The Passover and Politics

Without doubt, the guilt of Egypt in oppressing the people of Israel was great. The Egyptians enslaved the people of Israel and even sought to wipe them out as a people. This oppression cried out for God’s judgment and redemption.

In this story, we have clear good guys and bad guys. Israel–the good guys. Egypt–the bad guys.

Only the Passover teaches us something different. When God announced the 10th plague, the death of the firstborn, He said that both the Israelites and the Egyptians were liable to judgment. Any house that did not have the blood of the lamb applied to it would be liable to the judgment of God.

The only way that Israel would avoid the plague was to apply the blood of the lamb. “The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt” (Exodus 12:12). This was the only way that Israel would avoid the plague.

This liability to judgment was so real that after Israel went into the wilderness, they had to “pay” for the redemption of their firstborn. The tribe of the Levites was dedicated to the Lord in the place of the firstborn of all Israel. When a count revealed that there were more firstborn than Levites, God did not say, “close enough.” The Israelites paid the difference.

We must remember that Israel was dealing with a political issue. It was an issue of power and oppression.

When we are dealing with political issues, nothing is easier than to divide the various sides into good guys and bad guys. This is not totally wrong. The oppressor has great guilt, and power can defend evil. When this is the case, it is our duty to stand up against oppression and evil.

But . . . we must always do so with humility. We must recognize even as we oppose evil that we also have our guilt and stand under the judgment of God. This was a point that the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr emphasized even while America fought the evil of Nazi Germany. He said that Christians needed to be in the battle and above it. What does this mean?

To be in a battle means to defend a cause against its peril, to protect a nation against its enemies, to strive for truth against error, to defend justice against injustice. To be above the battle means that we understand how imperfect the cause is which we defend, that we contritely acknowledge the sins of our own nations, that we recognize the common humanity which binds us to even the most terrible foes, and that we know also of our common need of grace and forgiveness. To be above the battle must also mean some reverent and pitying comprehension of the vastness of the catastrophe which has engulfed us all, friend and foe, and some sense of pity for the victims of the struggle, whether ally or enemy.

This is a hard balance to maintain in the presence of oppression or great evil. However, this is the duty of the Christian.

And this is one lesson of the Passover. We must oppose evil as Moses did when he confronted Pharaoh. At the same time, we should also have the humility to recognize that we are all to some extent under a common guilt and are only saved from the wrath of God by the blood of the lamb.


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