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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.”

12. So the people were scattered abroad. This circumstance proves how bitterly they were afflicted, and what labor beyond their strength was imposed upon them. In order to make bricks, at least, they should have remained in a particular spot, but straw is not supplied to them for the purpose; they are obliged, therefore, to disperse here and there, and to gather stubble instead of straw in the distant parts of Egypt. They could not do both; it was then in fact just to procure a false pretext, which he might catch at as the ground of their condemnation: as now we often see the enemies of Christ inventing the most insupportable torments, by which the unhappy Church may be driven to deny the faith. For it was the design of Pharaoh to drive Moses and Aaron far away, that they might never agitate any more for the departure of the people; and if he had obtained this wish, he would doubtless have remitted some part of his abominable cruelty; but, because they did not cease, he wished to extort from the people by bitter sufferings, that they should send them away themselves, or refuse even to lend an ear to the commands of God. For although he must have been perfectly conscious that there was no reason to accuse the people of idleness, but that the tale of bricks was not delivered, because the poor wretches, who had been hardly able before to perform half their labor, were now incapable, by the utmost exertion, to bear their burdens, and therefore sees that they are altogether overwhelmed by them; yet still he reproaches them with reveling in idleness, in order that they may turn away from Moses, and renounce and abandon the hope presented to them from on high. And, because he can only torment them more by killing them outright, he commands their officers to be beaten, that by their punishment the whole people might be in greater dread. Finally, those whom he saw standing too firmly, he determined to drive at last to despair. He is deaf to every excuse of the officers; for when he had once made up his mind to crush the people until he had destroyed in them all recollection of God, there is no more feeling or pity in him than in a stone.

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