Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.'” (Exodus 5:1 ESV)
God meets Moses via a burning bush and commissions him to lead Israel out of Egypt. Upon returning to Egypt, listen to the request of Moses: “Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.” This is such a powerful image. The wilderness, or desert, is not a place that you associate with “feasts” or as some translations say, “festival.” The wilderness of Sinai is a terribly harsh region. It is such a fitting picture of what Israel is going through in its living situation. Egypt has the fertile region of the Nile so it is not a wilderness from a climate perspective, but the situation of Israel is one of bondage. They have been enslaved by the Egyptians who are working them to death, just about literally. They had no rest. The command to let them go that they may hold a feast in the wilderness is to let them cease from their labor and rest in their worship of the Lord (the feast). The relief was to allow them REST! This is why the Sabbath is given. Worship, which is a “feast in the wilderness” is a time of refreshment in the midst of an otherwise busy lifestyle. We break from work to rest in the work that Lord has already done to rescue us from bondage to sin.
But consider what happened instead:
But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work? Get back to your burdens.” And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest from their burdens!” The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But the number of bricks that they made in the past you shall impose on them, you shall by no means reduce it, for they are idle. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.”
Pharaoh instead makes their work harder. Busy-ness becomes the tool of the enemy to keep us from our needed rest in the Lord. This initial request of Moses to Pharaoh wasn’t for a permanent departure, but a short one – three days. God’s plan was for Pharaoh to say ‘no’ so that he might set them free permanently. What an awesome God we have! He even uses the enemy’s attacks as a means of accomplishing His salvation for us. Amazing.
Here is what I want you to take away from this. Worship is rest from our work, particularly from our bondage to working in order to live; working in order to gain acceptance from others and from God; working in order to establish our worth. God establishes all of those for us and gives us the Sabbath as a gift. This is what worship is all about. It is a “feast in the wilderness”.
How do you look at worship? Is it a burden or a gift?
Chronological Reading Plan plus Psalms: Ex 4-6, Ps 31