The Deadliest Plague

Exodus 11-12

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
May 2016

We have been studying the Ten Plagues in the Book of Exodus. We have seen many different plagues. We have seen a plague of FROGS and a plague of FLIES. We have seen a plague of BLOOD and a plague of BOILS. We have seen a plague of LICE and a plague of LOCUSTS. The last two plagues were a plague of DARKNESS and a plague of DEATH.

Today, I want to look at the Tenth Plague. It is a very familiar story. Everyone knows about the plague of the firstborn. It was the worst of all of the plagues.  I want to look at three things today: the plague predicted, the plague performed and the plague prevented. We will be looking at both Exodus 11 and Exodus 12.  The plague takes place in Exodus 12.

The Plague Predicted

This plague came with a warning. It was Pharaoh’s final warning. Before he leaves Pharaoh, he gives him one final warning. It was not only a warning but a prediction. Moses makes six predictions. They were very specific and they were all verifiable. His predictions are found in Exodus 11:4-8.

“So Moses said, “Thus says the Lord: ‘About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, 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 hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle. There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again.

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.’ 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” (11:4-8).

Six Chilling Prophecies

PREDICTION ONE: Moses told Pharaoh the NATURE of the prophecy. It is a prophecy of death. Firstborn sons in Egypt will die.

PREDICTION TWO: Moses told Pharaoh the SCOPE of this prophecy. It will affect people. It will affect animals. It will affect the rich (Pharaoh’s son). It will affect the poor (slave girl’s son).

PREDICTION THREE: Moses told him the TIME of the prophecy. He tells Pharaoh this death will take place at midnight tonight

PREDICTION FOUR: Moses tells him the EFFECT of this tragedy. It will cause a great cry all over Egypt. It will lead to national distress.

PREDICTION FIVE: Moses tells Pharaoh the RESTRICTIONS. Certain people will be excluded from this calamity. No Hebrew firstborn sons will die. In fact he said that people would be wailing in Egypt but a dog would not even be barking in Goshen (11:6-7).

PREDICTION SIX: Moses tells Pharaoh the OUTCOME. The Jews would all leave Egypt with Pharaoh’s permission.  The Egyptians will not only let them go, they will beg them all to leave Egypt.  All of the Hebrew slaves would be free from their bondage. Pharaoh told them all to leave and not come back. They were busy burying their dead.

Exodus 11:9 says that Moses left Pharaoh “in hot anger” This is very interesting. In Exodus 10, Pharaoh was said to be angry with Moses. Pharaoh said to Moses, “Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die” (10:28 NIV). In Exodus 11, Moses is angry with Pharaoh.

Why was he so angry? He was angry because Pharaoh did not believe him. He is angry because this warning of terrible destruction (the worst one of the plagues) brought absolutely no response from Pharaoh. He was angry because even after nine plagues, he is still not willing to let the Jews go.

He is angry because his stubbornness is only going to hurt himself and his own people. It made absolutely no sense. Moses wanted to leave Egypt but he did not want to leave in this way. He probably wanted to leave on good terms, not bad terms.

He could have been glad. He could have been thinking “Pharaoh will finally get what is coming to him. We finally get to leave Egypt.” He was not vindictive. This shows us how much Moses has changed. He was angry before and smote the Egyptians. Now he has compassion for them.

Moses was angry but Exodus says that God hardened his heart (11:10). This was all part of His plan to multiply his wonders in Egypt (11:9). God is going to glorify himself and display His power in Pharaoh’s hard heart.

The Plague Performed

In Exodus 12, the plague is not accomplished until Exodus 12. When we read this chapter, we might get the impression that a few people died in this plague. This plague was far worse that we could imagine. Scholars estimate that there were five million people in Egypt. If one out of ten of those people were firstborn sons, that would mean that five hundred thousand people died.

When America dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, they killed only about two hundred thousand people. This plague may have killed five hundred thousand people.  This was more than double that number.  Five hundred thousand is about the size of the population of Greensboro and Winston-Salem combined. All the firstborn in Egypt were killed. If that is true, it would mean that this Pharaoh could not have been succeeded by first firstborn son.

Does history confirm this fact? Who was the Pharaoh of the Exodus? There are two different dates for the Exodus. Liberals date it in the 13th century BC. They believe that the Pharaoh of the exodus was Ramases II. Conservatives date the Exodus in the 15th century BC. They believe the Pharaoh of the exodus was Amenhotep II.

I believe that this Pharaoh was probably Amenhotep II but the interesting fact is that neither one was succeeded by their firstborn son. You can look it up in secular history. Ramses II’s death, he was succeeded by his thirteenth son Merenpta. He came to power because all his older brothers had died. By the time he ascended to the throne he was almost sixty years old.

Amenhotep II was succeeded by Thurmose IV. He was not Amenhotep’s oldest son. He had an older brother Webensenu. He died as a child and was buried in his father’s tomb. We know what he looked like. We have a picture of him. We have a mummy of him. He may have been the one who died in the tenth plague. He was granted a royal burial in the royal tomb. His other brothers did not have that honor.

This plague was not just a natural disaster. It was not just an act of nature; it was an act of God. There was no scientific explanation for what happened. It was completely supernatural. Notice what the text says in Exodus 12:12-13.

On that same night I WILL pass through Egypt and STRIKE DOWN EVERY FIRSTBORN- both men and animals – and I WILL BRING JUDGMENT on all the gods of Egypt. I AM THE LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt’” (NIV).

Who is doing the judgment here? It is God himself. God says “I will strike down every firstborn”. God was directly involved in this plague. It was divine judgment. This wasn’t just a plague. It was an execution. Exodus 12:29 says, “At midnight THE LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt” (NIV).  Angels are not mentioned in the text but they may have been involved in this plague.  Exodus 12:23 mentions someone called “the destroyer” who carried it out.  God often uses angels to execute judgment on people (cf. Psalm 78:49).

This is a very unpopular subject. No one wants to talk about death, especially the death of children. Many preachers today are so politically correct that they do not even talk about divine judgment. That was something the Puritans emphasized. Modern man does not like that topic. We like things that tickle our ears and make us feel good.

We do not like the idea that God judges people. We do not like the idea that God sends people to Hell. Some pastors do not even preach on hell. I have heard some preachers say that God does not send anyone to Hell. We send ourselves to Hell but those preachers have never read the book of Revelation.

Revelation says “anyone whose name was not found in the book of life was THROWN into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15). They do not jump into Hell. The wicked have to be thrown into Hell. Nobody wants to go there.

Answering the Critics 

When we get to the Tenth Plague, God does not just kill people, he kills children.  How do you answer critics who say, “How could a loving God kill innocent children? If Pharaoh is the one who sinned, why are the children being punished?”  It is an interesting question.  How do we answer this question?  Several things should be kept in mind here.

1. Our sin often affects others.

Pharaoh’s sin affected his whole country.  When parents sin, children are often affected. Exodus 4:22 says “Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.'”

This is very interesting.  God says that the nation of Israel is his firstborn.  The firstborn was the favored son.  Israel had a special relationship with God.  God made some promises to Israel that he did not make to any other nation on the planet.

God to Pharaoh, “If you mistreat my firstborn, I am coming after your firstborn.”  The way Pharaoh treated God’s firstborn would determine the way God treated Egypt’s firstborn.  The Egyptians enslaved them, oppressed them, abused them and beat them for hundreds of years.

Pharaoh killed Hebrew babies and now Egyptian babies are dying. The Egyptians had blood on their hands. Now there is blood all over Egypt and it is Egyptian blood.  The ones who cried before were Jews.  Remember, God said to Moses at the burning bush “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings” (3:7 ESV).

Now the ones who are crying are Egyptians. When this plague took place there was “a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again” (11:6).  In fact we are told that “there was not a house where someone was not dead” (12:30).  The tables are now turned.

2. The children killed were not innocent.

The Bible teaches that we are all born sinners.  It also teaches the wages of sin is death.  God can kill all us at any time.  He is the Creator.  God is the one who gives life and He can take it back at any time.  God is not only a God of love.  He is also holy.

3. This plague was actually an act of mercy and grace.

Pharaoh killed Hebrew baby boys.  He ordered ALL of them to be thrown into the river, not just firstborn sons.  God only judged the firstborn in Egypt.God does not take the life of everyone but only of the firstborn.  He could have taken everyone’s life and wiped out all of Egypt.

The Plague Prevented

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are.

You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight.

Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the door frames of the houses where they eat the lambs. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt” (12:1-7, 13).

God gave Pharaoh and the Israelites a command.  He gave them both very clear instructions.  In Pharaoh’s case, he repeated the instructions.  He said “Let my people go” over and over again.  Moses did not change the message and try to make it more appealing.  He repeated the same message.  Each time he gave it to Pharaoh, Pharaoh said, “No”.  He hardened his heart.

The Israelites were also given instructions.  They were given instructions to prevent this plague.  God said “every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die” (11:5).  Why did they have to be given instructions?  Why did God want to take the life of the firstborn of the Hebrews?  Why was this not a judgment just on the Egyptians?

The Hebrews deserved to die as much as the Egyptians.  They were not better than the Egyptians.  They were both sinners.  Both deserved the judgment of God.  The Bible teaches that the wages of sin is death.

The Hebrews would have lost their firstborn son as well, if they did not do exactly what God told them to do. What did God tell them to do?

First, they were told to choose an animal. It could not be any animal.  It had to be a lamb but not just any lamb.  It was a specific type of lamb.  It had to be a male lamb.  It could not be a female lamb.  It had to be one year old.  They could not choose a male lamb that was older.  Finally, this lamb had to be a lamb without defect (12:5).

They could not pick a male lamb that was one year old but defective.  They had four days to inspect it to make sure their lamb met the qualifications for sacrifice.  The fourth day was the day that Moses spoke to Pharaoh.  It was the night the firstborn would be killed.

Second, they were told to kill this animal.  They were told exactly when to kill the animal.  It was four days later (12:2, 6), when it started to get dark but they were not to break any bones of the animal (12:46).  They were told when to kill the lamb and how to kill it.

Third, they were told what to do with the blood of the animal. They were told to drain the blood out of the animal and to put it into a basin. Then they were told to take branches from a hyssop plant and use them as a paint brush.  They were told to dip hyssop in the basin and smear the blood up and down the door frames of the house.

Fourth, they were told to eat this animal.  The lamb was not only killed but eaten that night.  They were even told how to cook it – roasted with fire.  They were not to eat it raw. They were also told to stay in the house all night and not leave it.

The Bible says that they did it. They did exactly what God told them to do (unlike Pharaoh).  They did it, even though they had never done anything like this before.  This was the first time.  They did it, even though it made absolutely no sense to smear animal blood on a door.

It seems a little strange to paint the doors of your house with animal blood.  That was what they had to do to prevent this plague.  That is what they had to do to protect their firstborn son.  That did not make a lot of sense. They did not know why God told them to do this.  They did not understand the significance.

Passover Lamb: A Type of Christ

Why were they told to pick a lamb?  It was a symbol of Christ.  It was a type of Christ.  Jesus is called “the lamb” twenty-nine times in Revelation. Paul said, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” (I Corinthians 5:7).  How was Jesus like a lamb?

One, The Passover Lamb was innocent.

It did not suffer because of anything it did.  It had to be a lamb without blemish.  Jesus our Passover lamb was also innocent.  He was sinless.  He did nothing wrong. Even Pilate said, “I find no fault in this man” (Luke 23:14). I Peter 1:19 says, “We are redeemed with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot”.

Two, the Passover Lamb was passive.

Lambs are gentile creatures.  They are not like lions or bears.  They do not resist when they are being killed. They do not fight back. They are passive.  Jesus did not resist either.  “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7)

Three. The Passover Lamb died a violent death.

These white lambs were slaughtered. There was blood everywhere. It was not a pretty scene. Jesus died a violent death as well.

Four, the Passover Lamb died a substitutionary death

The lamb died so that the firstborn son could live.  The lamb died in his place.  He died as a substitute.  Jesus was out substitute.  He died in our place.  He died for our sins, the just for the unjust.  Jesus died on the cross as a substitute for sin.  It was a substitutionary death, like the Passover Lamb.

Jesus died fifteen hundred years after the Passover Lamb was sacrificed.  In fact, He died on the same day as Passover.  John the Baptist called Jesus “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 KJV).  This lamb did not die for one household (like the Passover Lamb) but for the whole world.

 Modern Applications of the Passover Story

1. The Hebrews faced danger and we face danger.

The Hebrews faced a serious problem.  God said he would kill the firstborn son of everyone in the whole land of Egypt (no exceptions). This was a matter of life and death.  God had already sent nine other plagues. Everything that he said came to pass.  God does what he says he is going to do.

We face a similar problem today.  The wages of sin is death.  Our warning is not physical death, although all of us will die, but spiritual death.  God is holy and one day He will judge sinners and not just the firstborn.  That is a problem because all of us are sinners. Their problem was physical.  Our problem today is spiritual.

2. The Hebrews were saved by blood and we are saved by blood.

There is power in the blood.  The lamb’s blood saved the life of the firstborn and Jesus blood saves us.  They were saved by the blood of the Passover lamb.  The blood of the Passover lamb protected everyone in the house. It warded off death. We are saved by the blood of Christ.  We are justified by his blood (Romans 5:9).  We have redemption through his blood (Ephesians 1:7).  It not only saves us, it cleanses us from all sin (I John 1:7).

Many try to be saved another way.  They try to go to God a different way through a different religion.  Acts 4:12 says, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (NIV).

God said, “When I see the blood, I will pass over (pesach) you”.  That was the only thing He was looking at. He did not say “When I see your good works, I will pass over you”.  He did not say, “When I see your church membership, I will pass over you”.

He said, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you”.   Being Hebrew did not save the firstborn from death.  Blood was the only thing that protected them from danger.  It was the only remedy.

3) The blood has to be applied to be effective

The blood of the lamb had to be placed on the door post.  They were not just to kill the lamb.  They had to place the blood on the door posts.  The blood had to be applied.  They had to do something.  They had to paint their doors with blood. They could have gone to all of the trouble of selecting the right animal and killing it in the proper manner but if they did not take the blood and put in on the door posts, it did them absolutely no good. Jesus died but unless people believe, His death saves no one.  It has to be applied by faith.



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