God sends Moses and his family to Egypt after those who were seeking to kill Moses have died. Moses takes his family. God commands Moses to show Pharaoh all the signs that God showed Moses. He also reveals that Pharaoh will not let the people go. In fact, God reveals that He will be the one hardening Pharaoh’s heart so that Pharaoh will not let the people go. From this text, we do not know exactly the procedure of the hardening, but we do know that God takes credit. God is the one who hardens and softens hearts according to His own will. Even Pharaoh is subject to the will of God—as are all kings, rulers, leaders, pastors, celebrities, and so on.
Part of God’s purpose for hardening Pharaoh’s heart is to show the status of Israel as His firstborn to His own glory. God instructs Moses to demand the release of God’s firstborn son (Israel) that the son may serve his Father rather than be enslaved to another. God will cause Pharaoh’s heart to be hardened. Pharaoh will refuse. Behold, God will kill Pharaoh’s firstborn son.
From this text, it is easy to see God’s sovereignty, foreordination, and human depravity—all essential biblical doctrines. Yet, we are left wondering how a loving God could ordain such events by His own will—even up to Him killing Pharaoh’s firstborn son. After all, what did his son do to deserve death? How could a just God plan, before Moses is even in Egypt, to slay a child?
First, we do not know how old Pharaoh’s firstborn son is. If this Pharaoh was a sort of brother to Moses, and Moses is old, he is likely also older with older children (perhaps 40s or 50s). We know nothing of their guilt or innocence from the text—but they would likely be in full participation with Egypt in the enslavement of Israel (God’s firstborn son). Second, God is the only one with rights over life and death because life and death belong to Him in creation. You and I do not have the right to choose who will live and die because we are not gods and the creation of life is not ours.
The forsaken firstborn motif permeates Scripture from Genesis 4 onward. Here, Israel is named as God’s firstborn son—to be usurped by the person of Christ in His ascension to David’s throne. Christ is the true Israel. The death of Pharaoh’s firstborn son is a continuation of this motif in Exodus. Everything that happens in the account of the Exodus has parallels in the Gospels, the earthly life of Christ, and even in the Book of Revelation. Understanding the Exodus is paramount to understand the life of Christ and His gospel. Christ is the second Adam and will be called the firstborn of all creation (cf. Colossians 1:15). Such a title, as it meant in Egypt, is a kingly title. When Israel, God’s firstborn, escapes Egypt after the death of Egypt’s firstborn, God is essentially telling Egypt, “You are not king. Israel will inherit the earth.” In the First Century AD, Christ will be born and take the title, “Firstborn of all Creation.” He will usurp the nation as rightful king and heir to David’s throne. He will establish His kingdom—a kingdom with no end to the increase of His government or of peace (cf. Isaiah 9:7). God is here dealing with the issue of kingship. He is conquering Egypt as He conquers every worldly nation.