The Plague On The Firstborn


In Exodus 7-12, Moses through the power of God releases 10 plagues of different sorts on the land of Egypt which included, turning all the water to blood, plagues of insects, boils, and hail. Finally, the death of every first-born son included the death of Pharaoh’s eldest who would someday inherit the kingdom of Egypt.

We will see that they were delivered not just to let Pharaoh know who God was but also to let the Israelites know who God was. Because they have been enslaved for 430 years, they didn’t know God, they have become used to being enslaved and used to being around the idol gods of Egypt. And so not only did God have to convince Pharaoh who He was, but He also had to convince the Israelites who He was.


Some people question if the miracles recorded were actually miracles, note the following thoughts.

1. In each case they were accurately foretold, as to the time and place of occurrence.

2. The intensity of such things as the frogs and lice was beyond all possibility of what could have been expected naturally.

3. Both their occurrence and their ending were demonstrated to be under the control and subject to the Word of God through Moses.

4. There was discrimination, some of the plagues afflicting the Egyptians and yet at the same time sparing the Israelites.

5. There was orderliness in their appearance, each event more severe than the one that preceded it, concluding with the most devastating of all, the death of the firstborn.

6. Also, there was progression in relation to the reaction of Pharaoh’s servants. At first, they could do anything that Moses did, but at last, admitted their failure and affirmed that ‘This is the finger of God!’

7. Over and beyond all this, there was a moral purpose in the plagues, they were not mere freaks of nature.

Now, remember that the ten plagues were actually ten disasters sent upon Egypt by God to convince Pharaoh to free the Israelite slaves from the bondage and oppression they had endured in Egypt for 430 years.

When God sent Moses to deliver the children of Israel from bondage in Egypt, He promised to show His wonders as confirmation of Moses’ authority, Exodus 3:20.

This confirmation was to serve at least two purposes, firstly, to show the Israelites that the God of their fathers was alive and worthy of their worship and secondly, to show the Egyptians that their gods were nothing.

The Egyptians worshipped a wide variety of nature gods and attributed to their powers the natural phenomena they saw in the world around them. There was a god of the sun, of the river, of childbirth, of crops, etc.

Events like the annual flooding of the Nile, which fertilized their croplands, were evidence of their god’s powers and goodwill. When Moses approached Pharaoh, demanding that he let the people go, Pharaoh responded by saying “Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go.” Exodus 5:2. And so from that point onwards, the challenge was on to show whose God was more powerful.


‘So Moses said, “This is what the LORD says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal.’ Then you will know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. All these officials of yours will come to me, bowing down before me and saying, ‘Go, you and all the people who follow you!’ After that I will leave.” Then Moses, hot with anger, left Pharaoh. The LORD had said to Moses, “Pharaoh will refuse to listen to you—so that my wonders may be multiplied in Egypt.” Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country.’ Exodus 11:4-10

Here we find the tenth and last plague, the death of the firstborn males. This was a judgment on ‘Isis’, the protector of children. In this plague, God was teaching the Israelites a deep spiritual lesson which pointed to Christ.

This plague was going to hit Egypt in a very personal way, the firstborn is a reference to the male children. In Egyptian culture, the firstborn son was the hereditary centre of reference to the financial and social prestige of the family. All other children of the family looked to the firstborn as the future leader of the family. By killing the firstborn, God was effectively bringing Egypt to its knees.

Notice again that God told Moses that Pharaoh wouldn’t listen, this shows how power-hungry Pharaoh is, he’s proud and arrogant and will go to any length to keep his position of power.

Pharaoh had continued to refuse the right of God’s firstborn, Israel, to worship Him, Exodus 4:22-23, and, He will now experience the appropriate judgment, the death of his and Egypt’s first-born, including even cattle.

Earlier Pharaoh told them never to come to him again or he would die, Exodus 10:29, but Moses’ basically says, then let your servants appear in my presence. This of course happened, with even Pharaoh himself joining in the begging, Exodus 12:30-33.

There is a teaching which is popular amongst certain groups, that teach that this plague was carried out by the ‘angel of death’. Let me go ahead and address that teaching before going on to the next chapter.


It never ceases to amaze me how people repeat ‘phrases’ they’ve heard and then they go on to teach others the same ‘phrases’. The problem with most of these phrases is that they completely mislead people and they lead to an erroneous understanding of God and His Word.

One of these phrases is, ‘the angel of death’ or ‘the death angel’ which implies God has an angel whose specific role is to go out and kill people.


It may come as a surprise to some that there is no such angel mentioned in the Scriptures and the Scriptures nowhere describes any of God’s angels as an ‘angel of death’ or ‘the death angel.’

There are a few Bible references which people use to back up their claim that there is ‘an angel of death’, however, if these same people took the time to read the Scriptures properly and in their proper context, they would soon come to a different conclusion.

The main example given for proof of an ‘angel of death’ is found in Exodus when the final plague came upon Egypt, where the firstborn sons of the Egyptians would die, Exodus 11:4-5. And when we go over to the next chapter, we see this promise coming to fruition, Exodus 12:29.

Now notice in both of these passages there is no mention of any angel, never mind any mention of an ‘angel of death’ and if you read them carefully you can’t miss the fact that it’s God Himself, who carries out this judgement. The text says, ‘I (God) will go out’, ‘The Lord Stuck down’.

Another example that people use to claim that the ‘angel of death’ exists is found in 2 Kings 19:35. Again, we don’t need to be a Bible scholar to read that this text clearly tells us ‘the angel of the Lord’ carried out this act, but notice, there is no mention of the phrase, ‘angel of death’.

Another example that people use to claim that the ‘angel of death’ exists is found in 2 Samuel 24:15-16. As with the other text, we see here that it is ‘the angel of the LORD’ which causes all these deaths, but nowhere is this angel ever called ‘the angel of death’.

I’ve heard too many sermons and sat in too many Bible classes where I hear this phrase being used over and over again but a careful reading of the Scriptures reveals to us that God has on a few occasions carried out His judgement on nations using angels but nowhere in the Scriptures are these angels or any specific angel referred to as ‘the angel of death’ or ‘the death angel’.

If we’re going to use ‘phrases’, let’s use Biblical phrases, not phrases which are completely misleading, and unscriptural. Someone once said, ‘let’s call Bible things by Bible names’.

Unlike the other plagues, which the Israelites survived by their identity as God’s people, this plague required an act of faith by them. God commanded each family to take an unblemished male lamb and kill it.

The blood of the lamb was to be smeared on the top and sides of their doorways, and the lamb was to be roasted and eaten that night. Any family that did not follow God’s instructions would suffer in the last plague.

God described how He would go through the land of Egypt, and slay the firstborn male in every household, whether human or animal. The only protection was the blood of the lamb on the door. When the Lord saw the blood, He would pass over that house and leave it untouched according to Exodus 12:23.

This is where the term ‘Passover’ comes from, it is a memorial of that night in ancient Egypt when God delivered His people from bondage. 1 Corinthians 5:7 teaches us that Jesus became our Passover when He died to deliver us from the bondage of sin.

While the Israelites found God’s protection in their homes, every other home in the land of Egypt experienced God’s wrath as their loved ones died. This extremely devastating and grievous event caused Pharaoh to finally release the Israelites.