Monday, May 21, 2007

Exodus 7-12: My Deliverer Is Coming

Let me preface this post by saying that I really wish I had my Prince of Egypt soundtrack with me right now, or that I had ripped it onto my computer, because it's been running through my head since I started Exodus.

We start with God telling Moses exactly what's going to happen: Aaron is going to talk for him, Pharaoh's not going to listen, plagues are going to hit Egypt, Israel's going to be saved, and all Egypt will know that YHWH is God. Then we see it all happen more or less exactly the way God told Moses it would.

Imagine with me for a second that you're Pharaoh. You have the coolest empire in the world right now, and you've got a bunch of slaves to make it cooler by building stuff for you (we know that the Hebrews built Pithom and Raamses; we don't know what else they built. We also don't know that they were the only slaves in Egypt, and they probably weren't). If I remember 7th grade history right, approximately 2/3 of Egypt's population was the slave class. That doesn't mean 2/3 of the population was Hebrews, necessarily, but there were quite a few of them. So if you were Pharaoh, and some guy came to you and asked you to let a huge chunk of your population, your cheap labor force, and the people who make your empire cool, go off into the wilderness for a couple days, you would say no too.

I don't think the plagues were just about letting the Hebrews go. They were about showing Egypt - and the rest of the world, because word spreads - that the Hebrew God was number one. That's why the text says over and over, "then you will know that there is no one like Me in all the earth" (9:14) and things like that.

The Egyptians, as we all know, were polytheists. They worshipped the sun and the river and all this other stuff, and a lot of their gods were represented as birds or frogs or dogs or what have you. In sending plagues that attacked various Egyptian deities, God was asserting His sovereignty and authority over the gods of Egypt. If Egypt is powerless before YHWH, then surely no other nation could stand before Him. That's what I think, anyway.

I find the parts about Pharaoh's heart being hardened very interesting. Four times (after the first, third, fifth, and seventh plagues) the text says "Pharaoh's heart was hardened," twice (after the second and fourth plagues) it says "Pharaoh hardened his heart," and four times (after the sixth, eighth, and ninth plagues and before the tenth) it says "The LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart." Hebrew writers are usually pretty intentional about patterns and stuff, so I think these distinctions are worth noticing. Some people seem to think that God hardening Pharaoh's heart means that God made Pharaoh act against his will, like if God had left him alone, he would've let the Hebrews go the first time. That's not what I see in the text. First of all, it doesn't draw any extra attention to the fact that God hardens Pharaoh's heart; secondly, it specifically shows Pharaoh hardening his own heart, and thirdly, by the time we get to where it says that the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, he's already done it himself six times (including the time Aaron's staff became a snake), so by now he's in such a habit of being contrary, the real miracle is that he ever let the Hebrews go.

I also find it interesting and sort of odd that it's only during the fourth, fifth, seventh, ninth, and tenth plagues that God sets Goshen, where the Hebrews are, apart from the Egyptians. Did they have to endure the other five? The text gives us no reason to believe they didn't, because it makes such a point of God setting them apart when He did. To take the text at face value, we have to assume that the Hebrews dealt with water turned into blood, frogs, gnats (or lice), boils, and locusts just as the Egyptians did. Weird, isn't it? But that seems (to me) to be the way God does things. He doesn't typically remove His people from disasters and trials and persecutions; He preserves them through those things. That's what He did with Noah and his family, and that's what He's been doing with the Israelites, and that's what He did with Job, and that's what He did with the early church, and that's what He does with us today. That's why I stopped believing in a pre-trib rapture. God has never been in the habit of stopping bad things from happening to His people. We can never be sure that He'll remove us from evil, from pestilence, from persecution, or even from difficult situations, but we can be sure that He will be faithful to be with us and help us through those times.

Finally, we have Passover. This is one of my favorite parts of the entire Bible I think, and I can't possibly do it justice with my writing, but I'll try to show you what I find fascinating about this passage.

First each family has to take a year-old lamb, a perfect lamb, and keep it in the house for four days. Now, I don't have much experience with lambs, but we bought a lobster from Walmart one time for dinner, and before we had even gotten home my little brother had already named it. If you keep a cute fluffy animal in your house for more than a few seconds, you can just bet that everybody will fall in love with it. Then four days later you slit its throat. That's kind of morbid, isn't it? Killing something that for a while was a sort of pet?

The second thing is that they have to put the blood on their doorways using a hyssop branch. Later on, when we get into Leviticus and talk about the sacrificial system, we'll see hyssop is used a lot in sacrifices to cleanse the people from sin. When I read this, I immediately thought of Psalm 51, where David says "Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow." I'm pretty sure that is a direct reference to the blood of a sacrificial animal that was sometimes sprinkled on the people (like at Mt. Sinai) to represent that the animal's death covered their sins and made them blameless before God. But as Hebrews says, "it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins," because they're only animals. That's why people had to sacrifice them day after day, year after year, from the first sacrifice back in the Garden of Eden until the Atonement Day when Jesus died. After that, all those sacrifices became obsolete, because the blood of the true sacrifice, the only sinless man who ever lived, had been sprinkled over the people, washing us and covering our sins for good.

The third thing is that this wasn't just for the Hebrews. At the end of the chapter it says foreigners could eat the Passover meal if they became circumcised first, and I wonder if there were any Egyptians who did what Moses said and were spared that night. It says that "a mixed multitude" went out of Egypt with them - does that mean some Egyptians went with the Hebrews? I don't know. I think the text leaves that option open.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You might enjoy Googling "Pretrib Rapture Diehards," "Famous Rapture Watchers," and "Letter from Mrs. Billy Graham." Great reads! Marge