After the first nine plagues, Pharaoh’s heart is still hard, and he is resisting the Lord and refusing to let Israel go from their bondage in Egypt. However, this was all part of the Lord’s plan, setting the stage for the tenth and final plague which would serve both as judgment upon Pharaoh and Egypt, and as the catalyst for Pharaoh expelling Israel with the “strong hand” that the Lord said he would use to drive them out.
But before this plague comes, the Lord gives Israel detailed instructions for preparing to leave Egypt, and for trusting and worshipping the Lord in the midst of the plague. First, Moses commands the Israelites to go ask their Egyptian neighbors for gold and silver jewelry, and the Egyptians give it to them willingly! The Lord had given the people favor in their sight and had made Moses very great to them (Ex 11:1–3). This should be no surprise to us, though, because this was promised to Abraham in Genesis 15:14—“But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.” Once again, even in Pharaoh’s stubborn and wicked resistance, the Lord is still in control, and we should praise him for that!
The Lord then tells the Israelites that he is about to bring judgment on Egypt by killing the firstborn son in every household in Egypt, but he will spare Israel (as long as they obey his instructions). There is a case to be made that Egyptian households could have followed these instructions as well to be spared, but we do not read that any do.
As we read Exodus, we see that chapter 12 is full of detailed instructions for how the people should worship and trust the Lord while preparing to leave. If they follow his instructions, they would be spared from the coming plague and would be brought out of Egypt once and for all. The people were to take a year old lamb or goat to sacrifice to the Lord, and they were to brush its blood around their doorframe. This would be the sign that they belong to the Lord and would be spared from the plague.
Not only were they to do this, but they were also commanded specifically to roast the animal over the fire (rather than boiling it or eating it raw), to cook only what their household could eat, and to eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Any leftovers had to be burned and could not be saved for morning. They were also to eat the meal “in haste’ (Ex 12:11), fully dressed and prepared to leave. These may seem like strange instructions to the modern reader, but each of these instructions were centered around the fact that they would get the opportunity to leave at any time, and they must be prepared to leave as soon as the chance comes. Roasting meat was quicker and required far less cleanup. Unleavened bread took no time to rise and could be cooked in a hurry. They had to eat quickly so as soon as they finished they could be prepared to leave the land of their bondage to experience the Lord’s goodness and freedom.
This whole feast that they observed on that night became the marker of their new year, symbolizing the new life that God was giving to the nation of Israel, his people. It was a feast to be observed every year, as they continued to remember the Lord’s faithfulness and goodness to them in the midst of their hardships. As the story continues, the plague comes, the firstborn in each Egyptian household dies, the nation cries out with a terrible cry, and Pharaoh expels Israel from his nation in the middle of the night. Finally the Lord’s deliverance comes, and the people are free.
Yet, Pharaoh unsurprisingly has another change of heart and sends his armies after Israel. We see that the Lord had led them out of Egypt in the longer and less direct way because he knew that they would turn back to Egypt in the face of war with the Philistines. So instead, they come up to the Red Sea, seemingly trapped between an uncrossable body of water and an irresistible army. The people of Israel saw them coming and were greatly afraid, thinking that Moses brought them out into the wilderness to die. Moses responds with great faith in the Lord, which I think we can each learn from today: “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you only have to be silent” (Ex 14:13–14). Throughout all of Scripture, we see that the Lord fights for his people, and they only have to be silent and trust. What a great reminder to us in each of our hardships!
As we see here, the Lord splits the sea so that Israel can pass through on dry ground. All the while, his angel is standing between Egypt and Israel, and when Egypt follows them into the seabed, their chariots are bogged down and they cannot catch up. As Israel comes out of the sea, the Lord brings the water crashing down upon the Egyptian army, wiping them out with divine justice. Egypt had thrown the Israelite baby boys to their death in the waters of the Nile, and in the same night, the Lord responds with taking away the firstborn sons from the Egyptians and destroying the wicked army in the waters of the Red Sea.
It does no good to resist the Lord as Pharaoh did. This will only bring judgment. It does no good to doubt the Lord’s care and power. The Lord will fight for his people, and we only have to trust him and be silent.