Wednesday 19th August 2020 Pharaoh Warned Again
The Lord said to Moses, ‘I will bring one more plague upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt; afterwards he will let you go from here; indeed, when he lets you go, he will drive you away. Tell the people that every man is to ask his neighbour and every woman is to ask her neighbour for objects of silver and gold.’ The Lord gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover, Moses himself was a man of great importance in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s officials, and in the sight of the people.
Moses said, ‘Thus says the Lord: About midnight I will go out through Egypt. Every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the female slave who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the livestock. Then there will be a loud cry throughout the whole land of Egypt, such as has never been nor will ever be again. But not a dog shall growl at any of the Israelites—not at people, not at animals—so that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. Then all these officials of yours shall come down to me, and bow low to me, saying, “Leave us, you and all the people who follow you.” After that I will leave.’ And in hot anger he left Pharaoh.
The Lord said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh will not listen to you, in order that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.’ Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh; but the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land.
… And we find ourselves at the climax of the series of plagues to befall Egypt. This ominous account, which seems to completely invert the massacre of the innocents in Luke’s Gospel, is indeed hot to handle for many a theologian. Its content is enough to disturb anyone. How do we respond?
We could take shelter behind the narrative device that the text may be stylised rather than literal. (Did it really happen?) Or we could argue that the impending deaths of the first-born is the final act against the tyranny of Pharaoh. (Could Pharaoh’s refusal to release the Hebrews force God’s hand?) But both responses still leave us with the haunting conclusion that God, who is “slow to anger … and abounding in love” (Ps 103.8), is capable of such a terrible act.
This account can leave us feeling that we may not recognise God. This shows a characteristic of God that is hard to get our heads around. The Creator of the Universe, who was willing to let his own Son die for our sins, is beyond our comprehension. God is, indeed, alien to us.
Maybe we also need to consider our own cultural position. We often find ourselves believing that Western culture is the pinnacle of human civilisation. We often stand in judgement over the actions other societies, ancient or modern, while betraying our own claims to egalitarianism and equality. Maybe we are exporting a degree of our own imperialism onto God.
I cannot find an easy way to justify the last plague to befall Egypt. Maybe all we can do is recognise that God, who came to earth in the human form of Jesus Christ, is also alien to us: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Is 55.9)
Creator God, we struggle and wrestle with the realisation that you are alien to us.
And yet, you fight on behalf of the alien and foreigner among us
and stand against those who oppose the Kingdom of God.
Help us to understand your ways.
Give us peace to live with the knowledge
That you are also beyond our understanding. Amen.