Exodus 5:7
Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick, as heretofore: let them go and gather straw for themselves.
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(7) Straw to make brick.—“The use of crude brick was general in Egypt for dwelling-houses, tombs, and ordinary buildings, the walls of towns, fortresses, and the sacred enclosures of temples, and for all purposes where stone was not required, which last was nearly confined to temples, quays, and reservoirs” (Wilkinson, in Rawlinson’s Herodotus, vol. ii. p. 213). These crude bricks were always made of the mud of the Nile, mixed with chopped straw, which served to bind them together (Rosellini, Monumenti Civili, vol. ii. p. 252).

Let them go and gather straw.—It has been estimated that this requirement would “more than double” the people’s toils (Canon Cook). They would have to disperse themselves over the harvest fields, often lying at a considerable distance from the brick-fields, to detach the straw from the soil, gather it into bundles, and convey it to the scene of their ordinary labours. Having done this they were then required to complete the ordinary “tale.”

Exodus 5:7. Straw — To mix with the clay. Shaw tells us in his Travels, (p. 136,) that “the composition of bricks in Egypt was only a mixture of clay, mud, and straw, slightly blended and kneaded together, and afterward baked in the sun. Paleis cohærent lateres, says Philo in his Life of Moses. The straw which keeps these bricks together in Egypt, and still preserves its original colour, seems to be a proof that these bricks were never burned nor made in kilns.” The straw therefore, was not wanted for burning them with it.

5:1-9 God will own his people, though poor and despised, and will find a time to plead their cause. Pharaoh treated all he had heard with contempt. He had no knowledge of Jehovah, no fear of him, no love to him, and therefore refused to obey him. Thus Pharaoh's pride, ambition, covetousness, and political knowledge, hardened him to his own destruction. What Moses and Aaron ask is very reasonable, only to go three days' journey into the desert, and that on a good errand. We will sacrifice unto the Lord our God. Pharaoh was very unreasonable, in saying that the people were idle, and therefore talked of going to sacrifice. He thus misrepresents them, that he might have a pretence to add to their burdens. To this day we find many who are more disposed to find fault with their neighbours, for spending in the service of God a few hours spared from their wordly business, than to blame others, who give twice the time to sinful pleasures. Pharaoh's command was barbarous. Moses and Aaron themselves must get to the burdens. Persecutors take pleasure in putting contempt and hardship upon ministers. The usual tale of bricks must be made, without the usual allowance of straw to mix with the clay. Thus more work was to be laid upon the men, which, if they performed, they would be broken with labour; and if not, they would be punished.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. 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 country still.

let them go and gather straw for themselves—The enraged despot did not issue orders to do an impracticable thing. The Egyptian reapers in the corn harvest were accustomed merely to cut off the ears and leave the stalk standing.

The straw was used either to mingle with the clay, that’ it might not be too brittle; or to cover the clay when it was formed into bricks, that the heat of the sun might not dry them too much, which might easily be done in that hot country; or for fuel, either wholly or in part, to burn their bricks with, straw being abundant there, and much used for that purpose.

Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick,.... Whether this was given and used to mix with the clay, as is done in some places (h), that the bricks made thereof might be firmer and stronger, or to burn them with in the furnaces, or to cover them from the heat of the sun, that they might not dry too soon and crack, is not easy to determine; though it is said that the unburnt bricks of Egypt formerly were, and still are made of clay mixed with straw. The Egyptian pyramid of unburnt brick, Dr. Pococke (i) observes, seems to be made of the earth brought by the Nile, being of a sandy black earth, with some pebbles and shells in it; it is mixed up with chopped straw, in order to bind the clay together, as they now make unburnt bricks in Egypt, and many other eastern parts, which they use very much in their buildings. He says he found some of these bricks (of the pyramid) thirteen inches and a half long, six inches and a half broad, and four inches thick; and others fifteen inches long, seven broad, and four inches three quarters thick. But be the straw for what use it will, it had been dealt out to them by proper persons to be used in one way or another; but now it was forbidden to be given them:

as heretofore it had been done:

let them go and gather straw for themselves; out of the fields where it lay, after the corn had been reaped and gathered in, or in barns, where it had been threshed; to do which must take up a good deal of their time, and especially if the straw lay at any distance, or was hard to be come at.

(h) Vide Vitruvium de Architectura, l. 2. c. 3. p. 46. & Philander in ib. (i) Observations on Egypt, p. 53.

Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick, as heretofore: let them go and gather straw for themselves.
Verse 7. - Straw to make brick. Straw was used in Egypt to bind together the clay, or mud, which was, of course, the main material of the bricks. (See Wilkinson, in the author's 'Herodotus,' vol. 2. p. 2130 It is usually chopped into small pieces. Let them go and gather straw. This would involve the leaving of the brickfields, and the scattering of the people over the harvest-grounds, where alone they would be able to find straw in any quantity. There are so many harvests in Egypt, that straw would perhaps be obtainable somewhere during the greater part of the year. Exodus 5:7As Pharaoh possessed neither fear of God (εὐσέβεια) nor fear of the gods, but, in the proud security of his might, determined to keep the Israelites as slaves, and to use them as tools for the glorifying of his kingdom by the erection of magnificent buildings, he suspected that their wish to go into the desert was nothing but an excuse invented by idlers, and prompted by a thirst for freedom, which might become dangerous to his kingdom, on account of the numerical strength of the people. He therefore thought that he could best extinguish such desires and attempts by increasing the oppression and adding to their labours. For this reason he instructed his bailiffs to abstain from delivering straw to the Israelites who were engaged in making bricks, and to let them gather it for themselves; but yet not to make the least abatement in the number (מתכּנת) to be delivered every day. בּעם הנּגשׂים, "those who urged the people on," were the bailiffs selected from the Egyptians and placed over the Israelitish workmen, the general managers of the work. Under them there were the שׁטרים (lit., writers, γραμματεῖς lxx, from שׁטר to write), who were chosen from the Israelites (vid., Exodus 5:14), and had to distribute the work among the people, and hand it over, when finished, to the royal officers. לבנים לבן: to make bricks, not to burn them; for the bricks in the ancient monuments of Egypt, and in many of the pyramids, are not burnt but dried in the sun (Herod. ii. 136; Hengst. Egypt and Books of Moses, pp. 2 and 79ff.). קשׁשׁ: a denom. verb from קשׁ, to gather stubble, then to stubble, to gather (Numbers 15:32-33). תּבן, of uncertain etymology, is chopped straw; here, the stubble that was left standing when the corn was reaped, or the straw that lay upon the ground. This they chopped up and mixed with the clay, to give greater durability to the bricks, as may be seen in bricks found in the oldest monuments (cf. Hgst. p. 79).
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