Meditations in Exodus: 41. Tenth Plague – Firstborn
Ex 12:29.30 At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.
Imagine the street where you live (assuming you know the people who live there). Imagine the families; some have young children, some have teenagers, and others have those who can no longer be called ‘children’ for they have been to Uni, come home again, maybe even got a job and were in the process of setting up a home of their own. One morning you hear the sound of an ambulance, and then another and another. All up and down the street there has been a terrible inexplicable ‘plague’ and every single eldest boy in the family is dead. There is absolute mayhem.
Now I put this plague into a modern setting like this because if we have read Exodus before we may become blasé about the nature of what was happening. Perhaps we have almost become conditioned by the previous plagues – it’s just another plague. No, it isn’t ‘just’ another’ plague, it is something that hits every single family that has male children. If a family only had daughters they might be thankful they had no sons for their neighbours were in absolute crisis. Only yesterday, given in the notices in church, the death of a child – we believe by suicide probably – of a family no longer with us but who we know. The announcement was given in sombre tones and a silence fell on the room as we felt for the parents. Multiply that a thousand fold or tens of thousands perhaps, and you have what is happening in Egypt at this moment.
Now, as we started out looking at the actual plagues, I reminded us of God’s words through Ezekiel: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23) and then, “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32) and then there is also, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die?” (Ex 33:11) Three times Ezekiel heard that same message which is born out elsewhere in the Bible.
Now I am in the process of writing a book (not yet complete) called, “The Judgments of a Loving God”, in which I investigate every judgment of God in the whole Bible. The vast majority of judgments I call ‘disciplinary judgments’ because they do not end in death and are designed to bring about change of behaviour. The other judgments that end in death I call ‘terminal judgments’ but as I explored this subject more and more, I came to see that perhaps a better description of such judgments as this one is a ‘judgment of the last resort’, i.e. God only take life if there is no other action that will remedy or correct a situation to save the earth, save a people from other destruction; God steps in to surgically limit the damage to the world.
Now this particular judgment is unusual in that it discriminates between people. The only ones whose lives are taken are eldest sons. No one else is touched, the vast majority of the nation are spared – but shattered! In writing the book I have also sought to consider what would have happened had this judgment NOT occurred. It is difficult to know because our knowledge of their times is limited, but let me suggest the following possibilities, and that is all they are:
- The superstitious religion of the day founded on fear would have continued to grow in power and even more ‘gods’ would have been dreamt up and even more terrible rituals promoted. As it was so often, it meant the sacrifice of a child.
- This same religion was occult based and the occult would have grown and grown in power accompanied by all the characteristics that go with the occult – denial of God, rejection of God for self-serving purposes, including the worship of Satan, fear and oppression
Now those would almost certainly be ongoing outworkings and somewhere along the line there would come almost certainly THE greatest negative of all that was going on in Egypt when Moses arrived:
3. Pharaoh would eventually turn on Moses and Israel and destroy them in large numbers if not completely. The Bible shows us that Satan is out to destroy God’s people and this would almost certainly have come about if left.
So, I would suggest, as terrible as this judgment is, it is restrained in as far as the majority of the population are untouched, and yet it is sufficiently horrific to have the desired effect, of bringing down the power of false religion and eventually the power of Pharaoh while bringing release for Israel.
The effect of this plague is instant: “During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the LORD as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.” The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. “For otherwise,” they said, “we will all die!” (v.31-33) Pharaoh acts straight away and even the Egyptian people understand and urge them on their way. The haste of the Israelites is seen by what was later institutionalized in the feast: “So the people took their dough before the yeast was added, and carried it on their shoulders in kneading troughs wrapped in clothing.” (v.34) Moreover, “The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. The LORD had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians.” (v.35,36)
And so it comes to an end – but not quite, there is a further act yet to be played out as we’ll see in the next meditations. Remember the ‘theology’ behind this plague and never let people say foolish or unwise things born out of ignorance about God: i) God does not like taking life. ii) Where He does take life (fairly rare in reality in the Bible in comparison to what could be) it is always an act of last resort to save His people or save the world from something worse. Our questions arise from the fact that we never have the full facts of the situation. God does, so trust His love and mercy – and seek to learn the full picture of what the Bible teaches.