Exodus 12:35-36 Reparation or Reward? (Part 1 of 2)

Written by Paul J. Bucknell on January, 01, 2022


Exodus 12:35-36 Reparation or Reward? (Part 1 of 4)

A Biblical Perspective of Social Justice Issues: Part 1 (of 4) teaches and defends the wealth transfer from the Egyptians to the Israelites as an undeserved reward, a display of God’s favor, rather than reparations or repayment. Part 2 provides a fuller examination of reparations. People increasingly hijack Exodus 12:35-36 to support societal reparation, social justice, and Critical Race Theory.

Exodus 12:35-36

35 Now the sons of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, for they had requested from the Egyptians articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; 36 and the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians” (Exodus 12:35-36 NASB).

A fantastic event occurred in Exodus 12:35-36 during the narration of the Passover exodus. Having heard the Egyptians’ groans from losing their firstborn, the Israelites, obeyed the Lord’s instruction to ask for “articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing” from the Egyptians. The Egyptians, being completely broken, willingly gave what the Israelites requested. This willingness signified the absolute defeat of the Egyptians before God—not the Israelites.

Before the plagues ever began, Moses relayed God’s instructions to the people when departing from Egypt (cf. Exodus 3). This wealth exchange became evidence of God’s victory. Drowning the remaining Egyptian soldiers in the sea provided final worldwide proof of God’s victory.

21 I will grant this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be that when you go, you will not go empty-handed. 22 But every woman shall ask of her neighbor and the woman who lives in her house, articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; and you will put them on your sons and daughters. Thus you will plunder the Egyptians” (Exodus 3:21-22 NASB).

People have misused this wealth exchange to suggest an Egyptian reparation to the Israelites for the many years of unpaid slavery. They suggest that Egypt’s leaders “owed” Israel, having forced them into slavery. But the use of the word “plundered” (v.22) describes God’s treatment of this wealth transfer very differently from the idea of reparation.

God’s Judgment of the Egyptians

Plunder expresses complete judgment against the enemy, not restoration. Once the enemy is defeated, the people rush in to gather the loot (i.e., plunder), taking the wealth as their own. Exodus 12 presents God’s judgment of the enemy, not of Egypt paying restitution. The wealth became God’s, and He distributed it.

God oversaw this process of “plundering,” only one of many utterly devastating judgments against the Egyptians. This judgment, linked to the ten plagues, destroyed the country’s economy, military, national supremacy, and food supply by bringing a string of horribly bothersome infestations and inflictions upon them. Egypt’s spirit completely collapsed when the firstborn perished overnight; the spirit of death did not pass over their homes but temporally lodged there, putting to death each family’s firstborn. (Israel deserved this visit too and only survived when they followed the Lord’s detailed instructions for that night.)

God judged the Egyptians and affirmed the Israelites as His chosen people having them pick up His loot. God fought for His purposes. Plundering asserts God’s complete judgment. It’s not a moral lesson providing an opportunity for the Egyptians to make reparation. God’s confiscation of the Egyptians’ wealth formed part of the overall judgment and should not be isolated from it.

But something other than judgment marks this event, God’s award or prize given to His people.

The Plundering had two stages: Defeat (acquire) and distribute (pick up) by Israelites.

A Biblical Perspective of Social Justice Issues

God’s Reward for the Israelites

God remarkably delivered His people from Egyptian slavery into His possession. Once enslaved to an enemy nation to do their backbreaking labors, the Israelites were redeemed by God, thereby transferring their ownership to God.

As odious as slavery might sound to some, there are favorable situations where slavery or servanthood could be valued over freedom. The Israelites went from slavery to Egypt to the ownership of God; not to freedom. They became “My own possession” (Exodus 19:5; 1 Peter 2:9). If people associate slavery with oppression and evil, they cannot be open to any good situation in which they might prefer slavery (Exodus 21:6; Phil 1:1) This sellout against slavery undermines the glory of being owned by God, the Old and New Covenants (1 Cor 4:1; Rev 22:3; Heb. 8;10).

However, God did the extraordinary, bestowing wealth beyond imagination on these poor Israelites. This unexpected gifting, along with the many other turns of events, further reshaped the Israelites’ understanding of their Redeemer, Yahweh their covenant God.

The concept of reparation strips away the genuine meaning behind this wealth transfer. Reparation means to pay back what is owed. Plundering is not portrayed as a repayment, however. Commentaries mention this, but the Scriptures do not. Instead, we see it had to do with how God wanted His people, who now belonged to Him, lifted to a beautiful position.

They went from no possessions to suddenly carrying the riches of the world. God, the Victor, awarded these last-minute gifts at the beginning of the Exodus (Exodus 3:10-22), celebrating His plans for His newly adopted people. All the new terms for God’s people: sons, children of God, My people and servants carry the rich meaning of privilege.

Reparation, like works, gives what is expected (Rom 11:6). But this incident speaks of grace—God awards prizes to the poor and beggarly (Gal 2:16). They entered God’s family as beggars but now are like rulers.

“And He has lifted up a horn for His people, Praise for all His godly ones; even for the sons of Israel, a people near to Him. Praise the LORD!” (Psalm 148:14)

And so, God used these prizes and rewards to declare the Israelites’ newly favored position, wanting His people to be joyful in their God their Savior.

Comparing the Old Covenant with the New, the whole biblical picture further clarifies this interpretation.

The Fuller Biblical Picture

To better understand this wealth transfer, let’s view the whole event called Passover along with its New Testament (NT) parallel, known as salvation.

In the Old Testament (OT), God created a nation composed of Jacob’s descendants redeemed by the lamb’s blood, sealing the covenant between God and His people, the Israelites. The killing and eating the lamb formed part of the Passover regulations and used its blood to paint over the doorway.

In the New Testament, God similarly created a people of God through the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, the slain lamb, redeemed (lit., bought back) God’s chosen people from all the nations.

In the OT, God devastated Egypt, the world empire that imprisoned God’s promised people; in the NT, God destroyed Satan’s bastion of power on earth, thus freeing a people to be His.

13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14).

Gifts and Blessings

Lastly, and more directly applicable to Exodus 12:35-36, God “lavished on” His people (Eph. 1:8) “according to the riches of His grace” (Eph 1:7). He gifts them with “every spiritual blessing.”

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3).

This redemptive theme runs powerfully through the Old and New Testaments, leaving us with three powerful messages, apart from discussing their response, forming the redemptive framework:

(1) God powerfully judges a mighty enemy, releasing a captive people to Himself,

(2) God redeems a people, causing them to “belong” to Him, and

(3) The Lord fully enriches them to be a joyous and blessed people.

It’s through this transfer of wealth that God’s people see themselves as God’s prized people and therefore increasingly value their new positions as God’s servants. (This theme of redemption is closely followed and seen in my book Redemption Through the Scriptures.)

Plundering, seizure of property, and redistribution is again seen and taught in Ephesians 4:7-8.

7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men” (Eph 4:7-8).

The wealth transfer does not return what the Israelites or God’s people deserve—for that is payment. The Israelites’ firstborn would have died without the Passover; we all are sinners and must die (Rom 5:12-21). Instead, the Lord treats His adopted people better than they deserve—with abounding grace (Eph 4:7). After Christ chooses, rescues, and possesses them, He crowns them with extraordinary gifts.

“When He ascended on high” speaks of Christ’s victory; “Led captive” teaches he took men from the enemy’s possession for Himself; lastly, “He gave gifts to men.” Whether in the OT or the NT, this transfer of wealth carries the powerful notion of grace, not works.

Click “Grace Unleashed” for an additional teaching illustration.

Summary

It’s incorrect to use reparation or repayment to describe the transfer of wealth to the Israelite’s in Exodus 12. Something much more glorious occurred and is now happening for His people under the New Covenant. The event highlights God’s distribution of His superb prizes to His newly adopted people.

God awards spiritual gifts and privileges that depict the glory of being His children in Christ. Our Lord wants us to turn our attention away from what people owe us and back to Him who gave us more than what others stole from us, forming the basis of forgiveness and reconciliation. We are His people and must delight in Him alone. Let’s give up the struggle of earthly possessions to pursue the joy of what God has given us in Christ Jesus. Treasure being His people, free to serve Him and love others.

Passover in both Old and New Testament reveals God’s redemptive plan through Christ.

Bible Discussion Questions on Reparation or Prize? (Exodus 12:35-36)

35 Now the sons of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, for they had requested from the Egyptians articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; 36 and the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians” (Exodus 12:35-36 NASB).
Other Similar Articles by Paul Bucknell on Redemption, Grace, Forgiveness, Law

  1. What does Exodus 12:35-36 say that the Lord does?
  2. What does this passage say that the people are to do?
  3. Read the complete chapter, Exodus 12, and describe the context for these verses.
  4. Who is the victor and in control?
  5. What does the word “plunder” mean to you (36)? When is it used?
  6. Who won the battle in Exodus 12? How?
  7. Why does the author suggest that using the term reparation to describe the wealth transfer distorts the meaning of Exodus 12:35-36? Refer to Romans 11:6 and Galatians 2:16.
  8. Why does reparation imitate ‘works’ in contrast to being a gift given in grace?
  9. What three ways does Ephesians 4:7-8 replicate what we see going on in Exodus 12?
  10. Why is it essential that we realize the Lord gives His gifts in grace rather than as payment for our work?
  11. In light of God’s good gifts, how should we consider our situation as His children if people owe us things stolen from us?
  12. Did you ever praise God for choosing you and highly esteeming you as His child, giving good gifts to you? List some of those gifts in prayer as you again thank Him.


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