Bricks Without Straw

When we were last in Exodus, Moses encountered God at the burning bush and he was told that he had been chosen to free the Israelites from their slavery.  Moses resisted this however and tried to make excuses for why he was not the right man for the job.  God won however and finally Moses agreed to return to Egypt and with the help of his brother Aaron, he would demand that the Israelites be freed.

We pick up in Exodus 5 where Moses and Aaron are ready to go to Pharaoh.

Exodus 5:1-2

1 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.”

Although Pharaoh is certainly a cruel person and one who is not concerned about the suffering of the people he has enslaved, he has a legitimate question.  He does not recognize God and he has no reason to be concerned about him.

In Egypt there were several gods and the pharaohs themselves were believed to be gods.  But pharaoh does not recognize the power or authority of the God of the Israelites.  This is a serious problem in our world today.  We rightly call sin to be sin and it is our responsibility to do so.  We shouldn’t turn a blind eye to sin just because everyone is doing it or because taking a stance against it is unpopular.

However, we must keep in mind that we are speaking to people who are like Pharaoh and who do not recognize our God.  When we decree that homosexuality is a sin we are accused of being homophobic because they do not recognize the authority of God who calls it sin.

Pharaoh asks who is the Lord but a simple explanation would never satisfy him.  Moses would never be able to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go by simply talking about the greatness of God.  The greatness of God needed to be demonstrated as we will see in the upcoming weeks.

When people reject the commands of God they do so because they do not have an understanding of who God is.  This also means that simply talking about God is unlikely to bring about a resolution to the problem.  If a person doesn’t believe that homosexuality is a sin, then just quoting Bible verses is not going to help.  Instead they must have a reason to believe scripture to be true and they must learn to revere the Lord.

Pharaoh has no knowledge of the Lord and does not fear Him as we’ll see.

Ex 5:3-9

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.”

Pharaoh does not respond kindly to Moses’ request.  He believes that the Israelites are lazy and are using their desire to worship as an excuse to get out of work.  He reaches the conclusion that if they have time to worship that they must not be working hard enough.  Obviously there is a measure of retaliation against the Israelites as well.  He hopes to crush all desires of leaving to worship by making it harder on the people.  If they are penalized for asking once, they would be much less likely to ask a second time.

Ex 5:10-18

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.”

The Israelites properly recognize the cause of their suffering.  The overseers appeal to Pharaoh for help because they can’t reach their previous quota if they have to gather the straw for themselves.  Pharaoh is no help however and just continues to accuse the Israelites of being lazy.

It may seem like the natural course of action is to take things up with Pharaoh since he is the one responsible for the extra work that the Israelites have to deal with.  But this is a very human and worldly reaction.  Many times when we encounter problems in life we try to solve them ourselves first.

Of course the better route is to go to the Lord first and ask for help.  Many people look at God as the source of their problems because they reason that He should have prevented something from happening.  Instead, it is proper to look to God as the solution to our problems because He has the power to solve them.

The Israelites don’t understand however and do not turn to God after Pharaoh’s rejection.

Ex 5:19-21

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.”

This is a picture of another common response to difficulty.  We look for someone to blame for our problems.  While it was obvious that Pharaoh was being unreasonable, taking things to him didn’t resolve anything.  So the Israelites are still angry and they take that anger out on Moses.

Of course Moses didn’t do anything wrong.  He never forced Pharaoh’s hand into making the decision that he made.  He was only doing as God had instructed him to do.  But Moses doesn’t take up his own defense at this time.  Instead Moses reacts as badly as the people do.

Ex 5:22-23

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.”

Moses’ response isn’t all that encouraging and it isn’t what we would expect from one of our biblical heroes.  The response is one of hopelessness and despair.  Moses does not actually accuse God of wrongdoing but his own faith is being tested at this time.

Moses is not yet the leader that he is to become.  He has had plenty of time to train but Moses isn’t there yet.  Even at the age of 80, God is still working on him.  Moses’ faith will grow but at this point he’s still wondering what God is doing.  What we hear is basically Moses’ inner monologue as he wonders aloud what God’s plan is for the Israelites.  He is wondering why God would allow His people to suffer – something that many people do.  It is a fitting question to ask because ten years ago on 9/11 people were asking the same thing – why would God allow His people to suffer?

God reassures Moses in Ex 6:1-8

1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.”

2 God also said to Moses, “I am the LORD. 3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty,[a] but by my name the LORD[b] I did not make myself fully known to them. 4 I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they resided as foreigners. 5 Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.

6 “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. 7 I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. 8 And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD.’”

God offers Moses and the Israelites reassurance by reminding of their history.  This is the best way to reassure someone who is going through a difficult time – remind them of the good things that God has already done.  We all need to be reminded of how God has been with us from time to time.  It is easy to become overwhelmed when a crisis strikes whether that is a matter of health, a relationship gone sour, or financial difficulties.  When we have such problems, we need to remember that God saw us through past difficulties and that He hasn’t abandoned us now.

Ex 6:9-12

9 Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and harsh labor.

10 Then the LORD said to Moses, 11 “Go, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the Israelites go out of his country.”

12 But Moses said to the LORD, “If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips[c]?”

Of course people don’t always listen to good advice.  This was the case with the Israelites and with Moses.  Both were afraid of what may happen despite God’s reassurances.  This obviously isn’t ideal but if you fail to encourage someone who is dealing with difficulties, you can remember this story and realize that good advice isn’t always followed and encouragement isn’t always accepted.

Of course if you’re the one receiving encouragement, accept it and don’t be like the Israelites who wee discouraged or Moses who was fearful.

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