The Faith of a Father and Mother

23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. – Hebrews 11:23 ESV

We read it in Exodus 1: “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8 ESV). Joseph was gone. Time had passed and the preferential treatment received by his family was about to be a thing of the past. The descendants of Jacob had been fruitful during their peaceful stay in Egypt but their dramatic increase in number got the attention of the new Pharaoh and raised alarm bells in his mind. What if we go to war and they decide to turn against us and side with our enemies, he reasoned in his mind. Paranoia set in and he determined to turn the Israelites into slaves in order to control them. The book of Exodus tells us exactly what happened:

…the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves. – Exodus 1:13-15 ESV

But that wasn’t enough for Pharaoh. It was their sheer numbers that worried him, not their military might. After all, they were predominantly shepherds. So he came up with a plan. He commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill all male children as soon as they came out of the womb. He was going to take care of his perceived problem by infanticide. But fearing God, the Hebrew midwives refused to obey the command of Pharaoh and when he confronted them about their blatant lack of follow through, they said, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them” (Exodus 1:19 ESV).

These brave women practiced an early form of civil disobedience and God blessed them for it. So when Pharaoh’s initial plan failed, he came up with another one.

Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.” – Exodus 1:22 ESV

This is where our passage for today comes in. Verse 23 of Hebrews 11 refers to the faith of Moses’ unnamed parents, who chose to protect their infant son from the evil plans of Pharaoh.

Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him. Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.” – Exodus 2:1-10 ESV

Later in the book of Genesis, we discover that the names of Moses’ parents were Amram and Jochebed. This obscure couple, like all the other couples living at that time, were struggling with fear and apprehension due to the edict of the Pharaoh that their male children should be sacrificed to the Nile. And I believe it was Pharaoh’s intent that each and every Hebrew male child thrown into the Nile was to have been a sacrifice to Hapi, their water and fertility god. The symbols for Hapi were the lotus and papyrus plants. Papyrus was a reed that grew along the banks of the Nile and it was used for everything from paper, rope, furniture, and boats. Hapi was believed to be the greatest of the Egyptian gods and was thought to be the maker of the universe and the creator all all things. Each year, at the time of the flooding of the Nile, the people would throw amulets, sacrifices, and other offerings into the river to appease Hapi and to ensure a fruitful season of planting and harvest.

In the story, Jochebed makes a small boat made of reeds and places her newborn son in the river in order to protect him from Pharaoh. But rather than seeing her act as a sacrifice to Hapi, she was placing him in the hands of Yahweh, the God of the people of Israel. The author of Hebrews seems to indicate she and her husband somehow knew that there was something special about this child. The New International Version translates the phrase as “they saw he was no ordinary child.”

In the book of Acts, Luke provides further insight into their actions.

At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God’s sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father’s house.Acts 7:20 ESV

The word, beautiful is the same Greek word used in the Hebrews passage. Somehow God communicated the uniqueness of this child to his parents and they determined to save his life. Jochebed made a reed boat and placed him in the river, trusting in the sovereign will of God to protect him. And God did just that. Luke goes on to record, “and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds” (Acts 7:21-22 ESV).

When Jochebed set the basket in the river she had no idea what would happen, but she had an assurance of things hoped for and a conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). She placed her faith in God and He came through. Somewhat ironically, but not coincidentally, Moses was rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter and adopted into the family of the very man who was out to destroy him. God was at work.

Amram and Jochebed did not know what God had planned. They simply knew that their son was somehow unique and special. They placed him in the river fully trusting in God to do with him as He saw fit. What they did, they did by faith. And just as in the case of Abraham and Isaac, when these two parents entrusted their son to God, they received him back. Jochebed would be given the unbelievable opportunity to nurse the very son she had placed in the basket. She did so without any knowledge of what was going to happen to her infant son. She had been willing to give up that which she loved to Him in whom she believed. And she would live to see her son become more than she could have ever dreamed or imagined. God would use Moses to set His people free from their captivity and fulfill the promise He had made to Abraham all those years ago.

The very act of Amram and Jochebed placing their son in that reed basket and setting him afloat on the Nile was an act of faith in God. They were trusting in the One whom they could not see to do what they could only hope for – the preservation of the life of their son and the redemption of the Hebrew people.

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.

Plague Number Three

16 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, so that it may become gnats in all the land of Egypt.’” 17 And they did so. Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff and struck the dust of the earth, and there were gnats on man and beast. All the dust of the earth became gnats in all the land of Egypt. 18 The magicians tried by their secret arts to produce gnats, but they could not. So there were gnats on man and beast. 19 Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said. – Exodus 8:16-19 ESV

God was not done. The water of the Nile had been turned to blood and then from this putrid source had come millions, if not billions, of frogs that filled every nook and cranny of Egypt. They were everywhere and in everything. But at Pharaoh’s request, the frogs were miraculously eliminated, dying n the spot and leaving the Egyptians with a huge environmental clean-up operation to conduct.

And it seems that about the time the dead and decaying bodies of the frogs were removed, another divine judgment was waiting in the wings. Once again, God gave His instructions to Moses, who then passed them on to Aaron.

“Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, so that it may become gnats in all the land of Egypt.’” – Exodus 8:16 ESV

While the blood-filled Nile posed a problem for the Egyptians, it was only seven days in duration. Soon, the fresh water returned and the people were able to slake their thirst. And the epidemic of frogs lasted for a short period of time and then completely dissipated with their mass extinction.

But what happened next was something different altogether. This plague took things to a personal level. Rather than being inconvenienced by contaminated water or the uncomfortable presence of hideous frogs, the Egyptians were going to experience real pain. God was sending a horde of insects to make their lives miserable.

Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff and struck the dust of the earth, and there were gnats on man and beast. All the dust of the earth became gnats in all the land of Egypt. – Exodus 8:17 ESV

The Hebrew word that in English appears as “gnats” is כִּנִּים (kinnim), and it has been translated a variety of different ways, including as “lice, gnats, ticks, flies, fleas, or mosquitoes.” It is unclear exactly what kind of insect is being described, but it seems clear that, whatever they were, they were prolific and painful. Their comparison to dust suggests that they were both small in size and staggering in terms of their number. The New Living Translation states that they “infested the entire land, covering the Egyptians and their animals” (Exodus 8:17 NLT). And would appear that these tiny creatures were more than a nuisance. They were actually painful, delivering either a bite or sting that made the lives of the Egyptians and their livestock miserable.

They were “. . . a species of gnats, so small as to be hardly visible to the eye, but with a sting which, according to Philo and Origin, causes a most painful irritation of the skin. They even creep into the eyes and nose, and after the harvest they rise in great swarms from the inundated rice fields. – C. F. Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament: Pentateuch

These creatures were invasive and pervasive, and they were indiscriminate in terms of their attack. The rich and poor suffered alike. Pharaoh himself was not immune from their presence and he could do nothing to escape the frustrating nature of their relentless torment.

It seems readily apparent that their vast number was meant as a not-so-subtle reminder of the Israelites’ prolific explosion in during their time in Egypt. The opening chapter of the book established the staggering growth of Israel’s population while they were living in the land of Goshen.

…they multiplied so greatly that they became extremely powerful and filled the land. – Exodus 1:7 NLT

As with the Israelites, so with the gnats. They filled the land and proved to be a threat to the Egyptians’ way of life. And, as before, Pharaoh’s magicians attempted to replicate this supernatural sign by trying to conjure up even more gnats.

Pharaoh’s magicians tried to do the same thing with their secret arts, but this time they failed. And the gnats covered everyone, people and animals alike. – Exodus 8:8 NLT

The irony in this should not be missed. These men had also been able to turn water into blood and produce their own swarm of frogs. But this time, they were completely incapable of making more gnats. It seems odd that they would even try, but they were desperate to do anything to bring into question the power of Moses and Aaron.

It is almost as if God was letting them know that when it comes divine to judgment, He needed no help. He was fully capable of making more than enough gnats to accomplish His divine purpose. Stimied in their attempt to duplicate Aaron’s sign, they turned to Pharaoh and confessed, “This is the finger of God!” (Exodus 8:19 NLT).

They knew they were beaten and by whom. The reason for their choice of the word “finger” has occasioned many theories, none of which is entirely satisfying. At the least their statement highlights that the plague was accomplished by God with majestic ease and effortlessness. Perhaps the reason that they could not do this was that it involved producing life—from the dust of the ground, as in Genesis 2:7. The creative power of God confounded the magic of the Egyptians and brought on them a loathsome plague. – NET Bible Study Notes on Exodus

It was clear to these men that this sign had been the work of an unknown God. They use the generic term, ĕlōhîm, and not the proper name, Jehovah. In doing so, they were not acknowledging the God of Israel, but were simply admitting that a diving being had been behind this devastating judgment. And no matter how hard they tried, they could not reproduce the works of Aaron, a “magician” of this unnamed God.

But their words made no impact on Pharaoh. As he has done so many times before, he hardened his heart against this latest display of God’s power and judgment. He was not going to let these two elderly Jewish men change his mind or alter his plans for the people of Israel. In a sense, Pharaoh was saying, “Bring it on!” He was drawing a line in the sand and declaring his intention to refute any and all overtures from this invisible and overly demanding deity. Come what may, Pharaoh was going to stand his ground against Moses and Aaron’s God.

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.

The Second Plague

1 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. But if you refuse to let them go, behold, I will plague all your country with frogs. The Nile shall swarm with frogs that shall come up into your house and into your bedroom and on your bed and into the houses of your servants and your people, and into your ovens and your kneading bowls. The frogs shall come up on you and on your people and on all your servants.”’” 5 And the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your hand with your staff over the rivers, over the canals and over the pools, and make frogs come up on the land of Egypt!’” So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt. But the magicians did the same by their secret arts and made frogs come up on the land of Egypt.

Then Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron and said, “Plead with the Lord to take away the frogs from me and from my people, and I will let the people go to sacrifice to the Lord.” Moses said to Pharaoh, “Be pleased to command me when I am to plead for you and for your servants and for your people, that the frogs be cut off from you and your houses and be left only in the Nile.” 10 And he said, “Tomorrow.” Moses said, “Be it as you say, so that you may know that there is no one like the Lord our God. 11 The frogs shall go away from you and your houses and your servants and your people. They shall be left only in the Nile.” 12 So Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh, and Moses cried to the Lord about the frogs, as he had agreed with Pharaoh. 13 And the Lord did according to the word of Moses. The frogs died out in the houses, the courtyards, and the fields. 14 And they gathered them together in heaps, and the land stank. 15 But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the Lord had said. – Exodus 8:1-14 ESV

Seven days after having turned all the potable water in Egypt to blood, God summoned Moses and Aaron again. They were to return to the palace and reiterate their request for Pharaoh to release the people of Israel. But this time, their petition was to be accompanied by a warning of a second plague. Having gotten Pharaoh’s attention with the blood-filled Nile and the mass extinction of most of its aquatic life, Moses and Aaron were to issue a threat of further devastation should he refuse their request again.

“This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so they can worship me. If you refuse to let them go, I will send a plague of frogs across your entire land. The Nile River will swarm with frogs. They will come up out of the river and into your palace, even into your bedroom and onto your bed! They will enter the houses of your officials and your people. They will even jump into your ovens and your kneading bowls. Frogs will jump on you, your people, and all your officials.” – Exodus 8:1-4 NLT

This time, rather than turning water into blood, the plague would feature a supernatural infestation of frogs. As a good Egyptian, Pharaoh would have understood the irony in this warning because his people held these amphibious creatures in high esteem. They even had a goddess, Heqet, whose image reflected that of a frog. This grotesque-looking deity was believed to be the wife of Khnum, the creator god. This husband-wife team of gods was responsible for bringing life to every human being.  Khnum would fashion them on his potter’s wheel, then Heqet would provide them with life before placing them in the mother’s womb.

Many pregnant women wore charms or amulets featuring Heqet’s image, as a kind of talisman to ensure the safe delivery of their child. Frogs were a protected species in Egypt and the intentional killing of them was punishable by death.

So, when Moses announced to Pharaoh that these esteemed creatures were going to suddenly explode in number and fill the land, it was to be a not-so-subtle message concerning the Egyptians’ pantheon of mythical gods and goddesses. It would be as if Heqet, the goddess of fertility, was so good at her job that the creature whose image she bore would proliferate so successfully that they filled the land.

Little Heqets would be everywhere; in their homes and even in the royal palace. These symbols of fertility would show up in their bedrooms and even find their way into the beds of the Egyptians. No place would be free from their pervasive and repugnant presence.

What should not be overlooked is that these creatures came from the very Nile and other water sources that had been turned to blood. While the fish had died, the frogs had survived and thrived. There is no natural explanation for this phenomenon. It was intended to be a supernatural display of God’s power and sovereignty. In a sense, God was bringing life from death. The bloody Nile was producing a superabundance of frogs, the very symbols of fertility and life for the Egyptian people. But this divine infestation would prove to be far less than pleasurable. The sheer numbers of these slimy creatures would soon leave the Egyptians with a sense of revulsion and a collective desire to see them eradicated.

But, as before, Pharaoh’s magicians were unable to do anything about this latest sign. All they could do was replicate it. In other words, they made the problem worse. And their ability to mirror the actions of Moses and Aaron was likely a sovereign act of God. He allowed them to make more frogs but prevented them from doing anything to reduce their number or stop their proliferation.

One of the things that stands out in this scene is the way God utilized His two servants. There was a hierarchy of leadership in their relationship with Yahweh. Moses would receive instructions from God, then he would deliver them to Aaron.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and say to him…” – Exodus 8:1 ESV

And the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your hand with your staff…” – Exodus 8:5 ESV

Aaron was destined to be the primary enactor of God’s will. He was the one who was ordered to throw down his staff in the presence of Pharaoh, and it was his staff that was turned into a serpent. It was also Aaron whom God ordered to turn the water into blood.

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… –Exodus 7:19 ESV

This was all in fulfillment of God’s statement: “he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him” (Exodus 4:16 ESV). The working relationship between these two brothers was divinely established. God had ordained that Moses would portray the role of God’s primary emissary. He would then delegate responsibility to Aaron to carry out the will of Yahweh. So that when all was said and done, Pharaoh would know that these supernatural signs and wonders were the actions of the God of Moses and Aaron.

“So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. – Exodus 3:20 ESV

And this hierarchy of leadership did not escape Pharaoh. When he and his people grew weary of the plague of frogs, he appealed to Moses and Aaron but addressed his request to their God.

“Plead with the Lord to take the frogs away from me and my people. I will let your people go, so they can offer sacrifices to the Lord.” – Exodus 8:8 ESV

He recognized that this was the work of a powerful deity and not some kind of parlor trick performed by an elderly Hebrew man. Pharaoh knew he was up against something far greater than he had ever seen before, and he was ready to acquiesce to God’s demands.

Rather than providing Pharaoh with an immediate response to his request, Moses asked him to determine the timing of what would prove to be another miracle.

“You set the time!” Moses replied. “Tell me when you want me to pray for you, your officials, and your people. Then you and your houses will be rid of the frogs. They will remain only in the Nile River.” – Exodus 8:9 NLT

By allowing Pharaoh to choose the exact moment for God to act, Moses was demonstrating his own intimate relationship with Yahweh. Unlike Pharaoh, Moses could approach his God and have his requests heard and answered. And when Pharaoh set the following morning as the deadline for deliverance, Moses agreed with the request but warned Pharaoh “it will be as you have said. Then you will know that there is no one like the Lord our God” (Exodus 8:10 ESV). the God of the Hebrews had brought the frogs into being and He would be the one to make them disappear.

Moses took the request to God and, according to Pharaoh’s timelines, the next morning the frogs began to die off, leaving a massive clean-up effort for the Egyptians. But this miraculous display of God’s power did nothing to change the heart of Pharaoh. As soon as the frogs began to disappear, Pharaoh’s penchant for stubbornness reared its ugly head again.

when Pharaoh saw that relief had come, he became stubborn. He refused to listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had predicted. – Exodus 8:15 NLT

God was not done, so Pharaoh was not ready to give in. It was going to take far more than blood and frogs to convince this arrogant despot to bend the knee to the will of God. And God had already preordained an entire series of plagues that would culminate in one final devastating display of His divine sovereignty.

“When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’” – Exodus 4:21-23 ESV

Pharaoh did not yet comprehend the full glory and magnitude of Yahweh. But, in time, he would. In time he would come to understand that there is no other god but the Lord. But for now, he was determined to remain stubbornly opposed to God’s will and destined to subject his people to the full weight of God’s divine wrath.

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.

Plague Number One

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.