Beside refusing to dismiss the children of Israel, he ordered, on the very day of Moses and Aaron's audience with him, that the people be required to deliver the prescribed tale of bricks, though the taskmasters were not as heretofore to give them straw to make brick. Another decree was, that the children of Israel were not to be permitted to rest on the Sabbath, for Pharaoh knew that they used the leisure for reading the rolls that described their redemption. All this was a part of God's plan, the oppression of Israel was to be increased the closer the end approached. As they wandered up and down the land of Egypt gathering the straw they needed for the due tale of bricks, they were maltreated by the Egyptians if they caught them on their fields. Such unkind acts perpetrated by the whole people made it impossible for them to cast the entire blame for the bondage of Israel upon Pharaoh. All the Egyptians showed cruelty to the Israelites on their straw foraging expeditions, and therefore the Divine punishment descended upon all alike.
This frightful time of Israel's extreme suffering lasted six months. Meantime Moses went to Midian, leaving Aaron alone in Egypt. When Moses returned at the end of the reign of terror, two of the Israelitish officers accosted him and Aaron, and heaped abuse upon them for having increased the woes of their people rather than diminished them. They spake, saying, "If ye are truly the ambassadors of God, then may He judge between us and Pharaoh. But if you are seeking to bring about the redemption of Israel on your own account, then may God judge between you and Israel. You are responsible for the widespread stench now issuing from the Israelitish corpses used as bricks for building when our tale was not complete. The Egyptians had but a faint suspicion that we were waiting for our redemption. It is your fault if they are fully conscious of it now. We are in the quandary of the poor sheep that has been dragged away by a wolf. The shepherd pursues the robber, catches up with him, and tries to snatch the sheep from his jaws, and the wretched victim, pulled this way by the wolf and that way by the shepherd, is torn to pieces. Thus Israel fares between you and Pharaoh."
The two officers that spake these stinging words were Dathan and Abiram, and it was neither the first nor the last time they inflicted an injury upon Moses. The other Israelitish officers were gentle and kind; they permitted themselves to be beaten by the taskmasters rather than prod the laborers of their own people put under their surveillance.
The cruel suffering to which his people was exposed caused Moses to speak to God thus: "I have read the book of Genesis through, and I found the doom in it pronounced upon the generation of the deluge. It was a just judgment. I found also the punishments decreed against the generation of the confusion of tongues, and against the inhabitants of Sodom. These, too, were just. But what hath this nation of Israel done unto Thee, that it is oppressed more than any other nation in history? Is it because Abraham said, 'Whereby shall I know that I shall inherit the land?' and Thou didst rebuke him for his small faith, saying, 'Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs'? Why, then, are not the descendants of Esau and Ishmael held in bondage, too? Are they not likewise of the seed of Abraham? But if Thou wilt say, 'What concern is it of mine?' then I ask Thee, Why didst Thou send me hither as Thy messenger? Thy great, exalted, and terrible Name is feared in all the earth, yet Pharaoh heard me pronounce it, and he refuses obedience. I know Thou wilt redeem Israel in Thine own good time, and it is of little moment to Thee that now they are immuring living Israelites in these buildings."
Were He a God of justice only, the Lord would have slain Moses for the audacity of his last words, but in view of his having spoken as he had only out of compassion with Israel, the Lord dealt graciously with him. He answered Moses, saying, "Thou shalt see what I will do to Pharaoh," words conveying to Moses, that although he would be witness to the chastisement of Pharaoh, he would not be present at that of the thirty-one kings of Canaan. Thus he was rebuked for the unbecoming language he had used in addressing God. At the same time God's words were a rejoinder to another speech by Moses. He had said: "O Lord of the world, I know well that Thou wilt bring Thy children forth from Egypt. O that Thou wouldst make use of another instrument, for I am not worthy of being the redeemer of Thy children." God made answer thereto: "Yes, Moses, thou art worthy thereof. Through thee My children will be brought forth out of Egypt. Thou shalt see what I will do to Pharaoh."
At the same time God called him to account for having so little faith. He said: "O for the departed, their like cannot be found any more! I appeared unto Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as El Shaddai, God Almighty, but I was not known to them by My name Adonai, God All-Merciful, as I appeared unto thee. Nevertheless they did not cast aspersions upon My acts. I spake to Abraham, 'Unto thee will I give the land,' but when he was about to bury Sarah, he had to pay out silver and buy a resting-place for her body; and yet he did not find fault with Me. I spake to Isaac, 'Unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these lands,' but when he desired water to drink, he had to strive with the herdsmen of Gerar; and yet he did not find fault with Me. I spake to Jacob, 'The land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed,' but when he wanted to spread his tent, he had to acquire a parcel of ground for an hundred pieces of money; and yet he did not find fault with Me. None of them asked to know My Name. But thou didst demand to know it at the very first, when I desired to send thee down into Egypt, and after I revealed it to thee, thou didst speak, saying, 'Thou didst tell me that Thou art called Compassionate and Gracious, Longsuffering and Merciful, but as soon as I pronounced this Name before Pharaoh, misfortune descended upon the people of Israel.' Now I desire to fulfil My covenant with the three Patriarchs, and give their posterity the promised land, as a reward for the unquestioning faith of the Fathers, and also as a reward to the people, who, in spite of their suffering, did not find fault with My deeds. For this will I give them the land, which they do not deserve to possess for other reasons. I swear that I will do thus!" God pronounced this oath, to banish all fear from the mind of Moses, that He might act only in accordance with His attribute of justice, and thus delay the redemption of Israel for a time, on account of the sins of the people.
Now the redemption of Israel was a settled fact. But before Moses and Aaron could start on the work of delivering their people, God called various points to their attention, which He bade them consider in their undertaking. He spake to them, saying: "My children are perverse, passionate, and troublesome. You must be prepared to stand their abuse, to the length of being pelted with stones by them. I send you to Pharaoh, and although I will punish him according to his deserts, yet you must not fail in the respect due to him as a ruler. Furthermore, be careful to take the elders of the people into your counsel, and let your first step toward redemption be to make the people give up the worship of idols."
The last was a most difficult task, and the words of God concerning it wrung the exclamation from Moses: "See, the children of Israel will not hearken unto me. How, then, should Pharaoh hearken unto me?" It was the third time Moses declined to go on the errand of God. Now the Divine patience was exhausted, and Moses was subjected to punishment. At first God had revealed Himself only to Moses, and the original intention had been that he alone was to perform all the miracles, but henceforth the word of God was addressed to Aaron as well, and he was given a share in doing the wonders.