“Do not supply the people with any more straw for making bricks. Let them get it themselves! But don’t reduce their production quotas by a single brick. They obviously don’t have enough to do. If they did, they wouldn’t be talking about going into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to their God.” — Exodus 5:7-8
Nelson Mandela, in his book, Long Walk to Freedom, wrote about his years as a prisoner on Robben Island, South Africa. Each morning the prisoners were marched into the courtyard wearing light shirts and shorts–no underwear or socks–were they were required to hammer boulders the size of volleyballs into gravel. The first week they were ordered to fill a giant skid half full. The second week it had to be three quarters full, and the third week they were ordered to fill the skid completely. The task finally became impossible. They were driven intentionally to the breaking point. But instead of breaking the prisoners decided to stage a go-slow strike. Despite the dire threats from the wardens, the strike continued until the wardens were forced to relent.
Pharaoh’s prisoners, the Israelites, were pushed to the breaking point, too. They were required to produce a quota of bricks each day. Raw materials, including chopped straw, were provided. Then Moses and Aaron appeared before Pharaoh and said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, for they must go out into the wilderness to hold a religious festival in my honor’” (Exodus 5:1). Pharaoh responded to their request by saying that he did not know the God of Israel and could see no reason why the people should stop working in order to worship him! To show his displeasure, Pharaoh ordered, “Do not supply the people any more with straw for making bricks. Let them get it themselves! But don’t reduce their quota by a single brick” (5:7-8). Pharaoh’s prisoners, however, dared not stage a go-slow strike. Unlike the South African prisoners, the Hebrews were as likely to be killed as to be kicked. So their sufferings simply increased. If they complained, they were whipped into submission.
The Israelites blamed Moses and Aaron for adding to their pain: “May the Lord judge you for getting us into this terrible situation” (5:21). But Moses knew that he and Aaron were obeying God’s orders, so he complained to God: “Why have you mistreated your own people like this, Lord? Why did you send me?” (5:22). On the surface, everybody’s complaints seemed quite reasonable. Yet behind the scenes, God was at work. He was setting the stage for Pharaoh to learn a major lesson about God’s sovereign lordship! It was not going to be easy; a lot of people were going to get hurt.
In the struggle between good and evil, it often seems that evil is winning and that good people are bearing the brunt of the struggle unjustly. But remember, Mandela was eventually released and became president of South Africa, and the children of Israel were free and headed for the Promised Land. The Pharaoh who ordered brick made without straw turned out to be a man of straw himself.
No matter how hard the struggle, we can be confident that, in the end, God wins. We also know that we are “more than conquerors through Him who loves us” (Romans 8:37).