“Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness.’”
2 Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.”
3 Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Now let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God, or he may strike us with plagues or with the sword.”
4 But the king of Egypt said, “Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their labor? Get back to your work!” 5 Then Pharaoh said, “Look, the people of the land are now numerous, and you are stopping them from working.”
First of all, note the possible implication at the end of verse 3b that if the Israelites fear God, Pharaoh and the Egyptians certainly ought to! He is not to be messed with. They have been warned.
Secondly have you ever been in a situation where you felt valued only because of your work? (Maybe under-valued because of it?) Perhaps you were at a social gathering and someone asked what you did, and they quickly moved on to find someone ‘more interesting’ or ‘more important’ to talk to. Your status (or earning capacity) wasn’t quite high enough.
What of the unemployed, the parents who choose to stay at home, those who work in the voluntary sector, or the retired?
Henri Nouwen chose to spend seven months in a Trappist monastery from June to December in 1974, and afterwards he published a report of his time there in ‘the Genesee Diary.’ One entry I always remember referred to his father who had recently retired as an academic. His dad told him that stay in the monastery would be ‘good preparation for that time which only seemingly is far away from you” (meaning retirement). His father, who he describes as a joyful man, not bitter, nevertheless felt something of the anonymity of his new status.
In Pharaoh I see an emblem of a world system which values work over worship, if it values worship at all. Pharaoh was not concerned about the Israelites as people; he was only interested in them as economic units – contributors to the Egyptian economy.
But in the beginning man/woman had a relationship with God before they were set to work. First and foremost we are called to worship God, then our work flows out of our worship. It is empowered and informed by our worship. In fact we should not drive a wedge between worship and work. Our work can be an act of worship when we do everything in the Name of Jesus.