A river of blood, frogs, mosquitos, swarms of insects, loss of livestock, boils, hail, locusts, and darkness had left the Egyptians in dread, reeling from the devastation. Their land in the Nile delta, once green and productive, was barren. The stench of death and decay filled their nostrils and fear of the next destructive outbreak was paralyzing. The once-proud Egyptians were defeated. But still, Pharaoh’s heart was cold and hard “and he would not let the Israelites go out of his land” (Exodus 11:10).
So Moses announced the last and worst plague! “This is what the Lord says: About midnight I will go throughout Egypt, and every firstborn male in the land of Egypt will die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the servant girl who is at the grindstones, as well as every firstborn of the livestock. Then there will be a great cry of anguish through all the land of Egypt such as never was before or ever will be again. But against all the Israelites, whether people or animals, not even a dog will snarl, so that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel” (Exodus 11:4–7).
The worst plague! Death! Death of the first-born! Death of every happy dream.
“Now at midnight the Lord struck every firstborn male in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and every firstborn of the livestock. During the night Pharaoh got up, he along with all his officials and all the Egyptians, and there was a loud wailing throughout Egypt because there wasn’t a house without someone dead” (Exodus 12:29–30).
One evening my doorbell rang. I opened the door and was startled to see a police officer. “Pastor Martin,” the officers said, “Mrs. Jones was killed in a car wreck. Will you go with me to inform Mr. Jones?” Mr. Jones was a faithful member of my church. Mrs. Jones was not. She was a self-professed atheist, so the conversation that awaited me was going to be heart-breaking! A few minutes later, when Mr. Jones saw the preacher and the police officer, he instinctively knew something was wrong. I’ll never forget his cry. He bent over and repeatedly slammed his fists into his thighs, wailing with grief.
I remember another dark night when my phone rang at home. “Mr. Smith died in a motorcycle wreck,” the caller reported. I learned later that Mr. Smith wasn’t wearing a helmet and that he was drunk, driving way over the speed limit, when he ran off the road and into a road sign. Mr. Smith wasn’t a member of my church. As a matter of fact, he wasn’t a member anywhere. He died much like he lived. Moments later, I walked into Mrs. Smith’s home. I don’t remember much about the conversation that evening, but I can’t erase the memory of the weeping, the moaning, the wailing. It was the sound of utter hopelessness.
The Israelites heard the unrelenting, mournful wailing as death visited every Egyptian home. No one was exempt. From the richest to the poorest, from the most powerful to the lowest and least, “there was a loud wailing throughout Egypt because there wasn’t a house without someone dead” (Exodus 12:30).
At homes inhabited by faithful Israelites, the sound was far different. Their tears were joyful. They had been saved by the blood of the guiltless lamb. They were free! The Promised Land was right around the corner! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!