4 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. 5 And Pharaoh said, Behold, the people of the land now are many, and ye make them rest from their burdens. 6 And Pharaoh commanded the same day the taskmasters of the people, and their officers, saying, 7 Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick, as heretofore: let them go and gather straw for themselves. 8 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. 9 Let there more work be laid upon the men, that they may labour therein; and let them not regard vain words.
Pharaoh’s second response was much more vicious than the first. In verse 4 he shows great indignation, essentially questioning what right Moses and Aaron had to even be here and he attempted to emphatically put them back in their place as mere slaves: “get you unto your burdens!”
But Pharaoh didn’t stop there. He called them idle, accusing them of having an excess of time since they were requesting to use that time to make sacrifices to their God. Thus, he took their labor of making bricks and significantly increased its difficulty. Straw was an essential ingredient for creating bricks, serving as the lattice that held the clay together, enabling it to hold it’s shape as it dried into a brick. Making bricks without straw simply wasn’t an option, so the Israelites would have to take the time to get it themselves.
Pharaoh’s words in verse 9 seem to be directed more to the general Israelite populace than to Moses and Aaron: “let them not regard vain words.” Clearly, he is trying to get the slaves to renounce Moses and Aaron as their representatives. He wants the Israelites themselves to censure the voices that would seek their freedom. If the Pharaoh had been able to get what he wanted from the people, it would have shown that they were absolutely demoralized, biting the very hand that offered them freedom, and thus becoming their own chains. And is this indeed how the Israelites responded? We will soon find out.