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Warning of the Final Plague

11

The Lord said to Moses, “I will bring one more plague upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt; afterwards he will let you go from here; indeed, when he lets you go, he will drive you away. 2Tell the people that every man is to ask his neighbor and every woman is to ask her neighbor for objects of silver and gold.” 3The Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover, Moses himself was a man of great importance in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s officials and in the sight of the people.

4 Moses said, “Thus says the Lord: About midnight I will go out through Egypt. 5Every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the female slave who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the livestock. 6Then there will be a loud cry throughout the whole land of Egypt, such as has never been or will ever be again. 7But not a dog shall growl at any of the Israelites—not at people, not at animals—so that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. 8Then all these officials of yours shall come down to me, and bow low to me, saying, ‘Leave us, you and all the people who follow you.’ After that I will leave.” And in hot anger he left Pharaoh.

9 The Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh will not listen to you, in order that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.” 10Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh; but the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land.


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1. And the Lord said unto Moses.131131     See Lat., Dixerat autem. He now relates that it was not with self-conceived confidence that he was lately so elated, as we have seen him;132132     “Tellement que sa confiance le fait parler haut;” as to be led by his confidence to use such high language. — Fr. but because he had been forewarned by divine revelation that the end of the contests was now near, and that nothing now remained but. that Pharaoh should fall by his mortal wound. This verse, then, is connected with the preceding, and explains its cause; because Moses would not have been at liberty to interrupt the course of his vocation, unless he had now plainly known that he was arriving at its conclusion. Nor would it otherwise agree with what follows, via, that Moses spoke to Pharaoh after he had declared that he would not appear any more in his sight, unless the subject were continued without interruption. But this sentence is introduced parenthetically, (meaning) that however obstinate Pharaoh might be, the hour was now come in which he must succumb to God. But God not only declares that the heart of Pharaoh should be changed, so that he would not hinder the people’s departure, but that he would be himself anxious for that, which he had so pertinaciously refused; for this is the meaning of the words, he will not only send you away, but altogether thrust you out. For in his alarm at their presence, he eagerly drove them from his kingdom.

2. Speak now in the ears of the people. He repeats His command as to spoiling the Egyptians, of which mention was made in the third chapter, for it was not enough for God to rescue His people from that cruel tyranny under which their wretched lives were scarcely protracted in great poverty and distress, unless He also enriched them with large possessions, as if they were carrying away the prizes of victory from conquered enemies. This, therefore, was the consummation of His otherwise extraordinary bounty, that they departed splendidly adorned,133133     “Chargez de bagues, meubles, et vaisselles precieuses;” laden with rings, furniture, and precious vessels. — Fr. and laden with precious furniture. We have already explained how it was lawful for the Israelites to take away with them the golden and silver vessels under pretext of borrowing them.134134     See notes on chap. 3:22. Surely the sole authority of God absolves them from the accusation of theft and sinful deception. But it cannot be permitted to any mortal man to censure or cavil at anything in the commandment of God; not only because His decree is above all laws, but because His most perfect will is the rule of all laws. For neither therefore is God unanswerable to law, because: he delights in uncontrollable power; but because in the perfection of His infinite justice there is no need of law. But although the excuse which some allege is not altogether without show of reason, viz., that the very severe labors which the Egyptians had tyrannically exacted were worthy of some reward, and therefore that God had justly permitted His people to exact the compensation of which they would have been otherwise unjustly defrauded, still there is no necessity for having recourse to these subtleties; for that principle, which we have elsewhere laid down, ought to be sufficient, that God, in whose hands are the ends of the earth, to destroy and to overturn at His will its kingdoms, and to change the government of its nations, much more (has the right) so to distribute the wealth and possessions of individuals, as to enrich some and to reduce others to want.

“The rich and poor meet together, (says Solomon:) the Lord is maker of them all,” (Proverbs 22:2;)

by which words he means that the providence of God rules in the various mixing together of poor and rich. But if theft be the taking away of what is another’s, those things which it has pleased God to transfer to His own people, must not be counted the property of others. But if by the laws of war it be permitted to the victors to gather up the spoil of the enemy, why should we consider it less allowable for God to do so from the Egyptians, whom He had overcome in ten illustrious battles, before He compelled them to surrender? As to the pretense of borrowing, the reply is easy, for the Israelitish women did not lie when they asked for the vessels for the purpose of sacrifice: since God had thus commanded, in whose power it was afterwards to devote them to other uses. Still part of them were dedicated to the sanctuary, as we shall see elsewhere; for besides the altar, the censer, and the candlestick, and other vessels of that kind, each of the tribes offered vials and dishes of great value. Yet must we recollect that a particular case is here related, imitation of which, without God’s special command, would be wrong.

3. And the Lord gave 135135     Lat., “dabit.” the people favor. Because the Israelites never could have hoped that the Egyptians, who had before rapaciously stripped them of everything, would become so kind and liberal to them, Moses declares that men’s hearts are turned this way or that by God. For, as the Psalm testifies, that the Egyptians were impelled by Him “to hate His people,” (Psalm 105:25,) that He might make way for their glorious deliverance; so He was able also to incline them in the opposite direction, that they should freely give what they had before harshly refused, and not without threats and blows. This doctrine is exceedingly useful to be known, because, when men are harsh and cruel to us, it: teaches us patience, whilst we are assured that the passions of wicked men only thus assail us, in so far as God would chastise our sins, and exercise and humble us. It affords also no little consolation to alleviate our pains, and seasonably arouses us to call upon God, that He would turn the minds of our enemies from brutality and unkindness to gentleness. It appears from many passages that this was ever the persuasion of all the pious, and unquestionably the expression of Jacob to his sons, “God Almighty give (dabit) you mercy before the man,” was founded on this general feeling. (Genesis 43:14.) But, since Scripture is full of such testimonies, let it suffice to have quoted this single one. Again, God does not always incline men to mercy, by the Spirit of regeneration, so that they should be changed from wolves to lambs; but sometimes by His secret inspiration He for a short time softens them though they know it not, as we read here of the Egyptians. In the second clause of the verse, where it is said, “Moreover the man Moses,” etc., an inferior and subordinate reason is given, which availed both to change the Egyptians as well as to encourage the Israelites, so that both of them reverently deferred to his words; for although this whole matter was governed by the power of God alone, still He did not act simply by Himself, but having chosen Moses as His minister, He assigned136136     “Il luy a laisse ce qui estoit de sa charge et vocation;” he left to him what pertained to his charge and calling. — Fr. a certain charge to him. Hence the veneration which made the Egyptians as well as the Israelites obedient to him, that his labor might not be in vain. He only speaks, indeed, of the Egyptian nation, (for after having spoken of “the land” first, he adds two divisions, “Pharaoh’s servants,” i.e., the nobles and courtiers, and then “the common people,” for so in this place I understand the word “people;”) but we shall soon see that the miracles had had a good effect upon the Israelites also, that they should more readily believe and obey. But; this passage teaches us that God’s servants are often prized and honored, where yet faith in their doctrine is not possessed, for although the Egyptians reverence and highly esteem Moses, they do not therefore incline to seek137137     “A craindre Dieu d’une droite affection.” — Fr. after piety. And thus the wicked often fear God Himself, when influenced by particular circumstances, and yet do not devote themselves to His service.

4. And Moses said, Thus saith the Lord. I lately said that Moses did not go from Pharaoh’s presence until he had delivered the message of his final destruction. This denunciation is, therefore, connected with the foregoing passage. Whence it appears how courageously Moses sustained the menaces of the tyrant, whilst he willingly encounters him, and boasts that he shall be his conqueror, though he be not in his presence, by the death of his first-born son in the coming night. Nor is it to be doubted that Pharaoh was confounded with terror, since, although so cruelly repulsed, he dismissed the Prophet in safety. Assuredly, since so unreserved a threatening must; have inflicted a very bitter pang, so it would have aroused the cruelty of the raging tyrant, unless the same God who had endued His servant with admirable firmness, had also controlled the impetuosity of the savage beast. Why God, in inflicting punishment on the children, postponed till another time that of the fathers, whose sin was greater; why, in wreaking vengeance on the beasts, He spared men, it is not our province curiously to inquire, because138138     “Ce seroit un orgueil trop enorme;” it would be too enormous an impertinence. — Fr. it is sinful to prescribe to God, whose incomprehensible wisdom surmounts all human understanding, what should be the rule or measure of His judgments. By bringing the children and beasts to punishment, He certainly represented clearly to the wicked despisers of His power, what they had deserved. The first-born of Pharaoh, who would have been heir of the kingdom, is placed in the first rank of victims; afterwards the whole body of humbler people is mentioned, for the maid-servants, who turned their revolving mills, occupied a very low and despised condition, as appears not only from the ancient poets, but from the testimony of Scripture itself. (1 Samuel 8:16.) If any one chooses to observe the analogy between this plague and the unjust tyranny by which the Egyptians had afflicted Israel, God’s first-born son, I make no objection. God again puts a difference between the Egyptians and his own people, when he declares that, in the midst of the great cry, the latter shall be quiet and tranquil. For this is the meaning of the figure, “A dog shall not move his tongue,” because dogs are wont to bark at the very least noise in the night. Moreover, although such a separation between the faithful and unbelievers does not always appear, but rather do similar punishments generally involve them both together, yet in the final issue God divides them very widely one from the other. Wherefore we can never lose this felicity, that we know that all afflictions conspire unto the salvation of us, whom he has once embraced with His loving-kindness.

8. And all these thy servants shall come down. Thus far Moses had reported the words of God; he now begins to speak in his own person, and announces that, by Pharaoh’s command, messengers would come from his court, who would voluntarily and humbly crave for what he had refused respecting the dismissal of the Israelites. The great asperity of these words inflicted no slight; wound on the tyrant’s mind, for it was the same as if he had said — Thus far I have entreated you to allow God’s people to depart; now, whether you will or not, I will freely go, and not even without the request of yourself and your followers. What he then relates, that he went out “in the heat of anger,”139139     Margin, A. V. or “in a great anger,” shows us that the servants of God, even when they truly and faithfully perform their duty, are so disturbed with indignation against sin, that they are by no means restrained from being affected with anger. Nor is there any question that Moses was thus excited to wrath by the impulse of the Spirit. Yet, since we are naturally too prone to impetuous passions, we must diligently beware lest our indignation exceed due bounds. The Spirit awakened in the heart of Moses this zeal, which here is mentioned, but he at the same time moderated it, so that it should contain no admixture of unregulated passion. But since it may, and often does happen that the faithful, when influenced by pious zeal, still do not sufficiently restrain themselves, nor keep themselves within due bounds, the spirit of gentleness and propriety must be asked of God, which may prevent all excesses. Yet the anger of Moses is a proof to us that God would not have us lazily and coldly perform the duties which He entrusts to us; and, therefore, that nothing is more preposterous than for certain cynics, whilst they jokingly and ridiculously philosophize concerning the doctrines of religion, and sting God’s servants with their laughing and wanton witticisms, to deride their vehemence, which is rather worthy of the highest praise.

9. And the Lord said unto Moses. This seems to be a representation of the reason why Moses was so angry; viz., because he had been forewarned that he had to do with a lost and desperate man. When, therefore, after so many contests, he sees the dominion of God despised by the audacity and madness of the tyrant, deeper indignation bursts from him in their last struggle; especially because he sees before his eyes that detestable prodigy, viz., an earthen vessel so bold as to provoke God with indomitable obstinacy. But God had foretold to Moses (as we have already seen) the end of this his exceeding stubbornness, lest, having so often suffered repulse, he should faint at length. Otherwise, there might have crept in no trifling temptation, as to how it could please God to contend in vain with a mortal man. And it was absurd that the hardness of a human heart could not be either subdued, or corrected, or broken by the divine power. God, therefore, asserts that He was thus designing His own glory, which he desired to manifest by various miracles; and on this account he adds again in the next verse, that Pharaoh’s heart was again hardened by God Himself; whereby he signifies, that the tyrant thus pertinaciously resisted, not without the knowledge and will of God, in order that the deliverance might be more wonderful.




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