Friday 21st August 2020 The Death of the First Born
Exodus 12: 29-32
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. 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. 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. Take your flocks and your herds, as you said, and be gone. And bring a blessing on me too!’
Have you noticed how prominent the theme of children under threat of death is in the Exodus story? Firstly, Pharaoh’s attempt to control the Hebrew slave population by killing male children. Then Moses, adrift on the Nile and rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter. And now the slaughter of Egypt’s firstborn by God, which triggers Israel’s final liberation from slavery.
And have you noticed how crucial perspective is to how we read this story? It’s Passover if you’re a Jew, but holocaust if you’re Egyptian. Salvation or genocide – and both at the hand of God!
We can’t escape the really uncomfortable questions this raises about God and salvation – especially because of our direct line from Passover to the Cross via the Last Supper.
It’s important to note that we’re in the thick of the “God vs Pharaoh” battle for the future of the world. Just as Pharaoh’s armies would slaughter the firstborn of their enemies to deny them any future, God’s final act will complete the destruction of the slave-Empire and result in liberation – salvation.
But there’s the problem: God may be saving the slaves and crushing the Empire in order ultimately to benefit the whole creation, but is playing by Pharaoh’s rules! The slaves cannot be saved without the death of the (innocent) Egyptian children!
There is a mystery to salvation. For whatever reason, God saves only by entering into the mess and destructiveness of our world and defeating the forces ranged against God’s intentions for life and flourishing. Israel is saved at the expense of the Egyptians – explicitly to be a blessing to the whole world. Pharaoh recognizes this and asks for a blessing from the departing Moses.
At Easter, we see God’s own firstborn slaughtered. As a sacrifice. God saving the world – by bearing the cost.
I pray fervently for the coming of your Kingdom, O God –
This world as you intended, full of Life and laughter and future!
I forget, though, that its coming is Bad News for those who will not welcome it
Because they refuse to let go of their advantage.
Help me to find no glee in their downfall
But mourn them as lost, beloved children of God,
As you do.
May we all find our salvation in the New World of your Kingdom.