Introduction: Exodus Chapter 7 includes the account of Moses and Aaron confronting and defeating the demonic power of Pharaoh’s magicians. After Pharaoh refused to agree to Moses’ demands, God unleashed the first of 10 plagues upon Egypt. The ten plagues reveal His progressive warnings upon sinners to repent. The ten plagues also corresponded to the judgments for those who live outside of Christ’s mercy and grace when they fail to keep the Covenant of the Ten Commandments. The ten plagues also foreshadow the punishments that God will unleash upon mankind in the end times for those who refuse to repent. From this chapter, He reveals seven lessons for believers in confronting evil.
First, from Moses’ demand to Pharaoh to let God’s people go, God reveals that He will protect you when you confront evil according to His will. Second, also from Moses’ example, He reveals that He wants you to speak boldly when confronting evil in the world. The only thing that you should fear in life is God (Prov. 1:7). The Bible explains that you show your heart for God when you hate that which is evil (Prov. 8:13). Third, from His promise to harden Pharaoh’s heart, He wants you to have faith that He is sovereign over all, including evil. Fourth, from the advanced age of Moses and Aaron in confronting Pharaoh, He reveals that you are never too old to serve Him. Fifth, from the power that Pharaoh’s magicians showed in turning staffs into snakes, He warns believers that Satan has real powers to deceive. Thus, do not assume that every supernatural event is a sign from God. Sixth, from God’s act of turning the Nile into blood (the first plague), He reveals that He will right wrongs and judge sinners who refuse to repent. You do not need to take justice into your own hands. Finally, from the refusal of Pharaoh to accept God’s punishment, He reveals that the wicked will harden their hearts in the face of punishment. Those who refuse to repent will become spiritually blind and numb to sin.
God’s encouragement to Moses. Although Moses had protested God’s calling in his life for the seventh time at the end of Exodus Chapter 6, God showed mercy by withholding any rebuke against Moses. Instead, He showed compassion and grace by again seeking to bolster Moses’ faith with words of encouragement: “1 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘See, I make you as God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet.” (Ex. 7:1). This repeated His prior promise to Moses: “Moreover, he shall speak for you to the people; and he will be as a mouth for you and you will be as God to him.” (Ex. 4:16). Like He did for Moses, God wants you to encourage others: “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” (1 Thess. 5:11). “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” (Eph. 4:29). Do your words build up others in their faith? Or, are you tearing others apart with gossip and criticism?
When you walk with God, your enemies will fear you. God does not promise that others will think of you as a god when you do His will. Yet, He does promise that your enemies will fear you when you walk with Him: “The Lord shall cause your enemies who rise up against you to be defeated before you; they will come out against you one way and will flee before you seven ways.” (Dt. 28:7). “But you will chase your enemies and they will fall before you by the sword; five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall before you by the sword.” (Lev. 26:7-8; same, Ex. 23:22, Nu 10:9, 35; Isa. 54:17; Gen. 22:17). For those who take refuge in God, He promises to be a shield against the enemy’s attacks: “He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.” (Prov. 30:5(b); 2 Sam. 22:31). If you are feeling that you are under attack, are you taking refuge in God? Or, are you trying to fight your own battles?
Moses’ second demand for Pharaoh to free the Jews. Like his first confrontation with Pharaoh (Ex. 5:1), Moses’ statements to Pharaoh during their second confrontation were direct and simple. He ordered Pharaoh on behalf of God to let the Jews go and worship God in the wilderness: “2 You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall speak to Pharaoh that he let the sons of Israel go out of his land.” (Ex.7:2). Pharaoh could have also tried to execute Moses for having the audacity to make demands of him on a second occasion. As one commenter observes: “At length Moses is delivered from his fears. He makes no more objections, but, being strengthened in faith, goes about his work with courage, and proceeds in it with perseverance.” (Matthew Henry on Exodus 7).1 Once Moses had overcome his fears, he could trust God in faith. By contrast, without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). When you lack faith and fear those around you, Satan will use your fear as a snare to pull you off your walk: “The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted.” (Prov. 29:25). Are you governed by fear in dealing with any person besides God?
Speak boldly for God and against evil. The Holy Spirit also gives you the power to speak boldly for God and against evil: “[P]ray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Eph. 6:19-20). “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence,” (Acts 4:29). “Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech,” (2 Cor. 3:12). Are you boldly speaking in faith and through the Spirit for God against what is evil in the world?
Pharaoh’s hardened heart. To demonstrate His sovereignty and might to give His people a reason to hope in His promises, God advised Moses that He would harden Pharaoh’s already hardened heart: ‘“3 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt.” (Ex. 7:3). This repeated His promise at the burning bush to harden Pharaoh’s heart: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.”’ (Ex. 4:21). But God did not harden Pharaoh’s heart until the sixth plague. Including the first sign that Pharaoh rejected (Aaron’s rod - Ex. 7:8-13), God gave Pharaoh a total of seven signs and chances to repent before He hardened Pharaoh’s heart further. One Jewish commentator observes that the use of the passive voice during the first five plagues establishes that Pharaoh was responsible for his own hard heart in the beginning: “During the first five plagues, God did not harden Pharaoh’s heart, for regarding them the Torah does not say ‘And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh,’ but rather, ‘Pharaoh’s heart was hardened.’” (Rashi on Exodus 7:3). With the final plagues, God took express credit for hardening Pharaoh’s heart to demonstrate His sovereignty to everyone: “But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the sons of Israel go.” (Ex. 10:20, 27). “Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh; yet the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the sons of Israel go out of his land.” (Ex. 11:10). Like He did with Pharaoh, God gives believers many chances to repent. Yet, when a believer continues to make evil choices, God can also harden that person’s already evil heart: “Why, O LORD, do You cause us to stray from Your ways and harden our heart from fearing You? Return for the sake of Your servants, the tribes of Your heritage.” (Is. 63:17). God hands unrepentant sinners over to their sins (Ro. 1:24). Because He is sovereign over all, He can harden any heart to accomplish His plans for mankind: “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” (Ro. 9:8; John 10:40). Yet, if you are doing His will, you never need to fear having God harden your heart. Are you keeping yourself free from sins that might lead to a hardened heart?
God’s delayed answer to Pharaoh’s question regarding His identity. After promising to harden Pharaoh’s heart, God revealed that Pharaoh would learn of His identity through His judgments; “4 When Pharaoh does not listen to you, then I will lay My hand on Egypt and bring out My hosts, My people the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt by great judgments. 5 The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst.’ 6 So Moses and Aaron did it; as the Lord commanded them, thus they did.” (Ex. 7:4-5). This was in answer to Pharaoh’s question regarding God’s identity: “2 But Pharaoh said, ‘Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and besides, I will not let Israel go.’” (Ex. 5:2). Pharaoh’s ultimate acknowledgement of God foreshadows the end times. In the end, all who deny Christ will one day confess Him as Lord: “For it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’” (Ro. 14:11; Is. 45:23; Phil.2:10). Yet, for some, they will profess Jesus as Lord when it is too late.
Being old is never a good excuse for failing to serve God. Moses was 80 years old when God finally called him, and Aaron was 83: “7 Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three, when they spoke to Pharaoh.” (Ex. 7:7). Both could have claimed that they were too old to serve. The message is that you are never too old to serve God. If you have regrets about how you have spent your past, are you using your remaining time to serve Him?
Being young is also never a good excuse for failing to serve God. Conversely, Jeremiah initially protested that he was too young to serve (Jer. 1:6). God answered his concerns by promising to go with him and speak through him (Jer. 1:7-10). The lesson is that your age is never an excuse to ignore God’s calling. Have you responded to God’s call in your life to serve Him?
The staffs from each side turned into snakes. Pharaoh’s magicians matched Moses’ first miracle by also turning their staffs into snakes. Yet, God showed His power by consuming Pharaoh’s demon-possessed snakes: “8 Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 9 ‘When Pharaoh speaks to you, saying, ‘Work a miracle,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a serpent.’ 10 So Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh, and thus they did just as the Lord had commanded; and Aaron threw his staff down before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent. 11 Then Pharaoh also called for the wise men and the sorcerers, and they also, the magicians of Egypt, did the same with their secret arts. 12 For each one threw down his staff and they turned into serpents. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. 13 Yet Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had said.” (Ex. 7:8-13). There are lessons for every believer from this confrontation.
Nicolas Poussin (1593/94 – 1665) Moses Turning Aaron's Staff into a Serpent (tapestry 1685)2
Aaron’s staff becomes a snake3
Don’t be swayed by every miracle you see. Based upon his experiences before Pharaoh, Moses later warned that the devil has real powers to deceive: “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them, you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams;’” (Dt. 13:1-3(a)). The Bible records many examples where the devil used real powers to deceive. For example, Satan was able to disguise himself in the form of a snake (Gen. 3:1). He later helped Pharaoh’s magicians cause frogs to come up onto the land (Ex. 8:22). When Jesus was in the wilderness, the devil showed Him in an instant the kingdoms of the world (Matt. 4:8). Satan also was able to enter into Judas Iscariot (Lk. 22:3). He also temporarily took control of Peter (Matt. 16:23). Thus, the devil has real power to deceive. When you lie or attempt to deceive, who has temporarily entered you to become your father? (Jo. 8:44).
God’s power is stronger than the demonic forces and the gods of this world. If Satan was the source of Pharaoh’s power, God showed through His miracles and His plagues that He is stronger than Satan (Ex. 7:5; 7:17; 8:10; 9:14, 16; 10:2; 12:12). The Holy Spirit who is inside you is also stronger than the ruler of the world (1 Jo. 4:4). When you are walking with God, you have no reason to fear the devil.
The devil will sway even the elect with false signs during the end times. A famous philosopher once wrote: “Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana, Reason in Common Sense).4 The Bible warns that mankind’s ignorance of the devil’s powers to deceive will cause even the elect to be led astray during the end times: “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. 25 Behold, I have told you in advance. 26 So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them.” (Matt. 24:24). “And then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ’; or, ‘Behold, He is there’; do not believe him; 22 for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect.” (Mk. 13:22). “[T]hat is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders,10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.” (2 Thes. 2:9-10). “[F]or they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty.” (Rev. 16:14). “And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority. 3 I saw one of his heads as if it had been slain, and his fatal wound was healed. And the whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast; 4 they worshiped the dragon because he gave his authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?” (Rev. 13:2-4). “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. 10 At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. 11 Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. 12 Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.” (Matt. 24:9-12). If you discount the supernatural as impossible, how prepared will you be for Satan’s signs and wonders?
God’s first plague – turning the Nile into blood. After Pharaoh refused to believe in the miracle of Aaron’s serpent rod consuming the magicians’ serpent rods, God directed Moses and Aaron to unleash the first plague upon Egypt: “14 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh’s heart is stubborn; he refuses to let the people go. 15 Go to Pharaoh in the morning as he is going out to the water, and station yourself to meet him on the bank of the Nile; and you shall take in your hand the staff that was turned into a serpent. 16 You shall say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, ‘Let My people go, that they may serve Me in the wilderness. But behold, you have not listened until now.’ 17 Thus says the Lord, ‘By this you shall know that I am the Lord: behold, I will strike the water that is in the Nile with the staff that is in my hand, and it will be turned to blood. 18 The fish that are in the Nile will die, and the Nile will become foul, and the Egyptians will find difficulty in drinking water from the Nile.’ 19 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt, over their rivers, over their streams, and over their pools, and over all their reservoirs of water, that they may become blood; and there will be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.’’ 20 So Moses and Aaron did even as the Lord had commanded. And he lifted up the staff and struck the water that was in the Nile, in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants, and all the water that was in the Nile was turned to blood. 21 The fish that were in the Nile died, and the Nile became foul, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile. And the blood was through all the land of Egypt.” (Ex. 7:14-21). Turning water into blood was the third and final sign that God gave to Moses at the burning bush: ‘“9 But if they will not believe even these two signs or heed what you say, then you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground; and the water which you take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.”’ (Ex. 4:9). “And turned their rivers to blood, and their streams, they could not drink.” (Ps. 78:44; 105:29).
God turned the Nile into blood5
Bartholomeus Breenbergh (1598 – 1657) “Moses and Aaron Changing the Nile to Blood” (painting 1631)6
God’s plagues were supernatural events. Some claim that the plagues were natural occurrences. It is true that natural events can cause algae blooms to make the water red. But the Bible is clear that this was a supernatural event. Moses did know the moment of the arrival and departure of this plague (Ex. 8:10, 23). Nor did he know the moment of arrival of any other plague (e.g., Ex. 9:5, 18, 29; 10:4). The plagues also did not equally strike the Jews and the Egyptians (e.g., Ex 8:22; 9:4; 9:26). If the plagues were natural events, they also would not have slowly increased in severity. Most importantly, if these were merely natural events, they would not have served God’s stated goal of establishing His sovereignty over the false gods of the Egyptians.
The foreshadow of the rivers of blood in the end times. Everything in the New Testament is foreshadowed in the Old Testament. Because God is just, He will ultimately judge the unrepentant sinners (e.g., Gen. 15:13-14; Ex. 2:19-20; 12:12; 18:11; Num. 33:4; Deut. 11:1-4; Ps. 78:44-52; Is. 19:1). In the end times, He will again judge by turning water into blood for those who refuse to repent and believe: “Then the third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of waters; and they became blood. And I heard the angel of the waters saying, ‘Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things;’” (Rev. 16:4-5). Are you warning others what awaits if they refuse to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior?
God will destroy mankind’s false idols. God used the first plague to discredit multiple Egyptian gods: “The LORD had executed judgments on their gods.” (Nu. 33:4). Because Pharaoh’s line claimed to have descended from gods, they claimed: “‘The Nile is mine; I made it for myself.’” (Ezek. 29:2-6). Thus, the plagues began with God’s attack on the Nile because the Nile was central to Egyptian mythology: “The Egyptian god Khnum was said to be the guardian of the Nile, and this showed he was unable to protected his territory. The god Hapi was said to be the spirit of the Nile, and was dealt a defeat. The great god Osiris was thought to have the Nile as his bloodstream - now, he is truly bleeding! In fact, the Nile itself was worshiped as a god, and we have papyri recording hymns sung in praise of the river.” (David Guzik of Exodus Chapter 7).7 When God’s warnings fail to teach a sinner, He will try to save that person by destroying the sinner’s idols: “30 I then will destroy your high places, and cut down your incense altars, and heap your remains on the remains of your idols, for My soul shall abhor you. 31 I will lay waste your cities as well and will make your sanctuaries desolate,” (Lev. 26:30-31(a)). God later warned that the broken idols of the flesh would give a sinner no comfort (Is. 51:19). Without comfort, a sinner would then become desperate (Jer. 15:2). An addict, for example, will have his or her own “Nile” that they turn to for their next fix. But that Nile will provide no refuge from his or her addiction. An addict will burn in desperation for the next fix. The sinner will be unable to avoid the gambling casino, bar, prostitution house, or adulterer’s house. Thus, by striking at the heart of Egyptian mythology and the Nile upon which they depended, God showed that He was sovereign over the false idols of mankind. Like the Egyptians, God warns that believers must also renounce false gods in their life (Josh. 24:14). Do you need to repent of any false idol in your life, like money, power, drugs, alcohol, or the lusts of the flesh?
The magicians harden Pharaoh’s heart. Although God did not harden Pharaoh’s heart until the sixth plague, Pharaoh’s magicians hardened his heart in the beginning. Because magic can only come from the devil, the magicians were in effect the devil’s minions. Using the devil’s power, they replicated the first plague by turning well water (which was unconnected to the Nile) into blood: “22 But the magicians of Egypt did the same with their secret arts; and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had said. 23 Then Pharaoh turned and went into his house with no concern even for this. 24 So all the Egyptians dug around the Nile for water to drink, for they could not drink of the water of the Nile. 25 Seven days passed after the Lord had struck the Nile.” (Ex. 7:22-25). Based upon the Jewish interpretive texts, the Apostle Paul identified the names of the two false magician witnesses. In English, their names translate as “Jannes” and “Jambres.” Paul used these two false witnesses to compare them to the religious imposters in the future who deceive and cause others to be led astray: “Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men opposed the truth, men depraved of mind, rejected in regard to the faith. But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes’ and Jambres’ folly was also.” (2 Tim. 3:7(b)-9). If the Holy Spirit confirmed to Paul that Jewish tradition regarding these two false witnesses was correct, what else can believers learn about these two men? It turns out they were the same false witnesses who advised the prior Pharaoh that a savior for the Jews would be born within his kingdom. Their demonic prophecy triggered the prior Pharaoh's attempt to kill all the new-born Jewish boys: “Jannes and Jambres, the chief of the magicians, opened their mouth and answered Pharaoh, ‘A certain child is about to be born of the congregation of Israel, by whose hand will be destruction to all the land of Egypt.”’ (Torah Club, Vol. 5, Depths of the Torah – Va’era, p. 411 (2013), quoting, b. Sanhedrin 106a; b Sotah 11a, b. Menachot 85a. Cf. Targum Pseudo-Yonatan on Exodus 1:15). These two magicians were the counterfeit foreshadow of God’s two witnesses during the end times (Rev. 11:1-14). Throughout time, false witnesses have created spin offs of religion with their own religious texts. Unless you accept that the devil has real but limited power, you are likely to be deceived into believing that any supernatural event must be from God. For this reason, the Bible warns believers to test all things: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:16).
Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he refused to submit to Yahweh8
Satan’s power can only bring misery. If Satan has real power, why didn’t he try to thwart God by turning the Nile back into water? “Because it seems that Satan cannot perform a constructive, cleansing miracle. He can bring supernatural destruction, but not goodness. All they did was make more bloody water!” (David Guzik on Exodus Chapter 7).9 Thus, while Satan can tempt he can only offer counterfeit pleasure that will not last. Moses gave up his life as a prince because he knew that the pleasures of sin were fading (Heb. 11:24-25). Are you chasing after the passing pleasures of sin that ultimately bring misery? Or, are you chasing after the things of God?