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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 11

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary


Yahweh’s Battle With Pharaoh - The Ten Plagues (Exodus 7:14 to Exodus 12:51 )

In the first seven chapters we have seen how God raised up Moses to deliver His people, and how when he approached Pharaoh with a simple request that they might go into the wilderness and worship Him because He had revealed Himself in a theophany there, Pharaoh had reacted savagely and had increased Israel’s burdens.

Then Yahweh had promised to Moses that He would reveal His name in mighty action and deliver them, but had initially provided Pharaoh with a further opportunity to consider by three signs which Pharaoh had rejected. Now He would begin in earnest.

The first nine plagues that follow were the intensification of natural occurrences that struck Egypt from time to time. Yet they came in such a way and with such effect and were so intense that they could not be described as ‘natural’, for they came when called on, ceased when Yahweh commanded, and affected only what Yahweh wanted affecting. They were thus supernaturally controlled natural phenomenon.

Because these plagues were common to natural occurrences that took place in Egypt they were connected with the gods of Egypt, for the Egyptians had gods which were connected with every part of life. Thus the very plagues meant that Yahweh was, in Egyptian eyes, in conflict with the gods of Egypt. However, it is important to recognise that the writer only mentions the gods of Egypt once (Exodus 12:12), and there only in relation to the slaying of the firstborn because at least one of the firstborn who would die would be connected with a god (Pharaoh). Thus he is drawing attention to Yahweh’s dealings with Pharaoh and the Egyptians rather than with their gods. This indicates that while the gods may have had the Egyptians as their servants, they did not have any control of the land or of nature. The writer is clearly monotheistic. To him the gods of Egypt are an irrelevance.

The Overall Pattern of the Narrative.

The first nine plagues can be divided into three sets of three as follows;

· The first three - water turned to blood (Exodus 7:14-25), plague of frogs (Exodus 8:1-15), plague of ticks and similar insects (Exodus 8:16-19).

· The second three - plague of swarms of flying insects (Exodus 8:20-32), cattle disease (Exodus 9:1-7), boils (Exodus 9:8-12).

· The third three - great hail (Exodus 9:13-35), plague of locusts (Exodus 10:1-20), thick darkness (Exodus 10:21-27).

As we have seen, the previous section of Exodus has been mainly based on a series of chiastic and similar patterns which demonstrate the unity of the narrative. Here the overall pattern changes to a more complicated one in view of the combined subject matter, but the underlying pattern is the same nevertheless.

For we should note that there is a definite pattern in these series of threes. The first and second of each of the judgments in each series is announced to the Pharaoh before it takes place, while in each case the third is unannounced. The first incident of each series of three is to take place early in the morning, and in the first and second of these ‘first incidents of three’ the place where Moses meets Pharaoh is by the Nile, in the third it is before Pharaoh. The second judgment in each series is announced in the king's palace. The third judgment in each series comes without the Pharaoh or the Egyptians being warned. As these judgments from God continue, their severity increases until the last three bring the Egyptian people to a place where life itself becomes almost impossible, and their economy is almost totally destroyed. The huge hailstones kept them in their homes and wrecked their environment, the locusts ate up what the hail had left and made life unbearable, and the thick darkness kept them in solitude even from each other. They must have wondered what was coming next.

Furthermore in the first two judgments the magicians pit themselves against Moses as they imitate the judgments of blood and frogs, but in the third judgment of the first series, that of ticks, they are forced to yield and acknowledge, "This is the finger of God" (Exodus 8:19) and from then on they withdraw from the contest. In the sixth they cannot even stand before Moses, presumably because of the effect of the boils which they could do nothing about.

It is noteworthy in this regard that while blood and frogs can easily be manipulated by conjurors, ticks are a different proposition, for they cannot be so easily controlled.

In the second series an important distinction is drawn between the Israelites and the Egyptians, for from then on only the Egyptians are affected, and not the whole land of Egypt as previously. Several times the specific protection of Israel is mentioned.

As the intensity of the plagues increases, so does the intensity of the Pharaoh's desire to secure the intervention of Moses and Aaron for deliverance from the plague (consider Exodus 8:8; Exodus 8:25; Exodus 8:28; Exodus 9:27-28; Exodus 10:16-17; Exodus 10:24), and Moses becomes more outspoken.

In the first series of three judgments the staff of Aaron is used, in the second series of three no staff is mentioned and in the third series either the hand or staff of Moses is prominent. Note also that in two cases in the second series neither Moses nor Aaron do anything. Thus an instrument is used seven times. These overall patterns clearly demonstrate the unity of the narrative.

Another division can be made in that the first four plagues are personal in effect producing annoyance and distress while the next four inflict serious damage on property and person, the ninth is the extreme of the first four and the tenth the extreme of the second four. This further confirms the impression of unity.

The same is true of the wording and ideas used throughout. We have noted above the three sets of three plagues, and that in the first plague of each set Moses goes to Pharaoh in the early morning, either to the river or ‘before Pharaoh’, while in the second in each set Moses goes to the palace, and in the third plague in each set the plague occurs without warning. Now we should note the intricate pattern of phrases and ideas which are regularly repeated.

We should, for example, note that God says ‘let my people go’ seven times, the divinely perfect number (although only six times before specific plagues - Exodus 5:1; Exodus 7:16; Exodus 8:1; Exodus 8:20; Exodus 9:1; Exodus 9:13; Exodus 10:3). This is significant in the light of what follows below.

We should also note that there is a central core around which each plague is described, although the details vary. This central core is:

· A description in detail of what will happen (Plague one - Exodus 7:17-18; plague two - Exodus 8:2-4; plague three - no separate description; plague four - Exodus 8:21; plague five - Exodus 9:3-4; plague six - Exodus 9:9; plague seven - Exodus 9:15; plague eight - Exodus 10:4-6; plague nine - no separate description).

· The call to Moses either to instruct Aaron (three times - Exodus 7:19; Exodus 8:5; Exodus 8:16) or to act himself (three times - Exodus 9:22; Exodus 10:12; Exodus 10:21) or for them both to act (once - Exodus 9:8).

· The action taken (Exodus 7:20; Exodus 8:6; Exodus 8:17; no action; no action; Exodus 9:10; Exodus 9:23; Exodus 10:13; Exodus 10:22).

· And an inevitable description of the consequences, which parallels the previous description where given (Exodus 7:21; Exodus 8:6; Exodus 8:17; Exodus 8:24; Exodus 9:6-7; Exodus 9:10-11; Exodus 9:23-26; Exodus 10:13-15; Exodus 10:22-23).

It may be argued that this core was largely inevitable, and to a certain extent that is true, but we should note that while there are nine plagues, there are only seven separate prior descriptions, and as previously noted seven calls to act followed by that action, but the sevens are not in each case for the same plagues. Thus the narrative is carefully built around sevens. This can be exemplified further.

For example, Pharaoh’s initial response to their approach is mentioned three times, in that Pharaoh reacts against the people (Exodus 5:5-6); calls for his magicians (Exodus 7:11); and makes a compromise offer and then drives Moses and Aaron from his presence (Exodus 10:11). It indicates his complete action but denies to him the number seven. That is retained for Yahweh and His actions as we shall see, or for Pharaoh’s negativity overall caused by Yahweh.

One significant feature is that Pharaoh’s final response grows in intensity.

1). Yahweh hardened his heart so that he did not listen to them as Yahweh had said (Exodus 7:13) (Yahweh hardening him, and that he would not let the people go had been forecast in Exodus 4:21). This was prior to the plagues.

2). His heart was hardened and he did not listen to them as Yahweh had said, and he turned and went into his house, ‘nor did he set his heart to this also’ (Exodus 7:22-23).

3). He entreated Yahweh to take away the plague and said that he would let the people go to worship Yahweh (Exodus 8:8), and later hardened his heart and did not listen to them as Yahweh had said (Exodus 8:15).

4). Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he did not listen to them as Yahweh had said (Exodus 8:19).

5). He told Moses and Aaron that they may sacrifice in the land (Exodus 8:25), and then, on Moses’ refusing his offer, said that they may sacrifice in the wilderness but not go far away (Exodus 8:28) which Moses accepts, but later Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go (Exodus 8:32).

6). He sent to find out what had happened and then his heart was hardened and he would not let the people go (Exodus 9:7).

7). Yahweh hardened his heart and he did not listen to them as Yahweh had spoken to Moses (Exodus 9:12).

8). Pharaoh admitted that he had sinned, asked them to entreat for him, and said ‘I will let you go and you will stay no longer’ (Exodus 9:27-28). Then he sinned yet more and hardened his heart, he and his servants (Exodus 9:34), and his heart was hardened nor would he let the children of Israel go as Yahweh had spoken to Moses (Exodus 9:35).

9). Pharaoh admitted that he had sinned, and asked them to entreat Yahweh for him (Exodus 10:17), but later Yahweh hardened his heart so that he would not let the children of Israel go (Exodus 10:20).

10). Pharaoh said that they might go apart from their cattle (Exodus 10:24), and on Moses refusing ‘Yahweh hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not let them go’ (Exodus 10:27), and he commanded that they leave his presence and not return on pain of death (Exodus 10:28).

11). In the summary ‘Yahweh hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that he would not let the children of Israel go out of his land’ (Exodus 11:10).

We note from the above that ‘Pharaoh will not listen to you’ occurs twice (Exodus 7:4; Exodus 11:9), ‘did not listen to them as Yahweh had said’ occurs four times (Exodus 7:13; Exodus 7:22; Exodus 8:15; Exodus 19:0); and ‘did not listen to them as Yahweh had spoken to Moses’ occurs once (Exodus 9:12), thus his not being willing to listen occurs seven times in all (the phrase ‘as Yahweh had spoken to Moses’ occurs twice (Exodus 9:12; Exodus 9:35), but not as connected with not listening).

In contrast he entreats that Yahweh will show mercy four times (Exodus 8:8; Exodus 8:28; Exodus 9:27; Exodus 10:17), and parleys with Moses three times (Exodus 8:8; Exodus 8:25; Exodus 10:24), making seven in all. Yahweh hardened his heart five times (Exodus 7:13; Exodus 9:12; Exodus 10:20; Exodus 10:27; Exodus 11:10), which with Exodus 4:21 and Exodus 10:1 makes seven times. (Yahweh also hardened his heart in Exodus 14:8, but that was over the matter of pursuing the fleeing people. See also Exodus 14:4; Exodus 14:17. He said that He would do it in Exodus 7:3).

His heart was hardened (by himself?) four times (Exodus 7:22; Exodus 8:19; Exodus 9:7; Exodus 9:35), and he hardened his own heart three times (Exodus 8:15; Exodus 8:32; Exodus 9:34), again making seven times. It is said that he would not let the people go five times (Exodus 8:32; Exodus 9:7; Exodus 9:35; Exodus 10:20; Exodus 11:10). With Exodus 4:21; Exodus 7:14 that makes not letting the people go seven times. Yahweh told Pharaoh to let His people go seven times (Exodus 5:1; Exodus 7:16; Exodus 8:1; Exodus 8:20; Exodus 9:1; Exodus 9:13; Exodus 10:3). Thus the writer would clearly seem to have been deliberately aiming at sevenfold repetition, and this sevenfoldness is spread throughout the narrative in different ways, stressing the total unity of the passage. One or two sevens might be seen as accidental but not so many.

Taking with this the fact that each narrative forms a definite pattern any suggestion of fragmented sources of any size that can be identified is clearly not permissible. Thus apart from an occasional added comment, and in view of the way that covenants were always recorded in writing, there seems little reason to doubt that Exodus was written under the supervision of Moses or from material received from him as was constantly believed thereafter. Other Old Testament books certainly assert the essential Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch (‘the Law’) demonstrating the strong tradition supporting the claim (see 1 Kings 2:3; 1 Kings 8:53; 2 Kings 14:6; 2 Kings 18:6; 2 Kings 18:12). More importantly Jesus Christ Himself saw the Pentateuch as the writings of Moses (John 5:46-47), and as without error (Matthew 5:17-18), and indicated Moses’ connection with Deuteronomy (Matthew 19:7-8; Mark 10:3-5). See also Peter (Acts 3:22), Stephen (Acts 7:37-38), Paul (Romans 10:19; 1 Corinthians 9:9), and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 10:28).

One fact that brings out Pharaoh’s total selfishness and disregard for his people is that he only asks Moses to entreat Yahweh to remove a plague four times, in the case of the frogs, the flying insects, the hail and the locusts. These were the ones that would personally affect him the most. The narrative is totally consistent.

The Plagues In The Light Of Natural Phenomena.

We will now try to see the plagues in the light of natural phenomena, recognising that God used natural phenomena, enhancing it where necessary, to accomplish His purpose. While the land waited totally unaware of the forces that were gathering He knew exactly what was coming and what He would do with it and directed Moses accordingly.

The first nine plagues form a logical and connected sequence if we work on the basis that in that year there was an abnormally high inundation of the Nile occurring in July and August. In Egypt too high an inundation of the Nile could be as bad as too low an inundation, and this was clearly beyond anything known. This would be caused by abnormal weather conditions in lands to the south of Egypt of a kind rarely experienced which may well have also caused the effects not produced directly by the inundation.

The higher the Nile-flood was, the more earth it carried within it, especially of the red earth from the basins of the Blue Nile and Atbara. And the more earth it carried the redder it became. The flood would further bring down with it flood microcosms known as flagellates and associated bacteria. These would heighten the blood-red colour of the water and create conditions in which the fish would die in large numbers (Exodus 7:21). Their decomposition would then foul the water further and cause a stench (Exodus 7:21). The water would be undrinkable and the only hope of obtaining fresh water would be to dig for it (Exodus 7:24). The whole of Egypt would of course be affected. This is the background to the first plague.

The result of these conditions would be that the decomposing fish would be washed along the banks and backwaters of the Nile polluting the haunts of the frogs, who would thus swarm out in huge numbers seeking refuge elsewhere (Exodus 8:3). Their sudden death would suggest internal anthrax which would explain their rapid putrefaction (Exodus 8:13-14). This is the background to the second plague.

The high level of the Nile-flood would provide especially favourable conditions for mosquitoes, which may partly explain either the ‘ken’ (ticks/lice/fleas) (Exodus 8:16) or the ‘arob (swarms) (Exodus 8:21), while the rotting carcasses of the fish and frogs would encourage other forms of insect life to develop, as would excessive deposits of the red earth which may have brought insect eggs with them. Insects would proliferate throughout the land (Exodus 8:16). These might include lice and also the tick, an eight-legged arthropod and blood-sucking parasite and carrier of disease, as well as fleas. This is the background to the third plague.

As well as mosquitoes from the Nile flood, flies would also develop among the rotting fish, the dead frogs and the decaying vegetation, including the carrier-fly, the stomoxys calcitrans (which might well be responsible for the later boils), and become carriers of disease from these sources. The ‘swarms’ may well have included both (Exodus 8:21). This is the background to the fourth plague.

The dying frogs might well have passed on anthrax, and the proliferating insects would pass on other diseases, to the cattle and flocks who were out in the open (Exodus 9:3) and therefore more vulnerable. This is the background to the fifth plague.

The dead cattle would add to the sources of disease carried by these insects, and the insect bites, combined with the bites of the other insects, may well have caused the boils (Exodus 9:9). This would occur around December/January. It may well be the background to the sixth plague.

Thus the first six plagues in a sense follow naturally from one another given the right conditions, but it is their timing, extremeness and Moses’ knowledge of them that prove the hand of God at work.

The excessively heavy hail (Exodus 9:22), with thunder, lightning and rain, may well have resulted from the previously mentioned extreme weather conditions, but it went beyond anything known and was exceptional, resulting in death and destruction, and the ruination of the barley and flax, but not the wheat and spelt which was not yet grown (Exodus 8:31-32). (This indicates a good knowledge of Egyptian agriculture). This would probably be in early February.

The excessively heavy rains in Ethiopia and the Sudan which led to the extraordinarily high Nile would cause the conditions favourable to an unusually large plague of locusts (Exodus 10:4; Exodus 10:13), which would eventually be blown down into Northern Egypt and then along the Nile valley by the east wind (Exodus 10:13).

The thick darkness (Exodus 10:21) that could be felt was probably an unusually heavy khamsin dust storm resulting from the large amounts of red earth which the Nile had deposited which would have dried out as a fine dust, together with the usual sand of the desert. The khamsin wind would stir all this up making the air unusually thick and dark, blotting out the light of the sun. Three days is the known length of a khamsin (Exodus 10:23). This, coming on top of all that had come before, and seeming to affect the sun god himself, would have a devastating effect.

These unusual and freak events demonstrate an extremely good knowledge of Egyptian weather conditions with their particular accompanying problems, which could only have been written in the right order by someone with a good knowledge of the peculiar conditions in Egypt which could produce such catastrophes, confirming the Egyptian provenance of the record and the unity of the account.

In all this the gods of Egypt would be prominent to the Egyptians as the people were made aware that the God of the Hebrews was doing this, and that their gods could seemingly do nothing about it. Prominent among these would be Ha‘pi, the Nile god of inundation, Heqit the goddess of fruitfulness, whose symbol was the frog, Hathor the goddess of love, often symbolised by the cow, along with Apis the bull god, Osiris for whom the Nile was his life-blood, now out of control, the goddess Hatmehyt whose symbol was a fish, and of whom models were worn as charms, Nut the sky goddess, Reshpu and Ketesh who were supposed to control all the elements of nature except light, and Re the sun god. All these would be seen to be unable to prevent Yahweh doing His work and thus to have been at least temporarily defeated.

But it should be noted that that is the Egyptian viewpoint. Moses only mentions the gods of Egypt once, and that is probably sarcastically (Exodus 12:12). As far as he is concerned they are nothing. They are irrelevant.

The Tenth Plague - The Slaying of the Firstborn (Exodus 11:1 to Exodus 12:36 ).

This whole section is constructed on an interesting chiastic pattern:

a Israel are to ask the Egyptians for gold and jewellery, etc (Exodus 11:1-3).

b All the firstborn in Egypt are to die - there will be a great cry throughout the land - Israel will be told to go (Exodus 11:4-10).

c The preparation of the lamb - the sacrifice - the blood on the doorpost it - will be a memorial for ever (Exodus 12:1-14).

d For seven days they are to eat unleavened bread - their houses to be emptied of leaven - the observation of the feast (Exodus 12:15-17).

d The observation of the feast of unleavened bread for seven days - their houses to be emptied of leaven (Exodus 12:18-20).

c The preparation of the lamb - the sacrifice - the blood on the doorpost - to be observed as an ordinance for ever (Exodus 12:21-28).

b The firstborn in Egypt die - there is a great cry in Egypt - the children of Israel are told to go (Exodus 12:29-34).

a Israel ask the Egyptians for gold and jewellery etc. (Exodus 12:35-36).

There can be no doubt that this skilful arrangement is deliberate.

Verses 1-3

The Tenth Plague - The Slaying of the Firstborn (Exodus 11:1 to Exodus 12:36 ).

This whole section is constructed on an interesting chiastic pattern:

a Israel are to ask the Egyptians for gold and jewellery, etc (Exodus 11:1-3).

b All the firstborn in Egypt are to die - there will be a great cry throughout the land - Israel will be told to go (Exodus 11:4-10).

c The preparation of the lamb - the sacrifice - the blood on the doorpost it - will be a memorial for ever (Exodus 12:1-14).

d For seven days they are to eat unleavened bread - their houses to be emptied of leaven - the observation of the feast (Exodus 12:15-17).

d The observation of the feast of unleavened bread for seven days - their houses to be emptied of leaven (Exodus 12:18-20).

c The preparation of the lamb - the sacrifice - the blood on the doorpost - to be observed as an ordinance for ever (Exodus 12:21-28).

b The firstborn in Egypt die - there is a great cry in Egypt - the children of Israel are told to go (Exodus 12:29-34).

a Israel ask the Egyptians for gold and jewellery etc. (Exodus 12:35-36).

There can be no doubt that this skilful arrangement is deliberate.

Yahweh’s Deliverance About To Take Place. They Are to Ask the Egyptians for Gold and Jewellery (Exodus 10:29 to Exodus 11:3 )

Exodus 10:29

‘And Moses said, “You have spoken well. You will see my face no more.”

This verse belongs to the last passage but we introduce with it here again so as to maintain the continuity.

The words of Pharaoh would have struck fear into many a heart. But Moses was now too strong. He was no longer afraid of Pharaoh, for he knew that something was about to happen that would shake both Pharaoh (and the whole of Egypt) to the very core of his being, to his heart (Exodus 9:14), and he was very angry. Furthermore he alone on earth knew what was about to happen. What God had promised from the very beginning was about to come about because Pharaoh had refused to release God’s firstborn son in order that they may worship Him (Exodus 4:23). Now Pharaoh’s own firstborn would be smitten.

“You have spoken well.” Moses wanted Pharaoh to know that he had spoken better than he knew. This would indeed be their last meeting until a broken Pharaoh called for him to tell them to go. Little did Pharaoh know what the consequence of his rejection was going to be. It would hit at the very heart of Egyptian life, at the heart of every family, and equally at Pharaoh’s very heart as well.

But Moses did not as yet leave, for he had more to say. Exodus 11:1-3 is simply an interlude explaining why Moses now had such confidence in the face of what must have seemed a great disappointment. It tells us that Yahweh had shown Moses that this was finally to be the last of the plagues, that soon all would be over, and what the consequences were going to be for the children of Israel as far as wealth was concerned. And it declared what the status was that Moses now had in Egypt, not just as a prince but as having divine powers. This being in Moses’ mind the conversation would continue. It was an assurance to him and to Israel at what must have seemed their darkest moment of the certain victory that was to be theirs. They were about to leave Egypt burdened with riches. We are justified in seeing it as expressing the thoughts which were buoying him up as he faced Pharaoh,

The Command To Spoil the Egyptians (Exodus 11:1-3 ).

Exodus 11:1-3

‘And Yahweh had said to Moses, “I will bring yet one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt, afterwards he will let you go from here. When he lets you go he will surely thrust you out from here altogether. Speak in the ears of the people and let them ask every man of his neighbour and every woman of her neighbour, jewels of silver and jewels of gold. And Yahweh gave the people favour in the eyes of the Egyptians. Moreover the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the eyes of Pharaoh’s servants, and in the sight of the people.’

We can analyse this as follows:

a One more plague is to be brought on Egypt and on Pharaoh, and afterwards he will let Moses and Israel go (Exodus 11:1 a).

b Afterwards he will certainly let them go, indeed will thrust them out altogether (Exodus 11:1 b).

c Thus they are to speak in the ears of the people and ask for jewels of silver and jewels of gold as offerings to Yahweh (Exodus 11:2).

b And when they did so Yahweh gave them great favour in the eyes of the Egyptians (Exodus 11:3 a).

a Moreover Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the eyes of the aristocratic leadership, and in the sight of the people (Exodus 11:3 b).

Note the parallels which unite the text. In ‘a’ one more devastating plague will achieve Yahweh’s object through Moses, and in the parallel Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, admired by all but Pharaoh. Great in the eyes of all indeed to achieve this mighty object. In ‘b’ we have the promise that they will actually be thrust out by Pharaoh, and in the parallel that they had great favour in the eyes of the Egyptians. It is now great Pharaoh who stands alone. And central to all is that Yahweh’s people will not crawl out of Egypt with their tails between their legs, nor will they flee leaving everything behind, they will go out loaded with wealth and spoils.

To those who know the story, these verses break into the dramatic confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh. But they were necessary in order to demonstrate how Yahweh had prepared Moses for the final rejection by Pharaoh, how much alone Pharaoh now was in his opposition, and how Yahweh had fulfilled His own promises (Exodus 3:19-22). To the writer far more important than the drama was the necessity to keep Yahweh and not Moses as pre-eminent.

It was important that Yahweh should be seen to be the victor. To us the receiving of wealth from the Egyptians may have seemed a secondary matter. To us what would have mattered was the freedom. But in those days the spoils went to the victor, and the writer was therefore careful to demonstrate that the children of Israel were to receive the spoils of victory. This had been emphasised in Exodus 3:19-22 when God was outlining what lay ahead. Now it is described in order to show that things had now reached their climax. Here was an indication that the victory of Yahweh was now certain, and the ‘spoils of war’ are given prominence. They had been told from the beginning that they would not have to flee like dogs with their tails between their legs, that they would leave as triumphant victors. Now this was to come to fulfilment. Thus the plagues come to their climax with this promise of glorious victory.

But we must not forget that Israel had been steadily impoverished by the Egyptians. They had had to work on their building projects and on their canals and irrigation systems for nothing except possibly food. Some of them had suffered terribly. Their own interests had had to be neglected. And they would be leaving behind their houses and any possessions that they could not take with them. It was therefore just that they now be reimbursed. This was not robbery. It was seeking just treatment.

And thirdly, it is brought out that Moses himself was to be vindicated, and restored to more than his former greatness. He had set aside greatness, and now no one on earth was greater than he.

“And Yahweh had said to Moses.” Hebrew verbs do not necessarily apply chronologically. They simply say that something happened, not when it happened. They had no way of representing the pluperfect. It had to be gathered from the sense. Here then we are being taken back to something Moses had been told before this ‘final interview’.

“Yet one more plague.” From the beginning Yahweh had known what it would take to bring Pharaoh to his knees (Exodus 4:23) and to such a state that he would finally seek to get rid of the children of Israel altogether once and for all. For this was always His plan (see Exodus 3:19-22). Now Moses could know that the end had been reached. At last they would be sent away to freedom.

“Thrust you out from here.” The words are forceful. Pharaoh will be made to do what Yahweh wishes and he will do it forcefully. He will be glad to let them go.

“Speak now in the ears of the people --.” From the beginning Yahweh had promised that when the children of Israel received their freedom they would leave in triumph. They would receive the ‘spoils of war’. But it was stressed that these would not have to be forced from the Egyptians they would be given freely. Such is the wonder of God’s ways. They would ask for, and would receive, gold and silver jewels (compare Exodus 3:22), and these would be bestowed on them generously and given to them gladly, in order to encourage them to go. It was little recompense for all that they had suffered, but it was better than nothing and would ease their way in the future, as well as enabling them to furnish Yahweh’s Dwellingplace.

The gifts came from both men and women. All would wear golden ornaments of one kind or another.

“And Yahweh gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians.” Just as He had said He would from the beginning (Exodus 3:21), He ensured that they were treated with favour. These slaves would now be treated as those who deserved great honour. Pharaoh still looked on them with a jaundiced eye, but his people would see them otherwise. Whether the gifts were to appease this dreadful God Who did such things, or whether they were given in friendship, or whether they were given in gratitude because they had heard of what was happening elsewhere and recognised that they had been saved the worst because they lived among the Israelites in Goshen, or whether they hoped that by giving the gifts they would win favour with Yahweh, does not matter. The motives were probably varied. But the point is being made that they freely gave, and loaded God’s people with wealth.

“Moreover the man Moses was very great --”. Moses, who had once been a prince of Egypt and had then slipped to being a tribal princeling, had now become more than a prince, he had become like a divinity (Exodus 7:1), both to the high officials of the land and to the Egyptians and to Pharaoh. He who had once said, “Who am I?” (Exodus 3:11) was now in a position of the highest honour. So Yahweh’s triumph is complete. Note the contrast, ‘the man Moses’. (This in contrast to the god Pharaoh). We are being reminded that he is only a man. ‘Was very great --’. That was how the Egyptians saw him, as one of the great ones. This was not in order to boost Moses, it was in order to boost Yahweh who had made him seem so great in their eyes. And that is a further reason why the Egyptians gave so generously and abundantly.

This mixture of humility and yet recognition in wonder of what Yahweh had of made him smacks of Moses having written it in own words. Who else would have insisted that he was but the man Moses?

And at this point we now renew the meeting with Pharaoh following Moses’ words, ‘You will not see my face again’ (Exodus 10:29)

Verses 4-10

Moses Declares That All The Firstborn In Egypt Will Die And Stalks Out (Exodus 11:4-10 ).

a Yahweh says that He will go out into the land of Egypt (Exodus 11:4).

b As a result all the firstborn of Egypt will die from highest to lowest (Exodus 11:5).

c There will be a great cry throughout Egypt such as there has never been nor will be again (Exodus 11:6).

b But against any of the children of Israel not even a dog whet his tongue because Yahweh makes a difference between them and the Egyptians (Exodus 11:7)

a And Moses tells Pharaoh, “All your great grandees will come and bow down to me and say, ‘Get out and all the people who follow you’. And after that I will go out.” And Moses left Pharaoh’s presence abruptly in hot anger.

Note again the contrasts thrown up by the sequence. In ‘a’ Yahweh will go majestically out into the land of Egypt, while in parallel a cringing Pharaoh will see all his grandees bowing to Moses, while Moses goes out in hot anger. In ‘b’ All the firstborn of Egypt will die from the house of Pharaoh to the house of the lowest of all, while in parallel Israel will be so untouched that not even a dog will lick them. And in the midst of all this will be the great cry that goes up throughout the land of Egypt.

Exodus 11:4-7

‘And Moses said, “Thus says Yahweh, about midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt, and all the firstborn from the land of Egypt will die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on the throne, even to the firstborn of the maidservant who is behind the mill, and all the firstborn of cattle, and there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt such as none has been like it, nor shall be like it ever again. But against any of the children of Israel not a dog will whet his tongue against man or beast, that you may know that Yahweh makes a difference between the Egyptians (literally ‘Egypt’ as a people) and Israel.” ’

This is the first threat which has spoken of inescapable death. Previously death had been escapable but now it would be so no longer. It would be experienced by every family in Egypt. And it would take place during a night in the very near future. And Yahweh Himself would do it. And no one else would have any part in it.

“About midnight.” We must not think of this as being exact. No exact time was recorded in ancient days. Thus it means during the middle of the night. And each night, according to Egyptian teaching, the sun fought and killed the snake Apophis who symbolised the hostile darkness, so that the sun could shine again. But this night it would not be the sun, but it would be Yahweh Who would go forth and he would slay, not the snake Apophis, but all the firstborn of the land of Egypt, including the firstborn of the house of Pharaoh who was himself destined to become an incarnation of the sun. Everything would be turned upside down. The gods of Egypt would be put into disarray.

“All the firstborn.” These were those who were looked on as most favoured, those who were to be heads of families, those who were seen as most important of the future generation.

“The firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on the throne.” The most important of all was the future god Horus, son of Osiris, incarnated in the Pharaoh, although it is possible that Pharaoh’s son was away fighting, and that it was therefore his son’s son who would die. He too could be called the firstborn of Pharaoh for he was a firstborn in the house of Pharaoh. This would explain why there was no Egyptian record of a firstborn son of Pharaoh dying unusually. However it was the way of the Egyptians not to record anything that told against them. The least important would be the firstborn of the maidservant who was behind the mill. But all would die from highest to lowest.

“The maidservant who is behind the mill.” This is a typical Egyptian phrase not found outside Egypt and is describing the lowest of the low. Her job was to grind the grain daily with the mill, rubbing the top stone against the bottom. This was an arduous and unthankful task and to grind the grain was seen as the lowest occupation an Egyptian woman had to undertake, and was regularly reserved either for destitute women, slaves or for prisoners undergoing penal servitude (Judges 16:21; Isaiah 47:2).

“And all the firstborn of cattle.” Even the cattle would be affected.

“There will be a great cry --.” No day will ever have been like it. Every household would suffer bereavement. Every chief mother would lose a son. It would hit at the heart of Pharaoh and at the heart of Egypt. The whole of Egypt would be in mourning.

“Shall not a dog whet his tongue.” A proverbial expression, see Joshua 10:21. Not even a dog will threaten Israel or point his tongue at them.

“That you may know that Yahweh puts a difference between the Egyptians and Israel.” The whole point at issue has been the honouring of Yahweh as God of the whole earth. Those who honoured Him would be safe (and this would apply even if they were Egyptians if they followed His instructions), those who refused to honour Him would experience His judgment. Note the use of ‘Israel’. What was happening was separating them off as a people. But the contrast was with ‘Egypt’ as representing the Egyptians. Thus Israel is an abbreviation here for ‘the children of Israel’.

Exodus 11:8

“And all these your servants will come down to me and bow themselves to me, saying, ‘Get yourself out, and all the people who follow you’. And after that I will go out.” And he went out from Pharaoh in hot anger.”

“All these your servants.” The scene is awesome. There in the throne room of Pharaoh Moses looked around at all the high officials in Pharaoh’s court and indicated them. They were standing there horrified and angry and possibly a little apprehensive at the effrontery of Moses, and totally subservient to Pharaoh. The last thing they had in mind was bowing to Moses. But he pointed out that despite themselves they would shortly ‘come down’, that is they would descend from their stately pride, and they would bow to him and would plead with him to leave Egypt along with all his people. And then, once they had done that, he would go.

We can imagine how they must have felt at that moment. They hated this man and what he had done to Egypt, but they were also terrified of him. For they had experienced what power he had. Yet they knew that Pharaoh had endured through it all and was still adamant, and they dared not oppose Pharaoh. What then could he possibly do to change Pharaoh’s mind? And yet in their heart of hearts there must have been fear at some unknown that they could not conceive of which might yet strike Egypt. And it was because they were not sure what he could do, that they let him go.

“And he went out from Pharaoh in hot anger.” It was not only Pharaoh who was angry (Exodus 10:28). The contest was between equals. This was no longer the timid Moses. He was now equal to Pharaoh, no, even above him. And he was angry at all Pharaoh’s duplicity. Pharaoh had constantly made promises and then reneged on them. His word could no longer be trusted. Furthermore Moses himself had suffered the humiliation earlier of being hustled out of Pharaoh’s presence, no doubt with little ceremony. And that had been a humiliation for Yahweh too, for Moses was His ambassador. And so Moses strode out in hot anger without another word leaving Pharaoh bristling on his throne. But it was the righteous anger of Moses that would prevail.

Verses 9-10

A Final Summary of What Yahweh Has Done (Exodus 11:9-10 ).

Exodus 11:9-10

‘And Yahweh had said to Moses, “Pharaoh will not listen to you in order that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.” And Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh, and Yahweh made Pharaoh’s heart strong and he did not let the children of Israel go out of the land.’

These words summarise all that has gone before. They refer to what is past and indicate that the story is now coming to its climax. All that now remains is the final episode. The tension is mounting.

There is an indication here that Yahweh had given Egypt a unique opportunity. They had seen what He could do. They could have come to Him and sought Him. But they did not do so. Like Pharaoh their hearts were hardened. But in the end it was Yahweh Who had brought this about, so that with one last judgment He might obtain the release of His people. However much Pharaoh might have felt himself in control it was Yahweh Who had brought things to this stage in order that His great wonders might be revealed in a never to be forgotten way. For Yahweh had declared from the beginning that He would smite Pharaoh’s firstborn because of his intransigence (Exodus 4:23). And that is what happened.

Those who think that signs and wonders are the answer to bringing people to Christ should consider what happened here. There had been signs and wonders enough. But none had softened Pharaoh’s heart or convinced most of the Egyptians. People convinced by signs and wonders soon turn away once the signs and wonders are forgotten. Even the final wonder that ‘multiplied the wonders’ for it affected so many would leave people distraught rather than believing.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Exodus 11". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/exodus-11.html. 2013.
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