13 And the taskmasters hasted them, saying, Fulfil your works, your daily tasks, as when there was straw. 14 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?
We see in these verses what is now a well-known method for breaking a community. The taskmasters are made responsible by Pharaoh for the Israelites fulfilling his impossible command, the taskmasters in turn beat the Israelite officers when the people fall short, and the officers are motivated to turn against their own flock and punish them as well. By only punishing the first layer of the Israelite hierarchy, they hoped to have the punishments progressively dispersed to the entire nation. Like a bit in a horse’s mouth, the entire creature is made to turn by a minimal effort.
The question that the taskmasters gave to the Israelite officers shows a most heartless attitude. “Wherefore have ye not fulfilled your task?” As if they did not know! This was a question that didn’t want an answer. It was actually a statement. A statement that the taskmasters were not going to acknowledge the reality of the situation. They were going ignore the impossibility of the task, and any attempt to blame the requirements as unrealistic would not be considered acceptable. It was a message to the Israelites that they needn’t expect fairness or justice from Egypt.
But that was exactly what the Israelites sought for next, taking a petition to Pharaoh for the burdens to be lessened. Perhaps they did not understand the writing on the wall, or perhaps they saw no other recourse. In either case, we will hear of their plea to Pharaoh in tomorrow’s verses.