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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.”

19. And the officers of the children of Israel did see. Some take the Hebrew word רע7070     רע, evil; A V., they (were) in evil (case.) The question for translators has been whether the pronoun in this clause may be rendered themselves S M has said, cum moerore; Hebraice cum malo, scilicet aspectu. Alii exponunt hic אותם pro נפשם, ut est sensus, viderunt praefecti Israelitorum se esse in magno moerore. The LXX. and the V. have rendered the pronoun by words equivalent to themselves W , rang, for “grief,” but refer it to the people; as though it were said, “the officers did see the people sorrowful, when they informed them of the command of the king.” But the simpler sense, in my opinion, will be, that they saw no remedy for their evil case, and that they could not be delivered from the cruel bondage in which they were. Some also explain it, that the officers themselves felt, from their own experience, after they had been so inhumanly repulsed by the king, how unhappy was their condition. But if I must choose either meaning, I should prefer what I have above stated, that they themselves sympathized with the public calamity, whilst they could see no hope of deliverance. Unless, perhaps, it would be better thus to take it, — that, when they came into the people’s presence, they were themselves of sad countenance, and looked upon them with looks cast down by sorrow and shame, because they brought the cruel edict for doubling their labour. And certainly I willingly embrace this meaning, that when they were forced to promulgate the command of the king, their countenances betrayed their sorrow, because they could not evade the necessity of being the ministers of his ungodly tyranny and cruelty. For Moses adds immediately after, that they delivered the edict. Hence, then, their mournful aspect, because they unwillingly oppressed their brethren, whose troubles they would have preferred to lighten. The sum of the matter is, that their case was altogether desperate; because the officers themselves conveyed this message of the unchangeable cruelty of the tyrant, and by the agitation of their countenances bore witness that no mitigation could be hoped for.

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