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.