Last week we talked about the first nine plagues of Egypt. Remember Moses had come back to Egypt to free the Hebrews, but Pharaoh didn’t want to let them go. But also remember, that at the beginning of this, the Hebrew people were broken. They didn’t believe Moses or God could save them. They just wanted Moses to go away and leave them alone as Pharaoh was punishing the Hebrews for Moses actions.
So God revealed his plan to Moses to show Egypt and the Hebrews many signs and wonders—which translated to plagues. It’s important to remember that the purpose of these plagues was not just to annoy and punish the Egyptians or convince Pharaoh to let them go, but also to remind the Hebrew people that God was their God and he had their backs.
So these plagues—like frogs and flies and hail and locusts—would affect the Egyptians but leave the Hebrews unscathed. If these had been normal events happening all over Egypt—without divine direction—these plagues would have affected everyone. Instead the Hebrews were unscathed. They would have been watching all of this in wonder and being reminded of the covenant that long ago God made with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. That they belong to God, and because of that God is looking out for them and not going to leave them to suffer.
But after nine plagues, plagues that have basically left Egypt destitute, pharaoh still has not relented and let the Israelites leave. Even though pharaoh’s own advisors begged him to just let the Hebrews go so they could get some peace. Pharaoh was still like “no, these people are mine and I will not give in to their demands.”
After the last plague, pharaoh forbid Moses from his presence ever again.
Before all the other plagues, Moses would go to pharaoh and say what’s going to come, but now he can’t. Now pharaoh said he’ll kill Moses if Moses enters his presence. So we’re going to see that for the last plague Moses goes before all the people—Egyptian and Hebrew—and warns them.
So let’s turn to Exodus 11:3-8. Can someone read that?
3 The Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover, Moses himself was a man of great importance in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s officials and in the sight of the people.
4 Moses said, “Thus says the Lord: About midnight I will go out through Egypt. 5 Every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the female slave who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the livestock. 6 Then there will be a loud cry throughout the whole land of Egypt, such as has never been or will ever be again. 7 But not a dog shall growl at any of the Israelites—not at people, not at animals—so that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. 8 Then all these officials of yours shall come down to me, and bow low to me, saying, ‘Leave us, you and all the people who follow you.’ After that I will leave.” And in hot anger he left Pharaoh.
For all the other plagues, Moses has gone before Pharaoh to warn him about it before the plague comes. But this time he can’t, because Pharaoh has forbidden his presence. So Moses goes out to tell the people, and he can and people will listen to him because by this point basically everyone respects him.
Moses is the harbinger of all these plagues. He has come before them and said they will happen, and they have. And people have been paying attention to that. That’s why we saw last week that when Moses warned people about the hail, some Egyptians listened and brought all of their stuff inside, so it wouldn’t be hurt by the hail. They heeded Moses’ warning. This is also why the Egyptian advisors begged Pharaoh to listen to Moses before the plague of locusts, because they knew Moses was telling the truth.
While in the beginning everyone was skeptical of Moses, now when Moses speaks, everyone listens to him, Egyptian and Hebrew alike. So it is to everyone that Moses gives his warning of the last plague.
And this plague is the worst. This time the first born will die, from the highest person—that is the firstborn of pharaoh—to the lowest—a firstborn of a slave. And if any livestock remain their firstborn shall die too. But the Hebrews will be spared.
But Pharaoh doesn’t listen.
Can someone read Exodus 12:21-28?
21 Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go, select lambs for your families, and slaughter the passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood in the basin. None of you shall go outside the door of your house until morning. 23 For the Lord will pass through to strike down the Egyptians; when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over that door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you down. 24 You shall observe this rite as a perpetual ordinance for you and your children. 25 When you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this observance. 26 And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this observance?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the passover sacrifice to the Lord, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, when he struck down the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed down and worshiped.
Moses talks to the Hebrew elders and gives them specific instructions. They are to kill a lamb and then paint their doorways with the blood of the launch. When it says the lintel and two doorposts that’s the top of the doorway and the two posts that hold it up. So they took that blood and painted it on their doors.
The implication here is if the Hebrews did not do this, their firstborn too would die. They have to do this so the plague will pass by then.
Moses also instructs them that they are to celebrate this event every year. If you look back over the previous verses of chapter 12 you’ll see Moses gives the people some very specific instructions on how to celebrate this event. And Passover is something that Jesus celebrated in his day, over 1500 years later and that people still celebrate today, over 3500 years later. This is an ancient celebration. A celebration that we call Passover.
Now can someone read Exodus 12:29-30?
29 At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. 30 Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his officials and all the Egyptians; and there was a loud cry in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.
So the plague comes to pass and the first born of the Egyptians die. Remember these people knew it was coming, Moses warned them, so when it says they arose in the night, they probably didn’t sleep at all that night. Worried, anxious, checking on their kids. And then it happened, just as Moses said. A situation that could have been averted if Moses just let the people go.
Can someone read Exodus 12:31-32?
31 Then he summoned Moses and Aaron in the night, and said, “Rise up, go away from my people, both you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord, as you said. 32 Take your flocks and your herds, as you said, and be gone. And bring a blessing on me too!”
So in the middle of this horrible night, Pharaoh calls Moses and Aaron to him and says “go away.” He lets them go. The Hebrews win, and it has cost the Egyptians dearly.
Now I want us to pause a minute here and dwell on this, because I know some of you are concerned about and brought up numerous times the morality of Passover. So let’s think about it for a moment. What do you guys think? Here we have a situation where Egyptians have enslaved the Hebrews for generations. Then to make matters worse, the Egyptians kill the sons of all the Hebrews, in fear that the Hebrews might rise up against him. Make no mistake, the Egyptians have completely oppressed and subjugated the Hebrews.
God saves the Hebrews, by using a former-Egyptian prince born of Hebrews to come back as his mouthpiece. Moses tells Pharaoh to let them go, but Pharaoh doesn’t want to. God starts with some rather minor plagues—things that are more annoyances than death sentences. Frogs. Gnats. Flies. These are annoying and disgusting but no one is dying from this. Pharaoh is still stubborn. Then he escalates a little: boils on the skin. Personally annoying and painful, but probably not going to kill you. Pharaoh is still stubborn. Worse, Pharaoh has now gone into this whole “I’m going to lie and say I’ll set you free but not do it” sort of mentality. So the plagues get worse to the point where they will have longterm detrimental consequences on Egypt. And we see other people get convinced to Moses’s side of things, but not Pharaoh. Pharaoh is still stubborn. So it escalates to this final plague: the death of the firstborns of all of Egypt. Finally Pharaoh lets the Hebrews go.
So what do you guys think about this story? I want to hear your thoughts.
[Let them answer.]
Note to Leader: I would like this to be an honest to goodness discussion as much as possible. So I’ve created a few talking points that you can bring up as the discussion goes this way or allows.
· Passover Thoughts:
o I want us to think about that word for a moment. If you’re familiar with this story you know what happens next, pharaoh is going to let them go. So you would think what the Hebrews would celebrate would be Liberation Day! Or Freedom Day! Or “Thank God for saving us from the Egyptians” Day! Instead the Jewish people celebrate Passover, which in Hebrew is Pesach. So what people are celebrating is not that they were liberated, but rather that they were passed over. Basically they’re celebrating that God didn’t kill them too. Because that would have given them the same result, in that pharaoh would have still freed their people. But God pass over them. I find this very interesting.
o Quote from article you may want to read: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-daniel-brenner/does-passover-celebrate-the-death-of-innocent-egyptians_b_2821971.html “....during the Seder there is a tradition to express sadness at the demise of the Egyptians. The joy of the celebration is diminished at every seder by recalling the impact of each plague on ordinary Egyptians. As every plague is read, a drop of wine is removed from the cup, and at the mention of the final plague—the death of the Egyptian firstborn—our joy is diminished doubly as we removed two drops of wine from our cups.” So Jewish people recognize that their freedom came at great cost to others.
· Just vs. Fair (a very traditional sort of interpretation)
o Is the death of common Egyptians when it’s Pharaoh’s stubbornness (not their own) that’s keeping the Hebrews present fair? No. But Fair and Just aren’t the same thing.
o We tend to think “fair” means equitable. Everyone gets a fair share. Everything is balance and fair.
o Whereas “justice” has more to do with right and wrong. Is it fair that a child has to lose her father if her father murders someone else? No. But it is just that the father go to jail.
o God’s law was the ultimate law, not Pharaoh’s. Pharaoh had to pay the price for breaking the ultimate law.
· This is war.
o It’s a war that the Egyptian started. The Egyptians and Hebrews were living together peaceable and then the Egyptians escalated everything. They killed the first baby. Not the Hebrews.
o Didn’t God make and love the Egyptians too?
o What about Jesus’s whole love your enemy thing? Or turning the other cheek?
I have no easy answer here for you guys. I know the traditional answers, and the pat answers. I can even provide some historical Jewish interpretations. But this isn’t a thing we’re going to find a trite answer to in Sunday School.
The Hebrews were God chosen’s people. They had lost faith. And this whole sequence is part of the story of God wooing the Hebrews back to him. When you think of it in a story context and in the greater context of the whole Bible, that’s the beauty of it. God remembering his people and protecting them, like a mother who defends her young against predators. Even when the Hebrews stray, God still loves them and brings them back home. Just like even when you misbehave, your parents still love you and try to keep you safe.
That can justify your parents killing someone who attacks you—it falls under self-defense. But it doesn’t justify your parents then going and murdering that person’s entire family—even if that person killed you. Or at least it doesn’t according to our modern sensibilities.
And that’s part of the problem, sometimes, when we view these old stories. We’re post-modern people in a post-modern world. Post-modern, post-enlightenment, literate people who have these crazy ideas about morality that probably would have been very foreign to someone like Moses.
But I think there are a couple of things we can remember and take away here.
First off God is not a human. He is God. He is beyond our comprehension. His ways are foreign to us. There is a verse in Isaiah that says this: I’ll read it. It’s Isaiah 55:8-9
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As Christians we will spend our whole lives trying to understand God and his will for us, but the truth is we cannot comprehend him and we never will until we get to heaven and see him face to face. And maybe not even then! Who knows if at that moment we will have perfect understanding. But at least then we’ll be able to speak with him in a more direct way and sit in his presence.
Secondly, whenever you read a Bible story and you’re not sure how you feel about it or if it disturbs you, remember that is okay. Never forget that Jacob literally wrestled with God, literally fought Him. It is okay to struggle with God. It’s okay to struggle with the Bible. It is okay to doubt. God uses these struggles to teach us something and sometimes to bless us, just like with Jacob. Because after Jacob physically struggled with God, God blessed him and changed his name.
And finally, when you come across a story like this and you’re not sure how it means, I want you to take a step back and ask yourself this question. What does this story tell us about God, in light of Jesus? What do I mean by this? Well remember the Bible is not God, the Bible is simply a tool God has used to reveal himself to us. But Jesus is God. He is the living physical incarnation of our God. And as Christians we should view everything in the old Testament in the light of Jesus.
And when I look at this story, I see how powerful God is. The amazing things he can do. But also how patient he can be. God could have gone immediately to the final plague. He could have been like “DEATH TO EVERYONE” from the beginning. But instead he gave Pharaoh multiple chances to change his mind. God gave the person who had single-handedly been enslaving and subjugating his people a chance. Just as he did when he sent Jesus.
When Jesus came to this earth, the Jewish people were once again oppressed, by this time by the Romans. And the Romans were not innocent in Jesus’s death. They were the law that allowed it, the law that turned their back on him. But God even saved them. From the Roman centurion who realized after he crucified Jesus that Jesus must be the Son of God, to the people of Rome in the church Paul helped found there, the Romans were brought to God. God reconciled them to him.
And remember with Jesus we have become grafted into God’s covenant. We are now a part of God’s chosen people. So in this story of the Exodus we would not be the Egyptians, we would all—anyone of any ethnicity or background—be the ones God works tirelessly and patiently to save.
And that’s what this story teaches us about God. He’s got our back. And he will never let outside forces take us (as a people) from him. He will do whatever it takes to keep us with him, and let that be a comfort to you.