The Hebrews have been slaves for too long and enough is enough. The time has come to let them go.
The call to Pharaoh to release the Hebrews is paralleled throughout history whenever a people has been oppressed.
In the case of the Hebrews, however, it goes through stages, first somewhat polite, then tough and insistent.
At first Moses and Aaron come to the king and talk to him quite nicely: “Please let us go three days’ journey in the wilderness” (Ex. 3:18, 5:3). Then comes something adamant: “Let My people go to serve Me in the wilderness; behold, you have not listened until now” (Ex. 7:16).
Why the change in tone? It is not only because of Pharaoh’s intransigence, but because something has changed in Moses and Aaron themselves.
Earlier they let themselves hint to Pharaoh that once they had completed their three-day act of worship, they would return to Egypt and be slaves once more. Now they recognise that once a people has gained its freedom, there can be no turning back.
The Hebrews have a new destiny awaiting them, to be a free people worshipping their God, first in the wilderness and then in their own land. The years of enslavement are over, once and for all.
How is this implied in the actual words addressed to Pharaoh? In the phrase, “Behold, you have not listened until now”.
This could mean, “Until now, you have chosen to take no notice”. But it can also mean, “What you have heard from us until now, that we will come back after three days, is finished; now we have a new message which you have not heard from us previously, that we have no intention of returning.”
Of course there were moments in the wilderness when the people began to feel they had done the wrong thing and even hankered after the cucumbers and fish they ate in Egypt (Num. 11:5). In any journey the way can appear too long and too hard.
But in life there can be no going back to the past. The future must have its day.