Dr. Mark Scott wrote this treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson. Scott teaches preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri. This lesson treatment is published in issue no. 1 (weeks 1-4; January 5-26, 2020) of The Lookout magazine, and is also available online at www.lookoutmag.com.
Lesson Aim: Persevere through trials and setbacks.
By Mark Scott
Christian leadership is not for the faint of heart. No wonder more than one ministry leadership guru has said, “To lead God’s people you have to have the heart of a lamb but the skin of a rhinoceros.” Christian leadership is no walk in the park. Many have found that serving Christ is the best life but not the easy life (Matthew 7:13, 14). Leaders often bear ministerial scars (Galatians 6:17) and have been rebuffed more times than they care to mention.
In Exodus 3, 4 we saw the call of Moses (albeit with him making excuses about accepting that call). To counter those excuses God informed Moses that he would receive help from Aaron (Moses’s brother). So Moses journeyed to Egypt with the famous “rod of God” (4:18-23). His wife accompanied him and performed some circumcision surgeries along the way (vv. 24-26). Finally Moses met up with his brother, and they told the Israelites what God had said to them (vv. 27-31). Three large statements stand out in this text.
Let My People Go | Exodus 5:1-3
Our text records the first encounter that Moses and Aaron had with Pharaoh. Before there were any plagues, deaths of first-born children, or miraculous deliverances, God appealed to Pharaoh with a simple command, “Let my people go” (literally, “send them out”). It is hard to misunderstand that command. God wanted his people rescued so that they could worship (celebrate in a festival) him in the wilderness.
Pharaoh could not have been more defiant. He asked who the Lord was. Moses knew the answer to that question (3:14). Pharaoh had no interest in obeying (hearing) God or letting Israel go. Moses and Aaron insisted that their orders came from Heaven. The God of the Hebrews (those from beyond) desired that the people take a three-day journey (yet again another three-day story in the Bible) to offer sacrifices to the Lord. In fact, the Israelites themselves would be in trouble with God if they did not obey this command to “go.”
Get Back to Your Work | Exodus 5:4-14
Pharaoh is identified here as the king of Egypt. Pharaoh is not his name—it is probably Amenhotep II. The king told Moses and Aaron that the people should go back to work (compulsory service). Basically Pharaoh looked upon Moses and Aaron’s request as a distraction from his building endeavors.
Pharaoh wasted no time in reinforcing his “No” response. That same day he ordered the slave drivers—oppressors (Egyptian personnel) and the overseers—rulers (Israelite foremen) to make life harder for the Israelites slaves. These Israelite foremen were something like tax collectors in Jesus’ day (Matthew 9:9-13; Luke 19:1-10). They leaned heavily into the slaves. The slaves had been making bricks for years, and it takes lots of bricks to make cities. The bricks of that day were made out of mud. The straw acted like a binding agent to hold the mud together long enough for it to harden. Perhaps the Egyptians provided the straw for the bricks. But, no more. The brick quota was not to change. The new wrinkle was that the Israelites had to gather their own straw. This was a huge blow to the Israelites.
Pharaoh’s thoughts were that the people were lazy (idle to the point of showing oneself slack). If they worked harder (heavy like the concept of “glory”) they would have no time for Moses’ lies. The Israelites went everywhere collecting straw and cursing Moses under their breath. As an object lesson of force, the Egyptian slave drivers even beat (attack or smite) the Israelite overseers. Moses and Aaron might have been rebuffed, but the overseers were beaten. Moses and Aaron needed to prepare for mutiny.
You Have Made Us Stink | Exodus 5:19-21
The opening line of verse 19 would have to be the classic understatement in this narrative, “The Israelite overseers realized they were in trouble.” No kidding. Even though they were Israelites, they had sold their souls to the Egyptians. They despised the fact that they got in hot water for something that they had no control over.
Having left the presence of Pharaoh they went looking for Moses and Aaron. They lit into them, “You have made us obnoxious (stink) to Pharaoh.” Even though they had betrayed their people by working for the government, they felt as if they had been betrayed. This would be the first confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh, but it would not be the last. Moses would be rebuffed, but ultimately Pharaoh would be destroyed.
Lesson study ©2019, Christian Standard Media. Print and digital subscribers are permitted to make one print copy per week of lesson material for personal use. Lesson based on the scope and sequence, ©2019 by Christian Standard Media. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.
Image: The illustration is from Figures de la Bible (1728), by Gerard Hoet (1648–1733) and others; published by P. de Hondt in The Hague; courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.