The bondage of busyness

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A report on Jesus’ busy schedule includes this comment: ‘But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed’ (Luke 5:16). Would a report on your life merit a similar observation? ‘Withdraw’ to pray before reading on.

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Bible passage Exodus 5:1-21

Exodus 5

Bricks Without Straw
 1 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 desert.' "

 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 desert 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 foremen 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 men so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies."

 10 Then the slave drivers and the foremen 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 The Israelite foremen appointed by Pharaoh's slave drivers were beaten and were asked, "Why didn't you meet your quota of bricks yesterday or today, as before?"

 15 Then the Israelite foremen 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 foremen 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 upon you and judge you! You have made us a stench to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us."

New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Audio Bible passage

The audio version of the passage is taken from the Contemporary English Version (CEV).

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The "business" plan
Observing that the Israelites were ‘numerous’ (v 5), Pharaoh recognised both an opportunity and a threat. On the one hand, cheap labour 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 (v 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 wins...
‘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 (v 4); he instructs his officials to make the work tougher, keeping the people working longer hours, ostensibly so they have no time to listen to ‘lies’ (v 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 (v 21).


Is Satan successfully employing this strategy in your life – keeping you so busy with the important business of work, career, family, or even church, that you seem to have no time or energy to listen to or live out God’s eternal truths? Are you in bondage to busyness?

Tanya Ferdinandusz

Deeper Bible study

So! With the elders’ backing, Moses and Aaron went and made their request. As they had told the elders ‘everything the Lord had said to Moses’ (Exodus 4:30), everyone must have realised they would be turned down the first time. What they didn’t realise was that Pharaoh would not just turn it down but make the Israelite labourers’ situation many times worse. They were certainly not expecting that! Having to supply their own straw for the brick-making without any lessening of the quota of bricks expected was an impossible task – and not helped by the accompanying increase in the violent treatment to which they were subjected. One can empathise with their position. ‘You told us God would deliver us, you went and upset Pharoah; the dreadful position we are in now is all your fault.’ It is easy to assume that if we act in good faith and do what we are convinced is God’s will then the problem situation will automatically work out in a timely way we can clearly see as beneficial; one thing that these events teaches us is that God does not always act in the way we want or expect.

Of course the situation had been dreadful and was now even worse. It is very clear that treating any employees justly and kindly is an important principle and the Egyptians’ behaviour here was completely unacceptable, not only from a human point of view but also to God. So why was this happening? Moses must have got it wrong. One wonders, however, whether the Israelites, as much as Pharaoh, needed to be persuaded that leaving Egypt really was the right thing for them. Maybe the worsening of their situation was the only way that the people as a whole would be persuaded to move on.

Mary Evans

Bible background: Who was this Pharaoh?

The significance of Pharaoh
The term Pharaoh was used of Egypt’s ruler, also known as ‘King of Upper and Lower Egypt’. From the 19th dynasty onwards the simple term is constantly used in documents, just as in Genesis and Exodus. The term was often used without specifying the name of the ruler. The Pharaoh personified the rule of the gods over Egypt.

The date of the Exodus
This question is difficult and controversial. Those who place weight on a literal interpretation of numbers given in 1 Kings 6:1 and elsewhere believe the Exodus took place in the fifteenth century bc. They usually see the Pharaoh who began Israel’s oppression (Exodus 1:8) as Thutmose III (c1450–1425 bc) and Amenhotep II (who succeeded him on his death; see Exodus 2:23) as the Pharaoh of the Exodus.

Those who for various strong reasons see the Exodus as taking place in the thirteenth century see the oppression as beginning in the 18th dynasty, and continuing into the 19th, the Pharaoh of the Exodus being Ramses II.1 Those who have seen his imposing statue in the British Museum or the images which dominate so many of the ruins of ancient Egypt will understand that this Pharaoh in particular personifies human pride.

1 On the site and significance of Pi-Ramesse (see Exodus 1:11), see Alan Millard, ‘The store-city of Pharoah Ramesses II’, Treasures from Bible Times, Lion, 1985, pp77–79

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Exodus 35,36

Psalm 19


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  • Rachael Hampton | Friday, 10 February 2017

    It's great when we follow what we believe to be God's leading and doors open and the red carpet is laid out so to speak. But it doesn't always happen that way. The house doesn't sell, the new business doesn't take off, persecution follows the move etc. I pray for all in that situation today, especially in our WL family. May you have courage and strength to persevere in trusting God, knowing that He has good plans for you, and that if we take a wrong turn He will get us back on track.

  • Rachael Hampton | Friday, 10 February 2017

    Praying for you DAVID and DOROTHY. Oh RUTH , there you go again, showing me how to live out James 1, rejoicing in trials and living in trust. Thank you. You are so young. Saying good bye to the work you love is a big one. You have a prognosis that would scare the daylights out of many people but you are even able to be excited about what new things God has in store for you, and rejoice in others' happy, funfilled lives. I love the definition of discipline as tenderly teaching or nurturing as we grow. Maybe there is no greater lesson to learn than how much He loves you - and each of us. May God bless the idea of a support group in your village and draw people to Himself through your care for others with cancer, and through your transparent faith. Blessings all.

  • Hugh Skeil | Saturday, 11 February 2017

    Good applicatiin of this story, Tanya. Indeed Satan loves to make us too busy to listen or trust.

  • Adam Julians | Saturday, 11 February 2017

    Rachael I think we all naturally love the idea of discipline being pain free and about being "tender and nurturing as we grow." Is that always the case? Today we read of oppression with Pharaoh demanding more work for the same quota of bricks and when the foremen appealed to him, calling them lazy. This in response to Moses request to go to the desert to offer sacrifices to the Lord. I like the way WL put busyness as a bondage. It seems does it not that there can be a certain honour in being "busy", even in ministry. I know it's common for Christian leaders to experience burnout. It can be a struggle in the context we are in to be first aware to have love for ourselves and let ourselves be loved and second to love others by being good stewards of out time an serving out of the fullness we have in Christ, not out of some sense servility that leads to exhaustion. I have found that compassion sometimes has its working out with saying no and even pushing back. Sometimes people don't understand or care.There is nothing new under the sun. We see the Exodus narrative as a metaphor for the "bondage of busyness". May we all find release from this oppression and plunder riches from it as God turns negatives to positives.Today I go on a Christian meditation retreat. So this talk of Jesus withdrawing is timely for me. May you all have a restful day this weekend and be ready to take on the world at the start of the week.

  • Dee Melia | Saturday, 11 February 2017


  • Dee Melia | Saturday, 11 February 2017

    BARBARA, LUKE, Brian try this link Not a confident commenter on the WL family but very blessed and encouraged by reading the discussions. I wonder if this link might help understand the question "why would God want to Kill Moses"

  • Gilvin Crisifeca | Saturday, 11 February 2017

    Satan has been successfully employed using me as fodder to his own ends on here again recently and I apologise unreservedly for my part

  • Angela Munday | Saturday, 11 February 2017

    The world, like Pharoah, expects us to be 'busy' and is putting more and more pressure on its workforce to perform well. To withdraw into the presence of God is wholesome for each of us every day; from there we can go out to do His will. God is always with those who live His way. We all need time apart for God and ourselves; we will then be ready to serve others with 'tenderness', understanding and love........Thankyou God for the teaching from You in all Scripture. Amen.

  • Adam Julians | Saturday, 11 February 2017

    Gilvin. I would say I accept your apology but I fear that in doing so you would try to make me out as flattering myself. I find it helpful a while ago when I shared of difficulty with pain that you talked of armour and also recently when you talked of using God's armour when facing a situation plus the experience of being in the Air Force showed me. When you made the comment "wise in your own eyes" it hurt. And it showed me that I needed to use that same advise and support you gave me towards you. I can't change anyone else but I can change myself and respectfully I will be prepared to be stronger more guarded with you and you should be prepared for that.

  • Angela Munday | Saturday, 11 February 2017

    GILVIN - Why do you think this?

  • Thelma Edwards | Saturday, 11 February 2017

    I have been reflecting recently on how often we can interpret/explain words, situations, actions, subjectively coloured by our own current or past experiences. I know some call this our 'frame of reference'. As I wake up and I look out onto a dusting of light snow this morning, being thankful for my central heating and hot drink, I think/pray for my son and family in Sydney who are coming to the end of an extremely hot day and who express feeling jealous of my snow and frost. How we respond to whatever the day has brought/will bring will, possibly without even realising it, be influenced by this frame of reference. I believe this could be true too of the recent discussion on the word 'discipline' and why there have been different opinions expressed. When I looked up the word in an online dictionary it gave me 7 different meanings ranging from training, punishment, to ecclesiastical practice. We know that words can lose their original meaning over time too, and Bible translations differ too, so this adds to our need to seek the Lord on how to apply it to our own situation and within our own frame of reference. I can remember my father's discipline when, as a teenager, I was late home and he was sitting at the kitchen table waiting for me and out of love and concern for me reacted by hitting me when I tried to justify my breaking of his rule. He later apologised, realising what he had done, but this experience could have coloured my view of my Heavenly Father's discipline and the words 'being painful at the time'. Practising the piano required discipline - was it made any easier feeling the wrap on the knuckles with a ruler from my teacher when I made a mistake? "Spare the rod and spoil the child" was a common mindset in my childhood which could have led to my interpretation of the word discipline being focussed on fear and punishment. However, when I discovered the word 'disciple', all became clear. I wanted to be a disciple of Jesus and accepted I would need training and that this would be in love and because of Love. Whether I am a Soldier of Christ requiring training in the spiritual gifts/tools of spiritual warfare, or a teacher requiring the habit of study in order to teach from my overflow, or a mother nurturing and bringing up two sons, or a friend 'alongsiding' in time of need, I seek to have a teachable spirit and to learn from the Lord out of His strong love that always wants the best for me according to His plans and purposes for my life. These 55 years of being discipled have made me what I am today and the process still continues day by day. I'm not finished yet. There are still cracks in this earthen pot but I pray they will allow the light of Christ to shine through.

  • Gilvin Crisifeca | Saturday, 11 February 2017

    ANGELA it goes back to Thursday with the gentle reminder from Word Live Admin team

  • Derek Forster | Saturday, 11 February 2017

    All the way my Savior leads me; Cheers each winding path I tread, Gives me grace for ev’ry trial, Feeds me with the living bread; Tho’ my weary steps may falter, and my soul athirst may be, Gushing from the Rock before me, Lo! a spring of joy I see; Gushing from the Rock before me, Lo! a spring of joy I see;

  • Mike Langtree | Saturday, 11 February 2017

    Thanks Dee. That's a very helpful explanation of the circumcision incident. Just shows how we need to be careful about trusting one particular version of the Bible. I love WL with the all the resources and comments that go with it. Thanks to all of you.

  • Ruth Chisholm | Saturday, 11 February 2017

    The last paragraph of deeper study, is so exactly my recent experience, it took further hardship for me to take the step of finishing work. The physical pain hurt loads, was this God disciplining me? (we might have to agree to disagree here) He is with us in all things, as we try to keep our eyes on him, God reveals how it can be used for our good. God has taught me so much through my illness, who am I to question his ways? GILVIN I too looked up the definition of discipline, it is that our hardships are punishment for disobeying the rules, I can't sign up to. God's rules? “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” We all fall short, It is by grace that I am saved not anything I can earn, Thank you Jesus that you have already took my punishment.

  • Ruth Chisholm | Saturday, 11 February 2017

    RACHAEL thank you for your encouragement. Posting can add to my feeling of vulnerability, which I am discovering is actually ok as it leads to the intimacy which God desires with him and within his kingdom, for His glory, to build one another up. I also enjoyed returning to James 1, particularly v17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

  • Adam Julians | Saturday, 11 February 2017

    Ruth, with treating all hardship as God's discipline what I understand scripture can be doing is directing thoughts to God rather than whatever particular source of the hardship is. Thereby there being hope in enduring it leading to peace and righteousness whereas otherewise there might not be that hope, but perhaps dispair, desire for revenge etc. It's a difficult one but what one of us does not know the pain of being disciplined by parents? So it may be that hardship might be God disciplining directly or the sense that he is with us through whatever hardship we face. For example I don't imaging God willed it and directly was the cause of the hardship I went through with being called lazy, careless and complacent growing up at a time when dyslexia wasn't considered in school. But by enduring that having happened and it being diagnosed in recent years a burden was lifted and I thought "ah now I see why" which was accompanied with a deep peace. I've heard it said that the difficult thing about trials is that the test comes first, and the lesson comes afterwards. I hope that helps.

  • David Chipchase | Saturday, 11 February 2017

    DOROTHY and everyone else who is struggling, I am trying to recalibrate my faith. I was rereading some of my journal entries from the last month or so and I came across these. Hab 3; 17&18. "Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour." and from Howard Peskett; "In the face of whatever trials I may have to face or may be already facing, I will learn again and again to look through and beyond my trials and struggles and anxieties, praying a prayer of affirmation: ‘I will trust and not be afraid … you Lord are my strength, my song, my salvation’. They have helped me; may they help you.

  • Angela Munday | Saturday, 11 February 2017

    GILVIN - "May the LORD bless you and take care of you; May the LORD be kind and gracious to you; May the LORD look on you with favour and give you peace". Amen. (Numbers 6:24-26) You are one of God's 'beautiful' people and a sister in Christ to me.

  • Gilvin Crisifeca | Saturday, 11 February 2017

    ANGELA My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour as I read your heartfelt blessing over me. Thank you in His mighty magnificent name, Amen

  • Lynda Spencer | Saturday, 11 February 2017

    Thank you so much, DEE. I found the article really helpful. Thank you, WL team one and all for your varied and helpful insights into each passage we read. I am particularly challenged today by the reminders that we can be too busy (even in God's work) to hear and obey God's voice. Also, that obedience may not have the immediate effects we would hope for. I have just recently learned a new worship song that has been a real blessing as I contemplate these things.

  • Roger Hall | Saturday, 11 February 2017

    The Church long ago set out 7 weeks for us to get ready for Easter. There's more and that's the Sundays before lent, which I believe is for us to get ready for lent! As a matter of fact, I don't usually follow people's thoughts - what am I going to give up for K Lent? Nothing! There's been a lot of talk about doing 40 good turn every day of lent, that's 1600 good turns! My argument is that there's no point in my doing this daily if possible, then afterwards, going back to my usual curmudgeonly self! Let's do the good deeds ALL the time, not just for lent.

  • Oakley Bookworm | Saturday, 11 February 2017

    GILVIN, your humble and contrite response to WORDLIVE'S gentle warning is a mark of the Spirit within you. Whether your apology is accepted or not is immaterial. You've offered it and are now right with God. However, you have twice become embroiled within a week or so. No judgement here, I too, have been knee-deep in the same quagmire. Having clambered out, I realised that sometimes, not reading, acknowledging or replying to certain posts is better than keep falling into the same swamp. Every blessing, Oakley

  • Adam Julians | Sunday, 12 February 2017

    Thelma - thank you for sharing. I hear what you say about "frame of reference". When I was studying my masters in Biblical Interpretation there as something similar taught. That we all have preconceptions and assumptions which inevitably when me with other ideas leads to discomfort but it being how our horizons are expanded. When it comes to God's discipline I hear what you say about being a disciple and your "frame of reference" for this could have been fear or pain with the experience of your father or piano lessons. A lot of my experience of discipline come from being in the Royal Air Force and afterwards in training as an athlete to compete in rowing. So the former to be fit to engage in battle and the latter to be physically fit to win the race. And this did involve pain and fear. Facing fear taking courage and physical pain as muscles build strength. So we are different but something that is the same for all of us is what we will encounter with God. When scripture talks of treating hardship as discipline ad God treating us as children with all discipline being painful, there is no escaping that. So for it to be thought of as pain free is to cherry pick from scripture and ignore parts of it that are uncomfortable. I'm not going to do that. Rather I am going to consider weigh scripture up and see how it meets with reality. The encouragement, comfort and strengthening to be had from enduring discipline resulting in peace which the bible talks of.and knowing that few great things in life come without hard work is both a comfort and a reality check for the Christian. God provides for for the ravens but the ravens have to go out and get it. He doesn't put it in the nest for them!

  • Adam Julians | Sunday, 12 February 2017

    Oakley - so are you planning on draining the swamp here? (Light hearted comment with reference to a certain recent elected president). If you have to explain a joke does it make the joke not funny? Oh boy - trying to communicate humour in a comment - I'm confused how to do that!!

  • Gilvin Crisifeca | Sunday, 12 February 2017

    Thanks OAKLEY. WL's gentle warning would have been to us both as it takes two to tango so my apology was to WL Admin and all the readers who had to suffer our back and forth comments. I will take your wise advice for the future.

  • Roger Hall | Sunday, 12 February 2017

    I am finding something deeply strange coming from some posters on this site. The example of your humble apology, Gilvin, spoke to me of the Servant Christ. Thank you. We cannot change people or things, we have to rely on Jesus alone. May God bless all those who use this site, and guide us in the way of peace.

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