In these two verses are many thoughts that stir within me. First, I see that this plague comes at midnight, and think about how the ten virgins are all sleeping, but at midnight the groom comes (we know that five of them don’t make it in, but the point is connecting the two midnights here). Then I also have another end time consideration of how when Babylon falls, in Revelation 18, all the nations mourn for that fall. This is reflected in the prophets as well.
Typically the way that we read this passage is to see the death of the firstborn as the climactic end of Egypt. Finally Israel is set free and permitted leave. I have a different view, however. It isn’t that this isn’t a climax, for it is indeed the final plague upon Egypt. Yet, when we’re reading Exodus, we find that at the Red Sea is another conflict, and one of epic proportion. God is not yet finished, because Pharaoh is not yet finished. When we conclude the 15th chapter, it is finally at that point where Israel is truly free.
It does so happen in this passage, though, that Israel is liberated, and finally outside of the land of Egypt, headed toward that glorious Promised Land. As the LORD had spoken, she despoiled the Egyptians, asking her neighbors for silver and gold and articles of value. In Pharaoh’s response (verse 31), it is the first time that he addresses the people as “Israelites”. Every other time, if he even addresses them, it is “people”, which sounds much lower and lesser than an actual people. In the first verse of Exodus, the oppression was beginning to be explained with this term, and now finally at it’s close it is being used again. They are Israelites, and not merely slaves.
Because of the death of the firstborn, which will later be contrasted in chapter 13 by the blessing of the firstborn, all of Egypt fears for their lives. All the plagues up to this point have damaged property, killed animals, and caused bodily harm, but nothing has been so devastating as to kill in a moment a mass part of the Egyptians. With fear, the Egyptians send Israel out hastily. For this reason, in Deuteronomy 16:3 the unleavened bread is called “the bread of affliction”, which is contrasted later with the bread of heaven (manna) that Israel receives in the wilderness. These contrasts that are made show the vicissitude of the Exodus, just as much as the ecstatic ascent unto Sinai.
There is a melancholy, because they are leaving the land that provided much luxury for them, but at the same time a rejoicing at finally being rid of the slavery and oppression. Within the next few chapters, we’ll find the Israelites complaining and grumbling over and over again. Think of it this way, if you were forcefully uprooted from your home, sent into the heat and intensity of a desert, and not given the proper rations for food and water to make the journey, not knowing where you’re going or how to get out, and all that you have leading you is this Moses fellow who might or might not have been this way before, would you grumble? I would.
But this is Passover. We haven’t yet come to that.
Here we find emphasis being put upon the Israelites following the word of Moses. Why? What is so important about that?
Moses is the prophet, which in this case is more than just a man. He is the mouthpiece of God, and beyond that, he is God unto the people. Later we’re going to see that he has horns (like a crown) and a staff (like a ruler). Moses is the ‘king’ of Israel, which was a title for God alone. Yet, back in Exodus 4, God told Moses that he shall be “Elohim” unto Pharaoh. Here it is as well, that even unto the children of Israel, Moses is likened unto God. To follow the words of Moses is to follow the word of God, for the two have become one. So it is with the apostle and prophet, that when we follow their words, we follow the words of God. It is established by word and deed, for Paul confesses often that he didn’t just speak idle words, but gave demonstrations of power. If you think those demonstrations consisted of miracles and healings, then you have sadly mistaken what Paul is saying. It might well have, but let us not forget that with the anointing, the words themselves are demonstrations and events.
To hear the word of the apostle or prophet is to hear God. That kind of hearing, coupled with faith, will bring about salvation to the uttermost. It strikes life into the heart, and causes the listener to be quickened by the very same Spirit that is enabling the speaker. For Israel to obey the words of Moses is more than a statement of their disposition. This shows their obedience unto God, and the receiving of the same quickening that has come upon Moses at this point. We’ll see later that there is something greater imparted unto Moses, which will then be prayed over the elders and imparted.