And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet.
Thou shalt speak all that I command thee: and Aaron thy brother shall speak unto Pharaoh, that he send the children of Israel out of his land.
And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt.
God had said to Pharaoh through Moses and Aaron, “Thus saith Jehovah, Israel is my son, even my firstborn: and I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn.” It was an affirmation of Jehovah’s eternal love, a love for His only begotten Son Jesus Christ, an affirmation of love for all those who were chosen eternally in His Son, even Israel. Because it was Jehovah that spoke, this affirmation would not and could not change. This love would be realized, and if Pharaoh or anyone else sought to change this, they would do so only unto his own ruin.
Pharaoh had answered to this, “Who is Jehovah, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not Jehovah, neither will I let Israel go.” Pharaoh was the king of Egypt and the world’s most powerful potentate. Moreover, he was a man of great pride and ambition, determined to maintain his place of greatest power and influence in the earth. Words brought by this mere pair of shepherds, Moses and Aaron, were not going to sway Km. He was not going to cower before the God of a nation that served as his slaves. The mere suggestion &hat he should do so made him indignant. He would prove himself to be the potentate that he was. He would take on the challenge of this Jehovah, even if He was a God.
Thus there was drawn up in Egypt the great battle line of all times. On the one side there was Pharaoh, determined to prove himself self-sufficient and able to withstand even the power of God. On the other side was Jehovah, eternally resolved to realize His love. The ensuing conflict was ordained to reveal the power and glory of God as a witness unto all times. All that was to follow would serve to witness to the faithfulness of Jehovah’s love even to the ruin of its enemies. It would be a witness so clear that only the blind would be so foolish as to deny.
First there was a sign from God. Moses’ rod, a symbol of his office appointed by God, was cast to the ground and transformed into a serpent, a symbol of Satan and the sin of Egypt. But Jannes and Jambres, the magicians of Pharaoh, were with their incantations able to imitate this, and Pharaoh remained unimpressed. The fact that Moses’ serpent swallowed those of the magicians and then was restored to a rod foreboded no good for Pharaoh. But Pharaoh was in no mood to tremble before a mere sign. His heart was only hardened in its sinful resolve.
It was early one morning as Pharaoh was engaged in his daily worship of the Nile that Moses and Aaron were sent to begin a series of works that would manifest the unwavering determination of Jehovah’s love and judgment beyond dispute. The rod of Moses would become like a rod of iron, breaking into slivers the pretense of Pharaoh like a potter’s vessel.
The Nile was very really the lifeline of Egypt. Without the Nile Egypt as a nation could not have existed. The Nile was Egypt’s only real source of water. From it the fields were irrigated, and its waters filtered through the soil to fill their wells. Its surface provided channels for shipping and communication; its depths furnished fish and such food to eat. It was the very source of the land, for the sediment deposited by its floods formed the rich fields from which Egypt lived. Quite naturally the Egyptians worshipped the river. Not only did this satisfy the religious inclinations of their nature, but it furnished them with an impersonal god which would not interfere with their sins. Willingly the Egyptians served the creature rather than the Creator.
Moses and Aaron were standing on the bank of the river that morning when Pharaoh came to offer his daily sacrifice to the Nile. He knew them well by this time and the cause which they represented. He despised them from the depths of his heart. That they should think to interfere with his morning worship he undoubtedly found distasteful. But they did not allow him time either to speak to them or to order that they should be removed. They bore a message from Jehovah, and immediately they spoke. “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. Thus saith Jehovah, In this thou shalt know that I am Jehovah: 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. And the fish that is in the river shall die, and the river shall stink; and the Egyptians shall loathe to drink of the water of the river.” Thereupon Aaron lifted the rod of Moses, and just as they had said, it was done.
As Pharaoh watched, the waters of the Nile took on a deep red hue as of blood. It was not as though this color in itself was too astounding, for the Nile customarily at certain seasons was red in appearance; but still this was different. This coloring of the waters did not come gradually, but all of a sudden at the wave of Moses’ rod. Moreover, there was a stench that arose from the river’s surface. Soon dead fish were to be seen floating upon the water, and the water was unpalatable to the taste. It filled the river and its tributaries, the ponds and pools and wells, even the water setting in open vessels of wood and of stone. Every exposed surface was corrupted. Still, it was not all this that troubled Pharaoh. The only question to which he gave thought was whether this great demonstration of power could be matched by his magicians. Quickly Jannes and Jambres were again summoned, and soon with their enchantments they had erected a small imitation of the wonder wrought by Moses’ rod. True, they did not and could not relieve the plague that was upon them. At best they only made it worse. But Pharaoh was relieved and satisfied. Heady with pride and hard of heart he turned and went up into his house.
It remained for the Egyptian people to taste the torment of what had happened. In all the land there was no water for them to drink. Quickly new wells had to be dug down to water that had not been corrupted. But even then the stench remained, a constant reminder that the river which they worshipped had been turned into a curse. Seven days passed by while the people suffered, until at last the plague was lifted.
The respite for the Egyptians was not long. Soon Moses and Aaron appeared again before Pharaoh to announce a new manifestation of the power and judgment of Jehovah. Again their words were bold, “Thus saith Jehovah, Let my people go, that they may serve me. And if thou refuse to let them go, behold, I will smite all thy borders with frogs: and the river shall bring forth frogs abundantly, which shall go up and come into thine house, and into thy bedchamber, and upon thy bed, and into the house of thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thy ovens, and into thy kneading troughs: and the frogs shall come up both on thee, and upon thy people, and upon all thy servants.” Immediately thereupon the rod was stretched forth again, and even as it had been said, frogs came up from the waters and filled the land.
Once again the first thought of Pharaoh was whether this work could be matched. And Jannes and Jambres did not fail him. They succeeded again in creating a reasonable imitation of Moses’ act. Yet, this time the work of the magicians did not give Pharaoh the satisfaction that he had felt before. The fact was that the plague of frogs was there, and it persisted. Jannes and Jambres could bring forth more frogs, at least in appearance, but they could do nothing to drive the frogs from the land. The situation was much more grave than he had anticipated. The frogs were becoming a burden. Everywhere he went they were present, a constant reminder of the power of Moses’ God. Something had to be done to relieve the land, and the only thing he could think of was to use subterfuge with Moses. He called Moses and Aaron and said, “Entreat Jehovah, that he may take away the frogs from me, and from my people; and I will let the people go, that they may do sacrifice unto the Lord.” He had no intention of doing this, but at least it was a way to relieve them of the frogs.
Moses was pleased to think that at last Pharaoh was going to yield to the power of Jehovah. He said to Pharaoh, “Glory over me: when shall I entreat for thee, and for thy servants, and for the people, to destroy the frogs from thee and thy house, that they may remain in the river only?” So that Pharaoh might appreciate the power of Jehovah the more, he would be allowed the glory or privilege of determining when the plague should cease.
Pharaoh answered, “Tomorrow.”
And Moses replied, “Be it according to thy word: that thou mayest know that there is none like unto Jehovah our God. And the frogs shall depart from thee, and from thy houses, and from thy servants, and from thy people; they shall remain in the river only.”
On the morrow Moses prayed to God and the frogs died throughout the land. All that remained were the heaps of stinking carcasses which the people gathered together, a reminder of the curse that had visited their land. Pharaoh was relieved. As soon as he saw that the plague of frogs had ceased, he informed Moses that his promise would not be kept.
But the relief of Pharaoh was short lived. God commanded, and Aaron smote the dust of the ground with the rod. The dust was changed into lice which lighted on man and beast. It crawled into the eyes and ears and nose, and penetrated under the skin.
This plague had come unannounced, but Pharaoh knew well enough from whence it was. As before, he immediately summoned his magicians, if only to satisfy himself that this work also could be matched. But this time it was to no avail. Their incantation could not go so far as to even appear to bring forth such lice. Rather, as though to add to Pharaoh’s consternation, they turned and solemnly confessed, “This is the finger of God.”
Now Pharaoh knew mere subterfuge would not work. It might relieve one plague, but it would be followed immediately by another just as bad and maybe even worse. In his heart he was determined. He would withstand Israel’s God. It was just that he knew not how. In moody silence he sat and pondered.
Meanwhile in Goshen, the children of Israel also had been feeling the hand of their God. They had rejected His promises out of fear of Pharaoh, and now they too were made to suffer. But the very same demonstrations of power and judgment that were making the heart of Pharaoh progressively harder, were having on them an entirely different effect. They were being reminded of the folly of their doubts and sins. They were being turned in repentance. They were being brought to acknowledge as never before the greatness of their God.