Mercy in the Judgment on Egypt

I was reading this morning from Philo’s De Vita Mosis. Becoming well acquainted with Philo is a necessary part of my attempt at a research program (which matters little for the present post). Philo, by the way, was a contemporary of Jesus and the writers of the New Testament. He represents some rather fascinating thought existent in first-century Judaism. His thought’s on the plagues is equally interesting.

His thoughts are worth quoting at length. He writes (De Vita Mosis, 1:109-110),

Plagues on EgyptAnd perhaps some one may here ask why God punished the land with such insignificant and generally despised animals, omitting bears, and lions, and leopards, and the other races of wild beasts who devour human flesh; and if he did not send these, at least, he might have sent Egyptian asps, the bites of which have naturally the power to cause death instantly. But if such a man really does not know, let him learn, first of all, that God was desirous rather to admonish the Egyptians than to destroy them: for if he had designed to destroy them utterly once for all, he would not have employed animals to be, as it were, his coadjutors in the work of destruction, but rather such heaven-sent afflictions as famine and pestilence…”

Let me summarize. Why did God strike the Egyptians the way he did? It wasn’t to annihilate the Egyptians. The judgment served as opportunities for repentance and obedience. Philo seems to understand the graciousness and compassion of God. Philo understands God, in his grace and mercy, does not immediately treat sinners as they deserve. Apparently, he’s read and believes Psalm103:8-10 which says, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever;he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.”

The Lord did not treat the Egyptians as they deserved. The Lord did not treat the Israelite’s as they deserved. He does not treat us as we deserve. Why? Because the Lord is compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. How are we, his children, treated? As sons and daughters of the King (Rom. 8). Why? Because Jesus Christ took our place (2 Cor. 5) and was treated as we deserve (Rom. 5; 8).  Praise God!

One final thought. The grace and mercy of God towards sinners will not always remain. 2 Peter 3 details very clearly how the Lord will return and hand out final judgment. Remember, there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1, emphasis mine). The inverse is also true. There is therefore now condemnation for those who are not in Christ Jesus” (see John 3:18).  This is why the Scriptures say, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Heb. 3:15).

“Come ye sinners, poor and needy, lost and ruined by the fall.  If you tarry till your better, you will never come at all.” – Come Ye Sinners


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