Warning: firstborn will die
Plague 10 of 10 is coming1 The LORD told Moses, “This will be the last plague I’ll send to Pharaoh and Egypt. When it’s over, he’ll let you go. In fact, he’ll chase all of you out of Egypt. 2 Tell your people to go to their Egyptian neighbors and ask for expensive objects of silver and gold.” 3 The LORD made sure Egyptians took the Israelites seriously, and were inclined to honor their requests. By this time, Egyptians throughout the land respected Moses. Even Pharaoh’s officials did. 4 Moses told Pharaoh, “The LORD says: I’m coming to Egypt. I’ll arrive about midnight, and I’m going to travel throughout the land. 5 As I pass through Egypt, every mother’s first born will die. Pharaoh’s first child will die. So will the first child of a slave woman grinding grain at the mill. Even the first calves born to cattle will die.
When all of Egypt will cry6 Egyptians will wail like never before or ever again. Their cries will ring out everywhere in the country. 7 Israelites, however, will stay safe. Dogs won’t even bark at them. So, don’t fail to notice that while the LORD punishes you Egyptians, he protects Israelites. 8 When this happens, Egyptian leaders will bow to me. Begging, they’ll say, ‘Please, take your people and leave us.’” Then Moses said, “That’s when we Israelites will leave Egypt.” Moses walked out on Pharaoh, flaming with rage. 9 Then LORD told Moses, “Pharaoh is going to ignore this warning. I’ll see to it because I want to show everyone in Egypt what I can do.” 10 So, these are the miracles Moses and Aaron did for Pharaoh. But the LORD kept Pharaoh stubborn throughout, and the king refused to free the Israelites.
BY ROBERT V. HUBER
God tells Moses that he is about to send out the tenth and final plague, killing the first-born of every Egyptian, including Pharaoh. This plague will be so awful, God predicts, that Pharaoh will not only abandon his stubbornness and let the Israelites go free, but he will actually chase them out of the country. Why do you think this plague was able to do what no other plague did? The other plagues killed people, too.
God instructs Moses to tell his people that just before they leave Egypt they should ask their Egyptian neighbors for gold and silver items. God assures Moses that the Egyptians will be generous. What do you think might motivate the Egyptians’ generosity at this point? Pick one option or come up with one of your own.
- They are afraid of the Israelites and would do whatever they could to have them go.
- They had come to respect the Israelites who had stood so staunchly against Pharaoh.
- They were moved to feel they owed something to the Israelites whom they had abused and exploited for so many years.
- Their favored eldest children were dead. What’s gold and silver to grieving parents?
Having told Pharaoh, in God’s words, of the dreadful final plague, Moses goes on to say “When this happens, Egyptian leaders will bow to me. Begging, they’ll say, ‘Please, take your people and leave us.’” Some scholars say that it is unclear whether Moses is still quoting the LORD here or speaking for himself, for he then goes on to leave Pharaoh’s presence flaming with anger and saying that it is at that point that “we Israelites will leave Egypt.” Think about it. Where do you think Moses might have stopped quoting God and started speaking for himself?
Chapter 11 of Exodus ends by summarizing what has happened in the earlier chapters: “So, these are the miracles Moses and Aaron did for Pharaoh. But the LORD kept Pharaoh stubborn throughout, and the king refused to free the Israelites” (Exodus 11:10) Through much of the course of 11 chapters, Moses and Pharaoh have been at each others’ throats, hoping to talk each other down, but without reaching any final resolve. However, there have been reversals and juxtapositions that show Moses gaining ground and Pharaoh losing ground. As a review of the first 11 chapters of Exodus, take a look at the following list. What do you see as the most pivotal moments in the story?
- Things seem to have come full circle. At the beginning of Exodus Egypt’s new king had ordered the killing of all the male children of the Hebrew slaves to ward off any possibility that they may grow up to join with Egypt’s enemies and go to war against Egypt. Now the God of the Israelites is putting the first-born of every Egyptian to death so that the Egyptians will send the Israelites out of their country.
- When God assigned Moses to go to Pharaoh and demand he set the Israelites free, Moses tried every excuse in the book to get out of his assignment—notably by claiming he was a poor speaker. However, following each confrontation with Pharaoh he seems to gain more confidence and speak out with more assurance.
- As Moses and Pharaoh oppose each other, court magicians are at first able to offer tricks that somewhat simulate tricks performed by Aaron and Moses, but the magicians’ abilities decline quickly until they are unable to act at all, stricken by the plague of boils.
- At first Pharaoh’s advisers seem to go along with everything Pharaoh says, but as time goes on, they begin to suggest that Pharaoh should perhaps give a little. Some of them actually leave the court to protect their slaves and livestock from the plagues, while others keep hanging in, nodding their heads to their ruler. In the end the advisers directly counsel Pharaoh to give in to some of Moses’ demands because of the harm that is coming to Egypt. Despite all the harm he has brought down, they even come to respect Moses while questioning their boss.
- At the end of chapter 2 of Exodus, the Israelites had wept and asked God for help. In chapter 11 the Egyptian parents are weeping and wailing and begging for relief in another incident of coming full circle.
Doesn’t it seem a little nasty of God to display his power by killing so many people, kids included? Even people of faith who respect the Bible wonder about that. What do you think most Christians think about these plagues? Pick one response or write your own.
- Christians don’t think about them at all. Most don’t even know the story.
- Most believe the Bible writers got the history right. So the plagues happened.
- Most would buy into the scholarly idea that these stories were passed along by word of mouth for generations before someone wrote down the best version of the stories available…but probably less than perfectly accurate.
- I’d like to plead the fifth, and move along quickly.