Why did Moses tell the Pharaoh that the Israelites wished to take a three-day journey into the desert to worship God, when they had no intention of going back to Egypt? Did Moses lie? Even more seriously, did the Lord lie?
UK Apologetics Reply:
First off all, let us look at Exodus 3:
"Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, 'The Lord, the God of your fathers - the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites - a land flowing with milk and honey.' "The elders of Israel will listen to you. Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, 'The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God.' (Exodus 3:16-18).
So the divine intention was certainly to completely deliver the Israelites from their Egyptian captivity - of that there can be no doubt. But the king of Egypt was only asked permission for a "three-day journey into the wilderness." Why?
Now - first of all - did the Lord already know that Pharaoh would refuse the Israelites permission to go into the wilderness to worship, and eventually certainly resist their leaving Egypt? Of course He did; our God is omniscient (Job 42:2; Acts 1:24; 1 John 3:20). Yet God always allows man a certain freedom of choice - that is, to obey or to disobey, or in what manner a man might disobey (Joshua 24:15; Isaiah 7:15-16). So God knew what the final outcome would be, yet - in the whole scenario - He still allowed some options to Pharaoh. If the Pharaoh had obeyed the Lord in such a small request (a short, three-day excursion for worship), he might possibly have 'softened' his heart to some degree, instead of hardening it, and thus spared himself and his people the considerable heartache and turmoil which would follow, including the death of his own first-born son.
Truth is: Pharaoh was on a collision course with the Almighty Creator of the universe, but he could not possibly have known that from where he stood, and the 'softener' which the Lord offered (a three days journey) could have made the situation easier for himself and his people; yet it would still have ended in defeat for Egypt and success for the children of Israel. So this 'softener' was all about the Lord being prepared to be as merciful as possible to a king and people who were about to be brought low.
In similar manner, parents who plan a family adventure may only tell part of their plans to their children. The parent may also include a test of the attitude of a more difficult child to judge the response. All parents learn the wisdom of not stating everything they are planning when dealing with children! Compared to the all-seeing, all-knowing mind of God, the king of Egypt was as a child (and quite a spoilt one at that!). The king of Egypt would suffer defeat because he was in opposition to God's own people; yet Pharaoh himself chose an especially hard course for this defeat to take.
God does not have to tell anybody the full, unfolding truth on any topic until the time is right! He frequently tests ones attitude first. 'A three-days journey' was not the full unfolding truth, just the start of a much greater journey. In this snippet of information given to the Pharaoh, there was also a test and opportunity for Pharaoh's heart to soften. It did not. Proverbs 25:2-3 states, 'It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings. As the heavens are high and the earth is deep, so the hearts of kings are unsearchable.'
The apostle Paul also affirms this in Romans 11:33 when he declares, 'Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!'
So Pharaoh had no right to know the full mind of God, moreover, it was in his own interests not to know it.
So, as we know, the king of Egypt stiffened his neck and declared that the people of Israel would not be released from their labour (of making bricks) - not even for only three days; instead, their burden would be increased. They would be required to gather their own straw in the making of bricks, with the production quantity not diminished (Exodus 5:1-9). Because of this, this whole episode eventually became much harder for Egypt than it needed to be. Egypt and its Pharaoh would be defeated for sure - no question about it - but Pharaoh's hardness of heart caused that defeat to be total and ignominious.
Robin A. Brace. August 22nd, 2013.