Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
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And it came to pass, that 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 Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead.
— Exodus 12:29-30
It is hard to read this episode and not despair. God's slaughter of all the first-born of the Egyptians is possibly the most brutal act in the entire Old Testament, made so much worse by the fact that it need not have happened at all. The situation was completely cultivated by God through the repeated act of hardening Pharaoh's heart every time Pharaoh comes close to releasing the Hebrew people.1 This is God the boy-child torturing and murdering ants with a magnifying glass: cruel and futile.
As mentioned in an earlier reflection,2 the God of the Holy Bible is on His own journey of transformation, from the tantrum-throwing child of these early tales to the wise and forgiving father we see in later books, and in the New Testament gospels. Here we see God going through puberty, an emotionally aroused, attention-seeking God, manipulating His friends, and torturing and breaking His toys. It is an ugly episode. With such a sadistic and vengeful God being the object of worship it is easy to see why people are turned away from Abrahamic faiths, indeed are appalled by them.
But compare the God of Exodus to the God of Jonah, a story written some 800 years later. There we see a compassionate God, who recognises that despite the barbaric nature of the (non-Hebrew) nation of Nineveh, its people are still worth saving. It is the reluctant prophet Jonah who would like them all destroyed, but God teaches him that all life is precious, human, plant and animal.
Humankind is made in God's image, thus we have all of God's undesirable characteristics as well as His desired ones. To dismiss God and all of religion on the basis of these early stories, while tempting, may have us miss the opportunity to self-reflect, to assess, make amends, improve, to continue our journey, changed. God is not Him alone, God is also we, ourselves. And we've all been, or will become, teenagers.
1 See Exodus 4:21, 7:4, 7:13, 9:12, 10:1, 10:20, 11:10 and 14:8
2 Acceptance, Genesis 8:22