The Nile Turned into Blood
Exodus 7:14-25
And the LORD said to Moses, Pharaoh's heart is hardened, he refuses to let the people go.…

The first of the series of plagues which fell on Egypt was of a truly terrific character. At the stretching out of the red of Aaron, the broad, swift-flowing current of. the rising Nile suddenly assumed the hue and qualities of blood. The stroke fell also on the reservoirs, canals, and ponds. Whatever connection may be traced between this plague and natural phenomena (see Hengstenberg) it is plain that it stood on an entirely different footing from changes produced under purely natural conditions.

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 -


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.


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.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And the LORD said unto Moses, Pharaoh's heart is hardened, he refuseth to let the people go.

WEB: Yahweh said to Moses, "Pharaoh's heart is stubborn. He refuses to let the people go.

The First Plague: the Water Turned to Blood
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