By Joseph Ametepe
"So Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh, and he said to them, 'Go, serve the LORD your God! Who are the ones that are going?' And Moses said, 'We shall go with our young and our old; with our sons and our daughters, with our flocks and our herds we will go, for we must hold a feast for the LORD. Then he said to them, 'Thus may the LORD be with you, if I ever let your little ones go! Take heed, for evil is in your mind. Not so! Go now, the men among you, and serve the LORD, for that is what you desire.' So they were driven out from Pharaoh's presence...Then Pharaoh called to Moses, and said, 'Go, serve the LORD; only let your flocks and herds be detained. Even your little ones may go with you'" (Exodus 10:8-11, 24).
This passage teaches us an important lesson about obedience. It is a timeless spiritual lesson that is very crucial for the believer's success in life. Obedience that is acceptable to God must be on His terms, not on man's terms.
Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, was a powerful ruler of his time. He was regarded as a "god." But he is now about to learn that obedience on his own terms is not acceptable to Yahweh. When God sent Moses to Egypt to rescue His people from Egyptian bondage, He gave him a message to Pharaoh. It was a simple and straightforward message. "Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness" (Exodus 5:1). The Hebrew word for "people" ('am) also means "a people (as a congregated unit)," "a nation,", "a community," "inhabitants," or "the populace." Usually it denotes a group of people which is larger than a tribe or a clan, but less numerous than a race. An 'am is a group which has certain unified, sustained relationship within itself. It may be characterized by religious fellowship (Gen. 17:14), a material relationship (Gen. 17:16), an ancestral relationship (Gen. 25:8, 17; 49:33), family ties (Gen. 36:6), social inter- relationships (Num. 5:27) or adoption (Ruth 1:16). The first time when God referred to the descendants of Abraham as "My people" was Exodus 3:7ff. ~Adapted from the Hebrew Greek Study Bible
The point of bringing out the Hebrew definition of the Hebrew word for "people" is to make it clear that Pharaoh clearly understood that when God sent His word to him to let His people go, it meant the whole congregated unit of the sons of Israel. It meant all who are Abraham's descendants. It meant the nation of Israel as a whole. It meant all who had family ties as Hebrews. This point was not lost on Pharaoh. He knew what God meant when He said, "Let My people go."
However, after the devastating plague of locusts, the eighth plague on Egypt, Pharaoh's officials became impatient with him. They questioned him: "How long will this man be a snare to us? Letthe men go, that they may serve the LORD their God. Do you not realize Egypt is destroyed?" (Exodus 10:7). The Hebrew words for "the men" in verse 7 and verse 11 (highlighted in blue) are different. The word in verse 7 is "ha'anashim" which derives from "enosh." It means an individual man or human being; man in general, mankind. The one in verse 11 is "ha'gebarim"which derives from "geber." This word means "man, valiant man, male person, boy, husband, warrior." A "geber" was a male at the very peak of his natural strength. The distinction between"enosh" and "geber" is important. This important distinction is not readily seen in our English translations. This is where a basic knowledge of the original language is advantageous. Pharaoh's officials advised him to let the general population of Israel go. But he didn't accept their advice to him. Rather, he wanted only the men who were valiant warriors to go. Pharaoh was smart. His thinking was this: "Moses, take the strong and stout men of your people and go. And leave the weak behind." He wanted the strong and valiant men of Israel to leave Egypt and the rest, the elderly men, women, young boys and girls, and children to be left behind. This way, Pharaoh would not be faced with any uprising from the sons of Israel. Even if there was, Pharaoh's army would easily crush any such opposition arising from such a weak camp.
The point here is that Pharaoh was obeying God on his own terms. Yes, he declared, "Go, serve the LORD." But he would not allow all of God's people to go, only the valiant warriors among them. But this was not acceptable in God's sight. Moses knew that. So, he confidently spelled out to Pharaoh, "We shall go with our young and our old; with our sons and our daughters, with our flocks and our herds we will go, for we must hold a feast for the LORD" (Exodus 10:9).
Later, after three days of blinding darkness in the land of Egypt, "Pharaoh called to Moses, and said, 'Go, serve the LORD; only let your flocks and herds be detained. Even your little ones may go with you'" (Exodus 10:24). Again, Pharaoh was obeying God on his own terms, which of course, is not acceptable to God. Pharaoh wanted Israel to leave behind their livestock. Remember, earlier, in the fifth plague, the plague of livestock, all of Egypt's livestock perished. But none of Israel's perished (Exodus 9:1-6). Pharaoh's motive is obvious. He wants to continue eating meat. He wants steaks, prime ribs, kebobs, etc. to chow on. He doesn't want to be stuck with a vegetarian diet. So after telling Moses "Go, serve the LORD," he says, "By the way, leave your flocks and herds behind. Even your women and children, in addition to the strong men among you, can go. Moses, I think I have made myself clear to you on this point. This is how far, I'm willing to obey your God."
No matter how Pharaoh argued his case, Yahweh was not impressed. He would not lower His standards. Obedience must be on His terms, not on man's terms. Yahweh will never tolerate man's discussion or debate on His terms of obedience. His terms of obedience will never be negotiated. When it comes to obeying His word, God is not looking for a "compromised-deal." Rather, He expects complete obedience, that is, doing exactly as He has commanded. Nothing less! This was the lesson Pharaoh learned the hard way. Without fear or favor, Moses declared to him, "not a hoof will be left behind" (Exodus 10:26).
But obeying God on His terms is a critical lesson for the believer in Jesus Christ. If we are going to live like our Savior, who obeyed God on God's terms all throughout His earthly life to Gethsemane, where He prayed, "Not My will, but Yours be done" (Matthew 26:39), we must also determine in our hearts that we will not negotiate God's terms of obedience once they are made clear to us. How would you describe your personal life of obedience? Would you say, you consistently obey God on His terms? Would you say your life is marked by complete obedience to God? Or would you say you obey God on your own terms-which are favorable to you? Remember, obedience that brings a big smile to God's face is that which is based on His terms only.