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)
Today we enter into a passage of Scripture that details one of the most significant judgments of God that has taken place in history. There have been several judgments of God in history that have been so significant that they have changed the world. The 10 plagues, or the 10 judgments of God upon Egypt is one of those. The 10 plagues are a monumental moment in world history. Egypt was an extremely important world power of its day politically, economically, and religiously. The Egyptians were extremely advanced in many different areas. They displayed great power, I would argue, due in large part to their worship of false gods and the demonic power they received. So when Egypt is judged with these 10 plagues, not only are they judged for their own sin and wickedness, but these plagues were judgments on the gods of Egypt. Each judgment was the slaying of an Egyptian god, by Yahweh, the One True God. And it was Almighty God’s name, glory, and power that was displayed to the world. And by the end, the Egyptian religion was defeated, economically they were desolated, and politically, their Pharaoh was buried in the bottom of the Red Sea as their slaves were freed.
In looking at the ten plagues in Scripture, there have been various ways that theologians have categorized, organized, and grouped these plagues. Others have taken just each one on its own without any organization. But I believe that it is clear from the text that there is a structure to these plagues. And that is that these plagues are in cycles of three, or groups of three, culminating in the final judgment, the death of the firstborn.
If you look at all the plagues, you will notice that plagues 1, 4, and 7, all begin with God telling Moses to go to Pharaoh in the morning. 1, 4, and 7 are the first of each cycle of 3. So that detail is showing us that there is a structure to how God sends the judgments. The morning comes, it’s a new day, Pharaoh has a new opportunity to listen, he doesn’t and so another cycle of judgments come.
You will also notice that a warning precedes the first two plagues of each cycle, but the third plague of each cycle comes without warning.
Although the water turning to blood is pretty intense, it seems pretty evident that the intensity increases with each cycle. The first 3 plagues really just attack issues of comfort. The second set of 3 attacks property and person. And the third set of 3 bring desolation and destruction to the land. The progression in intensity certainly makes sense.
You will also notice that the plague cycle are plagues that have a relation being judgments of water, land, and air. Water, land, and air. Water, land, and air. I will try and show those as we go. But what that cycle indicates is that God is judging the whole of the Egyptian world. The water, the land, and the sky. The whole of the Egyptian world is being judged.
Then you will notice that the first cycle, the first three plagues are performed through Aaron, and it’s basically a showdown between Aaron and the magicians of Egypt, as they perform the first 2 as well, and then are unable to perform the third, being thoroughly defeated in the first cycle. After that, the judgments are performed through Moses, and the magicians of Egypt do not replicate them.
So that is basically the structure that I see of the plagues, so the plan will be to look at them in these cycles of 3, and then the last one on its own, with one exception to this first plague because it is so huge in starting things off. So let us now consider this first plague of which we read, the great Nile River being turned to blood.
Nile to Blood
Verse 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. 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.”
There have been some people out there who have tried to explain away this plague by talking about how the Nile wasn’t really turned to blood, it was just made to look red like blood because of certain red insects in the water at a certain time of year, or because of the red clay in the water that was washed up, or it would look red if you just squinted your eyes at it the right way. This of course is silliness which is nothing more than unbelief in the Word of God, or embarrassment at the supernatural therein. The text tells us it was turned to blood and nothing indicates that it was just made to appear like blood, but it actually was. Furthermore, all Nile theories are proven false by the fact that all the water in Egypt, including water that was in various vessels and containers in people’s homes was also turned to blood. We don’t know how this was done, other than by the power of God as Aaron struck the water with his staff, which showed this was done by the authority that Aaron represented and that the power that was delegated to him, that of Yahweh God. The Egyptians then by their secret arts also did this, which we will get to later.
If you have ever seen the Nile, or seen pictures of it, you can imagine how severe and frightening this was. The Nile is not some backwoods creek. It is massive and it was vital to the livelihood of Egypt. The Nile was seen as a source of life for the Egyptians, and they took that created thing and worshiped it, and made all sorts of religious meaning from it that was ungodly. But even though they worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator, the Nile was truly, naturally, the life-giving water source to that area, obviously from God. It was the source of water for their crops, for drinking, for all that they needed water for. And here in a moment, with the strike from Aaron’s staff it is turned into blood. What was the source and symbol of life, is now, in a moment, become a sign of death.
Imagine the instant fear and panic an Egyptian might have realizing all the water is gone, you go home and check your jars of water and it’s all blood. Imagine the panic in all of sudden having no idea how you are going to survive. Or maybe they didn’t quite think that way like us western Christians who understand personal responsibility for our families, but you can imagine how you would feel. Or imagine the absolute jarring this would’ve had on the religious worldview of the Egyptians. Their godlike Nile is bleeding. It’s all blood. It absolutely reeks! How could you not see this as Aaron slaying the Nile god with the power of this Hebrew God named Yahweh? Indeed, their god has been slain.
As one commentator says, “Men are sure to be punished most and soonest in that which they make a co-rival with God.” Or Matthew Henry puts it this way, “Note, that creature which we idolize, God justly removes from us, or embitters to us; He makes that a scourge to us which we make a competitor with Him.” What an important lesson this is for us to learn even as Christians. God will have no rivals. Psalm 86 as we sing it,
“Surely among the many gods,
Lord, there is none to rival you;
deeds that the others may perform
never compare with works you do.”
As God’s children, it is always for our good, that anything we make an idol out of, we can be sure that God will remove it from us, or as Matthew Henry says, embitter it to us. God will be glorified. He will be worshiped and He will take out all competitors in His time and His way. In the life of the Christian, God takes our idols away, that we may be left with only Christ, that we might know Him more deeply, and that we may be made more into His image.
But, I think even more, or just as pertinent to the text than God conquering false gods is this: other than in God giving Moses this sign, where was the last time we saw the Nile mentioned in the text of Scripture? It was the beginning of Exodus when the Pharaoh decreed that all Hebrew boys were to be thrown into the Nile. So if we’re following the strict narrative flow of the Bible, we read that the Nile was decreed by the King of Egypt to be filled with the bodies and the blood of the Hebrew boys, and then the next thing we see is that their precious Nile River has been completely turned to blood. It is as if all the blood of the Hebrew baby boys has come up from the River, it has come back upon the Egyptians. The Egyptians thought that the blood could be washed away by the river, but water cannot wash away the blood that is on their hands. What an important gospel lesson this is for us to stop and consider for a moment. The sins that we have committed are very great. The guilt that is upon us is very great. And there is no amount of water, or washing, or scrubbing, that can wash away the guilt that is upon us. There is nothing that we can do to clean and cleanse ourselves from our sin and guilt. There is nowhere we can hide our guilt. We can put out of sight and out of mind from men for a time, but we cannot hide it from God. Only the blood of Jesus can wash away our sin. Only through the forgiveness of sins through Christ can we be cleansed and have our conscience given peace. Even in our relationships with one another, sin must be dealt with, and the only way is through repentance, and then love and forgiveness.
So God has brought back the blood of the Nile in the sight and the nostrils of the Egyptians, I believe as a reminder of the blood spilt there and as a sign of judgment coming upon them.
There is another reason why I believe this was the first plague, and I think I mentioned this principle a few weeks ago. And that is that innocent blood that is spilled cries out to God for vengeance. We see this principle first in Genesis 4 when Cain kills Abel. Genesis 4:10-11, “And the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.” So spilt blood cries out for justice, it cries out for an avenger of blood, it cries out to God. And God hears it. And so the bloody Nile is a very loud cry up to God for judgment. So the bloody Nile comes first, cries out to God for judgment, and so then God brings that judgment. Certainly it would’ve been an obvious sign to all the people and to Pharaoh of judgment, and more to come. Indeed, as Matthew Henry says, “…this red river proved a direful omen of the ruin of Pharaoh and all his forces in the Red Sea.”
Indeed the bloody Nile was a sign of judgment and judgment to come not just for the Egyptians, but it was a sign of greater judgments of God to come in other times on other people who also have hardened their heart against God’s Word. And I would argue it was a symbol judgment come upon the Jews themselves in their rejection of Christ, the blood that they shed, and the hardening of their hearts to God. In Revelation 16, the seven bowls of God’s wrath are poured out.
The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing died that was in the sea.
4 The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood. 5 And I heard the angel in charge of the waters[a] say,
“Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was,
for you brought these judgments.
6 For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets,
and you have given them blood to drink.
It is what they deserve!”
7 And I heard the altar saying,
“Yes, Lord God the Almighty,
true and just are your judgments!”
The water became blood, as it says, “because they have shed the blood of saints and prophets…” As with Abel, as with the Hebrew boys in Egypt, as with the prophets and saints, the blood of God’s people cries out to God, and He hears and judges. And also, the blood of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Recall how the Jews during the trial of Jesus called out, “Let his blood be upon us and our children!” It was, and those who did not repent were judged. But the blood of Jesus still cries out to God. In fact, it speaks to God. It is a great reversal in the story of Redemption that innocent blood shed cries out to God for judgment, but then Jesus comes and sheds His blood and the cross, and it cries out to God: “forgive them.” His is the blood that purifies the ground, that redeems creation, and that speaks to God on our behalf, as Hebrews 12:24 says, “and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” Abel was righteous and His blood cried out for vengeance for the wrong done to Him. Jesus Christ is THE righteous, and His blood speaks a better word, it speaks on behalf of those who have done Him wrong, and speaks to their forgiveness, that they are covered, they are atoned for, they are forgiven. It speaks mercy and grace – a better word than vengeance.
In Exodus, our text tells us that God made the Nile to stink. Can you imagine that smell, all that blood? This had to be such an awful stench. But I think this also ought to bring our minds back to Exodus 5, where the Hebrews exclaim to Moses that he has made them stink in the sight of Pharaoh. The Hebrews were made to stink in the sight of Pharaoh, so Pharaoh lays heavier burdens upon them. But now, God has made the Nile stink, it has become a stench throughout all the land. God often likes turning the tables.
But certainly there is a gospel lesson here in that just as the Nile stunk and everyone knew it, so our sin stinks. In ourselves, we are a stench in the nostrils of God. We offend Him with our sin. But through Jesus Christ that stench is dealt with. He is our sacrifice which is a pleasing aroma to God. And so we no longer stink before Him. Our sin is a stench before God, but also when we live in sin among our brothers and sisters it too, becomes a stench to everyone. Our sin stinks and everyone knows it. Unrepentant sin becomes obvious and God’s people can’t stand the smell and sight of it, and so it is dealt with, it is purged in repentance or excommunication.
The Magicians do the Same
But notice in our text, that just as the Magicians and sorcerers of Egypt also made their staffs turn into serpents, so also they turn water into blood by their secret arts. Again I believe this is something they genuinely did by demonic power or insight. So I imagine this probably done with containers of water that were yet to be turned to blood by Aaron, so a much smaller scale. But notice how self-refuting this is. It’s really rather comical. They think it is so impressive that they too can turn water to blood, and in doing so they are a judgment unto themselves. I imagine the Egyptian people saying, “Gee, thanks a lot.” The demonic power of secret arts is no rival to the power of God so much so that it is a judgment unto itself, it is itself a judgment, that only brings destruction upon those who use it, and does not give them the power they seek by it. So also with any sin we may commit. It never helps us as it tempts us to believe. This is what hardness of heart does, it continues in rebellion and sin to one’s own detriment. Sin keeps hurting sinners, but they continue to do it because they are in moral rebellion against God. And so sometimes God judges people by simply giving them over to their sin, by simply allowing them to continue gratifying the desires of the flesh.
God’s Judgments are Thorough
Notice as well that God’s judgments are thorough. Even the water that was kept in vessels and containers of wood and stone was turned to blood. There was no escape from the judgment of God. When God judges a people there is nowhere anyone can go to hide from His judgments, other than His own mercy in Jesus Christ. The judgments of God are total and complete and none are left lacking.
Every single sin, from the smallest to the greatest is not left undone. Every single one is properly judged by God’s justice – either in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, or upon the sinner in hell forever. There is no drop of water from the tip of Abraham’s finger that will bring relief to the sinner in hell for even a moment, for there is no relief from God’s judgments other than in God Himself, in His mercy, in Jesus Christ.
Christ’s Redemption is Thorough
But just as God’s judgments are thorough, so also Christ’s redemption is thorough. Just as there is no sin that will not be righteously judged by God, so there is no sin in the one who has received Jesus Christ that will not be totally dealt with and forgiven by Jesus Christ. For God’s elect, for His bride, His Church, every single sin, from the smallest to the greatest is atoned for and forgiven in death of Jesus Christ. There is not one single sin that will slip by, or will be too great – there is not one single sin that God will not forgive in Christ for His people. If you are in Christ, you do not have to worry that there might be something lacking. Just as God’s judgments are thorough, so Christ’s redemption is thorough that we will not be judged in hell forever, but will instead have pleasures forevermore in the presence of God. If Christ has redeemed you then there is not a single sin that you could possibly hide from Him that He won’t bring out in order to forgive. Just as God’s judgments are thorough, so Christ’s redemption is thorough.
As I think about the Nile being turned to blood, there are couple things about Christ that I cannot help thinking about. I think of our Lord as He hung upon the cross. After He gave up the ghost, the Roman soldier comes and instead of breaking the legs of our Lord, he takes his spear and pierces the side of Christ, and in so doing, out begins to flow a river of water and blood. There flowing from His side, the great sign of judgment and salvation. Not only blood as a sign of judgment and death, but water as a sign of life and purification. The God-man, the only One who could handle all such weights upon Himself – total judgment, and total redemption. The Nile which was once a source of life brought death. The God-man who hung dead upon the cross was made salvation, the source of eternal life. Both His blood and water flows for us. His is the cleansing blood sprinkled upon the altar that speaks a better Word and He is the River, the water of life.
But in thinking upon the Nile turning to blood, I also can’t help but think of the first miracle of our Lord when He turned water into wine. One of things this first miracle of Christ symbolized was the newness of the New Covenant that Christ was bringing. The best was saved for last. All the blood of bulls and goats in the past could not atone for sin. But the blood of the final sacrifice, Jesus Christ, was a blood that was potent to actually be sufficient to save and atone for sin. It was actually potent like a fine aged wine.
Or, you can think of it like Matthew Henry, who says this, “One of the first miracles Moses wrought was turning water into blood, but one of the first miracles our Lord Jesus wrought was turning water into wine; for the law was given by Moses, and it was a dispensation of death and terror; but grace and truth, which, like wine, makes glad the heart, came by Jesus Christ.”
If Moses represents the law, then the law shows us our sin, it shows us the bloodguilt that is on our hands, it shows us we are deserving of God’s judgment. And the law is good, we are the ones that are not. The law proves that to us, holding up the standard of God’s righteousness, and in view of that we are nothing but a stench. But the insufficiency of the law is that it only brings a knowledge of sin and condemnation, by it we cannot attain forgiveness and salvation. And so the Lord Jesus comes and he takes water and turns it into wine. Jesus comes and in Him we are shown His perfections, His righteousness, and the forgiveness of sins that His blood has wrought. We are given this forgiveness and we are made righteous by Him and we are granted salvation and eternal life by the freeness of His grace, without merit and without price. And His forgiveness is sweet and strong and lasts forever. So come to Jesus Christ and receive from the Lord today.
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