Messianic Education Trust
(Ex 10:1 - 13:16)

Shemot/Exodus 12:30   And there was a great wailing in Egypt for there was not a house where there was not a dead [person].

View whole verse and interlinear translation ...

These words come near the apex of the celebration of the first Pesach according to HaShem's instructions earlier in Shemot chapter 12 and the subsequent release - if not expulsion - of the Israelites from Egypt. It is the literal fulfillment of the dread words spoken by The Name ...

HaShem: literally, Hebrew for 'The Name' - an allusion used to avoid pronouncing the Tetragrammaton, the so-called 'ineffable' name of G–d
HaShem through Moshe at the start of aliyah four: "Thus says the L-RD: Toward midnight I will go forth among the Egyptians, and every first-born in the land of Egypt shall die ... and there shall be a loud cry in all the land of Egypt, such as has never been or will ever be again" (Shemot 11:4-6, NJPS).

While Who Is ...

Abraham Ibn Ezra: (1089-1167 CE), born in Tudela, Spain; died in the South of France after wandering all around the shores of the Mediterranean and England; a philosopher, astronomer, doctor, poet and linguist; wrote a Hebrew grammar and a commentary on the Bible
Ibn Ezra de-emhasises the words "not a house", suggesting that "the text is speaking in generalities", Who Is ...

Rashi: Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105 CE), French rabbi who wrote commentaries on the Torah, the Prophets and the Talmud, lived in Troyes where he founded a yeshiva in 1067; focuses on the plain meaning (p'shat) of the text, although sometimes quite cryptic in his brevity
Rashi affirms that the Torah narrative is correct, explaining that "if there was a first-born there, he died. If there was no firstborn there, the most important one of the household is called 'a first-born', as the verse says, 'I, for My part, will appoint him a first-born' (Psalm 89.28)." The Who Is ...

Bekhor Shor: Joseph ben Isaac Bekhor Shor; a twelfth century French tosafist, commentator and poet; he lived in Orleans and was a pupil of the Rashbam and Rabbenu Tam; wrote a commentary to the Torah and made contributions to the Talmud commentaries; followed the p'shat method of interpretation in the style of Rashi, to the extent of rationalising many miracles
Bekhor Shor echoes Rashi - "If there was no first-born there, the head of the house died" - and Gunther Plaut notes that "tradition went to great lengths to explain how every Egyptian household was affected."

How could this be? Nahum Sarna answers that "the Torah recognises societal responsibility; thus, the entire Egyptian people is subject to judgement for having tolerated the inflexibly perverse will of the pharaoh." Referring to Pharaoh' instructions to his people - "Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, 'Every boy that is born you shall throw into the Nile, but let every girl live'" (Shemot 1:22, NJPS) - Terence Fretheim too agrees: "The language of 4:23, 'I have said to you, "Let My son go, that he may worship Me," yet you refuse to let him go. Now I will slay your first-born son' (4:23, NJPS), should be recalled. There the killing of the Egyptian first-born is understood as a measure for measure, making the punishment fit the crime."1

Moving to the words of our text, it is the last word that claims our focus on this occasion. , here an ms noun - though strictly the Qal ms participle from the root , to die, either naturally or by violence (Davidson) - is usually translated as a dead person2, together with its other gender/number forms: , and - dead people. Regrettably, since it dehumanises the specific link to the person whose soul inhabited the body, it is sometimes translated as "a dead body" or, even worse, "a corpse". Perhaps, on this occasion, although each body represented a particular someone important to the household, the scale of the event allows us to anonymise the individuals; Thomas Dozeman translates as 'death', to render the last phrase of the verse as "there was not a house in which there was not death."3 Walter Brueggemann comments that "the empire is now saturated with the reality of death ... Pharaoh cannot maintain the life of the empire against the G-d who gives both life and death."4

In our day, death is a distinctly taboo subject. People go out of their way to avoid using the words 'died' or 'dead'. The phrase "passed away", implying a ending or cessation or existence, has - despite the growing secularisation of society and increasing denial of G-d or an after-life - been shortened to simply 'passing'. It is common to hear people saying that their relative or friend has 'passed' or talking of the time of their 'passing'. Perhaps this implies a grass-roots or folk desire to believe that the person - whether liked, loved or hated - has passed from this phase, a physical phase, of life to another, a more peaceful or spiritual phase of existence. While some say that the belief in anything beyond this physical life is simply human arrogance, as if man somehow deserves more, the frequency and persistence of a belief in more than this world confirms what King Solomon said: "[G-d] also puts eternity in their mind, but without man ever guessing, from first to last, all the things that G-d brings to pass" (Ecclesiastes 3:11, NJPS).

We know that death was not considered to be the end of the road in ancient Judaism. The Torah consistently talks of people being "gathered to their kin" - for example, "Avraham breathed his last, dying at a good ripe age, old and contented; and he was gathered to his kin" (B'resheet 25:8, NJPS) - implying that they join their ancestors, other deceased family and friends, in some other, but undefined, place. Inspired by Daniel's prediction of the resurrection, "Many of those that sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to eternal life, others to reproaches, to everlasting abhorrence. And the knowledgeable will be radiant like the bright expanse of sky, and those who lead the many to righteousness will be like the stars forever and ever" (Daniel 12:2-3, NJPS), the intertestamental writers continued to develop the idea until late Second Temple times.

Luke reports that it became one of major differences between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Standing before a council of chief priests and elders in Jerusalem, Rav Sha'ul cried out,"Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial" (Acts 23:6, ESV), and a fierce argument broke out because "the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all" (v. 8, ESV). To this day in Judaism, we proclaim the resurrection three times each day in the second stanza of the Amidah - G-d's might acts: "He sustains the living with lovingkindness and with great compassion revives the dead. He supports the fallen, heals the sick and keeps His faith with those who sleep in the dust" (Authorised Daily Prayer).

Yeshua Himself previously took part in that argument, chastising the Sadducees for not understanding the Scriptures correctly when they challenged Him about Levirate marriage: "As for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by G-d: 'I am the G-d of Abraham, and the G-d of Isaac, and the G-d of Jacob'? He is not God of the dead, but of the living" (Matthew 22:31-32, ESV). However, perhaps our best understanding, not only of Yeshua's teaching, but also of the grass roots belief about death comes from the gospels. Yeshua had previous raised the son of the widow of Nain - in the middle of the funeral processions - "He said, 'Young man, I say to you, arise.' And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Yeshua gave him to his mother" (Luke 7:14-15, ESV). Matthew records that at the time of the resurrection, "the tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many" (Matthew 27:52-53, ESV).

John gives us the extended report of Lazarus and his two sisters, Martha and Mary. Lazarus has fallen ill and, before Yeshua got there, he died. Four days before. Not just dead, but very dead. Martha chides Yeshua for not coming sooner to heal Lazarus, but Yeshua tells her that, "Your brother will rise again" (John 11:23). Hear how Martha responds: "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day" (v. 24, ESV). She expresses a firm faith in a final end-times resurrection: he will rise again. When Yeshua goes to the tomb and tells the people to take away the stone, Martha protests, "By now his body must smell, for it has been four days since he died!" (v. 39, CJB); she has faith in that final resurrection, but not for the miracle that is about to take place. Yeshua calls Lazarus to come out and he does; he has been restored to life.

All these biblical resurrections - people who were dead coming back to life - and those that are reported today, were/are temporary; sooner or later, they all die a natural death. Yeshua's case is different. Significantly trailed in advance - sometimes a little covertly, "Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12:40, ESV), other times more explicitly: "the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And when He is killed, after three days He will rise" (Mark 9:31, ESV) - when it happened, Yeshua's body was changed. Although still clearly flesh and bone - he ate and still bore the marks of the crucifixion - He could appear and disappear, walking into closed or locked rooms, and ascending into heaven. Yeshua now has - and will have for ever - His immortal body. John saw and heard Him: "one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around His chest. The hairs of His head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, His feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and His voice was like the roar of many waters" (Revelation 1:13-15, ESV), echoing Daniel's vision of "one like a son of man, and He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him" (Daniel 7:13, ESV).

The book of Hebrews makes it clear that death, if fully experienced - allowing for the phenomena of near-death experiences or same-body resurrection - is a singularity. It happens once and once only - "it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27, ESV) - and is followed by judgement. Paul seems to quite clear in his mind that when the resurrection happens, "we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet" (1 Corinthians 15:51-52, ESV); we will have our new spiritual bodies and we will be like Yeshua: "when He appears we shall be like Him" (1 John 3:2, ESV). He is our exemplar; because Yeshua rose from the dead - "the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Corinthians 15:20, ESV) - we can believe His words that "this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:40, ESV).

1. - Terence E. Fretheim, Exodus, Interpretation, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), page 141.

2. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 253.

3. - Thomas B. Dozeman, Exodus, Eerdmans Critical Commentaries, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmanns, 2009), page 279.

4. - Walter Brueggemann, "Exodus", in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 359.

Further Study: Acts 26:22-23; 2 Timothy 2:8; 1 Peter 1:3

Application: Are you like Martha and Lazarus, believing in the final resurrection but lacking the faith to see HaShem do these miracles today? Or are you a modern-day Sadducee, not believing in resurrection at all? Know the truth right now - that Yeshua most certainly has been raised, otherwise "if Messiah has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:14, ESV) - and let that truth set you free!

Comment - 13:39 22Jan23 JG: Yes indeed, our culture is so divorcing itself from The Reality of Life and Death. Yeshua, may we know Your Resurrection power in our lives to shine Your light in these days.

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© Jonathan Allen, 2023

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