What is the significance of God using the firstborn son in Exodus 4:21-23, and how is this connected with Jesus? Also, why did God harden Pharaoh's heart and then blame Pharaoh?
I was reading chapter 4 of Exodus this morning and a few things confused me. I am hoping that you can explain them or direct me to the answers. 1. (v 21-23) The LORD references Israel being his firstborn son. I’ve never noticed this before. Are there other references in the OT like this? What then are the connections and implications of that relationship to Jesus? 2. (v 21-23) Why did the LORD harden Pharaoh’s heart then treat Pharaoh as if it was his own choice? if it ment that in the end he would have to kill all of the first born sons? 3. Verses 24-26 surprised me and confused me. I had to read it three times. Would you be able to give an explanation to the senario?
Yes, there are many references to being a firstborn son. This is a theme throughout the Bible. First some background. In Mesopotamian culture, when a father had many sons, it was his first born who inherited a double portion of the inheritance, and, more importantly, became the patriarch of the family. An important example of this is in Genesis. Esau was the firstborn son. He and Jacob were twins, but Esau was born first. However, he sold his birthright as firstborn son for a bowl of lentil stew (Genesis 25:27-34). Later on, Jacob tricked his father Isaac into giving him the blessing (Genesis 27). The “blessing” he stole from Esau was the blessing normally given to the first born son–in otherwords he became the inheritor of both the double portion (Gen 25) and the place as head of the family. The importance for the biblical story of this is that the inheriting the “blessing” of Abraham and Isaac meant that this person was to be the one through whom the Messiah will come.
Israel was also, spiritually, the “firstborn son” of God. Israel was his chosen people. They received “the blessing.” They are the ones through whom and to whom God sent the Messiah. This is the meaning of Exodus 4:21-23.
For your information, and as evidence that the concept of firstborn is important, the word “firstborn” appears in the English Bible more than 120 times.
The idea of the firstborn son is applied to Jesus in the New Testament. In both Colossians 1:18 and Revelation 1:5, Jesus is called the firstborn from the dead. We would have to understand the Jewish concept, as described above, to understand this very Jewish way of saying something. What Paul and John are saying is that Jesus is the preeminent among those who will be raised from the dead. He is the inheritor, the one who receives the blessing and the most important of all those who are or will be resurrected. Colossians had Jesus also described as “firstborn over all creation.” Again, this means that he is the preeminent one–the inheritor–or all creation.
I answer the question about the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart at my web site. You should do a search of the word Pharaoh. This can be confusing, as it seems that for God to harden Pharaoh’s heart is to violate his free will. A passage which can be helpful for understanding what happened with Pharaoh is Romans 9:6-25. Here God says to the Jews who challenged him for letting Gentiles be saved, “who are you, O man, to talk back to God” (v. 20). God says that he will harden who he will harden (v. 18). Here is what I believe is going on with God’s plan and Pharaoh. God gives us free will, but he is at the same time, sovereign. What he wills to happen will happen. The hardening of the heart of Pharaoh led to the Passover, which was a wonderful prefigure to our salvation by our “Passover Lamb” Jesus. The entire situation of the Jews being in slavery and freed by Moses (who is a prefigure of Christ) was planned by God to be a picture of our salvation and freedom from spiritual slavery by the work of the New Moses (ie. Jesus). What I have discovered in scripture is that any historical event which was reqired to prepare the way or to create a prefigure of Jesus, God was willing to step in and to cause these things to happen. I also believe that God only does such things for a very good reason. I also believe that, even though God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in order to bring about his will to free his people, he did not, ultimately, steal Pharaoh’s free will. Pharaoh could have repented if he wanted to. I believe he nearly did. God is so wise that he can both work his sovereign will and still leave us with free will.
Now, it is true that Pharaoh did in fact refuse to let Israel go. I believe that God used a trait in Pharaoh that he already had. It is similar to Judas. Judas chose to take money from the purse. He had already betrayed Jesus in his heart. When God “hardened” Judas’ heart, it was something he had already done of his own accord. I assume that something similar was the case with Pharaoh.
About Exodus 4:24-26, I already answered this question. I am copying and pasting below.
What is your take on the strange passage Exodus 4:24-27 in which God almost kills Moses?
I found a web site which presents a range of responses from a Judaic Christian perspective, which I think might be the best. Bottom line, we are not sure why God wanted to kill Moses, but we are pretty sure what was going on when Zipporah circumcised their son, and have at least a feel for why this mollified God’s wrath. I would favor the idea that it was BOTH about the lack of circumcision AND the fact that Moses had committed a capital offense.
Editor’s note: The following is not written by an ARS writer, but is taken from the web site http://www.i-amfaithweb.net/god_kill_moses.htm
Why Did God Want To Kill Moses?
24 It happened on the way at a lodging place, that the LORD met him and wanted to kill him. 25 Then Zipporah took a flint, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet; and she said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me.” 26 So he let him alone. Then she said, “You are a bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision. Shemot / Exodus 4:24-26
Shemot / Exodus 4:24-26 is probably one of the most difficult passages in the Bible; however, with a careful examination of the Scriptures it is possible to reach a degree of certainty in understanding why God wanted to kill Moses.
A little background to start with: Moses, from being weened, was raised in Pharaoh’s household as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter (Shemot / Exodus 2:1-10) and when he was forty years old (Acts 7:23-29) he fled to Midian to escape the wrath of Pharaoh (Shemot / Exodus 2:15) where he settled, married and had two sons (Shemot / Exodus 18:2-4). He then encountered God at the burning bush and was commissioned to bring the Israelites out of Egypt and into the promised land (Shemot / Exodus 3:1-10). On the way to Egypt, God wanted to kill Moses and only “let him alone” after Moses’ wife, Zipporah, had circumcised their son (Shemot / Exodus 4:24-26).
The most common answer given by the majority of commentators “Because Moses had failed to circumcise his son in accordance with the Abrahamic Covenant” immediately presents a problem as there is nothing in Scripture that condemns a father to be punished by death for not circumcising his son on the eighth day – the only punishment mentioned is that the uncircumcised soul is to be cut off from his people (Beresheet / Genesis 17:14); this would seem to apply to the father in the case of a newborn son – the father being held responsible as the child obviously cannot make decisions for himself – therefore Moses accordingly would be guilty. However, the fact that Zipporah did the circumcision rather than Moses, creates another difficulty in that Moses would still stand guilty as he did not do the actual circumcision himself. Some commentators have Moses telling Zipporah to do the circumcision as he is sick in bed, struck with a plague by God and unable to move, thereby excluding him from doing it himself. However there is absolutely no Scriptural evidence for this whatsoever and so it must therefore be relegated to mere speculation; however, even if it were true, for reasons discussed below, it would still leave Moses guilty.
So why did Zipporah circumcise the boy rather than Moses? There are two possible explanations (based on how one understands the phrase ‘the LORD met him’ (v.24)): the first is that Moses was simply sleeping when the LORD came to meet with him and kill him and that Zipporah, sleeping lightly as mothers of small children do, responded to the suddenness of the situation knowing that precious time would be lost in stirring her sleeping husband. The second is that Moses was awake ‘meeting with the LORD’ (it was more than likely a monologue with the added threat of the angel of the LORD standing there with drawn sword) and therefore couldn’t just turn away to do the circumcision himself. Whichever it was Zipporah wasted no time, she quickly took a flint knife and cut off her son’s foreskin touching Moses’ feet with it thereby saving his life (the reason she touched his feet with the foreskin was a symbolic act of showing that she was a submissive wife (Rut / Ruth 3:4-11 and note) and that she only did the circumcision because of the necessity of the situation). It must be noted that this expression of submission shows that Zipporah acted on her own initiative and not at the command or bequest of Moses, thereby proving that Moses had no part whatsoever in the circumcision of his son (if Moses had indeed instructed Zipporah to perform the circumcision then she would have had no need to show her submission in such a way).
Some might also say that Moses, after his encounter at the burning bush, was held to a higher level of accountability and therefore God was justified in wanting to kill him for his failure in regards to the circumcising of his son. However, as already noted, there are no Scriptural grounds to take someone’s life for their failing to circumcise their son. There is more: as we have already seen, Moses had two sons (Shemot / Exodus 18:2-4), both of whom were with him on the journey (Shemot / Exodus 4:20); however we are not told whether the other son was circumcised or not; if he was then it might seem plausible that God’s not killing Moses was as a direct result of the other son being circumcised; if however he was not circumcised, and, as we shall see later, there is strong evidence to show that he wasn’t, then Zipporah’s act of circumcising her son to fulfill the Abrahamic Covenant proves to be false as both sons would naturally need to be circumcised in order to fulfill the covenant’s requirements concerning circumcision: not only so but if Moses was guilty of breaking the Abrahamic Covenant by not circumcising his son then Zipporah’s act would only redeem the boy and not Moses – he would still stand guilty (in order for Moses to have redeemed himself he would have needed to have instructed Zipporah to carry out the circumcision, but as already shown Moses played no active part at all).
Evidence For Moses Not Having Circumcised His Sons
Moses was forced to leave Egypt because Pharaoh wanted to kill him (Shemot / Exodus 2:15) on account of his killing of an Egyptian (Shemot / Exodus 2:12). We are told in Acts 7:23-25 that Moses supposed that his brothers understood that God was using him to deliver them (although his brothers didn’t see it that way (Shemot / Exodus 2:13-14 also Acts 7:26-29) ) – he could have had some sort of revelation or insight into the plan of God or it might simply have been that since he was a learned person (Acts 7:22), then he probably knew the history of the promised redemption of the Israelites (Beresheet / Genesis 15:13-16) and saw himself, preserved as a child in such a special way (Shemot / Exodus 1:15-2:10), as the person that God would use to fulfill the promise. Whichever is closest to the actual truth we will never know except that Moses acted presumptuously in assuming that now was the time that God was going to deliver the Israelites. We know that it was presumption because Moses acted alone, highlighted by the description of how he struck down and killed the Egyptian (Shemot / Exodus 2:12) and as a result he had to flee in fear of his life – not something that would have happened had God initiated the redemption at that time. He fled to Midian where he settled down and married a shepherd girl. There seems to be reason to believe that he had an identity crisis, not knowing if he was a Hebrew, an Egyptian (Zipporah told her father that it was an Egyptian that had rescued them (Shemot / Exodus 2:19) ) or that perhaps after making such a grave mistake and having to flee for his life, that he should now become a Midianite and forget his past. We catch a glimpse of this identity crisis when Scripture tells us that “Moses was content to dwell with the man” (Shemot / Exodus 2:21), meaning that he decided for the time being to accept the authority and customs of his father-in-law Jethro. That Jethro also happened to be the priest of Midian would surely have had a tremendous impact on him to the point that his own, albeit remote, Israelite heritage would have been all but lost. We can surmise that his identity crisis continued for some time as he named his first son Gershom which means ‘a stranger here’ (Shemot / Exodus 2:22): Moses, although living with the Midianites and most likely as one, still recognized that he was not really one of them (Acts 7:29).
The Midianites were descended from Midian, a son of Abraham through Keturah (Beresheet / Genesis 25:1-2) and were, with the rest of Abraham’s children, the exception being Isaac, separate from the covenant promises (Beresheet / Genesis 17:19-21; 21:12; 25:5-6; Shemot / Exodus 2:24). Since the covenant was to be continued exclusively through Isaac it would not make any sense for the rest of Abraham’s children to continue with the practice of circumcision. Circumcision was a token of the covenant from which they were excluded and their own circumcision would only serve as a reminder of that exclusion: therefore there is no reason, given Moses’ willingness to live among the Midianites and Zipporah’s ethnic seperation from God’s covenant people, for them to have circumcised their sons. If Moses had circumcised his sons in accordance with the Abrahamic Covenant, then it would have created a chasm between himself and Zipporah’s family (bearing in mind that his father-in-law was the priest of Midian) that would have resulted in a situation whereby Moses would not have been able to continue to live with them any longer.
It is worth noting that although Hebrews chapter 11 makes mention of Moses being a man of faith (vs. 24-28), a careful reading will show that the referrence is to Moses after his return to Egypt. It is quite clear from Scripture that Moses did not have a great deal of faith prior to his encounter with God at the burning bush.
Zipporah’s declarations, as recorded in verses 25 and 26, can also be seen as evidence to show that her two sons were not previously circumcised. It must be noted that according to the Hebrew text she referred to Moses as being to her, not a husband of blood but as a bridegroom of blood; the inference being of a new beginning in their relationship based upon the realisation that Moses’ God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, was the one true God. The LORD ‘let him alone’ as a direct result of Zipporah’s actions and she gives glory to God by declaring [to Moses] “You are a bridegroom of blood, because of the circumcision.” (the Hebrew Bible ascribes the whole quote to Zipporah) thus showing that she understood the significance of circumcision as the token of the Abrahamic covenant and it’s promises (Beresheet / Genesis 17:7-14) and also the mercy and grace of God.
So Why Did God Want To Kill Moses?
Having looked at why it wasn’t due to Moses neglecting the circumcision of his son, we now come to the reason why God wanted to kill Moses: God made a covenant with Abram (Beresheet / Genesis 15:7-21) where He promised Abram the land as an inheritance and, in verses 13-16, that the people would be slaves in a foriegn land for 400 years but that they would come out in the fourth generation. This was part of the covenant and God was obliged to keep it. We know that Satan’s end is the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10); Satan also knows this and will do everything in his power to stop it from happening. His only solution is to try and break one or more of the promises of God – if God said that it would happen and he (Satan) somehow stops it from taking place, then God is a liar and has no right to judge him.
When God made the covenant with Abram, the devil knew that in the fourth generation something was to happen which would enable the children of Israel to leave Egypt and go to the promised land. He watched and waited. He knew that God had promised a Savior (Beresheet / Genesis 3:14-15) but didn’t know when He would come – perhaps in the “fourth generation”. The fourth generation came and Satan engineered the killing of the Hebrew boys (Shemot / Exodus 1:15-22) in an attempt to kill the would be deliverer but there was one that escaped – Moses; however he was taken into Pharaoh’s house and therefore no longer posed a threat; that was until, when as a young man, Moses started to show an interest in his own people and one day went to the rescue of one of them and struck down his Egyptian oppressor (Shemot / Exodus 2:11-12), and then forty years later when God calls Moses to bring the people out of Egypt in fullfilment of the promise to Abram. Satan meantime gets worried and goes to see God, “God, you said to Noah that if a man sheds another man’s blood then you will demand his blood (Beresheet / Genesis 9:5-6 and note). God, Moses is a murderer – I remind you of what you said and I demand his blood.”. We know that Moses was indeed a murder because Scripture tells us that ‘He looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no one, he killed the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand.’ (Shemot / Exodus 2:12). When Moses killed the Egyptian the killing wasn’t justified at all, he could have easily commanded the Egyptian to leave him alone – Moses had the authority, he was after all the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and would have been easily recognised; he was also “mighty in his words and works” (Acts 7:22) – but he choose instead to murder him, burying him in the sand to conceal the evidence. Although Stephen, in Acts 7:24, tells that Moses “defended him, and avenged him who was oppressed, striking the Egyptian.” (Stephen was giving a condensed version), the actual passage that he was paraphrasing is more telling: “11 It happened in those days, when Moses had grown up, that he went out to his brothers, and looked at their burdens. He saw an Egyptian striking a Hebrew, one of his brothers. 12 He looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no one, he killed the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand.” Shemot / Exodus 2:11-12 Verse 12 defines Moses actions as calculated murder. Yes he was defending his fellow Israelite but as previously noted, he could easily have commanded the Egyptian to stop – he had no need to kill him. So God, bound by His own word, set out to kill Moses and as seen in the previous section, Zipporah, by circumcising her son, saved Moses’ life. But why did God wait for forty years before bringing judgement on Moses? For those forty years Pharaoh was still seeking Moses’ life (Shemot / Exodus 4:19) and therefore there was still ‘due process’. It was only when all those who sought his life had all died, and Moses was sent to deliver the Israelites from Egypt that Satan had no choice but to bring the charge of murderer before the throne of God himself. So the answer is that Moses was a murderer and accused so by Satan in the hope that God’s promise to Abram would be broken, therefore showing God to be a liar and therefore not fit to sit in judgement over him.
An Important Conclusion
A cursory reading of the Scriptures and history reveals that the Jewish People have often times been the subject of attempted annihilation. The reason being that God promised that the Messiah would come from the Jewish People (Beresheet / Genesis 49:10; Bamidbar / Numbers 24:17(a)) and that Messiah would only return when asked to do so by the Jewish People as a nation (Matthew 23:37-39 see also Zekharyah / Zechariah 12:10-14), so therefore the devil is doing his upmost to destroy the Jewish People – no Jews, no Messiah – no final judgement! Messiah came the first time to bring salvation (John 12:47); He will come the second time to judge the world (Matthew 25:31-46; John 5:22; Acts 10:42; 2 Timothy 4:1) and afterwards Satan will be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10), his judgement having already been pronounced (John 16:11).
The Nation of Israel and the Jewish People around the world are still the target of Anti-Semetism. Radical Islam is a self declared virulent enemy of anything Jewish and repeatedly states it’s desire to destroy Israel. This is nothing more than the continued attempt by Satan to avoid his own punishment in the lake of fire. Although he is destined to fail in his strategy and God’s plan for Israel will be accomplished, Israel and the Jewish People still need our prayers before the throne of grace.