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Moses and Aaron appear before Pharaoh - Unknown Artist

After speaking to the Israelites about the task God has assigned them, Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “Our God, the God of Israel, has told us, ‘Let my people go so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness.’”

Pharaoh said, “Who is this god and why should I obey his command to let Israel go? I do not know this god and I will not let Israel go.”

Moses and Aaron 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 our God or he may strike us with plagues or with a sword.”

Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh - William Mackenzie (1870)But the king of Egypt said, “Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their work? Get back to your work! The people of the land are now numerous, and you are stopping them from working.”

That same day, Pharaoh gave an order to the slave drivers in charge of the people: “You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks. Let them go and gather their own straw but require them to make the same number of bricks as before. They are lazy, that is why they are crying out. Make their work harder so they keep working and pay no attention to Moses’ lies.”

The slave drivers went to the people and told them, “Pharaoh has said you will get no more straw. Go and get your own straw wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced at all.”

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So the people scattered all over Egypt to gather stubble to use for straw. The slave drivers kept pressing them saying, “Complete the work required of you each day just as you did when we provided you the straw.”

And Pharaoh’s slave drivers beat the Israelite overseers demanding, “Why haven’t you met your quota of bricks as before?”

Then the Israelite overseers went and appealed to Pharaoh, “Why have you treated your servants this way? Your servants are given no straw, yet we are told to make bricks! Your servants are being beaten but the fault is with your own people.”

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

The Israelite overseers realized they were in trouble. When they left Pharaoh, they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them and told them, “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.”

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

God said to Moses,

“No you will see what I will do to Pharaoh. Because of my mighty hand, he will let the Israelites go. Because of my mighty hand, he will drive them out of his country.”

What the story means to us today

We must have patience and faith that God is guiding events in a direction that benefits us

Moses and Aaron address Pharaoh - Jehovah's Witness libraryPharaoh quickly dismisses Moses’ request to let the Israelites go. He justifies his decision by claiming the Israelites are lazy then punishes them by increasing their workload. Pharaoh’s punishment is intended to discredit Moses and promote animosity between Moses and the Israelites. Pharaoh’s plan works.

The Israelites complain to Moses, then Moses complains to God. Both are impatient and demand immediate results. But God works on his own timetable, one that is not always apparent to us. We must have faith that God is guiding events in a direction that most benefits us and those around us.

Additional thoughts and considerations

The Israelites beg Pharaoh, not God, for reprieve

Pharaoh burdens the Israelites with more work in order to break their spirit. They are required to complete the same quota of bricks but with the additional task of gathering their own construction materials. This is, of course, unfair and displeases the Israelites. What is their response? They go to Pharaoh to complain about their mistreatment. They should have spoken to God first.

Moses softens his request to Pharaoh

Moses first requests the Israelites be released so they may “hold a festival to God in the wilderness”. When Pharaoh refuses, Moses changes his request to “let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to God”. The second request seems to be in response to Pharaoh’s refusal of the first request. The second request is much softer, likely to appease Pharaoh. Moses’ approach does not work. As we will soon see, Moses’ requests will become stern demands that Pharaoh will be unable to ignore.

Did Pharaoh really not know the Israelite’s god?

Aaron, Moses, Pharaoh, and his dead son - James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1896-1902)Pharaoh’s responds to Moses’ request with a question, “Who is this god?” He follows with, “I do not know this god”. An initial reading makes it appear that Pharaoh was unaware of the Israelite’s god. However, this is almost certainly not the case. Several gods were worshipped at the time. A leader such as Pharaoh would surely be familiar with the beliefs of his subjects, especially the Israelites who were quite numerous in the area at the time. What Pharaoh really means is, “Who is this God? He has no power over me”.

The science and history behind the story

Time off for Egyptian slaves

Moses’ request to let the slaves leave was probably surprising to Pharaoh, but not unheard of. Ancient Egyptian texts speak of allowing workers off for a variety of reasons. But time off for religious purposes would probably be especially troublesome for Pharaoh who is painted in the Old Testament as stubborn and insecure.

Brick quotas and straw

Egyptian relief showing slaves making bricksAncient Egyptian records confirm the Bible’s description of Egyptian brick manufacturing and slave requirements. Bricks were made by adding chopped straw to clay. The straw made the bricks stronger by holding the clay together as it dried, then decaying and releasing a humic acid that increased the clay’s plasticity.

The ancient Egyptian Papyrus Anastasis III document confirms that Egyptians did set quotas for bricks. It says, in part:

“Likewise, people are making bricks… They are making their quota of bricks daily.”

Israeli slave overseers and the order of slave management

“And Pharaoh’s slave drivers beat the Israelite overseers they had appointed.”

Historical Egyptian documents confirm the Bible’s description of the Egyptian slave system. A taskmaster or slave driver led a small gang of slave and free foremen. The foreman directly oversaw the Egyptians slaves. There are many ancient Egyptian drawings illustrating slave drivers beating slaves.

Bible Text

NIV

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.”

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.”

Egyptian relief showing slave driver beating slaveThe New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The NET Bible

5:1  Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Release my people so that they may hold a pilgrim feast to me in the desert.’ ” 5:2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD that I should obey him by releasing Israel? I do not know the LORD, and I will not release Israel!” 5:3 And they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Let us go a three-day journey into the desert so that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God, so that he does not strike us with plague or the sword.” 5:4 The king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you cause the people to refrain from their work? Return to your labor!” 5:5 Pharaoh was thinking, “The people of the land are now many, and you are giving them rest from their labor.”

5:6 That same day Pharaoh commanded the slave masters and foremen who were over the people: 5:7 “You must no longer give straw to the people for making bricks as before. Let them go and collect straw for themselves. 5:8 But you must require of them the same quota of bricks that they were making before. Do not reduce it, for they are slackers. That is why they are crying, ‘Let us go sacrifice to our God.’ 5:9 Make the work harder for the men so they will keep at it and pay no attention to lying words!”

5:10 So the slave masters of the people and their foremen went to the Israelites and said, “Thus says Pharaoh: ‘I am not giving you straw. 5:11 You go get straw for yourselves wherever you can find it, because there will be no reduction at all in your workload.’ ” 5:12 So the people spread out through all the land of Egypt to collect stubble for straw. 5:13 The slave masters were pressuring them, saying, “Complete your work for each day, just like when there was straw!” 5:14 The Israelite foremen whom Pharaoh’s slave masters had set over them were beaten and were asked, “Why did you not complete your requirement for brickmaking as in the past—both yesterday and today?”

5:15  The Israelite foremen went and cried out to Pharaoh, “Why are you treating your servants this way? 5:16 No straw is given to your servants, but we are told, ‘Make bricks!’ Your servants are even being beaten, but the fault is with your people.”

5:17 But Pharaoh replied, “You are slackers! Slackers! That is why you are saying, ‘Let us go sacrifice to the LORD.’ 5:18 So now, get back to work! You will not be given straw, but you must still produce your quota of bricks!” 5:19 The Israelite foremen saw that they were in trouble when they were told, “You must not reduce the daily quota of your bricks.”

5:20 When they went out from Pharaoh, they encountered Moses and Aaron standing there to meet them, 5:21 and they said to them, “May the LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the opinion of Pharaoh and his servants, so that you have given them an excuse to kill us!”

5:22  Moses returned to the LORD, and said, “Lord, why have you caused trouble for this people? Why did you ever send me? 5:23 From the time I went to speak to Pharaoh in your name, he has caused trouble for this people, and you have certainly not rescued them!”

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

Egyptian relief showing slave driver beating slaveNew King James Version

Afterward Moses and Aaron went in and told Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness.’ ”

2 And Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, nor will I let Israel go.”

3 So they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please, let us go three days’ journey into the desert and sacrifice to the LORD our God, lest He fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.”

4 Then the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people from their work? Get back to your labor.” 5 And Pharaoh said, “Look, the people of the land are many now, and you make them rest from their labor!”

6 So the same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their officers, saying, 7 “You shall no longer give the people straw to make brick as before. Let them go and gather straw for themselves. 8 And you shall lay on them the quota of bricks which they made before. You shall not reduce it. For they are idle; therefore they cry out, saying, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ 9 Let more work be laid on the men, that they may labor in it, and let them not regard false words.”

10 And the taskmasters of the people and their officers went out and spoke to the people, saying, “Thus says Pharaoh: ‘I will not give you straw. 11 Go, get yourselves straw where you can find it; yet none of your work will be reduced.’ ” 12 So the people were scattered abroad throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble instead of straw. 13 And the taskmasters forced them to hurry, saying, “Fulfill your work, your daily quota, as when there was straw.” 14 Also the officers of the children of Israel, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten and were asked, “Why have you not fulfilled your task in making brick both yesterday and today, as before?”

15 Then the officers of the children of Israel came and cried out to Pharaoh, saying, “Why are you dealing thus with your servants? 16 There is no straw given to your servants, and they say to us, ‘Make brick!’ And indeed your servants are beaten, but the fault is in your own people.”

17 But he said, “You are idle! Idle! Therefore you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the LORD.’ 18 Therefore go now and work; for no straw shall be given you, yet you shall deliver the quota of bricks.” 19 And the officers of the children of Israel saw that they were in trouble after it was said, “You shall not reduce any bricks from your daily quota.”

20 Then, as they came out from Pharaoh, they met Moses and Aaron who stood there to meet them. 21 And they said to them, “Let the LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us abhorrent in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

22 So Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Lord, why have You brought trouble on this people? Why is it You have sent me? 23 For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done evil to this people; neither have You delivered Your people at all.”

The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

Egyptian relief showing slave driver beating slaveThe Message

1 5 After that Moses and Aaron approached Pharaoh. They said, “GOD, the God of Israel, says, ‘Free my people so that they can hold a festival for me in the wilderness.’ ”

2 Pharaoh said, “And who is GOD that I should listen to him and send Israel off? I know nothing of this so-called ‘GOD’ and I’m certainly not going to send Israel off.”

3 They said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness so we can worship our GOD lest he strike us with either disease or death.”

4–5 But the king of Egypt said, “Why on earth, Moses and Aaron, would you suggest the people be given a holiday? Back to work!” Pharaoh went on, “Look, I’ve got all these people bumming around, and now you want to reward them with time off?”

6–9 Pharaoh took immediate action. He sent down orders to the slave-drivers and their underlings: “Don’t provide straw for the people for making bricks as you have been doing. Make them get their own straw. And make them produce the same number of bricks—no reduction in their daily quotas! They’re getting lazy. They’re going around saying, ‘Give us time off so we can worship our God.’ Crack down on them. That’ll cure them of their whining, their god-fantasies.”

10–12 The slave-drivers and their underlings went out to the people with their new instructions. “Pharaoh’s orders: No more straw provided. Get your own straw wherever you can find it. And not one brick less in your daily work quota!” The people scattered all over Egypt scrabbling for straw.

13 The slave-drivers were merciless, saying, “Complete your daily quota of bricks—the same number as when you were given straw.”

14 The Israelite foremen whom the slave-drivers had appointed were beaten and badgered. “Why didn’t you finish your quota of bricks yesterday or the day before—and now again today?”

15–16 The Israelite foremen came to Pharaoh and cried out for relief: “Why are you treating your servants like this? Nobody gives us any straw and they tell us, ‘Make bricks!’ Look at us—we’re being beaten. And it’s not our fault.”

17–18 But Pharaoh said, “Lazy! That’s what you are! Lazy! That’s why you whine, ‘Let us go so we can worship GOD.’ Well then, go—go back to work. Nobody’s going to give you straw, and at the end of the day you better bring in your full quota of bricks.”

19 The Israelite foremen saw that they were in a bad way, having to go back and tell their workers, “Not one brick short in your daily quota.”

20–21 As they left Pharaoh, they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them. The foremen said to them, “May GOD see what you’ve done and judge you—you’ve made us stink before Pharaoh and his servants! You’ve put a weapon in his hand that’s going to kill us!”

22–23 Moses went back to GOD and said, “My Master, why are you treating this people so badly? And why did you ever send me? From the moment I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, things have only gotten worse for this people. And rescue? Does this look like rescue to you?”

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

King James Version

5 And afterward Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness. 2 And Pharaoh said, Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the LORD, neither will I let Israel go. 3 And they said, The God of the Hebrews hath met with us: let us go, we pray thee, three days’ journey into the desert, and sacrifice unto the LORD our God; lest he fall upon us with pestilence, or with the sword. 4 And the king of Egypt said unto them, Wherefore do ye, Moses and Aaron, let the people from their works? get you unto your burdens. 5 And Pharaoh said, Behold, the people of the land now are many, and ye make them rest from their burdens. 6 And Pharaoh commanded the same day the taskmasters of the people, and their officers, saying, 7 Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick, as heretofore: let them go and gather straw for themselves. 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. 9 Let there more work be laid upon the men, that they may labour therein; and let them not regard vain words. 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. 11 Go ye, get you straw where ye can find it: yet not ought of your work shall be diminished. 12 So the people were scattered abroad throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble instead of straw. 13 And the taskmasters hasted them, saying, Fulfil your works, your daily tasks, as when there was straw. 14 And the officers of the children of Israel, which Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten, and demanded, Wherefore have ye not fulfilled your task in making brick both yesterday and to day, as heretofore? 15 Then the officers of the children of Israel came and cried unto Pharaoh, saying, Wherefore dealest thou thus with thy servants? 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. 17 But he said, Ye are idle, ye are idle: therefore ye say, Let us go and do sacrifice to the LORD. 18 Go therefore now, and work; for there shall no straw be given you, yet shall ye deliver the tale of bricks. 19 And the officers of the children of Israel did see that they were in evil case, after it was said, Ye shall not minish ought from your bricks of your daily task. 20 And they met Moses and Aaron, who stood in the way, as they came forth from Pharaoh: 21 And they said unto them, The LORD look upon you, and judge; because ye have made our savour to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to slay us.

22 And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Lord, wherefore hast thou so evil entreated this people? why is it that thou hast sent me? 23 For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in thy name, he hath done evil to this people; neither hast thou delivered thy people at all.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archaeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database
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