Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Plague on the Firstborn (Exodus 11-12)

The following quote is taken from

"God Kills all the First Born of Egypt - "And at midnight the LORD killed all the firstborn sons in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn son of the captive in the dungeon. Even the firstborn of their livestock were killed.  Pharaoh and his officials and all the people of Egypt woke up during the night, and loud wailing was heard throughout the land of Egypt. There was not a single house where someone had not died."  (Exodus 12:29-30 NLT)

This passage is part of the much larger story of the Israelites' Exodus from Egypt.  You can read the full story here:

            There are a few things that we need to consider when reading this passage.  First, Pharaoh had been given multiple warnings by God through Moses, commanding him to let the Israelites go free, but Pharaoh would not listen or obey, even after nine plagues had afflicted Egypt (Exodus 7:13, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7).  Egypt had held the Israelites in slavery for 400 years (Genesis 15:13), and these plagues were a judgment on Pharaoh and the Egyptians for their cruelty and oppression of the Israelites (Exodus 1:8-14, 5:1-21).
            Also, a generation earlier, Pharaoh had commanded the murder of thousands of Israelite baby boys (Exodus 1:15-22).  One of the purposes of the plague on the firstborn Egyptian males was as punishment for the murder of the Israelite baby boys.  A common question in response is: Why did the first born males of Egypt have to die when it was Pharaoh who gave the earlier command to kill the Israelite males?  The answer is that the Egyptian people participated in the murder of the Israelite babies (Exodus 1:22).  They did not object to the command or disobey it, as the Israelite midwives had done earlier when they had been given the same command (Exodus 1:15-21).  Because they did this, they would in turn know the pain of the death of their sons.
            It should be noted that God's judgment on Egypt could have been much worse.  As punishment for their sins, he could have wiped out the entire nation with a single plague, but he chose not to do so (Exodus 9:15-16).  God is willing to show mercy to anyone who is willing to repent and have faith in him.  After the ten plagues on Egypt, when the Israelites fled into the desert to worship God, some Egyptians left their life in Egypt and went with them (Exodus 12:38).
            Something else significant here is that the plague of the death of the firstborn would finally, definitively show Egypt who the one true God is.  The death of Pharaoh's firstborn son in God's final plague on Egypt would have flown in the face of the Egyptian belief that Pharaoh was a god [1].  It conclusively demonstrated that the idols that Egypt worshipped had no power against the only true, living God.  "This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth" (Exodus 9:14, NIV; see also Exodus 12:12).
            Finally, the Passover foreshadowed a future event - the death of Jesus, the Lamb of God, on the cross as atonement for the sins of the world (John 1:29).  When the Israelites slaughtered a lamb and placed it's blood on their doorframes to avert the angel of death from killing the firstborn males within, God was illustrating what he was going to do much later - send his Son into the world, who was without sin, to bleed and die for all those who would place their faith in him.  Faith in Jesus' sacrifice on the cross saves us from God's wrath (1 Corinthians 5:7).

[1] Footnote on, for Exodus 11:5.