God Deals With Us As Gently As He Can—
Or As Harshly As He Must
The life and legacy of Moses
Dr. Jim Denison
A group of missionaries was forced to travel through a dangerous part of their region, an area where bandits had been active for weeks. When they camped for the night, some slept while others prayed, then they took turns. The next day they arrived safely at the missionary compound.
A few months later, the leader of the local band of bandits was apprehended and brought to trial. One of the missionaries asked him if he had been active in the area where their group had camped. The criminal said that he and his band had seen the group, and planned to rob them of their belongings and kill them. However, 21 men in armor had stood guard around their camp all night, so that the bandits could not attack.
The next year, that missionary returned to the States on furlough, and told his home church of their group’s divine deliverance. A lady stood and asked the exact date when this miracle had occurred. She then told the missionary that she had become burdened that night for their ministry, and called a prayer meeting at the church. 20 people joined her for prayer.
It has been said that coincidence is when God prefers to remain anonymous. But there are times when he cannot stay behind the scenes if he is to protect and prosper his children. On occasion he must reveal his miraculous power in a way which is seen by all.
In this study, we’ll watch God show his power to the mightiest nation on earth. As we study the first nine plagues, we will marvel at the Creator’s miraculous ability to intervene in the affairs and circumstances of his creation.
Here’s the question we might ponder throughout the study:
Are we Pharaoh or Moses?
Are you walking in obedience to God’s will or disobedience to his word?
Are you in position to receive his benevolent grace, or to experience his disciplinary power?
God deals with us as gently as he can or as harshly as he must. The choice is ours.
What did God do?
First we’ll explore the plagues and their circumstances, so that we might have in mind the actual events as they occurred. Then we’ll ask why the Lord brought these judgments against Pharaoh and his people, and what such events say to our lives and churches.
Water into blood
The first plague turned water into “blood.” Some interpreters suggest that this occurrence was natural in origin and circumstance. We know that red sediment typically washes down from Ethiopia in the annual flooding of the Nile, occurring annually in late summer and early fall. A type of algae known as flagellates comes from the Sudan swamps into the Egyptian rivers as well. And a particular type of red plankton is sometimes seen off the Egyptian coast, and could float into the Nile and other rivers.
The text indicates that the Egyptians “dug along the Nile to get drinking water, because they could not drink the water of the river” (Exodus 7:24). If they were using Nile water filtered by the sands along the shore, we can know that the river was not changed into actual blood, since blood cannot be filtered out of water. And we note that the Egyptian magicians were able to duplicate the plague, at least in appearance (v. 22). And so some believe that the “blood” was the writer’s description of the water’s appearance more than its chemical composition.
On the other hand, the first plague affected not just the Nile but streams and canals, ponds and reservoirs, and even wooden buckets and stone jars (v. 19). The latter had likely been filled before the plague occurred, so that a naturalistic explanation for their transformation seems unlikely.
If the first plague turned the water into the appearance of blood, the miracle was that this transformation occurred at the word of Moses through Aaron. It seems more likely to me that the miracle was an actual turning of the water throughout the nation into blood, and that the people “dug along the Nile” to seek water sources other than the river itself. Either way, the first plague was clear proof that God is sovereign over nature.
To the Egyptians, this power was especially significant. One of their two most important deities was Hopi, the god of the Nile. The vessels containing water were probably used for the worship of this god. For the Hebrew God to control the waters of the nation meant that he controlled the god of those waters. The Lord who turned water into wine (John 2) could turn it into blood as well. He is clearly the Lord of the universe.
The second plague brought frogs from the Nile into the nation (Exodus 8:1-4). They covered Pharaoh’s palace and the homes of his people. We know that frogs usually arrived en masse in Egypt during the month of September, and that they also fled the Nile when it became contaminated. And so it is not unusual that a large number of frogs would flee the waters as they were contaminated by the first plague.
The miracle of this event was that the frogs came in direct response to the word of God through Moses and Aaron, and that they died in direct response to Moses’ prayer (vs. 12-13). To the Egyptians, this plague would be significant spiritually as well. They identified frogs and toads with the god Hapi and also the goddess Heqt, the deity who helped women in childbirth. The frog was thus a symbol of fertility. The second plague showed the Egyptians that the Hebrew God could touch not only their water, but also their homes and families as well.
The third plague used insects called kinnim in the Hebrew (the word occurs only in connection with this plague). These could have been lice, mosquitoes, or ticks. They perhaps bred in fields which were flooded annually by the Nile. This was the first plague which the Egyptian magicians could not appear to repeat (Exodus 8:18).