The Tenth Plague: The Death of the Firstborn
Explanation and summary
The tenth, and climactic plague, of the 10 plagues that the God of the Israelites sent as judgment upon Egypt, through Moses, was the death of the firstborn, as recorded in the book of Exodus. In this plague, the firstborn of the people and cattle of Egypt die, but the Israelites are spared. This plague insulted Pharaoh (who was considered divine) and perhaps others Egyptian deities as well.
No intimation is given of the exact character of the death inflicted on the firstborn by the angel of the Lord, or its appearance. But it is already foretold as the "pestilence" (Exodus 9:15). The pestis major or virulent bubonic plague corresponds most nearly in its natural phenomena to this plague. It culminates in a sudden and overwhelming virulence, takes the strongest and best, and then subsides with startling suddenness. Thus, it appears that probably all the plagues were based upon natural phenomena which still exist in Egypt in the same order, and, when they do occur, find place somewhere during the course of one year.
Biblical Text (KJV)
Exodus 11:1-10, 12:29-32
11:1 And the Lord said unto Moses, Yet will I bring one plague more upon Pharaoh, and upon Egypt; afterwards he will let you go hence: when he shall let you go, he shall surely thrust you out hence altogether.
2 Speak now in the ears of the people, and let every man borrow of his neighbour, and every woman of her neighbour, jewels of silver and jewels of gold.
3 And the Lord gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh's servants, and in the sight of the people.
4 And Moses said, Thus saith the Lord, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt:
5 And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first born of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts.
6 And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there was none like it, nor shall be like it any more.
7 But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or beast: that ye may know how that the Lord doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel.
8 And all these thy servants shall come down unto me, and bow down themselves unto me, saying, Get thee out, and all the people that follow thee: and after that I will go out. And he went out from Pharaoh in a great anger.
9 And the Lord said unto Moses, Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you; that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.
10 And Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh: and the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go out of his land.
12: 29 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.
30 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 there was not one dead.
31 And he called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, Rise up, and get you forth from among my people, both ye and the children of Israel; and go, serve the Lord, as ye have said.
32 Also take your flocks and your herds, as ye have said, and be gone; and bless me also.
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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain (with minor edits).