Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go. Go to Pharaoh in the morning, as he is going out to the water; stand by at the river bank to meet him, and take in your hand the staff that was turned into a snake. Say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you to say, ‘Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness.’ But until now you have not listened. Thus says the LORD, ‘By this you shall know that I am the LORD’. ‘See, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall be turned to blood.‘”
Although the Lord God has declared His purpose to redeem His people and liberate them from bondage, both His people and Pharaoh refuse to listen. Thus, the Lord God initiates a series of ten plagues against Pharaoh and Egypt to accomplish the release of the Children of Israel. The plagues are meted out against Pharaoh to answer his defiance of God: “Who is the LORD, that I should heed him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and I will not let Israel go” (Exodus 5:2). Israel and the Egyptians will soon see that the ruler of Egypt is not Pharaoh after all.
It is fitting that God releases the first of the plagues against the Nile River. The Egyptians worshipped the Nile as sacred, and connected many of their gods with the river’s life giving waters. The Nile was looked upon as the lifeblood of Egypt, as all agriculture, business, and trade depended on it. Its waters were the source of their wealth and wellbeing. As a polytheistic culture worshipping many gods, the Nile was regarded as the bloodstream of Osiris, their greatest of gods. Imagine Pharaoh’s horror and panic when he goes to the Nile for morning worship one day and sees its waters flowing blood!
The ten plagues were directed not only against Pharaoh as the divine manifestation of Amun-Ra, and against the Egyptians, but also against “all the gods of Egypt” (Exodus 12:12). Each of the plagues was a direct assault on one of Egypt’s most revered gods. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob not only reveals Himself to Israel through the plagues, but shows His superiority over all the gods of the Egyptians.
Eugene Peterson underscores the importance of the plagues for the dispirited and hopeless Israelites (Exodus 6:9):
The ten plagues were employed to expose the emptiness of evil, to purge the Hebrew mind of all envious admiration of evil, to systematically demolish every god-illusion or god-pretension that evil uses to exercise power over men and women… The intent was that by the time Israel left Egypt they would not only be physically free of the evil oppression but mentally free of the evil imagination that had crushed the life out of them for so long. The ten plagues cleansed the ‘doors of perception’ so that Israel could see life in a totally different way – the unreality of Egypt exposed; the untruth of Egypt laid bare – and would set them free to live a different life when they get out of Egypt, free to live the freedom of salvation.”(Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places)
- In I John 5:21, the Apostle John closes out his letter saying: “Little children, keep yourself from idols”. What are possible idols in Christians’ lives that need to be demolished before they are ready to live free?
- Talk to God about what might be idols in your life that put you in bondage.
- Eugene Peterson says the plagues “were employed to expose the emptiness of evil, to purge the Hebrew mind of all envious admiration of evil”. How might God want to expose the “emptiness of evil” in our day?