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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.

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.

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