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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1And 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.
Pharaoh - This king, probably Tothmosis II, the great grandson of Aahmes Exodus 1:8, the original persecutor of the Israelites, must have been resident at this time in a city, probably Tanis Exodus 2:5, of Lower Egypt, situated on the Nile.
The Lord God - Yahweh God of Israel demanded the services of His people. The demand, according to the general views of the pagans, was just and natural; the Israelites could not offer the necessary sacrifices in the presence of Egyptians.
2And 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.
I know not the Lord - Either Pharaoh had not heard of Yahweh, or he did not recognize Him as a God.
3And 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.
Three days' journey - See the Exodus 3:18 note.
With pestilence, or with the sword - This shows that the plague was well known to the ancient Egyptians. The reference to the sword is equally natural, since the Israelites occupied the eastern district, which was frequently disturbed by the neighboring Shasous.
4And the king of Egypt said unto them, Wherefore do ye, Moses and Aaron, let the people from their works? get you unto your burdens.
Let - i. e. hinder.
5And Pharaoh said, Behold, the people of the land now are many, and ye make them rest from their burdens.
6And Pharaoh commanded the same day the taskmasters of the people, and their officers, saying,
Their officers - Or scribes. Hebrews able to keep accounts in writing, appointed by the Egyptian superintendents, and responsible to them for the work; see Exodus 5:14. Subordinate officers are frequently represented on Egyptian monuments, giving in written accounts to their immediate superiors.
7Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick, as heretofore: let them go and gather straw for themselves.
Some of the most ancient buildings in Egypt were constructed of bricks not burned, but dried in the sun; they were made of clay, or more commonly of mud, mixed with straw chopped into small pieces. An immense quantity of straw must have been wanted for the works on which the Israelites were engaged, and their labors must have been more than doubled by this requisition.
8And 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.
9Let there more work be laid upon the men, that they may labour therein; and let them not regard vain words.
10And 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.
11Go ye, get you straw where ye can find it: yet not ought of your work shall be diminished.
12So the people were scattered abroad throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble instead of straw.
Stubble instead of straw - Rather, for the straw: i. e. to be prepared as straw. This marks the season of the year, namely, early spring, after the barley or wheat harvest, toward the end of April. Their suffering must have been severe: at that season the pestilential sand-wind blows over Egypt some 50 days, hence, its name - Chamsin. (compare Genesis 41:6 note).
13And the taskmasters hasted them, saying, Fulfil your works, your daily tasks, as when there was straw.
14And 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?
15Then the officers of the children of Israel came and cried unto Pharaoh, saying, Wherefore dealest thou thus with thy servants?
16There 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.
17But he said, Ye are idle, ye are idle: therefore ye say, Let us go and do sacrifice to the LORD.
Ye are idle - The old Egyptian language abounds in epithets which show contempt for idleness. The charge was equally offensive and ingenious; one which would be readily believed by Egyptians who knew how much public and private labors were impeded by festivals and other religious ceremonies. Among the great sins which, according to Egyptian belief, involved condemnation in the final judgment, idleness is twice mentioned.
18Go therefore now, and work; for there shall no straw be given you, yet shall ye deliver the tale of bricks.
19And 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.
20And they met Moses and Aaron, who stood in the way, as they came forth from Pharaoh:
21And 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.
22And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Lord, wherefore hast thou so evil entreated this people? why is it that thou hast sent me?
23For 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 earnestness of this remonstrance, and even its approach to irreverence, are quite in keeping with other notices of Moses' naturally impetuous character. See Exodus 3:13.