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Was it necessary for God to destroy Egypt with the 10 plagues? What about the firstborns?

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February 6, 2019

Was it necessary for God to destroy Egypt with the 10 plagues? Although this fantastic event freed Israel from Egyptian bondage, it leaves many difficult questions unanswered. Was Pharaoh a puppet in God’s hands? Did He really harden his heart? Why these specific plagues, and not others? Why killing the first born of each family? Stick with us as we answer all those questions in this short video.

 

The first issue one can struggle with in reading this story is that it seems like God is controlling Pharaoh from above like a puppet to fulfill a certain plan of His. We hear on a few occasions throughout the events that God will harden Pharaoh’s heart. If God does harden Pharaoh’s heart, then where is his free will? And, how would God judge Pharaoh if God controlled Pharaoh’s actions?  On what basis is He judging him? This would be quite unfair and frankly God’s morality would be in question. To understand the events taking place, we have to look at the remainder of the text. On other occasions, it describes Pharaoh as hardening his own heart. So both types of verses are there. So which one is more accurate? Both verses do complete each other but the former should not be taken at face value. For sure, God does not harden Pharaoh’s heart. God has given us a free will to choose. It would be a big mistake to take this verse literally. The actual meaning can be understood through Romans 1:28, where we learn that God gives sinners over to their own debased mind, to do things that are not fitting. In other words, when sinners choose to do what is not fitting, God lets them be and therefore further corruption is found in them, and this corruption ultimately leads to a debased mind and a hardened heart. The heart and the mind are linked. This is a spiritual law that we experience. When we sin, we become more and more under the authority of the devil and he takes control over our thoughts, feelings and actions. So, the meaning of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart is that He allowed Pharaoh to harden his own heart through leaving him the choice to do evil.

 

But why would God choose such destructive plagues? Was this really necessary? It was! Let me explain: when Moses told Pharaoh to let his people go, Pharaoh’s response was quite defiant, he says: “Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, nor will I let Israel go.”  So Pharaoh did not regard nor had any respect for God because he did not know Him. So on what basis will he let the people go and free them from slavery? Remember, these Jew­ish slaves were building the country for him. The fate of the Israelites could only be changed if God intervenes with an external factor. As the story develops, Pharaoh himself revealed the main characteristic he would like to see in a God. In Exodus 7, it says: “Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘When Pharaoh speaks to you, saying, ‘Show a miracle for yourselves,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your rod and cast it before Pha­raoh, and let it become a serpent.’”  This verse is crucial as it demonstrates that Pharaoh sought miracles to believe in the existence and power of God. This need was further emphasized in the first three challenges between Moses and Pharaoh’s magicians, we can see that Pharaoh was keen to have his magicians imitate the miracles done by God. First, he was reassured when the rods of his magicians were also transformed into serpents. They also imitated Moses by turning water into blood. And finally, they brought frogs out of the water replicating what Moses and Aaron did.  But this time, his reaction was different, the text says that Pharaoh made supplication from the Lord that He may remove the frogs from the land and God did. There­fore, the only apparent criterion Pharaoh displayed to believe in the God of Israel was miracles. Unfortunately, even when he saw the first nine miracles, he still refused to let the people go. How much more would he have refused if there were none? This need became quite obvious when God brought the lice upon the Egyptians, the Scripture says: “Now the magicians so worked with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they could not. So there were lice on man and beast. Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God.’ ” Here, the magicians themselves confessed that this was the finger of God because they could not recreate the miracle. They confessed because they saw the plagues! God gave them what they needed to believe in His sovereignty.

 

But why would God choose these specifics plagues? Why not other types of miracles? Actually, through these plagues, God sent a very vital message to the Egyptians because these plagues were targeted at the gods of the Egyptians. Exodus 12:12 says: “… against all the gods of Egypt I will ex­ecute judgment: I am the LORD.”  In other words, God reveals Himself to the Egyptians as the real God by proving to them that their gods are false as they are unable to defend themselves. Let me quickly give you a few examples. The Egyptians worshipped the Nile river considering it divine; yet, it was turned into blood at the command of God. So the Nile is not divine after all. Another example are the frogs that the Egyptians used to dedicate to the god Osiris. These were suddenly against them, so where is Osiris to defend? Or the epidemic against the livestock, which the Egyptians believed were holy like the calf “Apis.” The Egyptian gods failed to protect these livestock from the extreme weather like hail and fire or from the locusts. Another god the Egyptians worshiped was the sun “Ra.” God declared His sovereignty over the sun by hiding it with thick darkness for three days. Similarly to the story of creation in Genesis 1, God reveals Himself as the One only true God. In doing so, He made Himself known, not only to the Jews at the time, but also to the future Jewish generations as He declared in Exodus 10:1-2. He made Himself also known to the pagan nations as we can read in Exodus 9:16 and Joshua 9:9 and, more importantly, He made Himself known to the Egyptians themselves. Because these plagues demonstrated the power of the One True God, many of the Egyptians feared the Lord (see Exodus 9:20). Some of them even left Egypt and joined the Hebrews in crossing the red sea as mentioned in Exodus 12:38.

 

Sadly enough, the story unfolded one plague after another till it got to the tenth plague — the killing of each Egyptian’s family’s first born. No prior plague was able to melt the heart of Pharaoh and the hearts of those Egyptians who still rejected the One Almighty God — but this one did. As sad as this sounds, the death of a family member or close friend is the most powerful tool that can heal someone with a rebellious nature. As priests, we see this often. The rebellious heart of a person who is hard through sin melts at the death of a loved one. In his brokenness, this person loses, at least temporarily, his pride and attachments to all that is keeping him away from God. This unfortunate ultimate tool is what God had to use against Pharaoh and the Egyptians. It was used because gentler means have failed. Egyptians from all societal levels lost their first born males. So the Egyptians wanted to get rid of the Hebrews. Exodus 12 says: “And the Egyptians urged the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste. For they said, ‘We shall all be dead.’” The Egyptians even willingly gave their articles of silver, gold and clothing to get rid of them. It was unfortunately the one plague needed for Pharaoh and the Egyptians to let go of their pride and provide the Hebrew slaves their freedom. The second potential reason for this specific plague is that God avenged the death of the Hebrew children that the previous Pharaoh had killed when Moses was still a baby. God made the Egyptians taste their own cruelty. As His Holiness Pope Shenouda of Thrice Blessed Memory said: “God is perfectly just in His mercy and perfectly merciful in His justice.”

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