Genesis 12:29 At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn 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 all the firstborn of the livestock. 30 Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his officials and all the Egyptians; and there was a loud cry in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead. 31 Then he summoned Moses and Aaron in the night, and said, “Rise up, go away from my people, both you and the Israelites! Go, worship the LORD, as you said. 32 Take your flocks and your herds, as you said, and be gone. And bring a blessing on me too!”
Wow. It’s hard to imagine how awful this must have been for the Egyptians. This last plague in which the firstborn of all Egypt were killed was on top of many other awful plagues. Pharaoh could take no more and told Moses and Aaron to take their people and go.
So why did this awful episode happen in the first place?
Remember that God had promised the people Israel a land of their own – what we often refer to as the Promised Land of Canaan. But to get from Egypt to Canaan they would have to travel a long distance across a desert wilderness. Think about it. The Israelites had been slaves for over 400 years which means they had been systematically conditioned to be docile and submissive, not combative. They knew nothing about fighting, which made them vulnerable to warrior nations they would likely encounter on the way to their new home. So God did something about that.
I have no doubt the news that Israel, a nation of slaves, had defeated the mightiest nation in the known world (Egypt) would have spread like the coronavirus. Other nations would have been put on notice that Israel was protected by God Almighty and were not to be messed with. Eventually a younger generation of Israelites would be born as free people, not slaves. They would have the constitution needed to fight and would lead God’s people into Canaan under the leadership of Joshua. But that would take decades.
So I get that the horrible events described in Exodus were necessary but my heart still goes out to the Egyptians, most of whom had no part in denying the Israelites permission to leave. Pharaoh was the ultimate authority who brought terrible tragedy on his own people. That said, scripture clearly tells us that it was God himself who hardened Pharaoh’s heart. God’s will or not, something about that doesn’t sit right with me.
Heavenly Father, give me grace to make peace with your ways and your will that I don’t understand. Amen.