March 17, 2024

Exodus 11 - Why Were the Firstborn Killed?

Exodus 11:4 (NIV) So Moses said, "This is what the Lord says: 'About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. 5 Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well.

Author
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Josh Blount

Lead Pastor

The first question we naturally ask after reading a text like this is, "Why"?
I mean, come on, God, is this fair? Why the firstborn sons? What did they do? Why are the people of Egypt held responsible for the actions of Pharaoh? Isn't this cruel and unusual? How could a "loving God" willingly slaughter baby boys?

Let's consider a few factors as we reflect on this passage.

#1 Pharaoh Wasn't The Only Guilty One In Egypt

Yes, the heart of Pharaoh was hard, and the Bible makes that very clear, but so were the hearts of the Egyptian people.

Remember, at this point in the story, the Egyptians had grown rich by enslaving the Jewish people for 400 years! While it was the pharaohs who dictated the public policies, it was the Egyptian people who benefited from the decisions and went along with the enslavement of the Jews.

Beyond that, remember back in Exodus 1:22, when Pharaoh gave the order that all the infant Hebrew boys were to be murdered by drowning them in the Nile River? Pharaoh gave the order, yes, but the Egyptian people willingly carried it out. The Bible says that Pharaoh commanded "all his people" to participate in this murderous act (Exodus 1:22). That means that this horrific act of ripping newborn babies away from the arms of mothers and throwing them into the Nile wasn't just carried out by soldiers blindly obeying orders; regular Egyptian people willingly played parts in the killing innocent Hebrew baby boys.

Yes, Pharaoh's heart was hard, but his hard heart found resonance in the hearts of the Egyptian people.

Tim Keller says this: "The guilt of Egypt extended beyond Pharaoh; it encompassed the entire nation. The Egyptian people, too, bore responsibility for the suffering inflicted upon the Hebrews, as their hearts were hardened in tandem with their ruler."

The hardening of Pharaoh's heart echoed in the hearts of the Egyptian people. Their complicity in the oppression of the Hebrews reveals a collective moral failure that extended beyond the actions of a single ruler.

So, Pharaoh was guilty, the Egyptian people were guilty, and they all deserved punishment, but here's the thing.

#2 The Way Of Escape Was Available To All

In Exodus 12, God outlines the way of escape, meaning without this way, the judgment of death is for all. So understand, all the people, both the Israelites and Egyptians, find themself in an atmosphere where death is imminent.

So, God provides a way to escape the lingering death through the blood of the Lamb.

Exodus 12:21(NIV) Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, "Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. None of you shall go out of the door of your house until morning. 23 When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.

The way of escape is found through the blood of the Lamb, and when you read both Exodus 11 and 12 in context, it's pretty clear that any person, either Egyptian or Israelite, could escape death if they chose to identify with the Lamb.

In fact, in the instructions for the Passover meal, the Bible actually mentions the "foreigner" who decides to participate (Exodus 12:19). And it's clear in scripture that some of the Egyptians, "a mixed multitude," (Exodus 12:38), did believe, and they, along with the Israelites, got to leave Egypt and journey towards the promised land.

Here's what I want you to see. This entire story is a picture of the Gospel. All of us are born into a condition of death and slavery. And we're all guilty of it; Not just Adam and Eve, we "all," according to the Bible, sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

So God, rather than leaving us in this condition of death and slavery, chose to send a spotless lamb so that He could redeem all who believe from the clutches of death.

And in providing a spotless lamb, God struck a death blow to death and against the God of this world (satan) and made a way so that all who believe can be set free.

What was true in Egypt is true for us today. We are all guilty and deserve punishment, yet the way of escape is available through the blood of the Lamb, Jesus.

While the judgment upon Egypt was severe, the heart of the Passover story lies in God's redemptive plan for His people. Through the blood of the Lamb, God offered a pathway to freedom and life, demonstrating His desire for reconciliation and restoration.

Like the Egyptians and Israelites, we can identify with the Lamb and find redemption from the judgment of death and freedom in a relationship walking with God.

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The construction of the tabernacle found in Exodus can be one of those sections of scripture that can be easy for us to simply skim through, as a new covenant believing American Gentile. We are thousands of years removed from the culture, tools, materials, and measurements. What does acacia wood look like? How many feet are in a cubit? I didn’t even know you could weave thread from goat hair. Furthermore, the significance of the fixtures and furniture commanded by God to be constructed for consecration and worship are incredibly alien to us who worship God in renovated buildings with screens and speakers. In light of all this, we tend to exegete, or interpret the meaning or application of these chapters in Scripture, in one of two ways:

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Exodus 31:14
You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you; everyone who profanes it shall be put to death; whoever does any work on it shall be cut off from among the people.

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