This was a question that I was struggling with all of last week. We’re all pretty familiar with the Passover story and the way it points to Jesus. Hooray, we love that bit! But I think we are often tempted to overlook the brutality of it. How can God still be good? This is how to goes for me:
I’m reading through Exodus and I’m like…I really want to see Israel set free from the oppressive regime of the Egyptians who even kill the Israelite children to maintain the population and stop them revolting. I hate the idea of slavery and I love the idea of God who sets the captives free, so I’m all excited.
And what I want to read is that Moses meets Pharaoh over an organic skinny latte; they both sign a memorandum of understanding, and Pharaoh, now a changed man, ruffles Moses’ hair on the way out and then they all live happily ever after. Or at least that Moses hires some top-notch lawyers and after a thrilling and tense battle in the courts, Moses sues Pharaoh into the ground and leaves with all his riches.
Instead, we see God reveal His plan to Moses to kill all the Egyptian firstborn children. The thought of this is, let’s be honest, even if it does point forward to the beauty of the cross, is pretty unbearable.
So how do we square this up?
Let me be the first to say it isn’t easy at all; in fact, it’s devastating. Nobody finds this comfortable, and I don’t think we are supposed to. The Bible is gritty, real and there’s a lot of it that you wouldn’t put on a fridge magnet.
Having said that, God is always there in the midst of the mess, and that is so unbelievably true in this story.
So here are three ways I see him working in this story that make me believe He is good and one important question at the end I feel we must answer:
If we want to live in a world with total equality and justice, we’ve got to come to terms with the fact that it isn’t easy to achieve that. A lot of stuff would have to be dismantled, deconstructed and destroyed, including a great deal of what is inside each and every one of our hearts. Nobody is perfect, yet we want a perfect world; therefore, we can’t achieve justice without pain and great cost.
And that’s exactly what we see here. We cry out alongside Israel for justice in this story, but then when it comes, it shocks us. We never saw how deep the injustice went and the depth to which they would have to be extracted from. More on why that is in a minute.
The difference for us though is that the Passover is ancient history that points forwards. We now know that the pain that justice causes is not poured out on us but Christ on the cross. Justice hurts so the cross is painful; a firstborn son had to die and that didn’t exclude God. He knows and understands the pain of justice intimately.
Each and every one of the plagues is an attack on an Egyptian god or idol. For example in the first plague, the Eygptian river god gets attacked as the Nile turns to blood. In turn, each Egyptian deity is humiliated and trumped by Yahweh.
Rightly so, we know that in oppressive societies, especially ones that are economically dependant upon slavery, a deep shift in ideology is needed for change to occur. In the UK, it was the Great Awakening that led William Wilberforce to lead the charge to emancipate slavery. When God topples corrupt idols, genuine change can happen.
Pharaoh was thought of as the firstborn son of the sun god (Ra). The ‘Son of Ra’ would have been part of his title, Ra being the first of all the Egyptian gods.
So this plague is very much an attack on an ideology at the centre of Egyptian power. If you dismantle the power of the firstborn, then you dismantle the power of Egypt, and that is exactly what happens.
Part of me wonders if this is what was going on when Pharaoh killed the firstborn Israelite babies at the start of Exodus. It would have been common knowledge that Israel was thought of as God’s firstborn (Exodus 4:22), in direct opposition to Pharaoh, also thought of as the firstborn of god.
So the fight is set up from the beginning: who is the real god and who is the real firstborn? This really matters.
The showdown commences and there is only going to be one winner. Egypt must understand who the true God is and who the true firstborn is, and the 10th plague makes it devastatingly clear.
Yes, he could have, but here is the hard bit to stomach: God’s reputation really matters; it matters that He wins like this.
We’d like to think God isn’t bothered about what seems like a popularity contest amongst the gods, but He is and it matters that He is. He wants all the glory and all the worship because He alone is worthy, and because He alone is worthy, we will only find satisfaction in him alone. So it’s for our good and His glory that He is a jealous God.
And we see the benefits of this power displayed in Egypt for centuries after. It fuels legend and story, causing ripples of God’s goodness and freedom throughout the ancient world in all sorts of unlikely places (think of Rahab and Ruth).
In the end, Pharaoh becomes an archetype throughout scripture of oppressive man-made idols that must be usurped in order for humans to find freedom in true worship. As Augustine says, ‘Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you’. Nothing else will do except God alone for no one else is good like he is! So it matters that God obliterates the destructive Egyptian gods.
Which begs the question: if God hadn’t have worked in this way, would they have had the confidence and trust to enter the promised land and work out salvation history? Would the right things happen for Christ to come as he did? Would the church even have been born? Who knows the answers to those questions, but we do trust that there are reasons why the Passover had to happen like this.
When I first realised this, I felt like it made a huge difference to my understanding of what was happening.
In 12:38, we see a multitude of people, presumably mostly Egyptians, leaving Egypt with the Israelites. These are people who swapped sides, who saw and acknowledged who the true God was, and joined Israel to follow him. I think it is very fair to presume that also means these are people who also painted their door frames red with the blood of the lamb. How else would they swap sides? They made a decision to trust in Yahweh and to follow Him and they were saved.
The Passover is open to Egyptians and Israelites alike, all who call on the Lord will be saved. There is no reason not to imagine that there was a large number of Egyptians who saw the futility of Pharaoh’s battle after the first nine plagues (which now seem like a grace to awaken people) and decided to swap sides. A good God always gives second chances, we see that here.
Yes and no.
Yes, God does harden Pharaoh’s heart and He probably does make the battle worse. But like we already said, perhaps this is a story that is needed to carry salvation history forward and end up saving billions of lives in the future.
It’s important to remember that when dealing with these difficult moral questions, that God can do all things, but only all things which are actually possible. For example, He can’t make a square into a circle as that’s a contradiction; He can’t destroy injustice without causing pain, as that’s also a contradiction. We have to trust here that he does what is the best thing possible in the long view of eternity.
Remembering we are working towards the beautiful vision of Revelation 7 here helps, when all the nations will bow at the throne of Jesus, joined together in perfect unity. And that glorious vision won’t happen until all other idols and gods, including Pharaoh, get dethroned and humiliated.
On all the occasions that Pharaoh’s heart is hardened, twice he explicitly hardens it himself and three times the hardening is ambiguous. God only starts to harden his heart after the 5th time it is hardened, and then hardens it four times. So before we see God explicitly hardening Pharaoh’s heart, it is already pretty hard.
Furthermore, in the 7th plague, the narrator describes Pharaoh as hardening his own heart (Exodus 9:34) and then later describes the same hardening using an ambiguous term. This suggests the ambiguous terms for hardening that preceded it in the earlier plagues probably means he hardens his own heart there as well. This means that in the first 5 times and the 7th time that it’s Pharaoh that hardens his own heart. God then gives him over to his sin and just continues doing what he started (think Romans 1:24).
This is of particular significance for Exodus 7:13-14, the first time where Pharaoh’s heart is hardened. Here the Hebrew word used for hardening is an ambiguous verb, but for some reason, the ESV translates it as God doing the hardening. Given the context of the 7th plague and the fact that the pattern (otherwise) is that Pharaoh hardened his own heart first, then God hardens it, this translation doesn’t seem to be very fair.
But we’ve got to remember, as we’ve already said, that God doesn’t sit distant from this pain. He is right there in the middle of it, taking it on instead of us, wrestling it into submission on the cross. Justice is important; justice won’t come without pain, but in the cross we find freedom like no other. God is still good.
Our church is celebrating 40 days of Hope this lent, and this week we are thinking about how wonderful our school teachers are.
Have a little think about your teacher or a teacher at your school.
What do you like best about school?
What is the best thing about your teacher?
Why not make them cards and tell them all the things you like about school and all the ways they make you feel happy. Let them know you are thankful for all the help they give you. Maybe you could draw a picture to show how much you appreciate them. Or use really kind words to explain how much you enjoy being in their class.
How are you feeling about returning to school again? Are you excited? Relieved? Nervous?
Maybe a little bit of everything.
Your teachers do a really good job of helping you understand all these feelings and how you can use them all for good. If you’re feeling nervous, your teacher will help you feel relaxed again. And if you are feeling excited you’re teachers will help you pass on your good mood to other children who might be worried.
Aren’t teachers wonderful?
Not only that, they have been working really really hard to make sure you don’t miss out on any of your learning whilst your at home!
They deserve a great BIG THANK YOU!!!!
In the bible, it says we should love our neighbors as ourselves. That means we need to look after everybody the best we can, including our teachers. Jesus said this is the second greatest commandment after loving God.
Gratitude and thankfulness can go a long way – be sure to share your beautiful smiles on Monday morning!
Pray for your teachers and your school friends and the start of school again on Monday.
Read Ecclesiastes 3 1-11
This week our first daffodil flowered in the garden. We’ve been watching the buds shooting out of the soil for the last few weeks knowing that spring has nearly arrived. You may have noticed the lambs being born on farms nearby? And the weather is getting a little brighter and we can hopefully say goodbye to the frosty cold mornings.
What signs of spring have you seen this week?
Ecclesiastes 3 explains there is a time for everything and there is a season for every activity under the heavens.
Every spring flower that is ready to burst open, has been perfectly timed by God.
Every lamb that is waiting to be born, will be perfectly timed by God.
And when the lighter evenings come, the sun will go down, perfectly timed by God.
There has been a lot of change recently but spring is a change we gladly welcome.
Sometimes there are changes that don’t feel as good and are a little more tricky.
Can you think of a time when things have been hard or a change you had to make?
We know that Gods love will always stay rooted in our hearts when the good and bad changes come. God will never change and he will never leave your side. God says he has made everything beautiful in its time. God can take the worst seasons of life and make them into something beautiful. Isn’t that amazing?
Thank you God that there is a time for everything. There is a time for seeds to be planted and plants to grow. There is a time for sadness and also for joy. There is time to speak and there is time to listen.
Thank you God for spring and the beautiful burst of new life.
Thank you for always being the same and never leaving us. Your love endures forever.
My favourite verse in the Bible is right in the beginning, just after God had made everything and there was nothing else to do. To top it all off He had made man and considered him the best of all that he had done. (everything else was good but man was very good). I find it hard to look at the beauty of the hills and lakes of the Lake District in the UK and think that God considers me more beautiful, to look at the stars in the sky and think that God considers me more majestic. Anyway, after all this wonderful creation and God had put man and woman in this perfect garden with luscious fruit at every turn, God goes looking for man in the cool of the evening – just for a chat – just to see how man had got on during the day. God just wanted to hang out with God and God wanted to hang out with man – just to enjoy each others company. It sounds idyllic and indeed it was. That’s everything that prayer is – just spending time in Gods presence enjoying his presence.
Prayer is not just reading something someone else has written down, it is not rushing through a list of stuff because you need to be somewhere else. it is not a long list of things you want from him. It’s not jabbering on and not letting him get a word in edgeways Imagine meeting up with your friend because its something you ought to do but doesn’t want to do. Its something that gets in the way of your day. Even while you are talking you are constantly looking around to see if something more interesting is happening somewhere else. If I were your friend, I would just get up and leave. – insulted and think twice before we met up again and then only if you begged me. Fortunately, God is not as flakey as that. Despite the way we treat him he is always prepared to listen. But in the disjointed conversation, it is us who miss out. If you have not been getting much out of prayer perhaps its because you don’t value it enough, or even at all.
It was in terror that she walked into the throne room of the most powerful man in the world. He was the king of a massive civilisation, the absolute ruler over the vast majority of the then known world. He held the lives of tens of thousands in his hands. As she stood before him she not only risked her own life but that of her entire nation. This really was life or death. Spoiler alert. You can read what happened in
When you come into God’s presence do you come with the same awe, the same awareness that but for Jesus, you would not be able to enter His throne room? Because of Jesus we not only have a right to enter but are welcomed into his presence. That right and invitation does not change the absolute authority of God. It does change how he sees us.
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