14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go. 15 Go to Pharaoh in the morning, as he is going out to the water. Stand on the bank of the Nile to meet him, and take in your hand the staff that turned into a serpent. 16 And you shall say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, “Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness.” But so far, you have not obeyed. 17 Thus says the Lord, “By this you shall know that I am the Lord: behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood. 18 The fish in the Nile shall die, and the Nile will stink, and the Egyptians will grow weary of drinking water from the Nile.”’” 19 And the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt, over their rivers, their canals, and their ponds, and all their pools of water, so that they may become blood, and there shall be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, even in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.’”
20 Moses and Aaron did as the Lord commanded. In the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the Nile, and all the water in the Nile turned into blood. 21 And the fish in the Nile died, and the Nile stank, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile. There was blood throughout all the land of Egypt. 22 But the magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts. So Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said. 23 Pharaoh turned and went into his house, and he did not take even this to heart. 24 And all the Egyptians dug along the Nile for water to drink, for they could not drink the water of the Nile.
25 Seven full days passed after the Lord had struck the Nile. – Exodus 7:14-25 ESV
Things were about to get busy for God’s two elderly representatives. At an age when most men would be slowing down, Moses and Aaron had been assigned the God-ordained task of delivering His people from their captivity in Egypt. And this formidable responsibility wasn’t made any easier by the recalcitrant Pharaoh. As God had warned, the king of Egypt would do everything in his considerable power to keep the Israelites enslaved.
God was not surprised by Pharaoh’s actions. He had actually predicted it and claimed that He was the motivating factor behind Pharaoh’s stubborn resistance. The Almighty knew the king’s heart and was using his predispositions and natural tendencies to bring about the preordained plan for Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Pharaoh’s “hard heart” would play a major role in God’s redemptive plan.
Having enacted their first sign in the presence of Pharaoh, Moses and Aaron were given instructions to take things to the next level. Araon’s staff turning into a snake was a mere parlor trick compared to what God was about to do. Pharaoh’s arrogant refusal to accept the terms of God’s demands would be met with severe judgment. God was going to strike at the heart of Egypt’s economic, religious, and cultural life: The Nile.
This vast river was the source of all life for the people of Egypt. Its annual flood cycle ensured the dissemination of nutrient-rich silt on the shorelines, providing fertility and prosperity to the land. The Egyptians believed the Nile to be a gift of the gods and they associated a number of their deities with the river itself.
There were Apis and Isis, the god and goddess of the Nile. Khnum was considered the guardian of the Nile. There were at least two gods who were deemed responsible for the Nile’s flooding. The first was the crocodile-like deity Sobek, whose domain consisted of the Nile’s waters. The second was Hapi, who was sometimes referred to as “Lord of the River Bringing Vegetation.” Because of his role in the annual flood cycle, Hapi was also considered a god of fertility.
It makes perfect sense that God would choose this revered natural resource to be the site of His first judgment. He sent Moses and Aaron to meet Pharaoh on the banks of the river the next morning. The omniscient God of Israel foreknew that Pharaoh would be making a morning visit to the river’s banks and He instructed His two agents to get there early and be ready to confront the king upon his arrival.
Moses was instructed to have Aaron take the same staff that God had transformed into a snake and use it to strike the waters of the Nile. But before doing so, Moses was to deliver to Pharaoh the following short speech from God.
So this is what the Lord says: “I will show you that I am the Lord.” Look! I will strike the water of the Nile with this staff in my hand, and the river will turn to blood. The fish in it will die, and the river will stink. The Egyptians will not be able to drink any water from the Nile.’” – Exodus 7:17-18 NLT
It is likely that Pharaoh was accompanied by a royal retinue of armed guards, servants, and administrative officials. Perhaps his visit had religious overtones and there were priests to assist him in making sacrifices to one or more of the gods of the Nile.
But at the sight of these two elderly Hebrews standing on the bank of the river, Pharaoh must have been more than a bit surprised and irritated. And to hear them pronounce their far-fetched plan to turn the river to blood must have left him bemused. Who did these men think they were? Did they not know they were dealing with one of the most powerful men in the world?
But Moses and Aaron did as God had instructed them.
As Pharaoh and all of his officials watched, Aaron raised his staff and struck the water of the Nile. Suddenly, the whole river turned to blood! The fish in the river died, and the water became so foul that the Egyptians couldn’t drink it. There was blood everywhere throughout the land of Egypt. – Exodus 7:20-21 NLT
In a matter of minutes, the entire river had been transformed into blood. This supernatural display of God’s power was meant to demonstrate His superiority and sovereignty. The God of creation was giving irrefutable evidence of His status as the one true God. Hapi, Khnum, Apis, and Isis were all defenseless before the majesty and might of Jehovah. They could not protect their own domain from the devastating judgment of the God of the Hebrews. And all Pharaoh could do was stand back and watch.
According to the text, the effects of this miracle were not localized but widespread throughout Egypt, impacting “all its rivers, canals, ponds, and all the reservoirs” (Exodus 7:19 NLT). Every source of drinking water was affected. And, not only that, the fish that served as a primary source of food for the Egyptians were wiped out as a result of this nationwide catastrophe.
In what will become a rather strange and repeated scene, Pharaoh’s magicians responded to this devastating display of God’s judgment by replicating it. In other words, they mimicked the actions of God and actually made matters worse. If they had the power to turn water into blood, why did they not choose to do the opposite? Once again, God seems to be using these so-called magicians as instruments of His sovereign will. It is ironic that they display similar power to that of Moses and Aaron, but they cannot repair or resist what God’s agents have done. They can only replicate it and increase the suffering of their own people.
Seven days would pass. During that time, Pharaoh would go about his business as if nothing had happened. He refused to think about the devastation brought upon his nation by the God of Moses and Aaron. Safely ensconced in his palace, he was unaware that his people were busy digging wells in a vain attempt to find fresh drinking water. And little did Pharaoh know that this was just the beginning. The book of Psalms records the litany of miraculous judgments that were headed Pharaoh’s way.
They did not remember his power
or the day when he redeemed them from the foe,
when he performed his signs in Egypt
and his marvels in the fields of Zoan.
He turned their rivers to blood,
so that they could not drink of their streams.
He sent among them swarms of flies, which devoured them,
and frogs, which destroyed them.
He gave their crops to the destroying locust
and the fruit of their labor to the locust.
He destroyed their vines with hail
and their sycamores with frost.
He gave over their cattle to the hail
and their flocks to thunderbolts.
He let loose on them his burning anger,
wrath, indignation, and distress,
a company of destroying angels.
He made a path for his anger;
he did not spare them from death,
but gave their lives over to the plague.
He struck down every firstborn in Egypt,
the firstfruits of their strength in the tents of Ham.
Then he led out his people like sheep
and guided them in the wilderness like a flock. – Psalm 78:42-52 ESV
The blood-filled Nile was only the precursor to so much more that God had planned for the nation of Egypt. And when He was done, they would know that He alone was Lord.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.