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Bricks without Straw


Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “Thus says the L ord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.’ ” 2But Pharaoh said, “Who is the L ord, that I should heed him and let Israel go? I do not know the L ord, 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 L ord 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!” 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.”

10 So 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?”

15 Then 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 L ord.’ 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 L ord 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.”

22 Then Moses turned again to the L ord and said, “O L ord, 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.”

1. And afterwards Moses and Aaron went in. Moses here begins to set forth how many and how great were the proofs of God’s power displayed in the deliverance of his people. For, since the pride, the madness, and the obstinacy of the king were indomitable, every door was closed, until broken down miraculously, and by various means. It was, indeed, possible for God to overwhelm him at once, by a single nod, so that he should even fall down dead at the very sight of Moses; but, as we have already briefly stated, and he will himself presently declare, He, in the first place, chose more clearly to lay open His power; for if Pharaoh had either voluntarily yielded, or had been overcome without effort, the glory of the victory would not have been so illustrious. In the second place, He wished this monument to exist of His singular love towards His elect people; for by contending so perseveringly and so forcibly against the obstinacy of this most powerful king, He gave no doubtful proof of his love towards his Church. In the third place, He wished to accustom His servants in all ages to patience, lest they should faint in their minds, if He does not immediately answer their prayers, and, at every moment, relieve them from their distresses. In the fourth place, He wished to shew that, against all the strivings and devices of Satan, against the madness of the ungodly, and all worldly hinderances, His hand must always prevail; and to leave us no room to doubt, but that whatever we see opposing us will at length be overcome by him. In the fifth place, By detecting the illusions of Satan and the magicians, He would render His Church more wary, that she might carefully watch against such devices, and that her faith might continue invincible against all the machinations of error. Finally, He would convince Pharaoh and the Egyptians, that their folly was not to be excused by any pretense of ignorance; and, at the same time, by this example, He would shew us how horrible a darkness possesses the minds of the reprobate, when He has deprived them of the light of his Spirit. These things must be attentively observed in the course of the narrative, if we desire to profit by it.

Since it is difficult to obtain access to kings, who deign not to admit to their presence any of the lower orders, Moses and Aaron must have been endued with no ordinary confidence, when they boldly approached Pharaoh. For it was a disagreeable message, and one very likely to give offense, that he should permit the people to take three days’ journey beyond the bounds of Egypt; since a suspicion must unquestionably arise that, being thus dismissed, they would no longer remain his subjects, and that thus a part of the land would be emptied of its inhabitants. Still Moses and Aaron do not fear to deliver God’s command, in which there was this additional annoyance to the proud and sensitive ears of the king, viz., that they attributed the glory of Deity to the God of Israel alone; for, by calling Him Jehovah, they imply that the gods worshipped in Egypt were false, and invented by the imaginations of man. We have said elsewhere that there was no deceit in the pretext that God called his people into the wilderness to hold a feast, although He does not reveal His counsel to the tyrant; for it was really His pleasure that a sacrifice of thanksgiving should be offered to Himself on Mount Sinai, and that they should be thus separated from the polluted nation with which they were mixed up; and, assuredly, He wished to arouse the tyrant’s wrath, by ignominiously condemning the whole of Egypt, as not capable of pure worship. For He was obliged by no law to declare openly their deliverance; but that He might draw forth from the mind of the tyrant the venom of his impiety, He asked for nothing connected with the advantage of His people, but merely demanded the worship which was due to Himself. The word which Moses uses means properly to hold a feast, but also embraces whatever is connected with it; and, therefore, by synecdoche, it is taken here, as also in other passages, for the solemn worship of God.6666     Nam festum celebrare sacrificium complectitur. — Vatablus in Pol. Syn.

2. And Pharaoh said, Who is the Lord? It is scarcely credible that there should be such madness in a mortal as, by thus wantonly scorning God, to fly, as it were, in the face of heaven!6767     Quasi in coelum conspueret. — Lat. But we must observe, that the tyrant being devoted to idolatries, thus insulted the God of Israel, that he might manifest his great piety towards his false gods. For his mockery, in scornfully bandying back the name of Jehovah, must be referred to the words of Moses, as much as to say, Why do you bring against me this unknown phantom under the title of the eternal God, as though we had no god of our own? Thus Pilate, when Christ said, “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth,” asks ironically, and not without mockery, “What is truth?”6868     Comme s’il disoit, Penses tu que je soye un petit enfant, pour ne discerner point entre le blanc et le noir? as much as to say, Do you think I am a little child unable to distinguish black from white? — Fr. (John 18:37, 38.) In short, Pharaoh did not conceive himself to be dishonoring the Deity, when he rejected this false (prodigiosum) God, as he thought. Yet his error did not avail to justify him, since it arose from insane audacity and contempt of God. Admit that he was unwilling that any should depreciate his idols, and that he thus imagined himself to perform a religious duty; still it was an act of very gross impiety, so carelessly to repudiate the name of the true God, and even to assail it with mockery. We may remark a like madness in all idolaters. Being intoxicated by their errors they boldly mock at God, and deign not to make inquiries about Him. The cry of the Papists now-a-days is, that we are imposing a new God on the world; and, applauding themselves in their wildest ravings, they do not hesitate to condemn our whole doctrine as impious; not because they are persuaded that they are themselves worshipping God aright; but they are willfully blind, that they may elude, with impunity, the sacred majesty of God, and stupify their consciences, and preserve to themselves their death-like slumber. They seem to themselves to be sharp-witted and facetious, when they are scoffing at the novelty of our doctrine; though its truth would be plain enough, if they would only open their eyes. The Epicureans, too, (of which pestilent sect the world is now full,) although they foam and rage against God, still invariably take refuge in some cloud, under which their detestable madness may be concealed: for they pretend that amidst such a multitude of opinions, it is scarcely possible to discern who is God, or what He commands. Still, however, this is their constant object, viz., that they may have nothing to do with God, and yet may conceal by jests the shame of their impiety; as if it were free for them to reject what they are willfully ignorant of. But after Pharaoh had indirectly derided the message of Moses, as a ludicrous affair, he more openly and more contemptuously vents his pride, implying that he cares not for that God, with whose name Moses and Aaron would frighten him.

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