Moses Warns the Egyptians
1The Lord said to Moses:
I am going to punish the king of Egypt and his people one more time. Then the king will gladly let you leave his land. In fact, he will even chase you out. 2Now go and tell my people to ask their Egyptian neighbors for gold and silver jewelry.
3So the Lord made the Egyptians greatly respect the Israelites, and everyone, including the king's officials, considered Moses an important leader.
4Moses went to the king and said:
I have come to let you know what the Lord is going to do. About midnight he will go through the land of Egypt, 5and wherever he goes, the first-born son in every family will die. Your own son will die, and so will the son of the lowest slave woman. Even the first-born males of your cattle will die. 6Everywhere in Egypt there will be loud crying. Nothing like this has ever happened before or will ever happen again.
7But there won't be any need for the Israelites to cry. Things will be so quiet that not even a dog will be heard barking. Then you Egyptians will know that the Lord is good to the Israelites, even while he punishes you. 8Your leaders will come and bow down, begging me to take my people and leave your country. Then we will leave.
Moses was very angry; he turned and left the king.
9What the Lord had earlier said to Moses came true. He had said, “The king of Egypt won't listen. Then I will perform even more miracles.” 10So the king of Egypt saw Moses and Aaron work miracles, but the Lord made him stubbornly refuse to let the Israelites leave his country.
Pharaoh refused to release Israel, God’s firstborn son, and now God will take his firstborn son (Exodus 4:22-23). This tenth plague will not be reversed by Pharaoh’s insincere confession of sin – there is a price to pay. It dealt a final blow to the Egyptian false gods and undermined Osiris, the Egyptian giver of life. The stroke on the firstborn meant the entire community was being judged from the lowest to the highest. The death of Pharaoh’s firstborn wiped out the future divine king over the land.
To respond to this passage superficially and pump a fist with glee over God’s great judgment or to conclude that we should not believe in a God who is this destructive, is to gloss over the point here. God has made himself known through these mighty miracles to the Egyptians and to future generations. More than 400 years later, the Philistines remembered the Lord God of Israel as the one who plagued the Egyptians (1Samuel 4:8). This incident was sung repeatedly in the Psalms (Psalm 78:51;105:36; 135:8; 136:10) as a reminder of Yahweh’s power. This story is regularly heard on the lips of Jewish people worldwide to mark God’s faithfulness to his covenant. We are reminded through the death of the firstborn that sin cannot be forgiven without payment; God requires a life for a life.
God’s justice and mercy are inextricably linked. There were those with the Hebrews who listened to God and took hold of his escape plan in the next chapter. Israel would be spared and the Egyptians were not beyond recovery. The Lord chose Israel to teach all nations about him (Isaiah 43:10-12). He did this to show his love and faithfulness (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). This stroke is a picture for us of the seriousness of sin and the need for obedience. It is both graphic but comforting for us today.
Everlasting Father, you are faithful, holy and just. Your mercy and love endure forever. Thank you for sending your one and only son to pay the price for our sin. Help us to tell this story to others who need your hope. In the name of our Savior Jesus, Amen.