Exodus 5:10-23 – More Bricks, Less Straw “Why, God!?”

A brick making scene from an ancient the ancient Egyptian tomb of Rekhmire, c.1400 B.C.E.

So, the slave drivers and foremen went out and told the people: “This is what Pharaoh says: I will not provide any more straw for you. Go and get it yourselves. Find it wherever you can. But you must produce just as many bricks as before!” So, the people scattered throughout the land of Egypt in search of stubble to use as straw.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian slave drivers continued to push hard. “Meet your daily quota of bricks, just as you did when we provided you with straw!” they demanded. Then they whipped the Israelite foremen they had put in charge of the work crews. “Why haven’t you met your quotas either yesterday or today?” they demanded.

So the Israelite foremen went to Pharaoh and pleaded with him. “Please don’t treat your servants like this,” they begged. “We are given no straw, but the slave drivers still demand, ‘Make bricks!’ We are being beaten, but it isn’t our fault! Your own people are to blame!”

But Pharaoh shouted, “You’re just lazy! Lazy! That’s why you’re saying, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifices to the Lord.’ Now get back to work! No straw will be given to you, but you must still produce the full quota of bricks.”

The Israelite foremen could see that they were in serious trouble when they were told, “You must not reduce the number of bricks you make each day.” As they left Pharaoh’s court, they confronted Moses and Aaron, who were waiting outside for them. The foremen said to them, “May the Lord judge and punish you for making us stink before Pharaoh and his officials. You have put a sword into their hands, an excuse to kill us!”

Then Moses went back to the Lord and protested, “Why have you brought all this trouble on your own people, Lord? Why did you send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh as your spokesman, he has been even more brutal to your people. And you have done nothing to rescue them!” (New Living Translation)

It was God – Yahweh, the great I AM – who called to Moses from the burning bush. It was God who told Moses to go to Egypt because of the groaning of the Israelites in their slavery. It was also God who promised Moses that Divine help would deliver the people from their awful bondage. 

But the promised vision of release and rescue from captivity ran into the harsh buzz-saw of reality. 

Moses did exactly what God told him to do. He was completely attentive and obedient to God’s revealed will. And the result? Pharaoh forced the Israelite slaves to make bricks without being supplied with the straw to do it. Now, the people’s situation is even worse than it was before Moses showed up on the scene. What’s up with that!?

Since we know the end to the story, we understand where all of this is going. However, when we put ourselves in the sandals of Moses, it’s anything but clear about what was happening.

“Confusion is a sign of intelligence; only fools are crystal clear.”

Haresh Sippy

None of us gets off this planet without facing some hard things. We may even face those difficulties when we’re just trying to do the right thing. We’re simply trying to help, do our best, obey God, and then we get in trouble. In those situations, we can empathize with Moses getting testy with God and expressing his complaint.

The God of the universe is big enough to handle our protests in the midst of trouble – even when those complaints are directly pointed toward him. God gets it.

There is an appropriate place for us to freely express our abject disbelief, our painful wonderings, and our outright anger toward God. We won’t get a lightning bolt from heaven if we ask and cry out, “Why, God? What the **** are you doing!?”

There have been many times in my life when I questioned whether I was really sent by God to be in a certain place or to do a certain thing. I seriously wondered whether I really heard God, or not. Maybe it was my own voice in my head. Perhaps it was an emotional decision. 

The incongruence between what we believe and how things are actually turning out can be maddening.

But there is something we must all realize: Just because things go from bad to worse does not necessarily mean God isn’t in the thing. 

We are not always, even usually, privy to the mind of God in the big picture of what the Lord is doing. 

In the middle of trouble, we might think God is not at work, not paying attention, or slow to act. Yet, God knows exactly what’s going on and what the plan is. Sometimes, we need to discern and know that things will get worse before they will get better – and that God has not abandoned us.

Wise God, I trust you that you know what you are doing, even though I don’t see what in the world is going on. Help me to see all things from your perspective so that I might have the wisdom to move forward in faith and patience. I’m out on a limb for you! Please don’t let it break! Amen.

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