Exodus 11:5 MEANING

Exodus 11:5
(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 5. - All the first-born. The law of primogeniture prevailed in Egypt, as among most of the nations of antiquity. The monarchy (under the New Empire, at any rate) was hereditary, and the eldest son was known as erpa suten sa, or "hereditary Crown Prince." Estates descended to the eldest son, and in many cases high dignities also. No severer blow could have been sent on the nation, if it were not to be annihilated, than the less in each house of the hope of the family - the parents' stay, the other children's guardian and protector. Who sitteth. "Sitteth" refers to "Pharaoh," not to "first-born." The meaning is, "from the first-born of the king who occupies the throne to the first-born of the humblest slave or servant. This last is represented by the handmaid who is behind the mill; since grinding at a mill was regarded as one of the severest and most irksome forms of labour. The work was commonly assigned to captives (Isaiah 47:1, 2; Judges 16:21). It was done by either one or two persons sitting, and consisted in rotating rapidly the upper millstone upon the lower by means of a handle. All the first-born of beasts. Not the first-born of cattle only, but of all beasts. The Egyptians had pet animals in most houses, dogs, apes, monkeys, perhaps cats and ichneumons. Most temples had sacred animals, and in most districts of Egypt, some beasts were regarded as sacred, and might not be killed, their death being viewed as a calamity. The loss of so many animals would consequently be felt by the Egyptians as a sensible aggravation of the infliction. It would wound them both in their domestic and in their religious sensibilities.

11:4-10 The death of all the first-born in Egypt at once: this plague had been the first threatened, but is last executed. See how slow God is to wrath. The plague is foretold, the time is fixed; all their first-born should sleep the sleep of death, not silently, but so as to rouse the families at midnight. The prince was not too high to be reached by it, nor the slaves at the mill too low to be noticed. While angels slew the Egyptians, not so much as a dog should bark at any of the children of Israel. It is an earnest of the difference there shall be in the great day, between God's people and his enemies. Did men know what a difference God puts, and will put to eternity, between those that serve him and those that serve him not, religion would not seem to them an indifferent thing; nor would they act in it with so much carelessness as they do. When Moses had thus delivered his message, he went out from Pharaoh in great anger at his obstinacy; though he was the meekest of the men of the earth. The Scripture has foretold the unbelief of many who hear the gospel, that it might not be a surprise or stumbling-block to us, Ro 10:16. Let us never think the worse of the gospel of Christ for the slights men put upon it. Pharaoh was hardened, yet he was compelled to abate his stern and haughty demands, till the Israelites got full freedom. In like manner the people of God will find that every struggle against their spiritual adversary, made in the might of Jesus Christ, every attempt to overcome him by the blood of the Lamb, and every desire to attain increasing likeness and love to that Lamb, will be rewarded by increasing freedom from the enemy of souls.And all the firstborn in the land of Eygpt shall die,.... By the destroying angel inflicting a disease upon them, as Josephus says (q), very probably the pestilence; however, it was sudden and immediate death, and which was universal, reaching to all the firstborn that were in the families of the Egyptians in all parts of the kingdom:

from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne: this periphrasis, "that sitteth upon his throne", either belongs to Pharaoh, and is a description of him who now sat upon the throne of Egypt; and the Septuagint version leaves out the pronoun "his"; and so it is the same as if it had been said the firstborn of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; or else, to the firstborn, and describes him who either already sat upon the throne with his father, as was sometimes the case, that the firstborn was taken a partner in the throne, in the lifetime of his father; or who was the presumptive heir of the crown, and should succeed him, and so the Targum of Jonathan,"who shall or is to sit upon the throne of his kingdom:"

even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; or "behind the two mills" (r), or "two millstones"; for it was the custom then, as with the Arabs now, as Doctor Shaw relates (s), to grind their corn with hand mills, which were two stones laid on one another, and in the uppermost was a handle, with which it was turned about by women, between whom the two stones were placed, and so they might be said to be behind them; though the phrase used does not necessarily suppose that they sat behind the mill, for it may as well be rendered "by" or "near the mill" (t): this is not to be understood of the firstborn, as behind the mill, or at it, and grinding, as Aben Ezra interpret's it, but of the maidservant; it being the business of such in early times to turn these mills, and grind corn, as it is now in Arabia, as the above traveller relates; and so it was in Judea, in the times of Christ, Matthew 24:41 and Homer (u), in his times, speaks of women grinding at the mill; see Gill on Matthew 24:41, the design of these expressions is to show that none would escape this calamity threatened, neither the king nor his nobles, nor any of his subjects, high and low, rich and poor, bond and free: and all the firstborn of beasts: such as had escaped the plagues of the murrain and boils: this is added, not because they were such as were worshipped as gods, as Jarchi observes, but to increase their misery and aggravate their punishment, these being their property and substance, and became scarce and valuable, through the preceding plagues of the murrain, boils, and hail, which destroyed many of their cattle.

(q) Antiqu. l. 2. c. 14. sect. 6. (r) "post molas", Pagninus, Montanus, Vatablus, Junius & Tremellius, Piscator; "after the mill stones", Ainsworth. (s) Travels, p. 231. Ed. 2.((t) , Sept. "ad molam", V. L. "apud molas", Noldius, p. 11. No. 75. (u) , &c. Homer. Odyss. 7. l. 109.

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