Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet.VII.
(1) See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh . . . —This is God’s answer to the objection of Moses that his lips were uncircumcised (Exodus 6:12), and probably followed it immediately. The force of it would seem to be: “Thou art not called on to speak, but to act. In action thou wilt be to Pharaoh as a god—powerful, wonder-working, irresistible; it is Aaron who will have to speak to him, and he is eloquent” (Exodus 4:14).
Thy prophet.—Or spokesman—the declarer of thy mind, which is the primary sense of “prophet.”
And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt.(3) I will harden Pharaoh’s heart.—See the comment on Exodus 4:21.
My signs and my wonders.—“Signs” (‘othoth) were miracles done as credentials, to prove a mission (Exodus 4:8-9; Exodus 4:30). “Wonders” (môphôth) were miracles generally; niphle’oth, also translated” wonders” (Exodus 3:20), were miracles, wrought in the way of punishment. These last are called also shôphëtiin, “judgments.” (See Exodus 7:4.)
But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring forth mine armies, and my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments.(4) Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay.—Heb., Pharaoh will not hearken unto you, and I will lay. No relation of effect and cause is here asserted as existing between the two clauses, which are co-ordinate.
Mine armies, and my people. Rather, my armies, my people. The two expressions are in apposition—the second exegetical of the first.
Great judgments.—See the comment on Exodus 6:6.
And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch forth mine hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them.(5) The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.—Heb., that I am Jehovah: i.e., that I answer to my name—that I am the only really existing God, their so-called gods being “vapour, smoke, nothingness.” No doubt this was one of the main lessons intended to be taught by the whole series of miraculous events connected with the Exodus. Egypt was the greatest monarchy in the whole world. She was now at the height of her glory. Among existent polytheisms, hers was the most famous; and her gods must have seemed, not only to herself, but to all the surrounding nations, the most powerful. To discredit them was to throw discredit upon polytheism generally, and to exalt the name of Jehovah above that of all the deities of the nations. (Comp. Exodus 14:11-16.)
And Moses and Aaron did as the LORD commanded them, so did they.(6) Moses and Aaron did as the Lord commanded them.—The reluctance and resistance of Moses from this time ceased. He subdued his own will to God’s, and gained the praise of being “faithful as a servant in all his house” (Hebrews 3:5). Aaron’s obedience continued until Sinai was reached, but there failed before the frenzy of the people (Exodus 32:1-6).
And Moses was fourscore years old, and Aaron fourscore and three years old, when they spake unto Pharaoh.(7) Moses was fourscore years old.—Compare Deuteronomy 34:7; Acts 7:23; Acts 7:30. The air of Egypt. and, probably, still more that of the desert, was favourable to longevity; and the Egyptian monuments show many cases of officials actively employed after they were a hundred years old.
When Pharaoh shall speak unto you, saying, Shew a miracle for you: then thou shalt say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and cast it before Pharaoh, and it shall become a serpent.(9) Shew a miracle for you.—Pharaoh had perhaps heard of the miracles wrought by Aaron before the people of Israel (Exodus 4:30), and was curious to be an eye-witness of one, as was Herod Antipas (Luke 23:8). Or he may have thought that if Moses and Aaron “shewed a miracle,” his own magicians would be able to show greater ones, and he would then dismiss the brothers as charlatans and impostors. He certainly did hot intend to be influenced by any miracle which they might show, or to accept it as evidence that their message to him was a command from God.
A serpent.—Or, a snake. The word is not the same as that used in Exodus 4:3, but appears to be a synonym.
Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments.(11) The magicians of Egypt.—These persons are called indifferently khàkâmim, “wise men,” më-kashshëphim, “mutterers of charms,” and khartum-mim, “scribes,” perhaps “writers of charms.” Magic was very widely practised in Egypt, and consisted mainly in the composition and employment of charms, which were believed to exert a powerful effect, both over man and over the brute creation. A large part of the “Ritual of the Dead” consists of charms, which were to be uttered by the soul in Hades, in order to enable it to pass the various monsters which it would encounter there. Charms were also regarded as potent in this life to produce or remove disease, and avert the attacks of noxious animals. Some Egyptian works are mere collections of magical receipts, and supply strange prescriptions which are to be used, and mystic words which are to be uttered. A Jewish tradition, accepted by the Apostle Paul (2Timothy 3:6), spoke of two magicians as the special opponents of Moses, and called them “Jannes and Jambres.” (See the Tar-gums of Jerusalem and of Jonathan, and comp. Numen, ap. Euseb. Prœp. eν. ix. 8.) The former of these, Jannes, obtained fame as a magician among the classical writers, and is mentioned by Pliny (H. N. xxx. 1) and Apuleius (Apolog. p. 108). It has been supposed by some that the magicians were really in possession of supernatural powers, obtained by a connection with evil spirits; but, on the whole, it is perhaps most probable that they were merely persons acquainted with many secrets of nature not generally known, and trained in tricks of sleight-of-hand and conjuring.
They also did in like manner.—The magicians had entered into the royal presence with, apparently, rods in their hands, such as almost all Egyptians carried. These they cast down upon the ground, when they were seen to be serpents. This was, perhaps, the mere exhibition of a trick, well known to Egyptian serpent-charmers in all ages (Description de l’Egypte, vol. i. p. 159), by which a charmed serpent is made to look like a stick for a time, and then disenchanted. Or it may have been effected by sleight-of-hand, which seems to be the true meaning of the word lĕhâtim, translated “enchantments.” (Rosenmüller, Scholia in Exodum, p. 110.)
And he hardened Pharaoh's heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.(13) He hardened Pharaoh’s heart.—This is a mis-translation. The verb is intransitive, and “Pharaoh’s heart” is its nominative case. Translate, “Pharaoh’s heart hardened itself.” It is essential to the idea of a final penal hardening that in the earlier stages Pharaoh should have been left to himself.
That he hearkened not.—Heb., and he hearkened not.
(14-21) The water turned to blood.—Moses had already been empowered to turn water into blood on a small scale (Exodus 4:9), and had exhibited his power before his own people (Exodus 4:30). But the present miracle is different. (1) It is to be done on the largest possible scale; (2) in the sight of all the Egyptians; and (3) not as a sign, but as a “judgment.” All the Nile water—whether in the main river, or its branches, or the canals derived from it, or the pools formed by its inundation or by percolation through its banks, or in artificial reservoirs, including the tanks of wood or stone attached to houses (Exodus 7:19)—is to be “turned to blood:” i.e., not merely turned of a red colour, either by admixture of earthy matter or of Infusoriae, but made to have all the qualities and appearance of blood, so as to become offensive, horrible, loathsome (Exodus 7:18). The judgment strikes the Egyptians two several blows. (1) It involves an insult to their religion, and brings it into discredit, since the Nile-god, Hapi, was a main object of worship, closely connected with Osiris, and even with Amnion, celebrated in hymns with the most extravagant titles of honour (Records of the Past, vol. iv. pp. 108-110), and a frequent object of public adoration in festivals. (2) It is a great physical affliction. They are accustomed to use the Nile water for drinking, for ablutions, for the washing of their clothes, and for culinary purposes; they have great difficulty in procuring any other; they delight in the Nile water, regard it as the best in the world, are in the habit of drinking deep draughts of it continually. This is all put a stop to. They suffer from thirst, from enforced uncleanliness, from the horror of blood all about them, even in their cisterns. Again, their fish are killed. Fish was one of their principal foods, perhaps the main food of the common people; and the river was the chief source whence the fish supply was obtained, for even the Lake Moeris was an off-shoot from the river (Herod. ii. 149). Their fish supply is stopped. The punishment is retaliatory: for as they had made the Nile the means of destroying Hebrew infants (Exodus 1:22), so that Hebrew parents had loathed to drink of it, as though stained with the blood of their children, so is it now made by means of blood undrinkable for themselves. The plague lasts seven days (Exodus 7:25), a longer time than any other; and if not so destructive as the later ones, was perhaps of all the most nauseous and disgusting.
Get thee unto Pharaoh in the morning; lo, he goeth out unto the water; and thou shalt stand by the river's brink against he come; and the rod which was turned to a serpent shalt thou take in thine hand.(15) He goeth out unto the water.—Perhaps to bathe, like the princess who saved Moses (Exodus 2:5), perhaps to inaugurate some festival in the river’s honour. Of these the Egyptian calendar contained several.
The river’s brink.—Heb., the lip of the river. (Comp. Exodus 2:3.)
And thou shalt say unto him, The LORD God of the Hebrews hath sent me unto thee, saying, Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness: and, behold, hitherto thou wouldest not hear.(16) The Lord God of the Hebrews.—Heb., Jehovah, the God of the Hebrews. On the first application made to him by Moses and Aaron, Pharaoh had professed not to know who Jehovah was (Exodus 5:2). To prevent his again doing so, Moses is ordered to give both name and title.
Hath sent me—Rather, sent me.
Let my people go.—Comp. Exodus 5:1. The reference is to Moses’ first appearance before Pharaoh, and the message then delivered.
Thou wouldest not hear.—Rather, thou hast not heard: i.e., thou hast not obeyed.
Thus saith the LORD, In this thou shalt know that I am the LORD: behold, I will smite with the rod that is in mine hand upon the waters which are in the river, and they shall be turned to blood.(17) In this thou shalt know that I am the Lord.—See the comment on Exodus 7:5.
The rod that is in my hand, i.e., “in the hand of my servant.” God is here represented as about to do that which was actually done by Aaron (Exodus 7:20). “Qui facit per alium, facit per se.”
And the fish that is in the river shall die, and the river shall stink; and the Egyptians shall lothe to drink of the water of the river.(18) The fish that is in the river shall die.—The natural discoloration of the Nile, whether by red earth or by Cryptogams and Infusoriæ, has no pernicious effect at all upon the fish, nor is the water rendered by these discolorations at all unfit for use. The Nile naturally abounds with fish of various kinds; and though to Europeans they have, most of them, an insipid taste, yet, both in ancient and in modern times, the subsistence of the natives has been largely drawn from this source. It was a severe punishment to the Egyptians to be deprived of their fish supply. It was also implied contempt in regard of their religious worship, since at least three species of the Nile fish were sacred—the oxyrhineus, the lepidotus, and the phagrus, or eel. (Herod. ii. 72; Plut. De Ibid. et Osir. vii. 18, 22.)
The river shall stink.—The Nile is said to have sometimes an offensive odour naturally; but the phenomenon is not marked, and can scarcely be that which is here alluded to, when the blood-like waters, laden with the bodies of putrid fish, caused a disgust and horror that were unspeakable.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood; and that there may be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood, and in vessels of stone.(19) The waters of Egypt consist of the main stream of the Nile; its branches; canals derived from it; natural lakes, pools, or ponds, either left by the inundation or anticipative of it, being derived by percolation from the main stream; and artificial reservoirs of a larger or smaller size in gardens, courts, and houses. There is no other stream but the Nile in the whole country; and there are no natural springs, fountains, or brooks. Water may, however, at all times, and in all parts of the Nile Valley, be obtained by digging wells; but, as the soil is impregnated with nitre, the well water is highly unpalatable. It is generally allowed that the author of Exodus shows in the present verse, coupled with Exodus 7:24, a very exact knowledge of the Egyptian water system.
Vessels of wood, and vessels of stone.—It was usual to store the Nile water in tanks or cisterns within the houses, in order that it might deposit its sediment. These tanks or cisterns, which existed in all the houses of the better class, were either of wood or stone.
And Moses and Aaron did so, as the LORD 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.(20) He lifted up the rod.—“He” is, undoubtedly, Aaron. (See Exodus 7:19.)
In the sight of Pharaoh, and in the sight of his servants.—If the occasion was one of a Nile festival, Pharaoh would have “gone out to the water” (Exodus 7:15) accompanied by all the great officers of the Court, by a large body of the priests, and vast numbers of the people. If it was a mere occasion of bodily ablution, he would have had with him a pretty numerous train of attendants. In either case considerable publicity was given to the miracle, which was certainly not “done in a corner.”
And the fish that was in the river died; and the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink of the water of the river; and there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.(21) The Egyptians could not drink.—Previously they had “lotlhed to drink” (Exodus 7:18), but apparently had drunk. Now they could do so no longer—the draught was too nauseous.
And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments: and Pharaoh's heart was hardened, neither did he hearken unto them; as the LORD had said.(22) The magicians . . . did so with their enchantments.—The act of the magicians must have been a very poor imitation of the action of Moses and Aaron. The two brothers had turned into blood all the waters of the river, the canals, the pools or lakes, and the reservoirs. The magicians could not act on this large scale. They could only operate, or seem to operate, on some small quantity of water, obtained probably in the way noticed in Exodus 7:24. On this they succeeded, so far as to satisfy Pharaoh, who was probably easy to satisfy, and perhaps so far as to satisfy the courtiers. They turned the liquid of a red colour, or by sleight-of-hand substituted blood for it. The result was subjected to no test, and was perhaps not even done in the presence of any hostile witness. But it enabled the king to harden himself, and refuse the request of the brothers.
And Pharaoh turned and went into his house, neither did he set his heart to this also.(23) Neither did he set his heart to this also.—Heb., Neither did he set his heart (i.e., pay attention) even to this. Pharaoh did not lay even this to heart. He passed it over as a slight matter, unworthy of much thought, and “turned, and went into his house. “Probably care was taken to keep him constantly supplied with the well water, which, however brackish, would be sufficient for his customary ablutions. He drank, no doubt, a more generous liquid.
And all the Egyptians digged round about the river for water to drink; for they could not drink of the water of the river.(24) All the Egyptians digged round about the river.—Wells may be sunk in any part of the alluvium, and will always yield water, which is, however, brackish and unpalatable. This water is, no doubt, derived by percolation from the river; but the percolation is a slow process, and blood would scarcely percolate far. The water obtained was probably in the ground before the miracle took place, and was not made subject to it.
And seven days were fulfilled, after that the LORD had smitten the river.(25) And seven days were fulfilled.—These words seem to mark the duration of the first plague, which was the longer because Pharaoh made no submission at all in consequence of it. Obtaining sufficient water for his own purposes (see the comment on Exodus 7:23), he thought little of its continuance.