Again and again we hear the “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart”. I wonder, is this fair? Why was it necessary to prolong the devastation of Egypt this way? Would Pharaoh really have given in much earlier? I believe Pharaoh’s heart was already arrogant, self-centered and turned against God. I believe he was already exceedingly sinful, with a heart of stone toward God and his people. God started with what was already there, and then highlighted it to humble Pharaoh, Egypt and any who would ignore him. Even if Pharaoh had relented much earlier, how long would it have been before he changed his mind and chased after Israel. How much more would they have suffered when he caught them? Even after all this, he does just that. It is only by God’s intervention that his people are freed, his name is feared, and his holy and ever-loving character is shown and understood.
The plagues and the plight of Israel culminate in the most memorable of them all. A story which has largely focused on second born and younger sons now centers greatly on the first-born. On this night, all of Egypt learned what it is to mourn the death of an oldest child. And Israel, with their doorposts smeared in the blood of sacrificial lambs, understood the cost and the sacrifice associated with freedom. The imagery is not lost. It is the center of the gospel story. By the death of the firstborn is anyone granted adoption as sons and daughters of God, younger children, chosen for covenant relationship. Through the blood of a perfect, innocent, sacrificial lamb is anyone freed from bondage, slavery, to sin, Satan, and death. This lasting ordinance is still observed by Jews around the world, and its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, which the Passover foreshadowed, is still celebrated by Christians.