The UK Bible Students Website
All Scripture references are to the New International Version UK edition unless stated otherwise.
Question: In Exodus 3: 7-10 the Lord declares to Moses that He intends to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt (‘I have come down to rescue them . . .’). However, in Exodus 5: 1, 3 Moses asks Pharaoh for only a three-day journey into the desert so that they may ‘offer sacrifices’ to the Lord. Why the discrepancy?
1 Afterwards Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: “Let my people go, so they may hold a festival to me in the desert.”’
3 Then they said, ‘The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Now let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God, or he may strike us with plagues or with the sword.’
At one point Pharaoh consented to let the people take their festival, on the condition they remain within the provincial borders of Rameses (Exodus 8: 25). Moses protested that their public sacrifices would make them obnoxious within the land, and that the Egyptians might assault them (‘will they not stone us?’; Exodus 8: 26). Moses therefore reiterated his original request (‘must take a three-day journey’; v. 27).
Given the size of the Hebrew population of more than 600,000 (Exodus 12: 37; about the size of the immediate population of Sheffield), the logistics required for a ‘journey’ of three days would have been complex. And even at an unlikely fast walking pace of four miles per hour for, say, eight hours over three days, such a multitude would have managed not more than 100 miles.
It appears, then, that this was not what lay behind Moses’ plea. He sought not a three-day hike, but a convocation of three days’ duration outside the provincial borders of Rameses. This suggests that the absence of the Israelites from their workaday jobs would have run into at least a week, but probably much longer. Pharaoh and his advisors would naturally baulk at such a loss of valuable manpower, upon which the Egyptian citizenry had come to depend. Indeed, it is not uncommon today for nations to rely on immigrant workers to perform menial or laborious tasks which their own workers won’t do.
The request that Moses made regarding this departure was in harmony with God’s previous instruction in Exodus 3: 18, to which God adds (v. 19), ‘But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him’. This reasonable petition probed Pharaoh’s resolve, exposing his stubbornness, on the principle that the man who will not accede to a modest demand, will not yield to the more stringent one. (Compare this principle with that of Luke 16: 30, 31: ‘if they do not listen to Moses . . . they will not be convinced even if . . .’.)
Moses did not tell Pharaoh that the object in view was a permanent leave-taking, nor was he duty-bound to do so. The Israelites’ bondage was unjust in the first place; they had never forfeited their liberties through either war or debt. They had entered Egypt as a free people and they retained the moral right to leave at any time. Had Pharaoh consented to Moses’ initial request, the Israelites in response might have agreed to remain in Egypt, although on altered terms, as befits a free and noble people. But Pharaoh not only refused to grant the plea for the sacred holiday, but increased the people’s chores. This action raised the stakes to the next level of pressure – the ten plagues, which eventually compelled Pharaoh to release all the Hebrews, as Jehovah had forecast.
On a related note, there is a broader significance to the three days. The experiences of literal Israel generally foreshadow the trials and tribulations of God’s people throughout the centuries which followed:
1. As the first-born in Israel were delivered in a special sense, so Christ’s Church of the Gospel Age comprised the special, elected ones delivered from out of mankind.
2. As the whole nation of Israel was delivered by Moses, so will the entire world of mankind be delivered by Christ.
Copyright December 2011 ukbiblestudents.co.uk
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