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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 11

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-3


Exodus 11:1. Said unto Moses.] Kalisch renders the verb here as a pluperfect, “had said;” and concludes that the object of these verses is to account for the utterance of the final threat before Moses leaves the presence of Pharaoh:—as though God had previously said this to Moses; and now, the fit moment having come, Moses repeats it to Pharaoh. But it seems doubtful whether the Hebrew imperfect tense with waw consecutive can ever be understood as a pluperfect (see Driver, “Hebrew Tenses,” § 76, Obs.); and the necessity so to understand it in this place is not very apparent. It should be observed that the narrative has not yet recorded the actual departure of Moses from Pharaoh’s presence,—this it postpones to Exodus 11:8 of this chapter; nor does there seem to be any good reason why we should not accept the view declined as “unnecessary” by Kalisch, viz., that “God spoke to Moses whilst he stood before Pharaoh; for the revelation came suddenly upon him.” This is surely far more probable than that the writer should have put an unnatural strain on the idiom of his own language.—

Exodus 11:2. Borrow.] Rather, “ask.” No one meeting with the Heb verb שאל, by itself, would think of “borrow” as its primary or ordinary meaning. It is true that we may “ask” with intent to “borrow,” and the latter notion may accordingly be sometimes inferred from “context and circumstance;” but to put that notion into this place, just to calumniate the record, or those appearing therein, is more wanton than wise.—

Exodus 11:5. The mill.] Literally, “the two millstones,” i.e., the upper and lower:—the characteristic position of the drudge of the family in the East.



The first three verses of this chapter are a parenthesis, either referring to something that had previously been said to Moses, or to some communication that was made to him while he was in the presence of Pharaoh; they are inserted in order to give a full explanation of the narrative. After Moses had said that he would see the face of the king no more, he continued the utterance of the fourth verse. This was the last interview between the two men, and as such, it was most solemn and affecting. It appears to have made but little impression on the haughty king; but truly this was not the fault of Moses. After the servants of God have rendered their best service for the moral good of men, they may fail of the result they desire; but the husbandman cannot give the desired harvest, he is only responsible for the sowing.

I. On the eve of final retribution God reveals to His servants the things that are shortly to come to pass. God had privately told Moses the judgment He would send upon Egypt and its king, if they did not yield to His command. The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him. Moses repeated the message to Pharaoh, that the proud monarch might be without excuse in the event of disobedience. Good men are sent by Heaven to announce to the world the retributions of the future. Thus they are saddened; thus they are honoured. God does not generally startle men by retribution; He predicts its advent by the ministry of the good.

II. On the eve of final retribution the servants of God must direct the activities of the Church. (Exodus 11:2.) Moses was told upon the eve of the threatened plague to direct the conduct of the children of Israel. To the Israelites the retribution was a crisis; it was the supreme moment of their national history, and upon the promptitude and wisdom of their conduct great issues were dependent. Hence they needed direction. And so all the retributions that come upon mankind have an important bearing toward the life and history of the Christian Church; they are related to its moral freedom, and hence it becomes the Church to act wisely in them, that it may receive the full advantage of the hour. The Church has lost the benediction of many a political revolution by sloth and lack of prompt action. All the struggles of nations are destined to work the freedom of the Church. Hence in times of national retribution the Church has need of strong-souled heroes, to awaken its intelligence, to inspire its activity, to guide its energies, and to make it victorious over all its foes, that it may go forth from bondage with the treasure it has earned through many years of unrequited service.

III. That on the eve of final retribution the servants of God become the great men of the times. “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” (Exodus 11:3). Pharaoh had not taken the advice of his servants (Exodus 10:7), and it is evident that he had lost the sympathy of his people to a large extent. The nation was weary of its suffering. Israel was growing in favour with Egypt. This the outcome of a gracious providence. Sometimes God gives the Church favour in the eyes of the world, for the accomplishment of His purpose. In times of national retribution, then warriors are forgotten, then artists are neglected, and the servants of God start into unexpected fame. Men who do their duty, even to a hostile multitude, are sure, in the long run, to be respected, even though at first they are regarded with scorn. Goodness and fidelity make men great. The world in its truer conscience knows in what real dignity consists. LESSONS:—

1. That times of retribution are revealed to the good.

2. That the servants of God must gather strength to act in important times.

3. That all things tend to the freedom of the Church.


I. It shows that Heaven will terribly plague the sinner. “Yet will I bring one plague more upon Pharaoh.” Many people cant about the mercy of God and the kindness of Heaven. This is their most prominent theology. They consider the Infinite Father as incapable of plaguing men. Did He not send terrible retributions on the land of Egypt, and were they not compatible with the Divine character and government? And the one plague more to come upon the impenitent sinner will be awful, it will be just; it will be the natural outcome of a wicked life, and will be inflicted by God.

II. It shows that Heaven has a great resource of plagues with which to torment the sinner. Heaven had already sent nine plagues on Pharaoh and his people; and yet its retributive resources were not exhausted. The material universe, in its every realm, is the resource of Heaven for the plaguing of men. Men ask how God can punish the sinner in the world to come. He will not be at a loss for one plague more whereby to torment the finally impenitent. How foolish of man to provoke the anger of God!

III. It shows that Heaven gives ample warning of the plagues it will inflict upon the sinner. The king of Egypt had ample warning of the death that was to overtake the first-born of the nation. God has revealed to the sinner the severity and certainty of the one plague more; and if it falls upon his guilty soul, it will be through wilful disobedience. Men do not walk ignorantly to hell.

IV. It shows that Heaven has a merciful intention even in the infliction of its plagues. It designed the moral submission of Pharaoh by the threatened plague, and also the freedom of Israel. And so God plagues men that He may save them, and those whom they hold in the dire bondage of moral evil.


Exodus 11:1. One plague may do more than nine that have preceded it.

Combined persecutors are joined in God’s plague.
In God’s own time He will get victory over His enemies.
At God’s word oppressors shall release his Church fully and readily.

Exodus 11:2-3. God may command His servants to ask and have of their very enemies.

It is no wrong to ask and take what God commands His people.
God can give the silver and gold of enemies to His Church.
When God moves the Church to ask He moves hearts to give.
The freedom of the Church:—

1. After long struggle.
2. Welcome.
3. The commencement of development.
4. The earnest of victory.

The Church of God:—

1. Favoured by enemies.
2. Enriched by tyrants.
3. Freed by Heaven.

God can make men favourable to others:—

1. By inspiring beauty of character.
2. By awaking guilty despisers.
3. By bestowing deep sympathy.
4. By enabling them to render efficient help.



Persistent Effort! Exodus 11:1. In Howe’s Cave, in the New World, is a vast stalagmite, thirty feet high and broad. Listening intently, you can hear a drop of water falling from the high limestone roof at intervals of about one minute. Drop by drop, steadily, slowly, surely, the work is done. Each drop contained an almost infinitesimal particle of limestone, so that thousands of years must have been spent in the formation of this giant stalactite. The relation between the Gulliver result and the Liliput cause is in such contrast, that any one must feel the lesson of persistent effort, patient doing, as well as the confident expectation of large results, and the certainty of duty ending in reward. So with Moses; patiently and persistently had he, step by step, struggled for his nation’s freedom, and now he is to receive his reward. Pharaoh is to let Israel go, not under conditions, limitations, and restrictions, but free and unfettered altogether. Jehovah thus assures Moses that even now

“The waves of the ocean are ceasing to swell,
And the tempest has whispered its last farewell.”

Divine Favour! Exodus 11:3. When Luther first began to demand the freedom of the Church, their oppressor, and his cardinals and tributary princes, despised and scorned the humble monk; but as, step by step, he persistently demanded their liberation from moral tyranny, and gained triumph after triumph in the intellectual and theological struggle, his enemies began to look upon the Reformer with different eyes. The Roman Pharaoh and his courtiers feared and hated him, while God gave him favour in the sight of the people; and now at Augsburg, then at Worms—

“Unquailed by frowns, unchecked by human fear,
Before the monarch stands the holy seer.”


Verses 4-10



I. It was to be solemn in its advent. “About midnight I will go out into the land of Egypt.” This plague was threatened (Exodus 4:23), and is at last to be executed. God is slow to anger. Human life is precious in His sight. But now the Divine forbearance has reached its limit. The time of the terrible plague is at hand. The first-born are to sleep the sleep of death, not silently and insensibly, but so as to rouse their families at midnight to see them die. The silence of the midnight hour is to be broken by the agonies of the dying, and that in every Egyptian home in the land. The destroying angel will slay the first-born of Egypt. How sad the scene! How solemn the hour! How beyond description! God often plagues the sinner at midnight. When darkness is all around him, then the plagues of Heaven come, and are rendered more awful by the time of their advent.

II. It was to be fatal in its issue. “And all the first-born in the land of Egypt shall die.” Thus the last plague was to be intensely real. It was not to affect the events of nature; it was to slay man. It was no mere sickness; it was death. Egypt had destroyed the first-born of Israel. Now they meet a just retribution. No doubt those who suffered death were sinners, and deserved the calamity that came upon them. The first-born of beasts were also included in the devastating plague. Thus the Egyptians were punished for their idolatry, and were deprived of their property. The plagues of Heaven are sometimes fatal—fatal to the temporal and eternal welfare of man.

III. It was to be comprehensive in its design. “From the first-born of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the first-born of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the first-born of beasts (Exodus 11:5). Thus the prince who was to succeed to the throne was not too high to be reached by it, nor the slave at the mill too low to be noticed. It was to extend from the most honourable to the meanest in the realm. The prince is spoken of as sitting upon the throne because he was the next heir to it; or it may be that he was even crowned, as was Solomon while David lived. From the palace to the dungeon would this plague travel. The king is helpless at a time like this. Sometimes the plagues of God are comprehensive; they embrace a vast nation, thousands of homes and families.

IV. It was to be heartrending in its cry. “And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there was none like it, nor shall be like it any more.” The cry of those bereaved would be heard in every direction. Parents who had lost their only child would thus proclaim their grief. The voice of this cry should never die away from our hearing; it makes known the penalty of sin. There are many heartrending cries in the world occasioned by sin.

V. It was to be discriminating in its infliction. “But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or beast; that ye may know how that the Lord doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel” (Exodus 11:7). Thus Israel was to be protected during the terrible retribution. They should be silent. They should be hopeful. The pestilence that walketh in darkness should not come near them. The dog, the most vigilant creature, should not bark at them. The Divine protection of the good is minute; it defends from the most trivial enemy. God will protect the good in the final retribution of the universe. Piety is the best protection against woe. It averts the judgment of God.


Exodus 11:4-6. God takes His time at midnight sometimes to visit sinners.

God’s midnight visitations:—

1. Terrible to His enemies.
2. They aim at destroying the choicest possessions of the wicked.
3. They are painful.
4. They are almighty.
5. They are irreparable.
6. They are irrespective of social position.
7. They awaken the anguish of men.

Exodus 11:7. A contrast:—

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.

In executing judgments God makes a difference between His elect and His enemies:—

1. Wonderful
2. Pleasing.
3. Inspiring.
4. Prophetic.

Exodus 11:8. Divine vengeance will make those come to God’s servants who have despised and discharged them.

Highest anger against sin becomes the best of God’s servants.
God makes His despicable servants victoriously to scorn the powers that scorn them.


And he went out from Pharaoh in a great rage.”

Anger is not of necessity sinful. There are times when it is righteous to be angry. Moses was not in an unholy passion. He was grieved at the perversity of a wicked soul:—

I. Because the claims of God were rejected. How many of the servants of God are made angry by the wickedness of men! Men are morally perverse. They will not give up their sin. They refuse repeated offers of mercy. They repulse many judgments. They despise many ministers of truth. They awaken the holy indignation of those who have sought their welfare.

II. Because his Christian work was apparently a failure. Moses had seen Pharaoh penitent. He had perhaps indulged a hope that the terrible retribution he had announced would have awakened the wicked king to calm thought and change of purpose. But in vain. His last interview was apparently a failure. How many Christian ministers are grieved by the failure of their best energies to induce men to moral goodness!

III. Because the freedom of Israel was yet unaccomplished. Moses was perhaps too hasty in expecting the accomplishment of his task. Men who are working for the freedom of souls must be patient and hopeful in their spirit and temperament. Ministers are human in their feelings.

Exodus 11:9-10. God foretelleth, and sometimes maketh known, that wicked sinners will not hear His ministers sent to them.

Such refusal of the wicked to hear God’s word foreruns usually some strange plagues.
God sometimes aims at the multiplying of prodigious judgments upon multiplied unbelief.
God’s ministers do but His work and deliver His word, and sinners harden themselves by the same.
Ocular demonstration of God’s strongest plagues will not persuade sinners to believe.
Upon such wilful hardening against His word, God justly hardens to destruction.
Sinners hardened by God will do all the mischief against Him and His people.



Divine Interposition! Exodus 11:4. In this last plague God is represented as descending in person. “I” will go out. This was designed to impress Pharaoh with the terrible character of the next inflictive judgment. When a great Eastern monarch sent his general to restore order in an insurrectionary province, the rebels would not heed his authority, but attacked and routed the royal troops. This aroused the king’s indignation, and he sent a message that he himself would appear in person at the head of his army, and punish their persistent contumacy. Jehovah warns the Egyptian rebel against His sovereign commands, that He would now personally interpose to secure submission to His supreme authority. If the paw of a bear meet with so thin a substance as the caul of a man’s heart, how easily is it torn to pieces. Pharaoh had fitted himself for the interposition of Jehovah in person, and His judgment would he as fire rushing through the dried prairie grasses.

“Stay, wretched monarch, in thy sinful path,
And hear this message of avenging wrath;
Hear it and tremble—it is GOD’S, not mine!”

First-Born! Exodus 11:5. It is computed that more than one-half of the human race die under five years of age. Think of the millions that constitute one generation! Think of the generations that have come and gone!

“There is no flock, however watched and tended,
But one dead lamb is there.”

It has been remarked, that as there are more blossoms upon trees in spring-time than ripe fruits in autumn, so there are more infants than adults that fall away from the circles of earthly affection. Like those flowers which grow on frail, slender vines—disclose their beauties for one hour in the morning, and then fold them to their hearts from the gaze of earth for ever—so our first-born pass swiftly and beautifully away,

“In their spirits young prime,

E’er earth has profaned what was born for the skies.”

Righteous Anger! Exodus 11:8. High and gusty passions, says Beecher, are sometimes like fierce storms that cleanse the air, and give the earth refreshment by strong winds and down-pelting rains, provided always that such are justified by the occasions of them. The wrath of Moses was that righteous indignation which noble Christian souls are—under certain contingencies—justified in displaying towards wicked and perverse oppressors. This anger of Israel’s leader was the reflection of Jehovah’s majestic brow—the wrath of truth and love. It was not a current flowing through oozing marshes, gathering foulness from its foul and stagnant waters; but it was a divine stream—

“It did through wild and rock-bound valleys run,
Like glittering dewdrops in the morning sun.”

Sin-Sirens! Exodus 11:9. In an Exhibition of Art Treasures held in Manchester some years ago, there was a picture by Haydon, entitled, “The Song of the Syrens.” It represented a ship in full sail passing by an island on whose beach were some beautiful women, slightly clothed, singing (as the spectator might imagine), most melodiously to attract the attention of the men on board the vessel. Lashed to the mast, and making eager and almost frantic gestures, was a man dressed in military armour; but the sailors—utterly heedless—seemed as though they cared for nothing but to get past the island as quickly as possible,—all the more as the beach was strewn with dead men’s bones. That group of women was Circe and her siren-nymphs! That warrior was Ulysses, the hero of Troy, returning from its capture! He had resolved to prevent his destruction and that of his crew as they sailed past the island by filling their ears with wax, and then ordering them to bind him so firmly to the mast that it would be impossible for him to set himself at liberty. Thus deaf to all his cries—as well as to the song of the sirens—the sailors passed safely out of sight and hearing of their tempters. Pharaoh listened to the Siren’s song, and when Moses and Aaron tried to dissuade him, he refused to heed their prudent counsel, and chose to listen to the tempter’s song—

“False as the smooth, deceitful sea,
And empty as the whistling wind.”

Heart-Wickedness! Exodus 11:10. However wild the wind and wave, there is stillness far beneath. The waters may surge as mountains to the skies—and sink as valleys in the seas; but away down below the troubled surface of the waters a dead calm prevails, where hideous blind monsters swim, and where loathsome repulsive reptiles crawl. The surface of Pharaoh’s heart was tossed and disquieted, for the wicked are like the troubled sea; but the depths are still—the drear, dread calm of the death of sin reigns—a haunt for the ravenous and ugly monsters of sin. His heart was hardened—

“And, like the billows of the stormy deep,
Onwards he rushed, with desolating sweep,
Until ONE ROOK opposed his crested pride.”

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Exodus 11". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/exodus-11.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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