Friday, May 15, 2009

Exodus Plagues Part 4: Holy Massacre of the Firstborns

God is in the process of liberating the Israelites, but He has some judgement to attend to first. We now come to the fourth and final study of the Exodus Plagues. In Part 1, we saw God prove that He was almighty by (eventually) making plagues which could not be copied by the Egyptian magicians. In Part 2, we watched God kill all of the Egyptian livestock, afflict innocent animals with festering boils, and then kill some of the Egyptian livestock again. In Part 3, we learned that, through these plagues, God wants to portray himself as almighty and willing to bend justice and torture nations for the sake of making a name for Himself.

Welcome to the concluding study of God's prideful smiting of the Egyptians through the plagues of the Exodus.

Exodus Plagues Part 4: Holy Massacre of the Firstborns
Naturally, the final part of our study picks up right where Part 3 left off, covering Exodus 11 and 12. The appeals for Pharaoh to let the Israelites go worship are over, and it's time for the final blow to liberate the Israelites. But before we dive in, let's take just a moment to examine what God's original Plan was.

If you take a moment to read through Exodus 3:16-22, you'll find some rather interesting material; interesting in the sense that God's original Plan didn't match up with what was carried out. In verse 18, you'll see how it was supposed to be Moses and the Israelite elders confronting Pharaoh as opposed to just Moses and Aaron. In verses 19 and 20, you'll see that God knew that the Pharaoh would not let the Israelites go unless a “mighty hand” influenced him to do so, and so God will strike the Egyptians to make that happen. However, what we've seen so far is that God is using His mighty hand to prevent the Pharaoh from letting the Israelites go, and doing so to be justified in punishing the Egyptians!

Stepping back to Exodus 4:21-23, you'll see that Moses was only supposed to perform the signs that God had just given him in Exodus 4:1-9 (staff to snake, skin disease, and water to blood) in front of the Pharaoh, then God was going to harden the Pharaoh's heart, and then God was going to kill the Pharaoh's firstborn son. But as we've seen, Moses (actually Aaron) performed the staff to snake sign, the skin disease sign was dropped altogether, the water to blood sign was turned into a full scale plague, and eight more plagues were added before the Pharaoh's son would be killed.

By the time you get to Exodus 7:1-5, you realize that the story was clearly evolving in the process of telling it. It's as though God, or the author, was getting more and more excited about the possibility of thrashing the Egyptians. By the time that the ninth plague rolled around, God knew that simply killing the Pharaoh's son alone would be anticlimactic. God needed to expand the scope to be on par with the other plagues...

The Tenth Plague - The Plague on the Firstborns (Exodus 11-12): Presumably before Moses left the Pharaoh's presence after the plague of darkness, Moses reveals to the Pharaoh that God will bring one last plague to Egypt in Exodus 11:4-8. The most interesting lines I find are Exodus 11:5-6:
“Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again.” NIV
Three things to note: 1) God is going to punish the non-Israelite slaves as well, even though they had no part in oppressing the Israelites and were probably there against their will. 2) All of the firstborn cattle are going to be killed, even though all of them were already killed in the fifth plague, and some of them were re-killed in the seventh plague. 3) The cries of distress are going to be worse than they ever will be again. That's particularly interesting when you consider what horrible stuff is supposedly still yet to happen during the Tribulation according to the book of Revelation.

Most people are vaguely familiar with what happens in Exodus 12:1-30. The Israelites are instructed to paint blood on their door frames, then, during God's massacre of the firstborns, God will “pass over” those houses, not killing anyone in a house with a blood-painted door frame. Most people believe it is to be lamb's blood, and often tie in Jesus' sacrifice (as the lamb of God) as an event foreshadowed by this event. If you look at the details, it could have been either lamb or goat blood.

So when were they to paint this blood on the door frames? That's a good question. We see in Exodus 11:4 that God would be committing the massacre about midnight. Then we see in Exodus 12:3-5 that the Israelites need to select their sacrificial lambs or goats on the tenth day of the month and slaughter them on the twilight of the fourteenth day of the month. Just to keep you on track, the fourteenth day of the month (which begins at nightfall by Jewish tradition) is the day when God will kill all of the firstborns per Exodus 12:12-13. It seems that there will be a three-to-four day reprieve before God will massacre the firstborns, right? No. In Exodus 12:21-22, you see that Moses tells the Israelites to select and slaughter their lambs and goats that same day, and Exodus 12:29 seems to suggest the massacre was the same day as well.

I think the reason for the confusion here is, as one of my college professors used to say in jest, “blatantly obvious to the most casual observer”. When you read Exodus 12, you see that the author stumbles along, weaving information about the future celebration of the Feast of Unleavened Bread into the story which sets the stage for that Feast. Had the author simply told the whole plague of the firstborns story first and then relayed the Feast information, that author probably wouldn't have made this blunder. So much for Biblical infallibility. Again.

Some critics may attack the need for the Israelites to paint blood on their door frames in order for God to recognize the Israelites and spare them from this plague. While the argument does have some merit, I think I will actually side with God on this one. When you look at the fourth through the ninth plagues, it is obvious that God knows where the Israelites were.

God is moving to free all of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and to bring them into the promised land, but so far God hasn't asked all of the Israelites if they actually wanted to go there. So this blood painting is a sort of confirmation that all of the Israelites are willing to follow through with God's Plans.

This seems to be a common Biblical theme too: You have a choice to follow God, but if you choose not to, the results will be catastrophic. It's like having freewill with a gun held to your head, or in this case your firstborn son's head. Don't make any bad moves. Oh, and remember, God loves you! :-)

(Note that, to some degree, this divine recompense should be expected with God acting as judge, just like a criminal is subject to the law. A full discussion of the integrity of God's justice, judgement, and mercy will need to wait for another time.)

Finally, in Exodus 12:31-39 we see the actual Exodus. During the same night as the plague, the Israelites leave Egypt. (So much for not leaving their houses until daylight, as per Exodus 12:22!) On their way out, the Egyptians gave the Israelites gold, silver, and clothing, because God had controlled the Egyptians' freewill too. Included in the Exodus were about 600,000 Israelite men, as well as their wives and their children, plus all of their livestock.

That's it for the series on the Exodus plagues. We've seen how God mercilessly afflicted the Egyptians with devastating plagues just to make a name for Himself. He did not allow for remorse or repent from the Egyptians. He did not provide a way for the Egyptians to reconcile themselves with God. As opposed to showing Himself to be a God who is not wanting anyone to perish but wanting everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), God actively hardened the Pharaoh's heart so that the Pharaoh would sin to justify His mighty wrath, which ultimately caused people to perish in their sins and prohibited repentance. In His own words, this is how God wants to be known to the future generations of the Israelites.

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