The Firstborn of Every Family? God's Distinction?
"Then there will be a great cry of anguish through all the land of Egypt such as never was before, or ever will be again." Exodus 11:6
Reading about the process of God working in such a way that Egyptians would know Him, it seems so horrible/heartless that God used the death of all the firstborn males, from livestock and servant girls, from the prisoner in the dungeon to the highest in the land, the Pharaoh of Egypt, to make a distinction with those under the blood of the Passover lamb! When I read it, I wept.
Think about those in your family, your friends and neighbors. Who is a firstborn? Who would have died? Hannah, Luke, my oldest sister, little Roswell, Austin, aunts, nieces, nephews... Make your own list. Feel what was really going on. Who in your circle of people would be snuffed out that night?
Then I read it was only the males. Well, that makes the list a bit smaller, but still, "there wasn't a house without someone dead." Can you imagine the pain, the heartbreak? I have been in Bosnia, where many in the family were wiped out, just for being. I saw the tears, the pain bubbling out of their hearts, decades after the war. The loss of a husband, son, grandparent, child was more than one could bear. How do you go on? Why even try? Where is hope?
God must have had a point in all this. Why would He be so radical? So harsh, so uncaring? I mean, come on! Every firstborn male?
"Then the LORD said to Moses, "Get up early in the morning and present yourself to Pharaoh. Tell him: This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews says: Let My people go, so that they may worship Me. Otherwise, I am going to send all My plagues against you, your officials, and your people. Then you will know there is no one like Me in all the earth. By now I could have stretched out My hand and struck you and your people with a plague, and you would have been obliterated from the earth. However, I have let you live for this purpose: to show you My power and to make My name known in all the earth." (9:13-16)
Sacrificing the little innocent lamb was so small compared to a human life, but still, even the little lamb had to shed its blood to be spread on the doorposts and lintels. What is God doing?
Consistently through the story, the Lord made a distinction: "But on that day I will give special treatment to the land of Goshen, where My people are living; no flies will be there. This way you will know that I, the LORD, am in the land. I will make a distinction between My people and your people." (8:22-23) Likewise, "But the LORD will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing of all that the Israelites own will die." (9:4)
I always love those "so that" statements...so full of meaning and purpose.
"...so that I may do these miraculous signs of Mine among them, and so that you may tell your son and grandson how severely I dealt with the Egyptians and performed miraculous signs among them, and you will know that I am the LORD." (10:1-2) "The LORD said to Moses, "Pharaoh will not listen to you, so that My wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt." (11:9)
So is this only for the chosen? Only for Israel? But God also says, "Those among Pharaoh’s officials who feared the word of the LORD made their servants and livestock flee to shelters, but those who didn’t take the LORD’s work seriously left their servants and livestock in the field.” (9:20)
The pharaoh begins by not even knowing the LORD and says so in 5:2,
· "Who is the LORD that I should obey Him...I do not know the LORD..." but through the process he progresses. (Don't we all?)
· First his magicians begin to catch on, "This is the finger of God," the magicians said to Pharaoh...but he would not listen." (8:19)
· Pharaoh eventually comes to the point of saying, "I have sinned this time," he said to them. "The LORD is the Righteous One, and I and my people are the guilty ones." (9:27) But Moses seemed to have some insight here because he responded, "there will be no more hail, so that you may know the earth is the LORD's. But as for you and your officials, I know that you still do not fear the LORD God." (9:29-30)
· And sure enough, “When Pharaoh saw that the rain, hail and thunder had ceased, he sinned again and hardened his heart, he and his officials.” (9:34)
· Moses and Aaron later ask him, “the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me?” (10:3)
· A deeper response came from Pharaoh after the locust had devoured the land, and after the officials knew that Egypt was devastated, “I have sinned against the LORD your God and against you. Please forgive my sin once more and make an appeal to the LORD your God, so that He will take this death away from me.” (10:17)
The almost-last plague was a darkness that “can be felt” when “one person could not see another, and for three days they did not move from where they were. Yet all the Israelites had light where they lived.” (10:21-23) "I am the LORD; I will execute judgments against all the gods of Egypt." (12:12)
And now we have come to the final dividing line, the death of the firstborn, but not all male firstborn. The Israelites were given very specific instructions to select an unblemished one-year old male lamb or goat on the 10th day, the correct size for the group, keep it until the day of slaughter on the 14th of the month. It was then to be slaughtered at twilight and the blood brushed on the doorposts and lintels of their house with hyssop. The specific instructions are then to roast and eat all of it that night, with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, and burn the rest by morning. They should be dressed to leave, and eat in haste. “The blood on the houses where you are staying will be a distinguishing mark for you; when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No plague will be among you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.” (12:13)
“When you enter the land that the LORD will give you as He promised, you are to observe this ritual. When your children ask you, ‘what does this ritual mean to you?’ you are to reply, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, for He passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and spared our homes.’ ” So the people bowed down and worshiped.” (12:25-27)
“Now at midnight the LORD struck every firstborn male 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 every firstborn of the livestock. During the night Pharaoh got up, he along with all his officials and all the Egyptians, and there was a loud wailing throughout Egypt because there wasn’t a house without someone dead.” (12:29-30)
But now finally, the Pharaoh relents. “He summoned Moses and Aaron during the night and said, “Get up, leave my people, both you and the Israelites, and go, worship the LORD as you have asked. Take even your flocks and your herds as you asked, and leave, and this will also be a blessing to me.”
Wow. All this death sounds so harsh, but God certainly gave them multiple opportunities to change their minds! Now this is only part of the story, because they haven’t even come to the Red Sea yet. But it is plenty for us to ingest and discover truth about God.
I see that God is very specific in his instructions and there must be purpose in why He chose what He did, both in his process and instructions. Another purpose that comes up, “so that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt." (11:9) One part that is my personal favorite, especially as my heart is like His for the nations, is when they leave Egypt, "An ethically diverse crowd also went up with them..." (12:38)
What does this amazing story teach me?
· God is powerful and able to accomplish what He desires. He has a plan.
· God very patient with us and our lack of response, but continues to call us to Himself.
· It seems to be a process for coming to believe in the Lord and His ways. The Pharaoh started coming toward the LORD several times, but then drifted back.
· It seems the Lord is looking for humility and even fear, if it makes us respond to Him.
· He doesn’t want us to worship worthless idols, like those in Egypt.
· As we come to the LORD, we need to be forgiven of sin.
· He is worthy of worship!
· There is great protection and blessing when you are in the Lord’s camp!
· The LORD wants to be known in all the world.
· He doesn’t turn anyone away.
These seem to be important lessons, and are very encouraging as we apply these truths/lessons to our lives in even today’s culture.
So how does this apply to me? What am I supposed to get out of this? I hope that it causes me to humble myself and look for His plans, not my own, as that is what will be accomplished. I don’t want to be distracted by other “gods” that have no power or ability to do anything for me. I want to glorify Him, not myself, as I can’t do anything without Him. Just like a skit that some of my friends performed about life, "It's not me, it’s HIM!”