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Preparations and preliminaries have been completed. Here begins the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian slavery. First, there is a prophetic projection of the entire operation (Exodus 7:1-7). The introductory miracle is related (Exodus 7:8-13); Plague I is threatened in detail (Exodus 7:14-19), and it is executed in Exo. 7:20-25.
Verses 1, 2
And Jehovah said unto Moses, See, I have made thee as God to Pharaoh; and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet. Thou shalt speak all that I command thee; and Aaron thy brother shall speak unto Pharaoh, that he let the children of Israel go out of his land.
I have made thee as God to Pharaoh…
This endowed Moses with full authority to address Pharaoh as an equal, not as a subordinate. The contrast between the first confrontation and this one is dramatic. In the first one (Exo. 5), Moses explained the reason for their request, and limited it to a three days journey into the wilderness, the same being a legal and reasonable request. Pharaoh insulted Moses and Aaron, accused them of lying words (Exodus 5:9), and ordered them back to work, but, in this confrontation, and subsequently, Moses appeared before the cruel monarch as a plenary representative of God Himself, speaking through a God-ordained assistant and prophet, Aaron. Jamieson's comment on this is:
"(This meeting was not), as formerly, in the attitude of a humble suppliant, but now armed with credentials as God's ambassador, and to make his demand in a tone and manner which no earthly monarch or court had ever witnessed!"F1
Thus, Moses here had the answer to the weakness regarding his speech which he had brought up the second time in Exo. 6:12.
Aaron shall be thy prophet…
The use of the word prophet here is significant in that it defines a prophet as one who spoke not his own thoughts, but what he received of God.F2 The prophet was the middleman between God and the people, i.e., God's mouthpiece, unlike the `Seer' whose name stressed how the message came.F3 The significance of the word prophet is that it identifies God, not the prophet, as the author of the message.
Aaron thy brother shall speak unto Pharaoh…
Throughout the whole series of the Ten Wonders about to be related, Aaron spoke and acted for Moses, his actions and words being actually those of Moses, facts clearly indicated by this verse. How ridiculous, therefore, are all the quibbles with which the critics busy themselves about whether it was Aaron or Moses who stretched out the rod! Moses and Aaron were a divinely-constituted unit in all these actions, and whatever either of them did or said might properly be credited to the other or to both.
That he let the children of Israel go…
The demand is for a full and final release of the Hebrews from bondage.F4
I will harden Pharaoh's heart…
The mention of this here does not mean that God would harden Pharaoh's heart at the beginning of these events, but that such hardening executed upon him by God would be the final result. What we have in these verses (Exodus 7:1-7) is a prophetic summary of the next seven chapters. See under Exo. 4:21, above, for more on Hardening. Canon George Harford has a very perceptive comment on this subject, as follows:
"There are three forms of the word used in reference to hardening: (1) hard; (2) self-hardened; and (3) God-hardened; raising difficulty, but a little reflection lightens the difficulty. In all human conduct there is a mysterious combination of man's choice and God's enabling. God uses events to produce opposite effects upon different characters, as fire melts wax and hardens clay. Assertions of God's sovereignty must not be isolated, but interpreted in harmony with His moral rule. Thus read, the cumulative assaults upon Pharaoh's resolution call forth one of the most dramatic exhibitions of the vacillations of man whose conscience has been weakened, or silenced, by self-will.F5
The Egyptians shall know that I am Jehovah…
This means that they would learn that, Jehovah is the only God who is truly existent, all other gods being non-entities.F6 Here is also revealed one of the principal purposes of the great wonders executed upon Egypt, that being the total triumph of the true God over the gross and shameful idolatry that prevailed. The contest here is not so much with the monarch himself as with the idols in whom he trusted.F7
The perfect obedience of Moses and Aaron should be noted. It applied not merely to the first interview about to be related but extended throughout the subsequent chapters.
The mention of the ages of Moses and Aaron here has puzzled some, but it appears to have been inserted for the purpose of demonstrating that the deliverance was far more of God than of men. Both Moses and Aaron were past the age when such exploits could have been undertaken by men, with any reason, without supernatural endowment. We cannot allow any questioning of the ages here given. They are confirmed by Stephen (Acts 7:23,30), and by Moses himself in Deut. 31:2 and Deut. 34:7.
And Jehovah spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, When Pharaoh shall speak unto you, saying, Show a wonder for you; then thou shalt say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and cast it down before Pharaoh, that it become a serpent. And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and they did so, as Jehovah had commanded: and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh and before his servants, and it became a serpent.
The question of miracles in the Pentateuch troubles some people, but the authenticity and effectiveness of the miracles described extensively in Exodus are a vital and significant fact of the divine revelation which we hold these sacred books to be. "When man rejects miracles, he rejects God. The real essence of miracle, then, is the acknowledgment that God is at work."F8
There is no way to get rid of miracles. The student of God's Word is confronted with the miraculous and the supernatural on every page of it. "To explain away or excise one miracle will not solve the problem. The Bible is filled with them ... the removal of one requires the removal of all!"F9 The three customary ways of trying to get rid of miracles are:
"That Moses wrote Exodus is supported by positive testimony beginning in his day and continuing into modern times through an unbroken chain. In Moses' day it was recorded in the Bible that, `Moses wrote all the words of the Lord' (Exodus 24:4). In Joshua's day Moses law was enjoined to the people (Joshua 1:7). In David's day the king referred to `his commandments ... written in the law of Moses' (1 Kings 2:3). King Josiah discovered `the book of the law' in the temple (2 Chronicles 34:14). During the Babylonian exile, Daniel read of the `curse written in the law of Moses' (Daniel 9:11). Ezra the priest set up Passover services for the returning remnant `as it is written in the book of Moses' (Ezra 6:18). The O.T. ends with Malachi's exhortation, `Remember the law of my servant Moses' (Malachi 4:4). Definitive for the Christian is the fact that Jesus quoted from Exo. 20:11, using the introduction, `For Moses said' (Mark 7:10; Luke 20:37). The apostle Paul noted, `Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on the law ...' (Rom. 10:5f; Exo. 20:1). Finally, the testimony of both the Jewish community and the Christian church throughout history has been to the effect that Moses wrote the Book of Exodus. The weight of this ancient and enduring testimony cannot be overthrown by the mere speculations of `Johnny-come-lately' skeptics."F11
Every device ever invented by unbelievers has failed to cast any reflection upon the epic truth that God through Moses gave us the Pentateuch, that its miracles are represented as historical events, designed and executed upon Egypt by God Himself through Moses and Aaron, and that the design of those wonders was manifold, including not only the ultimate deliverance of the Chosen Race from bondage, but also the drastic exposure of Egyptian idolatry as a hoax. Also, the whole marvelous account of the delivery of Israel from Egypt is a type of the salvation of all men. The universal and perpetual significance of these wonderful events, therefore, far more than justifies such a divine intrusion into human affairs as is unfolded in Exodus. The man of faith, therefore, far from being disturbed by the objections of critics, glories in every precious word of this astounding narrative.
We cannot leave this phase of our discussion without pointing out that the Jewish Passover has been a continual celebration of the events narrated here for a time-span of more than three millenniums. Where is there any event of human history as well attested and confirmed as this?
Many have observed the strange fact that practically all of the wonders described in Exodus involve purely natural phenomena. Frogs, lice, locusts, hail, etc. are in no sense miraculous. Nevertheless, Bible believers account all the Ten Plagues as MIRACLES. Here are some of the ways in which these wonders were miraculous:
And it became a serpent…
(Exodus 7:10). Oddly enough, the word here rendered serpent actually means crocodile,F13 a different word from that found in Exo. 4:3. Evidently, God had anticipated the action of Pharaoh's servants, and so the rod this time became a much larger sea animal sufficiently large to swallow all the serpents their rods would produce. We should not press such a thought, however, because as Rawlinson said, It is not clear that a different species is meant. More probably it is regarded by the writer as a synonym.F14
Then Pharaoh called for the wise men and the sorcerers…
Along with groups called astrologers, and soothsayers, those servants of Pharaoh mentioned here were the principal support system for the ancient monarchy. Ellison was probably correct in viewing all such retainers as priests.F15 Thus, the confrontation here is between the religions of Israel and Egypt. Aaron, the high priest (to be) of Israel and the priests of Egypt's nature gods are face-to-face in this encounter.
They did in like manner…
The Bible gives us no word on how these men performed such wonders, and, therefore, we shall spare the reader any explanation of our own. Many have followed the older commentators on this, explaining how snake charmers by pressing the nape of the neck throw them into a state of paralysis, rendering them stiff and immovable, thus seeming to change them into rods.F16 That Pharaoh's servants actually possessed supernatural powers is disputed. The usual explanation of what they did, or appeared to do, is that sleight-of-hand, deception, and illusion were used. Unger classified their deeds here as lying wonders (2 Thessalonians 2:8-10).F17 The important thing in this episode is not HOW the Egyptians' rods were changed into serpents but WHAT happened to them. Aaron's rods swallowed all of theirs!
"This was a miracle sufficient to convince Pharaoh had he been open to conviction."F18
The O.T. nowhere gives the names of those opponents who threw down their rods before Moses and Aaron; but, strangely enough, Paul mentions two of them, "Jannes and Jambres" (2 Timothy 3:8). Cook believed that these men were the "principal magicians" in view here.F19 Some of the rabbinical legends report that, "Jannes and Jambres were so impressed by Moses that they eventually joined the Israelites, but died in the course of the Exodus."F20
Faith is always a moral decision, and, in keeping with that principle, God has provided a nail in every episode of the whole Bible where Satan may hang his hat. The evil heart of Pharaoh discounted the miracle wrought by Moses and Aaron "as a fifteen-cent stunt that was not about to make him relinquish his lofty views of his own omnipotence!"F21 In a sense, his servants duplicated, or imitated the wonder, and that part about Aaron's rod swallowing all of theirs(!), well, he just ignored that.
Both the plague and its results were here predicted, the onset of it being specifically tied to the rod in Moses' hand, and to his stretching it out over the waters. These facts absolutely forbid any conclusion that the fouling of the great river was merely a natural occurrence. Even critical scholars like Noth have affirmed that, "Any connection with the yearly rise of the Nile seems quite impossible ... Rather we have here a unique divine wonder."F22 We can only marvel at the comment of Keller who rejected the Exodus account of the part played by the plagues in the exodus of Israel, declaring that such, "can neither be affirmed nor denied, since no contemporary evidence on the subject has so far been found."F23 Indeed, indeed, if scholars like Keller are waiting to uncover an ancient Egyptian monument detailing such a disaster to Egypt as the release of 2,000,000 of their slaves to liberty, and the drowning of one of their Pharaoh's in the Red Sea with his entire army, they shall never find it. No nation ever inscribed its shame on their public monuments! But note the blindness and unfairness and bias in such a complaint. Exodus is historical. Here is affirmed dogmatically and effectively the very thing that Keller can "Neither confirm nor deny." Our own view is that if some ancient monument could be uncovered that would deny anything in Exodus, it would only prove that monuments lie, as indeed they do. By old Trinity Church at Broadway and Wall Streets, New York City, an impressive monument upon the grave of Robert Fulton hails him as "The Inventor of the Steamboat," which he was NOT! The inventor was John Fitch, officially designated by the Congress of the United States, and honored by a great granite shaft at Bardstown, Kentucky, as the RIGHTFUL claim of that honor.
In the morning…
Why was Pharaoh going to the Nile river in the morning? Several possible reasons appear:
Behold I will smite with the rod that is in my hand…
This affords an understanding of the question of whose was the rod? Or who actually stretched it out? In these words the rod is in God's hand, and God will stretch it out, the true meaning being simply that God will do it through Moses. The Scriptures have already informed us that the relationship between God and Moses is also that which existed between Moses and Aaron (Exodus 7:1). Thus, there was no need in recurring narrative to multiply detail, as for example, by saying: God commanded Moses to take the rod and say or do thus and so; and then Moses commanded Aaron to take the rod and do thus and so; and then Aaron took the rod and did thus and so etc. That is exactly the kind of needless repetition that one finds in the Samaritan version of these events.F25 For ages scholars have had no difficulty understanding the type of usage found here. This rod is called the rod of God, the rod of Moses, and the rod of Aaron, God gave it miraculous power, and Moses and Aaron used it indifferently (first one, then the other).F26 Only the critics have trouble with the rod!
And Jehovah said unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thy hand over the waters of Egypt, over their rivers, over their streams, and over their pools, and over all their ponds of water, that they may become blood; and there shall be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone. And Moses and Aaron did so, as Jehovah 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. And the fish that were in the river died; and the river became foul, and the Egyptians could not drink water from the river; and the blood was throughout all the land of Egypt. And the magicians of Egypt did in like manner with their enchantments: and Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he hearkened not unto them; as Jehovah had spoken. And Pharaoh turned and went into his house, neither did he lay even this to heart. And all the Egyptians digged round about the river for water to drink; for they could not drink of the water of the river. And seven days were fulfilled, after that Jehovah had smitten the river.
This was the first of the Ten Plagues. Water was changed to blood, suggesting first of all that the delivery of Israel would not be without blood. We are not told what effect this plague had upon the Israelites. Josephus' words are of doubtful value, despite their having a ring of truth:
"The water was not only the color of blood, but it brought upon those who ventured to drink it, great pains and bitter torment. Such was the water to the Egyptians, but it was sweet and fit for the drinking to the Hebrews, and no way different from what it naturally used to be."F27
The repeated use of "all" in these verses is hyperbole for the sake of emphasis, a well known, oft-recurring Biblical figure of speech.
Here upon the occasion of Plague I is an appropriate place to note the organization of these wonders as revealed in the Bible:
"The first nine fall into three groups of three each. Numbers one and two, four and five, seven and eight were announced to Pharaoh beforehand. The first three fell upon both Israel and Egypt; the last six fell upon Egyptians only. The plagues were progressively more and more severe, the last three almost destroying the land (Exodus 10:7). Plague X is in a class by itself, not only because it was the culmination of judgment and the basis of Israel's redemption, but also because it was a direct visitation of God, and not a judgment through secondary causes.F28
The rivers of Egypt…
This is not a reference to rivers as usually understood, but to the canals, channels, and streams into which the Nile breaks up before it enters the sea.
Seven days were fulfilled…
This apparently indicates that the disaster lasted only a week, which was merciful indeed, as any long continuation would have destroyed many people. This also shows that the visitation had nothing whatever to do with annual inundations of the Nile which do indeed produce changes in the quality and color of the water, but which also last weeks or months, not a mere matter of a week.
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.