1 The Lord said to Moses, “Yet one plague more I will bring upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt. Afterward he will let you go from here. When he lets you go, he will drive you away completely. 2 Speak now in the hearing of the people, that they ask, every man of his neighbor and every woman of her neighbor, for silver and gold jewelry.” 3 And the Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. 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.
4 So Moses said, “Thus says the Lord: ‘About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, 5 and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle. 6 There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again. 7 But not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.’ 8 And all these your servants shall come down to me and bow down to me, saying, ‘Get out, you and all the people who follow you.’ And after that I will go out.” And he went out from Pharaoh in hot anger. 9 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh will not listen to you, that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.”
10 Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh, and the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land. – Exodus 11:1-10 ESV
The last plague ended on a foreboding note.
Then Pharaoh said to him, “Get away from me; take care never to see my face again, for on the day you see my face you shall die.” Moses said, “As you say! I will not see your face again.” Exodus 10:28-29 ESV
Moses and Pharaoh parted ways on less-than-stellar terms, and the words of Moses carry an ominous tone to them. It is as if he knows that this epic war of the wills is about to come to an abrupt end. There is no reason to believe that Moses knew the exact number of plagues God had planned to send, but he could sense that God’s patience had run out.
All along the way, God had been displaying His power and authority over nature. He had transformed a staff into a snake and turned water into blood. He had somehow managed to produce an overabundance of frogs from the very same blood-infused water that had killed all the fish. Then He had produced an infestation of stinging gnats from the dust of the ground. This was followed by swarms of biting flies that appeared as if out of nowhere. But while those pesky flies made the lives of the Egyptians miserable, they were somehow prevented from entering the land of Goshen, where the Israelites lived. And that same region was protected when God sent death to the livestock of the Egyptians. Not a single sheep, cow, donkey, or camel belonging to the Israelites suffered death. Next God turned ash into a dustlike substance that spread throughout the land of Egypt, inflicting the Egyptians with anthrax-like sores all over their bodies. God followed this devastating disease with a double disaster that left the Egyptian agricultural economy in ruins. A hailstorm of epic proportions was followed by a nationwide locust infestation that stripped the land bare of all vegetation. And finally, there was darkness. In the middle of the day, Ra, the sun god literally disappeared from the sky.
Yahweh had repeatedly demonstrated His sovereignty over creation and His vast superiority over the false gods of Egypt. He had amply proven His status as the one true God. At any point along the way, God could have taken Pharaoh’s life and brought this whole lopsided battle to an end. But He had a very good reason for not doing so.
“By now I could have lifted my hand and struck you and your people with a plague to wipe you off the face of the earth. But I have spared you for a purpose—to show you my power and to spread my fame throughout the earth.” – Exodus 9:15-16 NLT
But with the ninth plague completed, God revealed to Moses what was about to happen. The darkness was about to be broken by the light of God’s sovereign glory.
“I will strike Pharaoh and the land of Egypt with one more blow. After that, Pharaoh will let you leave this country. In fact, he will be so eager to get rid of you that he will force you all to leave.” – Exodus 11:1 NLT
What happened next is an illustration of the apostle John’s words, written centuries later.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. – John 1:15 NLT
In his gospel, John makes the following statement regarding Jesus, the light of the world.
God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. – John 3:19 NLT
The darkness that had permeated the land of Egypt was an apt symbol of their moral state as a people. They were living in the darkness of sin and had a darkened understanding of God’s glory. While they believed in all kinds of gods, they could not comprehend the idea of one God who possessed such devastating and unparalleled power. But now they were going to see God’s glory and greatness on full display.
God had already commanded Moses to inform Pharaoh of the unpleasant nature of the final and pending judgment.
“This is what the Lord says: At midnight tonight I will pass through the heart of Egypt. 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. Then a loud wail will rise throughout the land of Egypt, a wail like no one has heard before or will ever hear again.” – Exodus 11:4-6 NLT
This plague was going to make all the others seem like a walk in the park. And this time, even the house of Pharaoh would go unspared. He too was going to lose a loved one. His eldest son was going to die and there was nothing he could do to prevent it. But in the land of Goshen, it would be another matter.
“…it will be so peaceful that not even a dog will bark. Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between the Egyptians and the Israelites.” – Exodus 11:7 NLT
The Israelites and their flocks and herds would be divinely protected. If they followed the Lord’s instructions, not a single firstborn among them would die. Their obedience to God’s instructions would preserve life. But along with protection from death, God would provide the Israelites with great wealth. Amazingly, despite all the trouble the Egyptians had suffered because of the presence of the Israelites, “the Lord had caused the Egyptians to look favorably on the people of Israel” (Exodus 11:3 NLT). Not only that, but “Moses was considered a very great man in the land of Egypt, respected by Pharaoh’s officials and the Egyptian people alike” (Exodus 11:3 NLT). Moses wasn’t exactly loved by Pharaoh, but the king’s officials and the citizens of his land held Moses in high esteem.
While Pharaoh’s heart had been hardened by all the plagues, the hearts of the people had actually been softened. So much so, that God instructed the Israelites to ask their Egyptian neighbors for gifts of gold and silver. This must have sounded like ill-fated advice to the shell-shocked Israelites. These people had suffered greatly at the hands of the Egyptians and the thought of their overlords providing them with parting gifts must have come across as more than a bit insane.
But God assured them that this final plague was going to be the deal-breaker. When the Egyptians see how God “makes a distinction between the Egyptians and the Israelites” (Exodus 11:7 NLT), they will beg the Israelites to leave and pay them to do so.
Moses delivered this bizarre pronouncement to Pharaoh, then vacated his presence for the last time. He was done asking for Pharaoh’s permission and cooperation. Moses knew that something was about to happen that would break this man’s seemingly unshakeable resolve to oppose the will of God. So, Moses walked out of Pharaoh’s presence and left the king to consider the weight of his words.
“At midnight tonight, I will pass through the heart of Egypt. All the firstborn sons will die in every family in Egypt, from the oldest son of Pharaoh, who sits on his throne…” – Exodus 11:4-5 NLT
The darkness of the ninth plague had dissipated, but a new and even deeper darkness was about to envelop the land as God sent the death angel to exact a costly judgment on the recalcitrant king of Egypt.
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.