Pharaoh’s Hardness of Heart. 1Afterwards, Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Let my people go, that they may hold a feast* for me in the wilderness.” 2Pharaoh answered, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD,* and I will not let Israel go.” 3They replied, “The God of the Hebrews has come to meet us. Let us go a three days’ journey in the wilderness, that we may offer sacrifice to the LORD, our God,a so that he does not strike us with the plague or the sword.” 4The king of Egypt answered them, “Why, Moses and Aaron, do you make the people neglect their work? Off to your labors!” 5Pharaoh continued, “Look how they are already more numerous* than the people of the land, and yet you would give them rest from their labors!”
6That very day Pharaoh gave the taskmasters of the people and their foremen* this order: 7“You shall no longer supply the people with straw for their brickmaking* as before. Let them go and gather their own straw! 8Yet you shall levy upon them the same quota of bricks as they made previously. Do not reduce it. They are lazy; that is why they are crying, ‘Let us go to offer sacrifice to our God.’ 9Increase the work for the men, so that they attend to it and not to deceitful words.”
10So the taskmasters of the people and their foremen went out and told the people, “Thus says Pharaoh,* ‘I will not provide you with straw. 11Go and get your own straw from wherever you can find it. But there will not be the slightest reduction in your work.’” 12The people, then, scattered throughout the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw, 13while the taskmasters kept driving them on, saying, “Finish your work, the same daily amount as when the straw was supplied to you.” 14The Israelite foremen, whom the taskmasters of Pharaoh had placed over them, were beaten, and were asked, “Why have you not completed your prescribed amount of bricks yesterday and today, as before?”
Complaint of the Foremen. 15Then the Israelite foremen came and cried out to Pharaoh:* “Why do you treat your servants in this manner? 16No straw is supplied to your servants, and still we are told, ‘Make bricks!’ Look how your servants are beaten! It is you who are at fault.” 17He answered, “Lazy! You are lazy! That is why you keep saying, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to the LORD.’ 18Now off to work! No straw will be supplied to you, but you must supply your quota of bricks.”
19The Israelite foremen realized they were in trouble, having been told, “Do not reduce your daily amount of bricks!” 20So when they left Pharaoh they assailed Moses and Aaron, who were waiting to meet them, 21and said to them, “The LORD look upon you and judge! You have made us offensive to Pharaoh and his servants, putting a sword into their hands to kill us.”
Renewal of God’s Promise. 22Then Moses again had recourse to the LORD and said, “LORD, why have you treated this people badly? And why did you send me? 23From the time I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has treated this people badly, and you have done nothing to rescue your people.”
* [5:1] Hold a feast: the Hebrew verb used here, hagag (“to celebrate a feast or a festival”; see 12:14; 23:14), refers to a community celebration marked above all by a procession to the sanctuary. It is used especially of three major feasts: Unleavened Bread, Pentecost (in 23:16, “the Feast of Harvest,” but customarily “the Feast of Weeks” [Shavuot]), and Succoth/Sukkoth (in 34:16, “the Feast of Ingathering,” but more frequently “of Booths, or Tabernacles,” as in Dt 16:13, 16; 31:10; Lv 23:34; Zec 14:16; passim) and—along with the related noun hag—the Passover in 12:14. See 23:14–18; 34:18–25.
* [5:6] The taskmasters of the people and their foremen: the former were higher officials and probably Egyptians; the latter were lower officials (perhaps recordkeepers or clerks), chosen from the Israelites themselves. Cf. v. 14.
* [5:7] Straw was mixed with clay to give sun-dried bricks greater cohesion and durability.
* [5:10] Thus says Pharaoh: the standard formula for prophetic oracles, but with Pharaoh rather than the Lord as the subject. This heightens the sense of personal conflict between Pharaoh, who acts as if he were God, and the Lord, whose claims are spurned by Pharaoh.
* [5:15] Cried out to Pharaoh: the Hebrew verb translated “cry out” and its related noun are normally used of appeals to God by Moses (8:8; 14:15; 15:25; 17:4), the people (3:7, 9; 14:10), or an oppressed individual (22:22, 26). Here, by implication, these minor Israelite officials appeal to Pharaoh as if he were their God. See v. 10.