29 At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. 30 And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians. And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead. 31 Then he summoned Moses and Aaron by night and said, “Up, go out from among my people, both you and the people of Israel; and go, serve the Lord, as you have said. 32 Take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone, and bless me also!” – Exodus 12:29-32 ESV
God had warned His chosen people about the tenth and final plague that would befall the land of Egypt and, this time, Goshen would not be spared the devastating consequences of His judgment. When the death angel passed through the land, he would enact God’s divine order to take the lives of all the firstborn within the land, including those of the livestock.
“I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord.” – Exodus 12:12 ESV
This plague would indiscriminate in its effect. There would be no protective barrier placed over the land of Goshen, where the Israelites lived. Their flocks and herds would not be set apart and spared from the death angel’s dark designs. Death was coming to all the firstborns in the land of Egypt, including those of the Israelites – unless they believed God’s warning, obeyed His command, and fulfilled every part of His plan for their salvation.
“Go, pick out a lamb or young goat for each of your families, and slaughter the Passover animal. Drain the blood into a basin. Then take a bundle of hyssop branches and dip it into the blood. Brush the hyssop across the top and sides of the doorframes of your houses. And no one may go out through the door until morning. For the Lord will pass through the land to strike down the Egyptians. But when he sees the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe, the Lord will pass over your home. He will not permit his death angel to enter your house and strike you down.” – Exodus 12:21-24 NLT
These instructions make it quite clear that obedience must accompany belief. To accept the reality of the coming judgment but to do nothing to prepare for it would result in certain death. Any Israelite who refused to follow God’s detailed plan of salvation would expose all the firstborns in his home to the judgment of God. Their Hebrew heritage would not save them. Being a Jew would not immunize them from God’s wrath. The death angel would visit any and all homes where the sign of the blood was missing. Living in Goshen would not be enough. Being a descendant of Abraham would not provide built-in protection. And refusing to sacrifice their unblemished lamb and sprinkle its blood on the doorpost and lintel of their home would leave any Israelite exposed to the wrath of their own righteous and just God.
And that very evening, at the stroke of midnight, the death angel passed through the land and meted out the justice of God.
…that night at midnight, the Lord struck down all the firstborn sons in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sat on his throne, to the firstborn son of the prisoner in the dungeon. Even the firstborn of their livestock were killed. – Exodus 12:29 NLT
Moses reveals that “There was not a single house where someone had not died” (Exodus 12:30 NLT). This plague was widespread and left no home unaffected by its gruesome consequences. It all happened just as God had predicted to Moses.
“All the firstborn sons will die in every family in Egypt, from the oldest son of Pharaoh, who sits on his throne, to the oldest son of his lowliest servant girl who grinds the flour. Even the firstborn of all the livestock will die.” – Exodus 11:5 NLT
As the Egyptians slept soundly in their beds, their firstborn sons took their last breaths and died. Sometime during the early hours of the morning, the grim reality of what had just happened became apparent. An audible sound of mourning emanated from all over the land of Egypt, including from the halls of the royal palace, where Pharaoh had awoken to find the lifeless body of his own firstborn son, the rightful heir to his kingly dynasty.
This latest plague accomplished its objective. Pharoah, distraught with grief, ordered Moses and Aaron to the royal palace, where he issued the following long-delayed order:
“Get out!” he ordered. “Leave my people—and take the rest of the Israelites with you! Go and worship the Lord as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds, as you said, and be gone. Go, but bless me as you leave.” – Exodus 12:31-32 NLT
Long before Moses left Midian for Egypt, God had told him exactly what was going to happen. The Lord had given him a preview of coming attractions, including the death of Pharaoh’s own son.
“When you arrive back in Egypt, go to Pharaoh and perform all the miracles I have empowered you to do. But I will harden his heart so he will refuse to let the people go. Then you will tell him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son. I commanded you, “Let my son go, so he can worship me.” But since you have refused, I will now kill your firstborn son!’” – Exodus 4:21-23 NLT
Now, God had Pharaoh’s full and undivided attention. The lifeless body of the heir to his throne was lying in his royal bed chamber. The most powerful man in all of Egypt had suffered a devastating and irreversible blow, and he had been powerless to do anything to prevent it.
The stage was set. The time for Israel’s departure had finally come. The ten successive plagues had primed the pump and prepared the hearts of the Egyptians to abide by God’s demand. Even the recalcitrant and headstrong Pharaoh had been broken by this latest outpouring of God’s divine judgment. This time, he demanded that Israelites leave, and as soon as possible. But before they left, he asked Moses and Aaron to pray a blessing over him.
It seems that Pharaoh wanted some kind of reward from the Israelite God for having graciously allowed His people to leave. Pharaoh wanted credit for doing what God had forced him to do. And, as the story unfolds, it will become clear that Pharaoh still expected the Israelites to return from their brief religious pilgrimage into the adjoining wilderness. After all, Moses and Aaron had always stated that their desire was to travel three days journey into the wilderness so that they might worship their God. And, as far as Pharaoh understood, that was still the case. So he boldly requested that they put in a good word for him when they worshiped their God.
But little did Pharaoh know that Moses and Aaron had no intentions of coming back. s
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.