Exodus 12:29
And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.
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(29, 30) The nature of the tenth plague is indubitable, but as to the exact agency which was employed there may be different views. In every family in which the firstborn child had been a male, that child was stricken with death. Pharaoh’s firstborn son—the erpa suten sa—the heir to his throne, was taken; and so in all other families. Nobles, priests, tradesmen, artisans, peasants, fishermen—all alike suffered. In the hyperbolic language of the narrator, “there was not a house where there was not one dead.” And the deaths took place “at midnight,” in the weirdest hour, at the most silent time, in the deepest darkness. So it had been prophesied (Exodus 11:4); but the particular night had not been announced. As several days had elapsed since the announcement, the Egyptians may have been wrapt in fancied security. Suddenly the calamity fell upon them and “there was a great cry.” Death did not come, as upon the host of Sennacherib, noiselessly, unperceivedly, but with observation.” Those who were seized woke up and aroused their relatives. There was a cry for help, a general alarm, a short, sharp struggle and then a death.

The visitation is ordinarily ascribed to God Himself (Exodus 4:23; Exodus 11:4; Exodus 12:12; Exodus 12:27; Exodus 12:29; Exodus 13:15, &c), but in Exodus 12:23 to “the destroyer.” It has been already shown that this expression points to angelic agency. That agency, however, does not exclude a further natural one. As in 2 Samuel 24 the seventy thousand whom the destroying angel killed (Exodus 12:16) are said to have been slain by a pestilence (Exodus 12:15), so it may have been here. Pestilence often rages in Egypt in the spring of the year, and carries off thousands in a very short space. As with so many of the other plagues, God may here too have employed a natural agency. None the less would the plague have been miraculous—(1) in its intensity; (2) in its coming at the time prophesied, viz., midnight; (3) in its selection of victims, viz., the firstborn males only, and all of them; (4) in its avoidance of the Israelites; and (5) in its extension, as prophesied, to the firstborn of animals.

(29) All the firstborn.—The Hebrew word used applies only to males.

The firstborn of Pharaoh.—The law of primogeniture prevailed in Egypt, as elsewhere generally. The Pharaoh’s eldest son was recognised as “hereditary crown prince,” and sometimes associated in the kingdom during his father’s lifetime. This had been the case with Lameses II., probably the Pharaoh from whom Moses fled (Exodus 2:15); but the practice was not common. In any case, however, the eldest son of the reigning monarch occupied a most important position, and his loss would be felt as a national calamity.

The firstborn of the captive.—The variation of phrase between this verse and Exodus 11:5 is curious, but appears not to be of any significance. The writer simply means, in both places, “all, from the highest to the lowest.”

All the firstborn of cattle.—Rather, of beasts, as in Exodus 11:5. (On the reasons for beasts being included in the calamity, see the Note on that passage.)

12:29-36 The Egyptians had been for three days and nights kept in anxiety and horror by the darkness; now their rest is broken by a far more terrible calamity. The plague struck their first-born, the joy and hope of their families. They had slain the Hebrews' children, now God slew theirs. It reached from the throne to the dungeon: prince and peasant stand upon the same level before God's judgments. The destroying angel entered every dwelling unmarked with blood, as the messenger of woe. He did his dreadful errand, leaving not a house in which there was not one dead. Imagine then the cry that rang through the land of Egypt, the long, loud shriek of agony that burst from every dwelling. It will be thus in that dreadful hour when the Son of man shall visit sinners with the last judgment. God's sons, his first-born, were now released. Men had better come to God's terms at first, for he will never come to theirs. Now Pharaoh's pride is abased, and he yields. God's word will stand; we get nothing by disputing, or delaying to submit. In this terror the Egyptians would purchase the favour and the speedy departure of Israel. Thus the Lord took care that their hard-earned wages should be paid, and the people provided for their journey.This plague is distinctly attributed here and in Exodus 12:23 to the personal intervention of the Lord; but it is to be observed that although the Lord Himself passed through to smite the Egyptians, He employed the agency of "the destroyer" Exodus 12:23, in whom, in accordance with Hebrews 11:28, all the ancient versions, and most critics, recognize an Angel (compare 2 Kings 19:35; 2 Samuel 24:16). 29. at midnight the Lord smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt—At the moment when the Israelites were observing the newly instituted feast in the singular manner described, the threatened calamity overtook the Egyptians. It is more easy to imagine than describe the confusion and terror of that people suddenly roused from sleep and enveloped in darkness—none could assist their neighbors when the groans of the dying and the wild shrieks of mourners were heard everywhere around. The hope of every family was destroyed at a stroke. This judgment, terrible though it was, evinced the equity of divine retribution. For eighty years the Egyptians had caused the male children of the Israelites to be cast into the river [Ex 1:16], and now all their own first-born fell under the stroke of the destroying angel. They were made, in the justice of God, to feel something of what they had made His people feel. Many a time have the hands of sinners made the snares in which they have themselves been entangled, and fallen into the pit which they have dug for the righteous [Pr 28:10]. "Verily there is a God that judgeth in the earth" [Ps 58:11]. At midnight; a great aggravation of the plague; for then darkness itself strikes men with horror, and makes any calamity more terrible; then they were. asleep and secure, and least expected such a stroke.

All the first-born, both of man and beast, whether male or female. Some extend it to all that were first-born; and so many persons might be killed in one house, as both father and mother, and several sons, which might be the first-born by several mothers, and sons’ sons or daughters, &c. Others confine it to the first-born child in the family. I conceive the heads of the family are not included, for these, though they might be the firstborn children of their parents’ families, yet were not, nor ever are called or accounted, the first-born of their own families, but the heads and roots of them: but for all the rest, I conceive they are all included, because all such were really first-born, and did first open their mother’s womb; and all such were to be set apart unto the Lord, instead of these first-born of the Egyptians now slain, Exodus 13:12,15, and therefore are in both places to be understood in the same latitude.

And it came to pass, that at midnight the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt,.... The midnight of the fifteenth of Nisan, as the Targum of Jonathan, when fast asleep, and thoughtless of any danger; and it being at such a time must strike with a greater horror and terror, when sensible of the blow, which might be attended with a great noise, that might awaken the rest:

from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne; the heir to his crown, who was to have sat upon his throne, or already did, being taken a partner with him in it:

unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; or prison, that was grinding at the mill there, Exodus 11:5 which was the work and business the prisoners were often put to, as appears from the case of Samson, Judges 16:21,

and all the firstborn of cattle; which were left of the other plagues, which had consumed great numbers of them.

And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.
29. Execution of the threat of Exodus 11:4 f. (J).

the captive, &c.] In Exodus 11:5the bondmaid that is behind the mill.’

29–36. The death of the Egyptian first-born; and preparations of the Israelites for their departure.

Verses 29, 30. - THE TENTH PLAGUE. At last the time had come for the dealing of the final blow. Nine plagues had been sent, nine inflictions endured, and no serious effect had been produced. Once or twice Pharaoh had wavered, had made profession of submitting himself, had even acknowledged his sin. But each time he had relapsed into obstinacy. Now at length the fiat had gone forth for that last plague which had been announced the first (Exodus 4:23). Pharaoh's own son, his firstborn, the heir to his throne, was smitten with death, in common with all the other male Egyptians who had "opened the womb." What the effect on the king would have been, had he alone suffered, we cannot certainly say. As it was, the whole population of the country, nobles, tradesmen, peasants, suffered with him; and the feeling aroused was so intense that the popular movement left him no choice. The Egyptians everywhere "rose up in the night" (ver. 30), and raised "a great cry," and insisted that the Israelites should depart at once (ver. 33). Each man feared for himself, and felt his life insecure, so long as a single Israelite remained in the land. Verse 29. - At midnight. As prophesied by Moses (Exodus 11:4). The day had not been fixed, and this uncertainty must have added to the horror of the situation. The first-born of Pharaoh. We have no proof that the eldest son of Menephthah died before his father, unless we take this passage as proving it. He left a son, called Seti-Menephthah, or Seti II, who either succeeded him, or reigned after a short interval, during which the throne was held by Ammonmes, a usurper. The first-born of the captive who was in the dungeon. This phrase takes the place of another expression, viz. "the first-born of the maid-servant that is behind the mill" (Exodus 11:5). In both cases, the general meaning is, "all, from the highest to the lowest." This is perhaps the whole that is in the writer's thought; but it is also true that captives in dungeons were in some cases employed in turning hand-mills (Judges 16:21). And all the first-born of cattle. Rather, "of beasts." There is no limitation of the plague to domesticated animals. Exodus 12:29Death of the first-born, and Release of Israel. - The last blow announced to Pharaoh took place in "the half of the night," i.e., at midnight, when all Egypt was lying in deep sleep (Matthew 25:5-6), to startle the king and his people out of their sleep of sin. As all the previous plagues rested upon a natural basis, it might seem a probable supposition that this was also the case here, whilst the analogy of 2 Samuel 24:15-16 might lead us to think of a pestilence as the means employed by the destroying angel. In that case we should find the heightening of the natural occurrence into a miracle in the fact, that the first-born both of man and beast, and they alone, were all suddenly slain, whilst the Israelites remained uninjured in their houses. This view would be favoured, too, by the circumstance, that not only are pestilences of frequent occurrence in Egypt, but they are most fatal in the spring months. On a closer examination, however, the circumstances mentioned tell against rather than in favour of such a supposition. In 2 Samuel 24:15, the pestilence is expressly alluded to; here it is not. The previous plagues were nearly all brought upon Egypt by Moses' staff, and with most of them the natural sources are distinctly mentioned; but the last plague came direct from Jehovah without the intervention of Moses, certainly for no other reason than to make it apparent that it was a purely supernatural punishment inflicted by His own omnipotence. The words, "There was not a house where there was not one dead," are to be taken literally, and not merely "as a general expression;" though, of course, they are to be limited, according to the context, to all the houses in which there were first-born of man or beast. The term "first-born" is not to be extended so far, however, as to include even heads of families who had children of their own, in which case there might be houses, as Lapide and others suppose, where the grandfather, the father, the son, and the wives were all lying dead, provided all of them were first-born. The words, "From the son of Pharaoh, who will sit upon his throne, to the son of the prisoners in the prison" (Exodus 12:29 compared with Exodus 13:15), point unquestionably to those first-born sons alone who were not yet fathers themselves. But even with this limitation the blow was so terrible, that the effect produced upon Pharaoh and his people is perfectly intelligible.
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