Here at last, after all the prophesies and predictions given, we now have before us the account of two of the most significant events in both the book of Exodus as well as the Bible as a whole: the tenth plague and the exodus. Although it may seem strange that these things that have had so much build-up should be recounted so quickly, that seems to speak to the nature of our lives within time. We can easily spend countless hours dreaming of a particular moment, only for it to pass as quickly as any other moment in time. Of course, that does not discount the significance of particular moments. As much as I wanted my wedding to linger in time, time seemed to actually speed up on that day. Even so, the rest of my life is irreversibly shaped by those brief moments of making vows before God and others.
So, it was with the life of Jesus. Even after the millennia of waiting for the Savior’s arrival, His birth passed by just as quickly as any other in history. Time did not slow even for the arrival of its Author into its stream. The same was true with His life. Although He is the upholder of the universe, He was not granted extra time. In thirty-three short years, He worked the great exodus, the deliverance of God’s people from the slavery of sin and the fear of death, yet for all eternity we will look back in remembrance and celebration of our redemption in Him. So, it was that this one night, this brief moment in history, rightly defined the identity of the people of Israel.
A GREAT CRY IN EGYPT // VERSES 29-32
Our text begins simply enough:
At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians. And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead.
In chapter 11, we read of God’s warning to Pharaoh of this final plague, and in the first twenty-eight verses of this chapter, we read of how God prepared the Israelites to be spared from this death that the LORD was bringing upon the land of Egypt. And that death did, indeed, arrive.
This ought to remind us that God does not make idle warnings. What He has pledged to do, He will accomplish, even though He almost never does so according to our preferred timeline. We see an example of this in God’s judgment of the Nineveh, which He relented of in response to their repentance at the proclamation of Jonah. The prophet, of course, was furious that the LORD would be so forgiving even with people as wicked as the Assyrians. Yet even God’s patience toward the Ninevites only compounded their later destruction. After all, their repentance did not last long, and as Nahum prophesied, the Assyrians were brutally left in ruins by the Babylonians.
Of course, the great judgment, the Day of the LORD, is still to come. After warning that many will continue to scoff at the coming of the LORD to end all things, Peter counsels us:
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.2 Peter 3:8-13
The death of the firstborn, along with so many other moments of judgment in Scripture, is a shadow of this final judgment that is still to come. On that day, there will also be a great cry throughout all the earth. Revelation 6:15-17 gives us John’s vision of that day:
Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
Notice that just like in Egypt all people are subject to this judgment, from “the great ones” to the lowest slaves. No one will escape the wrath of the Lamb except those that have been marked by His blood. Just as Passover night was a night of death for the Egyptians but a night of redemption for the Israelites, so too will the return of Christ be. For all who have cast their hope upon Jesus alone to forgive their sins, His coming will mark the conclusion of our war against our sin and our resurrection to life everlasting with Him. But for all who harden their hearts to the gospel as Pharoah and his servants did, Christ’s return will be beginning of an eternity of terror and misery.
As with all anticipated moments, we will continue to wrestle against the feeling that it will never come until the moment the sky cracks and we witness the dissolution of all things to make way for the new heavens and the new earth. Let us, therefore, not grow weary of waiting for that glorious day; instead, let us devote ourselves to “lives of holiness and godliness” as we wait.
With his own heir to the throne dead and with not a house in Egypt being spared at least one death, the hard-hearted Pharaoh was finally broken into submission:
Then he summoned Moses and Aaron by night and said, “Up, go out from among my people, both you and the people of Israel; and go, serve the LORD, as you have said. Take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone, and bless me also!”
Philip Ryken makes note of the many ironies displayed through Pharaoh in this statement of defeat. As his slaves, Pharaoh had continuously denied Israel the right to be its own nation, yet now he referred to them as the people of Israel. All this time, Pharaoh had refused to submit to the LORD’s demand to let Israel go that they may serve Him because Pharaoh saw the Israelites as fundamentally his servants, yet now he commanded, serve the LORD. He previously refused to let all the people go and refused to let them take their flocks and herds, yet now he was sending them away with everything. Ryken goes on to say:
These details are important because they show how God fulfilled his promise of salvation. What makes them all so deliciously ironic is that they show a man who swore that he would never give in doing exactly what God wanted him to do. By the tenth plague Pharaoh was begging Moses to do the very thing that he had been asking to do all along. It was a total capitulation. There would be no more negotiations. Pharaoh gave in to all of Moses’ demands, granting Israel’s unconditional release. God’s people could go. Their women and children could go. Their flocks and herds could go too, with no conditions set for the time of their return.
Pharaoh’s little concession speech stands as a warning to anyone who chooses to resist God’s will. For all his hardness of heart—all the times he told God no and all the times he said yet but never followed through—Pharaoh gained nothing. In the end he had to accept everything on God’s terms anyway. So why not give in to God in the first place? It is much better not to resist his claim on your life but simply to accept his plan and his purpose.
It is also worth noting that Pharaoh says twice as you have said, which is quite similar to a phrase that we saw repeated several times throughout the plagues: “as the LORD had said” (7:13, 22; 8:15, 19). In submitting to be God’s instrument, the LORD promised to make Moses “like God to Pharaoh” (7:1), and here Pharaoh the words of the LORD and of Moses as one and the same. Here again we see the exaltation of Moses as a servant of the LORD in contrast to the humiliation of Pharaoh.
THE EXODUS // VERSES 33-39
But it was not simply Pharaoh who wanted Israel gone. All of Egypt had suffered under their king’s stubborn refusal to obey the LORD. And now they all begged the Israelites to leave in haste for fear that if they stayed all of the Egyptians would be dead soon. This resulted in Israel being thrust out of Egypt. In other words, they were not merely allowed to leave; they were shoved out the door. Given the fondness that many of the Israelites were going to continue to show for Egypt in the years ahead, this forcible and swift exodus was probably necessary, so that the Israelites did not have time to talk themselves into staying in their slavery simply because was familiar to them.
The description of their hasty exit in verses 34-39 focuses upon the peoples’ provisions. Interestingly, verses 35-38 describe the material wealth (in gold, silver, and livestock) that they left Egypt with, as well as the great number of persons that were leaving. These verses are surrounded by verses 34 and 39, which describe why they were forced to carry along unleavened bread with them and why they had no other food prepared for their journey. Thus, the LORD sent them away as an already very wealthy nation, having plundered the most powerful kingdom in the world, yet He took them into the wilderness with very little food prepared, which was setting the scene for the miracles of provision that the LORD would work in chapters 15-18.
First, let us discuss why Israel’s unleavened bread was so important. One commentator explains it well:
Unleavened bread was a symbol of discontinuity. Leaven was a bit of dough kept unbaked from the previous day’s baking and added to the next day’s batch of dough so that it would start the fermentation process there also. It was used in much the same way as yeast would be now. When a batch of bread was being baked a relatively small quantity of leaven or yeast is added, and it works its way through the dough and causes it to rise. The instruction to banish leaven from their houses and to take none it with them from Egypt was gesture that symbolized leaving behind all Egyptian influences that might work their way through their lives and corrupt them.
As a very amateur baker, the continuity imagery is perfectly captured through the use or, rather, disuse of leaven. Even though we now have instant yeast that can be added at any time, sourdough starters are still highly valued and are often treated as family heirlooms, being fed and kept from one generation to the next. Thus, being cast out of Egypt before they were able to leaven their dough was a fitting symbol of their new beginning as a nation of their own.
Or as Ryken puts it, “God wanted to do something more than get his people out of Egypt; he wanted to get Egypt out of his people.” Along these lines, the Bible frequently uses leaven as an image of the corrupting influence of sin. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul rebuked the Corinthian church for celebrating sexual sin as evidence of the grace of Christ and their freedom in Him, saying:
Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.1 Corinthians 5:6-8
In Christ, we have been made new, with new hearts and a new spirit; therefore, we too are called to break with our previous slavery to sin. Like the Israelites, we now called to put away the leaven of sin and take up the unleavened imitation of our Lord. We shall expand this point further next week.
Second, let us discuss the material wealth that the LORD granted to Israel as they left. Verses 35-36 tell us that the Israelites asked for gold and silver jewelry from the Egyptians and were given it. God gave the Israelites favor with the Egyptians, so that the Egyptians willingly surrendered their wealth over to Israel. In our study of chapter 11, I elaborated on how this was a foreshadowing of our abundant blessings in Christ, so I will refrain from going over that point again.
Instead, let us take note that the Israelites plundered the Egyptians. Plundering, of course, is what a victorious army would do to the people it defeated. Thus, Israel left Egypt loaded with plunder just like triumphant soldiers. Of course, the significance here is that they did none of the fighting. There certainly was a battle, but it was not fought by the Israelites. Through the plagues, the LORD Himself was laying siege to the land of Egypt, and then after striking the final blow, He graciously brought His people out as if they were conquerors themselves.
Again, we happily testify that the same is gloriously true of us in Christ. Consider the words with which Paul concluded the eighth chapter of Romans:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 8:31-39
Notice the importance of verse 37. We are more than conquerors, even in the midst of tribulation, persecution, famine, danger, and a thousand other hardships. Yet how have we conquered? “Through him who loved us.” We too are victorious via the work of Another.
Verse 37 tells us the number of the Israelites who left Egypt, about six hundred thousand men on foot. Many commentators note that this would make the total congregation of Israel likely around 2 million people. Others, however, have noted that the word being translated as thousand would be better translated as military units, which might make more sense since they are referred to in verse 41 with the military language of the hosts of the LORD. If six hundred military units are being described here, then the number of Israelites would probably have been in the tens of thousands.
Finally, with the Israelites also went a mixed multitude, meaning non-Israelites. These were evidently people who were not physical descendants of Abraham, yet through the plagues, they came to believe that Yahweh is the true God and decided to cast their lots with the Israelites rather than the Egyptians. This was an initial display of Israel’s role in the world as “a kingdom of priests” (19:6). Again, God’s plan has always been to be worshiped by all nations.
A NIGHT OF WATCHING // VERSES 40-42
Our text concludes by informing us that Israel had lived in Egypt for 430 years, which is an amount of time that is difficult for most of us to fathom. 430 years ago, the United States not only did not yet exist, but the Jamestown colony in Virginia had also not even been founded. As we Americans can testify, immigrants can easily become nationals within four hundred years. Again, it was likely Israel’s bondage to Egypt that kept their identity apart and from fully becoming Egyptians.
Moses is also calling our attention to Israel’s 430-year sojourn in Egypt because of the promises that it fulfills to the patriarchs. Back in Genesis 15:13-14, we read:
Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.
We also read of Jacob’s encounter with the LORD as he was journeying down to Egypt to see Joseph, in Genesis 46:2-4:
And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”
The fulfillment of these two passages as seen in verses 40-41, reminds us of God’s faithfulness to fulfill His promises as well as of the faith of the patriarchs, who saw very few of God’s promises come to fruition in their own day. They nevertheless trusted in the LORD, and their descendants were seeing the fruit of their faithfulness. How foreign is this concept to us! We tend to grow discouraged if God has not answered our prayers within a couple of days, perhaps even hours, yet here we get a glimpse of God happily working far beyond His peoples’ lifespans.
The phrase on that very day can be a bit confusing, so Stuart’s clarification is quite helpful:
The NIV translation of the middle adverbial phrase, “to the very day,” is misleading because it suggests that the Israelites left Egypt 430 years precisely—not a day less or a day more—after they entered it, which is not the meaning of the original at all. Moses’ language draws attention to “that same day,” that is, the day after the night of the Passover, making the point that there was no intervening delay between the Passover (the imposition of the tenth plague) and the first available opportunity to depart, which was the next day from our point of view and the same day (since the day began at sunset for the Israelites) from their point of view.
Finally, our passage concludes by saying,
It was a night of watching by the LORD, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; so this same night is a night of watching kept to the LORD by all the people of Israel throughout their generations.
During the Passover night, the LORD kept a vigil over Israel, shielding them from the death that He brought upon all of Egypt and bringing them up out of the land. Again, this is presented unilaterally. The LORD alone worked this salvation. While the Israelites huddled in the safety of their homes marked by the blood of the lamb, God came down to work their deliverance. And because the LORD kept watch over them, the same night would forever be a night of watching kept to the LORD by all the people of Israel, a vigilant reminder of God’s vigilant salvation.
Brothers and sisters, how can we keep ourselves from ending our study at the cross! As our Lord grappled with the serpent in the garden, He said to Peter, James, and John, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch” (Mark 14:34). After praying to the Father, He returned to find them sleeping and said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:37-38). Of course, whenever His arrest did come only a short while later, all of His disciples “left him and fled” (Mark 14:50). Here again the LORD came down to work the salvation of His people, not with a lamb but as the Lamb, and again, He did so alone, holding vigil over His people.
Like the Israel’s we too now keep watch to the LORD as a vigilant reminder of His mighty work of redemption. We do not observe the Passover night because that marvelous redemption has been eclipsed by the greater exodus, the sacrifice of Christ to redeem us from our bondage to sin. Each Lord’s Day, we rise early in the morning to remember our Lord’s triumph over death on that blessed Sunday morning nearly two thousand years ago, and we come to the Lord’s Table to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). Each week we keep watch to the LORD through this sacrament, vigilantly remembering His unilateral work of redemption and watching for His return. We do so in the peace of the Spirit who keeps watch over us.
 Cite by Ryken, Exodus, 311.