Passover passed without my revisiting The Ten Commandments, but by chance, I came upon an great insight regarding Pharaoh today. We all know what the Bible says about him, the Israelites, and brick making:
And Pharaoh said, Behold, the people of the land now are many, and ye make them rest from their burdens.
And Pharaoh commanded the same day the taskmasters of the people, and their officers, saying,
Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick, as heretofore: let them go and gather straw for themselves.
And the tale of the bricks, which they did make heretofore, ye shall lay upon them; ye shall not diminish ought thereof: for they be idle; therefore they cry, saying, Let us go and sacrifice to our God.
Let there more work be laid upon the men, that they may labour therein; and let them not regard vain words.
And the taskmasters of the people went out, and their officers, and they spake to the people, saying, Thus saith Pharaoh, I will not give you straw.
Go ye, get you straw where ye can find it: yet not ought of your work shall be diminished.
So the people were scattered abroad throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble instead of straw.
Yes, in response to the demand from Moses to free the Israelites, Pharaoh doubles down on the captive workforce, and insists that they make their quota of mud bricks, and that they gather the straw to mix into them on their own. More work for the same pay, i.e. no pay, of course! Pharaoh was a mean, nasty, evil taskmaster. So I thought until I read Robert Burton’s passage in The Anatomy of Melancholy:
When the children of Israel murmured against Pharaoh in Egypt, he commanded his officers to double their task and let them get straw themselves and yet make their full number of bricks, for the sole cause why they mutiny and are evil at ease is, “They are idle.” When you shall hear and see so many discontented persons in all places where you come, so many several grievances, unnecessary complaints, fears, suspicions, the best means to redress it is to set them awork so to busy their minds, for the truth is, they are idle.
Gosh darn, it’s worthy of Machiavelli! Whom I also happen to be reading… He was simply managing his workforce in the most efficient manner available at that time. Motivational is what I would call his strategy.