In our study of Exodus chapter five, we look at how the devil uses busyness to distract God's people from worship. We will see how this tactic was used against God's people in Egypt as well as in our world today.
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After that, Moshe and Aharon came and said to Pharaoh, "Here is what ADONAI, the God of Isra'el, says: 'Let my people go, so that they can celebrate a festival in the desert to honor me.'" But Pharaoh replied, "Who is ADONAI, that I should obey when he says to let Isra'el go? I don't know ADONAI, and I also won't let Isra'el go." They said, "The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go three days' journey into the desert, so that we can sacrifice to ADONAI our God. Otherwise, he may strike us with a plague or with the sword." The king of Egypt answered them, "Moshe and Aharon, what do you mean by taking the people away from their work? Get back to your labor! Look!" Pharaoh added, "the population of the land has grown, yet you are trying to have them stop working!"
So, Moshe and Aharon met with Pharaoh and told him that God said to send His people. The Hebrew word "shalach" is translated here as "let" which is a passive word but it actually means "send" which is an active word. Pharaoh's response was that he did not know about YHWH (the Lord) and so he had no reason to listen to what God said. They politely repeated the request and the Hebrew word for desert is "midbar" and it speaks of an empty place and this speaks of trust while we remember that the number three is associated with the earthly display of God's will for men. In this request, we see that God's desire for man is that we trust in Him. They warned Pharaoh of the possible consequences of disobedience but he was only concerned with making the people of Israel suffer. He goes on to explain how the population of the Hebrews has grown and yet they are wanting to give the people of Israel a shabbat (rest).
That same day Pharaoh ordered the slavemasters and the people's foremen, "You are no longer to provide straw for the bricks the people are making, as you did before. Let them go and gather straw for themselves. But you will require them to produce the same quantity of bricks as before, don't reduce it, because they're lazing around. This is why they're crying, 'Let us go and sacrifice to our God.' Give these people harder work to do. That will keep them too busy to pay attention to speeches full of lies." The people's slavemasters went out, their foremen too, and said to the people, "Here is what Pharaoh says: 'I will no longer give you straw. You go, yourselves, and get straw wherever you can find it. But your output is not to be reduced.'" So the people were dispersed throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw.
Instead of allowing the people to worship God, Pharaoh increased their workload so that they would not have time to worship. This is the same thing that Jesus was talking about in the Parable of the Sower. There, Jesus spoke of a seed falling among thorns being choked out. He went on to explain that the thorns were the worries of this world. In the last days, the same tactic is used as a man must work an entire day just to get enough food to feed himself (see Revelation 6:6).
The slavemasters kept pressing them. "Keep working! Make your daily quota, just as when straw was provided." The foremen of the people of Isra'el, whom Pharaoh's slavemasters had appointed to be over them, were flogged and asked, "Why haven't you fulfilled your quota of bricks yesterday and today, as you did formerly?"
The slave drivers were responsible for getting the work done and had to answer to Pharaoh. They had appointed overseers to get the slaves to do their work but they could not keep up and gather the materials that were required. The overseers would have been the equivalent to the tax collectors of the New Testament. They were a part of the system that exploited their fellow Israelites and were probably despised in the same way.
Then the foremen of the people of Isra'el came and complained to Pharaoh: "Why are you treating your servants this way? No straw is given to your servants, yet they keep telling us to make bricks. And now your servants are being flogged, but the fault lies with your own people." "Lazy!" he retorted, "You're just lazy! That's why you say, 'Let us go and sacrifice to ADONAI.' Get going now, and get back to work! No straw will be given to you, and you will still deliver the full amount of bricks." When they said, "You are not to reduce your daily production quota of bricks," the foremen of the people of Isra'el could see that they were in deep trouble.
Here, we see a big problem which is that the Hebrew foremen cried out to Pharaoh instead of God. This shows us that they were focused on the physical and that they saw themselves as Pharaoh's servants and not the servants of God. The overseers appealed to Pharaoh but it was no use as his response was that they were not busy enough if they had time to speak of God. We see that, after hearing Pharaoh's response, the Hebrew overseers saw that they were "in big trouble" but that is not a good translation. The actual Hebrew word is "ra" and it speaks of evil and they recognized that anything or anyone that would separate them from God was evil. That reminds us of the fact that, we all must make a choice of whether we are a part of the world or a part of Christ. There is no room for people sitting on the fence like the overseers or tax collectors.
As they were leaving Pharaoh, they encountered Moshe and Aharon standing by the road; and they said to them, "May ADONAI look at you and judge accordingly, because you have made us utterly abhorrent in the view of Pharaoh and his servants, and you have put a sword in their hands to kill us!"
When they left Pharaoh, Moshe and Aharon were waiting for them and they must have been placed there by God. The foremen blamed Moshe and Aharon for the state of the Hebrew people and called upon God to judge them for that. As we have seen, the devil uses busyness to attempt to draw God's children away from Him. It leads to a lack of faith and worship of God which in turn creates conflict with those who are trusting in the Lord.
Moshe returned to ADONAI and said, "ADONAI, why have you treated this people so terribly? What has been the value of sending me? For ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has dealt terribly with this people! And you haven't rescued your people at all!"
Lack of worship not only divides God's people but it also creates distance between God and His people. The strife between Moshe and the leaders of the Israelites led Moshe to question God and His motives. Moshe displayed a lack of faith (trust) in God as he said that God did not rescue His people. God had already given him the details of what He was going to do but, with the conflict between him and the Israelite leaders, he questioned God's timing. We all must admit that, even as Christians, we sometimes wonder about God's purpose and timing.