Exodus 11:4–5 (HCSB)
4 So Moses said, “This is what Yahweh says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt, 5 and every firstborn male in the land of Egypt will die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the servant girl who is behind the millstones, as well as every firstborn of the livestock.
The tenth, and final, plague is the ultimate in severity: death of every firstborn son in Egypt, including those of livestock. Exodus 11:4-5 suggests the fulfillment of Exodus 4:22-23, where God prophesied this punishment because of Pharaoh’s refusal to let Israel, God’s firstborn, worship Him. It is also similar in severity to the decree issued by Pharaoh back in Exodus 1:16, where any Israelite male that was born was to be killed.
The chapter starts off with God stating that this is the last plague. We have reached the crescendo, God’s power and glory culminating in this last event. The plagues leading up to this all had avoidable impact, or eventually “wore off”, but the tenth plague is final, there is no coming back from death. And God makes a point to clarify that all firstborn males will be the victims in Exodus 11:5, from Pharaoh’s to the lowest servant’s child. In contrast, while Egypt will be crying, there will be no sound from the Israelites, no sign of danger, “not even a dog will snarl.” God again is making a clear distinction between His chosen people and those who stand against Him. It is another sign, an extremely clear and devastating sign, that God is in control, and has power over Pharaoh and the Egyptian gods.
This plague was apparently announced in conjunction with the aftermath of the ninth plague, because chapter 10 ended with Pharaoh and Moses agreeing to end negotiations. And the NIV translates Exodus 11:1 as “Now the Lord had said to Moses…” accordingly. And it is interesting that despite nine plagues having been prophesied, and all nine coming to pass just as described, and the clear demonstration that God was behind them all and in control, even to the point of Pharaoh’s officials and magicians pleading with Pharaoh to capitulate, Pharaoh’s heart remains hardened. And it is difficult to wrap our heads around, because again in the tenth plague scripture says “the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” I’ve stated before that I believe this refers not to God forcing Pharaoh to not turn to Him, as if had God not intervened Pharaoh would have changed and sought God. I believe it is more in the sense that due to God’s actions, His manipulation of the circumstances, and His confronting Pharaoh’s self-centered and prideful faith, that Pharaoh’s heart is hardened. But, I do concede that had God actively forced Pharaoh to continue to rebel, even if he would have followed on his own, that God had a divine plan that exceeded this point in time and would only be fulfilled by the events that transpired. It is a difficult question, for sure, but either way I think it is clear that God acts in a way that His glory is first, which benefits all of mankind, through all ages.
Lord, thank You for being in control. I am so glad that it is You that can make these hard and difficult decisions, but You always know what is best for You, and therefore, for us. I pray for the peace of mind and spirit to trust You, even when death surrounds us, that You are still working all things for our good, and Your glory. Amen.