And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt…
On this see Exodus 11:4-7. Observe here -
I. THIS JUDGMENT IS BASED ON THE PRINCIPLE OF REPRESENTATION. Hitherto, the plagues had fallen on the Egyptians indiscriminately. Now, a change is made to the principle of representation. Egypt, Israel also, is represented in its first-born. When a death-penalty was to be inflicted, the lines had to be drawn more sharp and clear. We are reminded that this principle of representation holds a vitally important place in God's moral government. The illustrations which more immediately affect ourselves are, first, the representation of the race in Adam, and second, its representation in Christ (Romans 5:12-21). Hence it is not altogether fanciful to trace a relation to Christ even in this judgment on the first-born.
1. Christ is the great first-born of the race. We catch some glimpse of this by looking at the matter from the side of Israel. Israel, as God's son, his first-born, is admitted to have been a type of Christ (cf. Matthew 2:15). Much more were the first-born in Israel - the special representatives of this peculiar feature in the calling of the nation - types of Christ. They resembled him in that they bore the guilt of the rest of the people. But Christ, as the Son of man, sustained a relation to more than Israel. He is, we may say, the great First-born of the race. Egypt as well as Israel was represented in him.
2. The death of Christ is not only God's great means of saving the world, but it is God's great judgment upon the sin of the world. It is indeed the one, because it is the other. There is thus in the death of Christ, beth the Israel side and the Egypt side. There is some shadow of vicarious endurance of penalty - of the one suffering for, and bearing the guilt of, the many - even in the destruction of Egypt's first-born.
3. The death of Christ, which brings salvation to the believing, is the earnest of final doom to the unbelieving portion of the race. This also is exhibited in principle in the history of the exodus. In strictness, the first-born were viewed as having died, both in Israel and Egypt. The Egyptian first-born died in person; the Israelitish first-born in the substituted Lamb. The death of a first-born in person could typify judgment in the room, or in the name, of others; but the first-born being himself one of the guilty, his death could not (even in type) properly redeem. Hence the substitution of the lamb, which held forth in prophecy the coming of the true and sinless first-born, whose death would redeem. But Christ's death, to the unbelieving part of mankind - the wilfully and obstinately unbelieving - is a prophecy, not of salvation, but of judgment. God's judgment on sin in the person of Christ, the first-born, is the earnest of the doom which will descend on all who refuse him as a Saviour. And this was the meaning of the death of the first-born in Egypt. That death did not redeem, but forewarned Egypt of yet worse doom in store for it if it continued in its sins. The first-born endured, passed under, God's judgment, for the sin of the nation; and so has Christ passed under, endured God's judgment, for the sin even of the unbelieving. Egypt, not less than Israel, was represented in him; but to the one (Egypt as representative of hostility to the kingdom of God) his death means doom; to the other (Israel as representative of the people of God) it means salvation.
II. THIS JUDGMENT COMPELLED PHARAOH TO RELAX HIS HOLD ON ISRAEL. It was the consummating blow. Imagination fails in the attempt to realise it. As we write, accounts come to hand of the terrific storm of Oct. 14 (1881), attended by a lamentable loss of life on the Berwickshire coast of Scotland. The storm was sudden, and preluded by an awful and ominous darkness. Cf. with remarks on ninth plague the following: - "I noticed a black-looking cloud over by the school, which shortly spread over all the sky out by the Head. Sea, sky and ground all seemed to be turning one universal grey-blue tint, and a horrible sort of stillness fell over everything.. The women were all gathering at their doors, feeling that something awful was coming. No fewer than 200 fishermen and others are believed to have perished, the village of Eyemouth alone losing 129. So connected by intermarriage is the population of the villages and hamlets, that there is scarcely a family in any of them which is not called to mourn its dead. The scenes are heart-rending. Business in every shape and form is paralysed." An image this, and yet how faint, of the cry that went up in Egypt that night, when in every house there was found one dead. Yet no stroke less severe would have served the purpose, and this one is to be studied in view of the fact that it did prove effectual for its end. Observe,
1. It was a death-stroke. Death has a singular power in subduing and melting the heart. It is the most powerful solvent God can apply to a rebellious nature. It is sometimes tried when gentler means have failed. God removes your idol. He lays your dear one in the dust. You have resisted milder influences, will you yield to this? Your heart is for the moment bowed and broken, will the repentance prove lasting, or will it be, like Pharaoh's, only for a time?
2. It is a death-grip upon the soul which is needed to make sin relax its hold upon it. "The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gut hold upon me; I found trouble and sorrow. Then called I upon the name of the Lord: O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul" (Psalm 116:3, 4). God comes in the preaching of his law, and lays his hand, a hand carrying death in it, upon the soul of the trembling transgressor, who then for the first time realises the fatal and unspeakably awful position in which he has placed himself by sin. It is a death-sentence which is written in his conscience.
3. That which completes the liberation of the soul is a view of the meaning of the death of christ. Terror alone will not melt the heart. There is needed to effect this the influence of love. And where is love to be seen in such wonderful manifestation as at the Cross of Christ? What see we there? The first-born of the race expiring in awful agony under the judgment of God for our sins. Is not this a spectacle to melt the heart? It is powerful enough, if earnestly contemplated, to make the Pharaoh that is within us all relinquish his grip upon the captive spirit. What read we of the prospective conversion of Israel? - "They shall look on Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son; and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born (Zechariah 12:10). See again, Acts 2:36, 37, Let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their hearts," etc. Cf. also Revelation 2:7. The Cross inspires mourning -
(1) By the spectacle it presents of holy suffering.
(2) By the recollection of who it is that there suffers.
(3) By the thought that it is our own sins which are the cause of this suffering.
(4) By the thought that it is the judgment of God in the infliction of the curse of sin which the Holy one is thus enduring.
(5) By the conviction of sin, and the dread of Divine justice, thus awakened.
(6) Above all, by the infinite love shown in this gift of the Son, and in the Son's willingness to endure this awful agony and shame for our salvation. - J.O.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.
WEB: It happened at midnight, that Yahweh struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of livestock.