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Death of the Pharaoh Firstborn son - Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1872)

As he had warned he would do, at midnight, God struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, including Pharaoh’s firstborn son and the firstborn of all livestock as well. Pharaoh and his officials rose in the middle of the night to hear great wailing throughout Egypt for there was not a single home without someone dead.

Pharaoh summoned Moses and said,

“Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites, go! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds – and also, bless me.”

The Firstborn Slain - Gustave Dore

The Egyptians urged the Israelites to leave the country as quickly as possible “for otherwise, we will die!” The Israelites took their dough before the yeast was added and carried it on their shoulders in kneading troughs wrapped in clothing.

The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for their silver, gold, and clothing. God made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the Israelites and they gave them what they asked for. In this way, the Israelites plundered the Egyptians.

The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Sukkoth. There were about 600,00 men on foot, not counting the women and children. Many other people went with them.

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They drove scores of livestock, flocks, and herds with them. With the dough the Israelites brought along, they baked loaves of unleavened bread. The dough was without yeast because they had been driven out of Egypt with no time to properly prepare food for themselves.

What the story means to us today

God’s will always eclipses man’s desire

The events described here transpired just as god said they would. Those who followed God would not have been surprised by what happened. Those who did not (e.g. Egyptians) learned a hard lesson about disobeying God.

God clearly stated his demands and compassionately persisted to encourage Egypt’s compliance over and over again. God’s will always eclipses man’s desire. We can choose to follow God’s will and reap the rewards or rebel against him and suffer punishment for disobedience.

Lamentations over the Death of the First-Born of Egypt - Charles Sprague Pearce (1877)

Additional thoughts and considerations

Was the death of Egypt’s firstborn a natural event?

The death of Egypt’s firstborn cannot be explained away as a natural event. Not only does God specifically note that only the firstborn will die but also the precise time they will die – midnight.

The fairness of killing all firstborn

Many translations report the death of Egypt’s firstborn in quite blunt terms. The original Hebrew however, begins with words similar to “and it came to pass”. This phrase imparts the emotion behind the event, a sort of sadness for the deaths that transpire. The death of all firstborn was not an act that was taken lightly by God. It was difficult for everyone but ultimately, Egypt was provided every opportunity to avoid the pain but still chose to disobey God.

Pharaoh asks for a blessing from God

You may have missed Pharaoh’s final request. Four words – “and also bless me”. Pharaoh must figure that after all, he did allow the Israelites to leave Egypt. Maybe that’s why he asked for a blessing. But his request shows that ultimately, Pharaoh recognizes God’s authority and concedes defeat.

The death of the firstborn of Egypt - Pietro Paoletti (1838)

600,000 men plus women and children flee Egypt

The verses tell us 600,000 men, not counting women and children, fled Egypt. This means an astonishing number of people fled the country. It probably represented over 1 million people and maybe even 2 million, counting women and children. How many of these people were Israelites is unclear. Most suggest the 600,000 referenced in the verses is a count of Israelites only (earlier verses tell us the Israelite population exploded during their time in Egypt). But even if this number did not include Egyptians, the total number of Israelites and Egyptians that fled Egypt would have been staggering.

Who were the people that accompanied the Israelites during their escape from Egyptian captivity?

The Bible says, when the Israelites fled Egypt, “many other people went up with them”. The verses tell us the additional people also took herds and flocks with them. We are not told who the additional people were or why they joined the Israelites. Possibly they were impressed by the Hebrew’s strength. Maybe they came to know God. Or maybe they too were slaves and took advantage of the situation to escape their owners.

The science and history behind the story

Is there historical proof that Egypt released the Israelite slaves?

The Israelites were not the only slaves Egypt possessed but a loss of 600,000 or more slaves would surely have produced a great economic impact on Egypt. Outside historical evidence supports the Bible’s account of events and shows a massive decline in Egypt’s economy that prompted their collapse.

The Angel of Death and the First Passover - Charles Foster (1897)

The Exodus is believed to have occurred around the time of Ramesses II – around 1,300 BC (during Egypt’s 19th Dynasty). This period is widely considered to be the peak of the Egyptian empire. Shortly after the time of Ramesses II, the civilization of Egypt began to decline.

About 100-200 years after the Exodus, Egypt reached a breaking point. Ramesses III was murdered, and civil war erupted (around 1,100 BC). Economic crisis developed and history tells us that citizens even looted the revered graves of Pharaohs. Only about 200 years after Moses and the Exodus, the country of Egypt split into two empires. The era of Egypt’s dominance in the area had ended.

The Israelites journey from Rameses to Sukkoth

Exodus tells us the Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Sukkoth. The location of Rameses is unknown but likely refers to Qantir. Sukkoth is typically placed at Tell el-Maskhuta near modern-day Ismalia (Lake Timsah).

Bible Text

NIV

The death of Egypt's firstborn - Artist Unknown

29 At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. 30 Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.

31 During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the LORD as you have requested. 32 Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.”

33 The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. “For otherwise,” they said, “we will all die!” 34 So the people took their dough before the yeast was added, and carried it on their shoulders in kneading troughs wrapped in clothing. 35 The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. 36 The LORD had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians.

37 The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Sukkoth. There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. 38 Many other people went up with them, and also large droves of livestock, both flocks and herds. 39 With the dough the Israelites had brought from Egypt, they baked loaves of unleavened bread. The dough was without yeast because they had been driven out of Egypt and did not have time to prepare food for themselves.

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The NET Bible

12:29  It happened at midnight—the LORD attacked 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 prison, and all the firstborn of the cattle. 12:30 Pharaoh got up in the night, along with all his servants and all Egypt, and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was no house in which there was not someone dead. 12:31 Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron in the night and said, “Get up, get out from among my people, both you and the Israelites! Go, serve the LORD as you have requested! 12:32 Also, take your flocks and your herds, just as you have requested, and leave. But bless me also.”

12:33 The Egyptians were urging the people on, in order to send them out of the land quickly, for they were saying, “We are all dead!” 12:34 So the people took their dough before the yeast was added, with their kneading troughs bound up in their clothing on their shoulders. 12:35 Now the Israelites had done as Moses told them—they had requested from the Egyptians silver and gold items and clothing. 12:36 The LORD gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, and they gave them whatever they wanted, and so they plundered Egypt.

12:37 The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Sukkoth. There were about 600,000 men on foot, plus their dependents. 12:38 A mixed multitude also went up with them, and flocks and herds—a very large number of cattle. 12:39 They baked cakes of bread without yeast using the dough they had brought from Egypt, for it was made without yeast—because they were thrust out of Egypt and were not able to delay, they could not prepare food for themselves either.

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

New King James Version

Scenes from Exodus - Artist Unknown (abt. 1300)

29 And it came to pass at midnight that the LORD struck 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 livestock. 30 So Pharaoh rose in the night, he, all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where there was not one dead.

31 Then he called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, “Rise, go out from among my people, both you and the children of Israel. And go, serve the LORD as you have said. 32 Also take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone; and bless me also.”

33 And the Egyptians urged the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste. For they said, “We shall all be dead.” 34 So the people took their dough before it was leavened, having their kneading bowls bound up in their clothes on their shoulders. 35 Now the children of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, and they had asked from the Egyptians articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing. 36 And the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they granted them what they requested. Thus, they plundered the Egyptians.

37 Then the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. 38 A mixed multitude went up with them also, and flocks and herds—a great deal of livestock. 39 And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they had brought out of Egypt; for it was not leavened, because they were driven out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared provisions for themselves.

The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

The Message

29 At midnight GOD struck every firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sits on his throne, right down to the firstborn of the prisoner locked up in jail. Also the firstborn of the animals.

30 Pharaoh got up that night, he and all his servants and everyone else in Egypt—what wild wailing and lament in Egypt! There was not a house in which someone wasn’t dead.

31–32 Pharaoh called in Moses and Aaron that very night and said, “Get out of here and be done with you—you and your Israelites! Go worship GOD on your own terms. And yes, take your sheep and cattle as you’ve insisted, but go. And bless me.”

33 The Egyptians could not wait to get rid of them; they pushed them to hurry up, saying, “We’re all as good as dead.”

34–36 The people grabbed their bread dough before it had risen, bundled their bread bowls in their cloaks and threw them over their shoulders. The Israelites had already done what Moses had told them; they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold things and clothing. GOD saw to it that the Egyptians liked the people and so readily gave them what they asked for. Oh yes! They picked those Egyptians clean.

37–39 The Israelites moved on from Rameses to Succoth, about 600,000 on foot, besides their dependents. There was also a crowd of riffraff tagging along, not to mention the large flocks and herds of livestock. They baked unraised cakes with the bread dough they had brought out of Egypt; it hadn’t raised—they’d been rushed out of Egypt and hadn’t time to fix food for the journey.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

King James Version

29 And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle. 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 there was not one dead. 31 And he called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, Rise up, and get you forth from among my people, both ye and the children of Israel; and go, serve the LORD, as ye have said. 32 Also take your flocks and your herds, as ye have said, and be gone; and bless me also. 33 And the Egyptians were urgent upon the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste; for they said, We be all dead men. 34 And the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading troughs being bound up in their clothes upon their shoulders. 35 And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they borrowed of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: 36 And the LORD gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them such things as they required. And they spoiled the Egyptians.

37 And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside children. 38 And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle. 39 And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought forth out of Egypt, for it was not leavened; because they were thrust out of Egypt, and could not tarry, neither had they prepared for themselves any victual.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archaeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database
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