In Exodus chapter four, God is preparing Moses for the eventual outcome of Pharaoh’s hard-hearted resistance to God’s commands: the death of the firstborn. I’ve always struggled with that particular plague, since it seems like an awful lot of death on account of one man’s stubbornness, but this time around I noticed a passage that changed my understanding:
“Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.'” (4:22-23, emphasis added)
Somehow I never noticed this line before, but it illuminates the Exodus story in a whole new way for me.
Israel is God’s chosen people, his heir, his family, his children. And Egypt (represented in and personified by Pharaoh) has been killing God’s heirs, working them to the bone during 400 years of slavery and sometimes even targeting them outright. In fact, the mass murder of Hebrew sons is what set the scene for Moses’ whole life story, and those “deaths of the firstborn” draw a clear parallel with this plague. Because Egypt has been killing God’s “sons”, in return, Pharaoh and all Egypt will lose their sons.
It’s still a lot of death — the “eye for an eye” mentality prevalent in the Old Testament is much heavier on justice than my little grace-saturated brain likes — but when I stop and think of how many Israelite men and boys (and women and girls) were killed over the space of four hundred years, and the intense suffering the Israelites endured, and the sorrow and despair into which I imagine the Israelites sank, it makes a little more sense that the Egyptians would be made to have some empathy and understanding for what they put God’s people through.
What parts of the Bible do you struggle with?