Exodus 5:1–6:13 The Israelites Oppressed
Bible Background: Exodus tells of the people of Israel: once settled and prosperous in Egypt, now seen by the new king as a threat, and so oppressing them is his answer. As slave labor they are treated badly; their newborn boys are to be killed. God chooses Moses to lead the people out of slavery. Today, we realize how slow the path to freedom can be. But we also hear God’s promise!
Digging Deeper: 1. In Exodus 5, God doesn’t seem to be acting. Moses’ call for freedom is no match for Pharaoh’s stubbornness and cruelty. Pharaoh is brutal. The economy is the only thing that matters to him. Moses is in a hard place, with his own people complaining too.
2. This is one of those scenes in the Bible where politics and religion absolutely do meet! God sends Moses to confront an unjust system. The Hebrew ‘supervisors’, at great risk, also confront Pharaoh. This is human history: What dictators always do when they are threatened, is ‘clamp down’. Liberation is slow, hard, work; and it is the work that God sends people like Moses and like us to do! Biblical faith is indeed concerned with political issues and questions. Let’s not shy away!
3. When God does speak (6:1f), God is personal and forceful. The most personal and holy name for God is revealed again here (YHWH) translated in most English versions as LORD (and mistranslated as Jehovah in the days of the King James Bible.) God is revealing God’s whole self, and inviting Moses and the people to call on His name for help!
4. Then, God makes the connection to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the promises made to them and says: I have heard the groaning of the Israelites…I have remembered my covenant…I am the LORD…I will free you….I will redeem you….I will take you as my people…I will be your God….I will bring you into the land I swore to give (to your ancestors). These are powerful declarations of how God will act. But they don’t solve the immediate problem. Moses tells all this to the Israelites, and they will not listen because “of their broken spirit and cruel slavery”.
5. This story presents harsh suffering; offers high hope; and faces difficult facts. These are wonderful words from God, but the people are still slaves. What do people do when freedom and relief are promised and hoped for, and yet God seems to be taking God’s good old time? And what’s our job when justice is being denied to the poor and the vulnerable near and far? How does our faith push us to be involved in the struggle and to persist while we wait for God’s future to unfold?