God had promised Abraham multiple descendants and a homeland to bless the world. The blessing would come through Abraham’s son, Isaac, and through Isaac’s son, Jacob. Jacob’s twelve sons end up in Egypt where they multiplied but they became enslaved. The cry of the Israelites went up to God and God remembered his covenant (Exodus 2:16-25). So God called Moses to go to Pharaoh and to deliver the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses had been raised the ‘son of Pharaoh’s daughter’ but he fled Egypt when it was found out that Moses had killed an Egyptian for beating an Israelite. After Moses spent 40 years as a shepherd the Lord called him to rescue the Israelites out of Egypt and to will lead them into their ‘promised land’ (Exodus 3:7-10). This brings us to the story of Moses’ initial interaction with the Egyptian Pharaoh. Watch or listen to the story here and read the comments below.
The book of Exodus begins with the covenant apparently forgotten and with no sign that God was with His people. God calls Moses and acts in the plagues to advance His purposes and to make His presence known. In obedience to the Lord, Moses and Aaron tell Pharaoh, “The Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go and offer sacrifices in the desert.’ ” But Pharaoh wouldn’t let Israel go because he didn’t know the Lord and he took their request as an attempt to avoid their hard work. So Pharaoh made things harder on the Israelites by making them get their own straw. Now they would have to fetch their own straw before mixing it with mud, then the decaying straw would strengthen the bricks when dried in the sun. Yet, Pharaoh demanded that the Israelites make the same number of bricks. When the Israelites failed to meet their quota of bricks, Pharaoh had the Israelite foremen beaten. The foremen appealed to Pharaoh for relief, but Pharaoh harshly refused to give them more straw or reduce their quota of bricks. Then the Israelite foremen rebuked Moses and Aaron by saying, “May the Lord ‘judge you’ for making us a stench to Pharaoh.”
So Moses complains to the Lord that ever since the Lord had sent him to Pharaoh the Lord hadn’t rescued the Israelites and that Pharaoh had only brought more trouble on them. The Lord reminds Moses that He had heard the groaning of the Israelites, and that He had remembered His covenant. The Lord confirms that He would redeem Israel and that He would do this by sending His mighty acts of judgment on the Egyptians. In this way the Israelites would know that YHWH was Lord and their God and that they were the Lord's people. The Lord was confirming that He was faithfully working out His covenant promise to give the Israelites the land He had sworn to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses tells the Israelites that YHWH was the Lord and that He would fulfill His covenant to redeem them by bringing His mighty acts of judgment upon the Egyptians. But, the Israelites wouldn’t listen to Moses because the cruelty they were suffering at the hands of the Egyptians.
Moses wants to know why Pharaoh would listen to him if the Israelites wouldn’t even listen to him.
The Lord tells Moses to go ahead and tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go even though Pharaoh would not listen. The Lord would harden Pharaoh’s heart so that through His mighty acts of judgment the Lord would redeem Israel and that both Israel and Egypt would know YHWH was the Lord. The Lord sends Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh and Aaron was to throw Moses’ staff down before Pharaoh. Aaron threw the staff down and it became a snake. However, Pharaoh’s magicians did the same thing with their magic arts so that their staffs also became snakes. While the Egyptian magicians could duplicate the sign, YHWH showed His supremacy when Aaron’s staff swallowed up the staffs of the Egyptian magicians. The power of YHWH was shown to be superior to that of the Egyptian magicians but Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he refused to let the Israelites go. Yet this was all according to the Lord’s plan and it was just what the Lord said would happen.
In this story God acts to fulfill his covenant promise by freeing Israel from Egypt and to give them the land of Canaan. The Lord chose to deliver the Israelites from the Egyptians through his mighty acts of judgment. In this way the Lord would show His superiority over the gods of Egypt and reveal His power to both the Israelites and the Egyptians. In one sense, the story tells us that Pharaoh stubbornly resisted the Lord’s requests. But at the same time, the Lord would orchestrate the plagues in such a way so that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. The Lord would do this to multiply His mighty acts so that Israel (6:6-7), their children (10:1-2), Egypt (7:3-5) and all the earth (9:16) might know that YHWH is Lord. We ourselves must acknowledge the supremacy of the Lord our God. Moreover, we are to demonstrate our belief by patiently waiting for God’s deliverance while trusting that God is with us and is able to fulfill His plans and purposes on our behalf.