The Bondage of Busyness

Opening Prayer

Withdraw to a quiet place to pray before reading on.

Read Exodus 5:1–21

Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness.’”

2 Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.”

3 Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Now let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God, or he may strike us with plagues or with the sword.”

4 But the king of Egypt said, “Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their labor? Get back to your work!” 5 Then Pharaoh said, “Look, the people of the land are now numerous, and you are stopping them from working.”

6 That same day Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and overseers in charge of the people: 7 “You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. 8 But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ 9 Make the work harder for the people so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies.”

10 Then the slave drivers and the overseers went out and said to the people, “This is what Pharaoh says: ‘I will not give you any more straw. 11 Go and get your own straw wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced at all.’” 12 So the people scattered all over Egypt to gather stubble to use for straw. 13 The slave drivers kept pressing them, saying, “Complete the work required of you for each day, just as when you had straw.” 14 And Pharaoh’s slave drivers beat the Israelite overseers they had appointed, demanding, “Why haven’t you met your quota of bricks yesterday or today, as before?”

15 Then the Israelite overseers went and appealed to Pharaoh: “Why have you treated your servants this way? 16 Your servants are given no straw, yet we are told, ‘Make bricks!’ Your servants are being beaten, but the fault is with your own people.”

17 Pharaoh said, “Lazy, that’s what you are—lazy! That is why you keep saying, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ 18 Now get to work. You will not be given any straw, yet you must produce your full quota of bricks.”

19 The Israelite overseers realized they were in trouble when they were told, “You are not to reduce the number of bricks required of you for each day.” 20 When they left Pharaoh, they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them, 21 and they said, “May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

Reflect

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). Could people say this about your life?

Observing that the Israelites were “numerous” (5), Pharaoh recognized both an opportunity and a threat: on the one hand, cheap labor for construction (1:11); on the other, the danger of an uprising (1:10).
Pharaoh was both shrewd and merciless. Not content with a travel ban (2), he nips in the bud any lofty thoughts of freedom. His strategy is masterful in its simplicity: keep the Israelites too busy to think!
“Work” (or “working”) occurs seven times in today’s passage; “quota” occurs three times. Pharaoh refuses to release the Israelites for worship on the pretext that this would keep them from their work (4); he instructs his officials to make the work tougher, keeping the people working longer hours, ostensibly so that they have no time to listen to “lies” (9b), but really, to keep them from the truth that would liberate them.
His strategy works! Oppressed and over-burdened, the Israelites lose sight of God’s covenant promises. They ignore God’s message of hope and berate the messenger (21).

Apply

Is Satan keeping you so busy that you seem to have no time to listen to God’s eternal truths? Are you in bondage to busyness?

Closing prayer

Father, speak to me now. Show me which tasks You have given me and which I have placed on myself. Set Your priorities in my life.

Syndicated via Scripture Union. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Terry Schneider