At Midnight the LORD Struck Down
all the Firstborn in Egypt

12: 29-36

    DIG: From Pharaoh’s response, how did the tenth plague differ in its impact from all the others? What was the result of all his efforts to resist against God?

    REFLECT: If God kept his promise to Abraham (Genesis 15:14), will He keep His promise to you? Is your heart soft toward, or hardened against God? Have you been resisting His will in your life, or are you fully devoted to Him? What has been the result of your actions?

    This is the last judgment and the last plague to come upon the land of Egypt. God had prepared His people for it. The land of Goshen had escaped the last three plagues but could not escape this one unless there was blood on the doorposts. Any Egyptian could have followed the example of the Israelites by putting blood on his doorpost as a statement of belief in the God of Isra'el, and the destroyer would have spared the firstborn in his house also. It is going to surprise many people someday when they discover that Christ is not going to ask you where you worship. If you have trusted Christ as your Savior, the Holy Spirit has baptized you into His body, and you are His child (John 1:12).217

    At midnight God fulfilled what He had promised (11:5) and He had no respect for social or civil status. Up to now ADONAI had not touched human life, but that night He struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon. Those who try to explain the ten plagues of Egypt as natural phenomenon cannot explain this one away. All the firstborn of Egypt were dead. If both the father and the son were firstborn, then there were two deaths in that house. It is difficult to imagine the impact that those deaths had on the Egyptian culture. Not only the deaths, but also what it implied. The God of heaven's armies was against them all. The plague included the firstborn of all the livestock as well (12:29). From what we know about the significance of the Apis bull and the god Hathor (9:1-7), this would have a major impact on the religious cults of Egypt.

    Because Amenhotep II was not the firstborn of Thutmose III’s five sons, he did not die that night. But his own firstborn son could not escape the plague and was found dead. Therefore, his second son, Thutmose IV, eventually became his successor. After his father, Amenhotep II died, Thutmose IV spent the rest of his life trying to legitimize his position as Pharaoh because he was not the eldest son, nor the natural heir to the throne. He even invented a story called the Dream Stella. He said the Egyptian god Harem-akht appeared to him one night in a dream and promised that if he would uncover the Sphinx that was buried in the sand, he would become Pharaoh. That he did, by uncovering and restoring the Sphinx, and in so doing, he claimed that the gods of Egypt had given him the right to rule. During the remainder of his reign, Israel was in her wilderness wanderings.

    Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead (12:30). The death of Pharaoh’s son was not a silent painless one. It was one that brought about the awakening of Pharaoh and his servants, for all over Egypt the wailing and the tears could be heard. While Amenhotep II may have found escape from the previous plagues, or perhaps even rationalized them, he could not escape this one. Its effects and implications were perfectly clear. That son whom he had cherished, the one born of the gods, now lay in his bed lifeless and limp.218 The final plague was primarily directed against Pharaoh as a god of Egypt and against the royal succession.219 The God of the Israelites was much more powerful than he had ever imagined. In that moment of spiritual clarity, his attitude changed from arrogance to desperation.

    The King of Egypt was humbled. He was forced to summon to the palace the very men he had earlier banished from his sight (10:28). During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron from Goshen and demanded that they leave, saying: Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! For the first time He calls the Hebrews by the name Israelites, acknowledging their status as a people. Go, worship ADONAI as you have requested (12:31). Although he still probably held out hope that they would eventually come back, he said: Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go (12:32a). Until then Pharaoh was reluctant to give in to Moses’ demands but this plague had taken the life of his own son. God did not begin by taking the lives of the firstborn; He began the contest by changing Aaron’s staff into a snake. If Pharaoh had believed God then, the children of Israel could have left the land and he would have spared his own people the ten plagues. The accountability and the consequences lay on his shoulders alone.

    However, there was more humiliation to come. And he also said: bless me, or pray for me (12:32b). Previously, Pharaoh had questioned the existence and power of ADONAI (5:2), but now he asked for His blessing. This was quite amazing, seeing that he thought himself to be a god himself! Was this request honorable? Was it a sign of true remorse? Or was it sarcasm? We don’t know. But the one thing that we do know is that there was no real repentance on his part. He wanted the blessing without the accountability, the shame, or the consequences. He simply wanted the plagues to be gone. We know this is the case because once the immediate shock following the final plague was over, the Egyptian king went after the Israelites in order to destroy them.220

    The fear and frustration of the common people were clearly evident. Min and Isis, the god and goddess of reproduction, were nowhere to be found. ADONAI had brought judgment on their gods (Numbers 33:5). As a result, the Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. They lamented: For otherwise we will die (12:33). This verse literally reads: the Egyptians pressed hard and made strongly upon the people. There is a touch of irony here. The verb is the same one that was used of God hardening, or making heavy, Pharaoh’s heart (7:13 and 22, 8:15). So, before the Egyptian hearts were hardened and would not let the Israelites go (9:34), but now they were equally hardened to make them leave! The Egyptians didn’t know where the judgment of ADONAI would end. He had taken their firstborn. What would He do next? They were afraid that they would all die.

    Before leaving Egypt, the Israelites performed two other tasks. First, the people took their dough before the yeast was added, and carried it on their shoulders in kneading troughs wrapped in clothing (12:34). They left in great haste. It is to remember this event that the unleavened bread has become a part of the Passover ceremony ever since. Deuteronomy 16:3 says in regard to the instructions for the Passover: Do not eat it with bread made with yeast, but for seven days eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you left Egypt in haste – so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt.

    Secondly, the Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold like jewelry, ornaments and the like, and for clothing (12:35). The silver and gold was used later for the golden calf (32:2-4) and the Tabernacle (35:22-24). ADONAI had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for, so they plundered the Egyptians (12:36). This is in fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham (Genesis 15:14). The Israelites marched out of Egypt through the front door, with dignity, not like dogs crawling out through the back fence, but like God’s people. This was another humiliation for Egypt.221

    It is important to realize that the Passover was a historical event, that it was set and fixed in time and space. It was not merely an idea or a belief that found its reality in future celebrations, but it really did happen. The same can be said for the significance of the Seder, or Passover meal, today. That celebration truly represents the historical occurrence of the death and resurrection of Christ. The apostle Paul underscores the gravity and weight of the historicity of those events when he said: But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith (First Corinthians 15:12-14). The very essence of Biblical faith is the fact that the Bible records actual historical events.222

 

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