Exodus 5: Making Bricks Without Straw

1 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.’” 2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” 3 Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” 4 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.” 5 And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest from their burdens!”

-We have to understand what Moses and Aaron are asking of the Pharaoh. They are not just asking for a 3-day vacation for a “few” employees. In Exodus 38:26 we find out that at this time probably not long after the exodus from Egypt that the number of men able to serve in an army was 603,550! That is probably near the number of slave workers the Egyptians were utilizing so just imagine the logistics of moving hundreds of thousands of people from throughout all of Egypt all to a particular spot to worship for 3 days. It would likely take weeks just for them all to get to this place before the 3 days begin then weeks to return. And then of course, what’s to stop them from returning once they are all gathered together in one place outside of Egypt? What’s to stop them from doing exactly what they are going to end up doing? With 603,550 slaves missing for perhaps a month, imagine what that can do to an economy that has come to depend on them for decades now to do all their hard labor. What Moses and Aaron are asking is impossible for Pharaoh to grant! But that is why God has done things this way. He is making the task seem impossible so that He can show all creation that He is God and nothing is impossible for Him. This is probably why Moses was almost killed. He likely did not have faith that this could happen, who would? This is so beyond extreme that it just doesn’t seem like there’s any way this could happen. What a fantasy! Yet God delivers in such an obvious, dominating, overpowering way that there can be no doubt left to all who have witnessed it that Israel has a powerful God actively protecting them.

6 The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, 7 “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. 8 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.’ 9 Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.” 10 So the taskmasters and the foremen of the people went out and said to the people, “Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I will not give you straw. 11 Go and get your straw yourselves wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced in the least.’” 12 So the people were scattered throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw. 13 The taskmasters were urgent, saying, “Complete your work, your daily task each day, as when there was straw.” 14 And the foremen of the people of Israel, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten and were asked, “Why have you not done all your task of making bricks today and yesterday, as in the past?” 15 Then the foremen of the people of Israel came and cried to Pharaoh, “Why do you treat your servants like this? 16 No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are beaten; but the fault is in your own people.” 17 But he said, “You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ 18 Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks.” 19 The foremen of the people of Israel saw that they were in trouble when they said, “You shall by no means reduce your number of bricks, your daily task each day.”

-This is a classic show of control. Pharaoh probably doesn’t actually believe the people have gotten “idle” or lazy but rather sees Moses and Aaron’s move as too bold for his comfort. He is, of course, assuming Moses and Aaron came as representatives of the Israelites who wanted this rather than from God. The fact that they can be bold enough to ask this of Pharaoh tells Pharaoh some of his control has slipped away. He is concerned as we read two chapters ago, that the Israelites might get bold enough to rebel. We don’t know the population of the Egyptians but certainly if the Israelites had 600,000 strong men able to fight, there would to considerable damage to say the least and could probably escape. This is why the drastic step of wanting to eliminate all male children 40 years ago was taken. There was a real social-political problem that had occurred. This is another instance where we have to remind ourselves while the people back then were ignorant of many things and did not have the technology, information, or history that we do that these people are not stupid. They are of course stupid to defy God but that is a sin issue, not an intelligence issue. The Pharaoh and those in the Egyptian government were likely highly intelligent and analyzed the moves they made very carefully just as our own governments do today. Pharaoh is interested in the words behind what Moses and Aaron are saying and are planning for the worst that the people are about to either flee or form an army to overthrow Egypt. So they believe squeezing their grip on their slave population is the correct move to regain control and crush their will.

20 They met Moses and Aaron, who were waiting for them, as they came out from Pharaoh; 21 and they said to them, “The Lord look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.” 22 Then Moses turned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? 23 For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”

-Patience Moses! Patience! How often do we make the same mistake though? We start trusting God and then see something go wrong or get worse and immediately we lose our trust and think God is not with us. God even told Moses already that Pharaoh will not listen and He will have to make a grand display in order for Pharaoh to let them all go. We see that Moses is not a man of faith and never had been before. Remember, this was a murderer. He killed an Egyptian and then was a coward because he hid away from his people for 40 years and adopted the ways of the Midianites enough that he had not circumcised his own son. Now he is pointing a finger at God and accusing Him of doing wrong to Israel. Just like with Abraham, Moses story is of a normal, sinful man who lacked faith but someone who God worked with to the point that both Abraham and Moses were at a point of total obedience to God towards then end of their lives. God takes a sinful, broken person and gives them an opportunity to grow and walk closer to Him. Moses is a reluctant, self-doubting, murderous, cowardly, faithless, wretched man at this point even when He has proof in front of His own eyes and has witnessed miracles. I think it is safe to say that if you are a Christian who has given his or her life to God and you area reading this right now, you are probably a more righteous person of faith than Moses was in these early stages. This is not said to demean Moses but rather to promote God. Moses might be the single most important name aside from Jesus Himself in the whole bible yet right here he is a terrible example of a follower of God. But God can take anyone, even Hitler, and turn him into a righteous man of God acting almost as Jesus did in perfect obedience.

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