A River of Blood

Exodus 6-7

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
May 2016

Last week, we looked at the opening of Exodus 6. We will be covering two chapters today. It is a very important section. Exodus 7 describes the first plague. Moses went to Pharaoh and asked him to let the Hebrews go. Pharaoh said that he didn’t know who God was. Pharaoh is about to be shown who the Lord is in a visible way by a series of plagues.

These plagues preached. There was a sermon in each plague. These plagues preached two sermons. They preached the power of God. They demonstrate God’s absolute power over nature. They also preach the punishment of God. These plagues were not just natural or ecological disasters; they were judgments of God for sin. They were not just judgments on Pharaoh for his sins. All of Egypt suffered because of Pharaoh’s sins. These were national sins.

This is fascinating. Both Moses and Aaron performs miracles in Exodus 7. Before we look at it, I want to say a few things about Exodus 6. Exodus 6 has a genealogy. It takes up almost half of the chapter. Everyone’s eyes glaze over when they read a genealogy with a bunch of names they cannot pronounce. Right in the middle of the story when the suspense is building, we find a genealogy of Moses and Aaron.

This genealogy is actually important. Many regard this whole story as myth. Liberals say the Exodus never happened. As far as they are concerned, Moses and Aaron never existed. A book was written in 2014 entitled, Did Moses Exist?: the Myth of the Israelite Lawgiver. This genealogy places Moses and Aaron in history. They were real people who had real ancestors. I just want to make a few basic observations about this genealogy.

What do we learn about Moses and Aaron from this genealogy? They are both Levites. Moses and Aaron come from the priestly tribe. What do we know about Levi? He was violent. His sister was raped in Genesis 34, so Levi and his brother massacred the whole town. They wiped them out. It was overkill. Now God is bringing good out of that tribe. He used both Moses and Aaron to bring the Jews out of Egypt and Aaron became the first high priest.

There is something else interesting in this genealogy. It has two women in them and that was rare for a biblical genealogy.  This one has not one but two women in it (Jochobed and Elisheba). We are told the name of Aaron’s wife in this genealogy. Her name was Elisheba. We knew the name of Moses’ wife and now we know the name of Aaron’s wife (Elisheba) in Exodus 6:23.

Moses’ wife was named Zipporah. Zipporah is the feminine form of Zippor (cf. Numbers 22:4), like Paul and Paula or Eric and Erica. It means means “bird”. Moses was married to “Lady Bird”. Aaron was married to Elisheba (which is the Hebrew form of Elizabeth).

She is not only the wife of the high priest, she is also the mother of a high priest (Eleazar). She is one of only six women mentioned by name in Exodus (Shiphrah, Puah, Zipporah, Elisheba, Miriam and Jochebed).

Last week, we looked at the Gospel of Exodus. God gave Moses a message to give to the Jews. It was seven things that He promised to do for them. There were seven I wills in this gospel. God did not tell them what he wanted them to do for Him. He told them seven things that He was going to do for them. Moses delivered the message. The response he received was disappointing.

“Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and harsh labor” (6:9 NIV).

Moses is all encouraged. God just spoke to him and gave him this great revelation. He shares it with his people. Moses brought them good news. He brought a message of hope but they could not hear a word of it because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery. All they can see is their problems.

The message was too good to be true. They believed him before and their burdens only increased. They had been burned too many times and lost all hope. Proverbs 18:14 says, “The human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” (NIV)

Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life” (NLT).  Proverbs 25:20 says, “Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda

When Moses gets that reaction, now he is discouraged and doesn’t want to continue with his mission. Now Moses had his eyes on his own problems and not on God. He basically says to God, “I told you so”. Moses was a proven failure. He tried things his way and it didn’t work. He tried things God’s way and that did not work either. The last thing he wants to do now is to go back to Pharaoh when he cannot even get his own people on board with the mission

God answers Moses in Exodus 7. I am just going to summarize what the chapter says. God says five things to Moses and Aaron in Exodus 7.

1. Moses and Aaron MUST speak to Pharaoh
2. Egypt will be hit by a series of plagues
3. Pharaoh will not be receptive to their message
4. God will bring the Jews out of Egypt
5. The Egyptians will know who the Lord is in the end

Let’s look at some of these points. God says they must speak to Pharaoh again. It was not optional. It was a command (7:2). The message they were to speak was the same message. They were not supposed to change the message, since Pharaoh already rejected it and say it in a different way. They were to go back and tell him the same thing.

When they go back to Pharaoh, God says something interesting. He says that Moses will be like God to Pharaoh and Aaron shall be his prophet (7:1). That is strange. Is Moses a god? Here a mortal man is called “God”. Moses is called elohim in Hebrew. In fact, Moses is called “God” twice in Exodus. Exodus 4:16 says “He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him” (ESV).

Jehovah’s Witnesses love passages like this. They argue that if people are called God in the Bible, it is no big deal if Jesus is called God in the NT. The KJV says “I have made thee a god to Pharaoh.” All modern translations read, “I have made you LIKE God to Pharaoh” (NIV, ESV, NCV) or “I have made you AS God to Pharaoh” (ASV, NASB, NJB). This is a metaphor or a simile. It is figurative language.

There is a huge difference between saying that Moses is like God and saying that Moses IS God. Moses functioned LIKE God TO Pharaoh and he also functioned LIKE God to Aaron. Moses says everything God says, and Aaron says everything that Moses says.

God Alex says Pharaoh will NOT be receptive. He says, “Even though you speak to him, he is not going to listen and even though I multiplies signs and wonders in the land, he will not listen” (7:3). God knew this in advance and told Moses. The outcome was predicted in advance. God gave Pharaoh free will. He did not force Pharaoh to do something that he did not want to do. Pharaoh was hard-headed. He was stubborn. He was arrogant.

Pharaoh was the most powerful man in the world at that time. He was a totalitarian dictator. He even thought he was a god. He was also stubborn. This proud pagan king set his will against God’s will. He said that he would not let God’s people go no matter what. He was a dictator. He had all the power. He said, “I don’t have to let them go and I am not going to let them go”.

God has a way of getting our attention when we do not listen to him. God sent some plagues on Egypt. When one did not do the job, He sent ten. God is able to humble the proud. He humbled Nebuchadnezzar and he humbled Pharaoh. Luke 14:11 says, “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (NIV). Pharaoh is about to be humbled.

The First Plague

Moses and Aaron get enough courage to go back to Pharaoh a second time. This time he asked for a sign. He asked for a sign and he got one. They did not do a miracle the last time they saw him. Perhaps they did not have a chance.

Was it wrong for Pharaoh to ask for a sign? No. Anyone could say that God appeared to them told them something. There is no shortage of nutjobs who tell them that God told them to do all kinds of crazy things. What is the proof? God does not appear to people in burning bushes every day. It was a rare occurrence.

Aaron cast down his staff before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent (7:10 ESV). Why did it turn into a serpent (tannin)? Pharaoh wore a snake on his headset. The image of a deadly cobra ready to strike was a royal symbol. It was a symbol of Pharaoh’s divine authority in ancient Egypt.

Aaron is the one who performs the miracle. It was a real miracle. There is no natural explanation for this. It went from dead wood to a live snake. That cannot be explained by natural laws. Sticks do not naturally become snakes.

When Pharaoh saw it, he did not turn to God; he turned to his wise men. He called in his experts, the professionals. There are many people who ask you for proof of something and they still do not believe. You could give them all kinds of verses that say that Jesus is God but they still will not believe. The problem is not the evidence. The problem is their heart. They are not open to receive the evidence. Pharaoh wasn’t open.

Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts. For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs (7:11-12). Pharaoh’s magicians were able to do exactly what Moses did.

How were they able to do this? How were they able to duplicate a divine miracle? Was this just an illusion? Was it magic or was it a real miracle? I believe what they did was a real miracle. The Bible teaches that Satan can perform miracles.

Matthew 24:24 says, “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform GREAT SIGNS AND WONDERS, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (ESV). II Thessalonians 2:9 talks about the Antichrist. It says, “The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and FALSE SIGNS AND WONDERS” (ESV).

What is going on here? I want you to think about this encounter with Pharaoh in a way in which you never have before. This was not just a contest between Moses and Pharaoh or Moses and the magicians. This was a battle between God and Satan. We need to look at this event from, a spiritual perspective.

Moses and Aaron were servants of God. They represented God. They spoke for God. They performed incredible miracles in God’s power. Pharaoh served Satan. He opposed God. He rejected God’s word, resisted his servants and enslaved his people. He worshiped idols. The Devil was in Egypt and was ruling Egypt. He was the one behind Pharaoh’s throne, as Donald Grey Barnhouse noted. How do we know? Satan is involved in two specific activities.

First, Satan is directly involved in idolatry. It is satanically motivated. “What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons” (I Corinthians 10:19-21).

Food offered to idols goes directly to demons. Wherever you see idolatry and false religion, you see demons at work. The Apostle Paul even talks about “doctrines of demons” (I Timothy 4:1). Egypt was a land full of idolatry. The Egyptians worshiped as many as two thousand gods and goddess. The land was full of pagan temples.

Second, Satan is directly involved in the persecution of God’s people. That is an activity that is also satanically motivated. The place of organized persecution is where Satan’s throne is located (Revelation 2:13). Pharaoh was the first person in history to try to commit genocide.

He committed not only murder but mass murder, state sanctioned murder and it was directed at the chosen people, God’s people. This policy came right from the put of Hell. Satan wanted to destroy the Jews because, if he could do that, Jesus would not be born and God would not be able to keep his promises.

Pharaoh’s magicians could duplicate the first miracle and turn a stick into a snake but there was no doubt which side was stronger. Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staff (7:12). His serpents ate up their serpents. It was no contest.

The Bloody River

Moses strikes the Nile with his staff, turning it to blood. Aaron stretches his staff over the rest of the waters in Egypt, turning them to blood (7:19). Did the Nile turn into literal blood? We do not know. It may have turned into literal blood or it may have turned into something that looked like blood.

The Bible does use phenomenological language. It often describes things as they appear, rather than as they are. It mentions the sun rising and setting. The Bible talks about the moon turning into blood (Joel 2:31; Acts 2:20). That does not mean that it will turn into literal blood but that it will look red in color.

Jesus turned water into wine. Aaron here turned water into blood. The Nile became a bloody river. That affected the water supply of Egypt. People did not have access to clean water to drink. The water was contaminated. It was polluted. The fish died, which affected the economy of Egypt, because they ate a lot of fish. There were no more fish sandwiches. The Nile was the backbone of the economy of Egypt. The people were totally dependent on it for their water and crops.

Now the fish are all dead and the river stank (7:21). There was blood everywhere. There was blood in the sink, the faucet, the bathtub and the river. Most people look at this plague as just an inconvenience. It is more than an inconvenience. Water is indispensable for life. A person can’t survive for more than a few days without water. This went on for seven days (7:25).

It went far beyond blood in the Nile. It says that there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt, even in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone (7:19). The idea here is that the people who brought jugs of water back to the house the day before ended up with jugs full of blood.

This was a real miracle and there were witnesses to it. He did it right in front of Pharaoh and his servants (7:20). He told them why this was happening. “By this you shall KNOW that I am the Lord” (7:17).

Skeptics try to explain this miracle away. Some have suggested that this was actually toxic red algae called “red tide” that made the water look red and killed the fish. The problem is that this does not fit what the text says. It only happened after Aaron struck the water with his staff. It mentions that three times of a staff striking the water (7:17, 20, 25).

That is what activated the plague. In fact, it does not just say that Moses struck the Nile, it says that God struck the Nile (7:25). It didn’t happen naturally. It also does not explain how blood got into the wood and stone containers (7:19). How did it get into the wooden buckets and stone jars that stood inside their house? The skeptics have no answer to that question.

Why did God do this? It was a judgment on both Pharaoh and on the Egyptians. If you go back to Exodus 1, you see Pharaoh ordering people to throw babies into this river. It was a river full of hungry crocodiles. Now God turns that river into blood. Pharaoh was a blood-thirsty dictator. Now Pharaoh reaps what he has sown. This river symbolizes the blood of the Hebrews.

It was also a judgment on the Egyptians. They worshiped it. They sang hymns to the Nile. The Nile was considered a sacred river. It was considered holy. Many gods were associated with the Nile (Khnum, Hapi, Osiris). This was also a judgment on idolatry. God said, “on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord” (12:12).

Lessons from a Plague

Lesson on God

We learn that God is faithful. He keeps his promises. He made promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and is keeping them.

We learn that God is sovereign. He tells Moses and Aaron what to do. He tells Pharaoh what to do. There is a king above the king of Egypt. He is the ultimate ruler in the universe.

We learn that God is powerful. All power belongs to Him. He is omnipotent. Here we see God has complete power over nature.

We learn that God is holy. He judges sin. He judges pride. He judges idolatry. He judges sin in individuals. He judges sin in nations.

We learn that God is fair. God gave Pharaoh two chances before sending the first plague. He even gave Pharaoh a sign, so he had no excuse.

Lesson on False Religion

It doesn’t satisfy people’s needs. Yahweh just turned this Egyptian god to blood. It’s God’s way of saying “Your religion stinks”. To them, the Nile was not just a river, it was a god but the Nile couldn’t satisfy man’s basic needs. Jesus said, “If anyone’s thirsty, let them come to me and drink out of this innermost being will flow rivers of living water.”

Lesson on Miracles

Miracles have some value but there is a limit to what miracles can do. Aaron performed a genuine miracle right before Pharaoh’s eyes and it did absolutely nothing. He did not deny that it took place but he refused to let the Jews go after seeing it.

The miracles of Jesus did not convince the Pharisees. What is the lesson? Miracles do not change people’s hearts. Only God can do that. Only God can turn a heart of stone to a heart of flesh. Even an incredible miracle will not change a hard heart.

We also see from this story that miracles can be duplicated. Satan can perform miracles (false signs). They can be done by the power of God and also by the power of Satan. Before you get excited about seeing a miracle, you have to decide where it came from.

We also learn from this chapter that there is a limit to the power that Satan has. He is like a dog on a leash. He can only do what God allows him to do. He has no power to remove or reverse God’s judgments. The magicians could turn more water into blood but they could not turn blood back into water.


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