A Hard Heart
14Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go. 15Go to Pharaoh in the morning, as he is going out to the water. Stand on the bank of the Nile to meet him, and take in your hand the staff that turned into a serpent. 16And 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 so far, you have not obeyed. 17Thus says the Lord, “By this you shall know that I am the Lord: behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood. 18The fish in the Nile shall die, and the Nile will stink, and the Egyptians will grow weary of drinking water from the Nile.”’ 19And the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt, over their rivers, their canals, and their ponds, and all their pools of water, so that they may become blood, and there shall be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, even in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.’” 20Moses and Aaron did as the Lord commanded. In the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the Nile, and all the water in the Nile turned into blood. 21And the fish in the Nile died and the Nile stank, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile. There was blood throughout all the land of Egypt. 22But the magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts. So Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said. 23Pharaoh turned and went into his house, and he did not take even this to heart. 24And all the Egyptians dug along the Nile for water to drink, for they could not drink the water of the Nile.
As we move deeper into the story of Pharaoh’s belligerent behavior against Moses, it becomes crystal clear that the battle is not between Moses and Pharaoh but between Pharaoh and God. What we are truly witnessing in this story is the epic battle created by man’s hard heart and the consequences of this condition. In this sense, Pharaoh is a “type” of us all.
God’s first salvo in this struggle is clearly a warning shot. No one is hurt (unless you’re a fish lover) and the effects of this plague are short lived. The people have to temporarily work a little harder for their drinking water. Commentators have argued over the centuries as to whether or not the Nile actually became blood. Some think it was just an influx of red mud into the water and I can see where that might be a tempting idea. But the Hebrew doesn’t really hold up under this translation. The Hebrew word is pretty clearly “blood” like that which runs through our veins. For God to attack the Nile was a natural start. The Egyptians worshiped the Nile so the Pharaoh was going down to the river that morning either to bathe or to worship. Either way, he got a nasty surprise when Moses approached him and turned his river into blood. Of course, unless God continued to keep the Nile filled with blood it would quickly wash away. So the problem was a temporary one. God started small.
The recurring theme throughout all of the plagues is the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. God warned Moses that this would happen and that He would even help Pharaoh along that path. What we see here is that Pharaoh is hardening his own heart at this point. Eventually, God will do it for him. But for now, he’s turning a blind eye and a deaf ear toward God. I think we can assume he’s not stupid, so the blood flowing through the Nile had to prove that God was real and was the Author of all this blood. But since his magicians could produce a facsimile of the miracle, he felt justified in maintaining his stubbornness.
Lest we cast too many rocks at Pharaoh, we always need to examine ourselves. How often do we know that what we are doing is wrong but we harden our hearts and do it anyway? It’s the same thing. But God tells us in Ezekiel that He will remove our hard hearts and give us hearts of flesh.
24I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
[This is just a great passage to read frequently. It ministers to the soul!]
This work is accomplished by the blood of Jesus (don’t make too much of the river of blood and Jesus blood – not really a correlation that is appropriate to make). Because of His atoning sacrifice the Holy Spirit comes along and deals with our hard hearts and we are saved. Pharaoh made the choice to reject God. Bad move.