While on a mission trip to Uganda, I stayed in a hotel situated on a bluff overlooking the Nile River. Early in the morning, under a moon-lit sky, I watched tiny lights flicker on the water. Each of the numberless lights represented a fisherman’s small boat. I also listened to the croaking of a thousand giant bullfrogs. “No!” the locals told me, “those aren’t frogs. They’re crocodiles!” I made no attempt to dip my toe into the Nile!
Moses’s name meant “drawn out of the water.” I wonder if the beautiful river was a bit nostalgic, especially after being in the endless desert of Midian for forty years. Had his biological mother, Jochebed, or his adoptive mother, Pharoah’s daughter, told Moses that he, as an infant, was rescued from the Nile? Was it there, among those reeds, that his tiny basket-boat once floated?
The Nile River is over four-thousand miles long, starting far south of Egypt in the African interior. It would be hard to over-emphasize the importance of the great river to those living in Egypt during Moses’s lifetime. Its waters turned the dessert green. It provided water to drink, teamed with fish, and provided civilization-building transportation. It’s no wonder that the polytheistic Egyptians worshiped it. According to ancient Egyptian mythology, Hapi was the most important god of fertility and the god of the Nile River. Poor old Hapi took it on the chin when God poured out the first of the ten plagues.
God promised Moses, “the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the Israelites from among them” (Exodus 7:5) and sent him to Pharoah to announce the first devastating plague. “The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to tell you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness. But so far you have not listened. This is what the Lord says: Here is how you will know that I am the Lord. Watch. I am about to strike the water in the Nile with the staff in my hand, and it will turn to blood. The fish in the Nile will die, the river will stink, and the Egyptians will be unable to drink water from it” (Exodus 7:16–18).
The Hebrew word “plague” means “to strike a blow.” The plagues were God’s judgement, a powerful display of God’s discipline upon the pagan king, his people, and their gods. On seven different occasions, God instructed Moses to demand, “Let my people go!” (Exodus 5:1; 7:16; 8:1, 20; 9:1, 13; 10:3). Pharoah refused to obey, so God Almighty sent the plagues. The first plague was a declaration of war!
The plagues were also a sign to the Hebrew folks. God was demonstrating His authority and dominance over all others. God was revealing “the length and width, height and depth” (Ephesians 3:18) of His capacity to protect and provide for the needs of His chosen and beloved people.
In the Old Testament, God is revealed as a God of justice. In the New Testament, the God who “is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), is revealed as a God of grace and peace. In the Old Testament, He turned water into blood. In the New Testament, He turned water into wine (John 2:1-11). He is still holy and just. He is also gracious and merciful, even shedding His own blood on our account.