Chances are good that if you come from a Christian background, at some point in your life you had an encounter with this Bible Story book. This is the one that I’ve been reading to the kids from lately. (We have several that I’ve been rotating through.)
If you popped over to Amazon and took a look at it, you noticed right off that it’s a “serious” kid’s book. The illustrations are not quite photo-realism, but they’re not cartoons either. The people smile when they’re happy and frown when they’re sad, unlike this one where you’ll find a grinning Jonah kneeling in prayer on a comfy looking bit of whale innards. Obviously, the Egermeier book attempts to “keep it real”, which is why my wife and I recently had to have a discussion about reading the story of Moses to the boys.
If you know the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, you know that God had to afflict Pharaoh and all of Egypt in several different ways before Pharaoh obeyed God and released the Israelites from their slavery. One of the plagues that God visited on the hard-hearted Pharaoh and the complicit Egyptians was the death of all their first-born children . As far as I can tell, the plague killed all of the first-born whether infant or elderly, however I suspect my children would only think about the little ones. The challenge in telling this story to our little ones is reconciling for them why our Good and Loving God would kill Innocent Babies. My wife and I have had this discussion before and I’ve even posted about the time my oldest son quizzed me about why God wanted Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. My wife and I didn’t come to a unified position on whether or not to read the Egermeier version, which doesn’t shy away from the facts, however we agreed that it’s not a bad idea to have an answer in mind should the kids ask why God killed the Egyptian babies. So, I went off, grabbed a notebook and pencil and began to write an imaginary conversation with the kids in order to come up with some kind of answer that is both true and understandable for kids. Here’s something akin to what I came up with that night:
Kids: Daddy! Why did God kill the Egyptian babies? That’s mean!
Daddy: That’s a good question. Let’s think about it: Do you know what a slave is?
Kids: Someone who works.
Daddy: Yeah, sort of. You see, a slave is someone that other people treat like animals. The Israelites used to be neighbors with the Egyptians but then the Egyptians took them, made them slaves and began to treat them like animals. Think about that: Where do animals sleep?
Kids: Outside? In barns? In houses?
Daddy: Ok. Where do animals go potty?
Kids:(laughter) In the potty!
Daddy: No, they don’t. Animals don’t have clean places to go potty. Some animals on the farm tend to potty in the same place where they eat and sleep…or just anywhere they can find. What kind of food do animals eat?
Daddy: Yeah, some do. Do people eat grass?
Kids: No! Yuck!
Daddy: The Israelites probably didn’t eat grass, but they didn’t eat nice food like you and the Egyptians either. What are animals good for? What are chickens good for?
Kids: Eggs! Nuggets!
Daddy: Exactly. Does anyone ever offer to give the chicken money for their eggs? No. We just take them. As for nuggets, before you can make chicken nuggets, you have to kill the chicken. Do you go to jail if you kill a chicken?
Daddy: That’s what the Egyptians did to the Israelites. They made them live in dirty places like animals and gave them simple food like animals. When the Israelites had babies, the Egyptians took their children and sold them like they were animals. Remember that the Egyptians even killed the Israelite babies and nobody put them in jail for doing it. Should the Egyptians have been punished for this?
Kids: Yes, but not the babies!
Daddy: God gave the Egyptians 400 years to stop being mean to the Israelites, but they didn’t. When God sent Moses to Pharaoh, He told Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt. If Pharaoh had listened, then the babies would not have died.
Kids: But the babies didn’t do anything wrong! God should’ve killed Pharaoh!
Daddy: You’re right; the Egyptian babies didn’t do anything wrong and neither did the Israelite babies that the Egyptians sold and killed. God sent Moses to give the Egyptians a chance to do what was right: to release the Israelites and to stop treating them like animals. God tried to give them mercy but they didn’t want God’s mercy.
Kids: What’s mercy?
Daddy: Mercy is when we get something good that we don’t derserve instead of the punishment that we do deserve. Justice is getting the punishment we deserve for the bad things we’ve done. God offered Pharaoh and Egypt mercy but when they said No! He gave them justice for killing the Israelite babies. Just like the Israelites lost their babies, so the Egyptians had to lose theirs because they would not accept God’s mercy.
Kids: But what about the babies? Doesn’t God love the Egyptian babies? Couldn’t He give mercy to the babies?
Daddy: Yes He does. In fact, God loves those babies so much that when Jesus returns, God is going to give those babies new bodies and new life. They’ll live with people who love each other and don’t treat people like animals. They won’t learn how to be mean like the Egyptians that God punished for treating the Israelites so badly.
Of course, no conversation with my kids would ever last this long. They’d get bored and begin to make jokes. In fact, I’d probably lose them completely once I brought up the idea of animals going potty. Additionally, my kids would constantly interrupt with additional questions. Yet, having gone through the exercise I think I’ve come up with a condensed answer.
God loved both the Egyptians and the Israelites and He was very unhappy when the Egyptians took the Israelites and started being mean to them. Remember, the Bible says that the Egyptians killed Israelite babies. God sent Moses to give them a chance to stop being mean but Pharaoh and the Egyptians would not stop. When God saw that they would not stop, He gave them the same trouble that they gave the Israelites: He took away the Egyptian babies just like the Egyptians took away the Israelite babies. When Jesus returns, the babies of both the Egyptians and the Israelites will be given new life and there will be no more killing.
I don’t know if the kids would understand that or not. I think they might. They may not remember it either. I just know that I’d rather give them an honest, if difficult, answer instead of avoiding the subject entirely. I’d really love to give them THE CORRECT ANSWER but honestly, I don’t think I know that that is.