Friday, October 7, 2011

Exodus 4:21-23 My Firstborn Son

"The LORD said to Moses,
'When you return to Egypt,
see that you perform before Pharaoh
all the wonders I have given you the power to do.
But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.
Then say to Pharaoh,
"This is what the LORD says:
Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you
'Let my son go, so he may worship me.'
But you refused to let him go;
so I will kill your firstborn son."

Exodus 4:21-23 (NIV)
At first glance, it may seem that something unfair is going to happen to the Pharaoh.  God says that He will harden Pharaoh's heart so that he will not let the people of Israel go.  Then God would kill Pharaoh's firstborn son.  Isn't this unjust?  After all, if God is going to harden Pharaoh's heart, how can he help but resist God's request?

This hardening of Pharaoh's heart will happen, but that is only one of the facts.  As we begin to get deeper into this story, we will see that this account in Exodus 4 is only a summary of the main events which will occur.  Moses is being given a general idea of what will happen when he goes to Egypt.  However, he is not given all the details at this point -- just the highlights of what will happen there.

The fact is, as we will see in upcoming posts, Pharaoh will be given many chances to repent before his heart is hardened.  Not only that, but in the passage above, God seems quite concerned that Moses perform before Pharaoh all of the miracles which he has been given the power to do.  These wonders are yet another chance to repent and turn to God.  God's attention to these matters reveals that He is merciful and just, and wants to give Pharaoh every chance possible to repent.

However, God is also holy.  He cannot just overlook sin and still maintain righteousness and justice.  Also, Pharaoh is in a position of great responsibility and leadership.  Therefore, God will not let his rebellious ways go unchallenged.

The crux of the matter, though, is even more ominous.  At the heart of this exchange is the fact that God is in a covenant relationship with the people of Israel.  This special relationship is reflected in the way God declares in verse 22 that "Israel is my firstborn son."  Just as a firstborn son is beloved and precious to a father, the nation of Israel is beloved and precious to God.  God wants Pharaoh to let His 'son' go.  These terms make it crystal clear to Pharaoh that God is serious.  Just as Pharaoh has a firstborn son,  and, we infer, would stop at nothing in order to protect him from harm, God has a similar relationship with the nation of Israel, and will stop at nothing to maintain His covenant with them by delivering them from slavery in Egypt.  If Pharaoh refuses to relent, he is told here quite explicitly what he can expect in return:  the death of his own firstborn son.

[Fast-forward to today.  I think about passages such as the above every time I hear the anti-Israel tirades launched by many world leaders today.  I wonder if they know about the covenant relationship that God has with Israel.  Or that God doesn't change, or go back on His promises.]

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