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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Exodus 7

Verses 2-7

2. Moses and Aaron’s equipment as God’s messengers 6:2-7:7

The writer gave the credentials of God and His representatives, Moses and Aaron, in these verses.

Verses 1-7

Moses was "as God" to Pharaoh in that he was the person who revealed God’s will (Exodus 7:1). Pharaoh was to be the executor of that will. Aaron would be Moses’ prophet as he stood between Moses and Pharaoh and communicated Moses and God’s will to the king. Exodus 7:1 helps us identify the essential meaning of the Hebrew word nabhi (prophet; cf. Exodus 4:10-16; Deuteronomy 18:15-22; Isaiah 6:9; Jeremiah 1:7; Ezekiel 2:3-4; Amos 7:12-16). This word occurs almost 300 times in the Old Testament and "in its fullest significance meant ’to speak fervently for God’" [Note: Leon J. Wood, The Prophets of Israel, p. 63. (]

"The pith of Hebrew prophecy is not prediction or social reform but the declaration of divine will" [Note: Norman Gottwald, A Light to the Nations, p. 277. See also Edward J. Young, My Servants the Prophets, ch. III: "The Terminology of Prophetism," for discussion of how the Old Testament used the Hebrew words for prophets.]

God referred to the miracles Moses would do as signs (i.e., miracles with special significance) and wonders (miracles producing wonder or awe in those who witnessed them, Exodus 7:3). [Note: See Ken L. Sarles, "An Appraisal of the Signs and Wonders Movement," Bibliotheca Sacra 145:577 (January-March 1988):57-82.] The text usually calls them "plagues," but clearly they were "signs," miracles that signified God’s sovereignty.

The ultimate purpose of God’s actions was His own glory (Exodus 7:5). The glory of God was at stake. The Egyptians would acknowledge God’s faithfulness and sovereign power in delivering the Israelites from their bondage and fulfilling their holy calling. God’s intention was to bless the Egyptians through Israel (Genesis 12:3), but Pharaoh would make that impossible by his stubborn refusal to honor God. Nevertheless the Egyptians would acknowledge Yahweh’s sovereignty.

The writer included the ages of Moses and Aaron (80 and 83 respectively) as part of God’s formal certification of His messengers (Exodus 7:7). [Note: See G. Herbert Livingston, "A Case Study of the Call of Moses," Asbury Theological Journal 42:2 (Fall 1987):89-113.]

"It is a common feature of biblical narratives for the age of their heroes to be stated at the time when some momentous event befalls them . . ." [Note: Cassuto, pp. 90-91.]

"D. L. Moody wittily said that Moses spent forty years in Pharaoh’s court thinking he was somebody; forty years in the desert learning he was nobody; and forty years showing what God can do with somebody who found out he was nobody." [Note: Bernard Ramm, His Way Out, p. 54.]

Verses 8-13

3. The attestation of Moses and Aaron’s divine mission 7:8-13

Pharaoh requested that Moses and Aaron perform a miracle to prove their divine authority since they claimed that God had sent them (Exodus 7:9-10).

"What we refer to as the ten ’plagues’ were actually judgments designed to authenticate Moses as God’s messenger and his message as God’s message. Their ultimate purpose was to reveal the greatness of the power and authority of God to the Egyptians (Exodus 7:10 to Exodus 12:36) in order to bring Pharaoh and the Egyptians into subjection to God." [Note: J. Dwight Pentecost, Thy Kingdom Come, p. 83.]

The Jews preserved the names of the chief magicians even though the Old Testament did not record them. Paul said they were Jannes and Jambres (2 Timothy 3:9). These were not sleight-of-hand artists but wise men who were evidently members of the priestly caste (cf. Genesis 41:8). The power of their demonic gods lay in their "secret arts" (Exodus 7:11). They were able to do miracles in the power of Satan (1 Corinthians 10:20; cf. Matthew 24:24; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10; Revelation 13:13-14). [Note: See Merrill Unger, Biblical Demonology, p. 139; idem, Demons in the World Today, pp. 38-39.] The superiority of the Israelites’ God is clear in the superiority of Aaron’s serpent over those of the Egyptian magicians (Exodus 7:12). The rod again represented regal authority and implied that Yahweh, not Pharaoh, was sovereign (cf. Exodus 4:2-5).

There are at least three possibilities regarding the Egyptian magicians’ rods becoming snakes. The magicians may have received power to create life from Satan, with God’s premission. Second, God may have given them this power directly. Third, their rods may have been rigid snakes that, when cast to the ground, were seen to be what they were, serpents.

Aaron’s miracle should have convinced Pharaoh of Yahweh’s sovereignty, but he chose to harden his heart in unbelief and disobedience. Consequently God sent the plagues that followed.

"The point of this brief section is that Yahweh’s proof of his powerful Presence to the Pharaoh and thus to the Pharaoh’s Egypt will be miraculous in nature." [Note: Durham, p. 92.]

Verses 14-19

4. The first three plagues 7:14-8:19

Psalms 78:43 places the scene of the plagues in northern Egypt near Zoan.

The plagues were penal; God sent them to punish Pharaoh for his refusal to obey God and to move him to obey Yahweh. They involved natural occurrences rather than completely unknown phenomena. At various times of the year gnats, flies, frogs, etc., were a problem to the Egyptians. Even the pollution of the Nile, darkness, and death were common to the Egyptians.

Evidence that the plagues were truly miraculous events is as follows. Some were natural calamities that God supernaturally intensified (frogs, insects, murrain, hail, darkness). Moses set the time for the arrival and departure of some. Some afflicted only the Egyptians. The severity of the plagues increased consistently. They also carried a moral purpose (Exodus 9:27; Exodus 10:16; Exodus 12:12; Exodus 14:30). [Note: Free, p. 95.]

"The plagues were a combination of natural phenomena known to both the Egyptians and Israelites alike (due to their long sojourn in Egypt) heightened by the addition of supernatural factors." [Note: Ramm, p. 62.]

God designed them to teach the Egyptians that Yahweh sovereignly controls the forces of nature. [Note: See R. Norman Whybray, Introduction to the Pentateuch, p. 72; and Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., pp. 252-53.] The Egyptians attributed this control to their gods.

"Up to now the dominate [sic] theme has been on preparing the deliverer for the exodus. Now, it will focus on preparing Pharaoh for it. The theological emphasis for exposition of the entire series of plagues may be: The sovereign Lord is fully able to deliver his people from the oppression of the world so that they might worship and serve him alone." [Note: The NET Bible note on 7:14.]

Some writers have given a possible schedule for the plagues based on the times of year some events mentioned in the text would have normally taken place in Egypt. For example, lice and flies normally appeared in the hottest summer months. Barley formed into ears of grain and flax budded (Exodus 9:31) in January-February. Locusts were a problem in early spring. The Jews continued to celebrate the Passover in the spring. This schedule suggests that the plagues began in June and ended the following April. [Note: Flinders Petrie, Egypt and Israel, pp. 35-36; and Greta Hort, "The Plagues of Egypt," Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 69 (1957):84-103; ibid., 70 (1958):48-59.]

"The Egyptians were just about the most polytheistic people known from the ancient world. Even to this day we are not completely sure of the total number of gods which they worshipped. Most lists include somewhere in the neighborhood of eighty gods . . ." [Note: Davis, p. 86. Cf. Frankfort, p. 4. Other studies have discovered more than 1,200 gods. See E. A. W. Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians, pp. ix-x; and B. E. Shafer, ed., Religion in Ancient Egypt: Gods, Myths, and Personal Practice, pp. 7-87.]

Many students of the plagues have noticed that they appeared in sets of three. The accounts of the first plague in each set (the first, fourth, and seventh plagues) each contain a purpose statement in which God explained to Moses His reason and aim for that set of plagues (cf. Exodus 7:17; Exodus 8:22; Exodus 9:14). God had announced His overall purpose for the plagues in Exodus 7:4-5. [Note: Kaiser, "Exodus," pp. 348-49. Cf. C. J. Labuschagne, The Incomparability of Yahweh in the Old Testament, pp. 74-75, 92-94.] The last plague in each set of three came on Pharaoh without warning, but Moses announced the others to him beforehand. The first set of three plagues apparently affected both the Egyptians and the Israelites, whereas the others evidently touched only the Egyptians.

Verses 14-25

The water turned to blood (the first plague) 7:14-25

The first mighty act of God serves in the narrative as a paradigm of the nine plagues that follow. Striking the Nile with the rod suggested dominion over creation and all the gods of Egyptian mythology. The Egyptians linked many of their gods with the life-giving force of the Nile. The tenth plague is unique in that it is both a part of the narrative of Exodus as a whole and is a mighty act of God in itself. [Note: Durham, p. 95.]

Evidently Pharaoh had his morning devotions on the banks of the sacred Nile River. Moses and Aaron met him there as he prepared to honor the gods of the river (Exodus 7:15).

We could perhaps interpret the statement that the water turned into blood (Exodus 7:20) in the same way we interpret Joel’s prophecy that the moon will turn into blood (Joel 2:31 cf. Revelation 6:12). Moses may have meant that the water appeared to be blood. [Note: The New Bible Dictionary, s.v. "Plagues of Egypt," by Kenneth A. Kitchen, p. 1002.] Nevertheless something happened to the water to make the fish die. The Hebrew word translated "blood" means blood, so a literal meaning is possible. [Note: Durham, p. 97.] Furthermore the passage in Joel is poetry and therefore figurative, whereas the passage here in Exodus is narrative and may be understood literally. [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 254.] Note too that this plague affected all the water in pools and reservoirs formed by the overflowing Nile as well as the water of the Nile and its estuaries (Exodus 7:19). Understood figuratively or literally a real miracle took place, as is clear from the description of the effects this plague had on the Egyptians and the fish in the Nile. The Egyptian wizards were able to duplicate this wonder, but they could not undo its effects.

"The most that can be said for their miracle-working is that it is a copy of what Moses and Aaron have accomplished and that it actually makes matters worse for their master and their people." [Note: Durham, p. 98.]

"It was appropriate that the first of the plagues should be directed against the Nile River itself, the very lifeline of Egypt and the center of many of its religious ideas. The Nile was considered sacred by the Egyptians. Many of their gods were associated either directly or indirectly with this river and its productivity. For example, the great Khnum was considered the guardian of the Nile sources. Hapi was believed to be the ’spirit of the Nile’ and its ’dynamic essence.’ One of the greatest gods revered in Egypt was the god Osiris who was the god of the underworld. The Egyptians believed that the river Nile was his bloodstream. In the light of this latter expression, it is appropriate indeed that the Lord should turn the Nile to blood! It is not only said that the fish in the river died but that the ’river stank,’ and the Egyptians were not able to use the water of that river. That statement is especially significant in the light of the expressions which occur in the ’Hymn to the Nile’: ’The bringer of food, rich in provisions, creator of all good, lord of majesty, sweet of fragrance’. [Note: James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 272.] With this Egyptian literature in mind, one can well imagine the horror and frustration of the people of Egypt as they looked upon that which was formerly beautiful only to find dead fish lining the shores and an ugly red characterizing what had before provided life and attraction. Crocodiles were forced to leave the Nile. One wonders what worshipers would have thought of Hapi the god of the Nile who was sometimes manifest in the crocodile. Pierre Montet relates the following significant observation:

"’At Sumenu (the modern Rizzeigat) in the Thebes area, and in the central district of the Fayum, the god Sepek took the form of a crocodile. He was worshipped in his temple where his statue was erected, and venerated as a sacred animal as he splashed about in his pool. A lady of high rank would kneel down and, without the slightest trace of disgust, would drink from the pool in which the crocodile wallowed. Ordinary crocodiles were mummified throughout the whole of Egypt and placed in underground caverns, like the one called the Cavern of the Crocodiles in middle Egypt.’ [Note: Pierre Montet, Eternal Egypt, p. 172.]

"Surely the pollution of the Nile would have taken on religious implications for the average Egyptian. Those who venerated Neith, the eloquent warlike goddess who took a special interest in the lates, the largest fish to be found in the Nile, would have had second thoughts about the power of that goddess. Nathor was supposed to have protected the chromis, a slightly smaller fish. Those Egyptians who depended heavily on fish and on the Nile would indeed have found great frustration in a plague of this nature." [Note: Davis, pp. 94-95.]

"Each year, toward the end of June, when the waters of the Nile begin to rise, they are colored a dark red by the silt carried down from the headwaters. This continues for three months, until the waters begin to abate, but the water, meanwhile, is wholesome and drinkable. The miracle of Exodus 7:17-21 involved three elements by which it differed from the accustomed phenomenon: the water was changed by the smiting of Moses’ rod; the water became undrinkable; and the condition lasted just seven days (Exodus 7:25)." [Note: Johnson, p. 58.]

The commentators have interpreted the reference to blood being throughout all Egypt "in (vessels of) wood and in (vessels of) stone" (Exodus 7:19) in various ways. Some believe this refers to water in exterior wooden and stone water containers. Others think it refers to water in all kinds of vessels used for holding water. Still others believe Moses described the water in trees and in wells. However this expression may refer to the water kept in buildings that the Egyptians normally constructed out of wood and stone.

"In the Bible a totality is more often indicated by mentioning two fundamental elements; see e.g., ’milk and honey’ (Ex. iii 8, etc.) and ’flesh and blood’ (Matt. xvi 17)." [Note: C. Houtman, "On the Meaning of Uba’esim Uba’abanim in Exodus VII 19," Vetus Testamentum 36:3 (1968):352.]

This is a synecdoche, a figure of speech in which a part stands for the whole or the whole represents a part. The quotation above supports the idea that God changed even the water stored in buildings to blood.

"Each of the first nine of the mighty-act accounts may be said to have the same fundamental point, expressed in much the same way. That point, concisely summarized, is that Yahweh powerfully demonstrates his Presence to a Pharaoh prevented from believing so that Israel may come to full belief." [Note: Durham, p. 99.]

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Exodus 7". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.