Open Exodus 5:1-13.
Who is God? What’s he like? What authority does he have in a world where there’s so much injustice?
The God of the Bible turns out to be very different from what many imagine.
Exodus 5:1-2 (ESV)
1 Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’ ” 2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.”
Pharaoh has no idea what the true God is like. All he understands is that his slaves want time off to party. They want a festival to honour someone else instead of working for him.
Pharaoh’s first impression of YHWH is as a party God! And you know what? He’s got that right! Every Israelite listening to this story in the following centuries would have known it was true. They all downed tools and headed off to Jerusalem to celebrate a festival three times every year!
Feasting has always been part of Judaism. In fact, you don’t find widespread fasting in Judaism until after the temple had been destroyed so there was no place for feasting. Israel’s true ruler calls his people to celebration.
Moses describes this feast as sacrificing to YHWH (5:3). Christians regularly misunderstand the nature of sacrifices in the Old Testament. If you’re thinking of individual Israelites responding to a guilty conscience by killing an animal to atone for their personal sins, you have not understood how the sacrificial system operated in the ancient world. There were odd occasions where that happened, but mostly sacrifices were gifts of food offered to God. Every day. At meal times (morning and night). Sacrifices were primarily a meal with God. Priests offered the animals to God as a gift. Then they sat down at his table, on behalf of the people, to celebrate their fellowship with God.
Check it out in the NIV. Sacrifices are consistently called food offerings: Exodus 29:18, 25, 41; Leviticus 1:9, 13, 17; 2:2, 4, 9, 10, 11, 16; 3:3, 5, 9, 11, 14, 16; 4:35; 5:12, 6:17, 18; 7:5, 25, 30, 35; 8:21, 28; 10:12, 13, 15; 21:6, 21; 22:22, 27; 23:18, 25, 27, 36, 37; 24:7, 9 and so on. (See screenshot below.)
So, what Moses called the Israelites to do was politically subversive. They were to celebrate in YHWH’s honour rather than Pharaoh’s. They were to identify themselves as YHWH’s people, not Pharaoh’s.
This placed Pharaoh in quite a bind. He couldn’t give in to this demand without capitulating to YHWH’s authority. But if he didn’t give in, he was an ogre, the slave driver who wouldn’t give his people a break.
Pharaoh reacted by putting his foot down, making their lives even more miserable so they wouldn’t have time to dream of celebrating with YHWH.
The tale of two rulers has begun. It’s quite a revelation to contrast our true sovereign to human rulers.