Is God Immoral For Killing The Firstborn Of Egypt?

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It is written:

Exodus 11:4-6-Then Moses said, “Thus says the LORD: ‘About midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt; 5  and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the female servant who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the animals. 6  Then there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as was not like it before, nor shall be like it again.

One of the arguments often raised against the God of the Bible is that He is immoral (i.e., acting in a way that violates the objective law of morality) for taking the lives of the firstborn children of Egypt in the events which led up to the Exodus.

What shall we say to this?

First, let it be remembered that the unbeliever in this attack on the Nature of God must acknowledge that this objective moral law exists and that therefore God exists. Quite often, atheists attempt to use the fact of objective morality upon the actions of God, and then quite contradictorily argue that there is no God! Very simply, the fact of objective morality shows us that the objective moral Lawgiver (i.e., God) exists. 1. If objective prescriptive moral law exists, then God exists. Objective prescriptive moral law exists. 3. Therefore, God exists. As soon as the atheist resorts to “morality,” he is automatically implying the existence of God.

Furthermore, the atheist stands on shaky ground when he attacks the God of the Bible regarding the morality of taking the lives of children!

“A closer look at atheistic morality, however, quickly reveals that atheists do not believe that it is morally wrong to kill all innocent children. According to the atheistic community, abortion is viewed as moral. Dan Barker, in his debate with John Rankin, said that abortion is a “blessing” (Barker and Rankin, 2006; see also Barker, 1992a, pp. 135, 213). One line of reasoning used by atheists to justify the practice is the idea that humans should not be treated differently than animals, since humans are nothing more than animals themselves. The fact that an embryo is “human” is no reason to give it special status. Dawkins wrote: “An early embryo has the sentience, as well as the semblance, of a tadpole” (Dawkins, 2006a, p. 297). Atheistic writer Sam Harris wrote: “Many of us consider human fetuses in the first trimester to be more or less like rabbits; having imputed to them a range of happiness and suffering that does not grant them full status in our moral community” (2004, p. 177, emp. added). Isn’t it ironic that Dan Barker protested to Peter Payne that God could not cause the death of an unborn human “fetus” and still be considered moral, and yet the bulk of the atheistic community adamantly maintains that those fetuses are the moral equivalent of rabbits (see pp. 88-99)? It is clear, then, that atheism does not have moral constraints against killing all innocent babies, but rather only those innocent babies that the atheistic community considers “worthy” to live. How in the world would a person make a moral judgment about which children were “worthy to live?” Singer, Harris, and others contest that a child’s age in utero, mental capability, physical disability, or other criteria should be used to formulate the answer. Dan Barker has given his assessment about how to make such moral decisions. He claimed that “morality is simply acting with the intention to minimize harm.” He further insisted that the way to avoid making mistakes in ethical judgments is to “be as informed as possible about the likely consequences of the actions being considered” (2008, p. 214). Using Barker’s line of reasoning, if God knows everything, then only He would be in the best possible situation to know all the consequences of killing infants. Could it be that all the infants born to the Amalekites had degenerative genetic diseases, or were infected with an STD that was passed to them from their sexually promiscuous mothers? Could it be that the firstborn children in Egypt had some type of brain damage, terminal cancer, hemophilia, etc.? The atheistic community cannot accuse God of immorally killing infants and children, when the atheistic position itself offers criteria upon which it purports to morally justify such killing. Once again, the atheistic argument must be further qualified. The argument has moved from: “God is immoral because He killed people,” to “God is immoral because He killed innocent babies,” to “God is immoral because He killed innocent babies that we feel would not have met our atheistically based criteria for death.” Ultimately, then, the atheistic position is arguing that atheists, not God, should be the ones who decide when the death of an innocent child is acceptable.” (Kyle Butt, A Christians Guide to Modern Atheism, 3088-3111 (Kindle Edition); Montgomery, Alabama; Apologetics Press)

Second, the people of Egypt who were afflicted by the plagues had been given ample time to turn to the Lord. They were also collectively guilty of systematically abusing and mistreating the Hebrews for generations!

For example:

Exodus 1:8-22-Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9  And he said to his people, “Look, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we; 10  come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and it happen, in the event of war, that they also join our enemies and fight against us, and so go up out of the land.” 11  Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh supply cities, Pithom and Raamses. 12  But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were in dread of the children of Israel. 13  So the Egyptians made the children of Israel serve with rigor. 14  And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage—in mortar, in brick, and in all manner of service in the field. All their service in which they made them serve was with rigor. 15  Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, of whom the name of one was Shiphrah and the name of the other Puah; 16  and he said, “When you do the duties of a midwife for the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstools, if it is a son, then you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.” 17  But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive. 18  So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this thing, and saved the male children alive?” 19  And the midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are lively and give birth before the midwives come to them.” 20  Therefore God dealt well with the midwives, and the people multiplied and grew very mighty. 21  And so it was, because the midwives feared God, that He provided households for them. 22  So Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying, “Every son who is born you shall cast into the river, and every daughter you shall save alive.”

Writing of the collective guilt of the Egyptians and these facts, Geisler and Howe note:

“First, it is wrong to assume that because the Egyptian people may not have had control over Pharaoh’s decisions that they were completely innocent. Every individual Egyptian certainly had the opportunity, throughout the long ordeal of God’s judgment upon Egypt, to flee to Moses and the Hebrews for protection from those judgments. In fact, Exodus 12:38 states that “A mixed multitude went up with them (the children of Israel l also.” No doubt there were many Egyptians who joined the Hebrews as a result of the judgments of God. The fact that most were not willing to turn to the living God even in the face of the nine previous plagues indicates that they were not innocent bystanders. Second, is it also wrong to assume that simply because the Egyptian people did not change pharaoh’s mind that they could not have changed his mind. Although the power of the people is severely limited under a dictatorship as that of Egypt, it is conceivable that the people could have revolted so as to either force pharaoh to change his mind, or to overthrow him. In fact, Exodus 12:33 states, “And the Egyptians urged the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste.” Up until this point the Egyptian people had apparently not made any effort to urge the Hebrews to leave the land. The Egyptians were obviously content to leave such matters in the hands of their king. By doing so, they were not innocent of the decisions which were made by their king. The judgment of God was not directed only at Pharaoh or the heads of state of the land, but on Egypt as a whole, since they were equally responsible for the oppression and bondage of the people of God.” (Norman L. Geisler & Thomas Howe, The Big Book of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation, 923-934 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Books)

Third, there is something here which needs to be remembered when dealing with the subject of God and the death of children. Human parents have a tendency to believe that their children belong first and foremost to them. However, this is simply not true. Children are a gift from God, a blessing to parents. My parents always told my brother and I that we were “on loan” from the Lord.

Certainly, the Bible enumerates this fact.

Psalm 127:1-5-A Song of Ascents. Of Solomon. Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain. 2  It is vain for you to rise up early, To sit up late, To eat the bread of sorrows; For so He gives His beloved sleep. 3  Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. 4  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. 5  Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; They shall not be ashamed, But shall speak with their enemies in the gate.

Studying the wording of this passage is insightful:

“The second stanza then praises the blessing of children (the Hebrew indicates that specifically sons are meant in verse 3a, although verse 3b broadens with a phrase (offspring; lit. ‘fruit of the womb’) that would include all children, suggesting that the house spoken of in verse 1 refers to more than the physical structure, but also to the family (see above). God provides children; they are a heritage and a reward from him. Children confer real advantage on a person in the battle of life. Indeed, the more the better. They will be agents of support to the head of the household. The last colon (when they contend with their opponents in court [lit. ‘in the gate’]) may point to the situation that motivated the composition of the psalm originally. The psalmist may be under legal attack and so looks to his family for help. Meaning The psalm reminds us that every good thing we enjoy (food, shelter, protection, family) are gifts from God, not a result of our own energy and resources. We should not be lazy or negligent, but we should never depend on ourselves. Furthermore, we must be careful to remember that wisdom does not provide universally true guarantees: for instance, that everyone who loves God will be blessed with sleep and large families. 23 According to Psalm 127, children are a gift from God and bring blessings on their parents. Of course, the promise to Abraham included the blessing of descendants who would become a nation (Gen. 12: 1–3). The ultimate fulfilment of the Abrahamic promise of children is Jesus (Gal. 3: 16), and Christians are all recipients of the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant in our union with him (3: 29). In addition, Christian parents can rejoice in the fact that ‘the promise is for you and your children’ (Acts. 2: 39).” (Tremper Longman, Psalms: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries), 426-427 (Kindle Edition); Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic)

Simply stated, children are a GIFT from God. They belong to Him! When the people of Israel were following the wicked gods and customs of false religion by sacrificing their children as burnt offerings, God cried out:

Ezekiel 16:20-21-“Moreover you took your sons and your daughters, whom you bore to Me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your acts of harlotry a small matter, 21  that you have slain My children and offered them up to them by causing them to pass through the fire?”

The children belong to God. As such, He has the right to call them back to Him.

“The mere fact that only God knows all consequences is sufficient to establish that He is the only authority in matters of human life and death. Yet, His omniscience is not the only attribute that puts Him in the final position of authority. The fact that all physical life originates with God gives Him the right to decide when and how that physical life should be maintained. In speaking of human death, the writer of Ecclesiastes stated: “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (12: 7). The apostle Paul boldly declared to the pagan Athenians that in God “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17: 28). If God gives life to all humans, then only He has the right to say when that life has accomplished its purpose, or under what circumstances life may be taken. In addition to the fact that God gives life and, thus, has the authority to take it, He also has the power to give it back if He chooses. Throughout the Bible we read of instances in which God chose to give life back to those who were dead, the most thoroughly documented example of that being the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (Apologetics Press, Defending the Faith Study Bible, 674-675 (Kindle Edition); Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press)

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

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