The Symbols of the Last Egyptian Plague

March 28-April 3

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In this week’s chapters, we see the power of the Lord coming in to save His people. It is an awesome, awe-inspiring story, and it is overwhelmingly packed with symbolism for our day. Absolutely overwhelming. A lot of it we have already learned. However, I fear that as we are taught the same symbols year after year, we forget that the Lord teaches with symbols because there are many layers. There are different characters or subplots that may have not been considered before, and we are missing out on these symbols because we’re focused on the same ones each year.

The original symbols

One thing that I find so impressive about the Lord in these stories is that He didn’t just swoop in and save His people. He did so much more than that. He saved them in a way that could teach them about His atonement for generations and generations to come. 

One of the most common symbols we are taught about in this story is the fact that Pharaoh refuses to release the Israelites until the very last plague – the death of the firstborn. Only the death of Jesus Christ releases us from the effects of sin so that we can live with our Father in Heaven again. 

It’s a beautiful lesson, but I want to take a second to zoom in on this last plague. Just so we’re very clear on details, the Israelites are taught that the Lord is sending another plague. A destroyer (or at least “destroyer” is how it’s translated in the Hebrew text) will come and kill every firstborn son in Egypt unless they partake in this ritual. A family is supposed to sacrifice a lamb without blemish, eat it, and smear the blood on the doorposts. The blood on the doorposts will be a token to the destroyer that it should not enter in and kill the firstborn in that house.

Inconsistencies in the parable

Whenever we talked about this plague growing up, I feel like it sometimes got thrown into the mix with the liberation of the Israelites in general. The blood of the lamb saved the firstborn sons just like the blood of Christ saves all of us from spiritual death. I believe this is one layer of symbolism that makes sense. I think it fits. But I feel like there’s more here because there are other aspects to the story that are not completely cohesive with that principle.

For example, doesn’t the blood of Christ save all of us? In the story-turned-parable, the blood of the lamb only saved the firstborn sons. What about the other people in the house? Wouldn’t it make more sense if the blood on the doorposts saved everybody from the destroyer? The parallels would fit more perfectly that way.

Now I know that parables and symbols are only meant to go so far; even parables and symbols have their shortcomings because nothing can imitate the atonement of Jesus Christ perfectly. It’s just not gonna happen. BUT. I do not feel like this was meant to be another symbolic shortcoming. I point out this inconsistency on purpose because I believe we’ve been missing a piece of the puzzle that the Lord would like to teach us.

An alternate layer of symbolism

Doctrine and Covenants holds a clue.

Doctrine and Covenants 19:16-17

16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;

17 But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;

Christ suffered for everyone so that we don’t have to suffer like He did (if we repent). What did Christ suffer? Well…not to be repetitive, but Christ suffered the death of the Firstborn, Himself. But He also suffered more than that. There was immense pain and anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane before there was a death.

In the history-turned-parable, the blood on the posts of the door spared the entire family from suffering the death of the firstborn son. Sure, the blood saved the sons from death, but it saved everyone else the anguish associated with that death.

Christ’s atonement, the death of the Firstborn, liberated us from sin and enabled us to walk to the promised land. The blood of Christ was a token that His suffering had saved us; Christ’s blood released us from immense suffering that would have been ours.

Just like we have to repent in order to avoid the suffering that Christ did, the Israelites had to do something. They had to all partake of the sacrificed lamb, and they had to put the blood on the door. 

The Egyptians did end up suffering (to an extent) what Christ suffered. They lost their firstborns. There had to be a death; if there had been no death, Pharaoh wouldn’t have relented. But it doesn’t have to be our death and suffering. Because of Christ.

Side implications

There are a couple of side implications that we can take from this idea.

The first one comes when we look at who applied the blood to the doors. Who saved the sons; was it the parents or the sons, themselves? There are a couple of answers to this.

Everyone is very familiar with the fact that there had to be blood on the door to escape the plague. However, that was not the only ritual. Part of the ritual was that every person needed to partake of the sacrificed lamb.

Exodus 12:3-4

3 Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house:

4 And if the household be too little for the lamb, let him and his neighbour next unto his house take it according to the number of the souls; every man according to his eating shall make your count for the lamb.

So these verses are telling us that if there was a house with hardly any people in it, they could share the same lamb with another house. There just had to be enough lamb for everyone to eat what they needed (hello more symbolism but I digress on that detail). 

Going back to my original question…who saved the sons? When we look at the fact that the sons had to choose to eat their portion of lamb, we can see that there are aspects in which they needed to save themselves.

But just like I said, there are multiple answers here.

Even though the sons ate the lamb on their own, who put the blood up? Sometimes it was the fathers and mothers. Sometimes it might have been the sons themselves if the parents were unable. Maybe it was a kind neighbor who stepped in to help a family struggling to make the ritual happen. 

We all have to partake of the lamb ourselves, but in some ways, we all help to save each other. It is primarily the responsibility of the parents, but sometimes that’s not an available option. We’ve all heard the stories of the children who found the gospel on their own, and we’ve all heard the stories of how a kind leader or ministering brother or sister wrapped their arms around a struggling teenager.

There is a second implication to this, one that is faaaar more important. 

There was a house built around these families. It was a house that kept the family in and protected. When we speak of commandments and standards, we often teach them as walls that are set up to help us. And it’s true that these walls do help us. I will not undermine the power of boundaries, but It. Is. Essential. that we remember the walls would have done nothing to save these boys without the blood of the lamb.

Commandments and standards will protect your loved ones, but please, please remember that they will never save your children.

Teach your children the commandments and standards, but teach them Christ. Teach them how to speak to Him so that He can guide them through situations they might be unprepared for. Teach them how to repent with Him because being perfect was never part of the plan. Teach them who He really is because He is the only one who can save them from suffering. 

Trying to perfectly follow the commandments or trying to never let anyone down never relieved suffering. Trying to be strong and meek (just like we’re commanded to) does not relieve suffering. Only a knowledge of and a relationship with Christ can do that (at least in the long-term). I know this to be true.

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