Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
And afterward Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness.Exodus 5:1
Compare these sentences from Mrs. H. B. Stowe's appeal to the women of England in 1862: 'The writer of this has been present at a solemn religious festival in the national capital, given at the home of a portion of those fugitive slaves who have fled to our lines for protection—who, under the shadow of our flag, find sympathy and succour. The national day of thanksgiving was there kept by over a thousand redeemed slaves, and for whom Christian charity had spread an ample repast. Our sisters, we wish you could have witnessed the scene. We wish you could have heard the prayer of the blind old , called among his fellows John the Baptist, when in touching broken English he poured forth his thanksgiving. We wish you could have heard the sound of that strange rhythmical chant which is now forbidden to be sung on Southern plantations—the psalm of this modern Exodus—which combines the barbaric fire of the Marseillaise with the religious fervour of the old Hebrew prophet:—
Oh, go down, Moses,
Way down into Egypt's land 1
Tell King Pharaoh
To let my people go!
Stand away dere,
Stand away dere,
And let my people go 1
In his Letters (pp. 42-43) Dr. John Ker observes that 'the whole history of this time seems to me one of the most remarkable since the Exodus—the freeing of as many captives, and the leading a larger nation, white and black, and a whole continent that is to be, out into a higher life—for think what would have become of America had this plague-spot spread! It is the more remarkable that, though there was an Egypt, and slaves and a Red Sea, there was no Moses nor Aaron, for honest Abraham Lincoln will stand neither for prophet nor for priest. There was only God, and the rod in His own hand—the Northern people, sometimes a serpent, sometimes a piece of wood, used for the most part unconsciously, as one can see. But God is very manifest, and it gives one great comfort to see moral order still working, and a governor among the nations.'
'He had come,' says Maurice, 'to regard himself as the Lord, his will as the will which all things were to obey.... He had lost the sense of a righteous government and order in the world; he had come to believe in tricks and lies; he had come to think men were the mere creatures of natural agencies.'
Note (as Wilkie tells us always to do) the hands in Charles I.'s portrait—a complete revelation of the man: the one clutching almost convulsively his baton in affectation of power; the other poor hand hanging weak and helpless.
References.—V. 14-19.—L. M. Watt, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxviii. 1905, p. 349.
Moses talks of sacrifice, Pharaoh talks of work. Anything seems due work to a carnal mind, saving God's service; nothing superfluous but religious duties.
Mistaken Views of Religion
That was Pharaoh's rough-and-ready and foolish estimate of religious aspiration and service. In this matter Pharaoh lives today. There are many people who cannot understand the utility of religion, they think religious people are always going to church, and no good comes of it. We must put up with these things; we have to bear many reproaches, and this we may well add to the number without really increasing the weight or the keenness of the injustice.
Sometimes great men are mistaken, and sometimes they are unwise, and at no time do they really comprehend, if they be outside of it themselves, the true religious instinct and the true meaning of deep religious worship, ceremony, and service. The spiritual has always had to contend with the material; the praying man has always been an obnoxious problem to the man who never prays.
I. This opens up the whole subject of work and its meaning, spiritual worship and its signification, heart-sacrifice and its story in red reeking blood. Who is the worker—the architect or the bricklayer? I never hear of the architects meeting in council for the purpose of limiting their hours or increasing their bank holidays. The bricklayer is the worker; so it seems; in a certain aspect he is the worker; but how could he move without the architect? The architect cannot do without the builder any more than the builder can do without the architect; they are workers together; and this is the true idea of society, each man having his own talent, making his own contribution, working under his own individual sense of responsibility, and all men catching the spirit of comradeship and of union and cooperation, united in the uprearing of a great cathedral, a poem in wood and stone, a house of the living God.
II. Insincere religion is idle. People who go to church when they do not want to go—that is idleness, and that idleness will soon sour and deepen into blasphemy. Going because I suppose we shall be expected to go—that is idleness and weariness.
III. Let us not care what Pharaoh says, but examine our own hearts. The name typified by Pharaoh has given me an opportunity of cross-examining myself, and I will say, Pharaoh, thou thinkest I am idle, and therefore I want to be religious; I wonder if Pharaoh is right; he is a very astute man, he has great councillors about him, he has a great country to administer, and there is a light in those eyes sometimes that suggests that he can see a long way into a motive. I never thought this would come to pass, that Pharaoh would say to me that I am an idle hound, because I want to go and serve the Lord. Is Pharaoh right? It is lawful to learn from the enemy, and if Pharaoh has fixed his eye upon the blemish in my life, if he does see the hollowness of my heart, well, I will think over what the king says. We may learn some things from heathenism. But if I can, by the grace of God, assure myself that by the Holy Spirit I am really sincere in wanting to go to this sermon, this sacrament, this prayer; if I know through and through, really, that I do want to go and serve God, the gates of hell shall not prevail against me.
—Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. III. p. 142.
Is it not the height of vanity, the height of selfishness to demand affection? How can any one say, 'I am a great and noble creature: come and worship me, pour yourself out before me: I deserve it all'. Surely, looked at in that way, it seems the height of blasphemy to demand it. And is it not the highest pitch of selfishness to require that a perpetual stream of the same intensity should be continued whatever occupations may distract you, whatever new interests may fill your mind—still the most subtle, the most evanescent, the most inscrutable outcome of the human soul is to be exacted from you as by a rigorous taskmaster: you must make your tale of bricks with or without straw, it matters little.
—Dr. Mandell Creighton, Life and Letters, vol. 1. p. 117.
Describing in The Soul (part 2) the vain effort after self-amendment made by sensitive hearts, F. W. Newman observes: 'The conscience taxes them with a thousand sins before unsuspected. The evil thus gets worse; the worshipper is less and less able to look boldly up into the Pure, All-seeing Eye: and he perhaps keeps working at his heart to infuse spiritual affections by some direct process under the guidance of the will. It cannot be done. He quickens his conscience thus, but he does not strengthen his soul; hence he is perpetually undertaking tasks beyond his strength,—making bricks without straw; a very Egyptian slavery.'
Reference.—VI. 1.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv. No. 1440.
And Pharaoh said, Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the LORD, neither will I let Israel go.
And they said, The God of the Hebrews hath met with us: let us go, we pray thee, three days' journey into the desert, and sacrifice unto the LORD our God; lest he fall upon us with pestilence, or with the sword.
And the king of Egypt said unto them, Wherefore do ye, Moses and Aaron, let the people from their works? get you unto your burdens.
And Pharaoh said, Behold, the people of the land now are many, and ye make them rest from their burdens.
And Pharaoh commanded the same day the taskmasters of the people, and their officers, saying,
Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick, as heretofore: let them go and gather straw for themselves.
And the tale of the bricks, which they did make heretofore, ye shall lay upon them; ye shall not diminish ought thereof: for they be idle; therefore they cry, saying, Let us go and sacrifice to our God.
Let there more work be laid upon the men, that they may labour therein; and let them not regard vain words.
And the taskmasters of the people went out, and their officers, and they spake to the people, saying, Thus saith Pharaoh, I will not give you straw.
Go ye, get you straw where ye can find it: yet not ought of your work shall be diminished.
So the people were scattered abroad throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble instead of straw.
And the taskmasters hasted them, saying, Fulfil your works, your daily tasks, as when there was straw.
And the officers of the children of Israel, which Pharaoh's taskmasters had set over them, were beaten, and demanded, Wherefore have ye not fulfilled your task in making brick both yesterday and to day, as heretofore?
Then the officers of the children of Israel came and cried unto Pharaoh, saying, Wherefore dealest thou thus with thy servants?
There is no straw given unto thy servants, and they say to us, Make brick: and, behold, thy servants are beaten; but the fault is in thine own people.
But he said, Ye are idle, ye are idle: therefore ye say, Let us go and do sacrifice to the LORD.
Go therefore now, and work; for there shall no straw be given you, yet shall ye deliver the tale of bricks.
And the officers of the children of Israel did see that they were in evil case, after it was said, Ye shall not minish ought from your bricks of your daily task.
And they met Moses and Aaron, who stood in the way, as they came forth from Pharaoh:
And they said unto them, The LORD look upon you, and judge; because ye have made our savour to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to slay us.
And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Lord, wherefore hast thou so evil entreated this people? why is it that thou hast sent me?
For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in thy name, he hath done evil to this people; neither hast thou delivered thy people at all.