THE SOVEREIGN GOD PROVIDES SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE TO CONFIRM HIS MISSION OF REDEMPTION AND TO JUSTIFY HIS JUDGMENT AGAINST STUBBORN REBELLION
Stubborn rebellion is not a wise course of action to pursue against the demands of a sovereign God. God’s redemptive mission lies at the heart of His kingdom agenda. In the case of Pharaoh, God provided miraculous signs through Moses and Aaron to confirm the authenticity of His demands to let His people go. But Pharaoh turned away in stubborn unbelief and was met with the harsh reality of God’s judgment. The entire nation of Egypt suffered greatly as a result.
Likewise God has provided ample testimony and supporting evidence regarding the redemptive mission of Christ on the cross. He commands people everywhere to repent and turn to Christ in faith in order to be delivered out of the bondage of sin and the penalty of eternal judgment. There is only one way that God has provided to deal with our sin problem and restore a right relationship with Him. Stubborn rebellion in the face of such an invitation only invites God’s severe judgment.
I (7:8-13) MAIN SIGN OF GOD’S SOVEREIGN POWER TO CONFIRM THE MISSION OF MOSES AND AARON IN DELIVERING THE JEWS FROM EGYPT
A. (:8-10) Miraculous Sign of the Staff Becoming a Serpent
1. (:8-9) Sign Commanded
“Now the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘When Pharaoh speaks to you, saying, Work a miracle, then you shall say to Aaron,
Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a serpent.’”
Believer’s Study Bible: Here begins the first great concentrated period of biblical miracles. The second period comes in the days of Elijah and Elisha, and the third covers the life of Jesus and His apostles. A miracle is a signature of God, His sign of confirmation that the proclaimed message is truly His revelation.
John Mackay: Second Session with Pharaoh — Moses and Aaron had already set the Lord’s demands before Pharaoh (5:1–3). When the Lord instructs them to return to him, it is not just to repeat the message, but also to provide backup for its acceptance in the form of a convincing demonstration of power. The following incident in which Moses’ staff becomes a snake is not one of the plagues that come as the Lord’s judgment on Egypt, but it did function as a sign. It pointed to the power and control of the Lord, and should have led those who witnessed it into serious consideration of the accompanying message. This sign is similar to that which was earlier performed before the Israelites (4:2–5, 30) with a view to evoking trust on their part. . .
It is significant that the sign challenges Egypt at two levels. It takes on the Egyptian religious system in precisely the area where it thought it had abundant expertise and capability. When the magicians are reduced to silence, they cannot claim that what they had been dealing with was not really their specialty. We must also remember that the serpent crested headband of Pharaoh symbolized his sovereignty and status in Egypt (4:3). Aaron is challenging this when he throws the serpent on the ground before Pharaoh. It was not quite as blatant an assault as taking the coronet off his head, but the symbolism was clear for all to see.
2. (:10) Sign Executed
“So Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh, and thus they did just as the LORD had commanded; and Aaron threw his staff down before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent.”
B. (:11-12) Magical Imitation Exposed as Powerless
1. (:11-12a) Sign Imitated
“Then Pharaoh also called for the wise men and the sorcerers, and they also, the magicians of Egypt, did the same with their secret arts.
For each one threw down his staff and they turned into serpents.”
Ryken: Notice, however, that 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. Satan is a knockoff artist. Unable to make a religion that is truly unique, he is always borrowing something from God.
2. (:12b) Imitation Exposed as Powerless
“But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs.”
Constable: These were not sleight-of-hand artists but wise men who were evidently members of the priestly caste (cf. Ge 41:8). The power of their demonic gods lay in their “secret arts” (Ex 7:11). They were able to do miracles in the power of Satan (1 Cor. 10:20; cf. Mt. 24:24; 2 Th 2:9,10; Rev. 13:13–14). The superiority of the Israelites’ God is clear in the superiority of Aaron’s serpent over those of the Egyptian magicians (Ex 7:12). The rod again represented regal authority and implied that Yahweh, not Pharaoh, was sovereign (cf. Ex 4:2–5).
Guzik on they also, the magicians of Egypt, did the same – Apparently, this wasn’t mere magic; the enchantments of the Egyptian magicians were examples of dark, demonic power showing itself in what at least appeared to be miracles. Miracles—or at least apparent miracles—are part of Satan’s arsenal. (Read 2 Th 2:9,10). This means that miracles can prove that something is supernatural, but they cannot prove that something is true.
MacArthur on secret arts – By means of their “witchcraft,” the wise men, sorcerers, and magicians demonstrated their abilities to perform a similar feat. Whether by optical illusion, sleight of hand, or learned physical manipulation of a snake, all sufficiently skillful enough to totally fool Pharaoh and his servants, or by evil supernaturalism, the evaluation given in the inspired record is simply “they also … did the same.” However, the turning of rods into snakes, and later turning water into blood (Ex 7:22) and calling forth frogs (Ex 8:7), were not the same as trying to create gnats from inanimate dust (Ex 8:18–19). At that point, the magicians had no option but to confess their failure.
C. (:13) Miraculous Sign Rejected by Hard Hearted Pharaoh
“Yet Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them,
as the LORD had said.”
John Mackay: It may also be the case that the situation brought about by the plagues was needed to get the Israelites willing to leave the land. Egypt was very attractive, and the people subsequently show how much about Egypt was to their liking (16:3; Num. 11:5). Already they seem to have acquiesced in the brutality of the regime rather than fight for their rights and freedom. They were so dispirited that they had become unable to stand against the Egyptians, and would not have left Egypt unless this exceptional course of events had occurred to have them forced out of Egypt.
Ryken: What Pharaoh should have done was to get down from his throne and begin to worship the one true God. He had heard God’s word and seen God’s sign, and the only proper response was to fall down at God’s feet. The reason Pharaoh didn’t do this was that spiritually he had a cardiac condition: His heart was hard. The verb used to describe this hardening (hazaq) appears in the perfect tense, which indicates completed action. In other words, Pharaoh’s heart was not simply getting hard; it was hard already. Literally, it was “heavy.” It was slow to grasp the truth. Utterly insensitive to true spiritual influences, it was not warmed by love for God. It was neither sorry for sin nor willing to change. Pharaoh’s heart was hard all the way through.
II. (:14-25) PLAGUE #1 – TURNING WATER INTO BLOOD
A. (:14) The Reason for the Judgment – Stubborn Refusal to Submit to God’s Sovereignty
“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh’s heart is stubborn;
he refuses to let the people go.’”
Youngblood: The ten plagues had several purposes as described in Exodus itself. The Lord sent the plagues to judge Egypt and her gods (Exod. 7:4; 10:2; 12:12; 18:11), and we will note that many of the individual plagues seem to have been directed against a specific Egyptian deity. Needless to say, the plagues were also used by God to compel the pharaoh to free the Israelites (7:4; 18:10). Third, they were sent to prove once and for all that God Himself is the only sovereign Lord of nature and history (7:5; 9:14-15; 10:2; 18:11). Fourth, the plagues struck the land of Goshen selectively, making a distinction between Egypt and Israel and demonstrating that the Israelites were God’s chosen people, who came under His protective care (8:22-23; 11:7; 12:27). Finally, the plagues displayed the Lord’s almighty power and proclaimed His holy name (9:16).
B. (:15-18) The Proclamation of the Judgment to Pharaoh
1. (:15-16) Circumstances of the Proclamation
a. (:15) The Staging of the Proclamation
“Go to Pharaoh in the morning as he is going out to the water, and station yourself to meet him on the bank of the Nile; and you shall take in your hand the staff that was turned into a serpent.”
Rod Mattoon: One reason why the Pharaoh may have been at the river was to worship it. The Nile River was worshiped as a god. It represented the chief god of Egypt. Hapi or Apis, the bull god, was the god of the Nile. Isis was the goddess of the Nile. Khnum was the ram god and was the guardian of the Nile. The Nile River was considered as the body and blood of Osiris himself. The yearly flooding symbolized the miraculous rebirth of Osiris, god of earth and vegetation according to the Egyptians.
J Ligon Duncan emphasizes the parallel with Pharaoh’s daughter finding Moses at the Nile and now Moses encountering Pharaoh on the Nile (“What goes around comes around!”) – We don’t know exactly why Pharaoh was there. It’s a little surprising to find Pharaoh at the banks of the Nile, but perhaps there was some sort of morning ritual connected with the religion that circled around the Nile. The Nile was considered divine, and perhaps Pharaoh was out participating in this ritual. But the fact that Moses meets Pharaoh there is extremely important. Remember that once upon a time the daughter of Pharaoh had met Moses on the banks of the Nile, and her actions would forever change the future of the life of Moses. Now, Moses meets Pharaoh on the banks of the Nile, and his actions will not only forever change the life of Pharaoh, but of Pharaoh’s household. The language here deliberately mirrors the language of Exodus 2:3-9+, when Pharaoh’s daughter meets Moses and discovers him and draws him out of the water on the banks of the Nile.
Ryken: Scholars have long debated the historicity of the plagues in Exodus. Some claim that they never happened at all, that they are merely symbolic literary inventions. Others have tried to find some sort of natural explanation for the plagues. In the case of the first plague, it is sometimes suggested that the river did not actually turn into blood but merely resembled blood. Perhaps heavy rains in southern Egypt washed red soil into the Nile Delta. Perhaps the river was red with sediment from seasonal flooding, and the sediment led to an oxygen imbalance, which would account for the river’s stench. Or perhaps the Nile was covered with a bloom of reddish algae or inundated with microorganisms. Whatever the precise explanation, some of these scholars admit that the plague was nevertheless an act of God. God judged Egypt by overruling his creation, using natural disasters to show his supernatural power.
There are several difficulties with these naturalistic explanations. 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.
The real problem with trying to explain away this miracle, however, is that a merely natural phenomenon would not have accomplished God’s purpose, which was to prove that he was the Lord. If the Nile turned to blood every time there was a downpour somewhere upriver, this sign would have been meaningless. Pharaoh wouldn’t have even bothered to call for his magicians. He would have said, “Big deal, Moses; this happens all the time.” For all these reasons, it is right to believe and teach that the river of blood was a divine miracle, a supernatural demonstration that the Lord is God.
Don Fortner: Pharaoh looked upon the Nile River as the source of Egypt’s life, power and glory, the great benefactor of his land. ─ The God of Glory was about to make his god and his religion a curse upon him and his land.
b. (:16) The Sovereign Power Behind the Proclamation
“And you will 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 behold, you have not listened until now.’”
Douglas Stuart: The speech God here gave Moses to say to Pharaoh clearly describes who Moses represented (Yahweh, “the God of the Hebrews,” v. 16), what Yahweh was demanding (“let my people go,” v. 16), the reason a plague-punishment was warranted (“until now you have not listened,” v. 16), the fact that Yahweh was determined to teach Pharaoh who he, Yahweh, was—meaning his greatness and exclusive power, not merely his name (“by this you will know that I am the Lord,” v. 17), the mechanism for bringing about the punishment (“with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile,” v. 17), and what the punishment would be (“it will be changed into blood. The fish … will die, and the river will stink; the Egyptians will not be able to drink its water,” vv. 17–18). Such precision made sure that Pharaoh could not misunderstand the purpose of the plague and the power of the God who caused it. Pharaoh needed to understand that Moses was merely an instrument of God; his adversary was the King of the universe, not a former Egyptian princeling. He must also understand that his refusal to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt would be “rubbed into his face” by divine design. And, as well, he must understand that the Egyptian people in general would share in the misery that his cruel stubbornness, with their complicity, would bring upon them in retribution.
Ryken: The way God dealt with Pharaoh shows that his demands are nonnegotiable. Every time Pharaoh encountered God, he was confronted with the same God making the same demand. God never changed his terms or issued a counteroffer. This is because God never changes his terms: “The plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations” (Ps. 33:11). What was true for Pharaoh during the exodus is true for sinners in salvation. God’s terms remain unchanged. What God demands today is the same thing he demanded in the time of the apostles. When people asked what they had to do to be saved, the apostles said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). God still requires sinners to repent of their sins and believe in Jesus Christ. We should not expect him to make us another offer. Jesus Christ is God’s best and only bargain for eternity.
2. (:17-18) Content of the Proclamation
“Thus says the LORD, ‘By this you shall know that I am the LORD: behold, I will strike the water that is in the Nile with the staff that is in my hand, and it shall be turned to blood. And the fish that are in the Nile will die, and the Nile will become foul; and the Egyptians will find difficulty in drinking water from the Nile.’”
Don Fortner: Clear Message — There was no offer of mercy, no appeal was made to Pharaoh, no indication of grace was given, and no compromise was offered, just a plain command and a stark declaration of what God was about to do.
Dwight Pentecost: What we refer to as the ten ‘plagues’ were actually judgments designed to authenticate Moses as God’s messenger and his message as God’s message. Their ultimate purpose was to reveal the greatness of the power and authority of God to the Egyptians (Ex 7:10–12:36) in order to bring Pharaoh and the Egyptians into subjection to God.
Bruce Hurt: The first recorded miracle of Jesus was water to wine (probably red wine) (Jn 2:1-11+), but here Jehovah’s first miracle is water to red blood! God is going to respond to Pharaoh’s stubborn (heavy) heart with a command to confront the commander of Egypt. Moses is not the same man he was in Ex 4:10, 13! Throughout the 10 plagues, when he confronts Pharaoh (4 he inflicts without warning), he does so obediently and courageously. He has come to truly know Jehovah as the LORD Who is able to perform what He commands Moses to carry out (Ex 6:1-2+). While this section marks the first of 10 plagues, note that the word plague is used only in Ex 9:14, Ex 11:1 and Ex 12:13.
C. (:19-21) The Performance of the Judgment
1. (:19) Instructions Regarding Turning Water Into Blood
“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Say to Aaron, Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt, over their rivers, over their streams, and over their pools, and over all their reservoirs of water, that they may become blood; and there shall be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.’”
J Ligon Duncan: The next time there will be a judgment of blood in the water, it will be at the Red Sea, and it will be the armies of Egypt filing the Red Sea with death. So God is showing a picture of things to come as Pharaoh is stubborn, as he will not turn back, so God will bring death to Egypt. The whole point here is that God is sovereign over Pharaoh, God is sovereign over the Nile, God is sovereign over all creation, and God is sovereign over Egypt. So the plagues are both judgments and signs. They are punishments and ways in which God is revealing the fact that He is Lord.
Douglas Stuart: In the implementation of this miracle, Moses by his words directed Aaron, who did the actual motion with the staff in accordance with the general pattern of responsibility predicted in 4:15–17, which specifically indicated that Moses would teach Aaron “what to do” (4:16) and that the staff would be the device for performing “miraculous signs” (4:17). Thus we see here Moses and Aaron working together in accordance with the revealed pattern, as the opening words of v. 20 also imply.
2. (:20-21) Implementation of the Instructions
“So Moses and Aaron did even as the LORD had commanded. And he lifted up the staff and struck the water that was in the Nile, in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants, and all the water that was in the Nile was turned to blood. And the fish that were in the Nile died, and the Nile became foul, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile. And the blood was through all the land of Egypt.”
D. (:22-25) The Response to the Judgment
1. (:22a) Response of the Magicians in Egypt
“But the magicians of Egypt did the same with their secret arts;”
Walter Kaiser Jr.: The question, where they found any unblemished water if the fourfold water system in “all Egypt” (vv. 19, 21) was affected, is answered in v. 24 – from subterranean water from freshly dug wells.
2. (:22b-23) Response of Pharaoh
a. (:22b) Hardened Heart of Stubborn Rebellion
“and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened,
and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had said.”
b. (:23) Cold Heart of No Concern
“Then Pharaoh turned and went into his house
with no concern even for this.”
J Ligon Duncan: Then we see how Pharaoh reacts. It’s absolutely stunning, verse 23. Pharaoh returns to his palace, he shows absolutely no concern, and he thinks it was all a trick. I mean, after all, his magicians had been able to duplicate it. It’s all a farce, it’s all a trick. His people are without water, they’re trying to dig new wells because they can’t find clean, pure water to drink. Egypt is in havoc for seven days, and Pharaoh is absolutely unconcerned. This will not be the last time that we see a picture of a heart which is blind to the truth of God.
3. (:24) Response of the Egyptians
“So all the Egyptians dug around the Nile for water to drink,
for they could not drink of the water of the Nile.”
4. (:25) Duration of the Plague
“And seven days passed after the LORD had struck the Nile.”
John Hannah: Some say this means seven days intervened between the first plague (of one day) and the second plague. However, since intervals are not stated between any of the other plagues, it seems better to assume that the first judgment lasted seven days.
John Davis: The first plague brought upon Egypt eloquently revealed the power of God and the impotence of Egyptian deities. For the Egyptian who sought water for his cattle and for himself, it would have meant an exercise in deep frustration and despair. For the very religious Egyptian who faithfully sought the guidance and protection of the various deities associated with the Nile it must have raised serious questions about the unqualified powers of such deities. To the Israelites who witnessed this event, it was a reminder of the awesome power of the God who had chosen them and had blessed them. To us who are alive today and witness the idolatry of this present generation this miracle is a reminder of the tremendous power of a God who will not only bring blessing upon those who are faithful to Him, but will, with equal power, bring judgment and humiliation upon those who lift up their hand in rebellion.