28th February, 1999

  How a hard heart hurts others
  Exodus 5:1-23

The social contract of our Government means that unemployed people have to work if they want to receive unemployment benefits. One reason for this is to end idleness and its consequent social problems. The people of Australia strongly approve of the "work for the dole" schemes. Wesley Mission's experience of supplying such work is that the people concerned grow in motivation, personal discipline and are easier to place in fully paid employment. The answer of governments is to make people work. Yet every revolution and uprising tells the story of a despotic Government who refuse to listen but order harder and longer work instead.

The first Governors of the colony at Sydney had that answer to any problem with the convicts. They gave them the lash and got them back to work! No need of extra rations. What starving men need to make them forget their hunger is more work and longer hours! Several generations of convicts and ticket-of-leave men who felt the lash, hated Australia for it's hard heart. At the heart of Australia lies Uluru. It is a dry, barren, monolith, symbolic of many hearts today - a hard heart in a hard country. Too many hearts are hardened and filled with selfishness and hate. When people have hard hearts they hurt others, then themselves.

Sydney journalist and friend of Wesley Mission, Alan Gill, recently published the well researched book "Orphans Of the Empire" This work documents the experiences of child migrants to Australia over 150 years of our history, especially those 30,000 who were sent to Australia during the fifty year period from the twenties to the late sixties. The TV program "The Leaving of Liverpool" follows the experiences of children, especially the boys who were sent to Bindoon in West Australia, where they toiled under Bro. Paul Keaney building massive stone and granite buildings. These child labourers lived under canvas, were paid no wages, were horribly treated and abused by some Roman Catholic Brothers, and who bear today the scars of such treatment.

Documentary films of the time, reveal conditions close to slavery. Scantily clad, barefoot, they hauled rocks, excavated a quarry, and built from flimsy scaffolding. Some died and many were injured. Some remain invalids to this day. Between 1947-65 21 children died in work orphanages in West Australia. No inquests were held into the deaths of the boys in Christian Brothers orphanages. As one boy said: "I was forced into slavery for not one penny and I got beatings for free." P307 Alan Gill has documented one of the most shameful episodes in Australian history, which we should soberly read and then repent.

The parallels with the slaves of Pharaoh in his building programs are obvious. God heard the cry of the slaves and told Moses to demand Pharaoh to "let My people go." When Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh, and asked him to release the Hebrew slaves, Pharaoh hardened his attitude towards the slaves. So God hardened his heart. What happened here?

Pharaoh needed his slaves and refused to let them go. Today the stone monuments of ancient Egypt: temples and tombs, statues and Sphinx, pyramids and obelisks, largely still stand. The cities, built of brick, have been largely destroyed. All these great works were built by slave labour. The clay used was the soil, mixed with stubble from the fields of corn, barley and millet. The bricks were dried in the sun. Then clay was used as mortar to bind them together. Sometimes the symbol of the Pharaoh was stamped onto the brick, thus enabling dating by archaeologists.

Pharaoh responds like every dictator: he demands that the people work just as hard creating the same output, but now they will have to go out and fetch the straw for the bricks as well: "Stop giving the people straw for making bricks. Make them go and find it for themselves. But still require them to make the same number of bricks as before, not one brick less. They haven't enough work to do, and that is why they keep asking me to let them go and offer sacrifices to their God! Make these men work harder and keep them busy, so that they won't have time to listen to a pack of lies." v6 - 9. The stories Charles Dickens told of English workhouses tell of such harsh orders by overseers. Jewish survivors of Hitler's Concentration Camps, and Christian survivors of Stalin's Siberian labour camps tell of Pharaoh's twentieth century counterparts who gave the same orders. "Make bricks without straw."

Various groups of people were enslaved in Egypt during this time, including Habiru, the people we know as the Hebrews. They built the royal cities in Goshen. They worked in the fields of the Nile delta. Beautiful wall paintings exist that show the Egyptian overseers making people work in the mines, orchards, vineyards, at fishing and brick making.

The foremen were Hebrews like the rest of the slaves. They had sold themselves to the Egyptians as overseers. They made the people work hard and meet their production for the sake of an easier life themselves. In every slave labour camp, some of the slaves, collaborate with the enemy for benefits in return for oppressing their own people. Frequently, they make worse oppressors than the masters, and become hated. They return the hatred with harsh discipline. Now it was their turn:

v14 - 19"The Egyptian slave-drivers beat the Israelite foremen, whom they had put in charge of the work. They demanded, "Why aren't you people making the same number of bricks as you made before?" Then the foremen went to the king and complained, "Why do you do this to us, your Majesty? We are given no straw, but we are still ordered to make bricks! And now we are being beaten. It is your people who are at fault. And the King answered, "You are lazy and do not want to work, and that is why you ask me to let you go and offer sacrifices to the Lord. Now, get back to work! You will not be given any straw, but you must still make the same number of bricks."

The foremen punished their own people to gain benefit for themselves. They got their just deserts. They sold their heritage and nationality for short-term benefit.

v4 - 5 "The King said to Moses and Aaron: "What do you mean by making the people neglect their work? Get those slaves back to work! You people have become more numerous than the Egyptians. And now you want to stop working!". How typical of despotic Governments who build a Berlin wall to keep the East Berliners in and hard at work, or an Iron Curtain that prevents Jewish dissidents from leaving the Soviet Union. You would think the Governments would be glad to get rid of them, but the despots refuse to let them go. They become dependent upon their supply of cheap labour and by oppression refuse to let people go free.

They want more bricks. If the people resist, let them cut the straw as well! Pharaoh already suffered from the hardening of the attitudes, now he was suffering from the hardening of the heart! That was the consequence. Fifteen times the Bible declares that after Pharaoh hardened his attitudes, God hardened his heart. The one was the natural consequence of the other. Later, the early Christians would say to each other: "If you hear God's voice today, harden not your hearts." Heb. 3:7


You make the choice - you live with the consequences. Harden your attitudes, and God will harden your heart. Hurt others and you will hurt yourself. As the Bible says: "Do not deceive yourselves; no-one makes a fool of God. Whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap". Gal. 6:8

And who are the people this world remembers? Not the hard hearted Pharaoh's whose names are still unknown, but those who open their hearts to humanity in care and compassion. Will the Dutch woman, Corrie Ten Boom be forgotten for making in her house a hiding place for persecuted Jews? Will Mother Theresa be forgotten, when she opened her heart to take to herself the poorest of the poor dying on the Streets of Calcutta?

People do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care. Melt your hard heart in God's love for others. God loves you regardless of what you have done. Jesus Christ loves you. That is all you need to know. Look to Him and be saved. Jesus loves you! In a world where so many people are hard hearted and rejecting, there is One who loves you, just the same. There is only One who loves like that, and Jesus is His name! Respond to the love of Jesus. It will make all the difference. Knowing His love, your heart will never harden towards others. The love of Jesus not only saves us but makes us more loving to others and therefore we have healthier lives.

Rev Dr Gordon Moyes

Send an e-mail to Gordon Moyes - gkmoyes@wesleymission.org.au

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