15 Then the officers of the children of Israel came and cried unto Pharaoh, saying, Wherefore dealest thou thus with thy servants?
16 There is no straw given unto thy servants, and they say to us, Make brick: and, behold, thy servants are beaten; but the fault is in thine own people.
17 But he said, Ye are idle, ye are idle: therefore ye say, Let us go and do sacrifice to the Lord.
18 Go therefore now, and work; for there shall no straw be given you, yet shall ye deliver the tale of bricks.
19 And the officers of the children of Israel did see that they were in evil case, after it was said, Ye shall not minish ought from your bricks of your daily task.
The Israelites had complained about the impossibility of the task that had been set upon them, but they received no sympathy from their taskmasters. So they raised their complaint even higher, to Pharaoh himself, only to have him reinforce the words of their persecutors! The Israelites had no friends in Egypt, no one that would stand up to this injustice, because it was originating from the highest power in the land! The Israelites now understood the magnitude of their plight, signified by the phrase “the officers of the children of Israel did see that they were in evil case.”
Pharaoh did give them an explanation for the punishment, though. He insisted that the people must be idle because Moses and Aaron had suggested that they had time to go and make sacrifices to the Lord. As far as we know, this is the first that the Israelites understood what the reason for their new affliction was, and Pharaoh is clearly trying to direct their anger towards the two prophets.
But this answer from Pharaoh also revealed what incredible disregard he had for the people of Israel. Notice, he made no criticism of their productivity heretofore, his words imply that regardless of whether their labor is sufficient or not, he simply doesn’t want them to have time to do anything except slave labor. He just wants them to be his slaves and nothing else! Pharaoh’s statement also shows that he has absolutely no regard for their religious customs and beliefs. Religious worship is one of the most integral parts of a people. It binds the community together and it gives the individual his purpose. Pharaoh denying the people their spiritual duties is blasphemous, supplanting God with himself and his own demands. Thus, blasphemy and a crime against humanity. Two more sins that Egypt will have to account for.
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.
14 But think on me when it shall be well with thee, and shew kindness, I pray thee, unto me, and make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house:
15 For indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews: and here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon.
Joseph had just interpreted the dream of the chief butler, and by it he learned that the man was about to be in the good graces of the most powerful man in all the land. Thus far we have not heard one word of his grief for being sold into slavery and cast into prison, but here at last we see him pleading for help. Joseph attests that he has been doubly wronged, put twice in bondage. He was stolen from his native land and now imprisoned under false charges.
Of course, there is many the guilty perpetrator who will feign innocence, persistently maintaining that “you’ve got the wrong guy,” even when they have been caught red-handed. But it just so happened that in Joseph’s case he really was “the wrong guy.” The life he was living was not in harmony with who he really was. His conscience was clear and free, but his body imprisoned. This was genuine injustice, and he pled with the chief butler to help him out of it.