Death of the Pharaoh’s Firstborn Son

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema  Oil Painting  1872

There are two sides to every story.  Realistically, there are multiple views to every story.

And Moses said, “Thus says Yahweh, ‘About the middle of the night I will go out through the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt will die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the slave woman who is behind the pair of millstones and every firstborn animal. And there will be a great cry of distress in all the land of Egypt, the like of which has not been nor will be again.   Exodus 11: 4-6*

Tonight Jews and (some) Christians celebrate Passover.  They remember the actions of Moses and Aaron  that led to the deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  They thank God for persuading the pharaoh to free them.  However, we may want to take a moment to remember the “persuasion” tactics.

Read the quote above a second time.  Yes, he was enslaving what’s said to be hundreds of thousands of people.  Yes, he had nine plagues before this to free the slaves.  Yes, he was duly warned.  And yes, he was a father.  He mourned bitterly for the death of his son, as did every other non-Israelite in all of Egypt.

Think about that.  Think of every father and mother, brother and sister, grandparent, friend.  Think of every innocent child.   “And there will be a great cry of distress in all the land of Egypt, the like of which has not been nor will be again.”

When Passover is celebrated this evening we’ll thank God for passing over the doors of those that made the sacrifice of the lamb and marked their lintels with the blood.  We’ll thank God for being delivered from slavery.  We’ll thank God for sending Moses and Aaron to lead.  I ask that everyone also take one moment to remember the loss of children, the innocents who were sacrificed due to the decision of one man and one God.

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tedama was a Dutch painter who moved to England in his early 30s.  He lived there the rest of his life and eventually earned partial rights as a British denizen.  Classically trained, he is most well known for his wonderful paintings of classic Greece and Rome.  Although generally considered a Victorian painter, he knew many of the most influential Pre-Raphaelites and was obviously influenced by their work.

I find this painting of the pharaoh with his dead son in his arms so striking.  I know it doesn’t seem to fit the occasion, but as I mentioned at the beginning, every story has two sides.  The child’s mother has collapsed on her son.  The servants wail and mourn the loss.  In the background dancers and musicians play.  And in the upper right corner, Moses and Aaron await the decision of the pharaoh to let their people go.  I like to believe they also said a prayer for those lost.

The deep gold tones of this painting really set the mood.  The candles are well represented as the light sources and cast eerie shadows.  The pale skin of the dead child and his grief stricken mother draw your eye directly to them, then straight up to the face of the pharaoh, stunned, shocked at the pain.  He has decided the God of the Jews is strong.  He will let the people go.

Sorry to make this one so gloomy.  It really is a day of celebration.  Chag Pesach Sameach.  Happy Passover.

*I prefer the Lexham English Bible translation.  I also realize that for many this is not a historical story, but a myth or fairytale.  I think it really doesn’t matter how you look at the story, as long as you think about the fact that every decision made has a consequence, good or bad.

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