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 to the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(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.)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). 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.
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 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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)29. Execution of the threat of Exodus 11:4 f. (J).
the captive, &c.] In Exodus 11:5 ‘the 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 12:13). "He will not suffer (יתּן) the destroyer to come into your houses:" Jehovah effected the destruction of the first-born through המּשׁחית, the destroyer, or destroying angel, ὁ ὁλοθρεύων (Hebrews 11:28), i.e., not a fallen angel, but the angel of Jehovah, in whom Jehovah revealed Himself to the patriarchs and Moses. This is not at variance with Psalm 78:49; for the writer of this psalm regards not only the slaying of the first-born, but also the pestilence (Exodus 9:1-7), as effected through the medium of angels of evil: though, according to the analogy of 1 Samuel 13:17, המּשׁחית might certainly be understood collectively as applying to a company of angels. Exodus 12:24. "This word," i.e., the instructions respecting the Passover, they were to regard as an institution for themselves and their children for ever (עד־עולם in the same sense as עולם, Genesis 17:7, Genesis 17:13); and when dwelling in the promised land, they were to explain the meaning of this service to their sons. The ceremony is called עבדה, "service," inasmuch as it was the fulfilment of a divine command, a performance demanded by God, though it promoted the good of Israel.
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