20 And they met Moses and Aaron, who stood in the way, as they came forth from Pharaoh:
21 And they said unto them, The Lord look upon you, and judge; because ye have made our savour to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to slay us.
22 And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said, Lord, wherefore hast thou so evil entreated this people? why is it that thou hast sent me?
23 For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in thy name, he hath done evil to this people; neither hast thou delivered thy people at all.
Now begins a pattern that we will see many times over. The Israelites would suffer some setback, they complained to Moses, and Moses entreated the Lord. Most commonly during these complaints the Israelites would desire to return to things as they previously were, and that is also the case here. In verse 21 the Israelites’ complaint was that they were no longer valued slaves of the Pharaoh. They had lost their savor to their cruel taskmasters. What a strange thing to want to go back to!
Obviously, there is a little more to it than that. They made clear that they were afraid of “the sword,” meaning afraid that the Egyptians would slay them now. But still, when they had prayed and prayed for the Lord to deliver them, did they not fathom how His doing so would incense the Egyptians against them? Did they not realize that they would necessarily make enemies by gaining their freedom? So yes, it makes sense to be afraid for one’s life, but if they would rather have enslavement than the dangers of freedom, why pray for the freedom?
Perhaps because they did not expect the Lord to save them this way. Perhaps they expected the Lord to send heavenly angels to slay all their enemies for them and make their departure smooth and easy. Certainly, many of us do the same in our own lives. We pray for God to just magically evaporate all of our problems at no cost to ourselves. But as we’ve already seen in the Biblical record already, and as we will continue to see many times throughout it, that doesn’t tend to be how God solves problems. God gives us what we need, but He does so through a process, through dangerous and difficult means. He most often makes us an active part in our gradual deliverance. If we want the worthy reward at the end, we have to be prepared to take the difficult path that leads us there.
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.
11 And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac; and Isaac dwelt by the well Lahai-roi.
12 Now these are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s handmaid, bare unto Abraham:
13 And these are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, according to their generations: the firstborn of Ishmael, Nebajoth; and Kedar, and Adbeel, and Mibsam,
14 And Mishma, and Dumah, and Massa,
15 Hadar, and Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah:
16 These are the sons of Ishmael, and these are their names, by their towns, and by their castles; twelve princes according to their nations.
17 And these are the years of the life of Ishmael, an hundred and thirty and seven years: and he gave up the ghost and died; and was gathered unto his people.
Before we dive into the story of Isaac we have this summation of Ishmael, his life, and his family. Ishmael became a father to twelve sons, twelve princes who had towns and castles, powerful men in their own right. It is an interesting parallel that Ishmael’s legacy expands with twelve sons and Isaac’s legacy will be defined by twelve grandsons.
Of course, Ishmael’s line would eventually become the Islamic people, who have had a long and complicated relationship with the Israelites. But all of that drama would come later. For the duration of the Bible the Israelites competed more with the descendants of Lot (Moabites and Ammonites), Esau (Edomites), and Keturah (Midianites) than they did with the descendants of Ishmael.
So, this is where we take our leave of Ishmael and the nation that came from him. From here on out our focus is solely on Isaac and his posterity.