10 April 2012

Exodus 12:28-39

"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." (v. 29)


The killing of the firstborn is the last of ten plagues sent upon the Egyptians as they stubbornly held the Israelites in captivity as slaves. The angel of death delivers the plague of death across Egypt, but passes over the homes of the Israelites who have marked their homes in lamb's blood (Exodus 12:7), the sacrifice made to God to win their own protection.

God sees and protects. The Israelites are God's people and he is their God. As Christians, we too see ourselves as marked out by blood. Every time that we symbolise this through wine at Holy Communion (1 Corinthians 11:23-26) we remember God's compassion for us; compassion that is won through the death and resurrection of his own son - which brings us all into communion (ie into covenant) with him.

The Exodus depicts not just freedom from slavery for the Israelites but victory. Pharoah cannot get rid of them quickly enough - so great is his fear of their God after the tenth plague. So keen is Pharoah to set the Israelites free from their long years of slavery that they plunder his kingdom simply by asking for what they want (verses 35-36). It is total victory - even though the Israelites are still afraid, and still rush.

Yet victory comes at great cost. At an inter faith Seder I attended recently, the local Rabbi talking about this (and the subsequent death of the Egyptians crossing the Red Sea) recalled an ancient Rabbinic saying - "as the Israelites escaped it was said the angels sang with joy, and God said, 'How can you sing when my children are drowning in the sea?'" The point is that rejoicing in victory is always sour since there are always people who have been vanquished too.

God's children are more than just the group we happen to belong to - God loves, and celebrates, and weeps with people of all faiths and none, of all colours and cultures.

In our Christian story God becomes as the Egyptians - suffering the death of God's own firstborn, Jesus - feeling that same pain at his suffering, the same wailing at his passing. And on Easter morning (still with memories of those infants who died at the hand of Herod at Jesus' coming (Matthew 2:16-19) - the pain amidst the glory in our story), angels again sing with rejoicing for the victory of all of God's people - the whole creation - as the resurrection unfolds and is slowly understood.

To Ponder

Who are the victims of war who you want to pray for now?

To what extent is it appropriate to rejoice in victory? What might the alternatives be?

Bible notes author

The Revd Sue Male

"I am a Methodist minister in Harrow and Hillingdon Circuit, married to Phil with two children - Charis, 17, and Michael, 14. "My passions in ministry are the Bible, inter faith relations and the promotion of equality and diversity in our churches.