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Why Did God Allow the Killing Of All the First Born of Egypt?

Please Note: Each coloured link within this article will lead you to a related topic on a different page of this site. However while the text is part of the original article, the links are not. The author of this article may or may not agree with the views expressed on those pages, or anything else on this site..

Also See The Sons Of Aaron The two oldest sons, Nadab and Abihu, as a result of a series of affronts to the holiness of their God, were struck dead The two younger brothers, Eleazar and Ithamar, and very likely Aaron as well, deliberately set aside God's will ... and yet they were not struck down. Indeed, they were not even declared guilty. Further, God blessed their lives and their descendants. Why?!

And The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart [Below]
 

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In his book, Forgive Me for Waiting so Long to Tell You This, David Servant wrote...

    Some people, who have never thought about it deeply, have questioned the fairness of God’s judgment upon the Egyptians. They ask, “What was so special about the Israelites that God favored them above the Egyptians?”

    But the answer isn’t so difficult: God was acting in perfect justice. The Egyptians had selfishly mistreated the Israelites for decades, using people who were created in God’s image as their slaves. They had also enforced a barbarous system of infanticide that must have brought untold suffering to the families of Israel. (Pharaoh decreed that every newborn Israeli boy was to be cast alive into the Nile River) The loving God could not remain passive.

    What did the ancient Egyptians deserve? They deserved to die. People who kill other people’s babies deserve to die. Still, God showed them mercy for years, giving them time to repent....  Too many people only see God’s judgments in this story. But can you see the incredible mercy of God? Pharaoh could have averted God’s final judgment if he had heeded the warning of God’s initial, more minor judgments. But he didn’t. [David Servant. Forgive Me for Waiting so Long to Tell You This. http://www.heavensfamily.org/ss/fm/fm_06]

ALSO

Context is everything in biblical interpretation.  The ancient Egyptians served many false gods.  The Plagues that were set upon the people of Egypt were relative to the gods of the land demonstrating that God was the true God and that their gods were weak, ineffective, and false.

    Plague of Turning the Nile to blood, Exodus 7:14-25.  Isis was the Egyptian god of the Nile. Khnum was the guardian of the Nile.

    Plague of Frogs, Exodus 8:1-5.  Heget was the goddess of birth and had the head of a frog.

    Plague of Gnats, Exodus 8:16-19.  Set was the god of the desert.

    Flies, Exodus 8:20-32.  Re was the sun god.  Uatchit was a god possibly represented by the fly.

    Death of Livestock, Exodus 9:1-7.  Hathor, goddess with a cow's head.  Apis was the bull god. 

    Boils, Exodus 9:8-12.  Sekmet goddess that had power over disease.  Sunu, the god of pestilence.

    Hail, Exodus 9:13-35.  Nut, the goddess of the sky.  Set god of storms.

    Locusts, Exodus 10:1-20.  Osiris, god of crops.

    Darkness, Exodus 10:21-29.  Re, the sun god.  Horus, a sun god.  Hathor, sky goddess.

    Death of firstborn, Exodus 11:1 - 12:30.  Min, god of reproduction.  Isis, goddess who protected children.  Pharaoh, considered a god.1

The death of the firstborn (Exodus 12:29) was not only a final blow to Pharaoh and all of Egypt demonstrating the powerlessness of Pharaoh and the truth of God's word, but it was also used as a prophetic typology.  In the account of the death of the firstborn, all who had the blood of a lamb placed on their door posts would escape the judgment of God on the households.  This blood on the door post was representative of the actual blood of Christ who is called the Lamb of God.  Therefore, God allowed the firstborn to be killed as a judgment upon Pharaoh, as a proof of God's superiority, and as a prophetic representation of the death of His Son, Jesus.  It was a representation of the gospel message that the true first born of God who would later die for the sins of the world and that all who are covered by the blood of Christ will be saved from their bondage to sin.  It does not mean that God is mean, especially if we realize that all have sinned (Rom. 3:23).  It means that God was arranging history to bear witness of the greatest act of love:  the crucifixion.    

1.  The information for this list was taken from “The Plagues and the Gods and Goddesses of Egypt,” as found in Walvoord, John F., and Zuck, Roy B., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press Publications, Inc.) 1983, 1985. Matthew Slick (carm.org)
 

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The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart
Wayne Wells (godofmercy.com)

There have been many different attempts made to explain how God hardened Pharaoh. Much of the difficulty has come from an overreaction to the error of the "direct operation of the Holy Spirit". Many have correctly pointed out that God does not miraculously convert anyone without the Word of God. To become a Christian, all must choose to be obedient to what is taught in the Word of God. Unfortunately, some have gone to the opposite extreme of Calvinism and teach that the only way God can influence people is by the teaching of the Scriptures. This concept causes many difficulties with many passages in the Scriptures, including the ones that teach on the hardening of Pharaoh's heart.

The Bible clearly says Pharaoh hardened his own heart, but at the same time, the Bible also clearly says God hardened his heart. How did this happen?

    1. The Bible states the fact that Pharaoh’s heart was hard four times (Exodus 7:14, 22; 8:19; 9:35).

    2. The Bible says Pharaoh hardened his own heart three times (Exodus 8:15, 32; 9:34).

    3. The Bible says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart ten times. 10 is the number for power. The 10 hardenings and 10 plagues demonstrate Jehovah’s power over Pharaoh, Egypt and their gods. (Exodus 4:21; 7:3, 13; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8).

Which is true? Did God harden Pharaoh or did Pharaoh harden himself? Both are true!

Some assume when the Bible says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, it means that God made Pharaoh into stubborn and obstinate man. The word for “harden” does not indicate that God made Pharaoh stubborn, but rather that God strengthened Pharaoh so he would have the courage to act on his rebellious thoughts. Pharaoh was proud and obstinate before Moses was sent to him, but the plagues were so great that he could have given up before he did if God had not hardened (strengthened) him.

To properly understand what happened to Pharaoh, we need to understand the different words that are translated into “hard’ or “harden”.
 

Pharaoh hardened his heart Kabed
When the Bible says Pharaoh hardened his own heart, the word “kabed” is always used.

    “Kabed, [kaw-bade’] to be heavy, i.e. in a bad sense (burdensome, severe, dull) or in a good sense (numerous, rich, honorable); cause to make weighty... more grievously afflict… be grievous, harden…” [The New Strong's Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words]

“Kebed usually carries a negative connotation… Pharaoh’s refusal to be sensitive to the situation or to the pleas of the Hebrew people is spoken of as a heaviness or hardening of the heart.”
(Harris, Archer, & Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament )


Pharaoh hardened (kabed) himself three times.

1. After the 2nd plague of frogs.

    Exodus 8:15
    But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not heed them, as the Lord had said.

2. After the 4th plague of flies

    Exodus 8:32
    But Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also; neither would he let the people go.

3. After the 7th plague of hail

    Exodus 9:34
    And when Pharaoh saw that the rain, the hail, and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet more; and he hardened his heart, he and his servants.

All three verses reveal Pharaoh's attitude when there was some relief from the plagues. He chose to be unrepentant and remained rebellious to God's command to let Israel go.
 

God hardened Pharaoh's heart Chazaq
When the Bible says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, 8 out of 10 times, the word “chazaq” [khaw-zak’] is used.

    “The basic meaning of this word in the Qal stem is ‘become strong.’ In general, the Piel is causative of the Qal, ‘make strong,’ ‘strengthen.’ The Hiphil is ‘take hold of,’ ‘seize,’ while the Hithpael stem is ‘strengthen oneself,’ hence, ‘take courage.’”
    (Harris, Archer, & Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament)

How chazaq is translated in the KJV

    Strong 48 times
    Strengthen 14 times
    Repair 47 times
    Prevail 10 times
    Hold 37 times
    Encourage 9 times
    Strengthened 28 times
    Courage 8 times
    Harden 13 times

When God hardened Pharaoh, it was to strengthen him, to give him courage so he would continue to stand against God so God’s purpose could be fulfilled. Even Pharaoh could have given up in face of the plagues, but he was strengthened to continue in his rebellion. God did not force Pharaoh to do anything against his will but strengthened him to do what he was already inclined to do.
 

Examples of “chazaq”
(Each have the idea of “to strengthen”)

1. Man's action

    Genesis 48:2
    And Jacob was told, “Look, your son Joseph is coming to you”; and Israel strengthened himself and sat up on the bed.

    Leviticus 25:35
    If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you.

    Deuteronomy 1:38
    Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall go in there. Encourage him, for he shall cause Israel to inherit it.

    Deuteronomy 11:8
    Therefore you shall keep every commandment which I command you today, that you may be strong, and go in and possess the land which you cross over to possess,

    2 Kings 22:5-6
    And let them deliver it into the hand of those doing the work, who are the overseers in the house of the Lord; let them give it to those who are in the house of the Lord doing the work, to repair the damages of the house— 6 to carpenters and builders and masons—and to buy timber and hewn stone to repair the house.

    Isaiah 39:1
    At that time Merodach-Baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that he had been sick and had recovered.

2. “Be strong and of good courage”

The phrase, “Be strong [chazaq] and of good courage” is used 12 times in the Old Testament. In all of them, chazaq obviously has the idea of “strength”.

    Joshua 1:6-7
    Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. 7 Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go.

    Joshua 1:9
    Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

    Also: Deut. 31:6-7, 23; Joshua 1:18, 10:25; 1 Chronicles 22:13, 28:20; 2 Chronicles 32:7

3. God’s activity

    2 Chronicles 16:9
    For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. In this you have done foolishly; therefore from now on you shall have wars.”

    Isaiah 41:13
    For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, Saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’

    Isaiah 42:1-6
    Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. 2 He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. 3 A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth….6 “I, the Lord, have called You in righteousness, and will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles.

    Isaiah 45:1
    Thus says the Lord to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have held— to subdue nations before him and loose the armor of kings, to open before him the double doors, so that the gates will not be shut.

    Ezekiel 30:24-25
    I will strengthen the arms of the king of Babylon and put My sword in his hand; but I will break Pharaoh’s arms, and he will groan before him with the groanings of a mortally wounded man. 25 Thus I will strengthen the arms of the king of Babylon, but the arms of Pharaoh shall fall down; they shall know that I am the Lord, when I put My sword into the hand of the king of Babylon and he stretches it out against the land of Egypt. 
     

God hardened [chazaq] Pharaoh’s

1. God’s words to Moses in Midian

    Exodus 4:21
    And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.”
     

2. After Aaron’s rod was turned into a serpent

    Exodus 7:13 (KJV)
    And he hardened Pharaoh’s heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.

    Exodus 7:13 (NKJV, NASV)
    And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the Lord had said.

    The KJV says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart but the NKJ and NASB say his heart grew hard “as the Lord had said”. How did the Lord say it would happen? In 4:21, God said, “I will harden his heart”.

3. After the 6th plague of boils

    Exodus 9:12
    But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh; and he did not heed them, just as the Lord had spoken to Moses.

4. After the 8th plague of locusts

    Exodus 10:20
    But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the children of Israel go.

5. After the 9th plague of darkness

    Exodus 10:27
    But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let them go.

6. When the death of the firstborn was announced

    Exodus 11:9-10
    But the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh will not heed you, so that My wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.” 10 So Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh; and the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the children of Israel go out of his land.

7. The pursuit of Israel into the Red Sea

    Exodus 14:4
    Then I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that he will pursue them; and I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord.” And they did so.

    Exodus 14:8
    And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the children of Israel; and the children of Israel went out with boldness.

    Exodus 14:16-18
    But lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. And the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea. 17 And I indeed will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them. So I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, his chariots, and his horsemen. 18 Then the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained honor for Myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”
     

In these passages, Pharaoh and the Egyptians were “hardened”. They were made strong in face of a power far greater than they had ever seen. It would have been easy for them to be frightened and give up, but God strengthened them so they would not surrender before God was finished with His judgments.

When Pharaoh hardened himself, he was a man who was standing against incredible power, but was able to muster his inner strength to not surrender. When the Bible says God hardened his heart, it is speaking of God’s activity in helping Pharaoh not lose his courage. A normal man would have given up before the 10 plagues were finished, but so that God’s purpose could be fulfilled, God hardened Pharaoh to enable him to not give up too soon. God did not force Pharaoh to do anything, but enabled him to do what he wanted to do anyway.

A normal army would be too frightened to chase the Israelites after experiencing the 10 plagues and then seeing the pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day that was with Israel. They would normally hesitate to go down on the dry bed of the Red Sea while the waters were standing on either side, but God hardened them, He gave them courage and strength to do what they already desired. As a result, God fulfilled His desire for Israel and received glory among the nations when they heard of His judgments on Israel.

1. 40 years later:

    Joshua 2:10-11
    For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. 11 And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.

    Joshua 9:9
    So they said to him: “From a very far country your servants have come, because of the name of the Lord your God; for we have heard of His fame, and all that He did in Egypt.

2. Over 400 years later after the Philistines capture the ark.

    1 Samuel 6:6
    Why then do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? When He did mighty things among them, did they not let the people go, that they might depart?

Other Hardenings

1. Sihon, king of Hesbon

    Deuteronomy 2:30
    But Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass through, for the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that He might deliver him into your hand, as it is this day.

    Sihon would have heard of what happened in Egypt and would naturally be afraid of Israel. God hardened him so he would meet Israel in battle and be destroyed by the Israelite army.

2. The Canaanites during the conquest

    Joshua 11:19-20
    There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon. All the others they took in battle. 20 For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that He might utterly destroy them, and that they might receive no mercy, but that He might destroy them, as the Lord had commanded Moses.

    In this passage, the Canaanites had many reasons to be too scared to fight the Israelites. Rahab said they had all heard of what God had already done for Israel. After the crossing of Jordan and the defeat of Jericho, it would be natural for them to not want to fight, but it was time for God’s judgment for their sin. God strengthened them to act on their natural desire for self-defense against the Israelites so they might be destroyed by the army of Israel.

2. Eglon, king of Moab

    Judges 3:12
    And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord strengthened [chazaq] Eglon king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the sight of the Lord.

    Eglon was not forced to do anything, but God strengthened him to attack Israel. It would be natural for the Moabites to hesitate to attack Israel. The Moabites knew about the crossing of the Red Sea (Exo 15:15) and had already been defeated by Israel after they hired Balaam to curse Israel.

    The reason Moab hired Balaam:

    Numbers 22:2-3
    Now Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. 3 And Moab was exceedingly afraid of the people because they were many, and Moab was sick with dread because of the children of Israel.

3. Samson, when he was being mocked by the Philistine.

    Judges 16:28
    Then Samson called to the Lord, saying, “O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray! Strengthen [chazaq] me, I pray, just this once, O God, that I may with one blow take vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes!”
     

4. David’s prayer when supplies were gathered to build the temple

    1 Chronicles 29:12
    Both riches and honor come from You, And You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; In Your hand it is to make great and to give strength [chazaq] to all.

5. Nehemiah’s prayer when rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem

    Nehemiah 6:9
    For they all were trying to make us afraid, saying, “Their hands will be weakened in the work, and it will not be done.” Now therefore, O God, strengthen [chazaq] my hands.
     

Conclusion
Pharaoh was responsible for his sin. He was stubborn and hard hearted before Moses was sent to him, but God also hardened him so that His purpose would be carried out.

    Exodus 9:16
    But indeed for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.

    Romans 9:17
    For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.”

One common method used to explain away God’s activity in hardening Pharaoh’s heart is by using the illustration of how the same event can cause different reactions in different people. The example is often given of how the heat of the sun will soften butter, but at the same time will harden concrete. The claim is made that God sent the 10 plagues, but the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was just Pharaoh's reaction to the plagues. Since God sent the plagues, He is given credit for hardening Pharaoh’s heart.

This explanation is insufficient to explain what the Bible actually says. This interpretation is allowing rationalistic philosophies to influence our interpretation of Scripture over allowing the Bible to speak for itself. Many battles were fought in the 1800's over the errors of the direct operation of the Holy Spirit. Christians fighting these battles clearly demonstrated that conversion can only come when the Word of God is taught. Some have taken these true concepts to extremes and teach that the only way God can work is through His Word. This teaching ignores too much in the Scriptures to be acceptable. We are not told all the details on how God hardened or strengthen Pharaoh, but that does not change the fact that He did.

Who understands exactly how God strengthened (hardened) Samson? Whatever caused his strength when he caused the collapse of the Philistine temple, it was more than a mere jolt of adrenaline. What all was involved in God strengthening (hardening) the hands of Nehemiah? How did He harden Eglon at the right time to bring judgment on rebellious Israel? Exactly what was involved when God held (or hardened) the hand of Cyrus or strengthened (or hardened) the king of Babylon against Egypt? Exactly how is God able to give strength (hardness) to all?

These events are not merely men's reactions to events in their lives. They are much more. They are the hand of God working with them to give them strength to do what they desire.

We are not called to understand everything perfectly. We are called to be a people of faith who believe God’s Word, which tells us we serve the living God who rules in His creation.

This is why we can pray with faith the same prayer that Paul prayed for the Ephesians, knowing that God works in our lives today.

    Ephesians 3:14-19
    For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

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