Many Jewish friends tell me that the Passover holiday (Pesach) is a time of joy and celebration of their freedom from slavery. They love it. Personally, I don’t get it.
When I was taught the story in Sunday school, it was presented to me as a positive story of how the god of the Bible freed his chosen people, the Israelites. Yet, even then, it sounded like a horrible story. Never did it sound like anything deserving of celebration.
The Passover Story
According to the Hebrew Scriptures, the Israelites (ancestors of the Jews) living in Egypt became so numerous and powerful that the Egyptian ruler feared they would eventually fight against them in a war. Therefore, the ruler enslaved the Israelites and forced them to do labor. (Exodus 1: 9-11)
Moses was born to an Israelite mother, but was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter (Exodus 2: 1-10). One day after Moses grew up, God calls to him from a bush that is burning but does not burn up (Exodus 3:2-4). He tells Moses that he is to bring the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 3:10). God gives Moses special powers to preform great feats be able to convince the Israelites that he was the one sent by their god to free them (Exodus 4:1-9). God then allows Aaron, brother of Moses, to assist Moses (Exodus 4: 13-16).
Moses then returns to Egypt. God tells Moses to use the power he has been given to preform the signs for Pharaoh. God also tells Moses that he will hardens Pharaoh’s heart so that he will refuse to let the Israelite slaves go. (Exodus 4: 21)
As Moses is returning to Egypt, God attempts to kill him. However, Zipporah (wife of Moses) saves him. (Exodus 4:24 -26)
When Moses arrives in Egypt, he tells Pharaoh to free the Israelites. Pharaoh refuses. (Exodus 5:1-2). Instead, Pharaoh forces the people to work even harder (Exodus 5:6-8).
Moses and Aaron followed God’s commands by using their powers to bring about ten plagues on the land of Egypt. Before the final plague, the Lord tells Moses and Aaron to have each Israelite family slaughter a one-year old, male lamb without blemish on the 14th day of the month at twilight. Then they should put the lamb’s blood on the doorposts and lintel of their homes. That night, the Lord passed over Egypt, striking down the first born of all humans and animals of each household that did not put the blood on around their door. The blood on the homes of the Israelites showed God which homes to pass over to so he would not kill any of the Israelites. (Exodus 12:1-13)
After the Lord killed the first born in each Egyptian household, Pharaoh told Moses and Aaron to leave and take the Israelites with them (Exodus 12:29-31). About 600,000 men (not including children) left Egypt.
The Passover holiday celebrates the final plague — when the Lord passed over the Israelite homes and killed the first born in every Egyptian home. According to the story, this caused Pharaoh to finally free the Israelites from slavery.
Even if the story were true (even the non supernatural events are not established history *) as it is presented in the book of Exodus, it is an appalling story. The story shows how God causes intense suffering of many people in order to demonstrate his power to the Egyptians and Israelites.
Once god finally decided that he was going to free his chosen people from the misery of slavery, he selected a circuitous route to accomplish this end. Instead of using his power to immediately free the slaves, he sends Moses and Aaron to request their release. He also bestows Moses and Aaron with special powers so that they can preform great feats to demonstrate that they have been sent from God. However, some of these feats failed to impress Pharaoh because his magicians were also able to preform some of the same feats, such as turning water into blood (Exodus 7:22) and bringing forth plague of frogs (Exodus 8:7). With the exception of the final plague, even the feats that that Pharaoh’s magicians were unable to preform failed convince Pharaoh to let the people go because God has hardened Pharaoh’s heart. God made sure that the people of Egypt would have to suffer through nine unconvincing plagues and the Israelites would have to continue suffering through forced labor until god preformed his final plague – killing the first born (human and animal) of each household that did not put lamb’s blood on their doors — which would finally convince Pharaoh to free the slaves.
In this story, God caused suffering and death for many innocent people. Most of the people who endured the plagues had no role in the decision of whether the slaves could be freed. The only reason I can think of for this was that this god wanted to impress the Egyptian and Israelite people with his great power. This doesn’t seem like the workings of a good god to me.
What do you think of the Passover story? What about the Passover holiday? Please add your thoughts in the comment section.
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