The Word Made Fresh
1The LORD told Moses, “I will bring one more affliction on Pharaoh and Egypt, and then he will allow you to leave. In fact, he will force you to get out altogether. 2Tell your people that every man and woman is to ask his or her neighbor for anything made of silver or gold.” 3The LORD had made the Egyptians admire the Hebrews. In fact, Moses himself was held in high esteem in Egypt among Pharaoh’s administrators and among the Egyptian people.
4Moses told Pharaoh, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘About midnight I will go throughout the land of Egypt. 5Every firstborn child is going to die – the firstborn of Pharaoh who rules the land to the firstborn of the female slave who toils behind the mill. Even the firstborn of all the cattle will die. 6Then there will be a terrible wailing in Egypt, louder than ever before and louder than ever again. 7But not even a dog will snarl at the Israelites, neither the people nor the animals, and there will be no doubt but that the LORD has separated Egypt and Israel. 8All of your officials and administrators will come to me and bow before me, and beg me to leave, me and all my people. And then I will walk out.’” With that Moses angrily walked out on Pharaoh.
9The LORD said, “Moses, Pharaoh will not believe you. That is how my mighty deeds will seem even greater in Egypt.” 10Moses and Aaron had summoned all these tragedies upon Pharaoh, but the LORD had made Pharaoh stubborn and intractable so that he would refuse to let the people leave his land.
1-3: The LORD tells Moses that one more plague, the tenth, is yet to come. Though the nature of the plague is not specified here, it will result in Pharaoh relenting and allowing, or we should say, forcing the people to go. The Israelites are to ask their Egyptian neighbors for silver and gold. This bold move is made possible by a changing attitude toward the Israelites on the part of the Egyptians. Moses is held in high regard, perhaps because of his persistence and obvious spiritual integrity. The people, too, are now held in favor, perhaps because God has clearly spared them most of the plagues the Egyptians have suffered; or perhaps because the Egyptians are beginning to see how badly the Israelites have been mistreated.
4-8: God’s instructions to Moses are omitted; we go directly to Moses telling Pharaoh that his first-born son is going to die, along with the first-born of every house in Egypt, from the highest officials to the slaves. The Israelites will be spared, he says – notice that on this occasion he uses the term “Israelites” for his people instead of the term “Hebrews” which is probably an Egyptian racial slur. It seems to me that this simple act of defiance signals the end of his forbearance with everything Egyptian. Moses, who was raised in the Egyptian royal family, is now himself completely an Israelite. He leaves Pharaoh in “hot anger.” This is only the second time the word “anger” has occurred in Exodus. The first was at 4:14 when “the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses.” Now the anger of Moses is kindled against Pharaoh.
9-10: The LORD tells Moses not to expect Pharaoh to relent. God has “hardened Pharaoh’s heart” in order that his “wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.” Often in the Bible we are told that God “hardens the heart” of some enemy of the faith. It is a curious thing that God should do this, but God sometimes uses opposition as a catalyst to further his will. Woe to those whom God chooses to use as the catalyst.
It seems cruel that all the first-born sons of the Egyptians should die. After all, many of the Egyptians have sympathized with the Israelites. It is a crisis of conscience for us who read the story nearly three thousand years after it occurred. But let us remember that many years after the exodus from Egypt, on the anniversary of the first Passover, God’s first-born Son will be crucified. The death of Egypt’s first-born sons freed the Israelites from their bondage to Egypt. The death of God’s son frees us from our bondage to sin.