Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Ten Plagues of Egypt:
Objections and Questions About God, Part Four

The Plagues and Exodus, Mercy and Hope, and Eschatology

1. Hope and the Oppressed – We often read the story of the Passion by placing ourselves in various roles. If we were to put ourselves into the story of the Plagues, which part(s) are the most applicable? How do the Israelites symbolize us, as the people of God? Jesus is the New Moses, but can Moses and Aaron signify us as well as witnesses for the Lord who seek to turn (convert) sinners (Pharaoh)?

It is part of the institutional memory of the Jewish people to remember how God brought His people out of bondage in Egypt. This is partly to remember the Covenant and give thanks to God, but also to provide hope in times of persecution and hardship, that God will not give up, but will work tirelessly for our redemption and salvation.

The Book of Revelation (ch. 15-16) tells of the “seven last plagues,” including water turned to blood, festering open sores, darkness, unclean spirits like frogs, and hail and lightning. Both Exodus and Revelation show that evil and oppression will not have the final word, that they are not in control, rather, God is in charge, that He will make distinctions and save His people, that He will make His people immune from the ultimate suffering, the suffering of eternal death.

2. Hope and the Sinner – How should we view Pharaoh? Is he merely “the bad guy” of the story? Or are we Pharaoh also? Does he, can he, signify us? Doesn’t Pharaoh, although an oppressor, represent the typical sinner? And if he does, seeing as how God gave him many chances, shouldn’t that give us sinners hope of God’s inexhaustible mercy?

At first, Pharaoh professes an ignorance of God. Then he seeks to bargain and negotiate with God, seeking to set conditions and terms of doing good. Like any sinner, especially like the sinner who suffers some adverse consequences because of his sin, Pharaoh begins to lose resolve, he begins to crack, and starts to turn toward the good, if only with the “imperfect contrition” of wanting to avoid further punishment. Perhaps he really is truly sorry and repentant? But his movements toward the good end, and he becomes obstinate – his heart is hardened – when the pressure is off. The temptations of sin – in his case, power – cause him to fall backward. The cycle repeats itself over and over. After a while, Pharaoh, like a typical sinner, even admits his fault and is sorry, but again the will to do good is weak and he falters.

Eventually, however, the obstinate sinner runs out of time – the final plague is the point at which it is too late – death. (Do not the first-born, as inheritors, represent the future?) It is now too late for the sinner to repent, just as it was then too late for Pharaoh. There are no more “second” chances, there is no more future after death.

The account of the Plagues provides a glimpse into how God deals with the evildoer. We are a people of instant gratification; we want things done now. And in thinking of deliverance from Egypt, we tend to reduce the Exodus to the Passover and the Red Sea. But it is more than that. God did not rescue and redeem His people immediately. Rather, He did it over time, as part of a process. And He was not concerned only with His "chosen people."

Take note that Egypt was a provider of refuge for Abraham and the family of Jacob, as well as Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. Consequently, would not God be favorably disposed toward Egypt? Is the lesson to be learned that God does not merely want to destroy the oppressor, but to convert him, giving him many opportunities to do so?

God gave the evil oppressor Pharaoh many chances, many opportunities to do the right thing. While Moses and Aaron and the Israelites are the People of God, we would do well to remember that Pharaoh and the Egyptians -- indeed, all the oppressors of the world -- are God's children too. As His children, He loves them too. Just as He gives us many, many opportunities to repent, so too did He give Pharaoh many chances to do the right thing. God did not strike him down immediately, He did not destroy Egypt with one blow the first time, but only upon the tenth time.

Is not one of the big messages here concerning God’s approach to sinners, which should give those of us who are also sinners hope? That He prods, He pokes, He warns, He chastises, He is patient when the sinner back-slides, He gives countless chances, and His divine mercy is everlasting, that no matter how obstinate we might have been in sin, so long as we turn toward Him while there is still time, before death, when it is then too late, that we will be forgiven?

No comments: