Post Author: Bill Pratt
In chapters 7-12, the power of God would be demonstrated to Pharaoh and all the people of Egypt. Recall that Pharaoh told Moses and Aaron that he did not know their God, and God promised that he soon would. Ten plagues would be visited upon the Egyptians, with each successive plague bringing yet more devastation on top of the previous.
The ten plagues may have occurred over a period of about nine months, with the first beginning in the months of July or August, when the Nile typically floods. The first plague is described in verses 14-25 of chapter 7. These are the words Moses is to speak to Pharaoh: “With the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile, and it will be changed into blood. The fish in the Nile will die, and the river will stink; the Egyptians will not be able to drink its water.”
In verses 19-21, Aaron held out his staff over the waters of the Nile and the waters did become blood (or red like blood, as it could be translated). As a result, “The fish in the Nile died, and the river smelled so bad that the Egyptians could not drink its water. Blood was everywhere in Egypt.”
Pharaoh’s magicians were able to use trickery to partially duplicate this first plague, and so Pharaoh pays no mind and leaves Moses and Aaron to return to his palace.
Why make the waters of the Nile turn into blood, or into blood-colored water? The Egyptians worshiped many different gods that were associated with natural objects. The Nile River, in particular, was associated with at least 3 major gods and goddesses (Hapi, Isis, and Khnum). Therefore, when the God of Israel turned the water into blood, rendering the water undrinkable, it was a clear demonstration of God’s superiority over the Egyptian gods and goddesses. Each of the subsequent plagues would also “defeat” other Egyptian gods.
It is also worth noting the reactions of both Pharaoh and his magicians. The magicians clearly believed that through their own trickery they could duplicate, at least partially, this sign from God. They see no reason to believe that the God of Israel is anything special at this point.
Pharaoh, likewise, does not seem to be overly impressed, given that his own magicians can duplicate the sign. As the plagues progress, it is interesting to see the attitudes of Pharaoh and his magicians transform from smug contempt for Moses and his alleged God, to fear and open acknowledgment of his power.
If we skip ahead to the time period just before the seventh plague, the hailstorm, God reminds us in clear language what his purposes are in bringing the devastation of the plagues on the people of Egypt. In chapter 9, verses 13-16, we read the following:
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”
God’s purposes are the following: 1) to force Pharaoh to release the Israelites from captivity so that they may worship him, 2) to teach Pharaoh that there is no one like God, 3) to demonstrate his power so that his name would be proclaimed over the earth.
After nine plagues have taken place, over a period of nine or ten months, Pharaoh is still not willing to let the Israelites go. Up to this point Pharaoh’s responses to each plague have been the following: 1) Nile turned to blood – ignored the request of Moses; 2) Frogs – agreed to let Israelites leave for worship, then reneged; 3) Gnats – ignored his magicians’ suggestion that the Hebrew God’s power was real; 4) Flies – suggested the Israelites worship in Egypt instead of leaving; 5) Death of livestock – refused Moses’ request; 6) Boils – refused Moses’ request; 7) Hail – agreed to let Israelites leave for worship, then reneged; 8) Locusts – offered to let only the men go; 9) Darkness – agreed that people could go, but not their animals.
So finally, in chapter 11, verses 1-10, God tells Moses that only one more plague will be brought on Pharaoh and Egypt. This plague will be so awful that Pharaoh will drive them completely out of the land. Recall that Moses has been asking for three days of worship, but God is saying that Pharaoh will go beyond that request and ask them to leave forever.
What is the tenth plague? God, through Moses, explains what will happen:
About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any man or animal.’ Then you will know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.
This final plague, the death of the firstborn, would strike the Egyptians harder than all the others. In particular, the firstborn of Pharaoh was considered to be a god, and for him to be killed would be a clear divine demonstration of superiority by the God of Israel. And, so that there would be no doubt about God’s desire to have Pharaoh release the Hebrew slaves, God assures Pharaoh that no Israelites will be harmed. Death will pass over them.