If it doesn’t turn your stomach (at least a little) to think of millions of people dying when the rains fell and the floods rose in Genesis… How about the decision of God in Exodus 11:5 to kill every firstborn son, whether it was Pharaoh’s or a slave’s or a calf? When someone makes an argument that there was a different (or at least dualistic) god in the Old Testament who is different from “the Father” Jesus asserts in the New Testament, this is one of the moments they’re fundamentally struggling against. [For the record, that’s called Gnosticism or Marcionism, if you’re curious.] We’ll explore Passover in this particular outing, as I slow down from my previous ten and thirty chapter flybys. It just seems to go against the character of God as I know God… and there are no easy answers.
If you’re just joining us, this is the sixth in a series – my response to the secular “reading through the Bible” and responding available at your local Barnes & Noble. (Unless of course, it closed.) So I decided to tackle the impossible: read through and comment on the Bible. A chapter at a time, or maybe a whole book at a time, I’ve set out to read through and see what I see. Care to join me?
To be clear, Pharaoh has made Yahweh God his enemy. Sure, God ‘hardened’ Pharaoh’s heart, but we aren’t given much indication that God didn’t give Pharaoh anything more than the energy to continue on the path he desired. God didn’t make Pharaoh evil or cruel, but he allowed him to stay that way. So Moses goes in and offers up that the firstborn are all going to die and Pharaoh blows him off again. Well, to be honest, we assume he blew Moses off, because it says that “Moses, hot with anger, left Pharaoh.”
Wouldn’t you be upset if you knew someone was being stubborn, and that their destructive behavior was going to be there undoing? I don’t suppose at this point that Moses knew that the Egyptians would be drowned in the Red Sea, but here, he’s trying to save Pharaoh’s firstborn and every other firstborn, and Pharaoh won’t let the Jews go worship. Moses can see that God proved true to his previous nine promises of plague… so why wouldn’t God do what was promised here?
Now, in retrospect, this Passover event, where the angel of God/death passed over the Israelites and struck down Egyptian firstborn makes a lot of sense. It’s what will set up nearly fifteen hundred years later the Last Supper of Jesus, the crucifixion on the cross, and even Easter morning. It all makes sense looking backward, but it’s still hard to swallow that from this point, until the Jesus comes, that God strikes down children and nations.
I don’t personally believe that God strikes anyone down. If that was true, would terrorists exist, or really bad people? To be even more personal, why would God keep me around? I’m a sinful, broken, messed up human being, and God gives me grace. I believe that death is promised from the disobedience in the Garden of Eden. We’re all going to die, but those who believe in Jesus will live again. Is pre-Jesus judgment of individuals and nations just part of the whole process? Pharaoh made decisions on behalf of his people, to willfully choose sin, and this is God putting them out of their misery, or punishing them?
Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe one day, I’ll get it. For now, I don’t think it’s something we can prooftext into our politics or nationalism and think “well, God made it okay for us to strike down our enemies.” That’s garbage, whether you want to read the Old Testament into it or not.
What I do know is this:
God made it clear what would happen and who would do it. Not to beat on Ridley Scott (again) too badly, but there was no mistaking that God was the one sending the angel of death and keeping God’s people safe. It was no natural phenomena claimed as a miracle. It was God’s actions.
God told the people to see it as a new beginning. The Passover changed the calendar; the Passover was to be fantastically celebrated. It was to be a time when God’s people would recognize that they were special, sacred even, to God. God went so far as to set apart the Israelite firstborn as “God’s.” That was to serve to them as a reminder that the covenant was still in effect, that God continued to watch over the people.
God made the Passover about going, not about staying safe. Even before the Israelites would cross the Red Sea (in the next installment), they were to be on the move. Honestly, if you haven’t already considered whether there’s a god, or whether that god loves you enough to act on your behalf, how about God telling the Israelites that protecting them was to move them forward? They weren’t supposed to get comfortable. They weren’t supposed to stay in Egypt and abide by the torture they received. They were supposed to move out and up, to something better.
This is a classic case of what I wanted to explore when I set out to do this. I’m troubled by the death, by the violence needed to free God’s people. It’s a moment where I thank God that God is God and I am not, because these decisions are so heavy. But I’m also reminded that we’re given so many chances to change, and to follow, and that when we don’t, there are heavy prices to pay.
Thanks be to God that the Passover happened in Egypt, but thanks be even greater that Jesus’ death on the cross was the ‘pass over’ for all.