At midnight the Lord killed all the firstborn sons in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn son of the captive in the dungeon. Even the firstborn of their livestock were killed. Pharaoh and his officials and all the people of Egypt woke up during the night, and loud wailing was heard throughout the land of Egypt. There was not a single house where someone had not died. — Exodus 12:29-30

What do Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and Albert Einstein have in common? Certainly they all figured prominently in the lists of the most influential people of the 20th century.

Karl Marx’s political doctrines lay at the foundation of the Soviet empire, which affected the lives of millions. Sigmund Freud’s theories about human personality and behavior have changed the way people are viewed and human problems are addressed throughout the whole western world. Einstein’s theory of relativity helped bring the world into the nuclear age, and we have yet to discover the full implications of his work.

But these three men have something else in common: all three of them were Jewish. They are thus a reminder of the far-reaching impact that the Jewish people have had during their history. The Jewish people have had a remarkable impact considering their relatively small numbers. It’s probably true to say (with apologies to Churchill) that never in the history of human experience have so many been impacted so profoundly by so few!

The Jewish people were once held as slaves in Egypt for 430 years. They were eventually liberated from their captivity after a desperate show of force on the part of that country’s ruler.

Despite endless opportunities to let the people go, the Pharaoh of Egypt refused. Eventually he was warned, “This is what the Lord says: About midnight I will pass through Egypt. All the firstborn sons will die in every family in Egypt, from the oldest son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the oldest son of his lowliest slave. Even the firstborn of the animals will die” (Exodus 11:4-5).

Pharaoh refused to relent, the judgment came, and disaster swept across the land. Every household was affected—“loud wailing was heard throughout the land of Egypt” (12:30).

The change in Pharaoh was startling. When initially approached by Moses and Aaron, he had arrogantly declared that he had no knowledge of the Lord and, therefore, no intention of agreeing to the Lord’s requests. Then, as the series of disasters struck, he simply tried to emulate them as a show of his own independence and power.

But when death finally struck home he not only urged the people to leave, he begged Moses, “give me a blessing as you leave!” (12:32).

Death preaches a powerful message about mortality and human limitations.

Sadly, mortality is the only message that some people understand. The greatest Jewish contribution—the life-giving death and resurrection of Jesus—is often overlooked.

Jewish history shows that God does intervene in human affairs, that He is concerned about human destiny, and that He will communicate to us in all manner of ways—even through death itself.

Death is often bitter, sometimes bloody, but through Christ it has the potential to be blessed.

For further study: Exodus 12:29-50

Content taken from The One Year Book of Devotions for Men by Stuart Briscoe. Copyright ©2000. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.