Exodus 11:5

5 Every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the female slave who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the livestock.

Exodus 11:5 Meaning and Commentary

Exodus 11:5

And all the firstborn in the land of Eygpt shall die
By the destroying angel inflicting a disease upon them, as Josephus says F17, very probably the pestilence; however, it was sudden and immediate death, and which was universal, reaching to all the firstborn that were in the families of the Egyptians in all parts of the kingdom: from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne:
this periphrasis, "that sitteth upon his throne", either belongs to Pharaoh, and is a description of him who now sat upon the throne of Egypt; and the Septuagint version leaves out the pronoun "his"; and so it is the same as if it had been said the firstborn of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; or else, to the firstborn, and describes him who either already sat upon the throne with his father, as was sometimes the case, that the firstborn was taken a partner in the throne, in the lifetime of his father; or who was the presumptive heir of the crown, and should succeed him, and so the Targum of Jonathan,

``who shall or is to sit upon the throne of his kingdom:''
even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill;
or "behind the two mills" F18, or "two millstones"; for it was the custom then, as with the Arabs now, as Doctor Shaw relates F19, to grind their corn with hand mills, which were two stones laid on one another, and in the uppermost was a handle, with which it was turned about by women, between whom the two stones were placed, and so they might be said to be behind them; though the phrase used does not necessarily suppose that they sat behind the mill, for it may as well be rendered "by" or "near the mill" F20: this is not to be understood of the firstborn, as behind the mill, or at it, and grinding, as Aben Ezra interpret's it, but of the maidservant; it being the business of such in early times to turn these mills, and grind corn, as it is now in Arabia, as the above traveller relates; and so it was in Judea, in the times of Christ, ( Matthew 24:41 ) and Homer F21, in his times, speaks of women grinding at the mill, (See Gill on Matthew 24:41), the design of these expressions is to show that none would escape this calamity threatened, neither the king nor his nobles, nor any of his subjects, high and low, rich and poor, bond and free: and all the firstborn of beasts: such as had escaped the plagues of the murrain and boils: this is added, not because they were such as were worshipped as gods, as Jarchi observes, but to increase their misery and aggravate their punishment, these being their property and substance, and became scarce and valuable, through the preceding plagues of the murrain, boils, and hail, which destroyed many of their cattle.
FOOTNOTES:

F17 Antiqu. l. 2. c. 14. sect. 6.
F18 (Myxrh rxa) "post molas", Pagninus, Montanus, Vatablus, Junius & Tremellius, Piscator; "after the mill stones", Ainsworth.
F19 Travels, p. 231. Ed. 2.
F20 (para to mulon) , Sept. "ad molam", V. L. "apud molas", Noldius, p. 11. No. 75.
F21 (men aleteuousi mulhv) Homer. Odyss. 7. l. 109.

Exodus 11:5 In-Context

3 The Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover, Moses himself was a man of great importance in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh's officials and in the sight of the people.
4 Moses said, "Thus says the Lord: About midnight I will go out through Egypt.
5 Every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the female slave who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the livestock.
6 Then there will be a loud cry throughout the whole land of Egypt, such as has never been or will ever be again.
7 But not a dog shall growl at any of the Israelites—not at people, not at animals—so that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.