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Bible Commentaries

Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the Bible

Exodus 5

Verses 1-9

The Taskmasters Instructed to Burden the People

v. 1. 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. Moses and Aaron here acted not only as representatives of the children of Israel, who had acknowledged their commission from God, but as the ambassadors of the Lord Himself. Their question distinctly stated by whose authority they were acting, namely, by that of Jehovah, the God of Israel.

v. 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. Although Pharaoh's answer was given with the understanding that the gods governed the countries, and that therefore the Israelites belonged under the jurisdiction of the Egyptian gods and had no business to have a God of their own, Pharaoh here showed an impious, selfish, blasphemous mind, and proved himself a religious tyrant.

v. 3. And they said, The God of the Hebrews hath met with us, He had disclosed, revealed Himself to them in glory, He, the ancient God of the free Hebrews. 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. The plea was that Jehovah would look upon their neglect to bring Him sacrifices as a deliberate act of disobedience, and would therefore come upon them, as their enemy, with severe punishments. Thus both ideas are brought out, that Jehovah was a jealous, and that He was a powerful God.

v. 4. And the king of Egypt said unto them, Wherefore do ye, Moses and Aaron, let the people from their works, attempt to secure for them a vacation from their labors, release them from their duties? Get you unto your burdens, your servile labor. He addressed them as though they themselves were slaves, and at the same time intimated that their request was a vain pretext.

v. 5. And Pharaoh said, Behold, the people of the land now are many, and ye make them rest from their burdens, you want to secure for them a vacation, a period of rest, and their great numbers caused such a period to result in losses to the crown. The words reveal a boundless contempt for the common people.

v. 6. And Pharaoh commanded the same day the taskmasters, the overseers who drove them to their work and while they were at work, and their officers, saying,

v. 7. Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick, as heretofore, chopped straw being used for binding the clay in the bricks before they were dried in the sun ; let them go and gather straw for themselves. In the past this straw had been furnished by the Egyptian overseers, and the Hebrew officers had kept a record of the work done by their countrymen.

v. 8. And the tale of the bricks which they did make heretofore ye shall lay upon them; ye shall not diminish aught thereof, the Israelites were to make and to deliver to the Egyptian overseers the same number of bricks as had always been required of them; for they be idle; therefore they cry, saying, Let us go and sacrifice to our God. Thus Pharaoh ascribed their request to be allowed to worship their God to a lack of sufficient occupation, to the fact that time was hanging heavy on their hands.

v. 9. Let there more work be laid upon the men that they may labor therein, literally: Let the service rest heavily upon the men and keep them busy therewith; and let them not regard vain words, let them not listen to the lying representations of that man Moses. Similar charges are preferred against the Christians to this day, namely, that they are restless, dissatisfied people, having only worship and prayer in mind and neglecting their duties as citizens false accusations all of them.

Verses 10-19

The People Complain to Pharaoh

v. 10. And the taskmasters of the people went out and their officers, the Egyptian overseers and their Hebrew subordinates, and they spake to the people, saying, Thus saith Pharaoh, I will not give you straw. The royal decree was to be carried out to the letter not a single straw was to be furnished. The Jewish scribes, or officers, had by this time become willing tools in the hands of the despots.

v. 11. Go ye, get you straw where ye can find it; yet not aught of your work shall be diminished. There is an emphasis on the pronoun: Ye yourselves go, not others, as heretofore.

v. 12. So the people were scattered abroad throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble instead of straw. They did not even have access to straw-stacks, but were obliged to go out into the harvested fields and collect the stubble.

v. 13. And the taskmasters hasted them, urged them forward vehemently, saying, Fulfil your works, your daily tasks, the amount of labor which had been allotted them day by day, for each day, as when there was straw, when the necessary material for binding the clay was furnished.

v. 14. And the officers of the children of Israel which Pharaoh's taskmasters had set over them, as their own subordinates, were beaten, and demanded, Wherefore have ye not fulfilled your task in making brick both yesterday and today, as heretofore? When the number of bricks allotted to any company of the Israelites was not forthcoming, because it was a physical impossibility both to provide the straw and to make the bricks, the Jewish officers were held responsible and were punished.

v. 15. Then the officers of the children of Israel came and cried unto Pharaoh, saying, Wherefore dealest thou thus with thy servants? It was an attempt to protest against the tyrannical injustice of the measure.

v. 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, the sin is that of thy people. Their cry was an indirect complaint against the king himself, whom they did not dare to reproach outright.

v. 17. But he said, Ye are idle, ye are idle; therefore ye say, Let us go and do sacrifice to the Lord. He emphatically repeated his baseless charge, v. 8.

v. 18. Go, therefore, now, and work; for there shall no straw be given you, yet shall ye deliver the tale of bricks. The unjust order was not only not remanded, but repeated by Pharaoh's own mouth, So that there could be no mistake about it.

v. 19. And the officers of the children of Israel did see that they were in evil case, literally, they were in bad, their position was now worse than it was before, after it was said, Ye shall not minish aught from your bricks of your daily task. The fact that the oppression of the children of Israel was increased in this manner was a last severe trial for them. God wanted to test their faith in the certainty of His promise regarding the deliverance which was near.

Verses 20-23

The Officers Reproach Moses and Aaron

v. 20. And they met Moses and Aaron, who stood in the way as they came forth from Pharaoh, anxious to hear the result of the meeting with the king.

v. 21. And they said unto them, The Lord look upon you and judge, because ye have made our savor 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. It was a reproach of bitterness and despair: Ye have made us to stink, ye have brought us into ill repute. The king and his servants now had nothing but ill will and abhorrence for them, and this feeling was bound to find its outlet in acts of cruelty, in punishment and bloodshed.

v. 22. And Moses returned unto the Lord, turned to Jehovah with a cry of distress, and said, Lord, wherefore hast Thou so evil entreated this people? Why is it that Thou hast sent me? It is an appeal coming from the depths of humility and despair, but also a prayer of faith which clings to the Lord in spite of all adversities.

v. 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 Lord had apparently taken no steps to bring about the deliverance of His people from the house of bondage. Thus the Christians will often be inclined to be vexed and impatient in the midst of the trials and tribulations of this world. But God is merciful and patient and does not withdraw His almighty hand.

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Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Exodus 5". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kpc/exodus-5.html. 1921-23.