Exodus

Exodus 5

Bricks Without Straw

5 Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, "This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness.'"

2 Pharaoh said, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go."

3 Then they said, "The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Now let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God, or he may strike us with plagues or with the sword."

4 But the king of Egypt said, "Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their labor? Get back to your work!" 5 Then Pharaoh said, "Look, the people of the land are now numerous, and you are stopping them from working."

6 That same day Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and overseers in charge of the people: 7 "You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. 8 But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don't reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.' 9 Make the work harder for the people so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies."

10 Then the slave drivers and the overseers went out and said to the people, "This is what Pharaoh says: ‘I will not give you any more straw. 11 Go and get your own straw wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced at all.'" 12 So the people scattered all over Egypt to gather stubble to use for straw. 13 The slave drivers kept pressing them, saying, "Complete the work required of you for each day, just as when you had straw." 14 And Pharaoh's slave drivers beat the Israelite overseers they had appointed, demanding, "Why haven't you met your quota of bricks yesterday or today, as before?"

15 Then the Israelite overseers went and appealed to Pharaoh: "Why have you treated your servants this way? 16 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."

17 Pharaoh said, "Lazy, that's what you are—lazy! That is why you keep saying, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.' 18 Now get to work. You will not be given any straw, yet you must produce your full quota of bricks."

19 The Israelite overseers realized they were in trouble when they were told, "You are not to reduce the number of bricks required of you for each day." 20 When they left Pharaoh, they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them, 21 and they said, "May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us."

God Promises Deliverance
22 Moses returned to the Lord and said, "Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? 23 Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all."

Reflection

Having left Egypt and heard the incredible story of God's presence in the burning bush, chapter five provides a sharp bump back to the harsh reality of living in Egypt. Just as chapter 1 serves to show the brutality of Pharaoh (representative of all worldly evil), chapter 5 reinforces this point.

At the first sign of confrontation, Pharoah seeks to extinguish any hope the Israelites may have felt by increasing their workload; more bricks, less straw. More than this, he sows dissension between the Israelites, creating disunity.

There are a number of interesting responses to suffering, injustice and rejection in this passage.

Compliance
Again, like in chapter 2, the Israelites cry out (5:15), however, this time they cry out to Pharaoh and not God. They even call themselves ‘Pharaoh's servants' three times (15-16).

Their circumstances lead them to believe the lie that their identity is with their oppressor and not as God's people.

Blame
The people's response, then, is to blame Moses for Pharoah's harsh retribution (21), and then Moses in turn goes to blame God (22).

When everything feels out of control, it's common to try and pass the blame.

Despair
Moses then says ‘Why did you ever send me?' (22).

I imagine Moses with his head in his hands speaking these words to his feet. Failure and rejection can often lead to despair.

Compliance. Blame. Despair.

Troubling situations, broken relationships are unavoidable parts of life. Sometimes these are self-inflicted, sometimes they are out of our control.

Reflection
How do you respond to injustice, and the brokenness of life? The three mentioned are not the only ways, of course. But can you see any of them in you?

Are you in a difficult situation or relationship that has led you to forget your true identity?

As readers of Exodus, even if we have never read the book before we have this inclination that things probably won't be like this forever for God's people.

Father - we thank you that when in our darkest place, where your Spirit seems most absent, we know your presence is just around the corner. Give us your strength and hope to continue trusting in you. Instill in us a sense of our true identity and the big picture of your working in our lives. Amen.

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