The God Who Feasts with His People
Sometimes as a parent there’s this moment every now and then when you find yourself saying things to your kids that your parents used to say to you.
I don’t know if you parents in here have ever noticed this in your own parenting, but every now and then I’ll say to the kids: “I’m not asking, I’m telling.”
Y’all ever heard that before? That’s something mom used to say to us. She would give me instructions or something, and if I’d say “No, thanks” — she’d let me know: I’m not asking, I’m telling.
See, I used to think that was original to my mom, but now as a dad I understand that it just makes sense sometimes. Sometimes you need to clarify what’s being said. It’s good to know the difference between questions and directives. Is this asking or is this telling?
This especially important for Exodus Chapter 5.
Now in just a couple chapters here in the story of Exodus we’re going to see the plagues. God is going to rescue Israel by causing ten different plagues to come upon Egypt, and these plagues are really the glamour of this book. They’re the “fireworks,” as Pastor Joe said last week. They’re going to be amazing signs and wonders. They’re going to show us the power and sovereignty of God — but it’s important to remember that the plagues are a precise response to a certain situation; and that situation is really a problem that we see in Exodus Chapter 5.
Chapter 5 actually starts with a problem and then ends with a problem, and for tonight’s sermon, I basically just want to show you these two problems in context.
So here’s the plan: we’re just going to walk through this story, we’re going to see these problems as they emerge in the passage, and it’s all going to set the stage for what’s to come. When it comes to the story, there are two parts:
Part One: Moses Speaks to Pharaoh (vv. 1–3)
Part Two: Pharaoh Attempts to Rival Yahweh (vv. 4–23)
We’re going to look at each part, and then there are all kinds of lessons for us along the way.
Let’s pray and we’ll get started.
Father, we believe that the unfolding of your word gives light. And we need light. We need to see reality as you’ve made it. So we ask that you would help us to see tonight, by your Spirit, in Jesus’s name, amen.
Okay, so what’s going on in Exodus Chapter 5?
Part One: Moses Speaks to Pharaoh
Verse 1 begins by telling us that Moses is doing what Yahweh has told him to do. Back in Chapter 3, remember, Yahweh calls and commissions Moses to go to the elders of Israel and tell them that Yahweh has seen their affliction and he’s bringing deliverance — Yahweh will bring Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.
Moses is supposed to report this to the elders of Israel first, and then together they’re supposed to go to Pharaoh and let Pharaoh know. And of course, in Chapter 4, Moses is very reluctant to do this and so Yahweh gives him three signs for support and he gives him his brother Aaron as a sidekick. And so by the end of Chapter 4, Moses and Aaron have gone to the elders of Israel like God said, and the elders are onboard, like we hoped. So now what’s next?
Pharaoh’s next. Moses and Aaron have to go to Pharaoh. That’s Chapter 5, verse 1.
Now notice, Moses and Aaron make two different statements to Pharaoh in verse 1 and then in verse 3, and they both get two different responses.
What Moses Says First
Look at the first statement in verse 1:
Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh: “Thus says Yahweh, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’” (Exodus 5:1)
This asking or telling?
Yahweh is telling. We can read it plain as day. Moses is speaking on behalf of Yahweh, and he follows this prophetic formula: “Thus says the Lord.” That means God is the one who is speaking, and it’s a directive. God isn’t asking, he’s telling.
Look at verse 3.
What Moses Says Second
After Moses gives Yahweh’s directive to Pharaoh in verse 1, the next time he addresses Pharaoh is verse 3. Verse 3:
Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to Yahweh our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” (Exodus 5:3)
Is he asking or telling?
He’s asking. Moses actually goes in a very different direction in verse 3 from what he did in verse 1. Both are statements to Pharaoh, but let’s look at how different they are.
First, categorically, verse 1 is a directive; verse 3 is a question. First Moses is telling; but then in verse 3 Moses is asking.
Second, in verse 1, Moses is speaking on behalf of Yahweh; he starts by saying “Thus says Yahweh…” But then in verse 3 Moses himself is asking Pharaoh about Yahweh.
Except, third, notice that Moses doesn’t call him Yahweh at first. In verse 1, Moses introduces the directive with the name: “Yahweh, the God of Israel.” But then in verse 3 he starts the question with “the God of the Hebrews.”
Fourth, in verse 1 Yahweh calls the people “Israel” and “my people.” In verse 3 Moses says “the Hebrews.”
Fifth, in verse 1 there’s no timetable, it’s just: let us go feast! But in verse 3 it’s a three days’ journey and the request is to sacrifice.
Sixth, in verse 1 there’s no threat of punishment. Yahweh just wants to feast with his people. But in verse 3 there is the threat of pestilence and violence if the Hebrews don’t go sacrifice.
So verse 1 and verse 3 are very different statements, right? We can all see that, but why is this the case? Why does Moses do this? Why does Moses say it two different ways? I think there are two reasons.
Why Does Moses Say It Twice?
Now, in one sense, Moses could have just walked away after verse 1. He has basically done what Yahweh told him to do. He spoke to Pharaoh but Pharaoh didn’t listen. All right, I guess I’ll go back to Midian.
Moses could have done that here and who would blame him? He tried. Didn’t work. Back to the sheep. Moses could have done that.
Failure Is Not an Option
So the other day I started thinking about Tom Hanks — because I had been texting with Mike Polley and I sent him a GIF of Forest Gump running, and it just made me appreciate Tom Hanks. Because that guy is amazing. Just think about all the characters he has played. Think about all the movies Tom Hanks has been in. Or for now, just think about Apollo 13. Do y’all remember the movie Apollo 13?
Remember Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon are stuck in outer space, and there’s this team of men in the mission control room in Houston — and they’re all smoking because it’s 1970 — and they’re trying to figure out how to get these astronauts back to earth. And there’s that one scene when they all realize it’s basically impossible. There’s this whole room of genius men and they realize they can’t do it — they don’t have enough battery life to do it. And the head guy in the room, the chief guy, he says, “Gentlemen, that’s not acceptable.” And then there’s a lot of commotion, and everybody’s talking at one time, and they’re all throwing their hands up in the air. We tried! We tried! But then the chief says, “Failure is not an option.”
And I wonder if that’s how Moses felt here. He has been confronted by Yahweh. He’s been commissioned by Yahweh. Yahweh has heard his people in their affliction and after all this time he’s finally getting his people out of Egypt. Moses can’t walk away now! So what that Pharaoh doesn’t know Yahweh — failure is not option.
I wish that we as Christian felt that way a little more. Like, what if we felt that way about sharing the gospel? I think a lot of times we can be super reluctant to have spiritual conversations, and then finally when we do have spiritual conversations and it gets rejected or it doesn’t go how we hoped, and we think … “Well, I tried.”
Or maybe we might pray about something two or three times — we’re asking the Lord for something — and after a couple times if he doesn’t answer, we think … “Well, I tried.”
How many good things are there in our lives that we’re open to, things that we consider, but they only get a try. We do just enough to be able to say, “Well, I tried.”
Church, here’s the thing: we are filled with the Holy Spirit; we are made alive in Jesus; we are called to be his witnesses in this world. What if we stopped saying “Well, I tried” and we started thinking “Failure is not an option.” Like I’m not leaving after verse 1.
Have that next conversation with your neighbor.
Invite those people to dinner again.
Fast and pray and knock on that door everyday.
Don’t act like everything we touch must turn to gold. It’s okay if it’s not easy.
Jesus is coming back to this earth and there are millions of people don’t know him. Failure is not an option.
I think that’s a little bit of what’s going on here with Moses. It’s part of why he doesn’t leave after verse 1. But there’s also a bigger reason. We see that in verse 2.
Problem #1: Pharaoh Doesn’t Know Yahweh
Look what Pharaoh says in verse 2. After Moses says in his first statement, “Thus says Yahweh…” Pharaoh replies in verse 2:
“Who is Yahweh, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know Yahweh, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.”
How many of you have ever been to a night club before? [Everybody else needs to stop judging/we’re afraid of getting judged.]
Well, either way, we all know what a night club is, and we know what a bouncer is. We’ve seen this is in a movie or something. Imagine there’s this exclusive party going on, and the bouncer is at the door holding the guest list, and there’s a long line of people waiting to get in. The people step up one by one, say their name, when the bouncer finds their name on the list, and then they’re good to go. We’ve all seen something like that before. Well, something kind of like that is happening here in Exodus 5.
Moses has an audience with Pharaoh, which is probably not uncommon. In verse 15 we read that the foremen of Israel also came to Pharaoh. So Pharaoh, like you could imagine as a king, has people approaching him all day long. He’s the ruler of the land, and he’s the guy people want to talk to. Well here in Chapter 5, after Moses has stood in line and waited his turn, Moses gets to talk to Pharaoh.
Moses is speaking to Pharaoh on behalf of Yahweh — but when Moses mentions Yahweh, Pharaoh gets confused.
And see, Pharaoh has this bouncer by his side. And he looks over to the bouncer and says, “Yahweh? You know of any Yahweh?” And the bouncer has his list of gods — it’s a long list of all the different gods and deities worshiped in Egypt — and he checks each page of the list, and says “Nope. No Yahweh.” And so Pharaoh says back to Moses, “Who is Yahweh, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go?”
In other words, Pharaoh knows Moses has brought a directive from Yahweh. Pharaoh knows that Yahweh is not asking, he’s telling, but because Pharaoh doesn’t know who Yahweh is, Pharaoh doesn’t care. Pharaoh says in verse 2: “I do not know Yahweh, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.”
And this is a problem.
This is the first problem we see in the passage, and it’s a big problem. Pharaoh does not know Yahweh. And this is so important that the rest of this story — all the events following this verse, all the plagues, everything — they are all meant to fix this. The problem of Pharaoh not knowing Yahweh is going to be solved. We could actually call the entire exodus an educational process for Pharaoh. The goal is not just that Israel be set free, but it’s that Yahweh be made known — starting for Pharaoh and for everybody.
That You May Know
As you’re reading through the book, just highlight every time you see the words “and you shall know [or that you shall know] I am Yahweh.” We start to see this over and over again. For example,
Chapter 6, verse 7: “and you shall know that I am Yahweh your God.”
Chapter 7, verse 5: “The Egyptians shall know that I am Yahweh.”
7, verse 17: “That you shall know that I am Yahweh.”
8, verse 10: “that you may know that there is no one like Yahweh our God.”
8, verse 22: “that you may know that I am Yahweh in the midst of the earth.”
9, verse 14: “so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth.”
9, verse 16: “that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.”
9, verse 29: “so that you may know that the earth is Yahweh’s.”
10, verse 2: “that you may know that I am Yahweh.”
14, verse 4: “the Egyptians shall know that I am Yahweh.”
14, verse 18: again: “the Egyptians shall know that I am Yahweh.”
Anybody have an idea why God is doing all this?
It is so that he be known. That’s the whole point. That the point of the exodus, and everything. And I mean everything. All of this. The point of the universe is so that the glory of God be seen. The purpose is so that Yahweh be known for who he is.
But Pharaoh doesn’t know him … yet.
And that’s the bigger reason behind what Moses is doing in verse 3.
The Different Approach
Remember that instead of walking away after verse 1, instead of Moses leaving when he encounters the problem, Moses just takes a different approach in what he says next.
In verse 3 Moses decides to speak in categories that Pharaoh can understand.
In verse 3 Moses doesn’t start with God’s name “Yahweh” but instead he just says “the God of the Hebrews.”
And see, the word “God” — elohim — it’s the more generic word for deity. That’s why you can see little “g” gods sometimes in the Bible. The word just has the sense of divine power, and that’s something Pharaoh has categories for.
Remember, Egypt has a lot of little “g” gods, and each those gods have their own domain — there’s the god of the sun, the god of the river, the god of the rain. That’s how Pharaoh thinks.
But see, he’s got no category for there being only one God, the Most High God, who created everything and who is sovereign over everything. Pharaoh just knows all the different elohim, and so in Moses’s second statement here in verse 3 he says “the elohim of the Hebrews.”
Moses goes from saying “Thus says Yahweh, the God of Israel” to just saying “the God of the Hebrews.”
Can you track with that Pharaoh?
And yeah, Pharaoh can track with that. Okay, good.
Well, this God of the Hebrews — Pharaoh’s tracking — this God wants us to get away for a few days and sacrifice to him, and if we don’t he might punish us with pestilence and sword.
Oh, and Pharaoh gets that too.
See, it’s not just that Pharaoh didn’t know Yahweh and didn’t have a category for Yahweh, but he also didn’t have a clue what it means that Yahweh, the God of Israel, wanted to feast with his people.
When it comes to how Pharaoh thinks about the gods, remember, the gods he knows need to be appeased. If you want their blessings, you better you pay your dues. For Pharaoh, the gods don’t want a relationship, they just want your allegiance.
And here is this Yahweh in verse 1, and he calls Israel his people, and he wants to hold a feast in the wilderness. A “feast in wilderness” — you could technically call that a “wild party.” Yahweh wants to celebrate with his people, and Pharaoh doesn’t have a clue for what that means.
That’s why Moses says it different in verse 3. Moses says to Pharaoh: The God of the Hebrews wants us to sacrifice to him or else.
And Pharaoh thinks: Oh, you need to sacrifice to your god so that he doesn’t punish you.
See, Pharaoh gets that. These are categories that Pharaoh can work with.
That’s what Moses is doing in verse 3. Moses is trying to start with categories that Pharaoh can understand … because the reality that there’s a Most High God named Yahweh who has his own people and he wants to rejoice with them — that makes no sense to Pharaoh.
And it might not make sense to you.
The God Who Feasts with His People
Look, if we’re honest, we can be a lot like Pharaoh in the categories we have for God. We can think that really, ultimately, God just wants to impose his power on us. We can think that God is just a big invisible bully we better not upset. Some of you think that, I know.
I used to think that. I grew up in church and I was taught the Bible, but over time, without meaning to, I basically thought that the only thing God wanted from me was not to make him mad. I understood that God was my Father, but it more like: you better not make dad angry. And so you tip-toe around him, and you try to do more good than bad, and before long you’re not living by faith at all, but you’re trying to earn every bit of the love you wish you could feel.
I used to be a self-righteous hustler. You give lip-service to grace, but really you believe in salvation by works, heaven is your wage, and so a feast with Yahweh makes no sense.
Pharaoh was not ready for verse 1. And I’m not sure we are.
But it’s who Yahweh is. This is definitely where we’re headed. Verse 1 is telling us like it is: I am Yahweh; Israel is my people; and we’re going to feast. That’s the goal of it all. But we’ve got something learning to do. There’s an educational process that needs to happen — for Pharaoh and for us. And verse 3 puts that educational process in motion.
And look how Pharaoh responds. This is Part Two: Pharaoh Attempts to Rival Yahweh
Part Two: Pharaoh Attempts to Rival Yahweh
He best indication that Pharaoh is tracking with Moses is how Pharaoh responds in verse 4. He asks Moses and Aaron why they are distracting the people from their work, and he decides to increase the workload.
See Pharaoh thinks that the people are idle. They have too much time on their hands. And so if the Hebrews had more work to do then they wouldn’t have time to think about their God. So at one level this is a time management issue. Pharaoh is just trying to fill their time. But it’s more than that: because Pharaoh wants to take the time they’ve been giving to Yahweh and he wants to have it for himself.
And not only that, but look at verse 10. Pharaoh’s taskmaster comes to the people and says: “Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I will not give you straw…’”
Notice that. This is the same wording we see in verse 1, “Thus says Yahweh…” The taskmasters are playing like Moses. Moses went to Pharaoh and spoke for Yahweh — Thus says Yahweh. Here the taskmasters went to the people and spoke for Pharaoh — Thus says Pharaoh.
The taskmasters are playing like Moses, because Pharaoh is playing like God.
Pharaoh is putting himself forward as Yahweh’s rival. Oh, so this God of the Hebrews has been taking your time away from me. You’re afraid he might punish you if you don’t sacrifice to him. I’ll show you what to be afraid of. No straw. You see that, Israel? You see the power I have? No straw, same number of bricks. I’ll show you who to fear.
And so the people of Israel are dejected. They petition Pharaoh. They try to get him to change his mind, but he doesn’t. And by the end of Chapter 5 things are worse for the people of Israel than they have ever been. There is a parallel here to Chapter 1, only now it’s more confusing. Look at verse 22:
Then Moses turned to Yahweh and said, “O Yahweh, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? 23 For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”
See, things have worsened and there’s still no help. That’s the second problem in this passage.
Problem #2: Slavery Gets Worse and There’s Still No Help
And Moses asks a good question. Hey, what’s the point? You told me your name. You told me you were going to rescue us. But things have only gotten worse, and you haven’t helped us at all.
Is Moses angry here or is he frustrated? Trick question. Anger and frustration are the same thing. Frustration is what we call it when we’re too embarrassed to admit it’s anger. And here in verse 23 Moses is angry. This thing is not panning out the way he thought it would. It would have been better for everybody if I just stayed in Midian. Yahweh, what are you doing?
Have you ever been there? I’m not talking about just disappointment. I mean anger because of God’s absence. It’s the feeling that God draws us into something and then leaves. Things get worse and there’s still no help. That’s the second problem in this passage.
Chapter 5 has two problems: 1) Pharaoh doesn’t know Yahweh, and 2) slavery gets worse. These are two problems, and they’re going to be solved.
In fact, this is going to be a kill-two-problems-with-one-stone sort of thing. Because Yahweh is going to make himself known by rescuing his people.
God tends to make himself known most clearly when his absence is felt most severely. Chapter 5 is just setting the stage for what’s to come.
We we see this again in the Bible.
Can you imagine what the disciples felt like on Good Friday?
Like they’ve been following this man Jesus for three years. They left everything to follow him because he said he was the Messiah. He said he had come to rescue his people. But they saw him die. Can you imagine what they felt?
It takes us back to an earlier conversation Jesus had just before he was crucified. Jesus is speaking to Pilate, who was the ruler of the land. And Pilate asks him, “Are you really a king?”
And John 18, verse 37, Jesus says: Yeah, I’m a king.
“And for this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world — to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37)
Is he asking or telling?
Pharaoh says back to Jesus — I mean Pilate says back to Jesus — “What is truth?”
Pilate doesn’t get it, and it doesn’t matter. Jesus is telling.
I am here to make God known — I am here to reveal the truth of who God is. I am here to show you Yahweh.
Yahweh is the Holy One who saves by grace, and he wants to feast with this people.
And that’s what the Table is about.
Each week as we come to this Table we come to a feast of grace. This Table is about fellowship. Yahweh invites us into his joy. And that’s why Jesus died for us. The bread represents Jesus’s broken body; the cup represents Jesus’s shed blood — both broken and shed for you to know and feast with God.
So tonight if you trust in Jesus, if you are united to Jesus by faith, come eat and drink with us.