Exodus 5 (NRSV)
Bricks without Straw
Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said,
This confrontation took tremendous courage, and Moses and Aaron should be commended for their obedience to God in doing it.
Pharaoh was nothing like a public servant; the entire public lived to serve the Pharaoh. His power and authority were supreme and there was no constitution or law or legislature higher or even remotely equal to him
The Pharaohs were said to be the children of the sun; they were friends to the greatest gods of Egypt and sat with them in their own temples to receive worship alongside them.
An inscription by a Pharaoh on an ancient Egyptian temple gives the idea: “I am that which was, and is, and shall be, and no man has lifted my veil.” (Meyer) The Pharaoh was more than a man; he considered himself a god, and the Egyptians agreed.
Having grown up in the royal courts of Egypt, Moses knew this well; but he also knew that Pharaoh was just a man. With the authority of the living God, Moses confronted Pharaoh.
“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.’“
Moses relayed the demand God first gave him back at Exodus 3:18. God presented the smaller request to Pharaoh first so that the request would be as appealing and as easy to accept as possible. He did this so Pharaoh would have no excuse at all for refusing God and hardening his heart.
2But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should heed him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go.”
3Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has revealed himself to us; let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness to sacrifice to the Lord our God, or he will fall upon us with pestilence or sword.”
4But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their work? Get to your labors!” 5Pharaoh continued, “Now they are more numerous than the people of the land and yet you want them to stop working!”
There are so many wonderful performances of this old spiritual that fits our study now perfectly. So we are going to be hearing this song for the next several days! Here is “Let My People Go” arranged by Harry Burleigh and sung by Juares de Mira.
6That same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people, as well as their supervisors, 7“You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as before; let them go and gather straw for themselves. 8But you shall require of them the same quantity of bricks as they have made previously; do not diminish it, for they are lazy; that is why they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ 9Let heavier work be laid on them; then they will labor at it and pay no attention to deceptive words.”
10So the taskmasters and the supervisors of the people went out and said to the people, “Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I will not give you straw. 11Go and get straw yourselves, wherever you can find it; but your work will not be lessened in the least.’“ 12So the people scattered throughout the land of Egypt, to gather stubble for straw. 13The taskmasters were urgent, saying, “Complete your work, the same daily assignment as when you were given straw.” 14And the supervisors of the Israelites, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten, and were asked, “Why did you not finish the required quantity of bricks yesterday and today, as you did before?”
So things have gone from bad to worse! Bible commentator John Trapp (1601 – 1669) writes: “Things commonly go backward with the saints before they come forward, so the corn groweth downward ere it grow upward.”
15Then the Israelite supervisors came to Pharaoh and cried, “Why do you treat your servants like this? 16No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ Look how your servants are beaten! You are unjust to your own people.”
17He said, “You are lazy, lazy; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ 18Go now, and work; for no straw shall be given you, but you shall still deliver the same number of bricks.”
19The Israelite supervisors saw that they were in trouble when they were told, “You shall not lessen your daily number of bricks.” 20As they left Pharaoh, they came upon Moses and Aaron who were waiting to meet them. 21They said to them, “The Lord look upon you and judge! You have brought us into bad odor with Pharaoh and his officials, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”
22Then Moses turned again to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me? 23Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people, and you have done nothing at all to deliver your people.”
Hey, Moses! —
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.