Due to inclement weather, the 9 a.m. service for Sunday, Jan. 20 has been cancelled. We will have one morning service at 10:45 a.m. as road conditions improve.

Let My People Go

by Tim Yates

In the Book of Exodus, God sent Moses to the most powerful man in Egypt (Pharaoh) to preach a message of deliverance, freedom, and liberation. The nation of Israel had been in slavery to Egypt for 430 years (Ex. 12:40). God called Moses and told him, “Say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Israel is My son, My firstborn. 23 So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me. But if you refuse to let him go, indeed I will kill your son, your firstborn” (Ex. 4:22-23).

In v. 22-23 we see three major truths:

Truth #1: “Israel is My son, My firstborn.” Israel is God’s chosen son with all the rights and privileges of the firstborn (v. 22b). By the way, this is the central theme of the Old Testament.  

Truth #2: God wanted His Son (Israel) set free. In v. 23a, God commanded, “So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me.”

The phrase “let My son go” in v. 23 is one Hebrew word שָׁלַח shalach and is also translated as “release” or “set free.” Now keep this in mind, this is the message, and this same message is repeated throughout the book of Exodus. God wanted His people set free from Egyptian bondage. In fact, the message “Let my people go” or Set my people free is found 10 times in the first ten chapters alone (See 3:18; 5:1; 7:16; 8:1, 20, 21; 9:1, 13; 10:3, 4). God gave Moses only one sermon, and he preached this same sermon over and over again to Pharaoh and the magicians (the learned men of Egypt). Keep in mind, the message never changed. It was a message of freedom and deliverance.

Truth #3: If Pharaoh refused the message, God would kill his firstborn son.

In the second part of v. 23, God told Pharaoh, “But if you refuse to let him go, indeed I will kill your son, your firstborn.” The firstborn was the direct descendant of Pharaoh’s throne. By the way, this wasn’t a popular… feel-good message. God’s men must be willing to preach the Word, the hard stuff, the unpopular message that goes against the grain of secular culture. The message of judgment and Hell is never popular. We cannot cave to culture or political correctness. Truth is truth, and only truth could liberate Israel.

Please keep in mind, Pharaoh would not release Yahweh’s “son,” Israel. He “refused to let him go.”  Therefore, Yahweh would “kill” Pharaoh’s metaphorical son, namely, the Egyptians as a people, and even his physical firstborn son, thus proving His sovereignty. As we move through the story of freedom, notice the message of liberation.  

First and foremost, this story of freedom begins with “The Message” (v. 1). In Exodus 5:1, “Moses and Aaron went in and told Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness.’” The question begs to be asked, who is this specific Pharaoh? Most scholars believe, if the exodus occurred in the first half of the 13th century BC, the evidence seems to point to Rameses II as the Pharaoh of the Exodus.1 But just how powerful was the Pharaoh of Egypt? He had power over who would live and who would die. For example, in Exodus 1:15-22, Pharaoh proclaimed a message of death. In fact, the only message of Pharaoh was bondage, slavery, and death.  

“Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, of whom the name of one was Shiphrah and the name of the other Puah; 16 and he said, “When you do the duties of a midwife for the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstools, if it is a son, then you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.” 17 But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive. 18 So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this thing, and saved the male children alive?” 19 And the midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are lively and give birth before the midwives come to them.” 20 Therefore, God dealt well with the midwives, and the people multiplied and grew very mighty. 21 And so it was, because the midwives feared God, that He provided households for them. 22 So Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying, “Every son who is born you shall cast into the river and every daughter you shall save alive.”

As you can see from reading Exodus 1:15-22, the Pharaoh had power over life and death and was even worshipped like a god (false god). This same Pharaoh wanted to kill all the male Hebrew children. In fact, Pharaoh’s plan included the Hebrew midwives (thank God they did not cooperate), and his plan extended to every Egyptian citizen to throw all Israelite male children into the Nile River. His goal was to slow down the miraculous, prolific growth of Israel. Consequently, he preached a message of death.

On the other hand, the beautiful message of Yahweh included life, liberation, and freedom. We see a striking contrast between the lifeless message of Pharaoh and the liberating message of Yahweh.

The first contrast we see between the message of Pharaoh and the message of Yahweh is a contrast of authority. The struggle between Pharaoh and God is real. It’s a battle for supreme sovereignty. The war began in the Garden of Eden and concludes with Satan being cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20). The conflict is for ultimate rule.

Go back to our text in Exodus chapter 5. In the second part of verse 1, the Bible says, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel.” Now keep in mind, this was NOT the message of Moses or Aaron. It was the message of THE Lord God. “The Lord” is YHWH (יהוה, yhwh), the personal name of Israel’s covenant-keeping God (Old Testament), and is often called the “Tetragrammaton” based on the Greek for “four” and “letter.”2

Nevertheless, Pharaoh refused to submit to the authority of God. He defiantly said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go.” (v. 2). Wow! Pharaoh immediately questioned the authority of Yahweh, “Who is the Lord?” Who do you think you are telling me what to do? Second, he questioned the Word of Yahweh, “that I should obey or hear (shama) His voice.” Notice specifically the phrase “His voice.” Pharaoh is referring to the authoritative voice of Yahweh. Pharaoh refused to submit to God’s voice (Word). Third, Pharaoh confessed, “I do not know the Lord” or acknowledge (yada) the Lord. And finally, he rebelled against setting God’s people free, “nor will I let Israel go.” So, the struggle for rule continues. Who is sovereign? God or Pharaoh?

How did God establish His rule in the Book of Exodus? How did God deliver Israel, “His firstborn Son,” from slavery in Egypt? What was the purpose of the ten plagues? God told Pharaoh, “But indeed for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth. As yet you exalt yourself against My people in that you will not let them go” (Ex. 9:16-17). While Pharaoh continued to exalt himself against Israel, God used Pharaoh as a toy “that I may show My power in you,” and the results were God’s name would be declared not just in Egypt but “in all the earth.” So, God displayed His mighty power through the ten plagues (also called the mighty acts narratives). God intentionally (purposefully) “raised Pharaoh up” to show His mighty power. And God will ultimately accomplish His prophetic plan/feat through the ten plagues, even the death of the firstborn. God explained to Pharaoh the purpose of the plagues. He said, “I will send all My plagues to your very heart, and on your servants and on your people, that you may know that there is none like Me in all the earth” (Ex. 9:13). Ah ha! Here’s the tension, the rub, or the conflict. Who is your authority? Who is God? Pharaoh or Yahweh? Who is your King? Pharaoh or Yahweh?

Up to this point, there’s one message from God: “Let My People Go.” There is only one message. A message of freedom and liberation. Nonetheless, Pharaoh consistently refused to “Let God’s people go” and worship Him. He comes to the verge of release, but then He relents and refuses to liberate God’s people. It took ten plagues, not just one, but ten. God had a plan to demonstrate His glory, and His plan ultimately included Pharaoh so that the world would know Yahweh is God. Exodus 10:1-2 speaks about God’s ultimate purpose. He told Moses, “Go into Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his servants, that I may show these signs of Mine before him, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and your son’s son the mighty things I have done in Egypt, and My signs which I have done among them, that you may know that I am the LORD.”

According to the Lexicon, the word “that” shows purpose and intent:

v. 1b “that I may show”
v. 2a “that you may tell”
v. 2c “that you may know”

But how does the story end? God did “show.” Israel did “tell.” The people did “know.” God’s purpose and plan were not only executed in the exodus. God’s purpose and plan were fulfilled in the exodus. In the first nine plagues God “showed His liberating power” through Pharaoh (Ex. 9:16). It was clear. Yahweh is THE Star of the story. God won! But what about the tenth and final plague? Now keep in mind God prophesied (foretold) the death of the firstborn (Ex. 4:22-23). Was this prophecy fulfilled? YES! In Exodus 11:1, The Lord said to Moses, “I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt. Afterward, he will let you go from here. In verses 4-7, Yahweh said, “About midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt; and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the female servant who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the animals. Then there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as was not like it before, nor shall be like it again. But against none of the children of Israel shall a dog move its tongue, against man or beast, that you may know that the Lord does make a difference between the Egyptians and Israel.” The prophecy of the death of the firstborn was fulfilled. In fact, “At midnight the Lord struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of livestock” (Ex. 12:29). But the children of Israel like an army “went out from the land of Egypt” (Ex. 12:41, 51). God kept His Word. He delivered Israel “His firstborn son” and indeed killed Pharaoh’s firstborn son.

In closing, we need to remember God is King, not man (Pharaoh). God is sovereign. Furthermore, God liberated Israel. Leaving Egypt was not the work of Moses, Aaron, or Pharaoh. Leaving Egypt was THE work of God. And finally, every follower of Jesus Christ should serve the Lord with gratitude for the freedom we have in the Person of Christ.
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