Exodus 7:20 (HCSB)
20 Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord had commanded; in the sight of Pharaoh and his officials, he raised the staff and struck the water in the Nile, and all the water in the Nile was turned to blood.
The plagues start. I like how the passage starts with, “Then the Lord said to Moses.” It is a reminder that the plague to come is not of man, but of God. It is easy to forget who is in control, and scripture here reminds us, right up front, that God is running the show.
So, “Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord had commanded,” (Exodus 7:20) and the first plague strikes Egypt. The Nile becomes undrinkable, along with all that it directly feeds (Exodus 7:19), and the fish in it died (Exodus 7:21). This was a major impact on Egypt, as the Nile is such a critical water source. We see, ultimately, that there is a “workaround” for the people, which is digging wells close to the river, apparently providing some sort of filtration (Exodus 7:24). And this also suggests that the term blood was not literal, but in appearance, else these wells would not have been able to filter the water and make it potable.
But what I think stands in stark contrast are the two reactions to God in this pericope. Moses and Aaron followed God, taking care to do exactly as He commanded. And lest we forget, they are already on Pharaoh’s bad side, so they come before this powerful man and, with God working through them, stand against Pharaoh via the devastation of the Nile.
And in contrast, we have Pharaoh’s reaction. “Pharaoh turned around, went into his palace, and didn’t even take this to heart.” (Exodus 7:23) Pharaoh is symbolic of the non-believing world, turning their backs to God, brushing off His mighty and miraculous works of creation and providence all around, pointing to His truth and existence. Yet again, Pharaoh is hardened against God by the work of magicians, who mimic the plague from God. But be clear, it is a mimicking, they do not harness the same true power. The magicians used “occult practices”, while Moses and Aaron relied on God’s power. And why would they perform the same type of plague rather than reverse it?
In the end, we see the furthering of God’s plan to free His people. The tension is beginning to ratchet up as we see the two extremes: those who know God draw closer to Him and follow Him, while those who do not know God turn from Him, and their hearts are hardened as they try and remove God from the world. The same struggle continues today.
Lord, thank You for being in complete control. We do not celebrate the plagues that fall upon people in the sense of the misery they bring, but we celebrate Your plan to bring souls to life in You, no matter what the journey entails. I pray that we see Your work, and not so that we can mimic it, but so that we can worship You, know You better, and continually draw closer to You. Amen.