Exodus 5

The Word Made Fresh

1Then Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh. They said, “The LORD, the God of Israel, says, ‘Let my people go and make sacrifices to me in the wilderness.'”

2“Who is the LORD?” asked Pharaoh. “And why should I listen to him and let Israel go? I don’t know the LORD, and I won’t let Israel go.”

3They said, “The God of the Hebrews has appeared to us. Allow us to go three days into the wilderness to make sacrifices to the LORD our God or he will fall upon us with plagues or war.”

4The King of Egypt responded, “Moses and Aaron, why are you drawing the people away from their duties? Get to work!” 5And he continued, “Now there are more of them than ever has been, and you are interrupting their duties!” 6That same day Pharaoh told the foremen and their supervisors, 7“From now on, stop giving these people straw to make bricks; let them find the straw and gather it for themselves, 8but the quota of bricks will remain the same. Don’t slack off on the demand for bricks. They are slackers. That’s why they pretend to want to go and offer sacrifices to their god. 9Give them even more work to do! That will keep them busy enough to stop paying attention to stupid ideas.”

10So the foremen and the supervisors told the people, “Pharaoh says he will stop giving you straw. 11He says you’ll have to get the straw yourselves, anywhere you can find it, but he expects the same number of bricks from you!”

12Then the people had to scour the countryside throughout Egypt to find stubble to use as straw. 13The foremen pushed them. “Get to work! Make the same number of bricks as before!” 14But the Israelite supervisors whipped the foremen and yelled at them, “You didn’t reach your quantity of bricks yesterday or today. Why not?”

15The supervisors complained to Pharaoh. “Why do you treat your servants like this? 16You don’t give us any straw and still expect us to make bricks! Look at how exhausted we are! You are treating your own people badly.”

17Pharaoh countered, “You are lazy! That is why you want to go sacrifice to the LORD. 18Get back to work. You’re not getting any straw handed to you, but you will deliver the same number of bricks as before.”

19The supervisors of the Israelites knew they were in trouble when Pharaoh refused to lessen the quota. 20Upon leaving Pharaoh they met Moses and Aaron who were waiting for them. 21They said, “The LORD be your judge! You have made us stink to Pharaoh and his administrators and now they have a good excuse to kill us.”22Then Moses cried out to the LORD, “O LORD, why have you burdened these people? Why did you send me? 23Since I first approached Pharaoh as your representative he has punished this people even more, and you haven’t done anything at all to rescue them.”


1-9: Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh and tell him that the LORD demands that he allow the Hebrews to celebrate a festival in the wilderness. This is a curious backing off, it seems, from demanding the complete release of the people, and may reflect the continuing reluctance of Moses and Aaron to take the altogether drastic step God has told them to take. In response, Pharaoh says he doesn’t know the LORD and won’t let them go. They insist, saying that the LORD will punish them if they don’t make a three days’ journey into the wilderness. Pharaoh thinks it’s just a ruse to keep them from their labors. He is worried because there are more Hebrews now than there are Egyptians, so he makes them work harder, ordering the taskmasters and supervisors to make the Hebrews gather their own straw for making bricks rather than having it supplied to them. The people’s oppression is now even worse than before.

Note: In general, the taskmasters are Egyptian overseers, while the supervisors are Israelite foremen appointed by the taskmasters.

Note: When they talk to Pharaoh, they are referred to as the Hebrews. Among themselves they are called Israelites. The word “Hebrew” may be associated with the Egyptian word “hapiru,” meaning foreigner.

10-14: The taskmasters and supervisors tell the people to gather their own straw for brick making and keep up the same production schedule. When they fall behind the taskmasters punish the supervisors — who, no doubt, took it out on the workers in turn.

15-21: It is the supervisors (Israelites) who go to Pharaoh to protest. Pharaoh tells them they want to go worship the LORD because they are lazy, and refuses to listen to their complaint. They know they’re in for a rough time now, and they accuse Moses and Aaron of making their lives even more miserable than before.

22-23: Moses protests to the LORD and complains that God has done nothing so far to deliver the people.


Notice that Moses and Aaron try to tone down God’s command that Pharaoh release the people, saying that they merely want to go away for a few days to worship the LORD. Don’t we all do that sort of thing sometimes? We know what God wants of us in some situation, but we inch our way into it instead of taking the full step. It’s okay — God won’t give up on us that easily.