Wednesday, November 28, 2012

God Calls Israel His “First-Born” -- Exodus 4:22-23

"Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Israel is My son, My first-born.  So I said to you, ‘Let My son go, that he may serve Me’; but you have refused to let him go.  Behold, I will kill your son, your first-born."'"

We often think of God as “our Father” and there are several passages throughout Scripture that talk of His being just that.  They demonstrate His love and care for us.  But these particular two verses do much more.  They outline unequivocally God’s passionate relationship with Israel, a relationship that carries with it, not only the feelings about one’s ‘first-born’, but also the rights of the first-born.  Here are just some of the thoughts that God has brought to my mind during my study of these verses:

1.     Not everyone will agree that everything we read in the Bible that deals with a specific circumstance, such as this task that Moses has been given, is in fact ‘transferable’ to other aspects of the Christian life and to other times.  I take the position that each and every instance needs to be examined carefully to ensure we are not doing so where there is no other complimentary support for it, or just to support a particular position we may hold.  I also take the position, however, that God’s actual statements, because one of His characteristics is that of being consistent, do in fact apply to all time and all circumstances.

2.     With that in mind then, I believe that whatever God says in these verses, we can share with the world. In this case, it is Pharaoh that represents the world at the time.  The position that God took with respect to the people of Israel is to be heard by us, believed and accepted by us, and shared with others.  At the very least, it cannot be ignored or made insignificant.

3.     God clearly says here “Israel is His first-born.”  I notice in the NASB version of Scripture, at least, there is no capital on ‘first-born’.  This is important because elsewhere we read about Jesus being God’s begotten and/or only Son where the ‘S’ is indeed capitalized. I believe there is a distinction between Christ as the Son of God and part of the Godhead itself, and Israel, God’s ‘first-born’ human ‘son’ or ‘people group’.

4.     With language and emotion so strongly expressed by God, I believe we err if we start thinking that God has abandoned Israel in the 21st century.  It is my belief He has not.  I am not suggesting He is any more happier with them now than He was with some of them in Moses’ day, or most of them in the days of the prophets and the kings, but I see no Scriptural evidence whatsoever that He has actually given them up.  But He has adopted additional sons and daughters, of which I as a Gentile am one as noted below.

5.     In the passage being studied here, God also does not say, “My only son”.  Staying with the idea of a small ‘s’ on the word ‘son’, the wording is such that there is room in the future for other ‘sons’ that will come into the family of God.  Through the “only begotten Son (capital ‘S’)” salvation and access to God was extended to Gentiles and all the peoples of the earth in addition to God’s ‘first-born’, the people of Israel.

6.     Clearly God stays very much abreast of what is going on with His children.  He knew what was happening to the people of Israel – both to those that had stayed true to Him in their worship, but also to those that were being enticed to forget Him.  He also knew that they were all in bondage.  God was making a critical point in this communication, “My child, my son, is not intended to be in bondage.  He/she is to be free.  Period.  No ifs, buts, or whys.”  And God will take no prisoners to assure us that freedom.  That is one of the greatest gifts we have from God – our freedom to worship Him and live joyful godly lives.  God knows when we are in bondage to our ‘pharaoh’ – be he a real person or some other god or idol we worship or are under the control of.

7.     This passage, as supported in so many other passages in Scripture, clearly indicates that God wants His children (in this case his first-born Israel) to “serve Him”.  There is no getting around this.  You cannot be a true child of God without having the desire to serve God, and then doing all you can to actually satisfy that positive and godly desire.  Many of us try.  But as we look around us, we see so many so-called “members of the body of Christ” living daily for themselves.  We may be one of them.  And I am not talking about having “moments of natural lapses or failures”; I am talking about day after day, month after month, totally existing for one’s own self and pleasure, without regard to what God would have this ‘child of His’ do.

8.     God was also aware that Pharaoh was blocking the children of Israel’s ability to serve Him in addition to keeping them in bondage as mistreated slaves.  He knew Pharaoh had no plans to let them go.  God has not changed.  He knows exactly who our enemies are and/or what exactly it is that has a stronghold on us.  Our job, as it was Moses’ job, and all the people of Israel’s job, is to look to Him and lean on Him for deliverance.  But once free, we cannot lose sight of the fact that we have been “delivered” from our bondage for the purpose of “serving Him”.

9.     In the very last portion of this passage, God is sending Pharaoh a clear warning, “Because you did not let my first-born go, I will kill your son, your first-born.”  In essence, God is saying, “Did you miss the message Moses?  My first-born, my child is not intended to be bound in slavery.  I want them freed.  Now.  Or else.”   Those are very, very strong words for a loving God and many an individual skeptic will take great joy in pointing that out.  The fact remains that God indeed loves; He cares and protects His children.  He gives all mankind an opportunity to enter into that family.  But He is also a God of justice and woe to anyone who ultimately decides to take Him on.  Satan found that out when He was kicked out of heaven for wanting to be equal or mightier than God and started deceiving God’s creation.  Kings and rulers over the centuries have found that out when they start playing God.  The enemies of our Heavenly Father, our enemies, will be taken care of by God one way or another, in God’s appointed time.  You can count on that.  Sometimes, He delivers blows that hurt them greatly – like the loss of their first-born in this case as we will see later in our study – because He stills has a role for them to play in His plan for mankind (Israel in this instance); other times, He takes their own life.

This passage gives a very strong picture of God as a Father who passionately goes to all lengths to protect His children.  He does not want you and me to live as slaves.  He wants us free.  Do you realize that?   I would not want to be the one outside of His family bullying God’s children.  I want to be under His wings as one of His children.  I pray that is your desire as well.  I pray your position is safely in His everlasting arms.

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