There once was this society that sprung up beside a mighty river. They noticed right away how important the river was. Every spring the water rose above the banks and watered the land, preparing the soil for all manner of crops. And because it was a mighty river, there was enough water for their livestock and for themselves; their families. This river provided for the people in the middle of a desert. But it was sometimes unpredictable. Sometimes it didn’t gently rise above its banks. Sometimes it angrily roiled across the land, crushing everything in its path. And since this society believed in many gods, it only made sense that they would connect their gods to the fate of the river. And when the people were good and obedient, the Nile complied and provided. But if they were disobedient, well then, they could expect raging torrents destroying life and land. Water is life and power. The Nile was the source of life and power for the Egyptians.
The first of the Ten Mighty Acts concerns the Nile River and life giving water (Exodus 7:14-25). Yahweh mentions again that Pharaoh’s heart was stubborn or heavy. For the ancient peoples, the heart represented the whole inner man. Pharaoh’s thinking was burdensome or dull and he refused to release the Israelites. The account seems to go back and forth between Yahweh hardening Pharaoh’s heart and Pharaoh making his own self all hardened toward those pesky Israelites. It is important to admit that this is a hard passage to understand. How much of this was Yahweh keeping Pharaoh from complying? And where does Pharaoh’s free will come into all of this? For what it is worth, I think that God chose the words and actions which he knew would influence Pharaoh’s response. Pharaoh was free to choose his course, but God knew his heart; he knew which buttons to push to get the results he wanted. That would make Yahweh manipulative and for some that is worse than robbing Pharaoh of his free will. Well, God is not easy to figure out.
Okay, so Moses is told to confront Pharaoh as he goes out in the morning to the water. We don’t know if he was doing any kind of religious observance or bathing or what. The text does seem to imply that it was a common occurrence for him to show up in the mornings. Moses shows up as a Messenger of the Lord with a “thus says Yahweh” message. And Yahweh said, “Pharaoh! I gave you a chance to set my people free but you wouldn’t listen, ya blockhead. So now you will know that I am Yahweh when I strike the Nile and turn it into blood.” And notice that even though we are told that it was Aaron who stretched his hand over the waters and struck the Nile with his staff, that in reality it was God. When the messenger of God acts upon the will of God, it is God who is acting.
And the great Nile is turned into blood. Many have tried to explain this away by mentioning things like red mud; red algae; or even red bugs. The Hebrew word used here means “blood”. It only means blood. It does not mean red or mud or bugs. This is a Mighty Act of Yahweh, not a strange yet natural occurrence. And because it is blood, all of the fish die and begin to stink up the water, not to mention the putrid rotting blood. So, this is not a good thing. And the Egyptian magicians also turn water into blood. Good job! I wonder if Pharaoh shouted, “You idiots! Don’t make things worse than they are! Turn the blood into water! That’s what is needed here.” They cannot undo the doing. They can only copy it. The Mighty Act is so complete that the Egyptians frantically dig for water. The idea is most likely that all of the exposed water was turned to stinking rotting blood. But the underground springs were okay, which is good because there may not have been survivors otherwise. Either this Mighty Act lasted for seven days, or there was a seven day gap between plagues. My guess is that it took seven days for the blood to clear out of the water. But hey! It doesn’t matter.
We need water to survive. This is a reality we all live with. The things we need; the things that breathe life into our existence; tend to be elevated in our lives. The Egyptians believed that the flood waters of the Nile was the life blood of Osiris flowing out to revive the land and them. Yahweh turned their source of life into death and putrefaction. He is the only true source of life. And it is the blood of Jesus that flows to give us life; real life; washing away our putrid sins. You may need air, but don’t play with the prince of the air. Instead worship the Life Breather; the one who first breathed life into man. Worship I Am. Shalom.