By Brooke Holt
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh's heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go. Go 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. And 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. Thus 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. The fish in the Nile shall die, and the Nile will stink, and the Egyptians will grow weary of drinking water from the Nile."’”’” Exodus 7:14-18 (“The Great ‘I AM’” Study Reading: Exodus 7:14-25
In today’s reading, the battle between almighty God and the gods of Egypt began in earnest with the first plague (let's call the snakes a warm-up). Predictably, Pharaoh once again refused to let the Israelites worship in the wilderness. And God responded exactly as he said by turning the waters of the Nile into blood. Our familiarity with this story can cause us to easily overlook the sheer scope of this act. At its widest point, the Nile stretches almost 2 miles in width, and it flows through Egypt from top to bottom. Imagine the overpowering stench of that volume of blood and the decay within it. Nausea, however, was the least of their worries.
To this day, the Nile serves as the primary water source for Egypt; most cities and much of the population remain located along its banks. The ancient Egyptians depended on those waters for drinking, bathing, cooking, fishing, irrigating crops, and watering livestock. Suddenly, they could not do any of those things. The river, often referred to as the lifeblood of Egypt, flowed with literal blood, and it no longer contained or sustained life. Even the water previously drawn from the Nile and stored in containers was contaminated. The river many Egyptians worshipped as a deity was clearly powerless against the hand of God. And so, the Lord eliminated his first “opponent” in this bout.
Undeterred by their previous failure or that of the river god, the sorcerers entered the ring. They turned some water into blood, though presumably not on such a grand scale. After all, how do you top the Nile? However, they could not reverse the transformation, which seems a far more useful and impressive feat in those circumstances. They could not deliver their people from the trial they faced. Only God could do that, and he would, after he demonstrated his power for seven days. In the meantime, the Egyptians could find no life or water in the Nile and no relief from the fetid smell that permeated the land.
Clearly, God emerged from this round the victor. As he would with each plague, he discredited the sorcerers and one of the local gods - in this case the Nile. We know Pharaoh and the magicians remained unconvinced of God’s power, but I wonder how many Egyptians turned to the Lord. Without water, routine tasks became impossible, mere survival precarious, and yet their deities remained silent. Did those who bowed to the river see how they had been worshipping “the gift instead of the Giver himself”, as John Calvin later defined idolatry?
Not always blatant or easy to recognize; idolatry can be pernicious and sneaky. Sometimes, we start out praising God for his blessings and end up revering them. Instead of seeking abundant life in Christ, we pursue beauty, wealth, success, food, education, power, sports, or hobbies. Like water, all of these are gifts we can use to build the kingdom of God. As idols, however, they will consume us without ever satisfying us. Jesus spoke of the waters that will never run dry: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). May we turn from the worship of idols and back to the only one worthy of our lives, the only one who will truly satisfy.
Do you ever put your hope in things, people, or gods of this world? What does the Lord want you to know about your true source of hope today? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Come explore the grand story of God as the one who knows and loves his people. In one of the greatest love stories ever told, The Book of Exodus reveals God as Yahweh, the Great “I AM.” He is the transcendent, all-powerful creator of all things who defeated the greatest powers of the earth. This same God would have his people know and love him in an intimate and personal way. The Great “I AM” – A Study of the Book of Exodus is a 9-week study consisting of a small group study guide combined with weekly video teachings. Come and meet The Great “I AM”.
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