Moses and Aaron are here dealing with Pharaoh, to get leave of him to
go and worship in the wilderness.
I. They demand leave in the name of God
and he answers their demand with a defiance of God,
II. They beg leave in the name of Israel
and he answers their request with further orders to oppress Israel,
These cruel orders were,
1. Executed by the task-masters,
2. Complained of to Pharaoh, but in vain,
3. Complained of by the people to Moses
and by him to God,
|Sufferings of the Israelites Increased.
||B. C. 1491.|
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.
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
Moses and Aaron, having delivered their message to the elders of
Israel, with whom they found good acceptance, are now to deal with
Pharaoh, to whom they come in peril of their lives--Moses
particularly, who perhaps was out-lawed for killing the Egyptian forty
years before, so that if any of the old courtiers should happen to
remember that against him now it might cost him his head. Their message
itself was displeasing, and touch Pharaoh both in his honour and in his
profit, two tender points; yet these faithful ambassadors boldly
deliver it, whether he will hear or whether he will forbear.
I. Their demand is piously bold: Thus saith the Lord God of Israel,
Let my people go,
Moses, in treating with the elders of Israel, is directed to call God
the God of their fathers; but, in treating with Pharaoh, they
call him the God of Israel, and it is the first time we find him
called so in scripture: he is called the God of Israel, the
but here it is Israel, the people. They are just beginning to be
formed into a people when God is called their God. Moses, it is likely,
was directed to call him so, at least it might be inferred from
Israel is my son. In this great name they deliver their
message: Let my people go.
1. They were God's people, and therefore Pharaoh ought not to detain
them in bondage. Note, God will own his own people, though ever so poor
and despicable, and will find a time to plead their cause. "The
Israelites are slaves in Egypt, but they are my people," says God, "and
I will not suffer them to be always trampled upon." See
2. He expected services and sacrifices from them, and therefore they
must have leave to go where they could freely exercise their religion,
without giving offence to, or receiving offence from, the Egyptians.
Note, God delivers his people out of the hand of their enemies, that
they may serve him, and serve him cheerfully, that they may hold a
feast to him, which they may do, while they have his favour and
presence, even in a wilderness, a dry and barren land.
II. Pharaoh's answer is impiously bold: Who is the Lord, that I
should obey his voice?
Being summoned to surrender, he thus hangs out the flag of defiance,
hectors Moses and the God that sends him, and peremptorily refuses to
let Israel go; he will not treat about it, nor so much as bear the
mention of it. Observe,
1. How scornfully he speaks of the God of Israel: "Who is
Jehovah? I neither know him nor care for him, neither value him nor
fear him:" it is a hard name that he never heard of before, but he
resolves it shall be no bug-bear to him. Israel was now a despised
oppressed people, looked on as the tail of the nation, and, by the
character they bore, Pharaoh makes his estimate of their God, and
concludes that he made no better a figure among the gods than his
people did among the nations. Note, Hardened persecutors are more
malicious against God himself than they are against his people. See
Again, Ignorance and contempt of God are at the bottom of all the
wickedness that is in the world. Men know not the Lord, or have very
low and mean thoughts of him, and therefore they obey not his voice,
nor will let any thing go for him.
2. How proudly he speaks of himself: "That I should obey his
voice; I, the king of Egypt, a great people, obey the God of
Israel, a poor enslaved people? Shall I, that rule the Israel of God,
obey the God of Israel? No, it is below me; I scorn to answer his
summons." Note, Those are the children of pride that are the
children of disobedience,
Proud men think themselves too good to stoop even to God himself, and
would not be under control,
Here is the core of the controversy: God must rule, but man will not be
ruled. "I will have my will done," says God: "But I will do my own
will," says the sinner.
3. How resolutely he denies the demand: Neither will I let Israel
go. Note, Of all sinners none are so obstinate, nor so hardly
persuaded to leave their sin, as persecutors are.
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
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.
Finding that Pharaoh had no veneration at all for God, Moses and Aaron
next try whether he had any compassion for Israel, and become humble
suitors to him for leave to go and sacrifice, but in vain.
I. Their request is very humble and modest,
They make no complaint of the rigour they were ruled with. They plead
that the journey they designed was not a project formed among
themselves, but that their God had met with them, and called them to
it. They beg with all submission: We pray thee. The poor useth
entreaties; though God may summon princes that oppress, it becomes us
to beseech and make supplication to them. What they ask is very
reasonable, only for a short vacation, while they went three days'
journey into the desert, and that on a good errand, and
unexceptionable: "We will sacrifice unto the Lord our God, as
other people do to theirs;" and, lastly, they give a very good
reason, "Lest, if we quite cast off his worship, he fall upon us with
one judgment or other, and then Pharaoh will lose his vassals."
II. Pharaoh's denial of their request is very barbarous and
1. His suggestions were very unreasonable.
(1.) That the people were idle, and that therefore they talked of going
to sacrifice. The cities they built for Pharaoh, and the other fruit of
their labours, were witnesses for them that they were not idle; yet he
thus basely misrepresents them, that he might have a pretence to
increase their burdens.
(2.) That Moses and Aaron made them idle with vain words,
God's words are here called vain words; and those that called them to
the best and most needful business are accused of making them idle.
Note, The malice of Satan has often represented the service and worship
of God as fit employment for those only that have nothing else to do,
and the business only of the idle; whereas indeed it is the
indispensable duty of those that are most busy in the world.
2. His resolutions hereupon were most barbarous.
(1.) Moses and Aaron themselves must get to their burdens
they are Israelites, and, however God had distinguished them from the
rest, Pharaoh makes no difference: they must share in the common
slavery of their nation. Persecutors have always taken a particular
pleasure in putting contempt and hardship upon the ministers of the
(2.) The usual tale of bricks must be exacted, without the usual
allowance of straw to mix with the clay, or to burn the bricks with,
that thus more work might be laid upon the men, which if they
performed, they would be broken with labour; and, if not, they would be
exposed to punishment.
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?
Pharaoh's orders are here put in execution; straw is denied, and yet
the work not diminished.
1. The Egyptian task-masters were very severe. Pharaoh having decreed
unrighteous decrees, the task-masters were ready to write the
grievousness that he had prescribed,
Cruel princes will never want cruel instruments to be employed under
them, who will justify them in that which is most unreasonable. These
task-masters insisted upon the daily tasks, as when there was straw,
See what need we have to pray that we may be delivered from
unreasonable and wicked men,
2 Thessalonians 3:2.
The enmity of the serpent's seed against the seed of the woman is such
as breaks through all the laws of reason, honour, humanity, and common
2. The people hereby were dispersed throughout all the land of Egypt,
to gather stubble,
By this means Pharaoh's unjust and barbarous usage of them came to be
known to all the kingdom, and perhaps caused them to be pitied by their
neighbours, and made Pharaoh's government less acceptable even to his
own subjects: good-will is never got by persecution.
3. The Israelite-officers were used with particular harshness,
Those that were the fathers of the houses of Israel paid dearly for
their honour; for from them immediately the service was exacted, and
they were beaten when it was not performed. See here,
(1.) What a miserable thing slavery is, and what reason we have to be
thankful to God that we are a free people, and not oppressed. Liberty
and property are valuable jewels in the eyes of those whose services
and possessions lie at the mercy of an arbitrary power.
(2.) What disappointments we often meet with after the raising of our
expectations. The Israelites were now lately encouraged to hope for
enlargement, but behold greater distresses. This teaches us always to
rejoice with trembling.
(3.) What strange steps God sometimes takes in delivering his people;
he often brings them to the utmost straits when he is just ready to
appear for them. The lowest ebbs go before the highest tides; and very
cloudy mornings commonly introduce the fairest days,
God's time to help is when things are at the worst; and Providence
verifies the paradox, The worse the better.
15 Then the officers of the children of Israel came and cried
unto Pharaoh, saying, Wherefore dealest thou thus with thy
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
It was a great strait that the head-workmen were in, when they must
either abuse those that were under them or be abused by those that were
over them; yet, it should seem, rather than they would tyrannize, they
would be tyrannized over; and they were so. In this evil case
I. How justly they complained to Pharaoh: They came and cried unto
Whither should they go with a remonstrance of their grievances but to
the supreme power, which is ordained for the protection of the injured?
As bad as Pharaoh was his oppressed subjects had liberty to complain to
him; there was no law against petitioning: it was a very modest, but
moving, representation that they made of their condition
Thy servants are beaten (severely enough, no doubt, when things
were in such a ferment), and yet the fault is in thy own people,
the task-masters, who deny us what is necessary for carrying on our
work. Note, It is common for those to be most rigorous in blaming
others who are most blameworthy themselves. But what did they get by
this complaint? It did but make bad worse.
1. Pharaoh taunted them
when they were almost killed with working, he told them they were
idle: they underwent the fatigue of industry, and yet lay under the
imputation of slothfulness, while nothing appeared to ground the charge
upon but this, that they said, Let us go and do sacrifice. Note,
It is common for the best actions to be mentioned under the worst
names; holy diligence in the best business is censured by many as a
culpable carelessness in the business of the world. It is well for us
that men are not to be our judges, but a God who knows what the
principles are on which we act. Those that are diligent in doing
sacrifice to the Lord will, with God, escape the doom of the slothful
servant, though, with men, they do not.
2. He bound on their burdens: Go now and work.
Note, Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked; what can be expected from
unrighteous men but more unrighteousness?
II. How unjustly they complained of Moses and Aaron: The Lord look
upon you, and judge,
This was not fair. Moses and Aaron had given sufficient evidence of
their hearty good-will to the liberties of Israel; and yet, because
things succeed not immediately as they hoped, they are reproached as
accessaries to their slavery. They should have humbled themselves
before God, and taken to themselves the shame of their sin, which
turned away good things from them; but, instead of this, they fly in
the face of their best friends, and quarrel with the instruments of
their deliverance, because of some little difficulties and obstructions
they met with in effecting it. Note, Those that are called out to
public service for God and their generation must expect to be tried,
not only by the malicious threats of proud enemies, but by the unjust
and unkind censures of unthinking friends, who judge only by outward
appearance and look but a little way before them. Now what did Moses do
in this strait? It grieved him to the heart that the event did not
answer, but rather contradict, his expectation; and their upbraidings
were very cutting, and like a sword in his bones; but,
1. He returned to the Lord
to acquaint him with it, and to represent the case to him: he knew
that what he had said and done was by divine direction; and therefore
what blame is laid upon him for it he considers as reflecting upon God,
and, like Hezekiah, spreads it before him as interested in the cause,
and appeals to him. Compare this with
Note, When we find ourselves, at any time, perplexed and embarrassed in
the way of our duty, we ought to have recourse to God, and lay open our
case before him by faithful and fervent prayer. If we retreat, let us
retreat to him, and no further.
2. He expostulated with him,
He knew not how to reconcile the providence with the promise and the
commission which he had received. "Is this God's coming down to deliver
Israel? Must I, who hoped to be a blessing to them, become a scourge
to them? By this attempt to get them out of the pit, they are but sunk
the deeper into it." Now he asks,
(1.) Wherefore hast thou so evil entreated this people? Note,
Even when God is coming towards his people in ways of mercy, he
sometimes takes such methods as that they may think themselves but ill
treated. The instruments of deliverance, when they aim to help, are
found to hinder, and that becomes a trap which, it was hoped, would
have been for their welfare, God suffering it to be so that we may
learn to cease from man, and may come off from a dependence upon second
causes. Note, further, When the people of God think themselves ill
treated, they should go to God by prayer, and plead with him, and that
is the way to have better treatment in God's good time.
(2.) Why is it thou hast sent me? Thus,
[1.] He complains of his ill success: "Pharaoh has done evil to this
people, and not one step seems to be taken towards their deliverance."
Note, It cannot but sit very heavily upon the spirits of those whom God
employs for him to see that their labour does no good, and much more to
see that it does hurt eventually, though not designedly. It is
uncomfortable to a good minister to perceive that his endeavours for
men's conviction and conversion do but exasperate their corruptions,
confirm their prejudices, harden their hearts, and seal them up under
unbelief. This makes them go in the bitterness of their souls, as the
[2.] He enquires what was further to be done: Why hast thou sent
me? that is, "What other method shall I take in pursuance of my
commission?" Note, Disappointments in our work must not drive us from
our God, but still we must consider why we are sent.