After I took my kids to see the most recent Star Wars movie, I was the dad who wanted to make sure they understood that all those stormtroopers who fell in battle had mothers who probably loved them very much.
Don’t get me wrong; I love it when the good guys win. And I certainly don’t want to upset any rabid Star Wars fans who may want to argue that stormtroopers don’t have parents. (I happily defer to the experts on such matters.) I’m just saying that since I was boy, I have wondered about those poor stormtroopers’ moms, and how sad they must have been when they got the news that their sons caught the business end of Han Solo’s blaster.
Many of the stories in Scripture are complicated. The lines between the good guys and bad guys blur as we discover our heroes have flaws and our enemies have mothers.
When we think about the ten plagues, it is important that we do so as human beings—as people who recognize that this whole episode in the story of God’s covenant promise to redeem and restore humanity to Himself is one filled with sorrow and complication. Crops, livestock, and firstborn sons’ lives were lost. Both the Hebrew and Egyptian people suffered great uncertainty and emotional pain.
We don’t give the account of the ten plagues the weight it deserves if we turn everyone into cartoon characters, with Moses and the Hebrews as smiling “good guys” and the Egyptians as one-note evil villains. These were people—all of them.
So what do we do with the struggle? What are these plagues about?
They are about God’s right to rule over His creation. The King of Egypt had come to think of himself as a God, and he had also come to regard the Hebrew people as his property. This was as lethal an arrangement for Egypt as is was for Israel because, as Exodus 10 tells us, Egypt was ruled by a king whose heart was hard.
God’s aim in delivering the Israelites wasn’t just for their benefit. It was a grace for everyone because God had promised to make Israel a blessing to all nations. The Hebrews were to become a nation who would honor the complicated nature of humanity by offering hope instead of condemnation, kindness instead of tyranny, and freedom instead of slavery.
But as we read on, the story only gets more complicated. Israel struggles and fails to live up to their design. Their own kings’ hearts were often just as hard at Pharaoh’s. Israel didn’t just need God to prevail over the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart. God had to deal with their own kings’ hardened hearts too. In fact, every one of us needs this same remedy.
That mercy—God prevailing over our hardened hearts—goes beyond plagues, wars, and exiles. It goes all the way to a cross outside of Jerusalem, where heroes with flaws and soldiers with mothers watched the God of all creation purchase the freedom of those who would believe through the death of a firstborn son.
The gravity and complexity of stories like the ten plagues or the crucifixion of Christ remind us just how desperate we are, and how authoritatively God prevails over even the hardest of hearts—mine included.
Written By Russ Ramsey