Israel’s Labor Increased; God Promises To Keep Covenant & Act; Tribal Leaders

Exodus 5-6

Exodus 5-6 begin the process whereby God will deliver His people from the oppressive hand of the Egyptians.  It started out kind of rocky, but God promised that He would keep His covenant and that He would act.

There and Then


  • 5:1-14 – Pharaoh commands the Israelite labor increased
  • 5:15-23 – Israelite foremen ask Pharaoh about the increased labor; then complain to Moses; Moses prays to God
  • 6:1-9 – God promises to act in keeping his covenant with Abraham
  • 6:10-13 – Moses complains of being an unskilled speaker
  • 6:14-27 – Tribal leaders of Reuben, Simeon, and Levi
  • 6:28-30 – Moses complains again of being an unskilled speaker


God, Moses, Aaron, Pharaoh, Taskmasters, Foremen, Tribal Leaders


In Egypt, the particular place is never said in the text.


Prior to this Moses is told to return to Egypt to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and to the promised land.

Key Words:

Lord, God, Moses, Pharaoh, Aaron, People, Taskmasters, Foreman, Bricks, Straw, Stubble

Key Verse:

5:22-23 Then Moses returned to the LORD and said, “O Lord, why have You brought harm to this people? Why did You ever send me? 23 “Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done harm to this people, and You have not delivered Your people at all.”

6:1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for under compulsion he will let them go, and under compulsion he will drive them out of his land.”

Cross References1:

5:2 – Pharaoh not acknowledging God

Exodus 3:19  (God to Moses)  “But I know that the king of Egypt will not permit you to go, except under compulsion.

2 Kings 18:31-35  (Rabshakeh of Assyria to Jerusalem) ‘Do not listen to Hezekiah, for thus says the king of Assyria, “Make your peace with me and come out to me, and eat each of his vine and each of his fig tree and drink each of the waters of his own cistern, 32 until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey, that you may live and not die.” But do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you, saying, “The LORD will deliver us.” 33 ‘Has any one of the gods of the nations delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? 34 ‘Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria from my hand? 35 ‘Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their land from my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem from my hand?'”

Isaiah 37:23-29  (God’s response to Rabshakeh of Assyria) “Whom have you reproached and blasphemed? And against whom have you raised your voice And haughtily lifted up your eyes? Against the Holy One of Israel! 24 “Through your servants you have reproached the Lord, And you have said, ‘With my many chariots I came up to the heights of the mountains, To the remotest parts of Lebanon; And I cut down its tall cedars and its choice cypresses. And I will go to its highest peak, its thickest forest. 25 ‘I dug wells and drank waters, And with the sole of my feet I dried up All the rivers of Egypt.’ 26 “Have you not heard? Long ago I did it, From ancient times I planned it. Now I have brought it to pass, That you should turn fortified cities into ruinous heaps. 27 “Therefore their inhabitants were short of strength, They were dismayed and put to shame; They were as the vegetation of the field and as the green herb, As grass on the housetops is scorched before it is grown up. 28 “But I know your sitting down And your going out and your coming in And your raging against Me. 29 “Because of your raging against Me And because your arrogance has come up to My ears, Therefore I will put My hook in your nose And My bridle in your lips, And I will turn you back by the way which you came.

Psalms 10:4  The wicked, in the haughtiness of his countenance, does not seek Him. All his thoughts are, “There is no God.”

Psalms 14:1-3  The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good. 2 The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men To see if there are any who understand, Who seek after God. 3 They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one.

Isaiah 10:15  (God to Jerusalem for their idolatry) Is the axe to boast itself over the one who chops with it? Is the saw to exalt itself over the one who wields it? That would be like a club wielding those who lift it, Or like a rod lifting him who is not wood.

5:23 – Referring to God’s not delivering the Israelites: have not delivered = Heb. delivering, You have not delivered

Genesis 15:13-14  (God to Abraham) God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. 14 “But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions.

Hebrews 10:35-39  Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. 37 FOR YET IN A VERY LITTLE WHILE, HE WHO IS COMING WILL COME, AND WILL NOT DELAY. 38 BUT MY RIGHTEOUS ONE SHALL LIVE BY FAITH; AND IF HE SHRINKS BACK, MY SOUL HAS NO PLEASURE IN HIM. 39 But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.

6:4 – Covenant

Genesis 26:3  (to Abraham) “Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham.

Genesis 35:11-12  (to Jacob) God also said to him, “I am God Almighty; Be fruitful and multiply; A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, And kings shall come forth from you. 12 “The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give it to you, And I will give the land to your descendants after you.”


There are no particularly difficult passages in these chapters.


  1. When I encounter difficulties, how do I respond and how do I view God in the circumstances?
  2. Do I pray God’s promises back to Him when I encounter them?
  3. What excuses do I make for being fearful in doing the things that God has asked me to do?

Notes & Commentaries:

Wiersbe2 points out that seven times the phrase “let My people go” is used Exodus to refer them being able to leave Egypt and to serve God.

5:1 And afterward Moses and Aaron came and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness.'”

7:16 “You shall say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me in the wilderness. But behold, you have not listened until now.”

8:1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me.

8:20 Now the LORD said to Moses, “Rise early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh, as he comes out to the water, and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me.

9:1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and speak to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me.

9:13 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me.

10:3 Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me? Let My people go, that they may serve Me.

Wiersbe points out that Pharaoh was viewed as a god and that if he allowed the Israelites to leave “he would be acknowledging a deity greater that himself, and he wasn’t about to do that. In his pride and false security, Pharaoh wouldn’t listen to the words of the living God.”


“Instead of going to Pharaoh to complain, the foremen should have gone to Moses and Aaron and suggested that they summons the elders and have a prayer meeting. They should have reminded themselves of the promises God had given Israel and claimed them by faith. What a difference that would have made for them and for their leaders! Alas, during the next forty years, complaining about God’s will and criticizing God’s leaders would be characteristic of the people of Israel; but are God’s people much different today?” …

“God’s chosen servants must expect opposition and misunderstanding, because that’s part of what it means to be a leader; and leaders must know how to get alone with God, pour out their hearts, and seek His strength and wisdom. Spiritual leaders must be bold before people but broken before God (see Jer. 1) and must claim God’s promises and do His will even when everything seems to be against them.”

IVP Bible Background Commentary3

5:6-14. straw for bricks. Straw serves as a bonding agent in the brick as it is heated. Without sufficient straw or with poor-quality stubble, the bricks would not form as easily and a higher proportion would fall apart, thus making the quota harder to achieve. Quotas found in Egyptian literature often do not clarify the number in the crew or the time period involved, but we do know that the quotas were often not met.

6:6. outstretched arm. The Egyptians were used to hearing of the outstretched arm of Pharaoh accomplishing mighty deeds. Now Yahweh’s outstretched arm is going to overwhelm Pharaoh. He is confirming this in fulfillment of the oath he made to Abraham, represented by the gesture of raising a hand (toward heaven). Here we can see that naming the gesture is simply another way of referring to the oath, for there is no higher power for God to swear by.

Believer’s Bible Commentary4

5:1 In Exo 3:18 God had told Moses to take the elders when he went before Pharaoh. In the meantime, the Lord had appointed Aaron as Moses’ spokesman (Exo 4:14-16). So Aaron went with Moses in place of the elders. The LORD’s message was unequivocal: “Let My people go.

6:1-12 The LORD graciously answered Moses’ petulant speech first by assuring him that Pharaoh would let the Israelites go because he would be compelled by God’s strong hand. Then He reminded Moses that He had revealed Himself to the patriarchs as El-Shaddai or God Almighty, not primarily as Jehovah, the personal name of the covenant-keeping God. The thought here seems to be that He would now reveal Himself as Lord in a new way—that is, in new power in delivering His people. He had made a covenant and was about to fulfill it by freeing the Israelites from Egypt and bringing them into the Promised Land. Notice the seven “I will’s” in verses 6-8. The name “Jehovah” had been used before, but now it took on new significance. Notice 25 personal pronouns used by God in these verses, emphasizing what He had done, was doing, and would do.


5:3 – (from 3:18) Three days’ journey – i. e. a journey which would occupy three days in going and returning. This was a demand quite in accordance with Egyptian customs. The refusal of Pharaoh and the subsequent proceedings were revealed to Moses at once; but it is important to observe that the first request which Pharaoh rejected could have been granted without any damage to Egypt, or any risk of the Israelites passing the strongly-fortified frontier.

5:17 – Ye are idle – The old Egyptian language abounds in epithets which show contempt for idleness. The charge was equally offensive and ingenious; one which would be readily believed by Egyptians who knew how much public and private labors were impeded by festivals and other religious ceremonies. Among the great sins which, according to Egyptian belief, involved condemnation in the final judgment, idleness is twice mentioned.

6:2 – I am the Lord … – The meaning seems to be this: “I am Jehovah (Yahweh), and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but as to my name Jehovah, I was not made known to them.” In other words, the full import of that name was not disclosed to them.

See Exo 3:14.  (I am that I am – That is, “I am what I am.” The words express absolute, and therefore unchanging and eternal Being. The name, which Moses was thus commissioned to use, was at once new and old; old in its connection with previous revelations; new in its full interpretation, and in its bearing upon the covenant of which Moses was the destined mediator.)

6:6 – With a stretched out arm – The figure is common and quite intelligible; it may have struck Moses and the people the more forcibly since they were familiar with the hieroglyphic which represents might by two outstretched arms.

6:12 – Uncircumcised lips – An uncircumcised ear is one that does not hear clearly; an uncircumcised heart one slow to receive and understand warnings; uncircumcised lips, such as cannot speak fluently. The recurrence of the hesitation of Moses is natural; great as was the former trial this was far more severe; yet his words always imply fear of failure, not of personal danger (see Exo 3:11).

Here and Now

Answer the questions below as you reflect on your own life and this study6: my LOG vs others SPECK

S — Are there sins to avoid or confess?

  • Arrogance before God
  • Complaining about God’s leaders instead of praying with and for them

P — Are there promises from God to claim?

  • Trust God to keep His promises.

E — Are there examples to follow or avoid?


  • Moses in pleading with God for the deliverance He promised


  • Pharaoh for not acknowledging God
  • Pharaoh for oppressing God’s people
  • Moses in always finding an excuse for fear and shrinking back from doing what God had asked him to do

C — Are there commands to obey?

K — How can this passage increase my knowledge about God / Jesus Christ / Holy Spirit?

  • God does not forget His covenants with His people
  • God is known by His name: God Almighty – El Shaddai

Other Application Questions

Are there principles to guide?

Are there warnings to heed?

Are there attitudes to adopt?

Are there actions to take?

An outline for Exodus is available on the Downloads page in the Outlines folder


Barnes, Albert. Barnes Notes on the Old and New Testaments. Public Domain; e-Sword, 1800s.

MacDonald, William, and Arthur Farstad. Believer’s Bible Commentary: An Exposition of the Sacred Scriptures. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers; e-Sword, 1995.

Smith, Jerome H. Nelson’s Cross-Reference Guide to the Bible: Illuminating God’s Word Verse-by-Verse. Thomas Nelson, 2007. Print.

The Navigators. The Navigator Bible Studies Handbook. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 1986. Print.

Walton, John H. et al. IVP Bible Background Commentary. InterVarsity Press; e-Sword, 2000.

Wiersbe, Warren. The Bible Exposition Commentary: The Pentateuch – Genesis—Deuteronomy. Vol. 1. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books; SP Publications, Inc., 2001. Print. 6 vols.

1     (Smith 75–76)
2     (Wiersbe 186–188, 190) on Exodus 5-6.
3     (Walton et al.) on Exodus 5-6.
4     (MacDonald and Farstad) on Exodus 5-6.
5     (Barnes) on Exodus 5-6.
6     (The Navigators) with additions & Matthew 7:1-5.