Exodus 5:7
You 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. Pharaoh's Answer to the Request of Moses and Aaron. - Exodus 5:1-5. When the elders of Israel had listened with gladness and gratitude to the communications of Moses and Aaron respecting the revelation which Moses had received from Jehovah, that He was now about to deliver His people out of their bondage in Egypt; Moses and Aaron proceeded to Pharaoh, and requested in the name of the God of Israel, that he would let the people of Israel go and celebrate a festival in the wilderness in honour of their God. When we consider that every nation presented sacrifices to its deities, and celebrated festivals in their honour, and that they had all their own modes of worship, which were supposed to be appointed by the gods themselves, so that a god could not be worshipped acceptably in every place; the demand presented to Pharaoh on the part of the God of the Israelites, that he would let His people go into the wilderness and sacrifice to Him, appears so natural and reasonable, that Pharaoh could not have refused their request, if there had been a single trace of the fear of God in his heart. But what was his answer? "Who is Jehovah, that I should listen to His voice, to let Israel go? I know not Jehovah." There was a certain truth in these last words. The God of Israel had not yet made Himself known to him. But this was no justification. Although as a heathen he might naturally measure the power of the God by the existing condition of His people, and infer from the impotence of the Israelites that their God must be also weak, he would not have dared to refuse the petition of the Israelites, to be allowed to sacrifice to their God or celebrate a sacrificial festival, if he had had any faith in gods at all.
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