Power and Purpose
Of all of the plagues with which God struck the Egyptians it is the smiting of the firstborn that is singled out for its own remembrance (Exodus 13:2). What is this remembrance? God tells the Jewish people that their firstborn are sanctified to Him because He smote the firstborn of the Egyptians. What is the connection? Why do the firstborn children and animals of the Jewish people need to be sanctified if God only wanted to punish the Egyptians?
If you noticed, the smiting of the firstborn is singled out even before Moses went down to Egypt. In Exodus 4:22,23 God commands Moses to tell Pharaoh that His firstborn son is Israel. If Pharaoh refuses to send God’s firstborn son out of bondage so that God’s son can serve Him, God will kill Pharaoh’s firstborn. What is the significance of this and why is Israel called God’s firstborn son?
The concept of “firstborn” can only apply to something that has been produced. When people plant a field, raise flock of animals or establish a family they do so for a purpose. The purpose of all of these is the product that is produced. The field produces fruit, the flock produces a new generation of animals and the family unit looks forward to continuity through its children. The children represent the purpose of man’s labors. The firstborn child represents the ideal purpose for which all of the labor was invested. All of the effort that goes into to establishing and maintaining a family unit is brought to fruition in that firstborn child. That child carries with him all of the hopes, the aspirations and the goals of the family that produced him.
The first born child represents the purpose for which people see a reason to labor and to invest their strength.
The first nine plagues taught Israel that no power exists aside from God. All of the powers of nature move aside at God’s command.
The smiting of the firstborn taught Israel something else. The smiting of Egypt’s firstborn taught Israel that there is no purpose to life, to human effort without God. All of the effort and energy that Egypt had invested to achieve their end-goal ended in destruction. What Egypt had looked to as a purpose in life was a mirage.
With this last plague God taught Israel that man should not invest effort in those goals which seem to be valid from a human perspective. Instead man should invest his efforts in achieving God’s purposes on earth.
God has a plan and a purpose for mankind. God’s end-goal is that all of humanity should walk in His light. Eventually God’s purpose will be achieved, but it is Israel that was first taught this truth. It is for this reason that Israel is called God’s firstborn son.
As God’s firstborn son we have a twofold task. We need to testify to the world that there is no power or force aside from God. Everything that appears to be powerful and mighty to our human perception is only a beneficiary of God’s love. But we also need to testify to the world that the goals and aspirations that seem to be valid from our perspective are empty mirages and they can only lead to destruction. The true happiness of man is achieved when He submits himself to God’s purpose.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal