Exodus 5-6 / week 3
In Pharaoh’s response to Moses & Aaron, we begin to see what a ‘hardened heart’ (4:21, 7:3, 7:13, 8:15 etc.) looks and sounds like. Each plague will be a call for repentance, albeit one Pharaoh will stubbornly refuse to heed. It would be easy to assume that Pharaoh must be an extreme example of rebellious humanity, a once in a generation kind of epitome of sin. But similar language is used of the Church’s own experience of the Exodus (Ps.95:7-8, cf. also Heb.3:12-4:11). A hard heart is the common experience of us all before we are Christians, and we can still tend in that direction even after we have been redeemed (Heb.3:13-14). It is so identified with our sinful condition that the very essence of salvation can be spoken of in these terms: ‘I will give you a new heart … I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh’ (Ezek.36:26).
The foundational expression of a ‘hardened heart’ is summed up in the first words out of Pharaoh’s heart: ‘Who is the LORD, that I should obey Him..?’ Our refusal to recognise the right of Yahweh to tell us who we should be and how we should live is archetypal fallen humanity. We often think people don’t respond to the claims of the LORD on their lives because of ignorance, i.e. they simply don’t understand. That can easily lead to our thinking that if we can win the argument, we can win the person. In fact, the Apostle Paul teaches us that it is the other way round. Our ‘ignorance’ of God, and our separation from His life, is the result of the hardening of our hearts (Eph.4:17-18, see also Prov.4:23). This is the root of our sinful thinking and behaviour. Our darkened mind seeks to justify intellectually the desire of our hardened heart to live without reference to the LORD, but ends up only with ‘futile thinking’. This helps us understand why we can’t argue people into the Kingdom of God. We can win the arguments, but people will still demur, and refuse Christ. The issue is deeper than understanding. As the cliché runs: the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. We simply don’t want the LORD.
Conversion is the creation of a new heart, and with it, new desires. When we are reconciled to the life of God, we are re-introduced to the glorious reality of who the LORD is, and we begin to learn again what it is to love Him. And when our desire is for Him, our redeemed intellect begins to re-inforce those desires, justifying them and explaining them, re-interpreting the world so that our own interior life resonates with the rest of creation that declares His glory. We understand and experience Him to be worthy of all our adoration, and the only source of our joy and delight. This was the LORD’s intention for Israel in the Exodus: ‘…that they may hold a festival (5:1), …offer sacrifices (5:3), …worship me (7:16)’. It remains still the LORD’s heart for the Church.
Why do you think Moses spends so much time describing the new, more brutal, regime the Church is now subjected to? Why does the LORD allow things to get even worse for the Hebrews?
Do you think it is reasonable (or even justifiable?) for anyone to respond to the LORD’s words as Pharaoh does in 5:2? Can anyone claim to not know who the LORD is (5:2)? How does your thinking on this line up with Paul’s reflections in e.g. Rom 1:18-21?
Read Gen.47:20-17. How does this background make Pharaoh’s opposition to the LORD all the more wicked?
The whole book of Exodus could be seen as an answer to Pharaoh’s opening question. How would you summarise it?
Both the LORD and Pharaoh command the Hebrews to ‘Go!’ (5:1 & 5:10), but to very different destinies. What does this tell us about Pharaoh, and the LORD? What spiritual lessons are we being taught?
What does 5:15-19 teach us about the psychology of the Israelites. How do they see themselves, and how does this shape their response? Have they learned yet to think of themselves as the LORD’s people (see v.16)? Why do you think this is? How could they develop a sense of identity that cohered more closely to reality? How would that have affected their response to the developing situation?
When have you been tempted to think that it would be better if you’d never started following the LORD? What do we learn from this episode in Exodus?
Look at 5:20-21. Why do the Israelites treat Moses and Aaron in this way? Why are they so bitter? What would a healthier relationship between the people and their leaders look like? Have you ever seen anything comparable to this? How could this be increasingly cultivated in our Church? In retrospect, how could things have been different?
Moses reaction in 5:20-21 is understandable, but is it right? There seems to be a hangover from his earlier reluctance, a sense of ‘I told you this wouldn’t work, LORD’. Where does this come from? Is this something you can identify with? What do we learn about the LORD and His ways from his response to Moses?
How is this reassertion / repetition of the LORD’s commitment to act supposed to encourage Moses? Is there anything comparable in our experience today?
How does Moses grow in faith through this interaction, or does he (v.12)?
How do you make sense of the observation that the LORD’s will for Moses seems to include failure and rejection?
In Exodus 6:3, it seems as if the LORD is saying no-one knew him by the Name of Yahweh before this point. Yet as early as Gen.4:1&26, this Name is already in use (note the NIV use of capitalised LORD to alert us to the use of the Name ‘Yahweh’). What is the LORD then saying in Ex.6:3?
Why are we suddenly presented with a genealogy of Moses and Aaron at this point in the book of Exodus?
By the end of Ch.6 the stage is set for the most famous part of Exodus: the ten plagues. In contrast to the optimism of our last study, apparent setback has resulted in a dark pessimism. Things seem worse than ever and the Israelites are so discouraged in their cruel bondage (6:9) that they will not listen to Moses. Their attitude rubs off on Moses, and we are left with Moses rehearsing the inevitability of failure. In purely human terms, there is simply no hope, only the unrelenting anticipation of brutal oppression and eventual extermination. Paul draws on these categories when he speaks of the plight of humanity under sin: slavery and death. Fallen humanity lives in the same bleak atmosphere of hopeless despair. Only the intervention of God can give any hope of freedom and life. This is the message of Exodus.
 This vocabulary continues to be used to explain the behaviour of those who oppose Israel (Joshua 11:20), and interestingly seems to be understood and adopted by other nations as they too reflect on the Exodus, (see I Samuel 6:6).