bricks without straw

not having the proper materials or methods to accomplish something
—Understanding a new language without learning its idioms is like making bricks without straw.

Obeying God’s command from the burning bush, Moses returned to his people in Egypt, but by that time a new pharaoh had taken the throne. Before telling him about his plan to lead the Israelites to Canaan, Moses requested that they be allowed to make a trip outside of Egypt to offer sacrifices to God. But the pharaoh refused and instead punished the Israelites by stopping their supply of straw, a necessary ingredient in their method of brick making. He told those in charge of the slaves,

You must no longer give straw to the people for making bricks as before. Let them go and collect straw for themselves. But you must require of them the same quota of bricks that they were making before. Do not reduce it, for they are slackers. That is why they are crying, “Let us go sacrifice to our God.” Make the work harder for the men so they will keep at it and pay no attention to lying words! (Exodus 5:7-9)

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