What is the lesson of Passover?

In another thread, I questioned the lesson being taught in the Biblical story of Adam and Eve…and then asked a question of the theists participating here in the forum.

In this thread, I’d like to question the lesson being taught in the story of Passover.

Passover, purportedly the world’s longest continuously celebrated religious observance, is supposed to be a celebration of the god of the Bible’s deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. But since “Passover” (“Pesach” in Hebrew) refers specifically to the last of the so-called “plagues” the god inflicted upon Egypt in its supposed attempt to get Pharaoh to release the Hebrews from their supposed captivity…it really is the celebration of the Hebrew immunity from the final plague:; the slaughter of the first-born of all living things in Egypt. (I used “supposed” in that sentence twice, because some scholars claim the Hebrews were not slaves in Egypt, but visitors; and were not “freed”, but expelled.)

Both “Passover” and “Pesach” deal with the “exempting or sparing” of Hebrew “first-born” from the slaughter of “all first-born”…the final plague used to elicit compliance with the injunction of the god to “release” the Hebrew “slaves.”

Exodus tells us that the god sent Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh to ask for the release, but actually tells the brothers that he (the god) “…will make Pharaoh obstinate so that he will not let the people go.” (Ex: 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:20; 11:10; and 14:4.) The point being that the god intended to inflict a series of plagues on Egypt to gain compliance and apparently wanted to insure that he got to impose the final one—namely the slaughter of the first-borns.

Although the story is now told (understandably) with a focus on the god’s desire to deliver the Hebrews from captivity, even a cursory reading of Exodus shows that the desire to prove his power is at least as important to the god as the deliverance. (Ex 9:16; 14:4; and 14:18.)

In any case, if “deliverance” truly was the main motivation, the fact is that the god could have gotten compliance quicker and easier by simply giving Pharaoh an excruciating and unrelenting earache—and informing him that it would worsen daily until the Hebrews were released and safely back in their own land. That would have allowed the job to be done expeditiously and without all the agony the commoner Egyptians had to endure using the “plagues” method.

Obviously this is a myth.

The god who just pages before had created the more than 200 billion suns of our Milky Way Galaxy—and the hundreds of billions of other galaxies we know of—could easily have come up with a better way of getting the release (if it were necessary)…and a much better way of showing his power than by killing a bunch of defenseless babies. (Note: I acknowledge that not all first-born are babies…and Pharaoh was almost surely a first-born.)

I invite comments from everyone…but for the theists particularly: What do you see as the lesson, if any, being taught here. Obviously, I’ll eventually get to the question of why would you want this god to be your GOD…but I’ll save that for later in the discussion.

For our Jewish members (religiously observant or not): How do you suppose Jews would react to Egyptians celebrating the slaughter of Jews no matter how compelling the reason?

Not a theist, but from a (Jewish) religious point of view, this part of the Torah has traditionally been the seed for many if not most of the discussions of Free Will; I am less than a grasshopper to them, in terms of this kind of scholarship.

A few (random) examples:

Nobody seems to be able to come up with a compelling resolution to this question [of Free Will], possibly one of the greatest philosophical questions of all (regardless of which, if any, religion one subscribes to.) I’m not about to try it myself… :o

Eh, we’re used to it, e.g., Palestinians dancing on the rooftops during Gulf War 1 when the missiles were hitting Tel-Aviv. That’s how opposing human tribes act.

From a Christian POV, the Passover story can be read as a fore-shadowing of the Christ-sacrifice - i.e. the unblemished sacrificial lamb whose blood “repels” the angel of death. This of course raises its own Pandora’s Box of questions, but is one “lesson” that can be drawn.


What a facile analysis.

What’s with this “the god” business, by the way?

As “the god” asks Job, where were you when he made the world? The point of that question was to illustrate to Job the impossibility of demanding answers for God’s conduct when the one doing the demanding has only a limited view of the circumstances.

So let’s take your question. Neither you nor I can possibly be aware of everything that was considered by God before he did what he did. But in this case, I can offer you some speculations that may sound plausible.

Even the most powerful of “unquestioned” human dictators governs by consent of the people he governs. They are many; he is one. It cannot be that the Pharaoh could cause the release of thousands of valuable slaves, hurting the economic ambitions of powerful people in his land, on the basis of his own earache. Devout as they may be to the system of government, a ruling Pharaoh that does things like this will surely suffer a little accident before too long and there will be a new Pharaoh, one who hopefully will prove more resilient when ear troubles ensure.

So God could not have secured the release of the Hebrews merely by visiting inner ear pain on one person. The nation of Egypt needed to collectively suffer some tragedy that made letting the Hebrews go seem, if not ideal, at least understandable.

But I know that won’t make you happy. You’ll undoubtedly propose some new plan that God should have tried first. At some point you can undoubtedly craft a plan that appears, from our vantage point, to be superior to the one God used, and then you’ll demand to know why God didn’t do that.

But where were you when God made the world?

God can make a universe, but he can’t teleport a few thousand Hebrews a few hundred miles?

Where was God when the innocent babies were being killed “just to prove a point”?
Holding the sword.


Sometimes innocent babies need to die so the rest of us can have better lives.

See, e.g., abortion.

Off-topic cheap shot.
The Passover story is only one of many in the Bible where God brings forth the deaths of many innocents, though. From the Flood, to the deaths of the firstborn during the time of jesus’ birth, it seems that this diety is incapable of working miracles without a massive blood sacrifice.

Noone special…thanks for the comments and links. I’ve looked ‘em over. I may go back to them if needed, but more pressing matters are presented here…and I’d like to address them. You are correct that Palestinians rejoice over victories…just as Jews rejoice over theirs. Too bad that either do, because those are all sad happenings over in the Middle East.

But what if a bunch of Jewish babies were slaughtered…and the Egyptians decided to commemorate the slaughter with a special holiday?

Grimpixie…thanks. I just do not see the relationship…and even if it exists, it still does not answer the question. Take another look at the post…and see if you have any more to say as to the question.

Bicker…thank you for posting.

I am quite clear that I meant “the god of the Bible.” Just short for that.

Thank you.

Hummm…so you think the god did what he did so as not to hurt the Pharaoh’s chances of continuing as Pharaoh.

Well…that is a possibility…admittedly, not one that had ever occurred to me before.

I guess it could make more sense to kill a bunch of babies rather than inconvenience Pharaoh…but that would bring me to that other question: Why on earth would you want this god to be your GOD? Wouldn’t Zeus make more sense if what you just proposed were true?

By the way, even if you meant that because Pharaoh might be jeopardized, he would not be swayed by an earache…I think you do not realize what a “god” can do. And Pharaoh was a god…albeit a god who might react quite strongly to an unrelenting earache!

No need for ME to do that…Czarcasm just gave the kind of response I would give. If the god could make the universe…how could you possibly imagine it could not come up with a better plan for getting the Hebrews released than slaughtering a bunch of babies? Can you know come up with a plan that would teach a better lesson than this?

Why are you asserting that a god made the world?

Czarcasm**…thank you for your comment. You are quite right…a god as powerful as people suppose this one to be could work a problem like this out without the slaughter. Unless of course, the god enjoyed slaughtering!

Yes, given such a neutral and respectful OP, and followed by such a respectful and polite post from you, it truly was a wonder I was tempted to lob a cheap shot your way. I guess I’m just incorrigible.

Now, on to your current post, which at least has the virtue of thinly disguised contempt, versus outright and open contempt.

Factually, an untrue claim. “This diety” is credited with plenty of miracles that did not involve any deaths at all: the burning bush that spoke to Moses in the Old Testament, and the many miracles wrought by Jesus in the New Testament. So “incapable” is clearly inaccurate.

On the other hand, it would be folly not to acknowledge that especially in the Old Testament, God’s interaction with His creatures has not been uniformly gentle.

But when I ask, “Where were you…” I am attacking your premise. And you don’t seem to get that.

Let me see if I can explain. Several years ago, there was a short-lived TV series called “Wonderfalls.” Its protagonist, a girl named Jaye, works at a tacky Niagra Falls gift shop. One day, a wax figure of a lion starts talking to her, inexplicably demanding of her certain seemingly meaningless acts that range from trivial to dangerous. As the show progresses, its never made clear to the viewer what force or power is behind these requests.

In one episode, Jaye is harangued by the talking creatures to smash a car’s taillight. She does so, and then goes about her business, never knowing what happens. But we, the audience, see. The car is being driven by a priest. He’s pulled over for the broken taillight, and a routine check reveals he has an outstanding warrant - which is news to him. The warrant is for being a deadbeat dad, and it turns out that before he entered the seminary, he had a girlfriend, and they broke up very unfavorably. He left town and decided to become a priest, never knowing that she was pregnant. She tried to find him when she needed child support but couldn’t, and couldn’t get aid unless she named the father. So Father discovers he is a father, and that’s a good thing for all.

Now, why this descent into irrelevancies about a six-year-old failed TV show?

Because it illustrates rather well this concept of, “Where were you when…?” Jaye breaks the light, and might well complain about how cruel and capricious the act is, never knowing that it was intended to have a beneficial effect, and that it did in fact have that effect. She simply wasn’t aware – couldn’t be aware, in fact – of all that was going on “behind the scenes” that made the light breaking a good idea.

And you might complain that a truly omnipotent God could have the same effect without breaking any lights, and you’d be making the same mistake: you’re not aware, can’t be aware, of whatever is going on behind the scenes that makes this solution the optimal one.

So now we return to the horror of slaughtered children at Passover.

When you demand an explanation for this, you’re doing the same thing: you’re saying, in effect, that you can understand everything, that there is no hidden secondary, tertiary, or thousand-fold effect from this event that you cannot understand if only it’s explained to you, and you’re just as able as any God to comprehend the reasons. And since you don’t see any, then God must be capricious, cruel, or non-existent.

The slaughtering of innocents is a too-common theme in the Old Testament, and it continues into the New Testament. Imagine how much more affective Jesus’ message would have been if God had prevented the slaughter of the firstborn.

He did. He prevented the slaughter of the Jews’ firstborn. Now, I realize this is akin in some sense to murdering your parents and then demanding mercy because you’re an orphan, but I suspect the message about saving babies didn’t sell nearly as well 2,000 years ago as did the message about slaughtering babies.

When I demand an explanation for the slaughter of millions of innocents over thousands of years, it is because I don’t understand.
Don’t Know–>Ask Why
Does this process confuse you?

And just as an aside: let me say some things about tone.

I am the first to acknowledge that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof, and that a proper, justified, skeptical reaction to the story of Passover (indeed, to the Bible as a whole) is to say, “The evidence simply isn’t strong enough.”

I get that. Truly, I do. Belief in God comes from an inner experience that I is sufficient for me, but since I can’t share it with you, is obviously meaningless for you. So I’m well and truly on board with someone that says, “Your claims are not backed by anywhere near sufficient evidence, and so I reject them.”

“Damn, you’re a drooling inbred idiot for believing this superstitious nonsense,” is a similar message, but with a tone that doesn’t help foster discussion much.

No, no. It’s a fair question.

And the answer is: “I don’t know.”

If you wish to reinterpret anything that has been said so far in this thread to mean “Damn, you’re a drooling inbred idiot for believing this superstitious nonsense”, that is your own personal problem. I’ll feel no guilt for how your mind works.

Bicker, I have gone out of my way not to condemn or question theism in any way in several posts in several threads. Why are you using sarcasm to suggest that the OP was “disrespectful?”

I simply stated the case as I see it. It is a gruesome story…it the story of a bunch of babies being slaughtered by someone (in this case, a god) who wanted to get his way and resorted, unnecessarily as it is, to torturing people for what appears to be years…and then SLAUGHTERING a bunch of babies.

There is no nice way to tell that story!

We are talking here about the god that Jesus worshipped. I am not interested here in the other miracles…but in this one, there is an amazing amount of unnecessary slaughter of innocents. And if you do not think a god capable of creating planets, suns, and galaxies can obtain the release of the Hebrews from Egypt without this kind of carnage…what kind of god are you worshipping?

Of course, given the story, the god could have done things differently…and with less torture and slaughter.

I am not demanding anything.

I am asking: What kind of lesson is being taught with this story?

And why would you want this kind of god to be the kind of GOD you insist must exist?

I thank you for being a theist who is willing to discuss these issues…but let’s actually discuss them.

When I discuss abortion, I refer to the opposing sides as “pro-life,” and “pro-choice.”

In other words, I use the terms that each side wishes to use to describe itself. Others will say “baby killers,” or “anti-choicers,” depending on which side they wish to demonize, but a refusal to use the commonly-accepted self-describing term for a side sets a certain negative tone.

So, too, here. You continue to use “a god,” in your discussion of this event. You claim to be taking an inquisitive position about the lesson of the story, but by this rhetorical method you reject a central aspect of it: the claim that there is one God, and he’s the God involved in the story.

Now, if this were a broader inquiry about the Hebrew God, and polytheistic versus monotheistic beliefs, perhaps your usage would have some merit. But since this entire discussion is clearly in the context of, “OK, Old Testament believers, please explain this message to me,” there is no reason to refuse to say, “God,” instead of “a god,” or “the god.”

Once again, you’ve stated as a given what I’m challenging as an assumption: that is was unnecessary. Did you read my little Wonderfalls vignette? That was intended to suggest that even though we are not clear on the necessity, that there may well have been one, and that because God is unknowable, we lack the capability to discern the reasons for this necessity.

In other words, your inquiry seems to be an effort to create a testable hypothesis. I’m telling you that part and parcel of the belief in God is the recognition that it’s not a testable hypothesis. It’s not falsifiable.

Refusing all attempts to test a hypothesis does not make non-falsifiable.


But that’s not what’s happening here. The hypothesis itself IS non-falsifiable.

What test do you suggest I am refusing, and what part of the hypothesis would it test?

  1. God is “unknowable”. What does this mean? If you are talking about the Christian god’s existence, then there is a logical problem to his existence that has already been address elsewhere. If you are referring to knowing(if he exists at all) how he thinks , then that hypothesis is very easy to test. He explains his actions, and if my head explodes, your are correct.
    Of course, his inability to explain his actions in words I can comprehend would show that he isn’t all-knowing.