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Monday, July 22nd, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 11

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-3


We have here a parenthetic statement of something that had previously happened. Before Moses was summoned to appear in the presence of Pharaoh as related in Exodus 10:24, it had been expressly revealed to him by God,

1. That one more plague, and one only, was impending;

2. That this infliction would be effectual, and be followed by the departure of the Israelites; and,

3. That instead of reluctantly allowing them to withdraw from his kingdom, the monarch would be eager for their departure and would actually hasten it. He had also been told that the time was now come when the promise made to him in Mount Horeb, that his people should "spoil the Egyptians" (Exodus 3:22), would receive its accomplishment. The Israelites, before departing, were to ask their Egyptian neighbours for any articles of gold and silver that they possessed, and would receive them (Exodus 10:2). The reasons for this extraordinary generosity on the part of the Egyptians are then mentioned, in prolongation of the parenthesis.

1. God "gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians"; and

2. The circumstances of the time had exalted Moses, and made him be looked upon as "very great" (Exodus 10:3), so that there was a general inclination to carry out his wishes.

Exodus 11:1

And the Lord spake unto Moses. Rather, "Now the Lord had said unto Moses." The Hebrew has no form for the pluperfect tease, and is consequently obliged to make up for the grammatical deficiency by using the simple preterite in a pluperfect sense. We cannot definitely fix the time when Moses had received this revelation; but the expression, one plague more, shows that it was after the commencement of the "plague of darkness." When he shall let you go, he shall surely thrust you out altogether. The Hebrew win not bear this rendering. It runs distinctly thus—"When he shall let you go altogether, he will assuredly thrust you out hence." As Canon Cook notes, "the meaning is—when at last he lets you depart, with children, flocks, herds, and all your possessions, he will compel you to depart in haste". It has been well noticed by the same writer that both this announcement, and the previous relentings of Pharaoh, would have caused Moses to have preparations made, and to hold the Israelites in readiness for a start upon their journey almost at any moment. No doubt a most careful and elaborate organization of the people must have been necessary; but there had been abundant time for such arrangements during the twelvemonth that had elapsed since the return of Moses from Midian.

Exodus 11:2

Every man … every woman. In Exodus 3:22 only women had been mentioned. Now the terms of the direction were enlarged. It is worthy of notice that gold and silver ornaments—ear-rings, collars, armlets, bracelets, and anklets, were worn almost as much by the Egyptian men of the Rameside period as by the women. Borrow. On this faulty translation, see the comment on Exodus 3:22. Jewels. Literally, "articles." The word is one of a very wide meaning, and might include drinking-cups and other vessels; but from the statement in Exodus 3:22, that they were to "put them on their sons and on their daughters" it is clear that personal ornaments are especially meant.

Exodus 11:3

And the Lord gave the people favouri.e. When the time came. See below, Exodus 12:36. Moreover the man Moses, etc. It has been supposed that this is an interpolation, and argued that Moses, being so "meek" as he was (Numbers 12:3), would not have spoken of himself in the terms here used. But very great here only means "very influential;" and the fact is stated, not to glorify Moses, but to account for the ornaments being so generally given. Moreover, it is highly improbable that any other writer than himself would have so baldly and bluntly designated Moses as the man Moses. (Compare Deuteronomy 33:1; Deuteronomy 34:5; Joshua 1:1, Joshua 1:13, Joshua 1:15; Joshua 14:6, Joshua 14:7; Joshua 22:2, Joshua 22:4; etc.) The "greatness" which Moses had now attained was due to the powers which he had shown. First of all, he had confounded the magicians (Exodus 8:18, Exodus 8:19); then he had so far impressed the courtiers that a number of them took advantage of one of his warnings and thereby saved their cattle and slaves (Exodus 9:20). Finally, he had forced the entire Court to acknowledge that it lay in his power to destroy or save Egypt (Exodus 10:7). He had after that parleyed with the king very much as an equal (Exodus 10:8-11; Exodus 16:1-36 -18). It is no wonder that the Egyptians, who regarded their king as a "great god," were deeply impressed.


Exodus 11:1-3

Crises bring out men's characters, and cause them to be properly appreciated.

It is evident that, as the crisis approached, Pharaoh sank in the estimation of his subjects, while Moses rose. Pharaoh showed himself changeable, faithless, careless of his subjects' good, rude, violent. He was about to show himself ready to rush from one extreme into the other (Exodus 11:1), and to "thrust out" the people whom he had so long detained. The conduct of Moses had been consistent, dignified, patriotic, bold, and courageous. He had come to be regarded by the Egyptians as "very great," and the conduct of the Israelite people had also obtained approval. Their patience, fortitude, submission to their leaders, and quiet endurance of suffering, had won upon the Egyptians, and caused them to be regarded with favour. So it is generally in crises.

I. CRISES BRING OUT THE CHARACTERS OF THE BAD, INTENSIFYING THEIR DEFECTS, Under the pressure of circumstances obstinacy becomes infatuation, indifference to human suffering develops into active cruelty, self-conceit into overbearing presumption, ill-temper into violence. At the near approach of danger the rash grow reckless, the timid cowardly, the hesitating wholly unstable, the selfish utterly egoist. In quiet times defects escape notice, which become palpable when a man is in difficulties. Many a king has reigned with credit till a crisis came, and then lost all his reputation, because his character could not bear the strain put upon it. Such times are like bursts of hot weather, under which "ill weeds grow apace."

II. THE CHARACTERS OF THE BETTER SORT OF MEN ARE ELEVATED AND IMPROVED UNDER CRISES. All the higher powers of the mind, all the nobler elements of the moral character, are brought into play by crises, and through their exercise strengthened and developed. Promptitude, resolution, boldness, trust in God, come with the call for them; and the discipline of a year under such circumstances does the work of twenty. The Moses of Exodus 10:1-29; Exodus 11:1-10. is a very different man from the Moses of Exodus 3:1-22. He is firm, resolute, self-reliant, may we not add, eloquent? No wonder that he was "very great" in the eyes both of the great officers of Pharaoh's court and of the people. He had withstood and baffled the magicians; he had withstood Pharaoh; he had never blenched nor wavered; he had never lost his temper. With a calm, equable, unfailing persistence, he had gone on preferring the same demand, threatening punishments if it were not granted, inflicting them, removing them on the slightest show of repentance and relenting. He had thus won the respect both of the Court and of the common people, as much as Pharaoh had lost it, and was now generally looked up to and regarded with feelings of admiration and approval. So the true character of the Christian minister is often brought out, tested, and recognised in times of severe trial and calamity, in a siege, a famine, a pestilence, a strike; and a respect is won, which twenty years of ordinary quiet work would not have elicited. Let ministers see to it, that they make the most of such occasions, not for their own honour, but for God's.


Exodus 11:1-4

The beginning of the end.

I. THE STROKE STILL IN RESERVE (Exodus 11:1). God would bring on Pharaoh "one plague more." This would be effectual. It would lead him to let the people go from Egypt. So eager would he be for their departure, that he would even thrust them out in haste. The nature of this final stroke is described in Exodus 11:4-7. It would be the death in one night of the first-born of man and beast throughout all the land of Egypt. This stroke might have been delivered earlier, but,

1. It might not at an earlier stage have had the same effect.

2. There was mercy to Pharaoh in giving him the opportunity of yielding under less severe inflictions before visiting him with this last and decisive one.

3. The previous plagues gave Pharaoh, moreover, an opportunity of doing freely what he now was driven to do under irresistible compulsion.

4. The final stroke was delayed that by the succession of plagues which were brought on Egypt, the deliverance might be rendered more imposing, and made more memorable. The object was not simply to get Israel out of Egypt in the easiest way possible, but to bring them forth in the way most glorifying to God's justice, holiness, and power. This has been already shown (Exodus 6:1-30.; Exodus 7:3, Exodus 7:5; Exodus 9:15, Exodus 9:16; Exodus 10:1, Exodus 10:2).


1. The request. The Israelites were to borrow, or ask, from the Egyptians "jewels of silver, and jewels of gold;" "raiment" also, and whatever else they required (Exodus 3:22; Exodus 12:35, Exodus 12:36).

(1) The people were entitled to these gifts in repayment for past unrequited services; as compensation for losses and sufferings during the century of slavery. The principle of "compensation" is a prominent one in modern legislation. Governments have been mindful, in decreeing slave-emancipation, of compensation to the owners; God bethought himself of compensation to the slaves. Which is the more reasonable?

(2) God authorised the people to demand these gifts. A demand, coming under the circumstances from Jehovah, was equivalent to a command. And after what had happened, it was impossible for any reasonable mind to doubt that the demand had come from God. This was sanction sufficient. The Lord gives, and the Lord is entitled to take away (Job 1:21). "The Lord hath need of it" is sufficient reason for giving up anything (Luke 19:34).

2. The response. The plague would be influential in leading the Egyptians to give of their wealth to the Israelites (cf. Exodus 12:36). God would so incline their hearts. This willingness to part with their valuables arose not so much

(1) From gratitude for past benefits, as

(2) From a desire to stand well with a people who were so eminently favoured of God, and

(3) From fear of God, and a desire to get rid of this people, who had proved so terrible a snare to them, as quickly and as peaceably as possible.

Suggestions of the passage:

(1) The hearts of men are in God's hands (Proverbs 21:1). He rules in hearts as well as in the midst of worlds. Without interfering with freedom, or employing other than natural motives, he can secretly incline the heart in the direction he desires.

(2) The time will come when the world will be glad to stand well with the Church.

(3) There is much in the world that the Church may legitimately covet to possess. The "world" is a much abused term. "As the Church in its collective capacity is the region of holiness, so the world is that of sin. But it must be carefully observed, that the view is taken of it in its totality, not of each of the parts. As a whole, moral corruption was (in New Testament times) so interwoven with its entire civilisation that it imparted to it the general aspect of evil. As the teaching of the New Testament by no means asserts that all the various elements which meet in the kingdom of God are good, so it is equally far from intending to affirm that every portion of human civilisation, as it then existed, was the contrary. Many things were only rendered evil by their connection with the prevailing moral corruption." (Rev. C. A. Row.)

4. The Church will ultimately be enriched with the spoils of the world (Revelation 21:24-26).

5. Whatever service God requires of his people, he will see that they are suitably equipped for it, and that their needs are, in his providence, abundantly supplied (Philippians 4:18).

6. The people of God will not ultimately suffer loss from adherence to him.

7. God can make even the enemy a means of benefit to his cause.

III. THE GREATNESS OF MOSES. "Moreover, the man Moses was very great," etc. (Exodus 11:3). The promise was thus fulfilled. "See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh ' (Exodus 7:1). This greatness of Moses was,

1. Got without his seeking for it. Like Jesus, he came not doing his own will, but the will of him that sent him (John 5:38).

2. Got without his expecting it. Moses looked for anything but honour in the service to which he had been called. Remember his deep despondency at the entrance on his task, and for long after (Exodus 3:11; Exodus 4:10-13; Exodus 5:22, Exodus 5:23; Exodus 6:12, Exodus 6:30).

3. Got in doing God's work.

4. Got by God's power resting on him (cf. Deuteronomy 34:10-12). The service of God is the path of true greatness, and leads to undying honour (Romans 2:7, Romans 2:10).—J.O.


How God justifies the trust of all who hope in his mercy.


1. The preceding plagues had terrified for a moment; this will crush resistance. The stroke long delayed was now at length to fall. The last awful pause had come, during which Egypt waited in dread, and Israel in hope mingled with awe.

2. The like moment will come in God's contest with sin. There will be a last awful pause, and then the trump of God shall sound.

3. The last hour of this earthly life of ours will also come, and the soul be freed from the grasp of sorrow, and pass up through the pearly gates into the father's home.

II. ITS COMPLETENESS. "He shall surely thrust you out hence altogether." Every bond will be broken.

1. The churches of God shall no more feel the world's afflicting hand.

2. Sin shall have no more dominion over God's redeemed. God's deliverance comes slowly, but when it does come it is full and lasting.

III. IT WILL BE ATTENDED WITH GREAT ENRICHMENT. It will not be an escape with mere life. To their own shall be added the wealth of their foes.

1. The riches of the nations will yet be the possession of the people of God.

2. This will be only the type of the true riches with which the redeemed shall be endowed.

IV. AND WITH GREAT HONOUR. The despised bondsmen were girt with reverence and awe, such as had never encircled the throne of the Pharaohs. The true kings of the earth for whose manifestation the world waits are the sons of God. They will be, too, the princes of heaven, co-heirs with Christ, sharers of the throne of the Son of God.—U.

Verses 4-8


The writer returns here to his account of the last interview between Moses and Pharaoh, repeating the introductory words of Exodus 10:29—"and Moses said." Having accepted his dismissal, and declared that he would not see the face of Pharaoh any more (ibid.), Moses, before quitting the presence, proceeded to announce the last plague, prefacing the announcement, as usual (Exodus 7:17; Exodus 8:2; Exodus 9:1, Exodus 9:13; Exodus 10:3), with the solemn declaration, which showed that he acted in the matter merely as God's instrument—" Thus saith Jehovah." He makes the announcement with the utmost plainness, noting the exact Lime of the visitation (Exodus 10:4)—its extent (Exodus 10:5)—the terrible "cry" that would follow (Exodus 10:6) the complete exemption of the Israelites (Exodus 10:7)—the message which Pharaoh would send him by his servants, to depart at once—and his own intention of acting on it (Exodus 10:8). Then, without waiting for a reply, in hot anger at the prolonged obstinacy of the monarch, he went out.

Exodus 11:4

About midnight.—Compare Exodus 12:29. It would add to the horror of the infliction that it should come in the depth of the night. Probably the night intended was not the next night, but one left purposely indefinite, that terror and suspense might work upon the mind of Pharaoh. Shall I go out. The word "I" is repressed in the original, and is emphatic. This crowning plague Jehovah inflicts by no instrumentality, but takes wholly upon himself. (See Exodus 12:12, Exodus 12:13, Exodus 12:23, Exodus 12:27, Exodus 12:29.)

Exodus 11:5

All the first-born. The law of primogeniture prevailed in Egypt, as among most of the nations of antiquity. The monarchy (under the New Empire, at any rate) was hereditary, and the eldest son was known as erpa suten sa, or "hereditary Crown Prince." Estates descended to the eldest son, and in many cases high dignities also. No severer blow could have been sent on the nation, if it were not to be annihilated, than the less in each house of the hope of the family—the parents' stay, the other children's guardian and protector. Who sitteth. "Sitteth" refers to "Pharaoh," not to "first-born." The meaning is, "from the first-born of the king who occupies the throne to the first-born of the humblest slave or servant. This last is represented by the handmaid who is behind the mill; since grinding at a mill was regarded as one of the severest and most irksome forms of labour. The work was commonly assigned to captives (Isaiah 47:1, Isaiah 47:2; Judges 16:21). It was done by either one or two persons sitting, and consisted in rotating rapidly the upper millstone upon the lower by means of a handle. All the first-born of beasts. Not the first-born of cattle only, but of all beasts. The Egyptians had pet animals in most houses, dogs, apes, monkeys, perhaps cats and ichneumons. Most temples had sacred animals, and in most districts of Egypt, some beasts were regarded as sacred, and might not be killed, their death being viewed as a calamity. The loss of so many animals would consequently be felt by the Egyptians as a sensible aggravation of the infliction. It would wound them both in their domestic and in their religious sensibilities.

Exodus 11:6

There shall be a great cry. The violence of Oriental emotions, and the freedom with which they are vented are well known. Herodotus relates that the Egyptians stript themselves and beat their breasts at funerals (2:85) No doubt they also uttered shrill lamentations, as did the Greeks (Lucian, De Luetu, § 12) and the Persians (Herod. Exodus 9:24). With bitter mourning in every house, the "cry" might well be one, such as there had been none like before, neither would there be any like again.

Exodus 11:7

Shall not a dog move his tongue. So far from a sudden destruction coming upon them, there shall not so much as a dog bark at them- They shall incur no hurt—no danger. (Compare Joshua 10:21.) That ye may know how that the Lord doth put a differencei.e; "that both ye courtiers and all Egypt may know how great a difference God puts between us—his peculiar people-and you wretched idolaters."

Exodus 11:8

All these thy servantsi.e; all these courtiers here present. Shall come. Literally, "shall descend." Kalisch observes that by the Hebrew idiom "going from a nobler place to one of less distinction is called descending". And bow down. Make obeisance to me, as if I were a king. The last of the plagues would cause the courtiers to look on Moses as the real king of the land, and pay him royal honours. All the people that follow thee. Literally, as in the margin, "that is at thy feet;" i.e; that follows and obeys thee." The Egyptians looked on Moses as king, or at any rate prince of his nation. In a great anger. Literally, "in heat of anger." The abrupt dismissal (Exodus 10:28), the threat against his life (ibid.) and the announcement that no more interviews would be granted him moved the indignation of Moses, who was not conscious to himself of having done anything to deserve such treatment. He had answered the king calmly and temperately (Exodus 10:29; Exodus 11:4-8); but knew what his feelings had been, and here records them.


Exodus 11:5-7

The issues of life and death are in the hand of God.

For the most part there is, or there seems to be, one event to the righteous and to the wicked (Ecclesiastes 9:2). Death happens alike to all, and does not appear to choose his victims on any principle of sparing good and punishing ill desert. War, famine, pestilence, sweep away equally the good and the bad. This is the general law of God's providence; but he makes occasional exceptions. The issues of life and death are really his. Not a sparrow falls to the ground without our Father. If he see fit, he can "put a difference" between his own people and others. He can strike with death whomsoever he pleases; he can spare those whom he chooses to spare. We see him here:—

I. MAKING DEATH AN INSTRUMENT OF VENGEANCE, NOT ON THOSE WHO DIE, BUT ON THOSE WHO SURVIVE. Pharaoh is punished, and the Egyptians generally are punished, by the sudden death of the first-born. They had deserved this retribution by their cruelty to the Hebrews, and especially by the drowning of the Hebrew male children (Exodus 1:22). It afflicted all, however, alike, whether they had taken part in the above-mentioned cruelties or not. This was because it was a national chastisement; and the case had been the same with almost all the other plagues.

II. STRIKING TERROR INTO A WHOLE COMMUNITY BY VISITING WITH DEATH A CERTAIN NUMBER. Death is the main fear of worldly men. Anything else may be endured, made up for, made the best of. But for death there is no help, no remedy. The awful phantom is, as far as possible, kept out of sight, unthought of, unprepared for, thrust into the background. Men live as if they had a freehold of life, not a leasehold. When the gaunt spectre draws near; when, in the shape of cholera or fever, he makes his entrance upon the scene and challenges attention, the result is, for the most part, a panic. So it was in Egypt. The Egyptians wrote much of death, reminded each other of death (Herod. 2:78), prepared tombs for themselves with great care speculated largely upon the condition of souls in another world; but it would seem that they shrank, as much as ordinary men, from near contact with the grisly phantom. It was now about to be suddenly brought home to them how thin a barrier separates between the two worlds. In the presence of death they would wake up to the realities of life. They would be conquered, submissive, ready to do whatever was God's will. Some such results are traceable whenever and wherever imminent death threatens a large number, and are to be watched for by the minister, who will find his opportunity at such seasons, and should take advantage of it.

III. SHOWING HIS FAVOUR TO HIS OWN PEOPLE BY EXEMPTING THEM WHOLLY FROM THE VISITATION. Against the Israelites not even a dog would move his tongue (Exodus 11:7). With mortality all around them, with a corpse in each Egyptian house, with animals lying dead on all sides, in the open country as well as in the towns and houses, they would be completely free from the visitation; a special providence would save and protect them. Such an exemption was, of course, miraculous, and is well nigh unparalleled. But still there have been cases where God's people have suffered marvellously little in a time of pestilence, when it has seemed to strike almost none but reckless and vicious lives, when an arm has appeared to be extended over the righteous. At such times what praise and gratitude are not due to God for "putting a difference between the Egyptians and Israel!" He spares when we deserve punishment, and in his wrath thinks upon mercy. He gives a token of his approval to men of regular lives and temperate habits, by "passing them over" when he walks through the land dealing out destruction.

Exodus 11:8

Righteous anger.

It seems to be supposed by some that the true Christian ought never to be angry. St. Paul certainly says in one place, "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour be put away from you" (Ephesians 4:31); and in another, "Put ye off all these, anger, wrath, malice" (Colossians 3:8). But he guards himself from being misunderstood by giving a command in one of these very chapters (Ephesians 4:26), "Be ye angry, and sin not." He was himself angry when he said to the High Priest, "God shall smite thee, thou whited wall" (Acts 23:3), and to the jailer at Philippi, "They have beaten us openly, uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? Nay, verily: but let them come themselves and fetch us out" (Acts 16:37). There is such a thing as "righteous anger;" and it was righteous anger which Moses felt at this time. He was indignant—

I. BECAUSE GOD WAS SPURNED AND HIS COMMANDMENTS MADE OF NO ACCOUNT. Pharaoh, after temporising, and professing contrition, and suggesting a variety of compromises, had declared himself finally against God—cast his words behind his back—and resolved on following out his own will, and defying the Almighty. Bold, unblushing wickedness may well make the minister of God angry. It is an insult to God's majesty. It is a contradiction of man's moral nature, it is an open enlisting in the service of Satan.

II. BECAUSE HIS COUNTRYMEN WERE WRONGED, BY BEING DISAPPOINTED OF THEIR JUST HOPES. Pharaoh's professions, his promises, his attempts at compromise had given the Israelites a right to expect that he would yield in the end. His sudden stiffness was an injury to them, with which Moses did well to sympathise. How should he not be indignant, when the just rights of his nation were wholly ignored, their patience despised, and their legitimate expectations baulked? His anger, so far as it arose out of sympathy for them, was justified—

(a) by the bitterness of their feelings;

(b) by the heartiness in which he had thrown himself into their cause;

(c) by the apparent hopelessness of their case, if the king now drew back.

III. BECAUSE HE HAD BEEN HIMSELF INSULTED AND ILL-USED. The anger which springs from a sense of wrong done to oneself is less noble than that which arises from a sense of wrong done to our fellows, and still less noble than that which has its origin in zeal for the honour of God; but still it is not illegitimate. Wrong done to oneself is nevertheless wrong, and, as wrong, properly stirs up anger within us. Moses had been ill-used by Pharaoh from first to last, derided (Exodus 5:4), trifled with (Exodus 8:26-32; Exodus 10:16-20), driven from his presence (Exodus 10:11); and now at last had been deprived of his right to make personal representations to the monarch, and even threatened with death (Exodus 10:28). And why? What evil had he done? He had simply delivered God's messages to Pharaoh, and inflicted the plagues at God's command. Of his own mere notion he had done nothing but shorten the duration of the plagues by entreating God from time to time at Pharaoh's request. Even, therefore, if his "heat of anger" had been caused solely by the wrong done to himself, it would have been justified.


Exodus 11:4-10

A finale.

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 (verses 4-9). Verses 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 (Exodus 10:9). 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" (Exodus 10:6). 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, Exodus 4:23. "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, Judges 1:7); 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 (Romans 5:7). 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" (Romans 5:8).

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".

III. A SUMMING UP (verses 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.


Exodus 11:4 Exodus 11:10; Exodus 12:29-36

The tenth plague and its decisive result-the destruction of the first-born.

In Exodus 10:29, Moses says to Pharaoh, "I will see thy face again no more," while in Exodus 11:4-8, he is represented as making to Pharaoh an announcement of the last plague. Perhaps the best way of clearing this apparent contradiction is to suppose that in the narrative as it originally stood there was really no break between Exodus 10:29 and Exodus 11:4, and that the three intervening verses were afterwards introduced in some way which we cannot now explain. So taking the narrative, all is made straightforward and additionally impressive. Moses followed up his intimation that Pharaoh should see his face no more, with a statement which plainly showed the reason why. No more would he come into Pharaoh's presence uninvited by Pharaoh, simply because there would no more be need to do so. Jehovah was about to deal the last blow without any human instrumentality whatever.


1. There was the hour chosen—midnight. It was not like the rest of the plagues, which extended over a more or less period of time; but, being a momentary blow, the most impressive moment could be chosen for striking it. This was midnight, the time of security, repose, and deep silence. Each family was gathered together under its own roof; not separated, as might have been the case during the day, each one at his appointed work. There was no bustle of business, as there might have been at noon, to help in drowning and qualifying the horror of the transaction.

2. There was an element of peculiar force in the very class of persons who were smitten. Not only had Jehovah advanced to take away the lives of human beings, but he had directed his destructions, with evident and unerring purpose, upon one particular class. The destruction was not as a mere decimation, the taking of one out of so many, it mattered not who, so long as one was taken. In every household it was the first-born who lay dead. No regard was shown to personal character or special circumstances. All the first-born were stricken, the virtuous as well as the vicious; the amiable, promising youth from whom much was expected, and the scapegrace who was bringing a father's grey hairs with sorrow to the grave; the young man who might be the only son of his mother and she a widow, alike with him who was the first-born among many brethren. The first-born is the centre of so many hopes and calculations, that when he is stricken there may be the instantaneous reaction of an irretrievable despair. Zechariah speaks very emphatically of those who are in bitterness for their first-born (Zechariah 12:10). In many cases the firstborn would also be the just-born.

3. There was an element that helped to bring decision in the very greatness of the cry that was elicited. How far the announcement made to Pharaoh had travelled we know not; but it must have gone far enough to produce a consentaneous cry of recognition when the blow was struck. Pharaoh would know, and also his courtiers, and many at different points through the city, even before they came out of their houses, that it was by no ordinary death the first-born had died. Each one, thus already informed, would suspect the whole terrible truth with respect to all the first-born of the land. In this way certainty would come that the prediction was fulfilled, even before information on the point was actually obtained. Bad news travels quickly, and all the quicker when special facilities have been prepared by Jehovah himself, as they evidently were in this instance. Remember, also, the demonstrative, vociferous mode of expressing sorrow in bereavement which prevails among Eastern nations. There was hardly an hour of the day or night but from some home in Egypt there went up the wail of the bereaved; but here was a simultaneous wail from every home, and that not over the aged or the sick whose death was expected, but over those the great majority of whom would be young, strong, and vivacious. Thus the very emotions which produced this extraordinary cry, the cry itself served in turn to intensify, and thus to exalt into complete mastery. What wonder, then, that from the king downward the people were swept away by their emotions, and, without thought of past gains or future losses, hurried Israel out of their land in the precipitate way here recorded! Avarice, pride, worldly consequence—all the motives which hold dominion in selfish human breasts—lost their seats for the moment. It was only for a moment, but that moment was time long enough effectually to serve the purposes of God.

4. There was the fact that with all these elements of force and terror in the tenth plague itself, there had been nine such serious visitations before it. It was like the last blow of the battering-ram, which, though it may have in itself more force than preceding blows, yet gains not the least part of its efficiency from the shaking which these preceding blows have produced. It is by no means certain that if this destruction of the first-born had come at first it.would have had the same effect.

II. Notice, as illustrated by this announcement to Pharaoh, sow DIFFERENTLY THE SAME FACTS ARE STATED TO DIFFERENT PEOPLE. Pharaoh is plainly told, that amid all this great smiting of Egypt's first-born, Israel will continue perfectly secure. The impression we get is, that not only will there be freedom for Israel from the specific effects of this plague, but even an unusual exemption from ordinary mischances. Not a dog is to move his tongue against any living creature in Israel. The protection would be complete; the favour and discrimination of Jehovah most manifest. But whence all this came, and in what it consisted, Pharaoh cannot be informed. The difference between Israel and Egypt will be plain enough; but the virtue of the slain lamb and the sprinkled blood are hidden from his eyes—all this could not be explained to him. If it could have been explained to him, it would never have needed to be explained. In other words, Pharaoh would never have come into such an extremity as that where the death of the first-born landed him. Thus we are helped to see the reason why to some there come revelations producing security and gladness of heart, and to others nothing but tidings of disaster and disappointment. Every great fact of God's dealings has a bright side and a dark side; and if we will not live so that the bright side may be revealed to us, then inevitably we must come face to face with the dark one. Moses told Pharaoh that the death of the first-born was coming, but he only turned away more scornful, stubborn, and infatuated than ever; he told the children of Israel to make the Paschal preparations, and, minute and exact as these preparations were, they at once went away and made them. God might have told Pharaoh all about how Israel was protected, but what would have been the use? If we would discover why great Divine revelations are hidden from us, we must look in our own hearts. A man can never know the comforts and beauties that belong to the temperate zone as long as he stubbornly abides in the frigid one.


1. It produced immediate action on the part of Pharaoh, and, what is very noticeable, on the part of the people also. Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron by night. He had sent them away with a menace of death, if they ventured again into his presence; but only a few short hours pass and he has to beg them to hurry and save him. We should never threaten and bluster, for we know not how soon we may have to swallow our words again. He did not wait till morning, even till the early morning. Every moment would bring to him news from a widening circle, and quicken him into the promptest action possible. And yet, immediate as this action appears, we know that it had been led up to very gradually. Jehovah had been for a long time undermining the strength of Pharaoh; and if it now collapsed in a moment instead of crumbling away, it-was because the massive fabric had lost, bit by bit, the foundation on which it had been raised. And in the same way we may be sure that everything in the world which is unjust, ungodly, and tyrannical, is being undermined. There is no proud and stubborn soul but God is working upon it by something substantially the same as the nine plagues; and the tenth plague will come in due time to produce its immediate and decisive effect.

2. The action took the shape of complete and eager liberation. Egypt was filled with panic and terror to the exclusion of every other motive. The full significance of Pharaoh's words in verses 31, 32, can only be seen by comparing them, first, with his contemptuous treatment of Moses in the beginning (Exodus 5:2); and next, with his procrastinating, half-giving, half-grasping attitude during the course of the plagues (Exodus 8:10, Exodus 8:25; Exodus 10:8-11, Exodus 10:24). Pharaoh began as one whose foot was on the rock—he was sure he could not be shaken; then he was made to feel himself as more and more in a state of unstable equilibrium; and now at last he is utterly prostrate at Moses' feet. He who said he would grant nothing, now grants everything. He who, in response to the first request of Moses, added to the severities of the bondage already existing, now, when all requests have ceased, not only undoes the fetters, but hurries the captives out of his realm, as if each of them was a mass of fatal infection.—Y.

Verses 9-10


Before proceeding to relate the last and greatest of the plagues, the author allows himself a momentary pause while he casts his eye back on the whole series of miracles hitherto wrought in Egypt, on the circumstances under which they had been wrought, their failure to move the stubborn will of Pharaoh, and the cause of that failure, the hardening of his heart, which hardening the author once more ascribes to Jehovah. With this summary he terminates the second great division of his work, that which began with Exodus 2:1-25; and which traces the history of Moses from his birth to the close of his direct dealings with Pharaoh.

Exodus 11:9

And the Lord said. Rather, "had said." God had forewarned Moses that Pharaoh's heart would be hardened (Exodus 4:21; Exodus 7:3), and that, in spite of all the miracles which he was empowered to perform before him, he would not let the people go (Exodus 3:19; Exodus 4:21). It was not until God took Pharaoh's punishment altogether into his own hands, and himself came down and smote all the first-born, that the king's obstinacy was overcome, and he proceeded to "thrust the people out." That my wonders may be multiplied. Compare Exodus 3:20; Exodus 7:3. If Pharaoh had yielded at the first, or even after two or three miracles, God's greatness and power would not have been shown forth very remarkably. Neither the Egyptians nor the neighbouring nations would have been much impressed. The circumstances would soon have been forgotten. As it was, the hardness of Pharaoh's heart, while it delayed the departure of the Israelites for a year, and so added to their sufferings, was of advantage to them in various ways:—

1. It gave them time to organise them elves, and make all necessary preparations for a sudden departure.

2. It deeply impressed the Egyptians, and led them to abstain from all interference with the Israelites for above three centuries.

3. It impressed the neighbouring nations also to.some extent, and either prevented them from offering opposition to the Israelites, or made them contend with less heart, and so with less success against them.

Exodus 11:10

Moses and Aaron did all these plagues before Pharaoh. Aaron's agency is not always mentioned, and seems to have been less marked in the later than in the earlier miracles, Moses gradually gaining self-reliance. In passing from the subject of the plagues wrought by the two brothers, it may be useful to give a synopsis of them, distinguishing those which came without warning from those which were announced beforehand, and noting, where possible, their actual worker, their duration, their physical source, and the hurt which they did.


Announced or Not.

Actual Worker.


Physical Source.

Hurt which they did.

1. River turned into blood



7 days


annoyance to man and beast.

2. Frogs





annoyance to man

3. Mosquitoes




[dust of the earth]

annoyance to man and beast

4. Beetles




air (?)

annoyance and loss to man

5. Murrain






6. Boils




[ashes of the furnace]

suffering to man and beast

7. Hail





loss to man

8. Locusts




east wind


9. Darkness



3 days

air (?)

annoyance and horror to man


Man's ill-doing but causes God's wonders to be multiplied

(Exodus 11:9). God's wonders are either such as occur in the general course of his providence, or such as are abnormal and extraordinary. It is these last of which Moses especially speaks to us in the Book of Exodus. But the same law which applies to the abnormal wonders, applies also to those which are constant and ordinary. Men's perverseness leads to their multiplication.

I. PARDON OF SIN IS MULTIPLIED THROUGH HUMAN TRANSGRESSION. Nothing is a greater marvel than God's pardon of sin. How "the High and Holy One who inhabiteth eternity"—he who "is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity"—can pardon sin, is one of those mysteries which must ever remain—in this life, at any rate—unfathomable. Man pardons his fellow-sinner without much difficulty, because he is his fellow-sinner—because he feels that he is himself so much in need of forgiveness. But for a perfect Being to pardon what is utterly alien to his own nature, what he must despise and abhor, what in his eyes is vile, base, mean, wicked, despicable, detestable—is a truth which faith may accept, but which reason is quite incompetent to understand. Yet God does pardon. St. Paul must have been pardoned his persecution of the saints, before he was called to be "a chosen vessel." God bids us ask for pardon, and he would not bid us ask for that which he could not or would not give. And the marvel of pardon is being daily augmented, heaped up, multiplied, by the ever-increasing sum of human transgression.

II. GOD THE SPIRIT'S CONDESCENSION GROWS AND INCREASES THROUGH THE SAME. God the Father declared once upon a time, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man" (Genesis 6:3). Yet near five thousand years have elapsed, and his Spirit strives still. Man turns away from his Spirit, "grieves" him, vexes him, is deaf to his pleadings, sets at nought his counsel, wills none of his reproof (Proverbs 1:25)—yet he does not withdraw himself. He "gives us the comfort of his help again"—he "will not leave us, nor forsake us." We may, no doubt, if we persist in evil courses, and set to work determinedly to drive him from us, in course of time cause him to withdraw, alienate him wholly, "quench" him. But, short of such alienation, our sins do but cause him to multiply the wonders of his love and his long-suffering, to be ever more gracious and more merciful, to plead with us more persuasively, more constantly, and save us, as it were, in spite of ourselves.

III. CHRIST'S PROTECTION OF HIS CHURCH IS SHOWN MORE AND MORE MARVELOUSLY AS ITS ASSAILANTS INCREASE IN POWER AND BOLDNESS. In prosperous times God seems to do little for his Church; but let danger come, let men rise up against it, let Gebal and Ammon and Amalek be confederate together, and raise the cry, "Down with it, down with it, even to the ground," and the wonders which he proceeds to work on its behalf are simply astounding. Arius would corrupt its doctrine with the Court at his back, and Arius is smitten in the dead of the night by a death as silent, sudden, and inscrutable as that which came in the time of Moses on all the first-born of the Egyptians. Julian would crush it by depriving its ministers of support and its members of education, and Julian is cut off in the flower of his age by the javelin of an unknown enemy. Atheism, Agnosticism, Rationalism, Materialism, and often immorality league themselves against it at the present day, and lo! from without evidences are made to rise up out of crumbling heaps of rubbish in Assyria, Babylonia, and Egypt; while from within is developed a new life, a new zeal, a new vigour and activity, which give sure promise of triumph over the coalition. Man's opposition to God provokes God to arise and show forth his might, to confound and scatter his foes. So men may be led at last to know that he, whose name is Jehovah, is truly "the Most High over all the earth" (Psalms 83:18).

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Exodus 11". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/exodus-11.html. 1897.
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