Let my people go
God who?1 So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh. They told him, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel says: ‘Let my people go into the desert so they can honor me with a festival.’” 2 “God who?” Pharaoh said. “Who is this LORD you’re talking about? And why should I obey him and let Israel go? I don’t know this LORD. I’m not letting Israel go anywhere.” 3 They answered, “The God of the Hebrews came to us. Let us take a three-day walk into the desert, so we can pray and offer a sacrifice to the LORD, our God. Otherwise, he may punish us with plagues or death.” 4 The king said, “Moses and Aaron, why are you distracting the people? They’ve got work to do. Now get back to work. 5 Look at all those people you’re keeping from work. Yet you have the chutzpah to tell me I should give them more time off for a Hebrew holiday.”
Find your own straw6 Later that day, Pharaoh gave new orders to the slavedrivers and the Hebrew foremen they managed: 7 “Stop giving those people the straw they need to make bricks. From now on, let them get the straw themselves. 8 But don’t reduce the number of bricks they have to make every day. Keep the quota the same. These people are lazy. That’s why they came up with an excuse to get out of work: ‘Let us go and offer a sacrifice to our God.’ 9 Let the men do the hard work. And make it hard enough for them that they don’t have time to pay attention to these distracting lies.” 10 So, the slavedrivers and the Hebrew foremen told the people, “This is what Pharaoh says: ‘I’m not giving you anymore straw. 11 Get it yourself. Go out in the fields and scrounge it up wherever you can on your own. But make just as many bricks as you did before.” 12 So the people scattered throughout Egypt, looking for whatever stubbles of straw they could find. 13 Slavedrivers reminded the people over and over, “Keep the quota. Make the same number of bricks as you did before, when we gave you the straw.”
Brickmakers miss their quota14 Egyptians beat the Hebrew foremen who were appointed by the slavedrivers. They got beat because their workers didn’t reach the daily quota. Egyptians beating them demanded, “Why didn’t your workers make their quota of bricks yesterday or today? They used to make the quota?” 15 So the Hebrew foremen took their complaint directly to Pharaoh. They asked, “Why are you doing this to your servants? 16 No one gives us straw anymore. But we keep hearing, ‘Make more bricks!’ People are beating us for failure to meet the quota. Yet the problem rests with your people.” 17 Pharaoh said, “Lazy! That’s the problem! You’re lazy! And that’s the real reason you said, ‘Let us take time off to sacrifice to the LORD!’ 18 Now get out of here and get back to work. You will get no straw. None. But you absolutely will deliver your quota of bricks.” 19 The Hebrew foremen realized they had just gotten themselves into big trouble. And they were stuck with the standing order, “You can’t reduce your daily quota of bricks.”
Moses takes Hebrew heat20 When the foremen left Pharaoh, Moses and Aaron were waiting for them. 21 The foremen said, “We hope the LORD gives you everything you deserve for getting us in big trouble with Pharaoh. He and his officials hate us now. One more mistake and they might kill us.” 22 Moses took the problem to the LORD. Moses said, “Lord, why are you putting these people at risk? Why did you send me here? 23 All I’ve done is make things worse. I came here and talked to Pharaoh as you asked, but you haven’t done what you said you would do. You haven’t freed your people.”
The description is literally just “foremen,” which raises the question of whether these are bosses of the slavedrivers or Hebrew section leaders who managed a group of the working grunts. Exodus 5:14 reveals they were Hebrews, and that they were beaten when the brickmakers under their supervision didn’t reach the daily quota of bricks.
Chopped up straw bits was a binding agent. When the mud bricks dried, the straw helped hold the mud together and keep the bricks from crumbling so easily.
It seems the presumption is that the women and children would find the straw.
By implication, the foremen were saying the problem was that Egyptians were too lazy to provide the straw.
This “Lord” is not in all capital letters like most other “LORD” spellings throughout the Bible. “LORD” appears around 7,000 times in the Christian Bible, which makes it the most common way of referring to God. The lower-case “Lord” is a translation of the Hebrew word Adonai. It refers to God as our master, our life coach, or the boss. He’s in charge of us, and we try to obey him. “LORD” is the spelling most Bibles use when the writer refers to the name of God. Moses asked God what his name was, and God said Moses should tell the Israelite ancestors of the Jews that his name is “I AM” (Exodus 3:14). In the original Hebrew language, the name is spelled with only consonants—no vowels. It’s an ancient shorthand, to save hides used to make scrolls. The name is YHWH. Without knowing which vowels, most scholars have settled on YAHWEH, pronounced YAH-way. God’s name is so sacred to many Jews that they refuse to speak it. Instead, they’ll use names that describe the character of God, such as Adonai, which means “my Lord.” They won’t even write the name. In English, they’ll spell the name G-d.
BY ROBERT V. HUBER
When Moses and Aaron tell Pharaoh that their God, the LORD, wants them to go out into the desert to worship him, Pharaoh’s response is one of complete disdain. Why do you think he would he have so little regard for the God of the Hebrews?
People in ancient times seemed to know stories about their gods. Egyptian stories have been passed down through many sources. For example, there’s the story of King Osiris getting murdered and dismembered. But, as the story goes, his wife, Isis, reassembled his body and resurrected him. Osiris came to symbolize death and resurrection. Some credited him with the annual cycle of Nile River floods, which Egyptian farmers relied on for growing crops. Almost everyone in the ancient world knew of these gods and goddesses. Well, the LORD had accomplished great works in the past, but Pharoah didn’t seem to know about any of them—even though he should have been among the most informed Egyptians. What might explain his ignorance?
Moses and Aaron did not ask Pharaoh to let the Hebrew slaves go free. They asked only that he let them go into the desert to pray for three days. Do you think that the brothers really wanted to take their people on some kind of pilgrimage, and then return? Or were they simply concocting a scheme to get the people far enough away from Pharaoh and his troops that they could make a break for it?
Moses and Aaron tell Pharaoh that their God has demanded that they go out into the desert and pray to him and offer sacrifices. If they fail to do so the LORD may “punish us with plagues of death.” The “us” that God threatens with plagues and death seems to be the Hebrews. Why do you think Pharaoh doesn’t suspect that the plagues and death may be planned for the Egyptians, not the Hebrews?
God does not appear in the first meeting of Pharaoh with Moses and Aaron. The scene seems to present a volley for power between Pharaoh and the brothers. At first glance, it appears God is not holding up his end of the bargain. Why do you think God remained a silent partner during the meeting?
LIFE APPLICATION. The Hebrew foremen of the slaves find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Their powerful boss, Pharaoh, pushes them to treat the Hebrews harshly so that they will reach their daily quotas of bricks, allowing them no time to think of gods who might come to their aid. On the other hand, because the foremen are themselves Hebrews, they likely are sympathetic and want to defy Pharaoh’s orders. But when the slaves fail to make their quotas, the Egyptian slavedrivers beat the foremen. Because the foremen have openly complained to Pharaoh, their situation gets even worse, and they go to Moses and Aaron, angry. Have you or anyone you know ever been placed into such a tight spot? If so, give us some advice. How should we handle a situation that we know we can’t win?