on Exodus 12 :29
Smote all the first born - If we take the term first-born in its literal sense only, we shall be led to conclude that in a vast number of the houses of the Egyptians there could have been no death, as it is not at all likely that every first-born child of every Egyptian family was still alive, and that all the first-born of their cattle still remained. And yet it is said, Exodus 12:30, that there was not a house where there was not one dead. The word therefore must not be taken in its literal sense only. From its use in a great variety of places in the Scriptures it is evident that it means the chief, most excellent, best beloved, most distinguished, etc. In this sense our blessed Lord is called the First-Born of every creature, Colossians 1:15, and the First-Born among many brethren, Romans 8:29; that is, he is more excellent than all creatures, and greater than all the children of men. In the same sense we may understand Revelation 1:5, where Christ is called the First-Begotten from the dead, i.e., the chief of all that have ever visited the empire of death, and on whom death has had any power; and the only one who by his own might quickened himself. In the same sense wisdom is represented as being brought forth before all the creatures, and being possessed by the Lord in the beginning of his ways, Proverbs 8:22-30; that is, the wisdom of God is peculiarly conspicuous in the production, arrangement, and government of every part of the creation. So Ephraim is called the Lord's First-Born, Jeremiah 31:9. And the people of Israel are often called by the same name, see Exodus 4:22 : Israel is my son, my First-Born; that is, the people in whom I particularly delight, and whom I will especially support and defend. And because the first-born are in general peculiarly dear to their parents, and because among the Jews they had especial and peculiar privileges, whatever was most dear, most valuable, and most prized, was thus denominated. So Micah 6:7 : Shall I give my First-Born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? Shall I give up the most beloved child I have, he that is most dear and most necessary to me, in order to make an atonement for my sins! In like manner the Prophet Zechariah, speaking of the conversion of the Jews to the Gospel of Christ, represents them as looking on him whom they have pierced, and being as one that is in bitterness for his First-Born; that is, they shall feel distress and anguish as those who had lost their most beloved child. So the Church triumphant in the kingdom of God are called, Hebrews 12:23, the general assembly and Church of the First-Born, i.e., the most noble and excellent of all human if not created beings. So Homer, Il. iv., ver. 102: Αρνων πρωτογονων ρεξειν κλειτην ἑκατομβην· "A hecatomb of lambs all firstlings of the flock." That is, the most excellent of their kind.
In a contrary sense, when the word first-born is joined to another that signifies any kind of misery or disgrace, it then signifies the depth of misery, the utmost disgrace. So the First-Born of the poor, Isaiah 14:30, signifies the most abject, destitute, and impoverished. The First-Born of death, Job 18:13, means the most horrible kind of death. So in the threatening against Pharaoh, Exodus 11:5, where he informs him that he will slay all the first-born, from the first-born of Pharaoh that sitteth upon the throne; to the first born of the maid-servant that is behind the mill, he takes in the very highest and lowest conditions of life. As there was no state in Egypt superior to the throne, so there was none inferior to that of the female slave that ground at the mill. The Prophet Habakkuk seems to fix this as the sense in which the word is used here; for speaking of the plagues of Egypt in general, and the salvation which God afforded his people, he says, Habakkuk 3:13 : Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people - thou woundedst the Head (ראש rosh, the chief, the most excellent) of the house of the wicked - of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. And the author of the book of The Wisdom of Solomon understood it in the same way: The master and the servant were punished after one manner; and like as the king, so suffered the common people - for in one moment the Noblest Offspring of them was destroyed, The Wisdom of Solomon 18:11, 12. And in no other sense can we understand the word in Psalm 89:27, where, among the promises of God to David, we find the following: Also I will make him my First-Born, higher than the kings of the earth; in which passage the latter clause explains the former; David, as king, should be the First-Born, of God, i.e., he should be higher than the kings of the earth - the Most Eminent potentate in the universe. In this sense, therefore, we should understand the passage in question; the most eminent person in every family in Egypt, as well as those who were literally the first-born, being slain in this plague. Calmet and some other critics particularly contend for this sense.
on Exodus 12 :29
This plague is distinctly attributed here and in Exodus 12:23 to the personal intervention of the Lord; but it is to be observed that although the Lord Himself passed through to smite the Egyptians, He employed the agency of "the destroyer" Exodus 12:23, in whom, in accordance with Hebrews 11:28, all the ancient versions, and most critics, recognize an Angel (compare 2 Kings 19:35; 2 Samuel 24:16).
on Exodus 12 :29