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11. Plague on the Firstborn

And the Lord said unto Moses, Yet will I bring one plague more upon Pharaoh, and upon Egypt; afterwards he will let you go hence: when he shall let you go, he shall surely thrust you out hence altogether. 2Speak now in the ears of the people, and let every man borrow of his neighbour, and every woman of her neighbour, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold. 3And the Lord gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants, and in the sight of the people. 4And Moses said, Thus saith the Lord, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt: 5And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts. 6And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there was none like it, nor shall be like it any more. 7But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or beast: that ye may know how that the Lord doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel. 8And all these thy servants shall come down unto me, and bow down themselves unto me, saying, Get thee out, and all the people that follow thee: and after that I will go out. And he went out from Pharaoh in a great anger. 9And the Lord said unto Moses, Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you; that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt. 10And Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh: and the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go out of his land.

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.

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