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Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 08/25/1996
11:1 Now the Lord said to Moses, "One more plague I will bring on Pharaoh and on Egypt; after that he will let you go from here. When he lets you go, he will surely drive you out completely. 2 Speak now in the hearing of the people that each man ask from his neighbor and each woman from her neighbor for articles of silver and articles of gold." 3 And the Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. furthermore, the man Moses was greatly esteemed in the land of Egypt, both in the sight of Pharaoh's servants and in the sight of the people. 4 And Moses said, "Thus says the Lord, 'about midnight I am going out into the midst of Egypt, 5 and all the firstborn of Egypt will die, from the firstborn of the Pharaoh who sits on the throne even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the millstones; all the firstborn of the cattle as well. 6 Moreover, there shall be a great cry in all the land of Egypt, such as there has not been before and such as shall never be again. 7 But against any of the sons of Israel a dog shall not even bark, whether against man or beast, that you may understand that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.' 8 And all these your servants will come down to me and bow themselves before me, saying, 'Go 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, so that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt." 10 And Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh; yet the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he did not let the sons of Israel go out of the land.
Chapter 11 is in one sense a chapter in which nothing happens--except that Pharaoh is warned about what is going to happen. Why does God have Moses bother, since he has already revealed that it is too late for repentance on Pharaoh's part? He does it so that all will understand the significance of what is about to happen when it has happened. So that we will too, let's look at the elements of that warning in some detail, verse by verse.
The first few verses of chp. 11 can be confusing. Didn't Moses just say at the end of chp. 10 that Pharaoh would never see his face again? So how does Pharaoh find out about the last plague? And what's Moses doing talking to him here in vs. 4? The answer is to see verse 1-3 as a parenthesis. In 1-:29 Moses is pretty much fed up with Pharaoh and says in effect, "Im outa here!" But before he actually leaves, God reminds him that there is one more thing he has to say. In verse 4, then the same final conversation that is already going on continues. The rhetorical impact of 10:29 becomes, "You're never going to see me again, so listen good! I'm only going to say this once. This is your last chance."
When the Death Angel gets through with Pharaoh, he will not only let the children of Israel go, he will "drive [them] out completely." What might seem like overkill is actually a good example of God's wisdom. He is not going to do a half-baked job of liberating the people; he's going to do it completely. God knows what the people cannot yet know: that they are going to find the wilderness tougher in many ways than slavery was, and that they are going to be tempted to go back. So to have had them leave any earlier than this would have been premature. God has fixed it so that not only is there no question about whether they are leaving, but also so that the way back is in effect shut--the last thing any Egyptian is going to want to see after this is an Israelite! It will take the destruction of Pharaoh's army at the Red Sea to cement that feeling. We not only see God's wisdom here, but we begin to realize once we understand the situation how empty all the talk about going back is going to be during the wilderness wanderings. It is quite unrealistic: it is not a plan that could ever have actually been implemented, but just empty talk. This makes the "murmuring" all the more blameworthy, all the more insulting both to God and to Moses, and so it will enhance our appreciation for their impressive forbearance when we get there.
Some have seen a contradiction between 11:2 and 12:36, where the Israelite acquisition of all this gold and jewelry is referred to as "plundering" the Egyptians. How do we reconcile that word with the "favor" described here? Well, this verse describes the means--"favor"--by which the result--"plunder" was effected. the later passage uses a military metaphor to emphasize God's victory over Pharaoh. Plundering is what a victorious army in the ancient world did to celebrate a victory. The use of the military metaphor to emphasize God's triumph there does not necessarily contradict the friendlier language of this passage. To see it as doing so is to miss the metaphor and, by doing so, to miss the point--to take 12:36 literalistically. Again we see God's wise foresight and provision. The "plunder" was in effect reparation for all the years of servitude, and it also will later enable the people to build the Tabernacle. And it comes at exactly the right time--the "favor" the Israelites experienced would probably not have been met with after the visit of the Death Angel!
It is perhaps a little surprising that Moses, who had apparently done them so much harm, was "greatly esteemed" by the Egyptians. Apparently his character as well as his power were such that, when they contrasted him with Pharaoh, they could not help but respect and admire him. This makes it all the more remarkable when we read in Num. 12: 3 that "the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth." It is a great paradox that public adulation makes it very hard to be humble, but true humility makes it easier for people to admire you. Only by the grace of God could a person in Moses' position maintain that kind of humility. And this may be the secret to the operation of a biblical principle that we see exemplified here and enunciated in 1 Sam. 2:30: "He who honors me, I will honor." How this works out in life experience is complicated by another biblical principle: Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake (Mat. 5:10); all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12). These two principles are not in conflict. They are simply an accurate description of the complex reality that is life, of the fact that our non-Christian neighbors are going to be conflicted about us if we are truly Christlike, seeing things in us they admire and respect but also things that make them very uncomfortable and bring their own lifestyle into condemnation. Moses and Jesus both show this in their lives. Moses received great respect, but he also experienced rejection by the very people he had worked to save. And Jesus grew in favor with God and men (Lk. 2:52) and had times of great popularity, but also was despised and rejected of men. The way this all works out in any individual's life will vary greatly. But along with the promise of persecution, there is also a promise that there may sometimes be foretastes, downpayments as it were, even in this life, of those words of approbation that we all live to hear on the Last Day: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."
I find it interesting that the Angel of Death came at midnight. Midnight is the hour of transition from deepening night to approaching day, and therefore an appropriate hour both for those being delivered and those being judged. It is often when things are at their darkest that deliverance comes. And it is often when people are sleeping peacefully without a care in the world that judgment comes. It is still true: the Day of the Lord will overtake non-Believers (but not Christians!) like a thief in the night.
The specific target of this last and climactic plague is the Firstborn of Egypt. We should pause for a moment to consider the appropriateness of this. the firstborn was a very important person, the one who would receive the inheritance and, more than any other, carry on the family name and its honor. Israel has already been identified as God's firstborn back in 4:22. Israel in other words was the nation that would receive the inheritance--the Covenant, the Land, the Kingdom, the Messiah. Therefore this is a most elegantly designed Exchange: "If you won't give me my firstborn, I will take yours!" Firstborn for firstborn. And still God's firstborn--those who are now his people and destined to receive the inheritance of the Kingdom--are redeemed by the death of a Firstborn, "the firstborn among many brethren" (Rom. 8:29). Incidentally, even the cattle will be subject to the plague--an appropriate response to Pharaoh's attempt to hang on to Israel's cattle back in 10:24.
The great "cry" that will go up at the lost of the firstborn is part of a progression of texts that begins back in 2:23, when the cry of Israel in bondage ascends to the Lord. Then in 5:15, when Pharaoh enforced the same quota of bricks but required the Israelites to find their own straw, the foremen of Israel cry unto Pharaoh. If you don't listen to those who cry, if you not only do not respond but even give them occasion to cry, then you are going to cry yourself.
The "distinction" made by God between Israelite and Egyptian foreshadows a distinction to be made between Sheep and Goats (Mat. 25:31-40). In both cases the distinction is based on Election (the call of Abraham and of Believers in Christ), on Redemption or Atonement (the Passover lamb and the Lamb of God) and on Faith shown in action (the sprinkling of the doorposts and baptism into Christ).
Moses leaves in "hot anger." Here as throughout the story Moses functions as a Type to Pharaoh of God--of his patience in the forbearance and offer of repentance after each plague, of his mercy in the removal of plague after plague, and now of his wrath in the final decisive judgment.
These things really happened, but they happened as examples to us. They teach us what God did and also what God does. They show us that the opportunity to leave the Egypt of slavery to sin, to leave it under the protection of the Blood, is also made available to us. All of us were born into that Egypt, but none of us has to be like Pharaoh. Let us not harden out hearts but respond in faith in the true Passover Lamb who was foreshadowed here, so that God's judgment may pass over us, his grace may liberate us, and his faithfulness may take us to the Land. Amen.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams