7:1 So the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. 7:2 You are to speak everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh that he must release the Israelites from his land. 7:3 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and although I will multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt, 7:4 Pharaoh will not listen to you. I will reach into Egypt and bring out my regiments, my people the Israelites, from the land of Egypt with great acts of judgment. 7:5 Then the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD, when I extend my hand over Egypt and bring the Israelites out from among them.

The dispute between Moses and the Lord now being finished, Moses applies himself to the carrying out of God’s commission. It is better by far to be fighting with God, than against him.

The conflict was not merely between Moses and Pharaoh, but between Yahweh and his people on the one hand, and two thousand years of Egyptian culture and religion on the other hand.

Just as the Lord is sovereign over Moses’ speech, Ex 6:30-7:2, so he will be sovereign over Pharaoh’s heart, Ex 7:3-5. (Motyer)

“I will harden Pharaoh’s heart” – ‘There may be remorse, as with Esau; there may be regret, as with Pharaoh; there may be pity for others, as with the rich man in the parable of Dives and Lazarus; but one of the results of the refusal to repent is a deepening disinclination to repent. It is in the same light that we should regard the reference to evil spirits and to lying spirits sent by God. Those who persistently wish to believe lies will be allowed to hear them and will in the end actually believe them to their own destruction. The penalty for love of error is belief of error. Those who suppress the truth will eventually be given up by God to the hideous results of their own sin. It was part of God’s far-reaching plan for mankind to use this stubborn Egyptian king as a demonstration of the impotence of idols and of his own saving might.’ (Wenham, The Goodness of God, 123)

How God hardens

1. Negatively.

(1) God infuseth no hardness and sin as he infuseth grace. All influences from heaven are sweet and good, not sour. Evil cannot come from the Father of lights. God enforceth no man to do evil.

(2) God doth not excite the inward propension to sin; that is Satan’s work.

2. Affirmatively.

(1) By desertion, taking away the restraints of grace, whereby he lets them loose to their own hearts. (Ps 81:12) Man, in regard to his inclinations to sin, is like a greyhound held by a slip or collar; when the hare is in sight, take away the slip, and the greyhound runneth violently after the hare, according to his inbred disposition. Men are held in by the restraints of grace, which, when removed, they are left to their own swing, and run into all excess of riot.

(2) By tradition. He delivereth them up to the power of Satan, who worketh upon the corrupt nature of man, and hardeneth it; he stirreth him up as the executioner of God’s curse; as the evil spirit had leave to seduce Ahab. (1 Kings 22:21,22)

(3) There is an active providence which deposeth and propoundeth such objects as, meeting with a wicked heart, maketh it more hard. God maketh the best things the wicked enjoy to turn to the fall and destruction of those that have them. In what a sad case are wicked men left by God! Mercies corrupt them, and corrections enrage them; as unsavoury herbs, the more they are pounded, the more they stink. As all things work together for good to them that love God, so all things work for the worst to the wicked and impenitent. Providences and ordinances; we read of them that wrest the scriptures to their own destruction. (2 Pet 3:16) Some are condemned to worldly happiness; by ease and abundance of prosperity they are entangled: The prosperity of fools shall destroy them; (Prov 1:32) as brute creatures, when in good plight, grow fierce and man-keen. If we will find the sin, God will find the occasion.’ (Thomas Manton)

‘God hardened Pharaoh’s heart by submitting to him those truths, arguments, and evidences which he ought to have accepted, but the rejection of which recoiled upon himself, and hardened the heart they did not convince. Everybody knows, in the present day, that if you listen, Sunday after Sunday, to great truths, and, Sunday after Sunday, reject them, you grow in your capacity of repulsion and ability to reject them, and the more hardened you become; and thus, the preaching of the gospel that was meant to melt, will be the occasion of hardening your heart, not because God hates you, but because you reject the gospel. The sun itself melts some substances, whilst, from the nature of the substances, it hardens others. You must not think that God stands in the way of your salvation. There is nothing between the greatest sinner and instant salvation, but his own unwillingness to lean on the Saviour, and be saved.’ (J. Cumming, D. D.)

‘The gospel is the savour of life unto life, and of death unto death, as one and the same savour is to some creatures refreshing, to others poisonous. But that the gospel is unto death, is not a part of its original intention, but a consequence of perverse unbelief; but when this takes place, that it is unto death comes as a punishment from God. Thus the expression hardening4 presupposes an earlier condition, when the heart was susceptible, but which ceased in consequence of the misuse, of Divine revelations and gifts. As Pharaoh hardens himself, so God hardens him at the same time.’ (Otto Von Gerlach, D. D.)

‘1. First and foremost, we learn the insufficiency of even the most astounding miracles to subdue the rebellious will, to change the heart, or to subject a man unto God. Our blessed Lord himself has said of a somewhat analogous case, that men would not believe even though one rose from the dead. And his statement has been only too amply verified in the history of the world since his own resurrection. Religion is matter of the heart, and no intellectual conviction, without the agency of the Holy Spirit, affects the inmost springs of our lives.

2. A more terrible exhibition of the daring of human pride, the confidence of worldly power, and the deceitfulness of sin, than that presented by the history of this Pharaoh can scarcely be conceived. And yet the lesson seems to have been overlooked by too many! Not only sacred history, but possibly our own experience, may furnish instances of similar tendencies; and in the depths of his own soul each believer must have felt his danger in this respect, for the6 heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.

3. Lastly, resistance to God must assuredly end in fearful judgment. Each conviction suppressed, each admonition stifled, each loving offer rejected, tends towards increasing spiritual insensibility, and that in which it ends. It is wisdom and safety to watch for the blessed influences of Gods Spirit, and to throw open our hearts to the sunlight of his grace.’ (A. Edersheim, D. D.)

‘In accordance with a vow a Hindu once bandaged up his eyes so tightly that not a single ray of light could enter them. So he continued for years. At last, when his vow was completed, he threw off his bandage, but only to find that through disuse he had completely lost his sight. In one sense, he had deprived himself of sight; in another, God had deprived him of it. So it was with Pharaohs spiritual sight. Then comes the warning of consequences. It is very pleasant to go floating down the river toward the rapids. The current is so gentle that one can easily regain the bank. But remain in that current, in spite of all warnings, just one moment too long, and you and your boat will go over the falls.’ (S. S. Times.)

“Miraculous signs and wonders” – Scripture does not explain how Moses was able to perform his signs, nor how the Egyptian magicians were able to do theirs. What is clear, however, is that ‘Yahweh challenged them on their own ground and defeated them.’ (Ellison)

“My divisions” – or, ‘my armies’ (Cole). The Israelites were an army, not in the modern sense, but in the sense that every man would have had some kind of weapon, be it a sling or a knife, and would have been willing to use it.

“The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord…” – God will be known, either as Deliverer or as Judge.

7:6 And Moses and Aaron did so; they did just as the LORD commanded them. 7:7 Now Moses was eighty years old and Aaron was eighty-three years old when they spoke to Pharaoh.

This, ‘we can see with hindsight, was the turning point’ (Motyer).  Previously, they had strode into Pharaoh’s presence bursting with self-confidence, but without total reliance on the Lord and his word.  But this misplaced zeal is replaced by ‘the magisterial authority, the quietness of confidence, of the man with the word of God.’

Moses had entered God’s presence in a spirit of bitter complaint.  But now he emerges, as we shall see, ‘as the man who had no words other than those God had taught him, no acts other than those God had commanded, and no position except that of a man sent from God.’ (Motyer)

Moses was eighty years old – he is described as 120 years old at his death, Deut 34:7, with an intervening period of 40 years in the desert. It is possible to take these figures either literally or figuratively (with 120 years being the ‘ideal’ lifespan allowed by God in primeval days, Gen 6:3, and also compassing three ‘generations’ of 40 years each, cf. Ps 128:6)

7:8 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, 7:9 “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Do a miracle,’ and you say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh,’ it will become a snake.” 7:10 When Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh, they did so, just as the LORD had commanded them—Aaron threw down his staff before Pharaoh and his servants and it became a snake. 7:11 Then Pharaoh also summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the magicians of Egypt by their secret arts did the same thing. 7:12 Each man threw down his staff, and the staffs became snakes. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. 7:13 Yet Pharaoh’s heart became hard, and he did not listen to them, just as the LORD had predicted.

Ex 7:8-11:10. This section describes the signs and wonders performed in Egypt. Although commonly referred to as the ‘ten plagues’ (and some of them are thus described, Ex 9:3,14-15; 11:1; cf. 8:2), they are referred to generally as ‘signs’, Ex 7:3; 8:23; 10:1-2, and wonders’, Ex 4:21; 7:3; 11:9-10. Actually, there are eleven such events, beginning with the turning of the staff into a snake, v9.

Other general features are, firstly, at the beginning of each episode we find the words, “the Lord said to Moses;” always, the initiative lies with God. Secondly, at the end of each episode we read that Pharaoh hardened his heart; at first, he is said to do this himself, but latterly the emphasis is more on God hardening Pharaoh’s heart. And this is in contrast to his officials, who dropped out of the ‘miracle contest’ at an early stage and were gradually persuaded of God’s power. When the hailstorm was predicted, some of them took precautions, Ex 9:18-20, and when Moses warned of the plague of locusts, they urged Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, Ex 10:7. ‘Yet, although those around him gradually conceded to God’s power, Pharaoh remained stubbornly resistant to Moses’ demands.’ (NBC)

“When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Perform a miracle…'” – The hard of heart may ask for a miracle, but they do not believe when one happens before their eyes, v13. See Mt 12:38f. Pharaoh will ask for a miracle, ‘not with any desire to be convinced, but with the hope that none will be wrought, and then he would have some colour for his infidelity.’ (MHC)

‘This,’ comments Motyer, ‘cannot be seen as the request of a man open to persuasion.  We know that Pharaoh had already taken up a position of hostile intransigence, and the Lord made no secret of the fact that this opposition was going to increase (Ex 7:5).

When Pharaoh asked for a miracle, little did he know that his request would be granted, with interest!

Snake – The word can also mean a small crocodile, or a large lizard or water-monitor.

Ellison suggests that ‘apart from the last, there is nothing supernatural in the plagues on Egypt. They are intensifications of natural troubles which have plagued Egypt down the centuries…Like most biblical miracles they point to God’s control of nature rather than to power to do that which is apparently contrary to nature; cf. Rom 8:28. This should warn us against paying too much attention to those who claim to have more than normal powers, whether they are used for good or evil. Quite apart from the possibility that they may be derived from evil spirits – a possibility that modern man rejects all to easily – there is no doubt that many men and women possess in their own right “paranormal” powers, which the simple man all too often thinks are supernatural.’

His staff…became a snake – In Ex 4:3 a different word was used for ‘snake’.  Here, something more monstrous (a crocodile, possibly – Egypt had a crocodile god, named Sobek) is meant.

Ryken explains that, to the Egyptians, snakes were objects both of fear and veneration.  Many carried around amulets to ward off Apophis, the serpent-god.  Pharaoh’s head-dress (like the death mask of Tutankhamen) is crested with a fierce cobra.  In the Nile delta, the Egyptians built a temple to the snake-goddess Wadjet, who was thought to bestow supernatural powers and afford protection to the Pharaoh.  According to Currid: ‘the serpent-crested diadem of Pharaoh symbolized all the power, sovereignty, and magic with which the gods endued the king.’

At his coronation, the Pharaoh would take his crown and say:-

O Great One, O Magician, O Fiery Snake!
Let there be terror of me like the terror of thee.
Let there be fear of me like the fear of thee.
Let there be awe of me like the awe of thee.
Let me rule, a leader of the living.
Let me be powerful, a leader of spirits.

All of this, suggests Ryken, helps us understand the significance of Aaron throwing down his staff in front of Pharaoh and it becoming a snake: ‘He was taking the symbol of the king’s majesty and making it crawl in the dust. This was a direct assault on Pharaoh’s sovereignty; indeed, it was an attack on Egypt’s entire belief system. To draw a modern comparison, it would be like taking a bald eagle into the Oval Office and wringing its neck.’

‘This first miracle, though it was not a plague, yet amounted to the threatening of a plague.’ (MHC)

Wise men and sorcerers – Wisdom and ability may be used to evil ends, as well as good.

Ryken quotes Larsson: ‘“Magic” was a main element in the Egyptian religion at this time, and those who mastered these powers were held in high esteem. The priests, belonging to the highest officials of Pharaoh, possessed secret knowledge and were skilled in all sorts of mysterious rites. By casting spells, they could allegedly overpower humans and control gods and thereby attain dominion over the world of nature and the world of the gods, realms which could not be separated since some animals were regarded as divine. Through magical formulas, the magicians claimed to exercise the power of the gods. The master of magic therefore became a player in the world of the gods.’

‘It has long been noted that Pr 22:17-23:18 owes considerable debt to the Teaching of Amenemope of Egypt. It was therefore possible for an Israelite to be initiated into the intricacies of foreign wisdom and to excel in its practice without condemnation (e.g., Daniel and his friends in the book of Daniel, and Moses according to Acts 7:22). Where foreign wisdom and wise men failed according to biblical critique was in their refusal to recognize or to acknowledge YHWH as the source of true knowledge. “Foreign wise men are both stupid and foolish; the instruction of idols is but wood!” (Jer 10:8) “I am the Lord … who frustrates the omens of liars, and makes fools of diviners; who turns wise men back, and makes their knowledge foolish.” (Isa 44:24f) Foreign wise men most often appear in contexts of competition in which this negative critique is clearly expressed through their inability to compete with the Israelite wise man who is aware of the source of his knowledge. (Ge 41:8; Ex 7:11; Dan 2:27; 5:15) Lack of knowledge of YHWH leads these wise men into association with magic, divination, and astrology, practices condemned by Israel and God.’ (Deut 18:9-14) (ISBE)

‘The narrator goes to great trouble to make plain that Pharaoh had to call in the best he had to match the wondrous deed of Moses and Aaron: “wise scholars,” “magicians,” “learned men,” with “arcane arts.”‘ (WBC)

Sorcerers – See Ex 7:22; 8:7,18; Nu 22-23; 2 Kings 9:22; Isa 19:3, 11f; 47:9-13; Jer 10:2; 14:14; 27:9; 29:8f; Eze 13:6-9; 21:21f; 22:28; Dan 2:2,10,27; 5:7,15; Mic 3:6f; Nah 3:4f; Mt 24:24; Acts 8:9,11; 13:8; 16:16; 19:13-15.

‘Magic and sorcery are always condemned in Scripture. Magic is a rival to true religion, though it can be practised in conjunction with false religious ideas. True religion centres in the personal experience of the one God, with an attempt to live a life that is conformable to his will. The believer walks humbly with his God, prays to him, and is prepared to accept the circumstances of life as the sphere in which to glorify him. Magic, on the other hand, deals with lower supernatural beings, or attempts to force issues by using psychic forces, irrespective of whether the issues are for the glory of God. The following practices come under the specific condemnation of the Bible.’ (NBD)

The Egyptian magicians – Magic was very prevalent in ancient Egypt. According to tradition, their names were Jannes and Jambres,. (2 Tim 3:8; these names also occur in extrabiblical literature dating from the 2nd century AD onwards)

Did the same things – God often permits his enemies temporarily success.  ‘Ironically, all that the magicians can do is make matters worse: more snakes, more bloody water, more frogs!’ (Fretheim)

In Scripture, magical and occult powers are not trivialised.  These magicians were not snake-charmers or illusionists.  The text credits them with real supernatural power, and ascribes this to their ‘secret (occult) arts’.  But their power is not constructive: they can only add to the problems of the Egyptians.  Nor is it unlimited: it is subject to the power of the Lord of heaven and earth.  Nor is it creative: they can only mimic what God can do.

On the last point, Ryken says: ‘the best they could do was to imitate what God did. Pharaoh’s magicians simply repeated Aaron’s sign. This is because Satan can only corrupt, never create. The Bible says that “the work of Satan [is] displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders” (2 Thess. 2:9). Satan is always a counterfeiter, never an innovator. He is like the annoying little brother who never comes up with any ideas of his own but always copies his older siblings. This explains why every false religion has ethical principles or sacred rituals that seem vaguely similar to Christianity.’

‘The use of magic in Egypt is best seen in the Westcar Papyrus, where magicians are credited with changing wax crocodiles into live ones and back to wax again after seizing them by their tails. However, the relation between Aaron’s miracles and those done by the magicians, whom the apostle Paul named as Jannes and Jambres in 2 Tim 3:8, is difficult to describe. It could well be that the magicians cast spells over serpents that were rendered immobile by catalepsy, due to pressure on the nape of their necks. However, it is just as likely that by means of demonic power they were able to keep up with Aaron and Moses by using supernatural powers from a realm other than God’s for the first two plagues. But when they came to the third plague, they bowed out with the declaration to Pharaoh that “this is the finger of God”.’ (Ex 8:19) (HSB)

‘For this kind of conjuring, it would appear that the Egyp. cobra can be rendered immobile (catalepsy) if pressure be applied to the muscles at the nape of the neck. The serpent must first be charmed, then seized at the neck as shown on several ancient Egyptian scarab-amulets and thus be temporarily immobilized. Aaron’s serpent restored to a rod manifested the wholly-other omnipotence of God, however.’ (NBD)

‘Authentication of a prophet by a miracle was not a true criterion, for false prophets could duplicate acts of power (Ex 7:11-12,22; compare Mk 13:22 2 Thess 2:9). However, the prophets employed it as a sign at times. Elijah and Elisha, in particular, demonstrated this (for example, the Mount Carmel test between Elijah and the prophets of Baal, 1 Kings 18).’ (Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral)

‘Note, God suffers the lying spirit to do strange things, that the faith of some may be tried and manifested, (Deut 13:3; 1 Cor 11:19) that the infidelity of others may be confirmed, and that he who is filthy may be filthy still, 2 Cor 4:4.’ (MHC)

‘No miracle can prove that immoral teaching is sacred. But it can prove that it is supernatural. And this is precisely what Scripture always proclaims. In the New Testament, we are bidden to take heed, because a day will come when false prophets shall work great signs and wonders, to deceive, if possible, even the elect. (Mk 13:22) In the Old Testament, a prophet may seduce the people to worship other gods, by giving them a sign or a wonder which shall come to pass, but they must surely stone him: they must believe that his sign is only a temptation: and above whatever power enabled him to work it, they must recognize Jehovah proving them, and know that the supernatural has come to them in judgment, not in revelation.’ (Deut 13:1-5) (Expositor’s Bible)

In considering the ‘miracles’ performed by Pharaoh’s magicians, we must consider whether they were (a) merely illusory, like the tricks performed by modern-day conjurors; or (b) supernaturally empowered.  From the descriptions of the events themselves, it seems clear that a supernatural power was at work, even though this, in the end, proved inferior to the power of God himself.  We are told that God sent the plagues as a challenge to the Egyptian gods (Ex 12;12).  We know, too, that idolatry can demonically inspired (1 Cor 10:20-21; Eph 6:12; 2 Thess 2:8f; 1 Tim 4:1.

Secret arts – On false miracles, see Ex 7:22; 8:7; Mt 7:22; 2 Thess 2:9; Rev 16:14.

The reader is faced with the problem of what actually happened, and how Pharaoh’s magicians were able to copy Moses. ‘Undoubtedly these magicians were adepts at sleight of hand, jugglery and perhaps even hypnotism: but we can hardly say that Moses used these, even in Acts 7:22 says that he was instructed in all the wisdom of Egypt.’ (Cole)

Enns says that we should not be easily satisfied with naturalistic explanations.  ‘The text does not imply that the magicians’ feat was not real or that it was a mere parlor trick. In fact, to argue that this exchange between Yahweh and Pharaoh is nothing more than snakes in a state of catalepsy not only diminishes the real power conflict here, but upends the narrative thrust. The text states clearly that the staffs become snakes. It is not our place to “explain” incidents such as this in ways that are more in harmony with our modern “sensibilities.” It is striking to me how conservative scholars reject naturalistic explanations for the ten plagues or drying up of the Red Sea, but then argue (against the text) for a naturalistic explanation for staffs turning into snakes.’

Each of the attempts of the Egyptian magicians to match Moses’ and Aaron’s miracles is rather comical. Here, were are faced with the prospect of any number of snakes overrunning the palace, and Aaron’s staff ‘gobbling them up’. ‘Pharaoh and his best minds are by no means presented as inept or lacking in power. Quite the contrary, they are formidable, a force to be reckoned with. But when they come up against Yahweh, they are outdone. This point is reiterated ever more forcefully throughout the proof-of-Presence sequence.’ (WBC)

‘The point is simply that, though the power of the Egyptian magicians is great, it is far surpassed by that of the servants of Yahweh.’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary)

Enns: ‘The theological significance of turning a staff into a snake is that, like the plagues to follow, it is a manipulation of nature. God battles Egypt by controlling creation; it does his bidding. This sign and the ten plagues display one by one Pharaoh’s impotence, despite his grandiose self-image and Yahweh’s unquestionable and unconquerable might.’

Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs – And thus their staffs disappeared for good!

‘This sign would have been especially impressive to the Egyptians, who believed that swallowing something was the way to acquire all its powers. By gobbling up their magic wands, Aaron’s staff was not simply destroying their power and authority but was claiming that all their power and authority belonged to God. The obvious implication was that the God of Israel was also the Lord of Egypt. This is the great theme of Exodus: The Lord God is glorious above all other gods.’ (Ryken)

‘Although Satan’s power is real, it is not absolute. We have already seen that Satan has the power to perform counterfeit miracles that keep his servants in spiritual bondage. But he does not have the power to overrule the sovereign God. Satan can only do what God allows him to do; and whenever God decides to do something, there is nothing that Satan can do to stop him.’ (Ryken)

‘The exodus was God’s triumph over Satan, but it was not his greatest triumph. God made his supreme demonstration of power over Satan through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Satan opposed Jesus from the beginning, almost from the day he was born. He used the power of government, sending soldiers to kill him. He used the power of demons and even personally tempted Jesus in the wilderness. He used the power of religion, sending priests to accuse him. Finally, God allowed Satan to put Jesus to death, but that turned out to be Satan’s biggest mistake of all because it was by dying for our sins that Jesus delivered us from the devil’s power. Jesus disarmed Satan’s authority and made a public spectacle of him, triumphing over him through the cross (Col. 2:15). Then, in order to prove that he was not under Satan’s power, Jesus was raised from the dead. Now we can say, “ ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’… thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:54, 57, emphasis added).’ (Ryken)

Pharaoh’s heart became hard – See Ex 7:14,22; 8:15,19,32; 9:7,34,35; 13:15. The emphasis during the first five plagues is on Pharaoh hardening his own heart; during the latter plagues the emphasis is on God hardening his heart, Ex 9:12 10:1,20,27 11:10 14:4,8,17. ‘God is not the author of evil. There is no suggestion that he violated the freedom of Pharaoh’s will or that he manipulated Pharaoh in order to heap further vengeance on the Egyptian people.’ (HSB) It is right to see in this process a ‘judicial hardening’: those who continue to say, “God, leave me alone,” will eventually find that their prayer has been answered, and they are left to have their own way.

A warning

Pharaoh stands as a warning to everyone.  Do not harden your heart to God.  He saw some awesome signs and wonders and still refused to listen.  Some say they would believe if they saw more miracles.  But Pharaoh’s issue was not with evidence; his problem was his stubborn heart (cf. Lk 16:30f).  Jesus has given us the final sign, the empty tomb.  there is plenty enough evidence for a person to believe.’ (Merida).

The First Blow: Water to Blood

7:14  The LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is hard; he refuses to release the people. 7:15 Go to Pharaoh in the morning when he goes out to the water. Position yourself to meet him by the edge of the Nile, and take in your hand the staff that was turned into a snake. 7:16 Tell him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to you to say, “Release my people, that they may serve me in the desert!” But until now you have not listened.

Here, as Motyer comments, we meet ‘the new Moses.  ‘Where now, we might ask, is the impulsiveness of Ex 2:11-13, the hesitancy of Ex 3:12-4:13 and the triumphalism of Ex 5:1?’  Conversely, ‘where has all this unflurried calm (Ex 10:29), total confidence in God (Ex 9:5), and pervasive fearlessness before the king come from?’  The answer is that he is now a man totally reliant upon, and obedient to, the word of God, Ex 7:6.

The river Nile was worshipped by the Egyptians as a god.  ‘The river was the source of Egypt’s economic power. Its irrigation canals and reservoirs made Egypt the breadbasket of the Mediterranean world.’ (Bruckner)

“Take in you hand the staff that was changed into a snake” – ‘Moses is expressly ordered to take the rod with him, that Pharaoh might be alarmed at the sight of that rod which had so lately triumphed over the rods of the magicians.’ (MHC)

Note that Pharaoh is given ample warning, an opportunity to relent. ‘God warns before he wounds; for he is long-suffering, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.’ (MHC)

7:17 Thus says the LORD: “By this you will know that I am the LORD: I am going to strike the water of the Nile with the staff that is in my hand, and it will be turned into blood. 7:18 Fish in the Nile will die, the Nile will stink, and the Egyptians will be unable to drink water from the Nile.” ’ ” 7:19 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over Egypt’s waters—over their rivers, over their canals, over their ponds, and over all their reservoirs—so that it becomes blood.’ There will be blood everywhere in the land of Egypt, even in wooden and stone containers.” 7:20 Moses and Aaron did so, just as the LORD had commanded. Moses raised the staff and struck the water that was in the Nile right before the eyes of Pharaoh and his servants, and all the water that was in the Nile was turned to blood. 7:21 When the fish that were in the Nile died, the Nile began to stink, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile. There was blood everywhere in the land of Egypt!

“It will be changed to blood”

‘One of the first miracles Moses wrought was turning water into blood, but one of the first miracles our Lord Jesus wrought was turning water into wine; for the law was given by Moses, and it was a dispensation of death and terror; but grace and truth, which, like wine, make glad the heart, came by Jesus Christ.’ (MHC)

‘The judgments of God are all known to himself beforehand. He knows what he will do in wrath as well as in mercy.’ (MHC)

“Tell Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over Egypt’s waters…so that it becomes blood…”  Moses raised the staff and struck the water – Jeffrey Stackert asks: ‘is it Moses who strikes the Nile River to enact the blood plague in Egypt (Exod 7:20, second half of the verse), or does he simply stand by as his brother, Aaron, holds out his hand over Egypt’s waters (Exod 7:19 and the first half of verse 20)?’  Stackert finds this ‘discrepancy’ to be evidence of multiple literary sources (four, actually) for the Torah.  An editor has ‘cut and pasted’ from different accounts (which have agreements as well as disagreements) in order to compile the rather uneven text that we now have.

Was it real blood?
According to Harper’s Bible Commentary, there is a well-known Egyptian text that records the Nile turning to blood.  ‘The natural phenomenon to which both this Egyptian text and the biblical story of the plague of blood point is probably the presence of red particles in the water of the Nile at the time of the annual inundation, which carried silt from the tropical red earth of the basin of the Blue Nile in Ethiopia and the Sudan. The presence of red microorganisms may sometimes have intensified the effect.’  This commentary emphasises, however, that the text says that the water turned to blood, not merely to the colour of blood.

Cole says that ‘any thick red fluid would answer, for the thought is not one of clinical analysis but of outward resemblance…Either the red clay washed down from Ethiopia (which causes the annual phenomenon still called the “Red Nile” by the Arabs) or the multiplication of red plankton (as at times off the Queensland cost), would seem to be the best explanation. The “stretching out” of the rod, occurring simultaneously with the change in the water, would then be an example of God’s perfect timing, as at the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, Ex 14:21 or of Jordan, Jos 3:15.’

Ryken objects to what he calls ‘naturalistic’ interpretations: ‘One is that they have trouble accounting for the fatality of all the fish. Another is that they do not explain why there was blood throughout Egypt, and not simply in the Nile. Still another difficulty is explaining how the sediment or fungus or whatever it was appeared instantaneously when Moses struck the Nile with his staff. Then there is the plain language of Scripture, which clearly states that “the water was changed into blood” (v. 20). The word “changed” (haphac) shows that a real transformation took place, while the word “blood” (dam) is generally used to refer not just to any thick red fluid but to blood, plain and simple.’

Durham asserts: ‘the whole point of this narrative, as of the additional mighty-act narratives that follow it, is the miraculous nature of an act for which Yahweh is given unequivocal responsibility. V 17 asserts and v 20 at least implies that it was Yahweh who struck the waters of the Nile. The action of Moses and/or Aaron, armed with the staff (or staffs) symbolizing Yahweh’s authorizing power, is symbolic of what was really happening. And the effect of Yahweh’s blow is that the Nile turns into ‘blood,’ not into the muddy or algae-laden and thus red-looking water the “naturalistic” commentators never tire of suggesting (see most fully, Hort). We simply must never lose sight of the fact that the mighty-act narratives are theological accounts, not phenomenological reports. Yahweh struck the Nile, and instantaneously, “before the very eyes of” Pharaoh and his court, it changed into blood. Whatever the difficulties such an assertion may pose for the readers of another age, they must not be allowed to diffuse or even to alter what the text actually says, for that inevitably either obscures or removes entirely the real point of the narrative in the first place.’ (WBC)

Motyer notes that (a) the text says explicitly that ‘the water became blood’, and that (b) there was a simultaneous transformation of the water in jars and tanks (v19).  He concludes that an inundation of the Nile cannot therefore have been the cause.  We think that the insistence of (a) unnecessarily literal, given that Joel 2:31 (cited in Acts 2:20) says that the moon [will be turned] to blood – i.e. to the colour of blood, and that (b) depends on a disputed (though common) translation of the text.

Over the streams and canals, over the ponds and all the reservoirs – Literally, ‘over their streams…’, etc.  This seems to suggest that it was only the Egyptians (and not the Israelites) who were affected by the change in the water.  It also leaves room for the Egyptian magicians to replicate the same thing: for how could they turn water to blood if it had all already been turned to blood (unless, as Fretheim suggests, the original miracle was immediately reversed)?

‘As the Nile was worshipped as a god, and as its water was the life-blood of Egypt, while fish was a most important food, this blow was devastating.’ (Cole)

Blood will be everywhere in Egypt – Or, perhaps, ‘throughout Egypt’ (i.e. not in every place or affecting all the water).

Even in the wooden buckets and stone jarslit. ‘in the wooden things and in the stones’, so it may mean the tree sap and the rock springs (Bruckner).

Motyer is content with the usual translation.  However, he notes that ‘some suggest a reference to wooden and stone idols or religious objects with the implied drama of the priests pouring water over them and finding it had turned to blood.’

In the presence of Pharaoh – As Enns remarks, this suggests that the water changed into blood very quickly.  This would call into question a naturalistic explanation, such as that the water was coloured by sediment, or by a bloom of micro-organisms.  However, we might respond by noting that the raising of the staff ‘in the presence of Pharaoh’ does not necessarily mean that the effect on the water was instantaneous.

But (as Enns again acknowledges) the key thing is that this (whether natural or supernatural) happens at the Lord’s command.

7:22 But the magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts, and so Pharaoh’s heart remained hard, and he refused to listen to Moses and Aaron—just as the LORD had predicted. 7:23 And Pharaoh turned and went into his house. He did not pay any attention to this. 7:24 All the Egyptians dug around the Nile for water to drink, because they could not drink the water of the Nile.

The Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts – although ‘one would have thought to reverse the effect would have been more useful….The difference…did not lie so much in the phenomenon, as in the method by which it was produced. They achieved their results by their “spells:” Israel’s results were obtained by reliance on God alone, and therein lay the difference.’ (Cole)

Ryken: ‘The irony is that rather than making the plague better, they made it worse! It would have made a great deal more sense for the magicians to undo the plague by turning the blood back to water, but they did not have the power to tamper with God’s miracle. They could not reverse the disaster; they could only repeat it, adding plague upon plague. Thus God bent Satan’s power to his own will.’

‘What this shows,’ adds Ryken, ‘is that Satan’s power is self-defeating. Even his counterfeit signs and wonders ultimately serve the greater glory of God. The supreme example is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. At the time it must have seemed like Satan’s greatest triumph: the Son of God suffering, bleeding, and dying on a wooden cross. But what Satan didn’t know was that as Jesus hung on that cross, he was turning away (or propitiating) God’s wrath by atoning for the sins of his people. Three days later Jesus rose from the dead, and Satan discovered that his greatest triumph was actually his bitterest defeat. The death of Christ was the very thing that God used to grant sinners eternal life.’

‘Could they have turned the river of blood into water again, this would have been something to the purpose; then they would have proved their power, and Pharaoh would have been obliged to them as his benefactors. But for them, when there was such scarcity of water, to turn more of it into blood, only to show their art, plainly intimates that the design of the devil is only to delude his devotees and amuse them, not to do them any real kindness, but to keep them from doing a real kindness to themselves by repenting and returning to their God.’ (MHC)

As Chester says, ‘It is interesting to track the reaction of the Egyptian court. The Egyptian magicians are able to replicate the first two plagues (Ex 7:22; 8:7). But they cannot replicate the third plague (v 18), and after the third plague they no longer try. “This is the finger of God,” they conclude (v 19). In Ex 9:11, the magicians cannot stand before Moses because of their boils. By the eighth plague, Pharaoh’s officials are begging him to concede defeat (Ex 10:7). By Ex 11:3, Moses was “highly regarded” in Egypt.’

These wells dug in sandy soil beside the Nile would contain filtered water.  This is an indication that not all the water in Egypt was affected, but only (or at least mainly) that of the Nile and its tributaries.

The Second Blow: Frogs

7:25  Seven full days passed after the LORD struck the Nile.

This is one of the few notes of time in this narrative. The whole period of the plagues was probably between six and nine months. If the flooding of the Nile marks the beginning of the plagues, this would normally take place between June and October. The hailstorm of Exodus 9 probably took place in January, judging from the effects on the plantation. The terminal point is the exodus itself, which took place at passover at spring full moon.