And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt…
Two questions naturally arise here: Why in this judgment upon the life of man should precisely the firstborn have been slain? and if the judgment was for the overthrow of the adversary and the redemption of Israel, why should a special provision have been required to save Israel also from the plague?
1. In regard to the first of these points, there can be no doubt that the slaying of the firstborn of Egypt had respect to the relation of Israel to Jehovah; "Israel," said God, "is My son, My firstborn: if thou refuse to let him go, I will slay thy son, thy firstborn" (Exodus 4:22, 23). But in what sense could Israel be called God's firstborn son? Something more is plainly indicated by the expression, though no more is very commonly found in it, than that Israel was peculiarly dear to God, had a sort of firstborn's interest in His regard. It implies this, no doubt, but it also goes deeper, and points to the Divine origin of Israel as the seed of promise; in their birth the offspring of grace, as contradistinguished from nature. As the firstborn in God's elect family is to be spared and rescued, so the firstborn in the house of the enemy, the beginning of his increase, and the heir of his substance, must be destroyed: the one a proof that the whole family were appointed to life and blessing; the other, in like manner, a proof that all who were aliens from God's covenant of grace, equally deserved, and should certainly in due time inherit, the evils of perdition.
2. In regard to the other question which concerns Israel's liability to the judgment which fell upon Egypt, this arose from Israel's natural relation to the world, just as their redemption was secured by their spiritual relation to God. For, whether viewed in their individual or in their collective capacity, they were in themselves of Egypt: collectively, a part o! the nation, without any separate and independent existence of their own, vassals of the enemy, and inhabitants of His doomed territory; individually, also, partakers of the guilt and corruption of Egypt. It is the mercy and grace alone of God's covenant which makes them to differ from those around them; and, therefore, to show that while, as children of the covenant, the plague should not come nigh them, not a hair of their head should perish, they still were in themselves no better than others, and had nothing whereof to boast, it was, at the same time, provided that their exemption from judgment should be secured only by the blood of atonement.
(P. Fairbairn, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.
WEB: It happened at midnight, that Yahweh struck 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 livestock.