A. God explains the plan to Moses again.
1. (1-2) The re-affirmation of the work of Moses and Aaron.
So the LORD said to Moses: “See, I have made you as God to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you. And Aaron your brother shall speak to Pharaoh to send the children of Israel out of his land.”
a. So the LORD said to Moses: God showed amazing patience with His servant Moses. After the outburst at the end of the previous chapter, we might expect that God had enough with Moses. Yet God didn’t even chastise Moses; He simply told him what to do and set him to do it. This is another example of the richness of God’s mercy.
b. I have made you as God to Pharaoh: Pharaoh had rejected any direct dealing with Yahweh, as he said in Exodus 5:2: Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? Therefore, God would then deal with Pharaoh through Moses.
i. “He should stand before Pharaoh in the place of God, not only delivering His messages, but accompanying them with such actions of power as should demonstrate the authority of those messages.” (Morgan)
ii. This idea carries over into the New Testament, especially when Paul wrote that believers are like letters written by Jesus that the whole world reads (2 Corinthians 3:2-3). People that won’t look to God look at us; those who won’t read the Bible read our life.
iii. “A prophet is one who represents God to man and, as such, all the Lord’s people are prophets. Are we giving those around a true idea of God?” (Thomas)
c. Aaron your brother shall be your prophet: If Moses was to be “as God” to Pharaoh, then Aaron was to be Moses’ “prophet” – his spokesman before Pharaoh.
i. Just as Moses was not to act on his own initiative but to wait for God’s direction, Aaron was not to act on his own initiative, but to wait for Moses’ direction.
d. You shall speak all that I command you: God would not allow Moses to let the seeming failure of his first encounter with Pharaoh to discourage him. Moses is simply commanded to go.
2. (3) God promises to harden Pharaoh’s heart.
“And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt.”
a. I will harden Pharaoh’s heart: As in the previous statement of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 4:21), we remember that God did not harden Pharaoh’s heart against Pharaoh’s own desire. God confirmed Pharaoh in his wicked inclination against Israel.
b. Harden Pharaoh’s heart: Pharaoh revealed his heart when he refused the humble request of Moses back at Exodus 5:1-4. Now, God would strengthen Pharaoh in the evil he already chose.
i. God can do the same today. In our rebellion, we may reach the place where God will strengthen us in the evil we desire: Therefore God also gave them up to their uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts… and even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting (Romans 1:24, 28).
c. And multiply My signs and My wonders in the land: Even as God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, He also gave him reasons to believe and surrender to God – if he wanted to.
3. (4-7) Why God will harden Pharaoh’s heart.
“But Pharaoh will not heed you, so that I may lay My hand on Egypt and bring My armies and My people, the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the children of Israel from among them.” Then Moses and Aaron did so; just as the LORD commanded them, so they did. And Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three years old when they spoke to Pharaoh.
a. But Pharaoh will not heed you: God knew from the beginning that Pharaoh would not agree to Moses’ request. It was no surprise to God that Pharaoh did not heed Moses.
b. So that I may lay My hand on Egypt… and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD: This explains why the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart – essentially, to bring righteous judgment upon Egypt. In doing so, God would reveal Himself even to those who rejected Him.
i. Pharaoh claimed that he didn’t know who the LORD was (Exodus 5:2). God promised to show Pharaoh who He was, but to do it in a way that would not please Pharaoh or Egypt.
ii. God planned and did His work so that the Egyptians would see that He was the LORD. He does the same in His work among the church, displaying His wisdom to angelic beings, both faithful and fallen (Ephesians 3:10-11). He also does the same in individual lives, displaying His goodness and power to an on looking world. “Believers are the world’s Bibles, by studying which men may come to know the Lord Himself.” (Meyer)
iii. “These miracles would also be an invitation for the Egyptians to personally believe in the Lord. Thus the invitation was pressed repeatedly… and some apparently did believe, for there was a ‘mixed multitude’ (Exodus 12:38) that left Egypt with Israel.” (Kaiser)
c. Moses was eighty years old: This is retirement age for many, but Moses knew that God’s will was more important than retirement. We also see from this that Aaron was Moses’ older brother, so God went against the conventional customs of that day by making the younger brother more prominent.
B. Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh.
1. (8-10) Moses and Aaron appear before Pharaoh again.
Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “When Pharaoh speaks to you, saying, ‘Show a miracle for yourselves,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your rod and cast it before Pharaoh, and let it become a serpent.’” So Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh, and they did so, just as the LORD commanded. And Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh and before his servants, and it became a serpent.
a. Take your rod and cast it before Pharaoh: When God first gave Moses a similar sign in Exodus 4:1-9, it seemed those signs were primarily for the leaders of Israel. Now, Moses and Aaron brought the sign before Pharaoh.
b. So Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh: The first time Moses and Aaron went before Pharaoh everything seemed to go wrong (Exodus 5:15-19). It took courage for them to go to Pharaoh again, but Moses simply obeyed God.
c. Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh and before his servants, and it became a serpent: This was not exactly the same miracle that Moses experienced on Mount Sinai and performed before the elders of Israel (Exodus 4:2-5 and 4:29-30). That saw the rod of Moses turn into a serpent, but a different Hebrew word is used here – something like a crocodile, which was something of a symbol of Egypt itself.
i. “When cast down it became a tannin (‘great serpent,’ ‘dragon,’ or ‘crocodile’)… The connection of the name tannin with the symbol of Egypt is clear from Psalm 74:13 and Ezekiel 29:3.” (Kaiser)
2. (11-13) Pharaoh’s magicians imitate the miracle of Aaron’s rod.
But Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers; so the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. For every man threw down his rod, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods. And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the LORD had said.
a. So the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments: In the midst of an unmistakable miracle, Satan provided Pharaoh with a reason to doubt – and Pharaoh seized on the doubt and hardened his heart.
i. “Magic was very prevalent in Egypt, and a number of papyri deal with the subject.” (Cole)
b. For every man threw down his rod, and they became serpents: 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.
i. Miracles – or at least apparent miracles – are part of Satan’s arsenal. Paul later wrote on this theme: The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they may be saved (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10).
ii. This means that miracles can prove that something is supernatural, but they cannot prove that something is true.
iii. These Egyptian magicians were intelligent, learned men; but they lacked the wisdom of God, as Paul observed concerning them in 2 Timothy 3:7-9: Always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.
c. Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods. And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them: By showing God’s superior power regarding a symbol of Egypt (the crocodile or similar creature) was a clear message to Pharaoh and everyone else. It was a message that Pharaoh ignored, hardening his heart.
i. Charles Spurgeon preached a wonderful message titled The Power of Aaron’s Rod, in which he used this as an example of the truth that God’s power is greater than anything else and can “swallow up” our idols and sins and such.
3. (14-18) God sends Moses to warn Pharaoh about the coming of the first plague.
So the LORD said to Moses: “Pharaoh’s heart is hard; he refuses to let the people go. Go to Pharaoh in the morning, when he goes out to the water, and you shall stand by the river’s bank to meet him; and the rod which was turned to a serpent you shall take in your hand. And you shall say to him, ‘The LORD God of the Hebrews has sent me to you, saying, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me in the wilderness”; but indeed, until now you would not hear! Thus says the LORD: “By this you shall know that I am the LORD. Behold, I will strike the waters which are in the river with the rod that is in my hand, and they shall be turned to blood. And the fish that are in the river shall die, the river shall stink, and the Egyptians will loathe to drink the water of the river.”’”
a. Pharaoh’s heart is hard; he refuses to let the people go: The first plague – as all the plagues – came because Pharaoh hardened his heart against God and His people. In mercy, God warned Pharaoh, but Pharaoh disregarded the warning.
b. By this you shall know that I am the LORD: If Pharaoh really recognized and honored the God of Israel, he would have freed the children of Israel. Pharaoh sinned against Israel because he sinned against the LORD.
4. (19-21) The first plague comes upon Egypt: The Nile turns to blood.
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Take your rod and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt, over their streams, over their rivers, over their ponds, and over all their pools of water, that they may become blood. And there shall be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in buckets of wood and pitchers of stone.’” And Moses and Aaron did so, just as the LORD commanded. So he lifted up the rod and struck 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. The fish that were in the river died, the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink the water of the river. So there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.
a. That they may become blood: This is the first of the plagues. There are nine in total (the tenth is the slaying of the firstborn, which is in a class by itself), and they are grouped together in threes. In this structure of threes, the first two plagues only come after warning and a call to repentance; the third plague in each set comes without warning.
b. All the waters that were in the river were turned to blood: Some say the plagues each have a naturalistic explanation. In the case of this first plague, some point out that when the Nile reaches an extremely high flood stage, it collects finely powdered red earth, and this red earth carries organisms that color the water and kill fish. But if this were the cause, it is hard to explain how Pharaoh could possibly be impressed.
i. God may or may not have used natural mechanisms to accomplish these plagues; even if He did, the timing and character of the plagues come from God’s hand alone.
ii. It is important to understand that these plagues were all literal; there was nothing symbolic about them. Each plague pointed to a greater meaning than the event itself, but they really happened. This guides our understanding about the plagues in the Book of Revelation; there is no reason to see them as merely symbolic either.
iii. The plagues God brought against Egypt had a definite strategy and purpose. Each of them confronts and attacks a prized Egyptian deity. Not only did they bring punishment against Egypt, the plagues also answered Pharaoh’s original question: Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? (Exodus 5:2) The plagues show the LORD God to be greater than any of the deities of Egypt.
c. So there was blood throughout the land of Egypt: Specifically, this first plague was directed against the numerous Egyptian river deities. The Nile itself was virtually worshipped as a god by the Egyptians, and the LORD God shows that He has complete power over the Nile, not some river god.
i. “The ‘plagues’ are described by cognate Hebrew words, all meaning ‘blow’ or ‘stroke’.” (Cole) Each plague was as if God were to strike or beat a deity worshipped by the Egyptians.
ii. The Egyptian god Khnum was said to be the guardian of the Nile, and this showed he was unable to protect his territory. The god Hapi was said to be the spirit of the Nile and was brought low by this plague. The great god Osiris was thought to have the Nile as his bloodstream; in this plague he truly bled. The Nile itself was worshipped as a god, and there are papyri recording hymns sung in praise of the river.
iii. There is a significant mention of something like this in a papyrus from this general period known as the Ipuwer Papyrus. It actually says (Ipuwer 2.10) that the Nile was blood and undrinkable. The same papyrus repeatedly mentions that servants left their masters.
5. (22-25) The magicians of Egypt copy the miracle.
Then the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments; and Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the LORD had said. And Pharaoh turned and went into his house. Neither was his heart moved by this. So all the Egyptians dug all around the river for water to drink, because they could not drink the water of the river. And seven days passed after the LORD had struck the river.
a. The magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments: Digging in wells, the magicians of Egypt found fresh water to replicate the LORD’s plague upon the Nile. The magicians turned fresh well water into blood.
b. The magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments: Bible scholars warmly debate if this was a magician’s trick or if these enchantments were miracles from Satan’s hand. The evidence seems to lean in favor of them being miracles from Satan’s hand.
i. If the magicians of Egypt really wanted to do a miracle, they should have turned the bloody river clean again. They didn’t because it seems that Satan cannot perform a constructive, cleansing miracle. He can bring supernatural destruction, but not goodness. All they did was make more bloody water!
ii. “Alleviation of human suffering is no part of the programme of the devil or his agents. That can only come from Jehovah, through the believing cry of his servants.” (Meyer)
c. Pharaoh’s heart grew hard… Neither was his heart moved by this: One way or another, the result in the heart of Pharaoh was the same. Pharaoh took another opportunity to reject and dishonor the LORD God.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission