Questions From Readers
▪ Why did God have Moses ask Pharaoh’s permission ‘to journey for three days into the wilderness,’ since he had purposed that the Israelites leave Egypt permanently?
At the burning bush, God said that he would use Moses to deliver the Israelites from Egypt and lead them to a land flowing with milk and honey. God told Moses that Pharaoh was to be informed: “Jehovah the God of the Hebrews has come in touch with us, and now we want to go, please, a journey of three days into the wilderness, and we want to sacrifice to Jehovah our God.”—Exodus 3:18.
Since God had just told Moses that the Israelites were going to the Promised Land, it might seem that he was not providing Pharaoh with all the facts. But it becomes evident from how things worked out that God’s way of handling matters was fair and served his purpose.
The Israelites had been in Egypt for over 200 years and were being treated as a nation of slaves. Yet God, in accord with his unchangeable promise to Abraham, was going to make a great nation of Israel. They would dwell in freedom in the land that God had indicated to Abraham, the land of Canaan. (Genesis 12:1, 2, 7; 18:18; 22:17, 18) Would Pharaoh willingly cooperate with God’s purpose?
No, Jehovah foreknew that Pharaoh would stubbornly refuse to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt, even for a short time. If God, through Moses and Aaron, had indicated that His will was for Israel to leave permanently, Pharaoh might have raised objections that could have seemed plausible, such as the land’s being disrupted if over a million persons were to leave at once and permanently. And others might have been inclined to excuse Pharaoh’s attitude or sympathize with him. Israel’s leaving the land of Goshen for just a few days would mean no substantial loss to the Egyptians.
When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to permit the Israelites to go, even for three days, it was undeniably clear that his heart was hard. There simply was no excuse for such a hard attitude, nor for the increased oppression Pharaoh decreed in response.—Exodus 5:1-9.
Even after a series of plagues, obstinate Pharaoh would not permit Israel to leave Egypt. Finally, the 10th plague was so disastrous to Egypt that Pharaoh told Moses to take the people and go—with no agreement on a three-day period. Still, while the exodus was in progress, Pharaoh tried to trap and recapture Israel. That failed, for even Pharaoh himself died in the Red Sea.—Exodus 12:31-39; 14:5-9, 21-28; Psalm 136:15.
Consequently, God’s telling Moses to make the reasonable request for a three days’ leave served as a test of Pharaoh. It revealed what was in his heart.