple act of one snake swallowing another.  The snake was one of Egypt’s national symbols and was considered sacred. This event predicted disaster for the Pharaoh and proclaimed whose God was greater.

Discussion Questions

1. Why would God use someone who is old (80 years old) and with faltering speech to carry out such an important mission? Can He use you even now?

2. What do you think were the motives of Pharaoh when he refused to allow the Hebrews to go to the desert for 3 days to worship God?

3. Why would Pharaoh increase the difficulty for the Hebrew slaves to meet their quota of bricks?

4. What did Scripture mean when it stated God “hardened” Pharaoh’s heart?

5. Describe the promises God gives to His people.  What does this tell you about His character?