Kids are great at pushing the limits. Parents know the moment they set a limit on anything, their children will try to push them to the edge. Erica and I have already seen how much our son, Jude, loves to push the limits. We will bring him in our room to play on the bed in the morning. Every single morning he will start crawling to the edge of the bed. We place large pillows at the end of the bed to block him. But Jude doesn’t care about those pillows. He just grins and crawls toward the edge of the bed. He starts out crawling fast, but once he gets close to the edge he moves really slowly. It’s like he wants to see how close he can get to the edge without falling headfirst to the floor. Without being stopped, Jude would keep pushing the limits until he seriously hurt himself.
Pharaoh’s hard heart was causing him to push the limits of God’s mercy. After each and every plague, Pharaoh only cared about immediate consequences and continued to rebel against the word of God. Pharaoh has reached the edge and he has taken that final, deadly step. The sovereign, righteous judgment of the Lord is about to fall hard on Egypt. The final plague is the most devastating of them all. It is the reversal of Pharaoh’s actions in Exodus 1. Before God even tells Moses the nature of the plague, he tells him the result. After this plague, Pharaoh’s heart will still be hard, but he will let the people of Israel go (Ex. 11:1).
The final judgment of God in Egypt is similar to the final judgment of God for all who reject Christ—death. The final judgment in Egypt is the death of the firstborn. “Every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle” (Ex. 11:5). The point here is that there is no avoiding this judgment. No one can outrun this devastating judgment of God. Exodus 11 is the Lord’s final warning to Pharaoh. Like leaflets dropped by planes in war, Moses’ final address to Pharaoh is not a request, but an announcement of coming death and destruction.
The Bible offers a similar warning to all who are outside of Christ. Jesus puts it this way: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). The wrath of God remains on everyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus. And there is no escaping this judgment on our own. We have all pushed and crossed the limits. We have all fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). We have all exchanged the glory of the Creator for the creation (Rom. 1:21). We all deserve the righteous wrath and judgment of God—eternal death (Rom. 6:23). But praise be to God for his immense grace. On the cross, Jesus bore the wrath of God in our place. Even though we deserved to die, Jesus died for us, so we can be with the one we have rejected. Exodus 11 shows us how God always provides for his people and punishes his enemies for the glory of his name.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.