Exodus 12:29—How could an all-loving God slay the firstborn of all the Egyptians?
Problem: Exodus 12:29–30 describes that terrible night when God struck in the land of Egypt, “from the first born of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of livestock.” This miraculous judgment was brought upon Egypt because Pharaoh had refused to let Israel go. However, the people of Egypt did not have control over Pharaoh’s actions. How could an all-loving God strike the firstborn of those Egyptians who were not responsible for the decisions of Pharaoh?
Solution: First, it is wrong to assume that because the Egyptian people may not have had control over Pharaoh’s decisions that they were completely innocent. Every individual Egyptian certainly had the opportunity, throughout the long ordeal of God’s judgment upon Egypt, to flee to Moses and the Hebrews for protection from those judgments. In fact, Exodus 12:38 states that “A mixed multitude went up with them [the children of Israel] also.” No doubt there were many Egyptians who joined the Hebrews as a result of the judgments of God. The fact that most were not willing to turn to the living God even in the face of the nine previous plagues indicates that they were not innocent bystanders.
Second, is it also wrong to assume that simply because the Egyptian people did not change Pharaoh’s mind that they could not have changed his mind. Although the power of the people is severely limited under a dictatorship as that of Egypt, it is conceivable that the people could have revolted so as to either force Pharaoh to change his mind, or to overthrow him. In fact, Exodus 12:33 states, “And the Egyptians urged the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste.” Up until this point the Egyptian people had apparently not made any effort to urge the Hebrews to leave the land. The Egyptians were obviously content to leave such matters in the hands of their king. By doing so, they were not innocent of the decisions which were made by their king. The judgment of God was not directed only at Pharaoh or the heads of state of the land, but on Egypt as a whole, since they were equally responsible for the oppression and bondage of the people of God.
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.