And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet.
Verses 1-9. - Once more God made allowance for the weakness and self-distrust of Moses, severely tried as he had been by his former failure to persuade Pharaoh (Exodus 5:1-5) and his recent rejection by the people of Israel (Exodus 6:9). He made allowance, and raised his courage and his spirits by fresh promises, and by a call upon him for immediate action. The process of deliverance, God assured him, was just about to begin. Miracles would be wrought until Pharaoh's stubbornness was overcome. He was himself to begin the series at once by casting his rod upon the ground, that it might become a serpent (ver. 9). From this point Moses' diffidence wholly disappears. Once launched upon his Heaven-directed course, assured of his miraculous powers, committed to a struggle with the powerful Egyptian king, he persevered without blenching or wavering until success crowned his efforts. Verse 1. - I have made thee a god to Pharaoh. Moses was diffident of appearing a second time before Pharaoh, who was so much his worldly superior. God reminds him that he is in truth very much Pharaoh's superior. If Pharaoh has earthly, he has unearthly power. He is to Pharaoh "as a god," with a right to command his obedience, and with strength to enforce his commands. Aaron shall be thy prophet, i.e. "thy spokesman" - the interpreter of thy will to others. Compare Exodus 4:16.
Thou shalt speak all that I command thee: and Aaron thy brother shall speak unto Pharaoh, that he send the children of Israel out of his land.
Verse 2. - Thou shalt speak. The Septuagint and the Vulgate have, "Thou shalt speak to him," which undoubtedly gives the true sense. Moses was to speak to Aaron, Aaron to Pharaoh. (See Exodus 4:15, 16.)
And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt.
Verse 3. - I will harden Pharaoh's heart. See the comment on Exodus 4:21. And multiply my signs and my wonders. The idea of a long series of miracles is here, for the first time, distinctly introduced. Three signs had been given (Exodus 4:3-9); one further miracle had been mentioned (ib. 23). Now a multiplication of signs and wonders is promised. Compare Exodus 3:20, and Exodus 6:6, which, however, are not so explicit as the present passage.
But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring forth mine armies, and my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments.
Verse 4. - That I may lay my hand on Egypt. Pharaoh's obstinacy was foreseen and foreknown. He was allowed to set his will against God's, in order that there might be a great display of Almighty power, such as would attract the attention both of the Egyptians generally and of all the surrounding nations. God's glory would be thereby promoted, and there would be a general dread of interfering with his people. (See Exodus 15:14-16; Deuteronomy 2:25; Deuteronomy 11:25, etc.) Bring forth my armies. See the comment on Exodus 6:26. Great judgments. See above, Exodus 6:6.
And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch forth mine hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them.
Verse 5. - The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord. Rather, "that I am Jehovah" - i.e. that I answer to my Name - that I am the only God who is truly existent, other so-called gods being nonentities. They will know this and feel this when I stretch forth mine hand upon Egypt, as I am about to stretch it forth.
And Moses and Aaron did as the LORD commanded them, so did they.
Verse 6. - Moses and Aaron did as the Lord commanded them. This statement is general, and anticipative of the entire series of interviews beginning here (verse 10), and terminating (Exodus 10:29) with the words, "I will see thy face no more." The obedience of Moses and Aaron was perfect and continuous from this time forward until Egypt was quitted.
And Moses was fourscore years old, and Aaron fourscore and three years old, when they spake unto Pharaoh.
Verse 7. - Fourscore years old. This age is confirmed by the statement (in Deuteronomy 31:2; Deuteronomy 34:7) that Moses was a hundred and twenty at his death. It is also accepted as exact by St. Stephen (Acts 7:23, 30). Moderns are surprised that at such an age a man could undertake and carry through a difficult and dangerous enterprise; but in Egypt one hundred and ten years was not considered a very exceptionally long life, and men frequently retained their full vigour till seventy or eighty.
And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,
When Pharaoh shall speak unto you, saying, Shew a miracle for you: then thou shalt say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and cast it before Pharaoh, and it shall become a serpent.
Verse 9. - When Pharaoh shall speak to you, saying, Shew a miracle. It is obvious that there would have been an impropriety in Moses and Aaron offering a sign to Pharaoh until he asked for one. They claimed to be ambassadors of Jehovah, and to speak in his name (Exodus 5:1). Unless they were misdoubted, it was not for them to produce their credentials. Hence they worked no miracle at their former interview. Now, however, the time was come when their credentials would be demanded, and an express command was given them to exhibit the first "sign."
And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and they did so as the LORD had commanded: and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent.
Verses 10-13. - THE FIRST SIGN, AND ITS FAILURE TO CONVINCE. Obeying the command given them (vers. 2, 9), Moses and Aaron went to the court a second time, and entering into the royal presence, probably repeated their demand - as from God - that the king would let the Children of Israel go (Exodus 6:11), when Pharaoh objected that they had no authority to speak to him in God's name, and required an evidence of their authority, either in the actual words of verse 9 ("Shew a miracle for you"), or in some equivalent ones. Aaron hereupon cast down on the ground the rod which Moses had brought from Midian, and it became a serpent (ver. 10). Possibly Pharaoh may have been prepared for this. He may have been told that this was one among the signs which had been done in the sight of the elders and people of Israel when the two brothers first came back from Midian (Exodus 4:30). If he knew of it, no doubt the "magicians" knew of it, and had prepared themselves. Pharaoh summoned them, as was natural, to his presence, and consulted them with respect to the portent, whereupon they too cast down the rods which they were carrying in their hands, and they "became serpents; but Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods" (ver. 12). (For the explanation of those facts, see the comment below). Pharaoh was to some extent impressed by the miracle, but not so as to yield. His heart remained hard, and he refused to let the people go. Verse 10. - Aaron cast down his rod. The rod is called indifferently "Aaron's rod" and "Moses' rod," because, though properly the rod of Moses (Exodus 4:2), yet ordinarily it was placed in the hands of Aaron (vers. 19, 20; Exodus 8:5, 17, etc.) It became a serpent. The word for "serpent" is not the same as was used before (Exodus 4:3); but it is not clear that a different species is meant. More probably it is regarded by the writer as a synonym.
Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments.
Verse 11. - Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers. That magic was an object of much attention and study in Egypt is abundantly evident from "The tale of Setnau" ('Records of the Past,' vol. 4. pp. 133-148), "The Magic Papyrus" (ibid. vol. 10. pp. 137-158), and many other writings. It consisted, to a large extent, in charms, which were thought to have power over men and beasts, especially over reptiles. What amount of skill and power the Egyptian magicians possessed may perhaps be doubted. Many commentators believe them to have been in actual communication With the unseen world, and to have worked their wonders by the assistance of evil spirits. Others, who reject this explanation, believe that they themselves were in possession of certain supernatural gifts. But the commonest view at the present day regards them as simply persons who had a knowledge of many secrets of nature which were generally unknown, and who used this knowledge to impress men with a belief in their supernatural power. The words used to express "magicians" and "enchantments" support this view. The magicians are called khakamim, "wise men," "men educated in human and divine wisdom" (Keil and Delitzsch); mekashshephim, "charmers," "mutterers of magic words" (Gesenius); and khartummim, which is thought to mean either "sacred scribes" or "bearers of sacred words" (Cook). The word translated "enchantments" is lehatim, which means "secret" or "hidden arts" (Gesenius). On the whole, we regard it as most probable that the Egyptian "magicians" of this time were jugglers of a high class, well skilled in serpent-charming and other kindred arts, but not possessed of any supernatural powers. The magicians of Egypt did in like manner with their enchantments. The magicians, aware of the wonder which would probably be wrought, had prepared themselves; they had brought serpents, charmed and stiffened so as to look like rods (a common trick in Egypt: 'Description de l'Egypte,' vol. 1. p. 159) in their hands; and when Aaron's rod became a serpent, they threw their stiffened snakes upon the ground, and disenchanted them, so that they were seen to be what they were - shakos, and not really rods.
For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods.
Verse 12. - But Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods. Aaron's serpent turned upon its rivals and devoured them, thus exhibiting a marked superiority.
And he hardened Pharaoh's heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.
Verse 13. - And he hardened Pharaoh's heart. Rather, "But Pharaoh's heart was hard." The verb employed is not active, but neuter; and "his heart" is not the accusative, but the nominative. Pharaoh's heart was too hard for the sign to make much impression on it. He did not see that Moses had done much more than his own magicians could do. As the Lord had said. See ver. 4.
And the LORD said unto Moses, Pharaoh's heart is hardened, he refuseth to let the people go.
Verses 14-21. - THE FIRST PLAGUE. The first miracle had been exhibited, and had failed. It had been a mere "sign," and in no respect a "judgment." Now the "judgments ' were to begin. God manifests himself again to Moses, and gives him exact directions what he is to do. He is to meet Pharaoh on the banks of the Nile, and to warn him that a plague is coming upon all Egypt on account of his obstinacy; that the waters of the Nile will be turned to blood, so that the ash will die, and the river stink, and the Egyptians loathe to drink of the water of the river (vers. 15-18). Pharaoh not yielding, making no sign, the threat is to be immediately followed by the act. In the sight of Pharaoh and his court, or at any rate of his train of attendants (ver. 20), Aaron is to stretch his rod over the Nile, and the water is at once to become blood, the fish to die, and the river in a short time to become offensive, or, in the simple and direct language of the Bible, to stink. The commands given by God are executed, and the result is as declared beforehand by Moses (vers. 20, 21). Verse 14. - Pharaoh's heart is hardened. Rather, "is hard, is dull." The adjective used is entirely unconnected with the verb of the preceding verse.
Get thee unto Pharaoh in the morning; lo, he goeth out unto the water; and thou shalt stand by the river's brink against he come; and the rod which was turned to a serpent shalt thou take in thine hand.
Verse 15. - In the morning. The expression used both here and again in Exodus:20 seems rather to imply a daily custom of the Pharaoh. It is conjectured; not without reason, that among the recognised duties of the monarch at this time was the offering of a morning sacrifice to the Nile on the banks of the river (Keil and Delitzsch, Kalisch, etc.). Possibly, however, this may not have been the case, and God may have chosen for certain miracles particular days, on which the king was about to proceed to the river in view of some special ceremony connected with the annual inundation. Against he come. Literally, "to meet him." In their hand. When the time came for smiting the waters, the rod was transferred to Aaron's hand (ver. 19).
And thou shalt say unto him, The LORD God of the Hebrews hath sent me unto thee, saying, Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness: and, behold, hitherto thou wouldest not hear.
Verse 16. - The Lord God... hath sent me unto thee. Rather, "sent me unto thee." The reference is to the original sending (Exodus 5:1). Thou wouldest not hear. Literally, "Thou hast not heard," i.e. up to this time thou hast not obeyed the command given to thee.
Thus saith the LORD, In this thou shalt know that I am the LORD: behold, I will smite with the rod that is in mine hand upon the waters which are in the river, and they shall be turned to blood.
Verse 17. - In this thou shalt know that I am the Lord. Pharaoh had declared on the occasion specially referred to, "I know not Jehovah, neither will I let Israel go" (Exodus 5:2). He is now told that he shall "know Jehovah" in the coming visitation; he shall know, i.e., that there is a great and truly existent God who controls nature, does as he will even with the Nile, which the Egyptians regarded as a great deity; and can turn, if he see fit, the greatest blessings into curses. Behold, I will smite. God here speaks of the acts of Moses and Aaron as his own acts, and of their hands as his hand, because they were mere instruments through which he worked. The Roman law said: "Qui facit per alium, tacit per se." The waters... shall be turned to blood. Not simply, "shall be of the colour of blood," as Rosenmuller paraphrases, but shall become and be, to all intents and purposes, blood. It is idle to ask whether the water would have answered to all the modern tests, microscopic and other, by which blood is known. The question cannot be answered. An that we are entitled to conclude from the words of the text is, that the water had all the physical appearance the look, taste, smell, texture of blood: and hence, that it was certainly not merely discoloured by the red soil of Abyssinia, nor by cryptegamic plants and infusoria. Water thus changed would neither kill fish, nor "stink," nor be utterly undrinkable.
And the fish that is in the river shall die, and the river shall stink; and the Egyptians shall lothe to drink of the water of the river.
Verse 18. - The fish... shall die. This would increase the greatness of the calamity, for the Egyptians lived to a very large extent upon fish (Birch, 'Egypt from the Earliest Times,' p. 45), which was taken in the Nile, in the canals, and the Lake Morris (Herod. 2:149). The river shall stink. As Keil and Delitzsch observe, "this seems to indicate putrefaction." The Egyptians shall loathe to drink. The expression is stronger in verse 24, where we find that "they could not drink." We may presume that at first, not supposing that the fluid could really be blood, they tried to drink it, took it into their mouths, and possibly swallowed some, but that very soon they found they could not continue to do so.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood; and that there may be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood, and in vessels of stone.
Verse 19. - Say unto Aaron. There is an omission here (and generally throughout the account of the plagues) of the performance by Moses of God's behest. The Samaritan Pentateuch in each case supplies the omission. It has been argued (Kennicott) that the Hebrew narrative has been contracted; but most critics agree that the incomplete form is the early one, and that, in the Samar. version, the original narrative has been expanded. The waters of Egypt... streams... rivers... ponds... pools of water. The waters of Lower Egypt, where this miracle was wrought, consisted of
(1) the various branches of the Nile, natural and artificial, which were seven when Herodotus wrote (Herod. 2:17), whence the Nile was called "septemfluus," or "septemgeminus;"
(2) the canals derived from each branch to fertilise the lands along its banks;
(3) ponds, marshes, and pools, the results of the overflowing of the Nile, or of its percolation through its banks on either side; and
(4) artificial reservoirs, wherein water was stored for use after the inundation was over. The four terms of the text seem applicable to this four-fold division, and "show an accurate knowledge of Egypt" (Cook), and of its water system. The "streams" are the Nile branches; the" rivers correspond to the canals; the "ponds" are the natural accumulations of waters in permanent lakes or in temporary pools and marshes; while the "pools," or "gatherings of waters" (margin), are the reservoirs made by art. Aaron was to stretch out his rod over the Nile, but with the intent to smite all the Egyptian waters, and all the waters would at once be smitten, the streams and the canals and the natural lakes and the reservoirs. The miracle would even extend to private dwell-trigs, and the change would take place throughout all the land of Egypt, not only in respect of the open waters spread over the country, but even in respect of that stored, as was usual, in houses, and contained either in vessels of wood or in vessels of stone. With respect to these, it is to be observed that the Nile water was much improved by keeping, since the sediment subsided; and that tanks, sometimes of wood, sometimes of stone, were usual adjuncts of all the better class of houses.
And Moses and Aaron did so, as the LORD commanded; and he lifted up the rod, and smote the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh, and in the sight of his servants; and all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood.
Verse 20. - He lifted up the rod. "He" must be understood to mean "Aaron" (see ver. 19); but the writer is too much engrossed with the general run of his narrative to be careful about minutia. All that he wants to impress upon us is, that the rod was used as an instrument for the working of the miracle. He is not thinking of who it was that used it. In the sight of Pharaoh. See the comment on ver. 15. And of his servants. Either "his courtiers generally," or, at any rate, a large troop of attendants.
And the fish that was in the river died; and the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink of the water of the river; and there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.
Verse 21. - The fish that was in the river died. It is most natural to understand "all the fish." There was blood, etc. Literally, "and the blood was throughout all the land of Egypt." The exact intention of the phrase is doubtful, since undoubtedly "in numberless instances, the Hebrew terms which imply universality must be understood in a limited sense (Cook). "All the land" may mean no more than "all the Delta."
And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments: and Pharaoh's heart was hardened, neither did he hearken unto them; as the LORD had said.
Verses 22, 23. - On the occurrence of the second sign and first plague, the magicians were again consulted; and, by means which it is impossible to do more the. conjecture, they produced a seeming transformation into blood of a certain quantity of water. The inquiry, whence they procured the water, is answered by ver. 24. That they actually turned water into blood is scarcely asserted in the vague "did so" of ver. 22. Perhaps they had recourse to sleight of hand, and made a substitution, like modern conjurors; perhaps they merely turned the water of a red colour. All that was necessary was to convince Pharaoh that they were able to do what Moses and Aaron had done - there was no one to watch, and test, and examine their pretended miracle, which consequently passed muster, though it may have been no more than a trick. Pharaoh, however, suffered himself to be convinced, and "turned and went into his house" without paying any attention to the marvel wrought (ver. 23). Verse 22. - The magicians of Egypt did so. They could not do what Moses and Aaron had done - stretch out, that is, a rod over the Nile, and turn it and all its branches, and ponds, and pools, into blood, for this was already done. They could only show their skill upon some small quantity of water in a cup or other vessel. No doubt they produced some apparent change, which was accepted by Pharaoh as an equivalent to what had been effected by the Israelite chiefs, but which must have fallen far short of it. Pharaoh would not be a severe critic.
And Pharaoh turned and went into his house, neither did he set his heart to this also.
Verse 23. - Pharaoh turned - i.e. "returned" - quitted the river-hank, satisfied with what the magicians had done, and went back to the palace. Neither did he set his heart to this also. A better translation is that of Booth-royd - "Nor did he lay even this to heart." In the expression "even this" there is an allusion to the previous neglect of the first sign (ver. 13).
CHAPTER 7:24, 25
And all the Egyptians digged round about the river for water to drink; for they could not drink of the water of the river.
Verses 24-25. - Necessity is the mother of invention. Finding the Nile water continue utterly undrinkable, the Egyptians bethought themselves of a means of obtaining water to which they never had recourse in ordinary times. This was to dig pits or wells at some distance from the river, and so obtain the moisture that lay in the ground, no doubt derived from the river originally, but already there before the change of the water into blood took place. This, it appears, remained water, and was drinkable, though probably not very agreeable, since, owing to the nitrous quality of the soil in Egypt, well-water has always a bitter and brackish taste. It sufficed, however, for drinking and culinary purposes during the "seven days" that the plague continued (ver. 25). Verse 24. - All the Egyptians digged. Not the Hebrews. The water stored in the houses of the Hebrews in reservoirs, cisterns, and the like, was (it would seem) not vitiated; and this would suffice for the consumption of seven days. Water to drink. Blood would not become water by percolation through earth, as Canon Cook appears to think ('Speaker's Commentary,' vol. 1. p. 278); but there might have been sufficient water in the ground before the plague began, to fill the wells dug, for seven days.
And seven days were fulfilled, after that the LORD had smitten the river.
Verse 25. - And seven days were fulfilled. This note of time has been regarded as merely fixing the interval between the first plague and the second. But it is more natural to regard it as marking the duration of the first plague. The intervals between one plague and another are nowhere estimated.