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Ex 5:1-23. FIRST INTERVIEW WITH PHARAOH.
1. Moses and Aaron went in--As representatives of the Hebrews,
they were entitled to ask an audience of the king, and their thorough
Egyptian training taught them how and when to seek it.
2. And Pharaoh said, Who is the Lord--rather "Jehovah." Lord was
a common name applied to objects of worship; but Jehovah was a name he
had never heard of. Pharaoh estimated the character and power of this
God by the abject and miserable condition of the worshippers and
concluded that He held as low a rank among the gods as His people did
in the nation. To demonstrate the supremacy of the true God over all
the gods of Egypt, was the design of the plagues.
3. The God of the Hebrews hath met with us--Instead of being provoked into reproaches or threats, they mildly assured him that it was not a proposal originating among themselves, but a duty enjoined on them by their God. They had for a long series of years been debarred from the privilege of religious worship, and as there was reason to fear that a continued neglect of divine ordinances would draw down upon them the judgments of offended heaven, they begged permission to go three days' journey into the desert--a place of seclusion--where their sacrificial observances would neither suffer interruption nor give umbrage to the Egyptians. In saying this, they concealed their ultimate design of abandoning the kingdom, and by making this partial request at first, they probably wished to try the king's temper before they disclosed their intentions any farther. But they said only what God had put in their mouths (Ex 3:12, 18), and this "legalizes the specific act, while it gives no sanction to the general habit of dissimulation" [CHALMERS].
4. Wherefore do ye, Moses and Aaron, let the people from their works? &c.--Without taking any notice of what they had said, he treated them as ambitious demagogues, who were appealing to the superstitious feelings of the people, to stir up sedition and diffuse a spirit of discontent, which spreading through so vast a body of slaves, might endanger the peace of the country.
6. Pharaoh commanded--It was a natural consequence of the high
displeasure created by this interview that he should put additional
burdens on the oppressed Israelites.
7. Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick--The
making of bricks appears to have been a government monopoly as the
ancient bricks are nearly all stamped with the name of a king, and they
were formed, as they are still in Lower Egypt, of clay mixed with
chopped straw and dried or hardened in the sun. The Israelites were
employed in this drudgery; and though they still dwelt in Goshen and
held property in flocks and herds, they were compelled in rotation to
serve in the brick quarries, pressed in alternating groups, just as the
fellaheen, or peasants, are marched by press gangs in the same
8. tale--an appointed number of bricks. The materials of their labor were to be no longer supplied, and yet, as the same amount of produce was exacted daily, it is impossible to imagine more aggravated cruelty--a perfect specimen of Oriental despotism.
12. So the people were scattered--It was an immense grievance to the laborers individually, but there would be no hindrance from the husbandmen whose fields they entered, as almost all the lands of Egypt were in the possession of the crown (Ge 47:20).
13-19. And the taskmasters hasted them . . . officers . . . beaten--As the nearest fields were bared and the people had to go farther for stubble, it was impossible for them to meet the demand by the usual tale of bricks. "The beating of the officers is just what might have been expected from an Eastern tyrant, especially in the valley of the Nile, as it appears from the monuments, that ancient Egypt, like modern China, was principally governed by the stick" [TAYLOR]. "The mode of beating was by the offender being laid flat on the ground and generally held by the hands and feet while the chastisement was administered" [WILKINSON]. (De 25:2). A picture representing the Hebrews on a brick field, exactly as described in this chapter, was found in an Egyptian tomb at Thebes.
20, 21. they met Moses . . . The Lord look upon you, and judge--Thus the deliverer of Israel found that this patriotic interference did, in the first instance, only aggravate the evil he wished to remove, and that instead of receiving the gratitude, he was loaded with the reproaches of his countrymen. But as the greatest darkness is immediately before the dawn, so the people of God are often plunged into the deepest affliction when on the eve of their deliverance; and so it was in this case.