MOSES AND THE THREE-DAY JOURNEY

 

Scriptures are cited from the King James (Authorized) Version, unless stated otherwise.

 

Question: In Exodus 3: 7-10 the Lord declares to Moses that He intends to free the Israelites

from slavery in Egypt (“I am come down to deliver them . . .”). However, in Exodus 5: 1, 3

Moses asks Pharaoh for only a three-day journey into the desert so that they may “sacrifice” to

the Lord. Why the discrepancy?

 

Answer: Exodus 5: 1, 3 reads:

 

1  And afterward Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD

God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness.

3  And they said, The God of the Hebrews hath met with us: let us go, we pray thee,

three days’ journey into the desert, and sacrifice unto the LORD our God; lest he fall

upon us with pestilence, or with the sword.

 

At one point, Pharaoh consented to let the people take their festival, on the condition they remain

within the provincial borders of Rameses (Exodus 8: 25). Moses protested that their public

sacrifices would make them obnoxious within the land, and that the Egyptians might assault

them (“will they not stone us?”; Exodus 8: 26). Moses therefore reiterated his original request

(“We will go three days’ journey”; v. 27).

 

On the Move

Given the size of the Hebrew population of more than 600,000 (Exodus 12: 37; about the size of

the current population of Las Vegas. Nevada, USA), the logistics required for a “journey” of

three days would have been complex. And even at an unlikely fast walking pace of four miles

per hour for, say, eight hours over three days, such a multitude would have managed not more

than 100 miles.

 

It appears, then, that this was not what lay behind Moses’ plea. He sought not a three-day hike,

but a convocation of three days’ duration outside the provincial borders of Rameses. This

suggests that the absence of the Israelites from their workaday jobs would have run into at least a

week, but probably much longer. Pharaoh and his advisors would naturally baulk at such a loss

of valuable manpower, upon which the Egyptian citizenry had come to depend. Indeed, it is not

uncommon today for nations to rely on immigrant workers to perform menial or laborious tasks

which their own workers won’t do.

 

Israel Pines for Freedom

The request that Moses made regarding this departure was in harmony with God’s previous

instruction in Exodus 3: 18, to which God adds (v. 19), “And I am sure that the king of Egypt

will not let you go, no, not by a mighty hand.” This reasonable petition probed Pharaoh’s

resolve, exposing his stubbornness, on the principle that the man who will not accede to a

modest demand, will not yield to the more stringent one. (Compare this principle with that of

Luke 16: 30, 31: “If they hear not Moses . . . neither will they be persuaded, though . . . .”)

 

Moses did not tell Pharaoh that the object in view was a permanent leave-taking, nor was he

duty-bound to do so. The Israelites’ bondage was unjust in the first place; they had never

forfeited their liberties through either war or debt. They had entered Egypt as a free people and

they retained the moral right to leave at any time. Had Pharaoh consented to Moses’ initial

request, the Israelites in response might have agreed to remain in Egypt, although on altered

terms, as befits a free and noble people. But Pharaoh not only refused to grant the plea for the

sacred holiday, but increased the people’s chores. This action raised the stakes to the next level

of pressure – the ten plagues, which eventually compelled Pharaoh to release all the Hebrews, as

Jehovah had forecast.

 

A Wider View: Type and Antitype

On a related note, there is a broader significance to the three days. The experiences of literal

Israel generally foreshadow the trials and tribulations of God’s people throughout the centuries

which followed:

 

1. As the first-born in Israel were delivered in a special sense, so Christ’s Church of the Gospel

Age comprised the special, elected ones delivered from out of mankind.

 

2. As the whole nation of Israel was delivered by Moses, so will the entire world of mankind be

delivered by Christ.

 

3. As Pharaoh’s army was destroyed at the Red Sea, so Satan and his army of supporters will

eventually be destroyed by God.

 

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