Before the final and most brutal of the plagues, we take a side trip into some instruction God gives to prepare for it. In many ways, the nine plagues that came before were just preparation for this one, which has great significance in the Bible as a whole, some of which is revealed in the next few chapters, and some of which is revealed in the New Testament (if you believe in the N.T., of course; most Jews would certainly not.)
Brief mention is made here of the plundering of the Egyptians, but I won't address it here since the SAB does not. Suffice it to say I will revisit it in the next chapter, and I already touched on the subject back in chapter 3.
So, to the main objection that the SAB brings up for this chapter: "These verses [11:4-6] clearly show that the mass murder of innocent children by God (see 12:29-30) was premeditated." This is an odd statement for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it's largely right on the mark. Pulling it apart from back to front, I first want to note that it would be theologically sound to say that everything God does is "premeditated". Since God is supposedly all-knowing, everything that He has done or ever will do was already planned before time itself even existed (as much as that's a meaningful thing to say, but you get the idea I'm sure). As far as "innocent children", that's a difficult issue to address, although I tried to in part in an earlier post. Aside from the issues talked about there, it might be noted that it may not necessarily be only children, whether that be a plus or minus. Then there is the most important issue, the key question of whether this truly qualifies as either "mass" or "murder".
A pastor friend of mine wrote a very good essay on this subject that I read years ago, and it's a shame it's not online, at least as far as I know, since he goes much more in to detail on this matter than I ever could. Although we do indeed see a lot of large groups of people being killed in various moments throughout the Bible, there are a few things we can note about these occurrences. First of all, God gives a warning. In this case, we have a series of nine incredible plagues that occur over the course of several months. The plagues are always predicted by Moses, explained to be the work of God, and do not have an effect on the Israelites. As a result of this, many of the people of Egypt are sitting up and taking notice of what's going on. While Pharaoh continues in a state of denial about God's will and God's power, many others aren't so stupid. As I said in my last post, it seems quite likely that people started doing what they could to avoid the plagues and save their crops and livestock, if possible.
This leads to the second point, which is that God always gives a way out. In this case, the way out is announced in the next chapter: put blood on your doorposts and God will spare your house. If you read these chapters carefully, you will see that God is not saying He's going to kill all of the Egyptians and spare all of the Israelites; He says He's going to kill those who refuse to follow His simple instructions and spare those who do follow them. To a Christian, this is a clear foreshadowing of the message of the Gospel: a person here was saved from the wrath on Egypt by the blood of a lamb's sacrifice, while in life, a person is saved from the wrath on sin by the blood of the "Lamb of God". To a Bible believer of any religious bent, however, this instruction has significance because it shows God is merciful enough to make an escape clause for His wrath. In every case throughout the Old Testament where large groups of people were destroyed either by plagues or an army due to the will of God, there was always a warning, and always a way far an individual to escape the fate of the group as a whole.
That being said, all the people of Egypt had to do to save themselves and their children was sprinkle some blood on their doors. I have little doubt that there were many people who did so. Imagine this allegory: You meet up with a man who claims to have a message from God to you. He says, "Get out of your house, or you will die." You'd be right to be skeptical. But suppose he said, "Tomorrow it will rain on your house, but not the house of your neighbors," and the next day a little cloud blew in and rained only on your house. The next day, the same thing happened with snow, then hail, then it was struck by lightning, then it was overrun with ants, then your power went out for no discernable reason, etc. Each time, the man said it would happen the next day, and it did, nine times. Then the man said, "Tomorrow, your house will be hit by a meteorite, and nothing will be left but a smoking crater. I suggest you get out." Would you get out? Would you get your family out? Your possessions? I sure would.
One might complain though that I am wrong, and it's illustrated by the phrase that the SAB points out for different reasons: "...the LORD doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel." Surely this is saying that God wants to arbitrarily hurt the Egyptians and spare the Israelites, right? I don't think so. As I read the Bible, there is often a distinction made, and an important one, between a country and its people. God deals with them in different ways, and is much more forgiving towards individuals than a country in general. The "difference between the Egyptians and Israel" is not about individual people, but about differences in cultures, societies, and religious beliefs. Call it intolerant if you want, and I won't deny it, but God is saying that He will show favor on those that believe in Him, and not on those who do not. In the original Hebrew, there is no difference between the word used for "Egypt" and "the Egyptians" in this passage, and verse seven probably would have been translated differently if I'd been in charge of the KJV. But I'm not of course.
So last point the SAB makes is a very good one to take note of, as it's central to this idea. God actually wanted Pharaoh to say no to Moses?! What the heck? you might ask. The book of Exodus is about the beginning of the nation of Israel, and it's this nation that God has chosen to be his representatives on earth in a special way. Egypt and Israel lie at the joining point between three continents, perhaps the only continents that were settled by (relatively) modern civilizations. God is getting ready to set up Israel in its appointed place, and to start them off, He is using Egypt as an example for the other nations. Everyone in the Middle East will come to know of these plagues and what happened when a kingdom dared to try and stand in the way of God and His chosen people. The first nine plagues were Egypt's warning, but the tenth plague is a warning to the nations that would come into contact with the Israelites over the next forty-plus years as they moved out of Egypt and into Canaan.
God gave Egypt a warning, and a way out. The only thing Pharaoh had to give up was his pride.