26 April 2009

The LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt

God starts planning this mass murder in Chapter 3 of Exodus, and he doesn't stop talking about it until he kills every Egyptian firstborn child (and animal) in Exodus 12.

Here was the way God planned it.

On the night of the mass child murder, God told each Israelite family to find a year-old lamb without blemish, kill it, and wipe the blood on the top and sides of the door.
In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb … without blemish, a male of the first year … And ye shall … kill it in the evening. And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses. Exodus 12.3-7
That way when God came through Egypt looking for first born children and animals to kill, he would see the bloody door and “pass over” the house, saying to himself, “Oh yeah, I’m not supposed to kill any children or animals here.”
For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast … and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, 12.12-13
And that’s what happened.

At midnight God passed through Egypt killing every Egyptian first-born child and animal.
At midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle ... and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead. 12.29-30
Why did God do it?

Well, it seems that he did it mostly just to show off.

To show off his signs and wonders:
I will … smite Egypt with all my wonders. 3.20
I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt. 7.3
Go in unto Pharaoh: for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might shew these my signs before him. 10.1
The LORD said unto Moses, Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you; that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt. 11.9
To introduce himself to the Egyptians:
And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD. 7.5
To show what he can do:
Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh. 6.1
To show that there is nobody else on earth quite like him:
For I will at this time send all my plagues upon thine heart, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people; that thou mayest know that there is none like me in all the earth. 9:14
To make himself famous (so that everyone will know his name):
That my name may be declared throughout all the earth. 9.16
To give us a story to tell our children and grandchildren:
That thou mayest tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy son's son, what things I have wrought in Egypt. 10.2
To show that the whole earth belongs to him:
That thou mayest know how that the earth is the LORD's. 9.29
To prove that he is God:
In this thou shalt know that I am the LORD. 7.17
That ye may know how that I am the LORD. 10.2
To show that he likes Israelites more than Egyptians:
That ye may know how that the LORD doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel. 11.7
And to punish the Egyptian Gods:
Against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment. 12.12
Well, I guess those motives are about as good as any for a mass murder.

In any case, God is clearly proud of this one. And it's no wonder. It wasn't all that easy to pull off, even for God.

He had to harden the Pharaoh's heart eight times to make it all work out as planned. (Exodus 4.21; 7.3, 13; 9.12; 10.1, 20, 27; 11.10)

Some hearts are hard for even the Bible god to harden.

So how many were killed in this killing? Well, the population of Egypt at the time the Exodus supposedly occurred was about 3 million (McEvedy and Jones 1978). If half of the Egyptians were killed in the first plague, and 10% of the survivors were killed in the seventh (150,000), then 1,350,000 remained. If one-sixth of them were first born sons, then about 200,000 Egyptians were killed by God (or the angel sent by God to do his dirty work for him) in the tenth plague.

God's next killing: drowning the Egyptian army


Steve Wells said...

You may be right, twilight.

But it's hard to take the Bible's 600,000 Israelite male number (Exodus 12:37) seriously.

I think I'd rather stick with the lower number from Wikipedia (unless someone can find a better estimate).

Giant Hogweed said...

But wait, if you can't trust the bible census figures, what part of it can you trust ?!

Steve Wells said...

Good point, tbis.

I suppose I should use the Bible's numbers when counting God's killings. If the Bible says there were several million Israelite slaves, then there must have been ten times as many Egyptians. Which means God must have killed five million or so Egyptian children.

So which number should I use? 0.5 million or 5 million?

busterggi said...

Why 5 million of course!

Its impolite to minimize Yahweh.

TWF said...

Here's something to ponder too which may increase the death toll: The plague is on ALL of the firstborn. That is to say, it does not seem that the plague would account for age. So if I was an Egyptian grandfather and was the firstborn of my dad, then I would die, my firstborn son would die, and his firstborn son would die as well during this plague.

Steve Wells said...

OK, you've convinced me. I'll increase the estimate to one million.

According to the Bible, several million Israelites left Egypt in the Exodus. If so, then there must have been at least twice as many Egyptians. So if we use the Wikipedia's high estimate of 6 million Egyptians, and figure one-sixth of them were first-born sons, that would put the death toll at 1 million.

How does that sound? Would God be happy with that number?

Dave B said...

I am sure He is all aglow. It is, after all, seven figures, and we know how fond God is of the number seven.

Anonymous said...

The Hebrew/Egyptian population estimate here assumes too much. Slave populations are often much larger than the ethnic ruling class. 600 chariots against a completely unarmed, slow-moving train of Israelites would be basically unstoppable until the horses got tired, and sounds like a reasonably sized "police action" force to quiet a rebellion that never actually happened the previous 8 times.

Geds said...

Not really, robyrt.

Using a chariot for crowd control in the ancient world would be roughly equivalent to trying to use a tank now. You may well be able to keep frightened and cowed people freaked out with one, but you'd be heavily limited in its capabilities. There's a big problem, too, that if the goal is to get them to come back using a light offensive weapon in the role of captor wouldn't work so well.

Up until the Persians came out with the scythed chariot the weapon was used as a mobile, semi-stable arrow platform. There weren't really chariot duels and the chariots didn't wade in to the middle of enemy formations.

What would actually happen if a force of chariots engaged a column of 3 million people who could basically move in any direction is a slow tide of panic. People would see the chariots coming and begin running in all directions. The rear of the line would push in to the center invoking a further panic, which would then spread to the front. Those who weren't felled by an arrow, set upon by the infantry, or simply run over when they stepped in the path of a chariot would end up scattered all the hell over the place. Any chance of them being captured as a group would then be completely gone.

Of course if you have to march any length with the newly re-imprisoned folks in your charge you run in to a whole new problem. Any sufficiently large and determined group can simply overwhelm their captors if the weight of numbers is on their side. If we're talking one soldier for every few thousand captives, the tactical situation changes really fast. A local attempt to take down a sentry followed by calling for reinforcements from other soldiers followed by still more people taking advantage of local superiority in numbers would quickly cascade in to an unwinnable situation for the Egyptians.

twillight said...

I have a thought of the numbers estimated, and came to a very stroy-wise conclousion: 1 egyptian firstborn was sacrifiesed for each hebrew person! That'd give a very unique and "undertandable" (in a usual folcloric-tale way) meaning of the story, as it is really about the pashka.

So as we can estimate the jews' number arund 3 million the smited egyptians would be also 3 million!

Anonymous said...

Good comments. The question that should be asked is not why did God kill so many, but why did God not kill more. God was just in what he did. If you disagree with that then you don't realize the extent of your sinfulness and the extent of God's holiness, i.e. a misconception of who God is. Why did God not kill you in your sleep last night, since you are living in rebellion to him? He would be just in doing so. If God has given you another day then realize he has given you another opportunity to repent and receive his gift of forgiveness that only comes through faith in Jesus Christ. God is loving but he is also just. If you continue to live in rebellion to God you will receive justice, eternity in hell, if you repent and believe God will pardon your sin and give you mercy. You are a creature created by God and he can do whatever he likes with you. You have no rights, he can take you into eternity at any moment. Stop provoking God with your sin and seek mercy before it is too late. Read Romans 9, new testament, and you will see that the God of the new testament is the God of the old testament.

PaulP said...

Rodger you hit the nail on the head~if i had of written all that sinful rebellious mess above your comment-I would be scared to even close my eyes at night!You boys best get your act together and soon!

Unknown said...

God gave the Egyptians every opportunity to live. What about the mass murders done by the Egyptians ? It was their choice ! what an awesome God!

Unknown said...

Didn't God kill those firstborns to free the hebrews?

Steve Wells said...

No Amos, God gave ten reasons for killing the Egyptian firstborn children and animals; none of them had anything to do with freeing the Hebrews.

But you have a point here. After God's mass murder of the Egyptian children, the Pharaoh asked Moses to leave Egypt and take all his people with him. So it had the effect of freeing the Hebrews, even though it wasn't included in God's list of motives.

Paul Robinson said...

Your post and most of the comments are irrational and anti-historical>

God was NOT showing off - the children of the Israelites had been used to provide blood baths for the Pharaoh, the children of the Israelites were killed if quotas were not met and their blood mixed into the bricks - etc according to the Jewish Talmuds.

The Judgements of God are always just; the Israelites walked out of Egypt with their wages for years worked - God is always fair to His people.

Your mockery does NOT indicate intelligence but irrational mockery about things you refuse to learn.

IGNORANCE is never a positive attribute.

Paul Robinson said...

Your post and most of the comments are irrational and anti-historical>

God was NOT showing off - the children of the Israelites had been used to provide blood baths for the Pharaoh, the children of the Israelites were killed if quotas were not met and their blood mixed into the bricks - etc according to the Jewish Talmuds.

The Judgements of God are always just; the Israelites walked out of Egypt with their wages for years worked - God is always fair to His people.

Your mockery does NOT indicate intelligence but irrational mockery about things you refuse to learn.

IGNORANCE is never a positive attribute.

Unknown said...

Keep in mind, you are talking about mythology. It's like having a big conversation about Zeus forcing Sysaphus to keep rolling his rock up the hill for eternity. Yes, it's an important allegory, but not necessarily true. The Torah was never meant to be an accurate historical account of events. It never makes that claim, never says it.

Earl Purple said...

Paul Robinson:

These things may indeed have happened to the Israelites under Pharaoh. When there is a cruel and oppressive leader, some of the biggest victims are their own people.

When Pharaoh (probably the previous one) ordered that the baby boys be drowned in the river, the Talmud (which you quote) or other Rabbinic authorities mention that this applied equally to Egyptian as well as Israelite.

At various points during the plagues, the Egyptians pleaded with Pharaoh to let the people go.

There was even a "revolt" by the first-borns.

So you could say that G-d's measure of punishment certainly hit innocent victims, who were as powerless to stop Pharaoh, if not more so, than the enslaved Israelites.

Unknown said...

Paul Robinson
If God is always just, why would he kill the sons of the Egyptian slave women, as Ex 11:5 tells us?

God does not pardon you and give you mercy. God always demands punishment for a transgression, even an inadvertent one - the reason for all the blood sacrifices. If you think there is forgiveness, re-read Leviticus.
Even with Christ, there is not forgiveness without death for sin. If you steal from me and your neighbor says forgive roger123 - I will suffer in his stead and I say ok roger123 - you are forgiven, but first I have to kill your neighbor - that is what we have with Christ.

God does not forgive - ever. He always demands retribution.

In a way, you might think God would think fondly of the Egyptians - they saved the Israelites from certain death during the famine when they all went to Egypt. Even though they were slaves, they lived in the best land, Goshen. According to the rumblings of the people in the wilderness, they also got plenty to eat, their numbers grew like crazy, and they even lived in substantial homes with their families, if Ex 11 is to believed.