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DEATH OF THE FIRST-B0 RN.
(ExoDUs XII. 29, 30.)
THE children of Israel, who had long been smarting under the oppressions of Pharaoh in Egypt, were not forgotten by the Almighty. About B.C. 1648, according to Hales, Moses was commissioned, in connexion with his brother Aaron, to bring them out of their house of bondage, by a series of judgments, which humbled that proud nation and its lawless tyrant in a remarkable manner. Convinced by a miracle of his Divine commission, and having gained over the people of Israel to acquiesce in his intended proceedings, Moses, with Aaron, boldly entered into the presence of Pharaoh, and thus addressed him:—“Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness.” Offended at this freedom of speech, Pharaoh haughtily replied: “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go,” Exod. v. 1, 2. Still undaunted, Moses and Aaron pleaded Israel's cause with earnestness; but their zeal only served to increase the rage of the tyrant, and the oppression of their brethren. Thus opposed by a rash and weak mortal, the Almighty now said unto Moses: “See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh,” Exod. vii. 1. And he gave him an assurance that the Egyptians should acknowledge his holy name in the day when he stretched forth his hand upon Egypt, and brought forth his chosen ones from thence. Moses, therefore, with his brother Aaron, went again to Pharaoh, and demanded the release of the Hebrews. The proud monarch regarded them again with contempt; when Aaron, at the command of Moses, threw down his rod, and it became a serpent. Upon seeing this, Pharaoh sent for his magicians, and they performed a similar act by their enchantments. The rod of Aaron, however, swallowed up their rods, thereby demonstrating the superiority of the first miracle, and the reality of the mission of Moses. Still Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he refused to comply with the demand. The judgments mentioned, and which are known in sacred history as “The ten plagues,” now followed in rapid succession. They are thus briefly enumerated:—
The first plague.—As Pharaoh went to pay his adoration to the river Nile, the principal divinity of the Egyptians, he was met by Moses and Aaron; and the latter, stretching his rod over that river, it became blood, and all the fish died: these formed a considerable part of the subsistence of the Egyptians. The change also operated upon all the canals and reservoirs, and even upon that water which had been preserved in vessels of wood and stone for domestic use; so that “there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.” The second plague.—The river Nile, together with another of the Egyptian gods, the frog, was once more made the instrument of punishment. Myriads of frogs came up from its waters, and overspread the land. They swarmed in the cottage and the palace. The third plague.—Without giving any notice, the dust of Egypt was now smitten by the rod of Aaron, and it became lice throughout all the land of Egypt upon man and beast. The fourth plague.—This judgment consisted of a swarm of “flies,” which covered the whole land of Egypt, except the land of Goshen. The fifth plague.—This plague, which was that of “murrain,” destroyed the cattle of Egypt, save those of the Hebrews. The sixth plague.—The Almighty now laid his hand upon the persons of the Egyptians. In the presence of Pharaoh, Moses sprinkled ashes of the furnace towards heaven, and they were afflicted with “boils and blains;” and these appearing upon the proverbially clean persons of the magicians, they relinquished that show of rivalry and opposition which they had recently manifested. The seventh plague.—Pharaoh still continuing unrelenting, Moses stretched forth his rod, and a desolating tempest arose; thunder and hail, so rarely known in Egypt, and fire mingled with the hail, swept over the whole breadth of the land, except Goshen, killing man and beast, destroying the trees, with the standing crops of flax and barley. The eighth plague.—The locust was now made the instrument of Egypt's punishment. Although not formed for crossing seas, or for long flights, by the aid of a strong east wind these armies of God winged their way over the Red Sea from Arabia, to perform their mission. They covered all the land, and devoured every herb of the field. The ninth plague.—In Egypt, where the sun is seldom obscured by a cloud, a thick darkness now prevailed for three days.
DEATH OF THE FIRST-BORN.
This must have been peculiarly afflicting and humiliating to that nation, since their great deity, the sun, obscured of his glory, and darkness, another of their deities, were made the instruments of their punishment. The tenth plague.—By his obstinacy Pharaoh at length sealed the warrant for a wide-spread destruction. The Almighty resolved to vindicate the cause of Israel. “About midnight,” said he to Moses, “will I go out into the midst of Egypt: and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die.” While this judgment was pending, the Israelites were directed to demand articles of silver and gold of the Egyptians. They were also to slay a lamb, of a year old, and without blemish, for every family, the flesh of which was to be eaten with bitter herbs, in haste, with their loins girded, their sandals on their feet, and their staff in their hand. To preserve their habitations from the judgment, moreover, they were directed to sprinkle the side-posts and upper door-posts of each house with the blood of this paschal lamb, that so, when the destroying angel appeared, they might be preserved. In commemoration of this signal interposition, this solemn rite of the passover was instituted a standing ordinance in the Jewish church. It was designed, also, to shadow forth the Paschal Lamb, Jesus Christ, who in the fulness of time should appear as the deliverer of the human race from the thraldom of sin and Satan — a thraldom more fearful in its nature than the bondage of the Israelites. And now the awful hour of midnight came; and while yet the Israelites were feasting upon this sacrifice, ready to depart from the hated shores of Egypt, the destroying angel went forth and Smote all the first-born in the land.
“From the couches of slumber, ten thousand cries
In the sententious and emphatic language used by the sacred historian, “There was not a house where there was not one dead.”