Final Plagues and Plundering the Egyptians
9. Darkness: Here is a plague that lasted for three days. People could not even leave their homes due to the impact of this event. Comparable to being in a dark closet with even the cracks around the door being covered, this was a major attack on the credibility of the Egyptian sun god—known variously as Re, Ra, Atum, Aten and sometimes Horus. Indeed, though the Egyptians worshiped many gods, none was worshiped as much as the sun. Consider, too, that as much as eclipses were feared in the ancient world, this three-day darkness must have been terrifying beyond belief. Once again, it did not affect the Israelites living in Goshen. Pharaoh again attempts to make a deal by keeping the animals of the Israelites that were not affected by the plagues in Egypt. After all, the food supply of the Egyptians was now at a critical stage—so to him it was not really an unreasonable demand. But before God, Pharaoh was in no position to be making demands. Yet he was angry, to the point of threatening Moses with death if he would not get out of his sight.
10. Death of firstborn: Before leaving, Moses warned Pharaoh of the final plague that was to befall Egypt. The firstborn males of the Egyptians, of their non-Israelite servants and of their animals would surely die—from the palace of Pharaoh to the dungeons. Perhaps this was, in part, a deserved punishment for the Egyptians' slaughtering of God's children—the Israelite infants—in previous generations going back to the time of Moses' birth. It was certainly for the reason God had given to Moses in Exodus 4: "Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the Lord: "Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me. But if you refuse to let him go, indeed I will kill your son, your firstborn"'" (verses 22-23). Moreover, in killing the firstborn of the animals too, God was again showing His supremacy over the gods of Egypt: "For I... will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord" (Exodus 12:12). There would be no doubt left among the Egyptians that the God of Israel was indeed the true God!
Besides the many and varied animal deities, God's action directly challenged Osiris, the giver and ruler of life. Furthermore, in the end, this plague would accomplish the breaking of Egypt—and force Pharaoh to at last release the Israelites. This forcing of Pharaoh to act against his will would demonstrate God's overthrow of his sovereignty and of the gods who represented it: Hu, the god personifying royal authority; Wadjet, the goddess of royal authority; Sobek, the god epitomizing the might of the pharaohs; Maat, goddess of cosmic order under whose aegis the rulers of Egypt governed; and the war goddess Sakhmet, who would supposedly breathe fire against the enemies of the pharaoh. God would, of course, prove Himself victorious over them all—and over Pharaoh too, who, as mentioned earlier, was himself regarded as the divine incarnation of Horus.
Even at the announcement of this warning, Moses and the Israelites were respected throughout the land because of the miraculous events that had taken place. And not just respected. As The Nelson Study Bible notes on Exodus 11:3: "Another remarkable component of the Exodus was the Egyptian's favor (or grace) toward the Hebrews and admiration for their leader. After all that had happened, we might expect the opposite. But the positive feelings for Moses were shared, amazingly enough, even by Pharaoh's servants. This, too, is a part of the wit and irony of this great victory the Lord had won over His enemy Pharaoh (who represents evil, sin, ungodliness, and even Satan; see Revelation 15:3)." God told the Israelites to ask the Egyptians for silver and gold items—in effect, compensation for their years of slave labor. And after all the Egyptians had witnessed, they were not about to complain. But Pharaoh's heart was still hardened, even threatening Moses' life, as already mentioned. Moses, then, having delivered the final warning, at last storms out in anger (Exodus 11:8). This would be the final confrontation between the two (compare Exodus 10:29).
Supplementary Reading: “Archaeology and the Book of Exodus: Exit from Egypt”, Good News Magazine, March—April 1997, pp. 22-24.