Exodus 5:6
And Pharaoh commanded the same day the taskmasters of the people, and their officers, saying,
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(6) Taskmasters . . . officers.—Three grades of officials are mentioned as employed in superintending the forced labours of the Hebrews—(1) “lords of service” (sarey massim), in Exodus 1:11; (2) “taskmasters” (nogeshim), here and in Exodus 5:10; Exodus 5:13-14; and (3) “officers”—literally, scribes (shoterim), here and in Exodus 5:11-21. The “lords of service” were probably a small body who exercised a general superintendence, and determined the works in which the Hebrews should be employed. They were, no doubt, native Egyptians. The nogeshim, or “taskmasters,” were their subordinates—Egyptians like themselves—comparatively numerous, and serving as intermediaries between the “lords” and the “officers.” These last were Hebrews, and engaged mainly in keeping the tale of the bricks, and seeing that the proper number was reached. Such an organisation is consonant with all that we know of the Egyptian governmental system, which was bureaucratic and complex, involving in every department the employment of several grades of officials.

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.Their officers - Or scribes. Hebrews able to keep accounts in writing, appointed by the Egyptian superintendents, and responsible to them for the work; see Exodus 5:14. Subordinate officers are frequently represented on Egyptian monuments, giving in written accounts to their immediate superiors. 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.

taskmasters—Egyptian overseers, appointed to exact labor of the Israelites.

officers—Hebrews placed over their brethren, under the taskmasters, precisely analogous to the Arab officers set over the Arab Fellahs, the poor laborers in modern Egypt.

The

task-masters were Egyptians, and the

officers were Israelites, under-officers to them, Exodus 5:14,15,19. And Pharaoh commanded the same day the taskmasters of the people,.... Who were Egyptians, and whom Pharaoh sent for the same day, to give them orders to oppress them yet more and more, so far was he from complying with their request:

and their officers; who were Israelites, and were under the taskmasters, and accountable to them for each man's work that they had the inspection and care of:

saying, as follows.

And Pharaoh commanded the same day the taskmasters of the people, and their {d} officers, saying,

(d) Who were of the Israelites, and had charge to see them do their work.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
6. the taskmasters] i.e. as in Exodus 3:7, the Egyptian superintendents of the labour-gangs (LXX., as there, ἐργοδιωκταί): so vv. 10, 13, 14.

officers] Heb. shôṭerim: here of minor officials appointed (see v. 14) by the Egyptian superintendents (the ‘taskmasters’) from among the Israelites themselves, and acting as the immediate overseers of the labour-gangs. If the word were really felt to mean writers (LXX. γραμματεῖς, ‘scribes’: cf. the footnote), they no doubt also kept lists of the workmen, and accounts of the work done. Elsewhere, as Numbers 11:16 Deuteronomy 1:15 (see the writer’s note there), Exodus 16:18, Exodus 20:5, the term is used of various minor judicial and military officials. The ‘taskmasters’ dealt directly, not with the labourers, but with these shôṭerim1[108].

[108] The proper meaning of shôṭerim is uncertain, the root not occurring in Heb. It may be writers (i.e. registrars), cf. the Ass. shaṭâru, to write; or it may be, from what is seemingly the primary sense of the root in Arabic, to range in order (cf. Arab. saṭara, to rule (a book), saṭr, a row), arrangers, organizers (cf. mishṭâr, Job 38:33, ‘ordered arrangement,’ ‘rule’).

6–9. The Pharaoh commands the Egyptian ‘taskmasters’ (whom he must be supposed—see v. 10—to have summoned to his presence) to increase the tasks imposed upon the Israelites: they are to find their straw themselves, and yet to make the same number of bricks. Bricks in Egypt (which in the earlier periods were much larger than our bricks, generally about 15 × 7 × 4½ in.) were made (on Exodus 1:14) from the mud of the Nile, mixed usually with chopped straw or reed, to give it coherence and prevent cracks while drying, and then dried in the sun (EB. i. 609; cf. L. and B. i. 165). These bricks remained black. Burnt red brick was first introduced into Egypt by the Romans.Verses 6-9. - Rulers are not always content simply to refuse inconvenient demands. Sometimes they set to work with much ingenuity and worldly wisdom to prevent their repetition. This is especially the case where they entertain a fear of their petitioners. The Spartans removed Helots, who had earned their freedom, by the Crypteia. The massacre of St. Bartholomew was caused by the Huguenot demand for freedom of worship and the difficulty of repressing it. The Pharaoh now is not content to let things take their course, but devises a plan by which he hopes to crush altogether the aspirations of the Hebrew people, and secure himself against the recurrence of any such appeal as that which had been made to him by Moses and Aaron. The Israelites had recently been employed chiefly in brickmaking. They had had to dig the clay and temper it, to mix it with straw, and mould it into the form of bricks; but the straw had been supplied to them. The king determined that this should be no longer done; the Israelites should find the straw for themselves. It has been estimated that by this change their labour was "more than doubled." (Canon Cook.) It was a not unreasonable expectation that under this system popular meetings would cease (ver. 9); and that Moses and Aaron, not being backed up by the voice of the people, would discontinue their agitation. Verse 6. - The same day. Pharaoh lost no time. Having conceived his idea, he issued his order at once-on the very day of the interview with the two leaders. It would be well if the children of light were as "wise" and as energetic on all occasions as the children of darkness. Taskmasters and officers. The word translated "taskmaster" here is not the same as the expression similarly rendered in Exodus 1:11; and it is thought not to designate the same class. The sarey massim of the former passage are thought to be general superintendents of works, few in number and of high rank, the nogeshim of the present place to be subordinates, numerous and inferior in position. Both of these classes were probably Egyptians. The "officers" (shoterim) were undoubtedly Hebrews. They were especially employed in keeping the tale of the bricks, and seeing that they reached the proper amount. Literally, the word shoterim means "scribes," and is so rendered in most passages. After the removal of the sin, which had excited the threatening wrath of Jehovah, Moses once more received a token of the divine favour in the arrival of Aaron, under the direction of God, to meet him at the Mount of God (Exodus 3:1). To Aaron he related all the words of Jehovah, with which He had sent (commissioned) him (שׁלח with a double accusative, as in 2 Samuel 11:22; Jeremiah 42:5), and all the signs which He had commanded him (צוּה also with a double accusative, as in Genesis 6:22). Another proof of the favour of God consisted of the believing reception of his mission on the part of the elders and the people of Israel. "The people believed" (ויּאמן) when Aaron communicated to them the words of Jehovah to Moses, and did the signs in their presence. "And when they heard that Jehovah had visited the children of Israel, and had looked upon their affliction, they bowed and worshipped." (Knobel is wrong in proposing to alter ישׁמעוּ into ישׂמחוּ, according to the Sept. rendering, καὶ ἐχάρη). The faith of the people, and the worship by which their faith was expressed, proved that the promise of the fathers still lived in their hearts. And although this faith did not stand the subsequent test (Exodus 5), yet, as the first expression of their feelings, it bore witness to the fact that Israel was willing to follow the call of God.
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