Since Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden, terrible, tragic things have happened in our world. Noah’s story in Genesis 6 emphatically shows that sin is the driving force behind the complications of this world. If we strongly consider the issues behind real tragedies – neglect, indifference, and a lack of respect for humanity – it’s no wonder people suffer. In my lifetime, I’ve seen powerful people ignore the needs of the weak. I’ve seen those with the means to end hunger, overlook those who are hungry. I’ve seen the rich store up “treasures in this world” instead of dispersing their blessings for the betterment of mankind and I’ve seen sin drive people to wrong their fellow man all for the sake of selfish ambition.
I truly wish it was possible to say all suffering was the result of sin, but that’s just not true. Unfortunately, an ancient debate still exists today and this story is a big part of it. The question we have continually asked is simple, “why do bad things happen to good people?” Job’s friends believed good came to the righteous and bad came to the sinful. They believed he was a fraud and the trials he faced were a reflection upon the state of his soul. In the days Jesus’ ministry (thousands of years later), His disciples still felt the same about those who suffered. They asked Jesus in John 9:2, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered in 9:3, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.”
As we study the final plague and rationalize the death of so many innocent children, we must remember that verse. While we can clearly see Pharaoh’s heart hardened against God, logic, and even common sense, do we really believe he was the only one who felt that way? We must believe other Egyptians rejected God in spite of all the evidence. We must know many of his compatriots hated the God of the Israelites because of what happened. We must surely believe he wasn’t the only one with a stubborn heart.
Moments of tragedy have a way of teaching those who are open-minded and logical. Those events seem to heighten their senses and bring them in touch with reality. However, close-minded, immature people tend to react the complete opposite and become even more illogical. To comprehend this world, we must appreciate an idea that doesn’t always make sense to us. Tragedy, even tragedy that seems pointless, has a purpose. Many times, that purpose is to display the “works of God.” At those moments, tragedy is a means to an end. It allows God to use Christians as a “city set on a hill.” It allows the Church to be a “light to the world.” It allows human beings made in God’s image an opportunity to feed the poor, clothe the naked, heal the sick, and love the marginalized. It gives the people of this world a chance to act Godly and it encourages us to let go of our false illusions. It pushes us to trust in God above all else. It urges us to turn to the one who can make sense of the senseless. It gives us an opportunity to turn to God when there is nowhere else to turn.
In a vacuum, our deep theological understanding of tragedy makes sense. Unfortunately, life doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We’ve all experienced tragedy and we can all relate to those who lost loved ones in Egypt. By itself, the tenth plague is a brutal reminder that God is alive, working in our world, defending His Children, and accomplishing His Will. When we combine it with our personal experiences, it can be much more than that though. It can be a warning and a lesson. It can be something we use to find empathy and compassion. It can be a driving force for good, for commitment, and for evangelism.
If we love God, we must also hate the sin of the Egyptians that led to this moment. We must hate the pain they endured as their children died and in the end, we must still love the God who was patient, who gave those who’d listen the opportunity to survive, who (after all was said and done) comforted those who suffered. At the end of the day, we must admit that tragedy is unavoidable because sin is unavoidable.
Exodus 11-12 tells the story of the tenth plague and the fallout that came from the death of the firstborn in Egypt. This is not a story for the faint of heart. As we begin to dissect these events, we need not label this an unavoidable tragedy. Pharaoh and his people could have avoided this terrible moment had they been open to God’s message. I encourage you to notice the following details that emerge from the text:
(1) In 11:1-3, the Lord told Moses the end of their time in Egypt is almost at hand. He was clear in 11:1, “I will bring one more plague and afterward he (Pharaoh) will let you go from here.” Notice that God told Moses, “Pharaoh will drive you out of here altogether” in 11:2. The difference between letting you leave and asking you to leave is much bigger than we might want to admit. In 11:4-8, Moses went before Pharaoh with one last warning, but the man would not listen yet again. There was nothing Moses could do to change his heart, unfortunately for Egypt, God wasn’t done working His wonders on Egypt.
(2) In Chapter 12, we see the institution of the Passover. Verses 1-11 describe the instructions given to the people. These were not arbitrary instructions, rather, they were specific to the people of Israel and tantamount to the entire process of their escape. Each family was to take one lamb unless they were too poor and then they were allowed to share with their neighbors (12:3-4). The lamb was to be “a male without blemish,” according to 12:5. The families were to set it aside from the 10th to the 14th day of the month (12:2,6). The lamb was to be killed by all of Israel at twilight of the predetermined day (12:6). The Israelites were to put some blood on the “doorposts and the lintel of the houses where they ate the meal,” (12:7). When it came to preparing the lamb, they were to “roast it in fire alongside unleavened bread with bitter herbs,” (12:8). They were told not to eat it raw, nor boiled with water,” in 12:9. Finally, they were told to eat it with “a belt on their waist, sandals on their feet, and a staff in their hand,” according to 12:11.
(3) 12:13-13 explained why they were to follow these detailed instructions. God said He would “pass through the land of Egypt and strike the firstborn against all the gods of Egypt.” It seems clear to me that this moment was less about Egypt’s rebellion and more about God’s sovereignty. He was tired of their insolence but also their idolatry and trust in “all the gods of Egypt,” which would also include their worship of the Pharaoh himself. Notice that the blood was a “sign for where you are so I may pass over you and the plague shall not be on you,” according to 12:13. For Christians, the lesson here is obvious. Unless you’re protected by the blood of Christ, when death comes, you’ll be completely unprepared.¹
(4) In 12:14, God declared this moment as the impetus of a memorial the Israelites “shall keep as a feast throughout your generations by an everlasting ordinance.” He went on in 12:15-20 to describe how this memorial would be undertaken in the future. While there is extreme value to be placed upon the Passover, we must remember it is not the redemption of Israel, it is merely the dawn of redemption.²
(5) 12:29-30 is one of the saddest moments in all of OT history. The phrase that sticks out is found in 12:30 which says, “there was not a house where there was not one dead.” This plague was catastrophic as Pharaoh’s hard heart finally broke the people of Egypt. Notice how he describes the fullness of the devastation, “it came to pass at midnight that the Lord struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon.” I can’t help but think the author may have had Joseph on his mind in 12:29 when he references the “captive in the dungeon.” Here we see God keep His word by turning evil on its head. Pharaoh had enacted an unrighteous judgment on the Hebrews boys by throwing them into the Nile, not God enacted a righteous judgment on Egypt’s sons.³ At the end of his rope, “Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron and said, ‘Go out from among my people and serve the Lord. Be gone, and bless me also,” in 12:31.
The fallout from this moment was swift and impactful. Fear fell upon everyone in Egypt. The Egyptians said in 12:23, get rid of the Israelites, for soon “we shall all be dead.” There is no doubt in my mind that this moment was far worse than we can possibly imagine. Thousands of families buried their children the next day from the poorest peasants to the royal family. The Kingdom of Egypt was devastated. The people were in shock, but finally, their vision was sound. They had finally learned one simple thing, you do not want to pick a fight with the God of the Israelites. In the end, it will be your undoing.
What seems to be most tragic about all of this is the fact it could have been avoided. Had Pharaoh listened to God, some of his people, or plain old-fashioned common sense, all those families could’ve avoided the worse thing in this world. The final plague was a testament to God’s power over the forces of evil. It’s proof that God holds power over life and death. It’s proof that God is patient, but it’s also proof His patience has a limit. It’s proof that stubbornness in this world will get you nowhere quickly.
May we all learn from the Pharaoh that standing against God is a dangerous idea before its too late.
¹ Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Delivered, (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 1998), 70.
² R. Alan Cole, Exodus, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 118.
³ Tony Merida, Exodus, (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2014), 71.
All Scripture is taken from the New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by Permission. All rights reserved.