Bible Commentaries
Exodus 11

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

Verse 1


(1) And the Lord said.—Rather, Now the Lord had said. The passage (Exodus 11:1-3) is parenthetic, and refers to a revelation made to Moses before his present interview with Pharaoh began. The insertion is needed in order to explain the confidence of Moses in regard to the last plague (Exodus 11:5), and the effect it would have on the Egyptians (Exodus 11:8).

When he shall let you go, he shall surely thrust you out hence altogether.—The word rendered “altogether” belongs to the first clause. Translate, when he shall let you go altogether, he shall assuredly thrust you out hence.

Verse 2

(2) Let every man borrow.—See the comment on Exodus 3:22. The directions to “ask” the Egyptians for presents is extended here from the women alone to both women and men. Egyptian obduracy and Israelitish loss through some of the plagues may have caused the enlargement of the original instruction.

Verse 3

(3) The Lord gave the people favour—i.e., when the time arrived. (See below, Exodus 12:36.)

The man Moses.—At first sight there seems a difficulty in supposing Moses to have written thus of himself. “The man” is not a title by which writers of any time or country are in the habit of speaking of themselves; but it is far more difficult to imagine any one but Moses giving him so bald and poor a designation. To other writers he is a “prophet (Deuteronomy 34:10; Luke 24:27; Acts 3:22; Acts 7:37), or “a man of God” (Deuteronomy 33:1; Joshua 14:6; Psalms 90:0, Title; Ezra 3:2), or “the servant of the Lord” (Joshua 1:1; Hebrews 3:5); never simply “the man.”

Very great.—It has been said that this expression does not comport well with the “meekness” of Moses. But it is the mere statement of a fact, and of one necessary to be stated for the proper understanding of the narrative. Moses, in the course of his long contention as an equal with Pharaoh, had come to be regarded, not only by the courtiers, but by the Egyptians generally, as a great personage—a personage almost on a par with the Pharaoh, whom they revered as a god upon earth. The position to which he had thus attained exerted an important influence on the entire Egyptian people at this time, causing them to be well-inclined towards his countrymen, and willing to make sacrifices in order to help them and obtain their good-will.

Verse 4

(4) And Moses said.—In continuation of the speech recorded in Exodus 10:29, face to face with Pharaoh, Moses makes his last appeal—utters his last threats. The Pharaoh has bidden him “see his face no more” (Exodus 10:28), and he has accepted the warning, and declared “I will see thy face again no more” (Exodus 10:29). It is the last interview—the last interchange of speech. Moses had to deliver himself of a message. Hardened as his heart is, Pharaoh is yet to be allowed “a place for repentance” God announces to him, by the mouth of Moses, the coming destruction of the firstborn—emphasizes the terrible nature of the impending calamity by the announcement that through all Egypt there would be a great cry”—contrasts with their despair the absolute immunity of the Israelites—and finally warns the Pharaoh that he and his people will shortly urge the departure which they now refuse to permit. If Pharaoh had even now relented, it was not too late—the great blows might have been escaped, the death of the firstborn and the destruction of the armed force in the Red Sea. But he had “hardened himself,” and then “been hardened,” until, practically, the time for relenting was gone by. He remained obdurate, and “would not let the children of Israel go out of his land” (Exodus 11:10).

About midnight.—The particular night was not specified; and the torment of suspense was thus added to the pain of an unintermittent fear. But the dreadful visitation was to come at the dreadest hour of the twenty-four—midnight. Thus much was placed beyond doubt.

Verse 5

(5) All the firstborn . . . shall die.—The Heb. word translated firstborn is applied only to males; and thus the announcement was that in every family the eldest son should be cut off. In Egypt, as in most other countries, the law of primogeniture prevailed—the eldest son was the hope, stay, and support of the household, his father’s companion, his mother’s joy, the object of his brothers’ and sisters’ reverence. The firstborn of the Pharaoh bore the title of erpa suten sa, or “hereditary crown prince,” and succeeded his father, unless he died or was formally set aside during his father’s lifetime. Among the nobles, estates were inherited, and sometimes titles descended to the firstborn. No greater affliction can be conceived, short of the general destruction of the people, than the sudden death in every family of him round whom the highest interests and fondest hopes clustered.

The maidservant that is behind the mill marks the lowest grade in the social scale, as the king that sits upon his throne marks the highest. All alike were to suffer. In every family there was to be one dead (Exodus 12:30).

All the firstborn of beasts.—The aggravation of the calamity by its extension to beasts is very remarkable, and is probably to be connected with the Egyptian animal-worship. At all times there were in Egypt four animals regarded as actual incarnations of deity, and the objects of profound veneration. Three of these were bulls, while one was a white cow. It is not unlikely that all were required to be “firstborns;” in which case the whole of Egypt would have been plunged into a religious mourning on account of their deaths, in addition to the domestic mourning that must have prevailed in each house. The deaths of other sacred animals, and of many pet animals in houses, would have increased the general consternation.

Verse 6

(6) There shall be a great cry.—The shrill cries uttered by mourners in the East are well known to travellers. Mr. Stuart Poole heard those of the Egyptian women at Cairo, in the great cholera of 1848, at a distance of two miles (Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. ii., p. 888). Herodotus, describing the lamentations of the Persian soldiers at the funeral of Masistius, says that “all Bœotia resounded with their clamour” (Exodus 9:24). The Egyptian monuments represent mourners as tearing their hair, putting dust upon their heads, and beating their breasts (Wilkinson, in Rawlinson’s Herodotus, vol. ii., p. 138).

Verse 7

(7) Shall not a dog move his tongue.—Com pare Joshua 10:21. The expression is evidently proverbial.

Verse 8

(8) All these thy servants—i.e., the high officers of the Court who were standing about Pharaoh. These grandees would come to Moses when the blow fell, and prostrate themselves before him as if he were their king, and beseech him to take his departure with all his nation. The details are given more fully and more graphically in this place than in the subsequent narrative (Exodus 12:31).

In a great anger.—Heb., in heat of anger: i.e., burning with indignation. Moses had not shown this in his speech, which had been calm and dignified; but he here records what he had felt. For once his acquired “meekness” failed, and the hot natural temper of his youth blazed up. His life had been threatened—he had been ignominiously dismissed—he had been deprived of his right of audience for the future (Exodus 10:28). Under such circumstances, he “did well to be angry.”

Verses 9-10

(9, 10) And. the Lord said . . . —The series of the nine wonders wrought by Moses and Aaron is terminated by this short summary, of which the main points are—(1) God had said (Exodus 4:21) that the miracles would fail to move Pharaoh; (2) He had assigned as the reason for this failure His own will that the wonders should be multiplied (Exodus 7:3); (3) the miracles had now been wrought; (4) Pharaoh had not been moved by them; (5) God had hardened his heart, as a judgment upon him, after he had first himself hardened it. The result had been a series of manifestations calculated to impress the Israelites with a sense of God’s protecting care, the Egyptians and the neighbouring nations with a sense of His power to punish.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Exodus 11". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.