This is what the LORD says: By this you will know that I am the LORD. Behold, with the staff in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile, and it will turn to blood.
I. THAT THERE ARE FAVOURABLE TIMES AT WHICH TO APPROACH MEN WITH THE MESSAGES OF GOD. "Get thee unto Pharaoh in the morning."
1. The water was rendered wholly unfit for use.
2. It became deadly in its properties (ver. 18).
3. The stroke was instantaneous.
4. It was pre-announced.
5. It descended on the river at the summons of Moses and Aaron.
6. It lasted exactly seven days (ver. 25).
An event of this kind was palpably of supernatural origin. Contrast Moses with Christ, the one beginning the series of wonders by turning the river into blood; the other, in his first miracle, turning the water into wine (John 2:1-12). The contrast of judgment and mercy, of law and Gospel. Consider -
I. THE DEMAND RENEWED WITH THE ACCOMPANIMENT OF THREAT (vers. 16-19).
1. The demand was that which Pharaoh had hitherto resisted. It was a demand righteous and reasonable in itself - "Let my people go," etc. It had come to him, moreover, as the command of Jehovah, and proof had been given him that such was its character. Still he had resisted it. This, however, did not dispose of the demand, which now confronts him again.
2. The demand which Pharaoh would not freely grant, he is now to be compelled to grant. If he will not bow to reason, to persuasion, to evidence, he must bow to power. An unprecedented calamity would overtake his land: "In this shalt thou know that I am the Lord; behold, I will smite with the rod," etc. (ver. 17). Note -
(1) Reasonable means are exhausted with the sinner before compulsion is resorted to. God is unwilling to proceed to extremities.
(2) Nevertheless, if gentler methods fail, means will be used which will compel submission. "As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God" (Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10, 11).
(3) Excuses are not admitted for wilful unbelief. Pharaoh would probably have pleaded as a ground for his refusal, that he did not believe that the command in question proceeded from Jehovah. No such plea will be admitted in the court of heaven. Every allowance will be made for involuntary ignorance, but none for wilful unbelief. What the sinner is asked to do is righteous and reasonable in itself; is made known to him as God's will; and is evidenced to be such by many infallible proofs. Refusal to acknowledge the sufficiency of this evidence does not exculpate from the guilt of disobedience. The question is not - Does he, or will he, admit its sufficiency, but is it sufficient? Not, Does it convince him? but, Ought it to convince him? Our errors, follies, and mistakes will not hinder the Almighty from executing his purposes. If we stand in the way of them, and will not bend, we must be crushed.
II. THE PLAGUE AS A SIGN TO EGYPT. The smiting of the Nile was -
1. A proof of the power of Jehovah (ver. 17). It showed him to be an actually existing Being, demonstrated his supremacy in nature, and made manifest his determination to punish resistance to his will.
2. A blow at Egyptian idolatry. It turned the river Nile, which itself was worshipped as a divinity, into an object of loathsomeness and source of death to its worshippers. They were the chief gods of Egypt, too, who were supposed to be embodied in the river. How clear the proof of the vanity of the idols, and of the unchallengeable superiority of Jehovah! Yet we do net learn that one idol the less was worshipped in Egypt as the result of it.
3. A warning of worse evil to come. The Nile was in a sense symbolical of Egypt, of whose prosperity it was the source. The turning of this river into blood was in fact a prophecy or threat of utter ruin to the state. The succeeding plagues are merely the unfolding of the threat contained in this one.
4. The removal of the plague at the end of seven days betokened the unwillingness of God to proceed to extremities. It is very noticeable that the plague was removed unasked, and while Pharaoh was still hardening his heart. So long-suffering is God that he will try all means with sinners before finally giving them up. The lessons for ourselves from this plague are these -
(1) The certainty of God's threatenings being executed.
(2) The terrible punishments in reserve for disobedience.
(3) The ease with which God can smite a nation, and bring it to the point of ruin. The smiting of the Erie meant the immediate paralysis of all industry, commerce, and agriculture throughout the land of Egypt, while, had the plague lasted a few days longer, the result would have been the death of the whole population. We call this "miracle," but miracle is only the coming forth into visibility of the hand which is at all times working in the phenomena of nature, and in the affairs of history. By famine, by pestilence, by blight of crops, by clap of war, turning the river of a nation's life into very literal blood (so France in 1870), by the simplest natural agencies, if so it pleased him-could Jehovah speedily reduce our national pride, and smite at the fountain-heads the sources of our national prosperity. A very sensible proof was given of this - of the readiness with which the trade of a whole country could be paralysed, and great cities reduced in no long period to absolute starvation, by a slight change in natural conditions - in the great snowstorm of January 1881. (See the Spectator of 29th January, 1881.) Had the storm lasted but a week or two longer, the effects would have been as serious to cities like London, and to the country as a whole, as this smiting. of the Nile in Egypt.
(4) God's judgments are anticipative. Judgments in this life forewarn of judgments beyond.
III. THE PUERILE IMITATION OF THE MAGICIANS (ver. 22).
1. The magicians could not remove the plague; they could only with the few drops of water at their command produce a feeble imitation of it. How futile is this as a disproof of God's agency! So it is a pitiable way of disposing of God's judgments to show that something like them can be produced by undivine means. The savant, e.g., may produce in his laboratory an imitation of rain or thunder, and may think that he has thereby disproved God's agency in any infliction he may send upon a land through these instrumentalities; but this is small comfort to the country that is being smitten by them.
2. The attempts of the magicians to refute the pretensions of Moses only resulted in making the supernatural character of the plague more manifest. In the same way, the efforts of sceptics to disprove, e.g., the Divine origin of the religion of the Bible, or of the book itself, only end in making its Divinity more apparent. "The more conclusively you demonstrate to the human reason that that which exists ought not to exist, so much the more do you enhance the miracle of its existence. That must be the most astounding of all facts that still exists notwithstanding the gravest objections to its existence."
IV. THE HARDENING OF PHARAOH (vers. 22, 23). The hardening of Pharaoh here enters on a new phase. It was -
1. Hardening against conviction. Pharaoh must have felt in this case that he was in presence of a true work of God. The puny efforts of his magicians could not possibly impose upon him. But he would not yield. He would not obey conviction.
2. Hardening under punishment. Pharaoh was in the position of one who, being often reproved, hardeneth his neck (Proverbs 29:1). He had risked, even after this last warning, the chances of the threatening turning out to be untrue. Now, to his utter discomfiture, the stroke descends, and his empire is on the point of ruin. Yet he hardened himself in resistance.
3. Hardening which was deliberate. "Pharaoh turned and went into his house, neither did he set his heart to this also" (ver. 23). He had reached a point at which he could only stiffen himself in his determination to resist God, by refusing to think, by deliberately turning away from the light and resolving not to face the question of his duty. The monarch knows his duty, and knows that he knows it, yet. he will not obey.
4. Hardening obstinately persevered in. He held out through all the seven days of the duration of the plague. Hardening of this kind speedily robs the soul of its few remaining sparks of susceptibility to truth. - J.O.
They shall be turned to blood.I. THE RIVER. Has received various names. "The river of Egypt" (Genesis 15:18); Sihor (Job 13:3); Shihor (1 Chronicles 13:5). Diodorus Siculus says: The Nile was first called Egypt. Best and longest known by the term Nile, which is derived from the Arabic words Nil, which means "blue," and Nileh, which means "indigo." Designated, therefore, "the dark blue river," on account of its waters assuming at times that appearance.
1. Its sources. These are three "branches." The White River, which is the western branch, and takes its rise in the Mountains of the Moon; the Blue River, which is the central branch, and rises in the highlands of the Galla country, south of Abyssinia; the Black River, which is the eastern branch, and rises in the Mountains of Laska. These three required to make the Nile what it is. Owes its abundance and majesty to each of them. Learn the necessity and the advantage of combined efforts in doing good.
2. Its course. Referring here not to the flow of the three rivers just named and their various tributaries; but coming down to the confluence of the last of these, the Nile runs in a directly northern course to a distance of 1,150 miles. During all this way it receives no permanent streams, although in the rainy season it is often swollen by torrents from the mountains which lie between it and the Red Sea Fifteen miles below Cairo it divides into two arms. One of these runs into the Mediterranean Sea below Rosetta, the other flows into it near Damietta. The whole extent of the river from its farthest source is 3,300 miles. Has been pursuing this course for the last 6,000 years. As deep and broad as ever. Why? For the same reason that the rays of the sun are as numerous and powerful as at first. He who has supplied the sun with light has supplied the Nile with water. How thankful we should be to Him.
3. Its uses. It has helped to form the clouds. The sun has visited it every day; has received from it some of the human family in various forms. Above all it has been, and continues to be, the life of Egypt.
II. THE RIVER CHANGED. As at the marriage-feast of Cana in Galilee, the waters in the water-pots blushed into wine, because the Lord willed the transformation; so the waters of the Nile blushed into blood for the same reason. The locomotive in the hands of the driver, the ship and the pilot, the horse and the rider; all the elements of nature much more under God. He can do with every one of them just as He pleases. This, great comfort to all that love Him. They are safe, for nothing can harm them, contrary to His mind respecting them. This should deeply impress those who do not love Him. May be conquered at any moment by the lightning, the wind, or the water.
III. THE RIVER CHANGED FOR THREE REASONS.
1. It was changed on account of idolatry. The Egyptians reverenced the Nile; boasted that it made them independent of the rain; believed that all their gods, particularly Vulcan, were born on its banks. In honour of it observed rites, ceremonies, and celebrated festivals.
2. It was changed that the priests of Egypt might be deeply impressed. Nothing which the priests more abhorred than blood. If the slightest stain of blood had been on their persons, even on their sandals or garments, they would have thought themselves deeply polluted. How terrified they must have been when they saw that "there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt." God meant this, that they might begin to think of Him, and turn from their dumb idols to Him. Events, as well as words, are teachers. May we listen at all times to truth.
3. It was changed to show that God is all-powerful.
(A. McAuslane, D. D.)
II. DIVINE RETRIBUTIONS OFTEN CONSIST IN MAKING THE SOURCE OF MAN'S TRUEST PLEASURE THE CAUSE OF HIS GREATEST MISERY.
1. Sometimes the religious notions of men are made the medium of retributive pain.
2. Sometimes the commercial enterprises of men are made the medium of retributive pain. He who might have been prosperous, had he obeyed the behest of God, is ruined by his folly.
3. Sometimes all the spheres of a man's life are made the medium of retributive pain. If a man gets wrong with God, it affects the entirety of his life. Moral questions penetrate into every realm and department of being, and affect the whole of them, either gladly or wofully, all being dependant upon the attitude of the soul toward the Eternal. Hence it is wise for men to obey the command of God if they would be prosperous.
4. Thus we see how easily and completely God can make human life a retribution to the evil doer. He can turn our glory into shame.
III. THAT THE DIVINE RETRIBUTIONS ARE EXTENSIVE IN THEIR EFFECT, AND ARE OPERATIVE BEFORE THE IMPOTENT PRESENCE OF THE SOCIALLY GREAT. "And Moses and Aaron did," etc.
1. This Divine retribution extended throughout all the land of Egypt.
2. This Divine retribution, in the act of infliction, was witnessed by Pharaoh, and he was unable to prevent it.
IV. THAT THE DIVINE RETRIBUTIONS ARE NOT ALWAYS EFFECTUAL TO THE SUBJUGATION OF THE WICKED HEART. "And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments," etc. "And Pharaoh turned," etc.
1. The hardihood of a.disobedient soul.
2. The resistance of a tyrannic will.
3. The effort of men to mitigate the retribution of God. "All the Egyptians digged," etc. Vain effort.
V. THAT THE DIVINE RETRIBUTION SOMETIMES EVOKES PRESUMPTIVE CONDUCT ON THE PART OF THE WICKED. Lessons:
1. That Divine retributions are often merited by men.
2. That God can soon turn our joy into pain.
3. That obedience is the wisdom of man.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
II. THAT THERE ARE FAVOURABLE PLACES IN WHICH TO APPROACH MEN WITH THE MESSAGES OF GOD. "And thou shalt stand," etc.
III. THAT THE SERVANTS OF GOD ARE OFTEN DIVINELY INSTRUCTED AS TO THE BEST OPPORTUNITY OF CHRISTIAN SERVICE. "Get thee unto Pharaoh in the morning." By a deep conviction, by a holy impression, and by keen moral vision, God unfolds to good men the most favourable opportunity in which to declare His message to the wicked.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)I. THAT GOD CAN CHANGE THE SCENE OF LIFE INTO DEATH.
II. THAT GOD CAN CHANGE USEFUL THINGS INTO USELESS. All life dependent on His will.
III. THAT GOD CAN CHANGE BEAUTIFUL THINGS INTO LOATHSOME.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
(T. S. Millington.).
PeopleAaron, Egyptians, Israelites, Moses, Pharaoh
PlacesEgypt, Nile River
TopicsBehold, Blood, Changed, Nile, River, Rod, Says, Smite, Smiting, Staff, Strike, Thus, Touch, Waters
Outline1. Moses and Aaron are encouraged to go again to Pharaoh
8. Aaron's rod is turned into a serpent
11. The sorcerers do the like; but their rods are swallowed up by Aaron's
13. Pharaoh's heart is hardened
14. God's message to Pharaoh
19. The river is turned into blood; and the consequent distress of the Egyptians
Dictionary of Bible ThemesExodus 7:17
LibraryThe History of the Prophetic Sermons, Epistles, and Apocalypses
[Sidenote: Real character and aims of the prophets] To understand and rightly interpret the prophetic writings of the Old Testament it is necessary to cast aside a false impression as to the character of the prophets which is widely prevalent. They were not foretellers, but forth-tellers. Instead of being vague dreamers, in imagination living far in the distant future, they were most emphatically men of their own times, enlightened and devoted patriots, social and ethical reformers, and spiritual …
Charles Foster Kent—The Origin & Permanent Value of the Old Testament
Letter Lxxxv. To Paulinus.
The Hardening in the Sacred Scripture.
Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity Paul's Care and Prayer for the Church.
Exposition of Chap. Iii. (ii. 28-32. )
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