In Exodus 5:11, Pharaoh tells Moses that the Israelites will now have to gather their own straw to make bricks.

So who was gathering the straw before? In other words, whose time was worth less than a Israelite slave that they would gather straw?


Allow me to expand on my original question: I’m surprised at the posters who blithely gave superficial and obvious answers (third parties, the government, other people) without considering the implications of what they were saying.

To me, this passage gives us an opportunity to explore the nature of the “slavery” of the Hebrews. If we assume Pharaoh, through his taskmasters and overseers, has to power to make the Hebrews do as he wished, one has to ask why weren’t the Hebrews already gathering the straw, doing what must have been a very menial task -- something that even children could do? Even if the fields and brickmaking locations were separated, why couldn’t the Hebrews be in both places? They were already travelling from Goshen. There must have been no shortage of labor, considering how “numerous” they were (Ex 5:5).

When I suggest that someone’s time was worth less than the Hebrews, I’m asking if Pharaoh has all this free labor, why not use if for all the building tasks (gathering materials, making bricks, and actual building)? Perhaps there is an economic component to this question. Could it be that there was some compensation to be considered (some sort of payment, perhaps food for work), and that the cost of using the Hebrews was too high? Was there a particular brickmaking skill that the Hebrews possessed that made it impractical for them to “waste their time” gathering straw? Or were there other groups that could be exploited more easily than the Hebrews?

I think this passage opens a small window into the social structure (hierarchy, order) of Egypt at that time, and exploring it further increases our ability to understand the meaning of the text.

  • Ron your question seems to have a lot of potential. It is just not phrased so clearly that is why i guess some downvoted. Consider expanding a bit and elaborating a bit more in your post.
    – bach
    Apr 19, 2019 at 2:41
  • 1
    Even without the edit I understood what you getting at. I’ve actually wondered the exact same thing myself. Apr 21, 2019 at 18:10

2 Answers 2


The Egyptians provided them the straw. It could be other slaves that brought it. It doesn't mean their time was worth less than the Hebrew slaves' time. They just had a different job.


In the contextual verses, it is Pharaoh who said :

I will not give you straw.

The government of Egypt was supplying, through a third party, one of the raw materials necessary for brick production. Then, the government ceased supply.

The Israelites had to find it where they could. And since they had no supplier, they were forced to gather stubble, the residue from straw that had already been gathered, for other purposes than Israelite brick production.

It is supposition to suggest that the straw was originally gathered by someone whose time was worth less than that of the Israelites.

  • Yes, but why pay (in whatever form) for the straw when there is presumably free labor to gather it?
    – Ron Trunk
    Apr 19, 2019 at 2:25
  • Not at all. Pharaoh forces the Hebrews to make bricks, so Pharaoh certainly has the power. But that the Hebrews don't gather the raw materials suggests that it's "not worth" (to Pharaoh) having the Hebrews do it in the first place. And no more a supposition than there are "contractors."
    – Ron Trunk
    Apr 19, 2019 at 2:34
  • My point is the third party must have been more practical or economical than Hebrew slaves for Pharaoh to originally use them. To me, that implies that whatever the social order was in Egypt, someone was below the Hebrews
    – Ron Trunk
    Apr 19, 2019 at 2:50
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    @RonTrunk Hermeneutics is about the disciplined examination of the text of scripture. This is supposition and conjecture.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 19, 2019 at 4:31
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    @RonTrunk, The situation isn't so simple as "whose time is worth what amount." For practical reasons of efficiency, the bricks need to be made near the place where they're used for building. And the straw is only to be found in the fields where it's grown. If the building is taking place miles & miles away from the fields, then the straw must be transported to the brickyard... and that takes time and people. If it's the brickmakers doing the transporting then brickmaking slows down and the project falls behind schedule. This is exactly what happened in Ex. 5:10-16 when the straw supply ended.
    – JDM-GBG
    Apr 19, 2019 at 22:24

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