14 And the LORD said unto Moses, Pharaoh’s heart is hardened, he refuseth to let the people go. 15 Get thee unto Pharaoh in the morning; lo, he goeth out unto the water; and thou shalt stand by the river’s brink against he come; and the rod which was turned to a serpent shalt thou take in thine hand. 16 And thou shalt say unto him, The LORD God of the Hebrews hath sent me unto thee, saying, Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness: and, behold, hitherto thou wouldest not hear. 17 Thus saith the LORD, In this thou shalt know that I am the LORD: behold, I will smite with the rod that is in mine hand upon the waters which are in the river, and they shall be turned to blood. 18 And the fish that is in the river shall die, and the river shall stink; and the Egyptians shall lothe to drink of the water of the river. 19 And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood; and that there may be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood, and in vessels of stone. 20 And Moses and Aaron did so, as the LORD commanded; and he lifted up the rod, and smote the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh, and in the sight of his servants; and all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood. 21 And the fish that was in the river died; and the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink of the water of the river; and there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt. 22 And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments: and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, neither did he hearken unto them; as the LORD had said. 23 And Pharaoh turned and went into his house, neither did he set his heart to this also. 24 And all the Egyptians digged round about the river for water to drink; for they could not drink of the water of the river. 25 And seven days were fulfilled, after that the LORD had smitten the river. (Exodus 7:14–25)
In the last couple weeks, I have listened to two or three different debates between a Christian and an atheist (the latest being a debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye). While the debate topics weren’t always stated as such, they really boiled down to this topic: does God exist?
In each case, I was curious if the atheists would have a persuasive argument. But they never did. They might have brought up a few points where I thought, “I’ll need to study that,” but largely they demonstrated a lack of understanding of Christianity and what it’s really about.
Neither did they seem to consider any of the arguments for the existence of God that the Christian debater put forward. If there was no Creator, no Designer, then where did we get such design in the universe?
If we are just advanced animals, where did we get objective moral laws that are practically the same the world over? Creation is full of evidence for the existence of God, they refuse to see it because their hearts are hardened.
The ten plagues on Egypt were meant to be judgment on Pharaoh and his people for what they did to God’s people Israel, but the plagues were also meant to be evidence that the Lord exists and that he is powerful. We see that need when Moses and Aaron first confronted Pharaoh—
2 And Pharaoh said, Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the LORD, neither will I let Israel go. (Exodus 5:2)
The Lord knew Pharaoh’s heart, and determined to bring plagues upon Egypt as judgment and evidence of his existence—
4 But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring forth mine armies, and my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments. 5 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch forth mine hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them. 6 And Moses and Aaron did as the LORD commanded them, so did they. (Exodus 7:4–6)
We sometimes wonder why God doesn’t do the same in our day to judge and give evidence of his existence. I believe that God is doing the same today, in disasters and such, so that people will know that he is the Lord.
But just has Pharaoh and many of his people didn’t believe even after ten plagues, so many people harden their hearts even more when a disaster or crisis comes.
Yet, disasters also bring people to ponder God’s existence. After Hurricane Katrina, atheist newspaper columnist Roy Hattersley wrote that he noticed the people who helped the most were Christians—and “notable by their absence are teams from rationalist societies, free thinkers’ clubs and atheists associations.” He laments in his article that “it ought to be possible to live a Christian life with being Christian” (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2005/sep/12/religion.uk).
Was he saved? No, but certainly he started thinking and maybe his heart was softened towards Christianity a bit more. Certainly there are hundreds of stories like that of people who came to ponder God’s existence, or who were even saved.
The plagues on Egypt teaches us that God does judge and those judgments will harden hearts, but they may also open people’s minds to consider his existence and power. Those judgments were so that the Egyptians would know who the real Lord of the world was.
Let’s start with an…
I. OVERVIEW OF THE PLAGUES
There were ten plagues, or judgments, that were poured upon Pharaoh and Egypt.
The first nine are grouped in three cycles of three plagues each. Each cycle starts with the words, “in the morning” (see Exodus 7:15, 8:20, 9:13). The tenth plague, the death of the firstborn, is set apart by itself as the ultimate judgment.
Each of the three cycles has specific characteristics:
The first cycle included the Nile being turned to blood, the frogs, and the lice/gnats. In each one of these three plagues, Aaron uses his staff (which could have been Moses’ staff or his own) to start the plague. These plagues were relatively light. Primarily, they affected people’s comfort and patience.
The second cycle involved swarms of flies, the death of livestock, and then boils breaking forth on man and beast. No staff is used in any of these plagues. These plagues were more harmful. The fifth involved the death of livestock and the sixth brought disease upon humans. So they were much more personal.
The third cycle brought hail, locusts, and darkness—all weather or atmosphere-related. Moses’ staff is used in the first two and possibly in the third. These plagues were even more severe—crops and livestock were destroyed and the three days of darkness must have been terrifying.
We should understand that the plagues didn’t happen in just a few days, but over a period of months. The first plague seems to have occurred when the Nile was a high point (Exodus 7:19), which would have been in July and August. The tenth plague, on the other hand, happened during passover in April.
There’s also east winds in March and April that would have brought in locusts for the eighth plague. The barley would have been ripe in January, which is when the seventh plague took place (Exodus 9:31).
Finally, notice that in Exodus 7:25, we have a statement of time: the first plague lasted a week.
So we can assume that the ten plagues probably took at least six months to complete.
Overall, the ten plagues were designed to show that the Lord was superior to Pharaoh, who was himself considered a god. The Lord wanted the Egyptians (and the world) to know that he was the true God (Exodus 9:14-16, 14:4).
Scholars have also pointed out that each one of the plagues seemed to have been directed to a particular god of Egypt. For example, Heqet, the goddess of birth had a frog head—so the plague of frogs showed the Lord’s superiority over her. There were gods and goddesses of crops, fertility, sky and so forth, that each of the plagues overcame.
D. Do You Know The Lord?
Let me draw your attention to two similar verses. The first, we saw already, is in Exodus 5—
2 And Pharaoh said, Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the LORD, neither will I let Israel go. (Exodus 5:2)
Pharaoh was saying, “Why should I do anything with this Lord of yours? Why is he any better than the gods of Egypt?” Now, compare this verse to one from Exodus 3, when Moses was at the burning bush:
13 And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? (Exodus 3:13)
Both Pharaoh and Moses were really asking the same question, “Why should we do anything with the Lord?”
God gave them the same answer. The plagues brought death and destruction upon those who refused to believe, but those who knew the Lord found salvation and protection. For example, during the fifth plague, the death of livestock, the Israelites cattle were protected (Exodus 9:6).
People ask the same question today: “Why should I do anything with Jesus?” The answer is the same: without Jesus there is only death and destruction; with Jesus there is salvation.
II. PLAGUE #1: NILE TURNED TO BLOOD
A. The Lord’s Reason
Exodus 7:14 And the LORD said unto Moses, Pharaoh’s heart is hardened, he refuseth to let the people go.
Exodus 7:15 Get thee unto Pharaoh in the morning; lo, he goeth out unto the water; and thou shalt stand by the river’s brink against he come; and the rod which was turned to a serpent shalt thou take in thine hand.
Notice that the Lord wanted Moses to wait until Pharaoh was in the river before he approached him. We don’t know why Pharaoh was there, perhaps he was bathing, or perhaps he was worshipping the god of the river.
That Pharaoh was worshipping is an interesting idea. The Lord would show him that his river god, Hapi, was no match for the Creator God. The Lord’s purpose was that Egypt would know that he was the true Lord God. We find that purpose, the Lord’s reason for the plagues, specifically stated next:
Exodus 7:16 And thou shalt say unto him, The LORD God of the Hebrews hath sent me unto thee, saying, Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness: and, behold, hitherto thou wouldest not hear.
Exodus 7:17 Thus saith the LORD, In this thou shalt know that I am the LORD: behold, I will smite with the rod that is in mine hand upon the waters which are in the river, and they shall be turned to blood.
The Lord wanted Pharaoh to “know” that he was the Lord. That was the main purpose of the plagues. These plagues were the “signs and wonders” that God would use to prove that he was God.
He did the same in Jesus’ ministry on earth—that’s why there were so many miracles during Jesus’ ministry. When John the Baptist set his disciples to request evidence that Jesus was the true Messiah, what did Jesus say?
4 Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: 5 The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. (Matthew 11:4–5)
And in his prayer recorded in John 17, Jesus stated the purpose for his work:
3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. 4 I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. (John 17:3–4)
The major difference between the miracles the Lord did during Jesus’ ministry and the ones in Egypt was that during Jesus’ ministry the miracles were primarily healing miracles, while in Egypt, the miracles were judgment miracles.
The Lord still uses such means to prove himself to people. He does heal, and sometimes those miracles of healing can bring a person to saving faith.
On the other hand, the Lord also lets people suffer the consequences of their sins, and again, people sometimes are awakened to their folly and repent.
The greatest miracle that God has used to prove himself is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The evidence for the resurrection is just as solid as if it happened today.
I know that sounds like a radical statement, but think about it. If the resurrection happened today, would everyone believe it? No. There would be skeptics who would dismiss it as a camera trick, a drug-induced coma, or something else that sounds scientific and reasonable.
The test of our faith would still be: do you believe that God raised Jesus from the dead? Without that, our faith would be in vain (1 Corinthians 15:17).
Back in Exodus 7, the Lord goes on to describe the severity of coming plague:
Exodus 7:18 And the fish that is in the river shall die, and the river shall stink; and the Egyptians shall lothe to drink of the water of the river.
Exodus 7:19 And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood; and that there may be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood, and in vessels of stone.
To grasp the severity of the situation, you need to understand that, for the Egyptians, the Nile was their source of drink, but it was also a main transportation conduit, and even an object of worship.
If the Lord would send this plague on America, he might turn all the gasoline to blood. That would give a more equivalent response from us Americans. We know what happens when the price of gas gets too high. Imagine what would happen if gasoline were suddenly and completely unavailable.
Again, what we are seeing is that this is a wake-up call for the Egyptians—that they might know the Lord. Who really has their lives in his hands? Hapi the god of the flood (one of three gods based on the Nile), or the Lord God of Israel?
B. Man’s Rationalizations
Whenever God does something amazing, mankind is quick to find an explanation for it. The resurrection of Jesus Christ has been explained away in many different manners: his body was stolen, the disciples hallucinated, or even, Jesus had a twin brother who showed up after the crucifixion.
No matter what it is, man will find a way to rationalize away God and his power. That’s also the case with the changing the Nile River to blood. First, let’s look at how modern man handles this event, then we’ll see how Pharaoh and his magicians rationalized it away.
1. Modern Man
Exodus 7:20 And Moses and Aaron did so, as the LORD commanded; and he lifted up the rod, and smote the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh, and in the sight of his servants; and all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood.
Exodus 7:21 And the fish that was in the river died; and the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink of the water of the river; and there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.
There are many, of course, who do not believe the plagues ever happened. They point to a lack of evidence in Egyptian records, but what Egyptian Pharaoh would record such a disaster for his nation? Besides that, recording information wasn’t a widespread activity like it is today.
Other people try to find reasonable, naturalistic explanations for the plagues. They might say, for example, that this plague of blood was actually some sort of sediment that washed into the Nile that resembled blood. The sediment could have led to an oxygen imbalance which would have led to the stench and dead fish (like what happened in Baker Lake).
Now, many of these scholars still believe that God was behind it, just that he used naturalistic means instead of supernatural means. But there is still the problem of what the Scripture says. It doesn’t say, “the water became like blood,” it says that it was blood.
And also, if this was a natural phenomenon that happened every year when heavy rains washed red sediment into the Nile, Pharaoh would not have been impressed at all.
We must take this plague as it is described in the Scripture, as blood, believing that the Lord God is powerful enough to do such a thing. Modern man will respond with either disbelief or belief.
How did Pharaoh respond?
2. Ancient Magicians and Pharaoh
Exodus 7:22a And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments:
First, a skeptic might ask: “Where did they get the water? The Bible says that it was all turned to blood. See, the Bible is inaccurate!” Verse 24 tells us they: “digged round about the river for water to drink.” Apparently, the water that was above ground was the only water that was affected.
So the magicians did something similar. That doesn’t mean that the magicians exactly duplicated what the Lord did. If they really had the ability to turn water to blood, then why didn’t they reverse what the Lord had done? Instead, all they could do was make, on a smaller scale, an inferior copy.
A number of explanations are possible for what they did do. For example, in one movie about the Exodus, they appear to make Kool-Aid in a bowl. It’s also possible they were aided by demons. Whatever they did, it was enough to impress Pharaoh and give him a rationalization to not believe:
Exodus 7:22b …and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, neither did he hearken unto them; as the LORD had said.
Exodus 7:23 And Pharaoh turned and went into his house, neither did he set his heart to this also.
Exodus 7:24 And all the Egyptians digged round about the river for water to drink; for they could not drink of the water of the river.
Exodus 7:25 And seven days were fulfilled, after that the LORD had smitten the river.
Pharaoh was like the atheists of today, who are too closed-minded to consider the possibility that God exists. He, like they, explained it all away. Pharaoh faced his judgment and, one day, unbelievers today will face judgment also—no rationalization will change that—and only Jesus Christ can protect them from that.
CONCLUSION/CALL TO DECISION
The turning of the Nile to blood was a wake-up call for the Egyptians. Their lives centered around the Nile River. It gave them life, transportation, and something to worship.
We aren’t much different in America. We like to think so, of course. We like to imagine that we are far superior to the ancient people who came before us. But we aren’t. We still worship other gods, they just have different names: money, possessions, power. These are all things that give us happiness and security, just as the Nile river gods gave the Egyptians happiness and security.
What happens when the flow of transportation is disrupted? Imagine the chaos if gasoline suddenly rose to 30 or 40 dollars a gallon! It will be an event, like the plagues, that will give unbelievers the opportunity to know the Lord.
As believers, we know that we are to worship the Lord by depending on him for everything we need. If the Nile were taken away for us it would be a litmus test of where our faith really is. Sure, our lives would change—but would our hearts? Would we seek the Lord and seek to depend on him more?