Sermon on Exodus 5:1-23 – “Bricks Without Straw”

Sermon for Sunday, February 21st, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Psa 14:1-7 ESV] 1 To the choirmaster. Of David. The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good. 2 The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. 3 They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. 4 Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread and do not call upon the LORD? 5 There they are in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous. 6 You would shame the plans of the poor, but the LORD is his refuge. 7 Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

New Testament reading:

[Rom 1:18-23 ESV] 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Gospel reading:

[Mat 11:25-30 ESV] 25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Sermon Text:
[Exo 5:1-23 ESV] 1 Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.'” 2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” 3 Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” 4 But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work? Get back to your burdens.” 5 And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest from their burdens!” 6 The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, 7 “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. 8 But the number of bricks that they made in the past you shall impose on them, you shall by no means reduce it, for they are idle. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ 9 Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.” 10 So the taskmasters and the foremen of the people went out and said to the people, “Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I will not give you straw. 11 Go and get your straw yourselves wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced in the least.'” 12 So the people were scattered throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw. 13 The taskmasters were urgent, saying, “Complete your work, your daily task each day, as when there was straw.” 14 And the foremen of the people of Israel, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten and were asked, “Why have you not done all your task of making bricks today and yesterday, as in the past?” 15 Then the foremen of the people of Israel came and cried to Pharaoh, “Why do you treat your servants like this? 16 No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are beaten; but the fault is in your own people.” 17 But he said, “You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the LORD.’ 18 Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks.” 19 The foremen of the people of Israel saw that they were in trouble when they said, “You shall by no means reduce your number of bricks, your daily task each day.” 20 They met Moses and Aaron, who were waiting for them, as they came out from Pharaoh; 21 and they said to them, “The LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.” 22 Then Moses turned to the LORD and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? 23 For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”

 

INTRODUCTION

Last week we saw Moses meet with Jethro, and then meet twice with God, and then meet with Aaron, before finally meeting with the Israelites in Egypt.

Now he meets, for the first time, with Pharaoh, king of Egypt.

He had success with the Israelites. After meeting with Moses and Aaron, they believed the Lord and worshipped Him.

Success with Pharaoh won’t be so quick or direct. But yet the Lord is working out His will in His own time. And while Pharaoh will not here listen nor let the people go, the Lord has His reasons for this struggle.

The Lord will show his power over Pharaoh, using compulsion where persuasion did not take hold.

My carpenter and I have employed these terms for some of the tools we use. If an old rusty nail won’t come out with the persuasion of a hammer, we might upgrade to the compulsion of the crow bar.

The Lord will in time compel Pharaoh to let His people go. But in Exodus Chapter 5 there is first the attempt of Moses to persuade Pharaoh.

I. Pharaoh Denies God

Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.'” But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.”

Pharaoh has denied God.

We know that this is foolish. The fool says in his heart “there is no God.” And “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has show it to them.”

Pharaoh is not listening, but God will make Himself unmistakably known in the coming judgment on Pharaoh and Egypt through plagues.

It is interesting that here Moses actually tells of his concern for the Israelites. He says to Pharaoh “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God, lest he fall upon US with pestilence or with the sword.”

If WE don’t listen to God, He will fall upon US. And it is not far from there to think “this can happen also you to.” If God could fall upon the Israelites, He could fall upon the Egyptians!

This is a warning that Pharaoh chooses not to obey.

II. Pharaoh Demands Bricks Without Straw

Pharaoh’s response is not to believe like the Israelites have believed. His response is not to give them the requested holiday at all. But his response is to add to their burdens.

He says they are to continue to make bricks, but will now have to gather their own straw.

It is important to understand that brick is a composite material. It is clay and straw. The straw adds stability to the brick similar to our we today put rebar in concrete. So you can pour concrete with rebar or make a brick without straw, but it won’t hold up as well.

Brick-making is dirty work. And brick-making is hard work. And it is the job that never ends for the Israelites.

When Pharaoh takes away the straw, its not because there is a shortage of straw.

There is no number of bricks that would satisfy Pharaoh, because bricks is not his goal. Pharaoh goals is to keep the Israelites occupied and oppressed so that they don’t revolt. That was the strategy of one of the previous Pharaoh’s anyways, as we saw in chapter 1 of Exodus.

Pharaoh said “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and if war breaks out, they join our enemies, and fight against us and escape from the land.”

“And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field.”

The attempt of Moses and Aaron to free the people, if only for a three-day sojourn, has the opposite effect – they are now even more enslaved and forced to work harder, finding their own straw for the brick.

What had been a difficult task has now become almost an impossible one.

And Moses and Aaron must feel terrible. You’ve probably experienced something like this – you’re whole goal is to help someone out, and to make them happy. But for some reason or another your plan, your hopes, fail. And you’ve made it worse!

You cook someone a meal only to find out you’ve made food they are allergic to.

Or you give someone directions and later realize you’ve sent them entirely the wrong way.

Well the Israelites are not only NOT out of Egypt, but now they are more oppressed. Good job Moses! 🙂

And so the people say to Moses and Aaron:

“The LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

Moses’s hopes and plans are not coming through. And he’s even got the people upset at him.

Does this happen to you? Plans don’t always go to plan. I must say this happens more often than not.

And perhaps hardest of all is that Moses knows that he is following through with the Lord’s commands. Yes, I should expect things to go poorly when they are MY plans. But these are God’s plans!

And when we follow God and things don’t go as we expect, we may especially feel downtrodden.

What then are we to do? Pharaoh denies God. The people complain to Moses, but Moses turns to the Lord.

III. Moses Turns to the Lord

Moses says: “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”

YET. Moses should have said, or realized, “You have not delivered your people … yet.”

Deliverance will come, in God’s timing.

The commentators Keil and Delitzch write, “The question and complaint [of Moses] proceeded from faith, which flies to God when it cannot understand the dealings of God, to point out to Him how incomprehensible are His ways, to appeal to Him to help in the time of need, and to remove what seems opposed to His nature and His will.” – KD, p. 466

And we’ve seen this frequently in our Bible study on the book of Psalms – it is good and right to cry out to the Lord with questions. He does not want us to grumble behind His back (as if that were possible), but to bring our concerns to Him.

APPLICATION: Bring YOUR concerns to God.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus says:

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

How do we do this? How do we bring our concerns to God.

Primarily through prayer. Bring your concerns to God in prayer. At every moment. Not just Sundays or at meals, but at all times.

Also we bring our concerns to God in trusting in Him. Letting that weight come off your shoulders. That weight of worry that is doing nothing beneficial, only stressing you out. Trust the Lord.

[Pro 3:5-6 ESV] 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

Trust in the Lord and his timing.

What would it look like if we did this?

I think of a hiker we had over last summer. He came in by car, not having hiked this section, but skipping over some trail from High Point where he was picked up. And he came in very late, disturbing whatever else I was doing. Other hikers were over and we found a spot for him too.

I might have been a little bothered by the situation. But I should have considered the Lord’s plans in this.

The Lord is bringing this hiker to us for a reason, and we might not know what it is.

The right response then is to to “The Lord has brought you here for a reason.” I’ve even used that as an evangelistic tool. “The Lord has brought you here for a reason … and here is why – the gospel.”

During a semester break in seminary I had to teach some Bible studies. And I had taken a contract job in Grand Rapids, MI and didn’t have a place to teach at. So I inquired at a few churches. And it was at one right near where I was living — an Evangelical Presbyterian Church — where the pastor said “The Lord has brought you here for a reason, I don’t know what it is. But we’re going to let you teach.” With oversight of course. His statement struck me then, and strikes me now.

The Lord has his reasons.

Burdens came upon the Israelites, and they weren’t able to discern why. But it was all in God’s plan. He was hardening the heart of Pharaoh to show His power and his judgment; that God would lead the people out of Egypt over and against Pharaoh, the king of the most powerful nation on the Earth.

That power is minuscule, it is nothing compared to God’s power.

Let us trust in the Lord, and in his power for what is happening and what will happen in our lives.

And what a relief that would be. Speak to the Lord in prayer. Cast your cares upon Him. Bring your concerns to him. Trust in the Lord and He will guide your paths.

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