Exodus 11:4-10; 12:29-36
And Moses said, Thus said the LORD, About midnight will I go out into the middle of Egypt:…
In Exodus 10:29, Moses says to Pharaoh, "I will see thy face again no more," while in Exodus 11:4-8, he is represented as making to Pharaoh an announcement of the last plague. Perhaps the best way of clearing this apparent contradiction is to suppose that in the narrative as it originally stood there was really no break between Exodus 10:29 and Exodus 11:4, and that the three intervening verses were afterwards introduced in some way which we cannot now explain. So taking the narrative, all is made straightforward and additionally impressive. Moses followed up his intimation that Pharaoh should see his face no more, with a statement which plainly showed the reason why. No more would he come into Pharaoh's presence uninvited by Pharaoh, simply because there would no more be need to do so. Jehovah was about to deal the last blow without any human instrumentality whatever.
I. TRY TO ESTIMATE SOMEWHAT OF THE COMBINATION OF FORCES IN THIS LAST PLAGUE, WHICH MADE IT SO EFFECTIVE FOR ITS PURPOSE.
1. There was the hour chosen - midnight. It was not like the rest of the plagues, which extended over a more or less period of time; but, being a momentary blow, the most impressive moment could be chosen for striking it. This was midnight, the time of security, repose, and deep silence. Each family was gathered together under its own roof; not separated, as might have been the case during the day, each one at his appointed work. There was no bustle of business, as there might have been at noon, to help in drowning and qualifying the horror of the transaction.
2. There was an element of peculiar force in the very class of persons who were smitten. Not only had Jehovah advanced to take away the lives of human beings, but he had directed his destructions, with evident and unerring purpose, upon one particular class. The destruction was not as a mere decimation, the taking of one out of so many, it mattered not who, so long as one was taken. In every household it was the first-born who lay dead. No regard was shown to personal character or special circumstances. All the first-born were stricken, the virtuous as well as the vicious; the amiable, promising youth from whom much was expected, and the scapegrace who was bringing a father's grey hairs with sorrow to the grave; the young man who might be the only son of his mother and she a widow, alike with him who was the first-born among many brethren. The first-born is the centre of so many hopes and calculations, that when he is stricken there may be the instantaneous reaction of an irretrievable despair. Zechariah speaks very emphatically of those who are in bitterness for their first-born (Zechariah 12:10). In many cases the firstborn would also be the just-born.
3. There was an element that helped to bring decision in the very greatness of the cry that was elicited. How far the announcement made to Pharaoh had travelled we know not; but it must have gone far enough to produce a consentaneous cry of recognition when the blow was struck. Pharaoh would know, and also his courtiers, and many at different points through the city, even before they came out of their houses, that it was by no ordinary death the first-born had died. Each one, thus already informed, would suspect the whole terrible truth with respect to all the first-born of the land. In this way certainty would come that the prediction was fulfilled, even before information on the point was actually obtained. Bad news travels quickly, and all the quicker when special facilities have been prepared by Jehovah himself, as they evidently were in this instance. Remember, also, the demonstrative, vociferous mode of expressing sorrow in bereavement which prevails among Eastern nations. There was hardly an hour of the day or night but from some home in Egypt there went up the wail of the bereaved; but here was a simultaneous wail from every home, and that not over the aged or the sick whose death was expected, but over those the great majority of whom would be young, strong, and vivacious. Thus the very emotions which produced this extraordinary cry, the cry itself served in turn to intensify, and thus to exalt into complete mastery. What wonder, then, that from the king downward the people were swept away by their emotions, and, without thought of past gains or future losses, hurried Israel out of their land in the precipitate way here recorded! Avarice, pride, worldly consequence - all the motives which hold dominion in selfish human breasts - lost their seats for the moment. It was only for a moment, but that moment was time long enough effectually to serve the purposes of God.
4. There was the fact that with all these elements of force and terror in the tenth plague itself, there had been nine such serious visitations before it. It was like the last blow of the battering-ram, which, though it may have in itself more force than preceding blows, yet gains not the least part of its efficiency from the shaking which these preceding blows have produced. It is by no means certain that if this destruction of the first-born had come at first it.would have had the same effect.
II. Notice, as illustrated by this announcement to Pharaoh, sow DIFFERENTLY THE SAME FACTS ARE STATED TO DIFFERENT PEOPLE. Pharaoh is plainly told, that amid all this great smiting of Egypt's first-born, Israel will continue perfectly secure. The impression we get is, that not only will there be freedom for Israel from the specific effects of this plague, but even an unusual exemption from ordinary mischances. Not a dog is to move his tongue against any living creature in Israel. The protection would be complete; the favour and discrimination of Jehovah most manifest. But whence all this came, and in what it consisted, Pharaoh cannot be informed. The difference between Israel and Egypt will be plain enough; but the virtue of the slain lamb and the sprinkled blood are hidden from his eyes - all this could not be explained to him. If it could have been explained to him, it would never have needed to be explained. In other words, Pharaoh would never have come into such an extremity as that where the death of the first-born landed him. Thus we are helped to see the reason why to some there come revelations producing security and gladness of heart, and to others nothing but tidings of disaster and disappointment. Every great fact of God's dealings has a bright side and a dark side; and if we will not live so that the bright side may be revealed to us, then inevitably we must come face to face with the dark one. Moses told Pharaoh that the death of the first-born was coming, but he only turned away more scornful, stubborn, and infatuated than ever; he told the children of Israel to make the Paschal preparations, and, minute and exact as these preparations were, they at once went away and made them. God might have told Pharaoh all about how Israel was protected, but what would have been the use? If we would discover why great Divine revelations are hidden from us, we must look in our own hearts. A man can never know the comforts and beauties that belong to the temperate zone as long as he stubbornly abides in the frigid one.
III. CONSIDER THIS LAST PLAGUE IN THE ACTUAL EFFECTS OF IT.
1. It produced immediate action on the part of Pharaoh, and, what is very noticeable, on the part of the people also. Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron by night. He had sent them away with a menace of death, if they ventured again into his presence; but only a few short hours pass and he has to beg them to hurry and save him. We should never threaten and bluster, for we know not how soon we may have to swallow our words again. He did not wait till morning, even till the early morning. Every moment would bring to him news from a widening circle, and quicken him into the promptest action possible. And yet, immediate as this action appears, we know that it had been led up to very gradually. Jehovah had been for a long time undermining the strength of Pharaoh; and if it now collapsed in a moment instead of crumbling away, it-was because the massive fabric had lost, bit by bit, the foundation on which it had been raised. And in the same way we may be sure that everything in the world which is unjust, ungodly, and tyrannical, is being undermined. There is no proud and stubborn soul but God is working upon it by something substantially the same as the nine plagues; and the tenth plague will come in due time to produce its immediate and decisive effect.
2. The action took the shape of complete and eager liberation. Egypt was filled with panic and terror to the exclusion of every other motive. The full significance of Pharaoh's words in vers. 31, 32, can only be seen by comparing them, first, with his contemptuous treatment of Moses in the beginning (Exodus 5:2); and next, with his procrastinating, half-giving, half-grasping attitude during the course of the plagues (Exodus 8:10, 25; Exodus 10:8-11, 24). Pharaoh began as one whose foot was on the rock - he was sure he could not be shaken; then he was made to feel himself as more and more in a state of unstable equilibrium; and now at last he is utterly prostrate at Moses' feet. He who said he would grant nothing, now grants everything. He who, in response to the first request of Moses, added to the severities of the bondage already existing, now, when all requests have ceased, not only undoes the fetters, but hurries the captives out of his realm, as if each of them was a mass of fatal infection. - Y.
Parallel VersesKJV: And Moses said, Thus saith the LORD, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt: