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Exodus 5:6-18

6. And Pharaoh commanded the same day the taskmasters of the people, and their officers, saying,

6. Et praecepit die illo Pharao exactoribus qui erant in populo et praefectis ejus, dicens,

7. Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick, as heretofore: let them go and gather straw for themselves.

7. Non continuabitis in danda palea populo ad conficiendos lateres, sicut heri et nudiustertius, sed ipsi eant, et colligant sibi paleas.

8. And the tale of the bricks, which they did make heretofore, ye shall lay upon them; ye shall not diminish ought thereof: for they be idle; therefore they cry, saying, Let us go and sacrifice to our God.

8. Summam vero laterum quam ipsi fecerunt heri et nudiustertius, imponite eis: non minuetis ex ea: nam quia otio remissi sunt, propterea ipsi clamant, dicentes, Eamus, sacrificemus Deo nostro.

9. Let there more work be laid upon the men, that they may labor therein; and let them not regard vain words.

9. Aggravetur ergo servitus super viros, in quo se exerceant, et non attendant verbis mendacibus.

10. And the taskmasters of the people went out, and their officers, and they spake to the people, saying, Thus saith Pharaoh, I will not give you straw.

10. Tunc egressi sunt exactores populi et praefecti ejus, et dixerunt populo, Sic dicit Pharao, Ego non do vobis paleas.

11. Go ye, get you straw where ye can find it: yet not ought of your work shall be diminished.

11. Vos ite colligite vobis paleas, ubicunque inveneritis: quia non est imminutum quicquam ex opere vestro.

12. So the people were scattered abroad throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble instead of straw.

12. Dispersus est ergo populus per totam terram Aegypti, ut colligerent stipulas pro paleis.

13. And the taskmasters hasted them, saying, Fulfill your works, your daily tasks, as when there was straw.

13. Et urgebant eos exactores, dicendo, Perficite opera vestra, pensum diei die suo perindee ac si adessent paleae, (vel, sicuti quum erant paleae.)

14. And the officers of the children of Israel, which Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten, and demanded, Wherefore have you not fulfilled your task in making brick both yesterday and today, as heretofore?

14. Et caesi sunt praefecti filiorum Israel, quos constituerant super ipsos exactores Pharaonis, dicendo, Quare non absolvistis pensum vestrum in lateribus conficiendis, sicut heri et nudiustertius, sicut antea ita hodie?

15. Then the officers of the children of Israel came and cried unto Pharaoh, saying, Wherefore dealest thou thus with thy servants?

15. Et venerunt praefecti filiorum Israel, et conquesti sunt apud Pharaonem dicentes, Cur sic agis cum servis tuis?

16. There is no straw given unto thy servants, and they say to us, Make brick: and, behold, thy servants are beaten; but the fault is in thine own people.

16. Palea non datur servis tuis, et dicunt nobis, Lateres facite: et ecce, servi tui percutiuntur, et improbe agitur cum populo tuo.

17. But he said, Ye are idle, ye are idle; therefore ye say, Let us go and do sacrifice to the Lord.

17. Qui ait, Vos otio remissi estis, otto remissi: ideo dicitis, eamus, sacrificemus Jehovae.

18. Go therefore now and work: for there shall no straw be given you, yet shall ye deliver the tale of bricks.

18. Nunc igitur ite, operamini: et paleae non dabuntur vobis, et summam laterum reddetis.

6. And Pharaoh commanded. We shall more clearly perceive, as the narrative proceeds, that these taskmasters and officers were taken from amongst the children of Israel, although we have before read that some were Egyptians. But, as tyrants are ingenious in securing their own interests, Pharaoh in his subtlety wished to provide that none should escape, but that all alike should be brought in turn to the labor. For some, in such a multitude, might have evaded the Egyptians; but, when the charge was given to the Israelites, their familiar knowledge would prevent any from escaping. Besides, it is probable that with these taskmasters was deposited the straw, which they distributed either to parties of ten, or to individuals; he therefore doubles the work in this way, by commanding them to gather the straw with which the bricks were made. But, according to the proverb, that “the edicts of kings are monosyllables,” Moses shews the vehemence of the tyranny by the brevity of the command. But this passage teaches us, that when God has begun to regard us for the purpose of relieving our troubles, He sometimes takes occasion to increase the pressure of our burdens. Thus, when God had engaged to be the deliverer of the Israelites, their trouble became greater, by the tyrant adding to their ordinary tasks that of gathering the straw for themselves. For thus it pleases God to prove the faith of His people; and thus is it expedient to lift up to Him their minds, which are too much set on earth, whilst they do not immediately perceive the fruit of the grace promised to them, nay, whilst they feel that nothing else is brought them by God’s favour, except that their condition becomes worse. It is very useful for us to ponder this, that we may more patiently and calmly bear to be excited to the love and desire of heavenly blessings, by crosses and adversities. Now-a-days the Gospel procures hatred for many, deprives others of their pleasures, degrades others from their honours, brings to others the loss of their goods, sentences others to prison, others to exile, and endangers the life of some; in a word, the more God exerts His power, the more is Satan’s rage excited on the other side, and the wicked become more fiercely cruel. This offense would greatly shake us, unless we knew, from the admonition of this example, that the inestimable grace, which is offered us in Christ, ought to be so valued by us, that in comparison with it, riches, honours, and all that men seek after, should be accounted nothing; and that we should find no difficulty in despising inconveniences of whatever kind.

9. Let there more work be laid upon the men. Although Pharaoh knew that he was cruelly entreating the unhappy Israelites, who ought, as strangers, to be hospitably and kindly received, yet he says that they were abusing their idleness, and were revolting because he indulged them too much. Thus, when tyranny has lost all regard for justice, there are no bounds to its harshness; and so far from being moved to pity by complaints, they only aggravate its cruelty. And these are the means by which its flatterers inflame it more, viz., that its subjects will never be quiet unless they faint under the weight of their burdens; that this is the best receipt for governing them, so to oppress them that they dare not open their mouths; if they cry, or murmur, that they should be oppressed the more,6969     The original here is, “ut obdurescant ad servitutem, quasi contracto collo;” which the French translates “pour l’endurcir a servitude, comme si on le trainoit par le col.” The Geneva edition of 1617, as well as that of Amsterdam of 1671, however, have substituted “callo,” which certainly seems to make the sense clearer. till they grow hardened, and, as it were, callous to their bondage. They, therefore, relax not their contumelies and cruelties until the wretched people have altogether succumbed. Pharaoh insults them still more wantonly, when he says that he imposes heavier burdens upon them, that “they may not regard vain words.” But what are these, except that they ask permission to worship God? His impiety, therefore, bursts forth in the midst of his tyrannical insolence; nor does he only mean to utter a blasphemy against God, but he is instigated by the wiles of Satan to undermine the faith of the Church. By a similar impulse, Rabshakeh proclaimed that Hezekiah deceived the people by “vain words,” when he bade them trust in the living God. (Isaiah 36:5, 7.) Nor does Satan cease to employ the same machination against the faithful, as if all that God promises was deceit and vanity.

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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