You Must Produce Your Full Quota of Bricks

5: 10-21

    DIG: How would you characterize the response of the people when faced with extra work? Now who is surprised? Why? How is Isra'el’s vision and Moses’ leadership now tested?

    REFLECT: How do you respond to temporary setbacks? To what extent do you respond like Isra'el here? When have you suffered for what someone else has done? When this happens, what reassurance can you draw from Isra'el’s experience here?

    Then the Egyptian slave masters and the foremen went out and told the people that Pharaoh said they would not be given any more straw. Moses and Aaron were replaced as mediators between Pharaoh and the Israelites. The king of Egypt himself then served as the mouthpiece (or prophet) to his slaves. Even Pharaoh’s commands were arrogantly announced in the same manner in which Moses and Aaron proclaimed His words when they first met.83 They had said: This is what ADONAI, God of Isra'el says: Let My people go (5:1). But then, this was what Pharaoh, god of Egypt said: Go and get your own stubble wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced at all (5:10-11).

    So the people scattered all over Egypt to gather stubble left in the fields to use for straw (5:12). Stubble is the mere leftovers of straw, and therefore of poorer quality, making their work even more difficult. But in spite of everything, they were not permitted to reduce their daily quota of bricks (5:8, 11, 13-14, 18-19). The straw itself is not so much a binding agent, but its chemical decay in the clay released an acid (like glutamic or gallotannic acid), which gave the clay greater smoothness for brick making. It should be pointed out here that Moses did not present the Hebrews as making bricks without straw as is sometimes stated. The decree of Pharaoh clearly instructed them to use stubble, but the difference was that they had to gather it themselves.84

    The slave drivers kept pressing the Hebrew foremen, saying: Complete the work required of you for each day, just as when you had straw. The Israelite foreman appointed by Pharaoh’s slave drivers were beaten and were asked: Why didn’t you meet your quota of bricks yesterday or today, as before (5:13-14)? Out of sheer spite, they were given an impossible task and beaten when they did not complete it. Moses and Aaron had given Pharaoh a reason to destroy the Jews, and he was taking advantage of it. This doesn’t seem like a logical thing to do. Why would he destroy his work force? But we must never forget that Satan is always behind the scenes working against the people of God. The devil knew what was at stake. If he could destroy the Israelites, the Savior could not come.

    But the task of meeting brick quotas by gathering stubble became too much for the already weary Israelites. Sometimes slaves were permitted to make their complaints directly to Pharaoh, bypassing the slave masters. Sometimes their complaints were successful, as Egyptian records show. So instead of going to God the Hebrew foremen cried out to Pharaoh saying: Why have you treated your servants this way? Your servants are given no straw, yet we are told, “Make bricks!” Your servants are being beaten, but the fault is with your own people who refuse to give us straw as before (5:15-16). They were not loyal to ADONAI, but to Pharaoh. Three times they refer to themselves as Pharaoh’s servants, thus showing their true colors. They try to convince him that it was not their fault, but their cries fell on deaf ears. This happens to us when we go to the world (First John 2:15-17), when we should be going to the LORD.

    Pharaoh not only refused to listen to their cry, but he mocks them as well. He not only made their work harder by providing no straw, but he also rubs salt in their wounds by accusing them of bringing this whole situation on themselves by saying: Lazy, that’s what you are – lazy! That is why you keep saying, “Let us go and sacrifice to ADONAI." Pharaoh said the same thing in 5:8. He refused to give an inch. His heart has truly been hardened. He demanded: Now get to work. You will not be given any straw, yet you must produce your full quota of bricks (5:17-18).

    Therefore, the Israelite foremen realized they were in trouble when they were told, “You are not to reduce the number of bricks required of you for each day” (5:19). The beginning of this verse literally says: The Israelite foremen realized they were in evil. Thus, the Hebrew foremen finally realized that Pharaoh represented the Evil One or Satan.

    For now, Pharaoh’s strategy of disparaging Moses’ reputation among the Israelites was working. When the foremen left Pharaoh, they found Moses and Aaron and confronted them. They bitterly complained to them saying: May ADONAI look upon you and judge you! It was hypocritical that they called upon ADONAI to judge Moses and Aaron, when they themselves did not believe that He could, or would, save them! They literally said: You have caused our smell to stink in the eyes of Pharaoh and his officials, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us (5:20-21). But Moses and Aaron were not to blame; Pharaoh was at fault. Jacob said the same thing to Simeon and Levi after they slaughtered the men of Shechem. He said: You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed (Genesis 34:30). How many times have we done the same thing and blamed God for something that Satan has done?

    It wasn’t like they were hanging tough and seeing what the LORD would do in their horrible situation. They first complained to Pharaoh, and when that didn’t work, they complained to Moses and Aaron. Moses did not attempt to answer the charge of those who stood before him, but in the quietness of the hours that followed we are informed that Moshe returned to God and brought his case before the One who had sent him.85

    At no time did ADONAI promise that Moses’ and Aaron’s task would be easy. Here we see that their work was fraught with danger and difficulties. Pharaoh responded to their demands by making life even more miserable for the Hebrews by forcing them to gather straw for making bricks. The Hebrew foremen were no consolation. They attacked Moses and Aaron as the source of their misery. The two prophets seemed to be standing alone.

    When the LORD calls us, the road is not always easy, straight or simple. One need only think of a missionary like J. Hudson Taylor, whom God called to evangelize China in the mid-nineteenth century. He suffered great deprivations in his life and ministry, loss of loved ones in the field and illness. Yet ADONAI did wondrous things through that man, as many Chinese became believers. During one serious illness, Taylor admitted to a friend, “ I believe that God has enabled me to do more for China during this long illness than I might have done had I been well.” He knew his mission was wholly dependent upon the power of God. Even today, a century and a half later, Taylor’s work lives on and is reaping great rewards in China. In our lives and ministries we are also to rely and depend upon God’s power and the strength given by the Holy Spirit. Like Moses, we are called to live by faith, and not by sight.86


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