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Deeper Commentary


Exo 11:1 Yahweh said to Moses, Yet one plague more will I bring on Pharaoh, and on Egypt; afterwards he will let you go. When he lets you go, he will surely thrust you out altogether-

We can read this and :4 as that God "had said"... and Moses said these things to Pharaoh. This would explain the apparent contradiction with Moses having said in Ex. 10 that Pharaoh would not see his face again.

"Altogether" can mean 'all of you'. Previously Pharaoh had argued about whether men, women or children could leave. But they were all to be thrust out. And yet there is evidence that many of them remained or did not keep the Passover. Just as God's efforts to bring men out of the world are resisted by man's love of his miserable world. "When Israel conducted their census of the Levites and the firstborn from the rest of the tribes (Numbers 3:39, 46), the number of firstborn males is recorded as just over twenty thousand. Using the traditional interpretation of 600,000 adult males implies that firstborns made up only 1 out of every 30 men. If that were the case, the average Israelite family would have about 60 children, boys and girls combined". Israel were typically disobedient to God [think of how they tried to gather manna when told not to], so it is unlikely they were all obedient to the Passover regulations. Ex. 13:18 "the children of Israel went up armed out of the land of Egypt" can be translated "went up as a fifth", as if only a fifth of Israel left Egypt. The rest remained from fear of the unknown, from connection with the Egypt which they hated. In the wilderness, the people often suggest that Israel never actually wanted to leave Egypt anyway and that is why they wanted to return.

The number of firstborn males after Israel left Egypt was remarkably small (around 20,000, Num. 3:43). Women in most primitive societies have an average of 7 births. This would mean that given a total population of around 2,800,000 on leaving Egypt (Ex. 12:37), there should have been around 400,000 firstborn males. But instead, there is only a fraction of this number. Why? Did Israel eat the Passover? 

My suggestion- and this is well in the category of things you will never know for sure and can only ponder- is that many Hebrew firstborns died on Passover night. Israel were warned that if they did not properly keep the Passover, “the Destroyer” Angel would kill their firstborn (Ex. 12:23). “The Destroyer” is mentioned in 1 Cor. 10:10: “Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the Destroyer” (olothreutes; this is a proper noun in the Greek). Who was the Destroyer? If Scripture interprets Scripture, it was the ‘Destroyer’ Angel of Passover night. In similar vein Heb. 11:28 speaks of “He (the Angel) that destroyed (Gk. olothreuo) the firstborn”. 

Israel were side-tracked from what should have been the central object of their attention: the blood of the lamb. They were disobedient from the day God knew them, i.e. Passover night (Dt. 9:24). Very soon afterwards, the people reminded Moses of this incident: “Would to God we (maybe this is the emphasis) had (also) died by the hand of the Lord (a phrase often associated with Angel’s work at passover: Josh. 4;24; Is. 11:11; 19:16; Dan. 9:15; Heb. 8:9) in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pot (Young’s Literal) and when we did eat bread” (Ex. 16:3). They weren’t just saying they wished they had died in Egypt; they wished they had died by the hand of the Lord. Sitting by the flesh pot and eating bread is perhaps a reference to eating Passover that night, when in (perhaps) 90% of Hebrew families the firstborn had slumped down in death. They wished they too had died that Passover night. They felt Moses was going to kill them as, by implication, they blamed him for killing the firstborn. 


God's purpose will be achieved. His desire was that Pharaoh should let Israel go. He refused, but in the end, he and his people begged them to leave and hasted them to get out, loading them with their wealth, desperate that they should leave immediately. The lesson is that we will as it were be forced to be obedient to God's will; but we will not be saved unless we willingly do this.

Exo 11:2 Speak now 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-
The same phrase "of silver, and vessels of gold, and vessels of brass" is used of the vessels taken from the Gentile world and dedicated to the tabernacle (Ex. 11:2; 12:35; Josh. 6:19; 2 Sam. 8:10; 1 Kings 7:51). The generosity of others in Biblical history, their right perspective on the wealth taken from this world, was to inspire other believers in later history. And this is how the body of Christ should function today, with members inspiring others to spirituality. This request for high value material goods was playing on the basic human tendency to think that we can buy salvation. And in times of desperation, that sense is all the stronger. And God played on that aspect of human nature. But the whole idea was that they gave what they took from Egypt / the world to the work of the tabernacle. And that is the principle for us.

Egyptians are defined as Israel's neighbours from whom they were to ask gold etc. (Ex. 11:2), so we can assume the neighbours with whom Passover was to be shared included Egyptians (Ex. 12:3). The first passover was open to Egyptians and there were no commands about being clean or ritually pure in order to eat it. It could be argued that taking the lamb on the 10th day of the month and keeping it carefully until the 14th was itself a witness to Egypt, and an invitation to them to join in. Lambs were seen as deities in Egypt; they had to accept that salvation involved the slaying of their gods and a total resignation from their religious system. 

Exo 11:3 Yahweh gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians-
Again we see God's power through His Spirit to give attitudes to people, to work directly upon the human heart.

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-
Note that God’s comment on Moses was: “the man Moses was very great” (Ex. 11:3). Yet it is also written that “the man Moses was very meek” (Num. 12:3). Putting the two passages together we have the clear lesson that he who humbles himself is made great; and in this, Moses was not only a type of Christ but also a pattern for all who would go through the pattern which the Lord Jesus set before us: of humbling ourselves now that we might be made great in due time. Moses our example is really a challenge in this.

Exo 11:4 Moses said, This is what Yahweh says: ‘About midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt-
It is stressed that Israel were taken out from the "midst of Egypt" (Dt. 4:34; 1 Kings 8:51). The plagues and wonders were done in "the midst of Egypt" (Ex. 3:20; Dt. 11:3). The midst of Egypt appears to be defined in Ps. 135:9; Is. 19:3; Ez. 29:3 as being Pharaoh and his servants. The narrative therefore stresses so much his response to the plagues. God's especial focus had been upon his conversion, and yet he refused. Israel were taken out right from under his nose, from the very heart of Egypt. Ez. 20:8 reveals what is not recorded in the historical record; that because the Israelites were so devoted to Egyptian idolatry still, His thought had been to destroy them "in the midst of the land of Egypt" (Ez. 20:8 "Then said I unto them, Cast ye away every man the abominations of his eyes, and defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. But they rebelled against me, and would not hearken unto me: they did not every man cast away the abominations of their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt: then I said, I will pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt. But I wrought for my name's sake"). His Name is all about saving by grace. He went out to slay them, but saved them, working for His Name's sake, struggling within Himself, as He said in Hosea "My repentings are kindled together". God's pole of grace overcame the pole of necessary judgment. He tolerated them and saved them, with enthusiasm, by the grace which comes from love- love taken to its ultimate, saving term. The whole narrative speaks as if the Hebrews were all at one place at one time and left "the midst of Egypt" together. Although unrecorded in the historical narrative, this would have meant that they gathered together "in the midst of Egypt" with Moses, who was not in Goshen but in the locality and presence of Pharaoh.   

Exo 11:5 and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the female servant who is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of livestock-

"That sits upon his throne" is superfluous or out of place unless it means to tell us that the Pharaohs placed their firstborn upon their thrown as co regents. Which implies what Egyptologists tell us, that the firstborn son became Pharaoh. Which means Pharaoh himself was a firstborn and indeed firstborn of the gods was a title of Pharaoh. His life was preserved by grace. God really wanted to save him. Just as the Lord gave the sop, the favoured piece, to Judas as a desperate attempt to win him by His grace at the last moment. And the Father and Son likewise seek that their goodness and grace lead us to a repentance that is not repented of. The comment that Pharaoh's servants would bow down to Moses after the death of the firstborn could be read as intimating that Pharaoh their Lord was to be slain. We marvel at how this gem about Pharaoh being a firstborn is hidden, to be discovered by those who reflect on a few inspired words. The connection between the firstborn and taking the throne is made clear in 2 Chron. 21:3, which implies Jehoram automatically became king because he was the firstborn: "the kingdom gave he to Jehoram; because he was the firstborn". Likewise Ps. 89:27 implies that to be made firstborn means to be made king: "Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth".   

Women grinding at the mill therefore refer to the lowest class in society (Is. 47:2; Jud. 14:21; Lam. 5:13). Yet from amongst them will some be snatched away to meet their Lord at His return, just as those with the leisure to be lounging in bed will be called away (Lk. 17:34,35). Animals were worshipped in Egypt as representatives of the various gods, especially the firstborn of animals; and we recall therefore that the plagues were judgments against the gods of Egypt. The firstborn of domestic animals were often worshipped. Just as the firstborn whether of man or woman was the family priest. Again we see the dismantling of Egypt's religion. The vacuum was intended to be filled by a turning to Yahweh.

How did the firstborn feel? They would have left the house and looked at the blood and remembered the slain lamb they had eaten. It would have felt incredible that just because of faith in that, they were saved. We are the church of firstborns (Heb. 12:23 Gk.), just as all Israel were God's firstborn. Israel is My firstborn, God had told Pharaoh. We have the same feeling at the breaking of bread. What we ate and associated with has saved us. And therefore the firstborns were to be dedicated to Yahweh's service as we are. We are His. And they would have reflected on all the firstborns who did die, and God's grace to them through having obedient family. Perhaps only the great cry of the Egyptians and seeeing the carcases of firstborn animals everywhere would have made them appreciate what had happened. 

The Passover deliverance was to be the beginning of months for Israel (Ex. 12:2); time and history, and our sense of where we are in time and history, were to be constantly governed by this experience of great salvation. Yet people tend to live without this sense of their place in history, never learning from history and never seeing the long term horizon, just living life as it is experienced right in front of their eyes and ears. Hence the Hebrew months are called just the second month, the third month etc. The names of the Hebrew months were picked up only in Babylonian exile. And this is how radically our great salvation should affect our lives. It could be argued that Israel's entire wilderness experience was lived in the shadow of the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. They were in an envelope of Divine protection and their sense of day and night was governed by these things, rather than their sight of the sun or moon. Likewise the arrival of the quail and manna gave them their sense of "morning" and of the sixth day, when double manna was given, and the Sabbath when there was no manna. They lived without any way of telling the time as we do. We likewise are to live in a total environment of awareness of God's salvation, that I have been redeemed and am on my path to the Kingdom. And yet even whilst living in this total environment of salvation, Israel rebelled and wanted to return to Egypt. 

Exo 11:6 There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has not been, nor shall be any more-
This "great cry" is described with the same phrase used in Gen. 27:34, when Esau cries with a great cry- realizing that he had been rejected from God's purpose and that could not now be put right. Whilst the great cry was indeed because of their loss, the connection with Esau is to make the point that despite all God's efforts, they had turned down His invitation to have a part in His purpose- and realized that all too late. 

Exo 11:7 But against any of the children of Israel a dog won’t even bark or move its tongue, against man or animal; that you may know that Yahweh makes a distinction between the Egyptians and Israel-
The way conditions are not stated within the actual prophecy is similar to how blanket statements are made in Scripture, and yet there are exceptions to them. “But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue” (Ex. 11:7) was in fact conditional on Israel remaining indoors. But that condition isn’t then stated. Even the old covenant, which was in a sense “eternal”, was made with Israel “upon all these conditions” (Ex. 24:8 RVmg.). It was eternal, potentially, because it had conditions. But the conditionality of it isn’t always brought to the fore when, e.g., we read of the Sabbath as being an eternal ordinance. 

The 'setting apart' of Israel from Egypt is a major theme (Ex. 8:22; 9:4; 11:7 "put a difference"). It was part of a 'sanctifying' of Israel for priestly service to Yahweh as a nation, as well as a lesson for Egypt that the only way to salvation was through separation from their own people and culture, and joining the people of God. We marvel at the multi functional way in which God works. The same word is used to describe how God "has set apart him that is Godly for Himself" (Ps. 4:3); even though Israel were far from being Godly. And it is used of God's special grace, 'set apart', a grace known by no other people (Ps. 17:7). The word is used in this sense in Ex. 33:16, where Moses reasons that it is God's grace and the visible presence of that grace which is what sets apart Israel from all other peoples. And that is true to this day. God's grace is what is the lead and distinguishing characteristic of His way from all other religions. It is the experience of that grace which makes us distinct from all others who have not claimed it for themselves. And it all began with God 'setting apart' a sinful, idolatrous Israel from the Egyptians around them, all by grace, seeing they were largely no better than Egypt.

This promise was of course conditional- upon obeying the Passover legislation. When the Destroyer angel saw the blood, then it passed over; or, the Passover protective angel hovered over the homes identified with the blood [s.w. Is. 31:5 "As birds flying, so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem; defending also he will deliver it; and passing over he will preserve it"], so that the Destroyer Angel didn't slay anyone there. There is good reason to think that not all Israel kept the Passover. The small number of firstborns recorded in the census after leaving Eypt would rather suggest that. The simple requirement was identification with the blood of the lamb. We do this through taking the wine at the breaking bread, through life lived in identity with Him. And our sins are thereby passed over. Possibly Rom. 3:24,25 alludes to this: "Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past [passed over]".

Exo 11:8 All these your servants shall come down to me, and bow down themselves to me, saying, Get out, with all the people who follow you; and after that I will go out’-
GNB tries to make better sense here: "Moses concluded by saying, "All your officials will come to me and bow down before me, and they will beg me to take all my people and go away. After that, I will leave." Then in great anger Moses left the king".

Bowing down to Moses rather than Pharaoh suggests that the servants of Pharaoh would now become servants of Moses. They would change master. Just as developed by Paul in Romans 6, that the crossing of the Red Sea was Israel changing masters. From Pharaoh to God. But not "all" Pharaoh's servants did this; probably many of them were themselves firstborns and were slain. Just as not "all" Israel followed Moses out of Egypt and not all Israelite firstborn were saved. The whole record is one of missed possibilities and unrealized potentials, which is really the story of God's gracious project with man.

To be caught up in the downward spiral [as we all are at times] doesn't mean that there's no way out. The hearts of Pharaoh's servants were hardened (Ex. 10:1 cp. Ex. 9:34), and yet they did in fact soften when they beg Pharaoh to let Israel go (Ex. 10:7; 11:8). Yet each refusal of Pharaoh to soften his heart made it harder for him to soften it the next time the opportunity was presented. Conditional language is always used about Pharaoh-if he were to refuse to release Israel, more plagues would happen (Ex. 8:2; 9:2; 10:4 cp. 8:21; 4:23 RSV). In fact God wanted Pharaoh to come to realize that there is none like Yahweh in all the earth- and that was actually why He did not immediately kill Pharaoh, but rather appealed to him through the plagues. That's how I read the enigmatic Ex. 9:15: "For now I should have put forth my hand, and smitten thee... and thou hadst been cut off from the earth". Fretheim paraphrases this: "If I had not had the intention of your knowing that there is none like me in all the earth... then I should have put forth my hand and cut you off from the earth. This is what you have deserved". The hardening of Pharaoh's heart didn't mean that he was thereby bound to chose wrongly each time. Indeed, the plagues themselves were designed to warn Pharaoh and thereby appeal to him to change, in order to avoid worse plagues.

He went out from Pharaoh in hot anger-
Moses' faith slipped for a moment; because his spirit was provoked by Israel, so that he spoke unadvisedly with his lips and was therefore barred from entering the land (although maybe such an apparently temporary slip was the reflection of deeper problems?). Yet it does seem uncharacteristic, a tragic slip down the graph of ever rising spirituality. There must have almost been tears in Heaven. Being easily provoked was one of Moses' characteristics; consider how he turned himself and stormed out from Pharaoh (Ex. 10:6; 11:8); how his anger waxed hot when he returned from the mount, how he went out from Pharaoh in great anger, how he first of all feared the wrath of Pharaoh and then stopped fearing it; how Moses was "very wroth" at Israel's suggestion that he was appropriating the sacrifices for himself; how he was "angry" with Eleazer (Ex. 32:19; 11:8; Num. 16:15; Lev. 10:16,17). This temperament explains his swings of faith. Was the Lord Jesus likewise afflicted?  Yet despite this characteristic, he was the meekest man on earth. This gives an insight into what it is to be humble. It doesn't mean being passive or passionless.

Exo 11:9 Yahweh said to Moses, Pharaoh won’t listen to you, that My wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt-
God is never ultimately defeated by human intransigence and lack of response to Him. Pharaoh's refusal to listen would result in God's wonders being multiplied, and thereby more glory being given to Him. The multiplication of wonders could be a form of saying [as an intensive plural] that there would be a multiplied wonder, a very great wonder, performed- in the events of the Red Sea.

Again it is stressed that God's glory would be achieved through God not hearkening to Pharaoh. Whereas Moses had earlier reasoned that their salvation was only possible if Pharaoh hearkened to him. Which Moses considered impossible due to his speech impediment. He is reminded of this so many times as we need to be; that God works in a counter instinctive way, through our inadequacy, and destroys and counter points our assumptions that our imagined way is the only way out. And anyone who thinks God treated Pharaoh harshly has just never really thought carefully but rather rushed to a desired conclusion. 

Exo 11:10 Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh, and Yahweh hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he didn’t let the children of Israel go out of his land-
The same Hebrew words used of the hardening of Pharaoh's heart occur in a positive context- for God also hardens or strengthens the hearts of the righteous (Ps. 27:14; Is. 35:4). Indeed, Is. 35:4 speaks of how the righteous shouldn’t have a weak or [Heb.] ‘fluid’ heart, but rather a hardened one. Clearly enough, God solidifies human attitudes, one way or the other, through the work of His Spirit upon our spirit. This is a sobering thought- for He is prepared to confirm a person in their weak thinking. But on the other hand, even the weakest basic intention towards righteousness is solidified by Him too.

God hardened his heart, meaning He had removed sensitivity from his conscience. His heart was turned by God, because that was the direction he himself wanted (Ps. 105:25). Pharaoh's response gets increasingly better, confessing sinfulness, asking for prayer, etc. And yet we have to read this as his conscience being increasingly touched, and yet he refused to act upon it. The movement of conscience within him was overcome by the movement of hardness; and as hardness was his dominant desire, it was that which Yahweh confirmed.

The phrase "let go" is often used of how God let Israel go from Egypt, overruling how the wicked Pharaoh refused to let the people go. The term is used later in the Mosaic legislation; the way Israel had been "let go" from Egypt was to determine how they "let go" others from slavery (Dt. 15:12,13,18); their own experience of redemption was to influence how they released others. Just as ours should. The letting go of the scapegoat into the wilderness was likewise to remind them of how they had been let go from Egypt into the wilderness without being slain for their sins- all by grace (Lev. 14:7,53; 16:10,21,22,26).