The First Plague – Exodus 7

Read the Passage: Exodus 7

Moses’ Spokesman (7:1–7)

When Moses encountered God at the burning bush, he objected to God’s command to address all of Isreal, as well as Pharaoh, based upon his lack of authority (cf. Exod. 3:11, 13; 4:1); yet, God provided several validating signs for Moses to display (cf. Exod. 3:12; 4:3–9). A second objection that Moses raised was that he was not an eloquent speaker. Moses raised this concern two times during his initial encounter with God (cf. Exod. 4:10; 6:12); however, God provided Moses’ brother Aaron to be a spokesman for him (cf. Exod. 4:14–16). Later, at Exod. 6:30, for the third time, Moses complained to God about his lack of speaking skills. With patience and long-suffering, God again reminded Moses that Aaron was his spokesman (cf. Exod. 7:1–2). Furthermore, the Lord told Moses that Pharaoh would fear him as God, and that Aaron would be a prophet. This is the only time in Scripture Aaron is referred to as a prophet.

In Exodus 7, God assured Moses that Pharaoh would not agree to release Israel, even telling Moses, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart” (Exod. 7:3). Note that God had earlier mentioned this to Moses, and God reiterates this fact ten times in His extended dialogue with Moses (cf. Exod. 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17). The larger Exodus narrative also mentions ten times that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (cf. Exod. 7:13, 14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 34, 35; 13:15). While these verses may seem to be contradictory, it is best to view these statements as being complementary. Indeed, the hardening by God is a judicial hardening, or a giving over to sin, that Scripture teaches elsewhere. Indeed, this process is operative in regard to all of mankind (cf. Prov. 1:31; Gal. 6:7–8; 2 Thess. 2:9–12). Observe that God’s usual method of judging sin is to allow man to reap the fruit of sinful seeds that he has sown.

Aaron’s Rod (7:8–13)

Exod. 7:8–13 records an incident when Pharaoh asked Moses to manifest an authenticating miracle. God had earlier told Moses that he would be called upon to do wonders before Pharaoh (cf. Exod. 4:21), and that Pharaoh would not believe. Earlier in this narrative God had shown Moses the miracle of turning his rod into a live snake (cf. Exod. 4:2–5). Apparently, Moses had given this rod to Aaron. Moses had also likely demonstrated the miracle of turning the rod into a snake for the leaders of Israel upon his return (cf. Exod. 4:30–31). In this passage Moses displays this miracle for Pharaoh; however, the sorcerers of Egypt were somehow able to duplicate this miracle or turning a rod into a snake. Whether this was done by the sorcerers through optical illusion, sleight of hand, or an evil supernatural act, the text does not say. However, Scripture does report that this event caused Pharaoh’s heart to grow hard.

The First Plague (7:14–25)

Exod. 7:14–21 records God’s directions regarding and the actual enactment of the first plague of judgment upon Egypt. Before enacting the plague, God directed Moses to meet Pharaoh on the banks of the Nile River and to foretell a plague of turning the waters of the river into blood. Apparently, Pharaoh had a habit of bathing in the Nile River in the morning, as before three of the plagues—that is, the first, fourth, and seventh—Moses met Pharaoh there (cf. Exod. 7:15; 8:20; 9:13). Note that this first plague, along with the ones that followed, were a specific attack against the pantheon of false gods of Egypt. The god in view for the first plague was Hapi, the Egyptian god of the annual flooding of the Nile River. By predicting and enacting this plague, God was showing His deity to Pharaoh (cf. Exod. 7:16). Note that even the water in pitchers and buckets in Egypt turned to blood (cf. Exod. 7:19).

Exodus 7:22 records that after the sign of the Nile being turned into blood, “The magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments.” Thus, Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened, and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron who spoke words from God. The text notes, “Pharaoh [merely] turned and went into his house” (Exodus 7:23). The obstinacy of Pharaoh, as he turned his back on God, is an ominous foreshadowing of the events recorded over the next four chapters of Exodus. It is curious that, as with the miracle of Aaron’s rod being transformed into a snake, so here the magicians of Egypt were somehow able to reproduce the sign of God’s plague. This had the effect of working to further harden Pharaoh’s heart. The narrative reports that on account of the Nile being turned into blood, as well as there being blood in “buckets of wood and pitchers of stone” (Exod. 7:19), the Egyptians had to dig new wells for fresh water.

Application Questions:

  1. Was Moses’ request to allow Israel to depart for three days to worship God a legitimate request (cf. Exod. 3:18; 5:3)? Why was Pharaoh unwilling to let Israel go?
  2. Why did Moses repeatedly complain to God about his lack of speaking skills (cf. Exod. 4:10; 6:12, 30)?
  3. What does it mean that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart? Is God being unjust in such hardening (cf. Rom. 9:14–24)?
  4. How does one’s heart become hard to the things of God? Why did the Egyptian magicians’ duplication of Moses’ miracle harden Pharaoh’s heart?
  5. Why do you think did God allowed the magicians to reproduce His miracles and plagues? Why did Pharaoh not ask his magicians to reverse the plague?