Exodus 11:4
So Moses declared, "This is what the LORD says: 'About midnight I will go throughout Egypt,
The Beginning of the EndJ. Orr Exodus 11:1-4
A ContrastJ. S. Exell, M. A.Exodus 11:4-10
A FinaleJ. Orr Exodus 11:4-10
A People's Efforts for Freedom SuccessfulScientific IllustrationsExodus 11:4-10
Separating the Precious from the VileSpurgeon, Charles HaddonExodus 11:4-10
The Church and the WorldE. Armstrong Hall, M. A.Exodus 11:4-10
The Church and the WorldHomilistExodus 11:4-10
The Importance of the FirstbornJ. H. Kurtz, D. D.Exodus 11:4-10
The Last Plague ThreatenedJ. S. Exell, M. A.Exodus 11:4-10
The Tenth Plague and its Decisive ResultD. Young Exodus 11:4-10; 12:29-36
These verses end the story of how God wrought with Pharaoh to subdue him to his will. They prepare us for the catastrophe which brought the long conflict to a termination, and forced a way of egress for two millions of Hebrews through the barred gates of Egypt.

I. LAST WORDS TO PHARAOH (vers. 4-9). Vers. 1-3 of this chapter are obviously parenthetical. They relate to a communication made to Moses prior to the visit to Pharaoh recorded in Exodus 10:24-29, and in anticipation of it. The substance of that communication is now conveyed to the king. Having delivered his message as God had directed, Moses finally leaves the royal presence (ver. 9). The present passage is therefore to be read in immediate connection with Exodus 10:29. Pharaoh would see the face of Moses no more - i.e., as a commissioner from Jehovah - but before leaving, Moses has words to speak which are to Pharaoh the knell of doom. The judgment he announces is the death of the first-born. On this observe -

1. It was a judgment-stroke more terrible than any which had preceded. This is plain from the nature of it. What, put one with the other in the balance, was the discomfort, pain, loss, terror, devastation of crops, and darkening of the earth, caused by the previous plagues, to this tremendous horror of finding in one night, in each home throughout the land, a dead first-born? The wound here was truly mortal. The first-born is the special joy of parents. He is loved, fondled, tended, admired, as few of the children are which come after him. The pride of the parents centres in him. Their hopes are largely built up on what he may become. He has drawn to himself, and embodies, a larger share of their thought, interest, sympathy, and affection than perhaps they are well aware of. He is the pillar of their household. They look to him to bear up its honour when their own heads are laid in the dust. To touch him is to touch the apple of their eye, to quench the central illumination of their home. They are proud of him as a babe, the first occupant of the cradle; they are proud of him as a boy, unfolding his mental and physical powers in rivalry with his youthful peers; they are proud of him as a young man, when thought and decision begin to stamp their lines upon his brow, and manly dignity gives a new grace to his deportment. With the help of such considerations, try to estimate the wrench to the heart's tenderest affections, in the million homes of Egypt, by the simultaneous discovery that in each. there is a ghastly corpse, and that the corpse of the first-born. No wonder there was "a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there was none like it, nor shall be like it any more" (ver. 6). Natural affection retains a mighty hold of natures often otherwise very depraved. And there is no reason to suppose that, taken in the mass, the people of Egypt were characterised by a greater want of it than others. Even the tiger has a tigerish love of his cubs, and, wicked man though he was, the pride of Pharaoh in his first-born may have been of no ordinary, intensity. Note then the following circumstances as indicative of the especial horror of this judgment.

(1) It would be supernatural. Natural causes were more or less involved in the other plagues, but this judgment was to be inflicted by the direct stroke of the Almighty.

(2) It would be sudden. There would be no preliminary symptoms, no warning of approaching death.

(3) It would be at midnight. The darkest and" eeriest" hour of the whole twenty-four, the hour specially associated with the gasping out of the spirit in death.

(4) It would be universal. There would not be a house in which there was not one dead (Exodus 12:30). Not one left to comfort another. All alike swallowed up in indescribable sorrow, in blackest grief and bitterest lamentation - the woe of each intensifying the woe of all the rest. What a horror was this! Death in a house is always oppressive to the spirit. The muffled steps and woe-disfigured faces tell the melancholy tale to every visitor. When the death is of one high in rank, the mourning is proportionately deep and widely spread. But death in every city, in every street, in every house, among high and low alike, who will unfold the misery which this implied, or do justice to the ghastly sense of mortality with which it would fill the breasts of the survivors! The nearest image we can form of it is the state of a town or district where a pestilence is raging, and corpses are being hurried to the dead-house in hundreds. And even this falls immeasurably short of the reality.

(5) It would embrace all ranks and ages. Palace and hovel would have its dead son. The first-born of beasts would be added to the slain. But in the general mourning over dead men this would be but little regarded.

2. It was a judgment-stroke bearing reference to God's relation to Israel. The key to the form which it assumed is furnished in Exodus 4:22, 23. "Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my first-born; and I say unto thee, Let my son go that he may serve me; and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy first-born." See Homily on Exodus 12:29-31. Israel was God's first-born in relation to the "many nations" of the redeemed world, which in its fulness was to embrace "all kindreds, peoples, and tongues" (Genesis 17:5; Romans 4:16-19; Revelation 7:9). "As the first-born in God's elect is to be spared and rescued, so the first-born in the house of the enemy, the beginning of his increase and the heir of his substance, must be destroyed - the one a proof that the whole family were appointed to life and blessing, the other, in like manner, a proof that all who were aliens from God's covenant of grace equally deserved, and should certainly in due time inherit, the evils of perdition" (Fairbairn). We may connect the judgment more simply with that law of symmetry which appears in so many of God's judgments, the retribution being modelled after the pattern of the crime to which it is related. Examples: Haman hanged on his own gallows (Esther 5:14); Adoni-bezek mutilated in his thumbs and great toes (Judges 1:6, 7); David punished for adultery by dishonour done to his own concubines (2 Samuel 16:20-23), etc. So Pharaoh, the would-be destroyer of God's first-born, is punished in the destruction of his own first-born. The jus talionis has a startling field of operations in the Divine judgments.

3. It was a judgment involving the whole of Egypt in suffering for the sin of the ruler. This was the case in all the plagues; but it is specially noticeable in this, where the judgment strikes a direct blow at every hearth. It may be said, doubtless with truth, that Egypt, in this severe judgment, was punished also for its own wickedness, the people, in the matter of the oppression of the Israelites, having been active partners in the guilt of the monarch. It is obvious, however, that the immediate occasion of this terrible blow falling on the land was the continued hardness of heart of Pharaoh. Had he relented, the judgment would not have fallen; it was because he did not relent that it actually fell. We come back here to that principle of solidarity which rules so widely in God's moral administration. The many rise or fall with the one; the rewards of righteousness and the penalties of transgression alike overflow upon those related to the immediate agent. The widest applications of this principle are those stated in Romans 5:12-21 - the ruin of the race in Adam; the redemption of the race in Christ.

4. It was a judgment in which a marked distinction 'teas to be put between the Egyptians and the Hebrews (ver. 7). Israel, however, was only exempted from like doom by resort to the blood of atonement - a lesson as to their natural state of condemnation, and as to the channel through which alone redeeming grace could flow to them.

II. THE WITHDRAWAL OF MOSES. "Moses went out from Pharaoh in a great anger" (ver. 8).

1. There are occasions on which it is lawful to be angry. This was one of them. He would have been a man utterly without soul who would not have been roused to indignation by the towering pride and extraordinary ingratitude and faithlessness of Pharaoh, not to speak of the insults he was heaping on Jehovah, and the violence threatened against Moses himself.

2. The meekest nature is that which, on proper occasions, is capable of the most burning and vehement anger. On the relation of the anger of Moses to his meekness, see Homily on Exodus 2:12. Another example is found in the apostle John - the apostle of love. The highest example of all is the Son of Man, "meek and lowly in heart," yet capable of terrible and scathing wrath - "the wrath of the Lamb" (Matthew 11:29; Mark 3:5; Revelation 6:16, 17).

III. A SUMMING UP (vers. 9, 10). The conclusion of the series of plagues having been reached, and negotiations with Pharaoh having been finally broken off, Moses sums up the results. The notable point is, that it was all as the Lord had said. It had been foretold that Pharaoh would not hearken, and neither had he hearkened; but his hardening had been the occasion of God's multiplying his wonders in the land of Egypt. The climax of the hardening was reached under this last warning. Infuriated by his passion, Pharaoh appears to have paid no heed to it. Yet the fact that he did not, illustrates a point already dwelt upon - the tendency of hardening against God to involve the whole moral nature, extending at last to the destruction even of the natural affections. We have seen how reckless Pharaoh had become of the well-being of his subjects (Exodus 10:7). See him now perilling the life of his own son, not to speak of the lives of the first-born throughout the whole land, that he may be spared the humiliation of submitting to Jehovah! Perilling, even, is too weak a word, for experience had taught him that God's threatenings in no case went unfulfilled. "Sacrificing" would be the more proper term. Even to this length was Pharaoh ultimately driven by his enmity against God, and his example remains as a melancholy warning to ourselves. - J.O.

All the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die.
It was to be. —

I. SOLEMN in its advent. "About midnight."

II. FATAL in its issue. "All the firstborn... shall die."

III. COMPREHENSIVE in its design. "From the firstborn of Pharaoh," etc.

IV. HEARTRENDING in its cry. "None like it."

V. DISCRIMINATING in its infliction. "The Lord doth put a difference," etc. Piety is the best protection against woe.

(J. S. Exell, M. A.)

1. The wicked crying — the good quiet.

2. The wicked dead — the good living.

3. The wicked frightened — the good peaceful.

4. The wicked helpless — the good protected.

(J. S. Exell, M. A.)


1. Eternal.

2. Most ancient. Ordained of God from before foundation of world.

3. Vital. An essential distinction of nature between righteous and wicked.

4. This difference in nature is followed by a difference in God's judicial treatment of the two classes.

5. This distinction is carried out in providence. To the righteous man every providence is a blessing. To the sinner all things work together for evil.

6. This difference will come out more distinctly on the judgment day.


1. In the Temple.

2. In the whole life.

3. In time of temptation.

4. In the hour of death.

III. WHY SHOULD THIS DIFFERENCE BE SEEN? Put your finger on any prosperous page in the Church's history, and I will find a little marginal note reading thus: "In this age men could readily see where the Church began and where the world ended." Never were there good times when the Church and the world were joined in marriage with one another. But though this were sufficient argument for keeping the Church and the world distinct, there are many others. The more the Church is distinct from the world in her acts and in her maxims, the more true is her testimony for Christ, and the more potent is her witness against sin. We are sent into this world to testify against evils; but if we dabble in them ourselves, where is our testimony? If we ourselves be found faulty, we are false witnesses; we are not sent of God; our testimony is of none effect.

( C. H. Spurgeon.)

Originally there was "no difference" between the Egyptians and Israel; both were descended from one source, both were tainted with sin. So too, originally, there was no difference between the Church and the world. St. Paul enforces this

(1)as between Jew and Gentile (Romans 10:12);

(2)as between individual members of the human family (Romans 3:22). Consider —

I. THE NATURE OF THE DIFFERENCE. There can be no doubt but there was a difference — that the Lord "put" one — between the Egyptians and Israel, and "that the Lord doth put" one between the world and the Church. What is this difference? God's choice. He chose Israel, He did not choose the Egyptians; He has chosen the Church, He has not chosen the world. Herein lies the "difference"; and because it is not a visible or even, in itself, a demonstrable one, the world now, as the Egyptians then, decline to believe in it, and a sign becomes in some sense necessary.

II. THE REASON FOR THE DIFFERENCE. Not merit on Israel's part, or sin on Egypt's part; but —

1. God's love for Israel's fathers (Deuteronomy 4:37).

2. God's oath (based upon God's love) to Israel's fathers (Deuteronomy 7:7, 8). So the Church was chosen because God loved her; though why God loved her, or how He loved her, in a certain sense we cannot tell.

III. THE SIGN OF THE DIFFERENCE. As said above, Pharaoh declined to believe in the difference, or, whilst tacitly acknowledging it, refused to act in accordance with it. A sign was given, in order that he might "know how that the Lord doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel." That sign consisted in the triumphant exodus of Israel without casualty of any kind, as contrasted with the family distress and national disaster which were about to happen to the Egyptians. Observe that the deliverance was a sign of the difference, not the difference itself. So salvation, in the ordinary but very partial sense of deliverance from future punishment, will be but a "sign" and a consequence of the choice which God has already made, of the "difference" which the Lord has already "put"; a choice and a "difference" about the existence of which the world is sceptical, but the reality of which all will be forced to acknowledge when the sign is given.

(E. Armstrong Hall, M. A.)

The importance of the firstborn may be thus explained: the firstborn naturally enjoyed both precedence and preeminence over the rest, he was the firstling of his father's strength (Genesis 49:3), the first-fruit of his mother. As the firstborn, he stood at the head of the others, and was destined to be the chief of whatever family might be formed by the succeeding births. As he stood at the head of the whole he represented the entire nation of the Egyptians. Hence the power which slew all the firstborn in Egypt was exhibited as a power which could slay all that were born then, and, in the slaughter of the whole of the firstborn, the entire body of the people were ideally slain.

(J. H. Kurtz, D. D.)


1. Not a difference of understanding.

2. Not a difference of physical development.

3. Not even a difference in moral nature. The Israelites were quite as prone to evil, lust, sin, idolatry, as the Egyptians.

4. The difference was that God chose Israel to be His people, He took them for His own, hedged them by special regulations, laws, discipline.So He has chosen the Church.


1. That God might have a faithful people even in this world of sin.

2. That Christ might not die in vain.

3. That God might fulfil His promise to the patriarchs.

III. THE SIGN OF THE DIFFERENCE. Deliverance from the sin and bondage of the world.


Get thee out, and all the people that follow thee
Scientific Illustrations.
We learn from Professor Bischoff that the steam of a hot spring at Aix-la-Chapelle, although its temperature is only from 133° to 167° F., has converted the surface of some blocks of black marble into a doughy mass. He conceives, therefore, that steam in the bowels of the earth, having a temperature equal to or even greater than the melting point of lava, and, having an elasticity of which even Papin's digester can give but a faint idea, may convert rocks into liquid matter. These wonderful facts might suggest useful thoughts to the despots of the world. Despotism interdicts the expression of political convictions, and seeks to bury them under the adamantean weight of oppressive decrees and colossal cruelty. But it is an unerring moral taw that the warm aspirations of a virtuous people shall — like the subtle subterranean gases — arise to freedom, and, despite all impediments, dissolve in due time even the hard and hoary foundations of injustice.

(Scientific Illustrations.).

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