Exodus 5: Egyptian Bondage
Primary and Junior
Moses was away from his people and from Egypt forty years. The hard lot that we read of in Exod. 1:6-14 grew no better.
Among other tasks they made brick, and built for Pharaoh the store-cities Pithom and Rameses, near the land of Goshen, where they lived, on the eastern border of Egypt. The people were suffering under his bondage when Moses came to them, and when he spoke of their going out of Egypt their tasks were made still harder for them, for Pharaoh said that Moses let (hindered) the people from their work.
The bricks used in Egypt are not burned hard like ours. They are molded out of the soft Nile mud, and are dried in the hot sun. The houses of the poor people are built of such bricks, and they last longer than you would think, partly because there is seldom any rain. Bricks were made in the same way in the days of Moses. There are pictures of that time and earlier, which show people mixing the mud, and moulding bricks, and laying them out in the sun to dry. The taskmasters stand by with sticks to hurry the workers on. Chopped straw from the grain fields was used in the old time, and is still used today, being mixed with the mud to strengthen the bricks. In the old ruins we find bricks made in the days when the children of Israel were in Egypt. In the walls of the store-chambers at Pithom, some of them two or three yards in thickness, there are some bricks carefully made with straw, others with pieces of reeds, and some with no fibre at all. How these old bricks and the old pictures take us back to the bondage in Egypt when Pharaoh commanded that the people should not be given straw, or chaff (A. 7127, 7131), but should find for themselves stubble in the fields! And still they must make the full tale (the count, the number) of bricks!
It is believed that Rameses II., who left statues and records of himself in every part of Egypt, was the Pharaoh who made the bondage hard for the children of Israel, and that the son of Rameses, Menepath II., was ruling when Moses came back from Midian. (Exod. 2:23)
Rameses had been fond of the delta country, as we know by his buildings there; and it seems that his son lived much of the time at Zoan, by the eastern mouth of the Nile, and near to the land of Goshen. There are only ruins there today, in an expanse of dust and marsh, but the ruins and history both tell us that Zoan was a very old town. It was built seven years after Hebron, the old town of Canaan. (Num. 13:22) It was old before Joseph came to Egypt, and was perhaps his home. A Psalm speaks of the signs and wonders done by the hand of Moses and Aaron, as wrought "in the field of Zoan." (Ps. 78:12, 43)
Moses and Aaron first came to the elders of their own people, and they were glad and thankful. (Exod. 4:29-31) But Pharaoh refused to let them go. They only asked at first that the people might go a three days' journey into the wilderness to hold a feast to their God, but Pharaoh knew that they would never come back to serve the Egyptians. It would mean that they were choosing to serve the Lord instead of Pharaoh. If he could, he would make them forget their God and their promised land.
1. Contrast Israel's happy days in Egypt with the days of bondage. Who was their leader in the happy days? Who came to lead them out of bondage?
2. What was their occupation in the happy days? In the days of bondage?
3. What did Moses ask of Pharaoh? What was his answer?
4. How were the tasks of Israel made harder after Moses came?
What is spiritual bondage, the bondage of which we all have some experience? The Lord says to us all, "I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." (Exod. 20:2) The Lord Himself explained it at another time when He said, "Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin." (John 8:33-34) We know how a bad habit gains a hold upon us, until if we let it do so, it makes us its slave. This is spiritual bondage, from which only the Lord can set us free. (A. 892, 905)
We have thought of bondage in general; now remember the meaning of Egypt, and then you can put the two thoughts together and see the meaning of bondage in Egypt. Egypt stands for a natural state, a state of worldly interests and pleasures and of natural knowledge. The happy life in Egypt in the days of Joseph is like children’s innocent enjoyment of the world about them, when they ask a thousand eager questions about the things they see, and store their minds with knowledge from the world and from the letter of the Word. But suppose, as they grow older, they do not rise above these things, but let their care for natural learning, for bodily strength and pleasures, for riches, take possession of them and become their master, then the happy life in Egypt has become a bondage from which they need deliverance. (A. 1461, 5316, 6666)
How does Moses come to us to set us free? Our Moses is the Divine law, the Lord's commandments and all His Word, which if we learn them and obey them, have power to break the strength of habit, to hold back evil spirits, and to take away the desire to do wrong. The children of Israel were glad and grateful when they heard the offer of deliverance, though their hearts failed them many times before it was accomplished. So our better self is made glad by the promise of deliverance, and does not at first see all the trials that it will cost. The Pharaoh in us is the lower, natural self with its power of natural knowledge, which refuses, and resists, and tries to keep control. (A. 6651, 7089)
Moses was not to ask at first for leave for the people to go to the promised land, but only to go three days' journey to worship God in the wilderness. We cannot see the end of our journey from the beginning, but only a little at a time; and the Pharaoh in us cannot understand at all the heaven to which it leads. The first step is to choose the Lord and His service. If this choice is made in earnest and adhered to, all the rest will follow - the remainder of the journey and heaven. This first step, represented by going three days' journey to worship God, is the essential thing, and it is just this which the Pharaoh in us will not consent to. (A. 7092-7095)
Stones used for building represent sure facts on which we may safely rest our reasoning and our plans of life. Bricks, which are made by human beings, represent things not true, which an evil mind devises to justify and carry out its evil ends. Such falsities are represented by the bricks of Babel and of Egypt. (A. 1296, 7113) The straws in the bricks are some small amount of truth, or partial truth, or appearance of truth, perhaps from the letter of the Word, which is mixed with falsehood to give it acceptance. But when an evil motive is desperate, it disregards even the appearance of truth in its falsehoods; it makes bricks without straw. (A. 7112, 7127)