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.