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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 11

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


This is a transitional chapter. To this point, Moses has been dealing with Pharaoh, but, with God’s judgmental punishment of Egypt about to be completed, Moses’ concern (beginning with Exodus 12) will focus upon Israel. The section of Exodus ending with this chapter may be called JUDGMENT; the rest of the book may be called DELIVERANCE. Even the Tenth Plague prophesied here will not require the instrumentality of Aaron or Moses. Without human instrument, God will slay the first-born, and Moses will be busy with instructions concerning what Israel is to do as their deliverance approaches.

Exodus 11:1-3 is parenthetical, resulting in ambiguity unless this is discerned, but, of course, any unusual or difficult arrangement of the text is always seized upon by critical scholars as an excuse for alleging interpolations, variable sources, or contradictions. No such things exist here. As Johnson expressed it, “The critical approach has made a great deal of unnecessary confusion in determining the proper sequence here.”(F1) As more fully explained below, this parenthesis is at once followed by the conclusion of the interview in progress at the conclusion of Exodus 10. There is no excuse for any scholar’s misunderstanding of this, because the Samaritan text of Exodus arranges it in such a way as to prove this.(F2)

Verses 1-3

“And Jehovah said unto Moses, Yet one more plague will I bring upon Pharaoh, and upon Egypt; afterward he will let you go hence: when he shall let you go, he shall surely thrust you out hence altogether. Speak now in the ears of the people, and let them ask every man of his neighbor, and every woman of her neighbor, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold. And Jehovah gave the People favor in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants, and in the sight of the people.”

“And Jehovah said unto Moses” This means, “God HAD said unto Moses.” “The Hebrew had no form for the pluperfect tense, and is consequently obliged to make up for the grammatical deficiency by using the simple preterite in a pluperfect sense.”(F3) It is precisely this perception that requires the understanding of these three verses as a parenthesis. Besides that, Exodus 11:4 ff are clearly a “response to Pharaoh’s threat (Exodus 10:29).”(F4) And even beyond this, the necessity for this parenthesis appears in its utility as giving the basis for Moses’ confident reply to Pharaoh’s threat of death (Exodus 10:29). Moses now knew that victory was Jehovah’s, and that the people would soon be delivered. Some scholars have supposed that these three verses record what was revealed to Moses during that last interview, which, of course could be true, but we think the more reasonable explanation that Moses, writing long after the events, included them here as an explanation, not only of his confident reply to Pharaoh, but also of other events such as the willingness of the Egyptians to give their treasures to the Israelites.

“When he shall let you go, he shall thrust you out hence altogether” The New English Bible’s rendition of this is: “He will send you packing, as a man dismisses a rejected bride” Such a corrupted “translation” is an assault upon the Holy Bible. Such is not in the text! In order to get it, the scholars “emend” the Hebrew (meaning that they simply change it).(F5) “Another matter - the original does not, of course, represent God as using a colloquialism such as `to send packing.”(F6) Both Keil and Cook preferred a rendition of this passage which would give this meaning: “When at last he lets you depart (with children flocks, herds, and all your possessions), he will compel you to depart in haste.”(F7) Keil accomplished the same meaning by transfer of the word altogether, thus: “When he lets you go altogether, he will even drive you away.”(F8)

“Let them ask every man of his neighbor, and every woman of her neighbor” In Exodus 3:22 only women were mentioned as requesting treasures of the Egyptians, but here the men too are included. “This is not a contradiction, just an enlargement of the command.”(F9)

“Jewels of silver, and jewels of gold” The words and raiment should also be added to the items requested, according to “The Greek (LXX) and Samaritan versions.”(F10)

“And Jehovah gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians” Apparently, Moses offered an explanation of this in the words that followed: “The man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, etc.” Aside from the providential nature of the favor here mentioned, we may discern the following reasons why the Egyptians so readily parted with their possessions.

(1) Fear must have entered into it. They had already experienced many disasters through their stubborn monarch’s refusal to grant Moses’ requests.

(2) Guilt also played a part. Not only had the population exploited shamelessly the Hebrew slaves, but, at one time, they had aided the Pharaoh in a policy of genocide by helping enforce the edict against Hebrew male infants. Both of these reasons were cited by Huey.(F11)

(3) “The circumstances of the times had exalted Moses and made him to be very great, so that there was a general inclination to carry out his wishes.”(F12)

“Ask of his neighbor… ask of her neighbor” The unfortunate rendition of the word “ask” as “borrow” in the King James version has led to a misunderstanding here. There is not the slightest hint anywhere in this passage that any of the articles asked would ever be RETURNED. Neither the Jews nor the Hebrews so understood this “asking.” Objections to this on moral grounds are ridiculous. It was the Egyptians, not the Hebrews, whose conduct was reprehensible. The Egyptians were guilty of sin, exploitation, and enslavement. We feel a resentment against those allegations of immorality against the Hebrews found in some writings. Long, long ago, previously, God Himself had promised Abraham that his posterity would come out of their land of privations with “great substance” (Genesis 15:14), and neither genocide nor enslavement could negate the promise of God. What a phenomenal lack of discernment there is in a comment that, “The purpose of asking their neighbors for valuable possessions was to profit at the expense of the Egyptians!”(F13)

The critical objection that there is anything improper or unnatural about Moses’ words in Exodus 11:3 concerning himself is weak and ineffectual. Did Moses really write this? “Why not? It was the truth. Compare the way Paul wrote of himself (2 Corinthians 10:8-14), and the way Nehemiah wrote of himself (Nehemiah 5:18-19).”(F14) There is evident no vain-glory on Moses’ part. His mention of his greatness in Egypt and in the sight of the Egyptians was for the purpose of explaining why “the ornaments were so generously given.”(F15) In addition, “It is highly improbable that any writer other than himself would have so baldly and bluntly designated Moses as the man Moses!”(F16)

Verses 4-8

“And Moses said, Thus saith Jehovah, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt: and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first-born of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the first-born of the maid-servant that is behind the mill; and all the first-born of cattle. And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there hath not been, nor shall be any more. But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or beast: that ye may know how Jehovah doth make a distinction between the Egyptians and Israel And all these thy servants shall come down unto me, saying, Get thee out, and all the people that follow thee: and after that I will go out. And he went out from Pharaoh in hot anger.”

Here is resumed the conversation between Moses and Pharaoh that was broken off for the parenthesis of Exodus 11:1-3. Pharaoh had just threatened Moses with death, and Moses, now knowing that total victory was assured, responded, “Very well”, but before leaving, he thundered one more word from Jehovah.

“About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt” What midnight was this? All guessing here is useless, for it is not revealed. If the preparations for the institution of the Passover had already been made by Israel, which certainly could have been true, then that midnight could have been that of the very day Moses prophesied the final plague, but, on the other hand, if the detailed instructions for the slaying and eating of the Passover lamb were given to the people by Moses following this final interview with Pharaoh, then that midnight could well have been five or ten nights later. It seems more reasonable to us to suppose that the exact midnight was unspecified, leaving Pharaoh to be afraid and tremble every midnight until the fatal blow came. Certainly, all scholars agree that we do not know WHICH midnight was meant. “What midnight is meant cannot be determined.”(F17)

“All the first-born in the land of Egypt shall die” The critical canard that this widespread death of the first-born was merely a fabrication by later generations of Jews whose telling and retelling of the story changed some kind of a general epidemic into what is related here - that canard is as unreasonable as it is preposterous! Cannot anyone see that a general epidemic would never have resulted in Pharaoh’s releasing a whole nation of slaves? In such an instance, he would have needed slaves more than ever. Such postulations are merely the mental reflexes of immoral and unbelieving minds. What is recorded here is truth. Pharaoh had continued to refuse the right of God’s first-born (Israel) to worship Him (Exodus 4:22-23), and, “He will now experience the appropriate judgment, the death of his and Egypt’s first-born, including even cattle.”(F18) We can only marvel at the notion advocated by some that because of the omission of this disaster from the monuments and records of pagan Egypt, it must not have been “anything remotely resembling the momentous event”(F19) as presented in Exodus. Such a speculation is refuted by the fact the nation of Israel stands even yet as a living memorial to the tremendous event, and that the omission of it from Egyptian records was due solely to every people’s reluctance to memorialize their shame and defeat. Did the first-born of Pharaoh really die? Yes, indeed. And, “If Tothmosis II was the Pharaoh at the time of the Exodus, the death of his first-born could have been the reason that he was succeeded by his widow!”(F20)

“And there shall be a great cry” “The writer here sees the Exodus as an illustration of the eschatological victory of Yahweh,”(F21) that is, as a type of the eternal judgment. Once the Israelites had cried under the whips of the slave-masters, but now the oppressors cry from the judgment inflicted by God.

“Not a dog shall move his tongue against man or beast (in Israel)” This is said to be a proverbial expression meaning either that “not a dog would bark,” or that “no dog would harm.” If it means the former, what a marvel this is? What prevented dogs from barking on a night when thousands of people were weeping and wailing all over Egypt? That God indeed controls, not merely, all men, but all animals is likewise seen in His stopping the mouths of the lions when Daniel was cast into their den.

“That ye may know how that Jehovah doth make a distinction between the Egyptians and Israel” These words could hardly have been addressed to any other than Pharaoh and are further proof that these verses are a continuation of the narrative interrupted by the parenthesis (Exodus 11:1-3).

“And all these thy servants shall come down unto me, and bow down themselves unto me, saying, Get thee out, and all the people that follow thee” Pharaoh had forbidden Moses ever again to appear in his presence, but Moses’ blunt reply is, “Very well, then let your servants appear in my presence.” This of course happened, with even Pharaoh himself joining in the begging (Exodus 12:30-33).

“Shall come down” Rawlinson pointed out that, “Going from a nobler place to one of less distinction is called descending.”(F22)

Verses 9-10

“And Jehovah said unto Moses, Pharaoh will not hearken unto you; that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt. And Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh: and Jehovah hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he did not let the children of Israel go out of his land,”

“And Moses and Aaron did all these wonders” This stands as a summary of all the plagues in which Moses and Aaron had a part, namely, the first nine plagues. The Tenth Plague, the death of the first-born, was accomplished by God Himself WITHOUT human instrumentality, but nevertheless, Pharaoh never did actually let God’s people go. True, God delivered them without Pharaoh’s help, and in spite of him. Throughout this marvelous narrative of the plagues, the thing that stands out is the destruction of Egypt’s paganism. As Rylaarsdam put it, “Its gods were dead!”(F23) Again and again we have noted this, but one more summary of the impact of these wonders upon Egypt’s gods is here included.

The fact that one author names some gods and other authors cite different gods is due to the fact that each wonder confronted and discredited multiple pagan deities. This is Geisler’s summary:

a. Bloody water (Exodus 7:12), against the god Nilus, the sacred river god.

b. Frogs (Exodus 8:6), against Hekt, the goddess of reproduction.

c. Lice (gnats) (Exodus 8:17), against Seb, god of the earth.

d. Flies (beetles), against Khephera, the sacred scarab.

e. Murrain on Egyptian cattle (Exodus 9:3), against Apis and Hathor, the sacred bull and cow.

f. Boils on man and beast (Exodus 9:10), against Typhon, the evil-eye god.

g. Hail (Exodus 9:23), against Shu, the god of the atmosphere.

h. Locusts (Exodus 10:14), against Serapis, the protector from locusts.

i. Darkness (Exodus 10:22), against Ra, the sun god.

j. Death of the first-born (Exodus 11:5), against Plah, the god of life. Perhaps this was a blanket attack against all the gods of Egypt.(F24)

It is also observable that all of the plagues without exception, and the last one particularly, were directed squarely against Pharaoh himself, a pagan deity of top rank.

“Each night, according to Egyptian mythology, the sun fought and overcame the snake, Apophis, who symbolized the hostile darkness. As a god, Pharaoh was the incarnation of the sun, and the hostile darkness was his enemy also.”(F25)

That approaching midnight God had just announced through Moses to Pharaoh would be the ultimate exposure and defeat of pagan god Pharaoh, who himself also would ultimately perish in the Red Sea.

This summary of the plagues is an appropriate occasion to explore some of the questions concerning them.

Why were so many plagues necessary? Egypt had many false gods, and it was necessary that all of them should have been discredited and destroyed. Also, since the plagues were actually variations of natural occurrences, it was mandatory that all explanations of them as coincidences should have been refuted. “One or two plagues could always have been explained as coincidences; but ten of them should have convinced even the most skeptical that the hand of God was in this series of calamities.”(F26) As Jamieson expressed it:

“The intensity, the extent, the orderly succession of these plagues, their occurrence and their cessation at the command of Moses, and the marked exemption of Goshen from the operation of the destructive visitations, prove, beyond a doubt, that they proceeded immediately from the hand of God.”(F27)

When God stated that He would slay the first-born, does this attribute an action to God that is unworthy of Him? The answer is no. God will eventually slay the entire race of Adam, the sole exceptions being the redeemed “in Christ.” God has, in the past, wiped out all mankind except for a single family, that of Noah. And such facts are fully in keeping with all that is revealed concerning the nature of God, especially His utter abhorrence of evil, and His promise of justice and vengeance on the wicked. There is no solution to what some see as a problem here by attributing the death of the first-born to some “bad” angel! The action was GOD’s, whether or not a bad or a good angel acted in the actual execution of God’s will.

What was the purpose of these plagues?

(1) One purpose was the founding of the nation of Israel through their deliverance from Egyptian slavery.

(2) Another purpose was that of striking a fatal blow against paganism.

(3) It was also for the purpose of spreading the knowledge of the true God over a world that was already in the process of forgetting their Creator altogether.

(4) The punishment of Egypt for their sins against Israel is also a clear purpose. And, if it should be objected that it was not the Egyptians, but only Pharaoh who sinned, the Egyptian people were far from being innocent bystanders. “They had stood by consenting to the enslavement of Israel and therefore shared in the responsibility for their oppression… Failure to protest injustice can be just as great a sin as sin actually committed.”(F28) They had also participated in the casting of Hebrew infant males into the river. God will eventually punish all sin and injustice, and such a purpose is plainly visible in this account of the plagues of Egypt.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Exodus 11". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/exodus-11.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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